Cult Members Mixed Business Acumen with Religious Fervor

Article excerpt

Self-styled monks in hip black shirts. Buzz-cut computer nerds cashing in on the Internet craze. A doomsday cult fixated on the approach of the Hale-Bopp comet.

The religious group Heaven's Gate, whose members died in a mass suicide, apparently was a combination of business savvy and religious passion.

"They presented themselves as being part of a monastery and saw themselves as being monks. Their behavior was not really all that unusual," said Nick Matzorkis, a Beverly Hills Internet businessman who employs a former member of Heaven's Gate known as Rio. "They were kind of Christian-based, but they were also involved with the universe," said Greg Hohertz, a former Matzorkis employee who knows Rio and has met other cult members. The cult called its computer business `Higher Source.' Hohertz described them as quiet and kind, savvy at the computer but a little spacey away from it. No one was prepared for how the 39 men and women ended their lives - together, lying on their backs in an elegant mansion, each body covered across the face and chest with a triangular shroud of purple cloth. "They said something significant was going to happen," Hohertz said. "I couldn't see them doing this actually," he said, characterizing the group as "very peaceful, kind of laid back. None of them were depressed or upset or anything. They were always very happy." Two videotapes purportedly sent to a former member suggest that the group planned to "shed their containers," possibly to rendezvous with a UFO they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. The word "containers" presumably meant their bodies. Matzorkis said one of the group members had mentioned the comet several months ago. "She told me they believed that there was a UFO following behind this comet," Matzorkis said. "Using the comet to shield them from Earth, they felt that the ship was coming to pick them up. …