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Murder-suicide mystery in the French Alps

Murder. Suicide. Assassination. Sex. Money laundering. International investigations. These elements comprise the perfect storyline for any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. But the story of the Order of the Solar Temple is no movie. It's real life. And for 74 people who died in Quebec, Switzerland and France between 1994 and 1997, the consequences of their membership in the cult were fatal.

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The death toll continues to rise with another murder-suicide pact. Fourteen months after the horrific, bizarre deaths in Switzerland and Quebec, the charred bodies of 16 Solar Temple members -- including three children -- are found in Saint-Pierre-de-Cherennes, a remote region of the French Alps. After an exhaustive search through the forests near Grenoble, a police helicopter spots the bodies.

When French police arrive at the site, they find the burned bodies lying in a star formation with their feet pointed toward the middle; the same eerie formation in which Swiss police discovered the victims one year earlier in Cheiry.
• After 53 cult members perished a year earlier in Quebec and Switzerland, the deaths in France raised the body count to 69.

• Most of the victims were drugged and were found with plastic bags tied around their heads, others had bullet wounds in them, suggesting they had been murdered. All the bodies had been doused with flammable liquid before being burned.

• Tree limbs and nearby brush were used to help start the fire.

• Five hundred French police officers were involved in the manhunt. The search began the day before the bodies were found when several abandoned cars in a parking lot near the forest raised suspicions.

• Famous Swiss conductor Michel Tabachnik was later indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to commit murder and possession of stolen goods by the prosecutor in Grenoble, France. The prosecution argued Tabachnik was a key figure in the cult and tried to connect him to the deaths in the French Alps. He was acquitted in 2001. Tabachnik was the only high-ranking member of the cult to stand trial for any of the deaths.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 23, 1995
Host: Lorne Saxberg
Reporter: Mimi Tompkins
Duration: 1:47

Last updated: November 10, 2014

Page consulted on November 10, 2014

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