SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The seven-bedroom house where 39 Heaven's Gate cult members committed suicide in 1997 has been sold to man who lives nearby, according to a published report.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported today that the Mediterranean-style villa was purchased for $668,000 -- less than half of what the two-story Ranch Sante Fe house was worth when it was listed for sale for $1.6 million before the March 1997 deaths of the cultists.
County property records indicate that the 9,000-square-foot home was bought in mid-June by Rancho Santa Fe Groves Inc., which is led by developer William L. Strong Jr., the newspaper said.
Strong owns another residence on the same street, which was known as Colina Norte when the suicides occurred. The street has been renamed to Paseo Victoria.
"The house will be removed," Strong told the paper Thursday. He said he had no immediate plans for the 3.1-acre site.
Despite the home's history -- it was the site of the largest mass suicide to date on U.S. soil -- a county official said the buyer may have gotten a good deal with the purchase. Joaquin "Jack" Gracida, a deputy county assessor, said just the land is valued at $1.5 million.
"The site has a great view and some very nice amenities. There's a swimming pool and tennis courts there," Gracida said.
Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, which took over the property through foreclosure before selling the house to Strong, said the government's assessment is high.
"We believe the valuation doesn't take into account the impairment that resulted from the fact that 39 people took their lives there," said Tim McGarry, a bank representative in Los Angeles.
"We sold it at the highest price possible, given its history," McGarry said.
The Heaven's Gate mansion was previously owned by Sam Koutchesfahani. He was sentenced to prison last year after being convicted of conspiracy and tax-evasion charges in a visa scam involving foreign students.
The cult members overdosed on vodka and barbiturates at the house, claiming they were going to catch a ride on a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet. A fallen cult member, who left the group a month before the suicides, found the bodies. He had received a videotape from the group and drove to the house to make the gruesome discovery.