I’d like to start this mostly fact-based article by saying this: writing this made me want to start a cult. There seems to be good money in it, and if you don’t do anything bad like kill people, then what’s the harm? Then it’s just a bunch of like-minded individuals congregating and having a good time believing in fairies or something. I haven’t worked out the kinks yet. The bottom line is that cults don’t seem to be that bad of an idea in theory. If you can stay away from the touchy murder-suicide trap that so many of these cults seem to fall into, I think we’d be fine. What I’m basically saying is that if you like my writing and you want to join my cult, I’m accepting applications. Still working on a name and a general belief system but that’ll develop naturally I’m sure.
Jokes aside (that wasn’t entirely a joke) cults have been in some hot water over the past 100 years. The word “cult” itself is sort of like someone calling another person a “conspiracy theorist.” It has a bad connotation and completely invalidates everything they have to say. You can easily call organized religion a cult but we don’t because the connotation of “cult” means they’ve done bad things. To be fair, the reputation is not necessarily false. As you’ll see in these 15 examples, many cults are worthy of the moniker.
15. The Order Of The Solar Temple
Founded by Luc Jouret and Joseph De Mambro in the early 1980s, The Order of the Solar Temple is a religious cult that centers on the continued existence of the Knights Templar and the second coming of Jesus Christ. The group mixes religious beliefs with modern philosophy, and is known to operate in both Switzerland and Canada. Like many cults on this list, The Order believed that the end of the world was right around the corner, and urged for its members to leave the physical world before it happened. It wasn’t until the 1990s that people started to find dead bodies and connect the dots. There were several deaths related to the cult in both Canada and Switzerland, including a family and a three-month-old child. It was theorized that they were murdered by another family in the cult who believed their son was the antichrist. That family committed suicide shortly after. The apparent ritualistic killings were all dubbed murder suicides, with fires often being started before their deaths. At one particularly gruesome scene, 48 bodies were found, burned and drugged. No one knows for sure if the cult is still operating, though many who are experts in the occult believe that they are.
14. The Vampire Clan
The Vampire Clan is not one of the largest or most influential cults on this list, but their story was enough to warrant a movie based on the name of the group. The leader of this clan, Rod Ferrell, became obsessed with vampires while playing a role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. He claimed that he himself was a 500-year-old vampire, and while it’s unclear if he truly believed it, his followers seemed to. A weird vampiric gang isn’t especially harmful, but the killing that Ferrell and his associates committed certainly was. Ferrell and one of his fellow vampires, Howard Scott Anderson, beat the father of one of their followers to death in his own home. When his wife came home and found the two men, they beat her to death as well. The motive of the killings was to free their daughter (his follower) from their control. The group was on the run to New Orleans at the time of their capture. One of the girls they were with called her parents for money, who subsequently alerted police of the fugitives’ whereabouts.
13. Santa Muerte Cult
Santa Muerte is the Saint of Death in Mexican culture. There are personifications of death in many cultures, and in Mexico it is usually a female skeleton in a gown. Many celebrate her existence as a constant reminder to live life to the fullest, but others have a much darker interpretation. When two children went missing in a small town, police started to suspect that there was foul play involved. They didn’t think it had anything to do with cult worship, but when they searched the home of a suspected brothel operator, they found the missing boys under her floorboards. They found another body linked to the cult in another location, and promptly arrested all who were involved. Some confessed while in custody, admitting that they would slit the throats of their victims and drain their blood as a sacrifice to Santa Muerte .
12. The Children of Thunder
The Children of Thunder, while only composed of three people, was a cult that made its mark in the world cult-related tragedies. It was started by two brothers, Taylor and Justin Helzer, who were raised in a Mormon family. Taylor was eventually banished from the community for drinking, doing drugs and having sex, but did not sever his ties with God entirely. He actually believed that God was talking to him. He would even silence other people so that he could listen better. The brothers started a religion around Taylor’s gift, even recruiting Justin’s girlfriend, Dawn Godman. The team needed money for their ventures, and when prostitution and drug dealing wasn’t cutting it they decided to turn to burglary. They picked one of Justin’s clients, and elderly couple that had a decent income. They tied the couple up, forced them to drink Rohypnol and write them checks for the amount of $100,000. Paranoia got the better of the brothers, as they decided they needed to cover their tracks. They killed Dawn Godman and her mother for good measure. All four bodies were dismembered and thrown in the river (real Godly stuff). The bodies were eventually found, and the brothers were arrested. Justin got a life sentence and Taylor the death penalty.
11. Branch Davidians
Led by founder David Koresh, the Branch Davidians were a religious cult that was composed of a sect from the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They believed that the word of the bible should be taken literally, and were obsessed with the book of Revelations. In the 1990s the group started attracting press, who accused the group of practicing extreme child abuse and stockpiling weapons. Koresh himself was even accused of having sexual relations with young girls. It all came to a head in 1993 when the ATF issued an arrest warrant for Koresh and the leaders of the church. When law enforcement came, the group initiated an armed standoff. It wasn’t until the FBI intervened that the situation was resolved, but not in an amiable way. When the FBI stormed the building, a fire began blazing. The fire killed all of the Branch Davidians who were inside, as David Koresh would have rather killed everyone than be captured. Children were found among the dead.
10. Heaven’s Gate
The group that called themselves Heaven’s Gate, was founded in 1974 in San Diego, California by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. They believed that Earth was facing an impending cleanse, and that all of life was about to be whipped clean. The only way they saw to survive was to leave Earth as soon as they could. They also believed that the human body was just a shell of a vessel for consciousness, and in order to successfully survive the impending doom they must shed all attachments to this world. In 1997, founder Marshall Applewhite filmed himself speaking about mass suicide, saying that it was the only way to truly shed all Earthly possessions. He believed, and thus the cult believed, that an alien ship was waiting for them behind the Hale-Bopp comet. When they killed themselves, Applewhite said, the UFO would take their souls to a higher plane of existence. On March 26, 1997, 39 bodies were found, partially decomposed in a mansion in California. The members had ingested a toxic mix of poison and apple sauce, and some had secured plastic bags over their heads. The group’s website is still active and being updated to this day.
9. The Fall River Cult
The Fall River Cult was founded in the 1970s by Massachusetts resident, Satanist and pimp, Carl Drew. He intimidated his prostitutes with his satanic practices, and even claimed that he himself was the spawn of the devil. He gathered some followers and practiced rituals for them. Eventually he claimed that he needed a human sacrifice, and this came in the form of a young prostitute Donna Levesque; she was bludgeoned to death. Her body was left on the property of a high school. When a member of the cult, Karen Marsden, attempted to inform police of the original murder, she was the next human sacrifice by the cult. She was killed in the same manor, but her head was severed from her body after her death. The police eventually caught up to the group and charged them with the murders. Carl Drew was sentenced to life in prison along with other members of the cult. Robin Murphy, who informed on Drew, was offered a more lenient sentence for her testimony.
8. Puputan, Bali
The old times were certainly hard and complicated ones, and when the people of Bali were getting invaded by the Dutch in 1906, they decided to take their own lives instead of accepting their defeat in the conquest. The ritualistic mass suicide that took place was known as Puputan, and the purpose was to avoid the enslavement and oppression that comes with being conquered by another country. The Balinese Raja commanded their people to burn all of their valuables. They then marched into the face of their invaders, with the most vulnerable (women and children) going first. The head priest stabbed the Raja in the heart, and the Puputan commenced. The Balinese began to kill one another in front of the perplexed soldiers, some even throwing money and jewels at the soldiers. They left as little as possible to be conquered by the invading forces. Children in Bali are taught the story of the Puputan, and their sacrifice is celebrated as a national holiday.
7. The Carny Cult
This satanic cult was more generic and less official than the others, but it still took the life of at least two individuals. The cult was operated by four members: Jimmie Penick, Mark Goodwin, David Lawrence and his brother Keith Lawrence. They all worked at a traveling carnival with a man named William Ault. Ault wanted to join the cult, and when the four refused to let him in, he told them that he knew of a murder that they had committed in an attempt to blackmail his way in. Of course, this worked out exactly the way you think it did. The four members drove Ault to a secluded area under false pretences, gagged him, tied him up, and began to sacrifice him. They took turns cutting an inverted cross on his abdomen, and finished by cutting off his hands and his head. They took the money that Ault had and treated themselves to a dinner at Arby’s. The police were notified of the location of the body by Goodwin’s father, and the group of Satanists was arrested.
6. Aum Shinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth in English) was a Japanese doomsday cult that was founded in 1984 by Shoko Asahara. It’s nice to see another religion mixed up in the cult worship, as this cult was founded on fundamental Buddhist beliefs; of course, no cult would be complete without a dash of the Book of Revelation. IT was a general blend of religions with a pinch of Nostradamus, but their overall goal was to restore the original Buddhism. Although the cult was accepted and even given religious recognition by the government, the cult showed its true colors when Asahara ordered that sarin gas be released into the Tokyo Subway. Twelve people were killed, and police raided Asahara’s home. They found copious amounts of poison, weapons, chemical devises and hostages inside. Asahara was arrested, though it is believed that the cult is still practicing to this day.
5. The Manson Family
Charles Manson may be the most well-known cult leader in history, as his face continues to be plastered all over television whenever he is mentioned in the news. The charismatic leader recruited followers with his semi-communist beliefs and promises of enlightenment. There is probably more of a history on the Manson Family than any other cult, but their general sentiment seemed to be that they wanted to instigate race wars. They would extort their victims for money, and when they were finished they’d kill them. After that, they’d vandalize their home with some sort of Black Panther imagery, suggesting to police that militant black organizations were behind the murders. As you probably know, Manson is serving life in prison for his crimes, but his lifeless eyes and nut-bag demeanor are always terrifying whenever he’s on TV.
4. Superior Universal Alignment
Superior Universal Alignment was a Brazilian cult that was responsible for the disappearance of almost 20 young boys in the early 1990s. After their arrests, it was discovered that the group believed that all children born after 1981 were evil and needed to be killed. Many were found castrated in the Brazilian jungle, left to bleed out and die. Some escaped after the torment, but police refused to act for a considerable amount of time. When they finally did discover the cult, led by a 70-year-old woman named Valentina de Andrade, they found that the members included police officers, businessmen and other prominent and upstanding members of society. Many of the members were sent to jail for their part in the murders, but Andrade was shockingly acquitted of wrongdoing.
3. The Ripper Crew
The Ripper Crew, also called Chicago Rippers were a satanic cult that was founded by Robin Gecht, a friend and associate of John Wayne Gacy. Other members of the cult were Edward Spreitzer, Andrew Kokoraleis and his brother Thomas Kokoraleis. They were gruesome killers who performed satanic rituals with the flesh of their female victims. These rituals involved cutting the breasts off of the women they abducted, often while they were still alive. When police finally caught up to the gang, it was revealed that they would rape and torture the women, sometimes even eating their severed flesh and masturbating into the open wounds on their breasts. These men were truly evil, with 18 disappearances linked to the organization. When convicted, Gecht received a 120 year sentence, Spreitzer and Andrew Kokoraleis were sentenced to death and Thomas Kokoraleis, who confessed, has had his sentence commuted. He is now scheduled for release September 30, 2017.
Jonestown refers to The People’s Temple, a cult founded in the 1950s by Jim Jones. When the public perception started to heat up, Jones moved the headquarters of his cult to Guyana, where he and his followers set up a community. US congressman Leo Ryan was curious of what the group was up to, so he traveled to Guyana to see for himself. While the meeting with the cult seemed agreeable, Ryan was approached by members of the cult looking for passage out of Guyana. He agreed, but was attacked with a knife before he could leave. Ryan survived the stabbing, but was eventually shot and killed while boarding his chartered plane. Incensed that his followers were beginning to abandon him, Jones dictated that they make the ultimate sacrifice. He concocted a potion cyanide, sedatives and juice (this is where the term “drinking the Kool-Aid” comes from) and fed it to his youngest followers first. The adults then joined the young, as they drank the concoction and died alongside them. Over 900 bodies were found as a result, with almost a third of them being children. Jones, who didn’t drink the brew, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
1. Movement For The Restoration Of The Ten Commandments
This cult was established in Uganda by a group of excommunicated Catholic priests in the 1990s. They followed the teachings of Jesus Christ and the order of the Ten Commandments strictly, but did some relative good for the community. They were established on the idea of bettering society, and helped build churches and schools in impoverished neighborhoods. Like the majority of cults, these people were convinced that the end of days were near. They thought that the end of the world was coming in 1999, but when this estimate proved incorrect they extended the deadline to the year 2000. When the day of reckoning was near, the cult gathered 500 of its members together to worship in a church. The doors and windows were boarded and someone set fire to the building. Reports of what truly happen vary, as some say the people inside were unknowingly murdered while others say this was a mass suicide. When authorities arrived, they found bodies on the outside of the church as well, suggesting that the killings had started before the fire was set. These, combined with the burned bodies from inside the church, equated to about 900 individuals killed that day, making this the worst cult related death toll in history.