Bonnie Nettles is known as one of "The Two" who started the so-called UFO cult often referred to as Heaven's Gate with Marshall Applewhite, both believing they were figures mentioned on the Book of Revelation and that they were on a divine mission. Their group reached a membership of around 200 before Nettles died in 1985, 12 years before Applewhite and 39 other members committed mass suicide.
Relationship with Applewhite
Cult leader and nurse Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles was born in 1927. Nettles is best remembered as one of "The Two" who started the so-called UFO cult often referred to as Heaven's Gate with Marshall Herff Applewhite. Raised in Houston as a Baptist, she knew the Bible well, but became interested in other worldly pursuits as an adult. The married mother of four believed that she had a spiritual guide named Brother Francis, a monk from the 19th century. She learned to make astrological charts and participated in séances to make contact with the dead.
In 1972, Nettles met Applewhite. Some reports indicate that they met at a hospital where Nettles worked while others indicate they met at a drama class taught by Applewhite. (Nettles graduated from the Hermann Hospital of Professional Nursing in 1948 and is believed to have worked as a nurse for several years.) Whatever the case, the pair believed that they shared some type of spiritual connection. They opened a spiritual bookstore together in Houston called the Christian Arts Center, but the business failed.
Trouble with the Law
The following year, Nettles divorced her husband and left her family to travel with Applewhite. They came to believe that they were figures mentioned in the Book of Revelation and that they were on a divine mission. Uninterested in earthly laws, they skipped out on motel and food bills. They were both arrested in 1974 for credit card fraud, but the charges were later dropped. But at the time it was discovered that Applewhite was wanted for car theft, having rented a vehicle and never returning it.
Nettles corresponded with Applewhite while he served six months in prison for stealing the car. During this time, he worked out a manifesto of their shared beliefs. While they borrowed from Christianity, they rejected traditional religion. They also incorporated elements of science fiction, believing that they were alien life forms came from a "Level Above Human." They proposed that heaven was a physical place that existed on another level and that it was their mission to help others make the transition from Earth to the "Next Level."
After Applewhite was released, the pair hit the road again. Many people during the 1970s were exploring all sorts of spiritual and metaphysic beliefs. They even found a few interested in joining them. More people became interested, with about 20 new members joining after a 1975 meeting in Oregon. The group eventually grew to estimated 200 members. To cope with their growing flock, Nettles and Applewhite often sent their followers out to travel the country proselytizing.
They worked as a team with Applewhite as the speaker and Nettles as the sage. Known by many names, including "Guinea" and "Pig," "Bo" and "Peep," and "The Two," the messianic figures from outer space attracted a lot of media attention, as well as followers. They made the national news in 1975 and were the subject of a book, U.F.O. Missionaries Extraordinary, the following year. Both Nettles and Applewhite were overwhelmed by the scrutiny that came with their raised public profile.
That same year, Nettles and Applewhite decided that they would stop adding new members. They set out to reduce their followers to include only the most dedicated. Reaching the "level above human" required refraning from earthly needs, desires and addictions, such as sex or drugs or possessions or even the ego. To the two, the body was just a "vehicle."
In 1983, Nettles' "vehicle" was beginning to break down, losing an eye to cancer. She died two years later in Dallas after the cancer had spread to her liver. Applewhite told their followers that she had returned to the Next Level. Fourteen years later, he and 38 Heaven's Gate members committed suicide, believing that they too would ascend using the Hale-Bopp comet.
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