San Francisco -- The mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, may have its roots in another cult-like following that surfaced in California more than 20 years ago.
In 1975, hundreds of residents from California, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon left family and belongings behind to join a group headed by Marshall H. Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles. Early Friday morning, Applewhite was identified by officials as one of the 39 dead.
Media reports suggested the leader of the Rancho Santa Fe cult may indeed be Applewhite, who was once in a psychiatric hospital, and that the co-founder was Nettles, who died in 1985.
Back in the 1970s, the mysterious couple referred to themselves as "The Two."
The Heaven's Gate Web site, which is reportedly linked to the Rancho Santa Fe cult, also refers to its founders as "The Two," and says they began "rounding up their crew in '75."
"The Two" held various meetings at public locations throughout the western United States, promising followers celestial bliss and a ride in a UFO.
They called their group Human Individual Metamorphosis, or HIM, and convinced many listeners to shed their personal belongings, relationships and children in order to prepare for the trip.
The similarities between the beliefs of the HIM followers and those associated with the Higher Source cult in Rancho Santa Fe appear rooted in an odd belief system incorporating UFOs and biblical Scripture.
The Heaven's Gate Web site says "our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level above human (the 'Kingdom of Heaven') has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the 'marker' we've been waiting for." The passage also proposes "'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level."
Similarly, an advertisement announcing a HIM meeting in San Jose in 1975 explains, "The opportunity is here, when we as humans can fully evolve into a higher being. There is now on this planet two people from the high level, UFO Beings here to help us and many others with this transition."
Also on the Heaven's Gate Web site was the prediction that "before that spacecraft comes, one or more of us could lose our physical vehicles (bodies) due to 'recall,' accident or at the hands of some irate individual."
Similarly, "The Two" distributed fliers saying they would die and then be resurrected. They later told talk-show host Victor Boc at KOME radio in San Jose that they would be assassinated within the next two months.
In 1975, "The Two" attracted a following as intellectual as the computer-savvy group in Rancho Santa Fe.
Bob Thompson, a computer programmer at the University of Oregon who had attended some meetings, recalled "The Two" talking in vague biblical terms. "The implication was that you might leave in a UFO," Thompson said in 1975.
"The Two" were eventually identified as Applewhite and Nettles.