In 1997, 39 people took their own lives to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp.
The cult leader Marshall Applewhite persuaded 38 followers to prepare for ritual suicide so their souls could board the supposed craft.
Applewhite believed that after their deaths an unidentified flying object (UFO) would take their souls to another “level of existence above human”, which he described as being both physical and spiritual.
All followers were dressed in black, wearing Nike Decade sneakers, and killed themselves in shifts over three days, with members arranging the bodies of those who died before them.
Inside their pockets, each cult member had a five-dollar bill and three quarters. One of the tenets of the cult was to carry the $5 bill to pay a “vagrancy fee,” and the quarters were to use a payphone to call for help.
Aside from abandoning their families and turning over all of their money, the Heaven’s Gate cult members were asked to cleanse their bodies of things like fast food and “impure” sexual thoughts.
The process involved the Master Cleanse, a liquid-only diet consisting of laxative teas and lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. The diet was invented by Stanley Burroughs in 1941, who initially marketed it as a way to treat ulcers.
In one of his interviews, former cult member Richard Ford said that the group took the diet to the next level by drinking nothing but the homemade lemonade for three months.
As of today, the cult’s website is still active and maintained by the surviving members.