Spanish Cops Arrest Sect Leader

January 8, 1998
By The Associated Press

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Canary Islands (AP) -- Police arrested a German psychologist hours before she allegedly planned to lead followers of her religious cult in a mass suicide, officials said today.

Heide Fittkau-Garthe, 57, was arrested late Wednesday on charges of attempting to induce suicide and was being held at a Tenerife police station, said Antonio Lopez Ojeda, an Interior Ministry representative on the Canary Islands.

Authorities said 30 members of the cult planned to kill themselves sometime before 8 p.m. today, when they believed the end of the world was coming. They told police a space ship would then pick up their bodies from Teide mountain on Tenerife, one of seven islands in the Canary archipelago.

Lopez Ojeda said police believed the sect was an offshoot of the Order of the Solar Temple, whose followers have carried out mass suicides in Canada, France and Switzerland. However, he said police were still investigating.

The were, 29 Germans and a Spaniard, included five children between the ages of 6 and 12, Lopez Ojeda said.

They were questioned after a search Wednesday of a house on central Santa Cruz de Tenerife where Fittkau-Garthe was staying, but none were taken into custody.

If convicted, Fittkau-Garthe faces four to eight years in prison.

In 1994, 48 members of the Order of the Solar Temple died in murder-suicides in Switzerland. Five more members died the same year in Canada, followed by 16 others in the French Alps in 1995 and five more in Canada last March.

Thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide last March at a mansion outside San Diego.

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