THE ORDER OF THE SOLAR TEMPLE
In Cheiry, Switzerland, some local people were celebrating the grand re-opening of a restaurant in the small village, says Switzerland's Ministry of Defense, Jean Francois Mayer, when they learned of a fire that had broken out in an outlying farmhouse owned by 73-year-old Albert Giacobino. It was around midnight on October 4. Firemen responded and soon found a victim. Inside the house, a man was lying on a bed with a plastic bag over his head. The fire appeared to be part of a suicide gesture.
Upon closer inspection, it appeared that this man (later identified as the retired farmer) had been murdered, shot in the head. The police came and soon found several incendiary devices installed around the house. They went into what appeared to be a garage, but once inside, they saw that it was actually a meeting hall. Several people had left their belongings there, but nobody was present.
Police inspected the rest of the area but failed to turn up anyone or anything that could shed some light on the puzzling incident. Then investigators noticed that the meeting hall appeared to be larger than just the one room, although no doors to another area were found. As they tested the walls, it appeared that one was movable, so they opened it up. To their astonishment, inside this apparently secret room, with crimson wall-to-wall carpeting, tall mirrors and red satin draperies, lay a number of corpses organized in a circle, like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel. Their heads outward, they were arranged around a triangular alter. Investigators counted 18 people, many of them wearing what appeared to be white, gold, red and black ceremonial garments and capes. Champagne bottles lay scattered around them. Many of these people also had plastic bags over their heads. In an adjacent room, also lined with mirrors, they found three more corpses.
There was blood as well, and it soon became clear that most of the people had been shot in the head and that 10 had been suffocated. A few bodies showed bruises, evidence of having been beaten. The investigation concluded that the victims had died on October 3, the day before. Was this a mass murder or a suicide pact? These investigators were as yet unaware of the discovery of the Canadian deaths from the afternoon before, and even so, there was no apparent reason yet to link them.
Next to this building, other officers discovered a chapel that was rigged with small bags of petrol to go up in flames. Apparently the idea had been to burn the entire place down, but the devices designed to do so had failed. That failure left them with a crime scene of some magnitude, but one that could now be processed for evidence and for incident reconstruction.
They would be helped along, to everyone's dismay, by yet another discovery in a Swiss skiing village about 100 miles away.
In Granges-sur-Salvan, a sleepless tourist looked out his window at 3 a.m. on October 5 to see flames coming from a house nearby. The fire department went right out and saw that not one but three adjacent housesactually, ski chaletswere burning. That was a good indication of potential arson and it was soon discovered that they had all been rigged with gasoline bombs. The police broke in and found numerous victims, including three teenagers and four children. Altogether in two of the three chalets, there were 25 badly charred corpses. Many had been shot in the head, some as much as eight times. Upon investigation after identification from dental records, they proved to be members of the Order of the Solar Temple, as did the 22 dead people from the other Swiss village. The order owned the damaged buildings.
In subsequent weeks, after the autopsies, a magistrate determined that of all these deaths, only fifteen had been willing suicides. Thirty more people were lured into a ceremony, where they were killed, and seven seemed to have been executed. Surprisingly, among those who died were successful professionals, such as a journalist, a high-ranking government official, several wealthy businessmen, and a mayor.
On October 19, the unknown white male victim in the Canadian fire, estimated to be about 35 years old, turned out to match the dental records of Gerry Genoud, and the other victim matched those records of 60-year-old Colette Genoud. They were from Switzerland and were members of the order. It wasn't yet clear what they had been doing in the Dutoits' rented condo, or why they were dead.
Clearly, it was time to find the leaders of this religious community.