Tragic Endings of Cults and Their Members
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at 10 Tragic Endings of Cults and Their Members.
For this list, we’ll be discussing infamous cults that ended in tragedy.
Which of these do you find most shocking? Let us know in the comments.
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
Founded in 1989 Uganda, the Movement was based primarily on the 10 Commandments, and how they must be diligently followed. At its peak, membership is said to have been somewhere around 5,000 people. The leaders claimed to receive divine messages that the world would end on January 1, 2000, then March 17, 2000. Having failed to predict the date twice, members became disillusioned with their leadership, and amid the likely revolt, 395 members were trapped in a burning building, and others were found deceased at other sites. Though some claimed a mass deliberate end of life, it became clear that it was likely mass murder. The leaders disappeared and were never found. The final death toll was 924, which surpassed Jonestown by 6.
Established in the 1960s by Australian Anne Hamilton-Byrne, The Family practiced a blend of Christianity and Hinduism, believing that their founder was the resurrection of Christ. Closer followers considered themselves to be reincarnations of the apostles. There were a number of odd psychiatric practices associated with the group, including use of LSD, electroconvulsive therapy, and lobotomy. However, arguably the most damaging part of this group is what was revealed after a 1987 raid of their compound. Hamilton-Byrne had illegally adopted 14 infants through forgery between 1968 and 1975, aided by lawyers and others within the group. The children were raised and schooled within the compound with Hamilton-Byrne claiming to be their biological mother, enduring unspeakable horrors.
In the early 2000s, Lou Castro (real name Daniel Perez) formed a group known as Angel’s Landing, claiming to be a centuries-old angel. He declared himself to have healing abilities and clairvoyance. The group moved across the United States for a while, settling in a commune in Kansas. Angel’s Landing saw an abrupt end in 2010 when its leader was accused of multiple cases of sexual assault. Castro convinced followers that as an angel, he required relations with underage girls in order to stay alive. He was also accused of murdering followers for insurance payouts, in order to fund his luxurious lifestyle. He was convicted of several crimes, receiving multiple life sentences in 2015.
Yogmaya's Jal Samadhi
Yogmaya Neupane was a poet, women’s rights activist, and eventual religious leader in late 19th-early 20th century Nepal. In her time as an activist, it is said she did a lot of good in the fight for women’s rights, including playing an important role in the abolition of Sati Pratha, a practice in which a widow sits atop her deceased husband’s funeral pyre to die with him. In her later years, Yogmaya would renounce common living, devoting her life to asceticism and severe meditation practices, gaining followers through her published religious poetry. Amid political opposition and brutality in 1941, she performed a ritual sacrifice throwing herself into the Arun River, with 67 of her disciples following suit.
Good News International Church
The Good News International Church was a doomsday cult formed in 2003 by Paul Nthenge Mackenzie. It began as a small church, gaining a larger following as Mackenzie claimed direct communication with God. Mackenzie claimed that such things as food, education, and medicine were evil influences from the West. In April of 2023, authorities were made aware of issues with the commune, and upon investigation found a number of shallow graves and severely malnourished followers, ordered by Mackenzie to starve in order to meet Jesus Christ. Multiple deceased followers of all ages were found in the graves. Unwilling participants were reportedly killed by hired help. As of July 2023, the death count exceeded 400, with investigations and searches ongoing.
The Branch Davidians
The Branch Davidians were initially formed in 1935, and have a complicated history of leadership passing from one person to another. However, the name most associated with the organization is undoubtedly David Koresh. He claimed to be the divine “Lamb” tasked with preparing for the second coming of Christ. Koresh also wished to create a new ancestry of world leaders, which led to eventual allegations of abuse. On February 28, 1993, law enforcement began a siege on the Davidians compound in Waco, Texas which would last until April 19 of that year. After lengthy attempts at negotiating, the FBI raided the compound using military vehicles and tear gas. In all, 4 federal agents and 82 followers lost their lives.
True Russian Orthodox Church
The True Russian Orthodox Church, otherwise known as Penza Recluses, was formed by Pyotr Kuznetsov in the early 2000s. It was a doomsday cult that had broken from the Russian Orthodox Church claiming it wasn’t strict enough in following doctrine. Members of the True church renounced a number of worldly goods including processed foods, bar codes, and television. In late 2007, around 30 members retreated to a cave in Penza, as their leader had warned them they needed to do so for the upcoming apocalypse in March of 2008. After the prediction was proven wrong, members slowly trickled out of the cave due to severe illness and structural collapse, with the last emerging after the toxic fumes of two deceased members rendered the cave unlivable.
Heaven’s Gate was a New Age UFO cult in which the central principle was that humans could, upon death, evolve into immortal heightened beings by traveling to Heaven aboard a UFO. The Hale-Bopp Comet, visible for 18 months between 1996 and 1997, provided a sign for the cult, believing their divine UFO to be flying behind it. In March of 1997, the group of 39 members took a lethal dose of phenobarbital and vodka. They were all dressed alike, in black sweat suits, Nike shoes, “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” patch armbands, and $5.75 in their pockets. Unfortunately, as comet co-discoverer Alan Hale pointed out, the self-taking of lives often occurs with the advent of comets, as they are often wrongfully assumed to be apocalyptic signs.
The Manson Family
Arguably the most recognizable name on this list, Charles Manson formed his “Family” in the late 1960s - early 70s. His followers, who at their height were around 100, believed Manson to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ who predicted an upcoming world-ending race war. Manson’s followers did as he asked, and what he asked for were a number of murders. The crimes most often associated with the Manson Family are the deaths of actress Sharon Tate and four of her houseguests. However, they were also convicted in the murders of four others, including a college professor, a middle-aged couple, and a ranch hand. Despite the nine counts of murder, the group was suspected of at least 14 more.
Founded in 1954 by American James Warren Jones (aka Jim Jones), the Peoples Temple teachings were based on Christian principles with communist and socialist influences. The Temple had multiple locations in the US, but after unfavorable media attention and investigations, many (including Jones himself) fled and established a commune in Guyana nicknamed “Jonestown.” The population grew to over 900 inhabitants between 1974 and 1978. Feeling the pressure of media scrutiny, Jones ordered his followers to commit mass “revolutionary” self-sacrifice by drinking poisoned grape drink. Those who refused were put to death by other means, and some managed to flee. Jones himself died at the same time of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The total death toll was 918.