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Solar Temple Cult: The madness begins

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.

Police in Quebec have a gruesome mystery on their hands, as this clip reveals how two dead bodies are discovered in a burned-out chalet in Morin Heights, just north of Montreal. The victims, badly burned, appear to have committed suicide, but police don't rule out murder. Hours later across the Atlantic, another chalet in the Swiss hamlet of Cheiry smoulders into flames. When the chalet cools, firemen walk through the smoky ruins and uncover a house of horrors.

They walk into the garage and discover that it has been converted into a macabre chapel, draped in crimson fabric and bathed in coloured lighting. A radio hanging from the top of the door is playing an audiocassette with a voice rambling on about astrology. But it's what's lying on the floor that presents the most terrifying image: 19 bodies arranged in a star formation with their feet pointing inwards.

All together, police find 23 dead bodies. Some of the dead are wearing ceremonial robes. Twenty have been shot in the head and nine have plastic bags tied around their heads. All had been given hypnotic drugs and tranquilizers. The grisly carnage, however, isn't over. Another fire breaks out in two chalets in the Swiss village of Granges-Sur-Salvan. Police there find 25 more dead bodies. Five of the dead were children, the youngest only four years old.

The next day, police in Quebec discover three more dead bodies in the chalet in Morin Heights, including a three-month-old infant, bringing the total number of dead to 53. Among the 11 Canadians that died in Quebec and Switzerland are Robert Falardeau, a 47-year-old accountant at the Quebec Ministry of Finance; Joce-Lyne Grand'Maison, a 44-year-old journalist for Le Journal de Québec; and Robert Ostiguy, the 50-year-old mayor of Richelieu, Que. and his wife Françoise, 48.

Police in Switzerland are convinced there is a connection between the deaths in Morin Heights and the Swiss villages when they discover that all the victims are members or former members of the Order of the Solar Temple. Police find a series of letters in the chalet in Granges-Sur-Salvan written by the cult's leaders, Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret.

One letter says the cultists "died in joy and plenitude," giving the impression to police that this was all part of a mass-suicide pact. Others are not convinced. Because the victims are badly burned, it makes it impossible to identify the bodies. Unsure whether or not Di Mambro and Jouret died in the fire, the police consider the cult leaders as the two prime suspects and start to put together their murder investigation.
• Jouret's ceremonies communicated the cult's belief that life was a passage to death and that the end of the world was imminent. He preached that the world would be engulfed in war and famine and only Quebec would survive. He preached 'purification'; ritual death through the fiery burning of the body. Jouret believed that fire would purify the members' souls and prepare them for their "transit voyage" to the star Sirius where they would achieve spiritual transformation.

• Years later, former cult members told Maclean's magazine of how Jouret would have sex with female members in order to give him spiritual strength to perform his ceremonies. Di Mambro, referred to as 'the dictator' by some members, became increasingly authoritarian in his actions as members carried out his commands no matter how outlandish or degrading.

• Money continued to pour in as members sold their homes and handed the proceeds over to the cult leaders. By the early 1990s, several members became disillusioned with the cult, claiming Jouret's predictions for the end of the world were too specific. The cult soon became fragmented and wrapped in turmoil as members learned of the misappropriation of cult funds. Members began demanding to meet with Jouret and Di Mambro to talk to them about the finances.

Jouret and Di Mambro were wise to the insurrection brewing within the cult and took action. They lured cult members in Quebec, France and Switzerland to the Swiss chalet under the guise of addressing their concerns about the money. It was all a ruse, as hours later, 53 members and former members died in Morin Heights, Cheiry and Granges-Sur-Salvan.
Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Oct. 5, 1994
Guest(s): Michel Brunet, Bertrand Ouimet, Andre Pillaire
Host: Bob Oxley
Reporter: Rick MacInnes-Rae, Bernard St. Laurent
Duration: 3:47

Last updated: November 29, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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