Suicide Cult Members Profiles

By The Associated Press
Monday, March 31, 1997; 6:19 a.m. EST

Thumbnail sketches of suicide cult members:


Applewhite, 65, leader of the Heaven's Gate cult, was a native of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Son of a Presbyterian minister, Applewhite studied for the ministry but switched his focus to music, serving at one point as a church choir director and performing in operas.

Applewhite taught music from 1966 to 1970 at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Various reports said he was fired for having an affair with a male student, but the university said he left to pursue other interests.

At some point, he married and had two children. He divorced his wife about 35 years ago and left his family.

``I am deeply hurt by the knowledge that people have now lost their lives in connection with my father,'' said his 40-year-old son, Mark Applewhite. ``My sympathy and prayers go out to all those who are suffering the loss of loved ones.''

In 1972, the elder Applewhite met the late Bonnie Lu Nettles, a nurse with whom he started the cult that became Heaven's Gate.


Ms. Abreo, 35, was a half sister to cult member Gary Jordan St. Louis.

She grew up in Twain Harte, Calif., and moved to Denver after high school to attend paralegal school.

A relative said her half brother persuaded her to join the cult.

``As soon as I heard it, I knew it was them,'' said Guy St. Louis, brother of Gary Jordan St. Louis. ``To them, it was the only way to leave the planet -- to leave their bodies behind and escape.''


Bowers, 45, of Jupiter, Fla., was ``lost,'' said Karin Nickeson, who befriended him along with her husband, Denny, when they all found a common interest in music.

``He cried all the time,'' Mrs. Nickeson said.

Bowers was 25 when he first heard Marshall Herff Applewhite in 1975 in a seminar on UFOs at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He became a follower for about eight years but broke away, said his sisters, Joy and Susan Ventulette.

Struggles with divorce, the death of their younger brother, drugs and alcohol drove him back, they said. Their younger brother was killed in 1988 on a lobster boat off Connecticut. At the time, Bowers was in a courtroom, getting divorced and losing custody of his three children.

Three years ago, Bowers moved in with Susan Ventulette in Martin County. He did odd jobs and watched TV, then he ran into a former member of the cult, thought it was ``destiny'' and returned to Heaven's Gate, his sisters said.

``No one forced him to do this,'' Joy Ventulette said. ``He was with them because he found an inner peace that he could not find in the outside, real world.''


Ladonna Ann Brugato

Ms. Brugato, 40, of Englewood, Colo., was an outstanding violinist and computer programmer, said her father, Joe Brugato of Newberg, Ore.

She was one of nine children born to the real estate agent and former math teacher.

Brugato said he lost touch with his daughter when she became involved in the cult about three years ago and he had hired a private investigator to help him re-establish contact.

``I did everything to find her,'' Brugato said. ``I personally and my family have been searching for her for three years, but always seemed to be one step behind her.''

When Ms. Brugato rented a home in the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado, her landlords noticed unusual behavior.

``She had a canopy bed set up with four diamond-shape crystals on each corner of her bed and one large crystal'' suspended from the ceiling over the middle of her bed, Al Wallace said. ``It clearly left me with the impression that this was some New Age experiential worship place that she used to commune with her gods.''


Margaret June Bull

Ms. Bull, 53, joined the cult in the mid-1970s after teaching English in Spain for a few years, said her brother, John Bull of Ellensburg, Wash.

She graduated from Ellensburg High and earned an English degree from the University of Washington.

Ms. Bull returned home when her mother died three years ago. At the time, she told relatives that cult members were self-supporting, drove expensive cars, lived communally, moved frequently and were celibate, her brother said.

``I thought it was harmless. But when we received a video from Peggy that had (Applewhite) declaring himself the second coming of Christ and that he intended to lead his flock to redemption, I got a real bad feeling then,'' he said.


Ms. Butcher, 43, left Springfield, Mo., in 1976 to take up with a group in Oregon led by Marshall Herff Applewhite. Her mother, Virginia Norton, said she seemed content.

``She didn't call it a cult. She didn't consider it as a cult. She was happy,'' Mrs. Norton said.

Mrs. Norton said she had not seen her daughter since 1993, when she visited her in Dallas.


Mrs. Cooke, 54, is survived by her husband, Nick, who left the Heaven's Gate cult three years ago. She also had a daughter, Kelly.

Nick Cooke said he and his wife abandoned their daughter when they joined the cult 23 years ago. He said he was an ``off and on'' member of the cult, was sorry he missed the mass suicide and believed his wife reached her goal of joining a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.

``I wish I had the strength to have remained ... to have stuck it out and gotten stronger and continued to be a part of that group,'' he told ``60 Minutes.''


Craig, 63, a onetime political candidate who ran a dude ranch and had a bit part in ``Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' left his wife and six young children in Durango, Colo., in July 1975.

``For me, he died 22 years ago,'' said Mary Ann Craig, his ex-wife. ``When we found out he was dead, there was a sense of closure more than anything for us.''

Craig owned the Wilderness Trails Guest Ranch. Former neighbors recalled him as the first horseman out of the boxcar in the famous train robbery scene in the movie.

In 1970, he also ran as a Republican for the Colorado House. He ended up losing the election by fewer than 20 votes.

After his abrupt departure, he contacted his family only occasionally through impersonal letters with no return addresses.


Ms. Ernst, 40, was described by friends in her native Calgary, Canada, as a good student and a fun-loving teen-ager who liked to travel.

After graduating from high school, Ms. Ernst and a boyfriend began talking about joining a cult. Shortly after, she gave away all her possessions and left Calgary.

Her family, which knew she was with the Heaven's Gate cult, was vacationing in Los Angeles when they heard of the mass suicide.

``For 21 years, I tried to find them,'' her father, Edwald Ernst, said Saturday. ``We had one visit, maybe one phone call. She told us only that `I'm doing the best; I'm happy.' But I think she was brainwashed.''


Johnson, 42, played in a band called Dharma Combat, former band manager David Fratt told KTVX, a Salt Lake City television station.

Fratt said the band was playing in several clubs. The band's lyrics talked about death and aliens.

Johnson was found with a Utah driver's license.


Julie LaMontagne

LaMontagne, 45, looked forward to her future when she graduated in 1974 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst nursing school, but then her father died and her life fell in disarray, relatives said.

``She thought he was her knight in shining armor,'' said her brother, Andrew LaMontagne, of Windsor, Vt. ``When he passed away, Julie just freaked out. And then she met those people, and it was all over.''

Ms. LaMontagne joined the cult as a personal nurse to Applewhite when it recruited in Amherst in 1975, said her stepmother, Theresa Boucher.

Ms. LaMontagne wrote months later that she wanted nothing more to do with her family, relatives said. The family spent tens of thousands of dollars looking for her and she did visit her stepmother's home in Brooksville, Fla., in 1990. Then she disappeared for good.

``We lost a daughter, but we really lost her 21 years ago,'' Boucher said Saturday. ``This was just the final loss.''

LaMontagne's brother was angry at Applewhite.

``Look at the guy, he looks like a lunatic,'' he said. ``He's a monster. He took my sister.''


Jacqueline Opal Leonard

At 72, Ms. Leonard was the oldest among the dead. She grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and raised her two daughters and a son there with her late husband, said her son-in-law, Angelo Bellizzi of Seattle.

Bellizzi said Ms. Leonard ``was always groping and looking for something that interested her.''

In the early 1970s, she moved to Colorado, where she met members of the UFO cult, Bellizzi said. A few years later, she joined the group in San Francisco, he said.


Lewis, 41, was a former massage therapist from San Antonio.

Four years ago, Lewis sold his possessions and left San Antonio to join Heaven's Gate, according to a friend, David Tayloe.

``He told us that he wouldn't be communicating with any of his friends and to be happy for him, because this is what he felt was right for him,'' Tayloe said.

Lewis, who worked as a masseur out of his house, said he was joining a cult for the second time.


Gail Renee Maeder

Fear of death drove Ms. Maeder, 28, to the cult, said her mother, Alice Maeder.

``They promised her she would never die,'' Mrs. Maeder said. ``Her mind was controlled beyond her control.''

Ms. Maeder left Sag Harbor, N.Y., five years ago, moving to California with her boyfriend.

``At first she seemed happy,'' said her father, Robert Maeder, describing how she opened a small shop and did housework to pay the rent.

``But then she broke up with her boyfriend, lost her business and fell in with the wrong crowd,'' he said.


Joel Peter McCormick
Megan McCormick holds a photo of her son.

The mother of McCormick, 29, once said that she saw the cult as having taken his decisions away from him.

McCormick, who graduated from Malcolm Shabazz City High School in Madison, Wis., in 1986, joined a group then called the Total Overcomers in Seattle on May 16, 1994.

In a published report in 1994, his mother, Megan McCormick, said she was ``reasonably certain that Joel is physically all right. Sometimes I think he'll be irrevocably changed if and when he comes out.''

McCormick was living in Salt Lake City when his driver's license was issued, authorities said.


Yvonne McCurdy-Hill

(Read a Post profile of Yvonne Mc-Curdy Hill).

Ms. McCurdy-Hill, 39, learned about the cult over the Internet and left her five children in Cincinnati last September to join the group, the family's minister said.

She was a postal worker for 10 years, sorting magazines and operating a mail machine at the main processing center in Cincinnati, said Bonni Maines, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman.

Ms. McCurdy-Hill quit in August, citing ``circumstances beyond my control.'' She headed West in September.


David Geoffery Moore

Moore, 40, grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., near San Jose. He hooked up with the cult in the mid-1970s and had contacted his family just twice since then, said his mother, Nancie Brown.

Ms. Brown described her son as an emotional, often angry teen-ager. (Read The Post story on Ms. Brown mourning the son she lost 21 years ago).

At age 19, he attended his first cult meeting in a neighborhood park, Ms. Brown said.

After the cult moved to San Diego County, Moore and two female cult members worked as free-lance employees for Arrowhead General Insurance Agency, an employee there said.


Nancy Dianne Nelson

Ms. Nelson, 45, worked for Dr. Richard Mickle of Mesa, Ariz., during portions of 1995 and 1996. A former co-worker said she called herself A.J. and described herself as a nun without a last name, saying she lived in a monastery with two men who were highly knowledgeable about computers and did some work for Mickle.

Mickle, an osteopathic surgeon, said he knew nothing of the suicides or the California connection.


Ms. Nelson, 59, told a former neighbor at a North Dallas apartment complex that she was from Star Trek.

``We just looked at her in surprise. ... It just didn't dawn on us that she was in a type of cult,'' neighbor Cynthia McGowan said. ``We thought that maybe she was crazy.''


Thomas Nichols

Nichols, 59, who was found with an Arizona driver's license, was the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original ``Star Trek'' television series.

Her brother had cut off all communication with the family for 20 years in keeping with his religious beliefs, Miss Nichols said on ``Larry King Live.''

He resurfaced several years ago, when their mother died, to assure relatives he was OK, she said. He sought her advice in 1994 when the group planned to ``go public,'' she said.

Thomas Nichols apparently knew the arrival of a comet would be a momentous personal event, calling it ``the great comet that would come some day,'' she said.


Margaret Ella Richter

Richter, 46, was valedictorian at Las Plumas High School in Oroville, Calif., in 1969, said her sister, Jean Long.

She majored in computer science, math and German at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in three years, Ms. Long said.

After her three-year marriage ended, she went to Los Angeles in 1975 and earned a master's degree in computer science at UCLA, Ms. Long said. After that, her family and friends had little contact with her.

Over the next 22 years, Richter visited relatives in Oroville twice.


Sandoe, 26, of Boulder, Colo., had been in the Army, where he became a paratrooper and a Ranger, said his mother, JoAnne Sandoe, of Abingdon, Va. (Read The Post story on his home town's reaction to the suicides).

``He was in Desert Storm. He was in the infantry -- out of Fort Benning, Ga.,'' she said.

After that, he ``worked and traveled.''

Mrs. Sandoe said she had no indication her son might be involved with the Heaven's Gate group.


Gary Jordan St. Louis

St. Louis, 44, left his northern Idaho home in 1992 to join the cult, leaving his Coeur d'Alene girlfriend, Shelly King, with his personal belongings and a videotape explaining his decision.

``Today is February 12, 1992. It's Wednesday. I want everybody who may see this, or to know, that I have chosen to leave,'' he said on the tape. ``I want to rejoin my heavenly father, and my classmates, the students of my heavenly father. ... I'm really happy about this. ... To walk away and begin doing some work for my real father means more to me than anything.''


Ms. Strom, 44, loved plants, animals and the Earth. She had planned on a career in botany, but one year before graduation her attention turned to a UFO cult.

The daughter of a federal judge, Strom met up with the cult in 1975. Her father, senior U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom of Omaha, Neb., thought it was just a phase.

``I thought, sure it would be short-lived and she would be back home,'' he said Saturday.

What attracted the athletic, intelligent woman -- the second oldest in a family of seven -- to the cult?

``I have no answers,'' Strom said. ``It did not seem consistent with her character and personality.''

Strom graduated from an all-girls school, Marian High School in Omaha, in 1971. She attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., where she joined the cult as a senior.


David Cabot Van Sinderen

Van Sinderen, 48, was the son of the former chairman and chief executive officer of Southern New England Telephone Co.

In the 21 years that he was a member of the Heaven's Gate group, his family saw him four times and spoke with him a handful of other times, his family said Saturday in a statement.

``While we did not completely understand or agree with David's beliefs, it was apparent to us that he was happy, healthy and acting under his own volition,'' the statement said. ``It seemed to us that the group members were a supportive family unit and David was spiritually fulfilled in his life with them.

``To David, wherever you may be, we love you,'' the statement said.

David Van Sinderen bought property on a 40-acre former youth camp near Mountainair, N.M., in June 1995, according to an official of the insurance company that sold the property. The cult apparently lived there until about eight months ago.

Van Sinderen's father, Alfred White Van Sinderen, 72, of Woodbridge, Conn., is an alumnus of Yale University and of Harvard University's business school.

&COPY Copyright 1997 The Associated Press