Order of the Solar Temple

74 deaths

 As the millennium rapidly approaches, this apocalyptic eurotrash cult has claimed 74 victims in three bizarre mass suicide rituals. Strangely, most of the members of the sect seem to be highly educated and well-to-do individuals. The Order itself stems from the Knights of Templar, a secretive medieval organization founded by French crusaders in Jerusalem. How it became a New Age Yuppie Suicide machine, remains a mystery.

The Temple came to prominence on October 5, 1994, when 53 people committed murder-suicide simultaneously in several chalets in Switzerland and Canada. The two known leaders of the group, Luc Jouret, a Belgian New Ageist homeopathic doctor, and Joseph di Mambro, a wealthy businessman, were among the dead in Switzerland. Investigators have been trying to find out who took over from the Jouret and Di Mambro. French police say the new leader could be Michel Tabachnika, a Swiss orchestra conductor. The conductor has denied press reports that he is a cult member, however, his wife died in the 1994 murder-suicide ritual in the Swiss village of Cheiry.

The cult seems to give great importance to the sun. Their fiery ritual murder-suicides are meant to take members of the sect to a new world on the star "Sirius." To assist with the trip, several of the victims, including some children, are shot in the head, asphyxiated with black plastic bags and/or poisoned. Luc and Joseph wrote, in a letter delivered after their deaths that they were "leaving this earth to find a new dimension of truth and absolution, far from the hypocrisies of this world."l

A second mass suicide ritual ocurred about a week before Christmas in 1995. On December 23, on a remote plateau of the French Alps police found 16 charred bodies arranged in a star formation with their feet pointing to the ashes of a fire. Like the rituals of 1994, they all died by stabbing, asphyxiation, shooting and/or poisoning. Their bodies were burned to a crisp as part of a cleansing ritual.

A week before discovering the bodies, Swiss and French authorities suspected the worst when the 16 cult members disappeared from their homes. Some left behind handwritten notes expressing their intentions of committing mass suicide. One of the notes stated: "Death does not exist, it is pure illusion. May we, in our inner life, find each other forever." Two of the dead were the wife and son of French ski champion and millionaire eye wear manufacturer, Jean Vuarnet.

In March 23, 1997 five more dead bodies were found in a burned house owned by Didier Queze, a member of the Order, in St. Casimir, Quebec. The bodies of four cultist, Didier, her husband and another couple, were found in a bed upstairs positioned in what may have been intended to be the shape of the cross. The mother of Didier was found dead on a sofa downstairs with a plastic bag over her head. Unlike earlier suicides in which adults killed their children, the three teen-age children of the cultist couple were spared.

Apparently the teen-agers woke up the day before the suicide to discover their parents and their cultist friend had placed propane tanks, electric hot plates and fire-starters on the main floor of the two-story house and were trying to burn down the place. Realizing what was happening the teenagers expressed their disapproval and negotiated with their parents to be spared. However, Fanie Queze-Goupillot, 14, and her brothers Tom, 13, and Julien, 16, agreed to take sleeping pills before their parents' fiery death and went to sleep in a workshop near the house. "The children were given medication, but they knew that when they woke up their parents and grandmother would be dead."