Allegations of Gunrunning in Australia and money laundering in
Canada and Europe. A suicide note addressed to the French Interior
Minister. Two more booby-trapped houses, primed to erupt in flames
at a telephone call.
Those were some of the mysteries that tantalized investigators
on three continents last week as they continued to probe the deaths
of 53 members of the Order of the Solar Temple, and apocalyptic
religious cult, in Switzerland and Canada two weeks ago. One
question was answered: Luc Jouret, 46, the spiritual leader of
the cult, was among those whose bodies were found in three burned
ski chalets in Granges-ser-Salvan, east of Geneva. Jouret's charred
remains, along with those of co-leader Joseph di Mambro, 70, were
identified from dental records. The finding ended an international
manhunt for the two men and left police to pull together from
other sources basic facts about the Solar Temple, an organization
that apparently milked followers of their money before taking
At least five children were among the 53 who died in what Swiss
and Canadian officials believe was mass murder followed by mass
suicide. Jouret, a Belgian born in Zaire, and Di Mombro, a French
Canadian, apparently were among the suicides. Twenty-five people
died at Granes-sur-Salvan, 23 in a barn in the village of Cheiry
and five in the chalet north of Montreal. The sites were set
on fire with devices made from canisters of gasoline and butane
and a phone-activated detonator.
According to the evidence uncovered last week, most of the victims
at Cheiry were shot, and the killer or killers then drove to Granges-sur-Salvan.
"Some of the victims at Cheiry has as many as eight bullet
wounds in the head," said a forensic expert at the University
of Lausanne's Institute for Legal Medicine, which handled the
autopsies. "That hardly suggested suicide." Police
found 52 spent shells scattered at the Cheiry death site and later
discovered at Granges-sur-Salvan the .22-cal. Pistol from which
they had been fired. Canadian police said three of the five Quebec
victims, who died about five days before the Swiss killings, were
repeatedly stabbed; their suspected killers were believed to be
among the suicides at Granges-sur-Salvan.
Why the mass deaths occurred remained unclear. The French daily
Le Monde reported that the passports of Di Mambro and his
French-born wife Jocelyne had been sent to Interior Minister Charles
Pasqua only days before their deaths. A copy of a letter that
began "Dear Charlie" was sent to the newspaper, claiming
that the French embassy in Ottawa had been instructed by Paris
to renew Jocelyne's passport last year, at a time when the couple
were still living in Canada. It was Pasque's "desire to
destroy" the Soalr Temple through "unsupportable harassment,"
the Di Mambros' letter said, that had led them to "decide
to leave this terrestrial plane."
Some 300 officials and organizations worldwide received packets
from the Solar Temple, all mailed by cult member Patrick Vaurnet,
the son of one of France's best known skiers, on instructions
from Jouret. Vaurnet, now in Swiss custody, was one of several
well-connected converts to the Solar Temple, many of whom signed
over their assets. Investigators suggested that the cult may
have amassed as much as $93 million and that part of the money
was used to support a posh life-style for Jouret and Di Mambro
and to buy houses in Western Europe and Canada. Last week at
least five more Temple properties were discovered. Two of them
- an apartment near Montreuz, Switzerland, and a villa near Avignon,
France - had been rigged to explode in flames.
Swiss, French and Canadian officials also probed the possibility
that Jouret and Di Mambro had been involved in gunrunning or money-laundering
schemes. Jouret had publicly urged followers to stockpile weapons
to prepare for the end of the world and last year pleaded guilty
in Canada to illegal arms possession. Canadian officials confirmed
they were pursuing specific information implicating Di Mambro
in money laundering, but they expressed skepticism at a report
that Solar Temple leaders had purchased guns and other military
equipment in Australia and resold the material in the Third World.
While Australian federal police found no such link, they discovered Jouret and Di Mambro had repeatedly visited the country beginning in the mid-1980s. People who met Jouret say he was fascinated by Ayers Rock, the huge monolith sacred to the Aborigines that rises from the desert floor in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. He apparently told acquaintances that the rock's "mystic appeal" had drawn to hold a religious service there. The Aborigines, who control access to Ayers Rock, turned him down.
(Reported by Bruce Crumley/Paris, Robert Kroon/Geneva and Gaven