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DETAILS SURFACE ABOUT MEMBERS' LIVES, POSSIBLE REASONS : RAYMOND ALAN BOWERS.

Byline: Associated Press

Thumbnail sketches of some suicide cult members:

Bowers, 45, of Jupiter, Fla., was ``lost,'' said Karin Nickeson, who befriended him along with her husband, Denny, when they all found a common interest in music.

``He cried all the time. He was very much in love with his wife, who divorced him. That's when he lost it,'' Karin Nickeson said.

His wife left him a few years ago. Bowers was also depressed about the death of his brother before he disappeared about three years ago without paying the rent, said former landlord Margo Bruynel in Jupiter.

``His brother's death hit him so hard,'' Bruynel said. ``He would stop by and talk, but I know he was depressed about the death of his brother. His brother died in some sort of freak accident up in New England. It was a tragedy he never got over.''

Bowers first met members of the cult 22 years ago during a lecture at Stanford University, said his sister, Susan. He was ``a spiritual person who saw good in everybody. God knew his heart. God wouldn't turn his back on him,'' she said.

LaDONNA ANN BRUGATO

Brugato, 40, of Englewood, Colo., was an outstanding violinist and computer programmer, said her father, Joe Brugato of Newberg, Ore.

She was one of nine children born to the real estate agent and former math teacher.

Brugato said he lost touch with his daughter when she became involved in the cult and he had hired a private investigator to help him re-establish contact.

When LaDonna Ann Brugato rented a home in the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado, her landlords noticed unusual behavior.

``She had a canopy bed set up with four diamond-shape crystals on each corner of her bed and one large crystal'' suspended from the ceiling over the middle of her bed, Al Wallace said. ``It clearly left me with the impression that this was some New Age experiential worship place that she used to commune with her gods.''

MARGARET JUNE BULL

Bull, 53, joined the cult in the mid-1970s after teaching English in Spain for a few years, said her brother, John Bull of Ellensburg, Wash.

She graduated from Ellensburg High and earned an English degree from the University of Washington.

Bull returned home when her mother died three years ago. At the time, she told relatives that cult members were self-supporting, drove expensive cars, lived communally, moved frequently and were celibate, her brother said.

CHERYL ELAINE BUTCHER

Butcher, 43, left Springfield, Mo., in 1976 to take up with a group in Oregon led by Marshall Applewhite. Her mother, Virginia Norton, said she seemed content.

``She didn't call it a cult. She didn't consider it as a cult. She was happy,'' Virginia Norton said.

Virginia Norton said she had not seen her daughter since 1993, when she visited her in Dallas.

JOHN M. CRAIG

Craig, 63, a onetime political candidate who ran a dude ranch and had a bit part in ``Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' left his wife and six young children in Durango, Colo., in July 1975.

``For me, he died 22 years ago,'' said Mary Ann Craig, his ex-wife. ``When we found out he was dead, there was a sense of closure more than anything for us.''

Craig owned the Wilderness Trails Guest Ranch. Former neighbors recalled him as the first horseman out of the boxcar in the famous train robbery scene in the movie.

In 1970, he also ran as a Republican for the Colorado House. He ended up losing the election by fewer than 20 votes.

After his abrupt departure, he contacted his family only occasionally through impersonal letters with no return addresses.

DARWIN LEE JOHNSON

Johnson, 42, played in a band called Dharma Combat, former band manager David Fratt told KTVX, a Salt Lake City television station.

Fratt said the band was playing in several clubs. The band's lyrics talked about death and aliens.

Johnson was found with a Utah driver's license.

JULIE LaMONTAGNE

LaMontagne, 45, who lived most recently in Las Cruces, N.M., studied nursing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst more than 20 years ago.

University officials said Saturday they could not confirm the identity because of a discrepancy between the middle name of the victim and that of the alumna.

JACKIE LEONARD

At 72, Leonard was the oldest among the dead. She grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and raised her two daughters and a son there with her late husband, said her son-in-law, Angelo Bellizzi of Seattle.

Bellizzi said Leonard ``was always groping and looking for something that interested her.''

In the early 1970s, she moved to Colorado, where she met members of the UFO cult, Bellizzi said. A few years later she joined the group in San Francisco, he said.

JEFFREY HOWARD LEWIS

Lewis, 41, was a former massage therapist from San Antonio.

Four years ago, Lewis sold his possessions and left San Antonio to join Heaven's Gate, according to a friend, David Tayloe.

Lewis, who worked as a masseur out of his house, told friends he was joining a cult for the second time.

GAIL RENEE MAEDER

Fear of death drove Maeder, 26, to the cult, said her mother, Alice Maeder.

``They promised her she would never die,'' Alice Maeder said. ``Her mind was controlled beyond her control.''

Maeder left Sag Harbor, N.Y., five years ago, moving to California with her boyfriend.

``At first she seemed happy,'' said her father, Robert Maeder, describing how she opened a small shop and did housework to pay the rent.

``But then she broke up with her boyfriend, lost her business and fell in with the wrong crowd,'' he said.

JOEL PETER McCORMICK

The mother of McCormick, 29, once said that she saw the cult as having taken his decisions away from him.

McCormick, who graduated from Malcolm Shabazz City High School in Madison, Wis., in 1986, joined a group then called the Total Overcomers in Seattle on May 16, 1994.

In a published report in 1994, his mother, Megan McCormick, said she was ``reasonably certain that Joel is physically all right. Sometimes I think he'll be irrevocably changed if and when he comes out.''

YVONNE McCURDY-HILL

McCurdy-Hill, 39, learned about the cult over the Internet and left her five children in Cincinnati in September to join the group, the family's minister said.

She was a postal worker for 10 years, sorting magazines and operating a mail machine at the main processing center in Cincinnati, said Bonni Maines, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman.

McCurdy-Hill quit in August, citing ``circumstances beyond my control.'' She headed west in September.

DAVID GEOFFERY MOORE

Moore, 40, grew up in Los Gatos, Calif. He hooked up with the cult in the mid-1970s and had contacted his family just twice since then, said his mother, Nancie Brown.

Brown described her son as an emotional, often angry teen-ager.

At age 19, he attended his first cult meeting in a neighborhood park, Brown said.

After the cult moved to San Diego County, Moore and two female cult members worked as free-lance employees for Arrowhead General Insurance Agency, an employee there said.

NANCY DIANNE NELSON

Nelson, 45, worked for Dr. Richard Mickle of Mesa, Ariz., during portions of 1995 and 1996. A former co-worker said she called herself A.J. and described herself as a nun without a last name, saying she lived in a monastery with two men who were highly knowledgeable about computers and did some work for Mickle.

Mickle, an osteopathic surgeon, said he knew nothing of the suicides or the California connection.

NORMA JEANE NELSON

Nelson, 59, told a former neighbor at a North Dallas apartment complex that she was from ``Star Trek.''

``We just looked at her in surprise. . . . It just didn't dawn on us that she was in a type of cult,'' neighbor Cynthia McGowan said. ``We thought that maybe she was crazy.''

THOMAS NICHOLS

Nichols, 59, who was found with an Arizona driver's license, was the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original ``Star Trek'' television series.

Her brother had cut off all communication with the family for 20 years in keeping with his religious beliefs, Nichelle Nichols said on ``Larry King Live.''

He resurfaced several years ago, when their mother died, to assure relatives he was OK, she said. He sought her advice in 1994 when the group planned to ``go public,'' she said.

MARGARET ELLA RICHTER

Richter, 46, was valedictorian at Las Plumas High School in Oroville, Calif., in 1969, said her sister Jean Long.

She majored in computer science, math and German at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in three years, Long said.

After her three-year marriage ended, she went to Los Angeles in 1975 and earned a master's degree in computer science at UCLA, Long said. After that, her family and friends had little contact with her.

Over the next 22 years, Richter visited relatives in Oroville twice.

MICHAEL BARR SANDOE

Sandoe, 26, of Boulder, Colo., had been in the Army, where he became a paratrooper and a ranger, said his mother, JoAnne Sandoe, of Abingdon, Va.

``He was in Desert Storm. He was in the infantry - out of Fort Benning, Ga.,'' she said.

After that, he ``worked and traveled.''

JoAnne Sandoe said she had no indication her son might be involved with the Heaven's Gate group.

DAVID CABOT VAN SINDEREN

Van Sinderen, 48, was the son of the former chairman and chief executive officer of South New England Telephone Co.

In the 21 years that he was a member of the Heaven's Gate group, his family saw him four times and spoke with him a handful of other times, his family said in a statement Saturday.

``While we did not completely understand or agree with David's beliefs, it was apparent to us that he was happy, healthy and acting under his own volition,'

' the statement said. ``It seemed to us that the group members were a supportive family unit and David was spiritually fulfilled in his life with them.

David Van Sinderen bought property on a 40-acre former youth camp near Mountainair, N.M., in June 1995, according to an official of the insurance company that sold the property. The cult apparently lived there until about eight months ago.

GARY JORDAN ST. LOUIS

St. Louis, 44, left his northern Idaho home in 1992 to join the cult, leaving his Coeur d'Alene girlfriend, Shelly King, with his personal belongings and a videotape explaining his decision.

SUSAN FRANCES STROM

Strom, 44, loved plants, animals and the Earth. She had planned on a career in botany, but one year before graduation, her attention turned to a UFO cult.

The daughter of a federal judge, Strom met up with the cult in 1975. Her father, U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom of Omaha, Neb., thought it was just a phase.

``I thought sure it would be short-lived and she would be back home,'' he said Saturday.

Strom graduated from all-girls Marian High School in Omaha in 1971. She attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, where she joined the cult as a senior.

Strom last saw his daughter in 1987. He said he never thought about deprogramming or kidnapping her. She was happy, she wasn't being abused and she wasn't being held against her will, he said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 30, 1997
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