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Autopsies completed in suicide cult as probe winds down

body sheet

March 31, 1997
Web posted at: 8:43 p.m. EST (0143 GMT)

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Autopsies have been completed on all of the bodies in the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, and officials report that eight of the 18 of the men were castrated.

Eleven bodies had been claimed by families and more bodies were scheduled to be released later Monday.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, authorities said they were still searching for families of two of the dead.

The eight who had been castrated had all healed properly, indicating that the operations were not recent, Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Blackbourne said. "It is not something a normal physician would do on request," he said.


Both male and female members of the Heaven's Gate group affected a unisex look, with buzz-cut hair and shapeless clothes. Cult leader Marshall Applewhite had preached celibacy.

As reported Sunday on "Impact," a CNN and Time magazine television program, the autopsies revealed that Applewhite did not have cancer. Cult members had said they believed their charismatic leader was terminally ill. Blackbourne said none of the 39 had a terminal illness.

Lt. Jerry Lipscomb of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said the investigation is winding down. He also confirmed that the deaths are considered suicides.

"This was a voluntary situation," Lipscomb said. "They ingested the drugs on their own. They may or many not have been influenced, but we'll never know that."

Rumor of splinter group discounted


Lipscomb said his department has heard "rumors" of other cult activities and of a possible splinter group that may be planning mass suicides. He discounted that prospect.

He said the FBI has also been called to analyze records of the Heaven's Gate cult -- including 11 to 14 computers, "many, many diskettes, (and) stacks and stacks of documents."

Lipscomb said his department is attempting to find out how the cult obtained the phenobarbital used in the suicide, but said the drug can be obtained legally. No criminal charges are pending concerning the drugs, he said.

Two of the dead contained traces of another drug -- a semi-synthetic opiate called vicovin hyrocodone.

Two bodies still unclaimed

Authorities sought the public's help in finding the families of the two whose bodies have not been claimed. They were identified as:

  • Alphonzo Ricardo Foster, 44, formerly of Detroit, whose relatives include three sisters and a brother.

  • Lindley A. Pease, 41, from Exeter, New Hampshire, whose sister was identified as Sylvia Pease of Palm Springs, California.

Extended coverage of mass suicides

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