No one goes into life looking to join a cult. Rather, cults tend to prey on people who are insecure, vulnerable, or otherwise just looking for a community or answers to the problems they face in their lives.
At first glance, cults look like happy, loving communities that are ready to welcome, enlighten, and care for anyone who comes to their doors. Slowly but surely, cults end up brainwashing people or otherwise forcing people into relinquishing control over their lives.
A lot of cults out there are dangerous due to the fact that they may ask members to give up their finances or avoid medical practices. Some, however, are deadly because they ask their members to kill themselves or others.
Over the years, there have been many murders committed by cults. The following are some of the most chilling.
Jim Jones was one of the most charismatic cult leaders in existence, and he was so loved by his members, the CIA actually used to study him just to find out how he gained so much loyalty.
Jones was known for being the head of the Peoples' Temple, a majority-black church that initially promoted racial equality and peace. As time grew, Jones's grip on his members grew—and so did his influence. He became known for being a political figure in Indiana, and his church was held in high regard.
Eventually, Jones became distrustful of American police and decided that it was time to move. He moved his entire church, including around 2,000 members, to Guyana, in a compound he called Jonestown. It was supposed to be a socialist utopia, but quickly became anything but.
His paranoia and abuses grew to the point of beating members, starving them, and encouraging others to tell on any members who started to hesitate to carry out orders. Around this time, Jones began to have ceremonies where he would tell followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid—though it was never poisoned at this point.
Upon hearing of human rights abuses, one congressman from the US visited Jonestown. Jim Jones ordered him killed. Congressman Leo Ryan and his fellow aides were killed.
Soon after, Jones became paranoid that the US was going to try to come after him. Jones rounded up all 918 of his members and then asked them to drink a cyanide Flavor-Aid cocktail.
He killed almost all his followers, and forced families to poison their own children first. Those who did not drink the poison were gunned down by armed guards.
Only a handful of Peoples' Temple members survived. Of all the murders committed by cults, this was the largest in history and also remained the largest mass murder of Americans until 9/11.
One thing you'll notice about the murders committed by cults is that they are rarely done to outsiders. Joining a cult often means that you will end up killing yourself. Such was the case with the Heaven's Gate cult, led by a couple known as Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles.
Applewhite, also known as "Do," was known for being mentally ill, and had somehow convinced Nettles that they knew each other in a past life. The two then claimed that they spoke to UFOs, and that they had found out that they can ascend to a higher form of evolution.
This was a culty cult, ever there was one. To join, you'd have to give up your wealth, family, gender, and sexual activity—just to start. Heaven's Gate believed that followers would have to shed their "mortal bodies," and that aliens would resurrect them and take them on a space ship after the comet Hale Bopp passed.
To prepare for the "journey" on the spaceship, they wore identical jogging suits, matching Nike shoes, and handmade patches that alluded to Star Trek. Hint: The aliens didn't come and 39 members died. Survivors are still around, and believe it or not, they maintain the Heaven's Gate website.
Helter Skelter is what is commonly referred to as the name of one of the most gruesome murders committed by cults in the 1960s. The cult belonged to Charles Manson, one of the most famous American serial killers of all time.
The 60s cult started as a "family" that was fueled by sex, drugs, and Beatles music. His followers saw him as a messiah figure who claimed that "Helter Skelter" would occur and cause a race war to erupt. It'd launch him and the "family" into power—and that's when they'd save the world.
Truth be told, it seems more apt that Manson had gotten into arguments with some Hollywood brass. That's a more likely reason why he told the members of his cult to kill actress Sharon Tate and a number of other noted actresses.
Either way, his followers believed that the murders would speed up Manson's prophecy and carried them out. That, combined with the high-profile targets, were what made the "family" one of the most notorious cults of the 60s.
Manson and his followers were put behind bars. In recent years, former followers, including one that was known as "Sexy Sadie," have expressed remorse towards their actions. Manson himself recently died at 83 years of age.
Most of the murders committed by cults are well-known and heavily documentarized, but not the Ripper Crew. This was a Satanic cult that was started by John Wayne Gacy's disciple, Robin Gecht. Much like his "idol," Gecht had a thing for murder.
Unlike Gacy, who had a penchant for young boys and clowns, Robin Gecht's way of going about it was to create a Satanic cult that preyed upon female prostitutes. During the 1980s in Chicago, the "Ripper Crew" was the cause of at least 18 disappearances—possibly more.
Women who were abducted by this cult would have their breasts sliced off, and would then be tortured to fulfill Gecht's sick desires. In many cases, only parts of the victims were initially found.
Not much is actually available online about these sex cult murders. However, the book Deadly Thrills goes into depth about what made Gecht's cult so heinous and how he flew under the radar for so long.
In Mexico, almost all the most famous murders committed by cults were linked only a couple of groups. This was one of the most notorious. Los Hermanos Hernández, which was a cult that was started by two brothers and a woman known as Magdalena Solis, took over a village called Yerba Buena.
After convincing villagers that they were reincarnations of Medieval gods, the two began to demand sex and money from villagers as a form of protection. The demands escalated until they eventually asked for human sacrifices.
This all came to a halt after a villager ran to another city and begged police to investigate. They sent a lone officer, who never returned. More police showed up, and discovered that the policeman's body was found mutilated.
Both founders of Los Hermanos Hernández were killed in the altercation, with many loyal cult members being jailed for the crimes they committed. Solis, the "Inca goddess" of the cult, ended up being arrested in the skirmish as well.
This might be one of the most terrifying cults out there, simply because most murders committed by cults don't involve WMDs like the killings this cult took out. The Rajneeshpuram cult was started in the 70s with a man known as Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Rajneesh was known for being heavily hedonistic, owning over 90 Rolls-Royces, and heavily encouraging his followers to live a sex-filled life. Sounds great, right? Well, conservative India wouldn't have it, so he moved to the US in 1981.
The Rajneeshpuram were doing their hardest to become politically active in the states, but quickly found themselves being stonewalled by local authorities. Rajneesh and his 2,500 followers were pissed.
So, they did the most rational thing out there and poisoned the food at a bunch of restaurants throughout the Texas region they resided in. The attack claimed around 750 victims, 45 hospitalizations, and possibly one or two deaths—though no official death toll has been linked to the attack.
Multiple assassination attempts on officials, plus Rajneesh's unsettlingly mysterious death, definitely suggests that they may have actually carried out killings that remain to be seen today.
The cult itself was so notorious, it even got its own Netflix show called Wild Wild Country.
The dubious honor of being known for the first chemical weapon murders committed by cults goes to the Japanese doomsday cult known as the Aum Shrinrikyo.
Shoko Asahara, the extremely charismatic cult leader, had started up the cult in 1984 as a millennialist movement that incorporated elements including Tibetan Buddhism, the Christian Book of Revelation, yoga, and a number of other facets.
Like other cult leaders, Shoko prophesized an end of days that involved nuclear war with the United States. Only those who would join him in the Aum would be able to survive.
The Aum quickly gained followers thanks to Shoko's "Aum Survival Plan," which aimed at positive thinking, healthy practices, and general wellness to help solve peoples' problems and gain their trust. At the peak of the cult's popularity, he had thousands of members and also had an entire military-style compound.
There was an ugly side to the Aum, though. They were known for extortion, and by 1993, had started to manufacture automatic weapons and chemical weapons. Their most heavily manufactured WMDs were VX gas and sarin gas.
When the Aum got involved with a lawsuit that was expected to go against them, they retaliated by releasing sarin gas into the subways near the judges' homes. 500 people were injured, and 8 were killed. This wasn't the only time they got violent either.
The FBI called them a terrorist group after this, and rightfully so.
One former member escaped, only to have the cult threaten him and ask about the whereabouts of his sister. They eventually found him, killed him, and incinerated his corpse using microwave-powered tech.
Multiple other deaths surrounding the cult exist, including a man who was stabbed to death, a second gas attack, and a number of people who died during Aum interrogation.
Shoko and a dozen other members currently await death row in Japan. However, the cult itself isn't dead—despite it being a death cult. Rumor has it that they are now hiding in Europe.
To date, the Aum is the only terrorist group to successfully carry out a chemical attack on the public in a "first world counry."
With a name like "Los Narcos-Satanicos, (Satanic Drug Dealers)" you kind of have to expect some sort of craziness going on. Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, the head of the cult, was known for practicing Palo Mayombe, an African religion similar to vodoun.
When he ended up in Mexico City, he got into something way darker—and so did his entourage. Within a span of years, he gained 14 followers and began a religion known as "Los Narcos-Satanicos."
This group believed in both human and animal sacrifice, and when they needed something done, they'd kidnap people and mutilate them. They quickly gained a following among cartel drug lords, who would go to them for a good luck blessing.
Things went awry when two henchmen accidentally killed an American exchange student. With US pressure, Mexican police raided the cult's compound. Constanzo killed himself, while the rest of his cult still remain in prison for their crimes.
The Fall Rivers Cult was a 70s sex cult that just had an even darker streak to it. (Notice a theme here? A lot of the murders committed by cults were performed by cults known for sex or drugs.)
Fall River, Massachusetts, was a pretty normal place back then—until sex workers started to disappear, anyway. Two sex workers disappeared, one of which was a 22-year-old victim named Barbara Raposa.
Raposa's boyfriend told police that there was a sex cult that killed prostitutes in the area, and surprisingly, police actually listened. It ends up that the rumors were true. A sex cult had been started by a man named Carl Drew.
Drew was heavily involved in the local sex trade and was an active pimp. He was able to lure women to the coven, where he would then get followers to torture and kill them. Drew, and a prostitute named Robin Murphy, were arrested for the crimes.
Finally, let's talk about the Superior Universal Alignment. This is the story of one of the most horrific series of murders committed by cults, primarily because of the target and because of what the cult preached.
This cult, founded by Brazilian Valentina de Andrade, claimed that Jesus was an alien and that the world would end soon. Seems typical enough, right? Well, things went awry when she also decided that children, especially boys, were evil and had to be "gotten rid of."
Cult members had to give up their kids if they wanted to join. Her cult castrated young boys and killed several of them. The Superior Universal Alignment was found to have killed and/or mutilated at least 13 boys by the time 2003 came around.
She was arrested with the murders, and many believe that part of the reason she killed the boys had to do with an illegal organ trade she ran. They had reason to believe this; all the bodies were found with their genitals and vital organs removed.