Chilean Cult Leader Ramon Castillo Suicide? 4 Other Infamous Cult Murders

By Philip Ross on May 2, 2013 12:22 PM EDT

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Chilean cult leader Ramon Castillo was found dead in Peru. Pictured, investigators examine the crime scene where officials were able to find the charred remains of the 3-day-old baby killed by Castillo’s cult last year. (Photo: PDI/Facebook)

Chilean cult leader Ramon Castillo, 36, who has skirted authorities for months, turned up dead in Peru on Wednesday. The infamous cult leader was found hanging from a beam in an abandoned home in Cusco, Peru. BBC reports that investigators identified him through his fingerprints.

Police have been on a manhunt for Castillo after he and his followers allegedly threw a 3-day-old baby into a bonfire because they believed the child to be the Antichrist. The suspected ritual murder took place last November; police arrested the baby's mother and other suspects in Chile last week.

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According to Daily Mail, Castillo's doomsday sect, a term that denotes an apocalyptic group, had 12 members and was formed in 2005. Castillo reportedly believed he was a god and thought the world was going to end on Dec. 21, 2012. Some of its members were professionals and had university degrees.

Among the group's rituals was the abuse of ayahuasca, a plant with intense hallucinogenic properties which grows in Amazon forests containing high levels of DMT, which is serious business.

How Does A Cult Work?

Cult behavior is a seemingly strange phenomenon, but it may not be as implausible as we would like to think. According to psychotherapist Ivan Tyrrell's research, published in the Human Givens Journal (formerly The Therapist Journal), cult behavior is nothing more than an "extreme" form of common cultural behaviors we learn in childhood, like relying on authority figures (parents) and succumbing to peer pressure in order to fit in.

In his book The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society, Dr. Arthur Deikman argues that cults are grounded in dependency.

"Cults form and thrive not because people are crazy, but because they have two kinds of wishes," he wrote. "They want a meaningful life, to serve God or humanity; and they want to be taken care of, to feel protected and secure, to find a home."

It's this thirst for inclusion that can lead cult members to change their outward appearance, adhere to bizarre rules, break ties with cult members and even murder.

Here's a roundup of four more of the most infamous cult murders in recent history:

Jonestown

The Jonestown society, also known as the Peoples Temple, was an American religious sect headed by Indiana-born James Warren "Jim" Jones that established its community in Guyana, a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America. In November of 1978, over 900 of the cult's members them died in a mass suicide from cyanide - making it the largest single loss of American civilian life not caused by natural disaster until Sept. 11, 2001.

An article in The Miami News from 1978 stated that the mass suicide was triggered by fears that intruders were going to dismantle their faux-utopian society. "At the site of the mass suicide, the corpsese of 405 members of the American religious sect lay decomposing in the equatorial heat," the paper reported. "A State Department spokesman in Washington said Guyana asked that the U.S. government remove all the bodies."

While the event made headlines as a mass suicide, some of the few surviving members say it was "murder" because the group was driven to the killings by their leader, Jones.

Heaven's Gate

Based in San Diego, Heaven's Gate, a doomsday cult that followed UFO religion, was founded in the early 1970s. Members believed that Earth was on the verge of being "recycled" and that the only way to survive was to leave the planet immediately.

Thirty-nine members of Heaven's Gate committed suicide together in 1997  by gulping down pineapple juice laced with phenobarbital, a sedative, and asphyxiating with plastic bags around their head. The group reportedly believed they were destined to board a UFO spacecraft that tailed the Hale-Bopp Comet.

West Memphis Three

In 1994, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin were convicted of the murder and mutilation of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., in an apparent satanic ritual.

The bodies of the three young boys, all Boy Scouts, were found naked and hogtied with their own shoelaces; one of the boy's genitals were mutilated.

While the three suspected perpetrators later plead guilty to lesser charges and were subsequently released, not everyone believes the men are innocent.

Aum Shinrikyo

On the morning of March 20, 1995, members of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo gassed five trains in the Tokyo subway system with Sarin, a nerve agent used in chemical weapons. The attack killed 13 commuters. 

Founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984, Aum Shinrikyo had thousands of members prior to the attacks, although the numbers have since diminished. Like the Jonestown group above, Aum Shinrikyo was also a doomsday sect, holding that Asahara was a reincarnation of Christ and that the United States would start World War III in 1997. It has been deemed a terrorist organization by countries like the U.S. and Canada.

Read more from iScience Times:

Cannibalism In Jamestown: Why Did Early Jamestown Settlers Resort To Eating Human Flesh?

The Science Of Conspiracy Theories: Why Do People Buy Into Cover Up Stories?

Twins Born 87 Days Apart: 'Truly Extraordinary' Births Set World Record

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