Bonnie Lou Trousdale
August 29, 1927
|Died||June 19, 1985 (aged 57)|
Dallas, Texas, United States
|Other names||Ti, Peep, Wink, Pig, Poop, Shelly West|
|Known for||Co-leader of Heaven's Gate|
Joseph Segal Nettles
(m. 1949; div. 1973)
Bonnie Lou Nettles (née Trousdale; August 29, 1927 – June 18 or 19, 1985), later known as Ti, was co-leader of a group with Marshall Applewhite that later became the Heaven's Gate group after Nettles's death. Nettles died of liver cancer in 1985 in Dallas, Texas, twelve years before the group's mass suicide in March 1997.
Nettles was born and raised in Houston into a Baptist family. As an adult, she moved away from the religion. After becoming a registered nurse, she married businessman Joseph Segal Nettles in December 1949 with whom she had four children. Their marriage remained mostly stable until 1972. According to The New York Times, their marriage began to deteriorate due to Nettles' belief that a 19th-century monk named Brother Francis frequently spoke with her and gave her instructions. Furthermore, Nettles often conducted seances with mediums in order to contact other deceased spirits. A circle group was held every Wednesday at her house in relation to this. Nettles also studied astrology, theosophy, and occult studies. In 1972, Nettles went to see multiple fortunetellers, who told her that she was soon to meet a mysterious man who was tall with light hair and a fair complexion. This description was fairly close to Applewhite's appearance.
Introduction to Applewhite
Nettles met Applewhite in March 1972, though where they met is uncertain. According to the writings of Applewhite, "[Applewhite] was visiting a hospitalized friend when Mrs. Nettles entered the room and their eyes locked in a shared recognition of esoteric secrets." However, Applewhite's writings were prone to hyperbole or relaying everything as some occurrence of fate. Terrie Nettles, Bonnie's daughter, has stated that "The two met at a drama school in a theater." and that Applewhite had been teaching in the school, with one of Bonnie's sons attending it. Bonnie's son, Joe Nettles, also corroborated this version of events.
Whichever version is correct, it is known that directly after their meeting, Nettles did an astrological reading for Applewhite, from which she found an alignment between their stars. Applewhite then explained to her his ideas about heavenly connections, thoroughly convincing Nettles of their truth. He decided that Nettles was "to be the sage, he the speaker." They left together on New Year's Day of 1973. Her three youngest children were left to remain with their father, while her oldest, Terrie, then 20 years old and skeptical of her mother's ideas, fended for herself. Nettles and Applewhite established Heaven's Gate together as equals. Nettles was the brains and Applewhite was the mouth. She claimed to have communicated with the aliens about the Next Level and told Applewhite to tell the followers. In 1976, Applewhite recognized Nettles as higher up on the level of command than he was.
Many events passed in creation of the Heaven's Gate group and the formation of its core members, with Nettles continuing to be the interpreter of signs and the mystic of the group. In 1983, she had to have an eye removed due to cancer, and her doctor informed her that the disease was already spreading through the rest of her body. She stated that the doctor was ignorant and believed, along with Applewhite, that she could not die, as they had to ascend together. The cancer continued to worsen, moving to Nettles' liver. She died on June 18 or 19, 1985 at Parkland Memorial Hospital. While there as a patient, she used the pseudonym Shelly West.
Applewhite convinced the rest of the group that her "broken-down vehicle was left behind". He had her body cremated and her ashes were then spread in a lake somewhere in Texas. Applewhite explained to the group that Nettles had left because her work was done on this level but that he still had more that he had to do. He also said that Nettles would continue to help them from the Next Level.
- Bearak, Barry (April 28, 1997). "Eyes on Glory: Pied Pipers of Heaven's Gate". nytimes.com. p. 2.
- Zeller, Benjamin Heaven's Gate, America's UFO Religion, 2014, p. 113
- "On This Day: Bodies of Heaven's Gate Cult Members Discovered After Mass Suicide". findingdulcinea.com. March 26, 2011.
- Dalton, Red (March 29, 1977). "Tragedy Painful, Familiar to Man Who Lost Mom to Applewhite Cult". San Diego Union-Tribune. San Diego, California. p. A11.
- Bearak, Barry (April 28, 1997). "Eyes on Glory: Pied Pipers of Heaven's Gate". nytimes.com. p. 4.
- Phillips, Jim (March 29, 1997). "Central Texas was cult's early recruiting ground". Austin American-Statesman. Austin, Texas. p. A10.