Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles’ chance meeting in March 1972 kicked off an intense discussion about mysticism between the two. Soon after that, they left their respective families behind and traveled across the country to preach their teachings and understandings of God and life. ABC News’ ‘20/20: The Cult Next Door’ plus Netflix’s ‘How to Become a Cult Leader’ delves into how Marshall and Bonnie attracted many followers over many years and how that culminated in a mass suicide in 1997. But before that, the duo visited multiple states and lived in many places. So, if you’re wondering how they made a living, here’s what we know.
How Did Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles Earn Their Money?
Bonnie believed in astrology, and several fortune-tellers told her that she would meet a tall mysterious man with light hair and a fair complexion. When she met Marshall in 1972, she believed he was the person the soothsayers told her about. By 1973, Bonnie’s daughter, Terrie, said that her mother and Marshall decided to leave their families to form their own church.
Both of them connected because of their views on mysticism and how God gave them instructions. Bonnie and Marshall traveled all throughout the country and even visited Canada. But they struggled with money and ate frugally, often sleeping in a tent. Over the years, the cult’s philosophy was influenced by Marshall’s upbringing as the son of a Presbyterian minister and Bonnie’s interest in astrology, the Bible, and seances. They also incorporated science-fiction into their beliefs because they were both fans of Star Wars.
During the initial years, Marshall and Bonnie even sold their blood and worked odd jobs to keep up with expenses. At the time, their aim was to reach more people with their teachings, but that proved to be unsuccessful at the beginning. After more than a year on the road, they returned to Houston, Texas, and had their first follower in Sharon Morgan. They used her credit card every once in a while, but her husband eventually filed a complaint with the police for credit card fraud. While the charges were dropped, the authorities found that Marshall had rented a car in Missouri and never returned it, sending him to jail.
While in prison, Marshall came up with a statement of beliefs and he was released in 1975. In September of that year, he and Bonnie went to a small town in Oregon where they convinced 20 people to leave behind their old lives and follow them. By then, they told their followers that aliens would visit them and provide new bodies, for which they had to leave behind their old “containers” (human bodies).
Through the 1970s, the cult had money thanks to one of the followers’ trust funds that paid for most things. By 1983, Bonnie had cancer, losing one of her eyes. It soon spread in her body, leading to her death in 1985. At this point, Marshall changed his teachings, saying they had to kill themselves in order to reach the Next Level. Their initial teachings did not involve death as a step.
By 1997, Marshall and many other followers lived in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. They had also learned of the Comet Hale-Bopp that was to approach the Earth. The cult members believed that a spaceship was also arriving along with the comet. Marshall told his followers that they had to kill themselves to ascend to the ship by leaving their bodies. So, Marshall and 38 of his followers killed themselves in March 1997. In the team leading up to that, the cult made most of their money by designing web pages for others.
Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles’ Net Worth at the Time of Their Deaths
Since Marshall and Bonnie held odd jobs for most of their time as leaders of their cult, they didn’t really have a steady income. Whatever money they used for living and camping came from their followers, but was eventually directed to their names. Therefore, it’s likely Marshall and Bonnie’s net worth at the time of their deaths was close to $1-2 million.