ON THIS DAY: 26 March 1998

21 women and 18 men were found dead at 18341 Colina Norte in Rancho Santa Fe, California. All were members of a cult named Heaven’s Gate, and they had committed suicide by drinking vodka laced with phenobarbital and apple sauce. The cult leaders, Peep (Marshall Herff Applewhite) and Bo (Bonnie Lu Nettles), were convinced that they had been placed on Earth as prophets to lead followers to the Next Level, to which would be conducted by a spaceship.

Following Nettles’ death from cancer in 1985, Applewhite continued to restructure his cult and isolate its members from their friends and family. Applewhite claimed that he was the reincarnation of Jesus and that a spaceship would be tailing the comet Hale-Bopp—visible in the sky in March 1998 — in readiness to pick up the followers.

When the bodies were discovered, all had short haircuts and were wearing black sweatpants, shirts, and Nike trainers. They were laid out on individual beds, and next to each body was a traveling bag containing a $5 bill. On their sleeves, a badge read ‘Heaven’s Gate Away Team’. Bizarrely, Applewhite and five other males had been castrated.