The cultists, who killed themselves in the belief that their spirits would join a UFO trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, did not leave much behind -- about $50,000 worth of trucks, computers and artworks. Ownership, however, was claimed by two former Heaven's Gate members, Mark and Sarah King of Phoenix, who took care of their ex-colleagues' legal matters.
In a ruling Monday, Superior Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall said the possessions belonged to San Diego County and could be sold at auction. She did not set a date for the auction because the Kings have 60 days to appeal.
The judge also declared the Kings' lawsuit frivolous and ordered them to pay court costs. Neither the Kings nor their lawyers were available for comment.
The items were seized after cult members committed mass suicide in a rented Rancho Santa Fe mansion by swallowing a mixture of barbiturates and alcohol taken with applesauce.
They left behind two vans, a truck and an assortment of furniture, computers, art, arm patches, books and a video in which they explained that they were taking their lives so they could shed their "earthly canisters" and join a UFO trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.
The county's public administrator, Don Billings, estimated that the items were worth no more than $50,000.
The county, as administrator of the Heaven's Gate estate, wants to auction off the property to offset some of the $100,000 in burial and funeral claims filed by families of the victims.
The auction, originally scheduled for last summer, was blocked by the Kings, who said cult members had instructed them in letters on how to dispose of their property. Guy-Schall ruled that the letters did not have the legal status of a will under California probate law.