Deadly fast: Kenya's case sparks memories of worst cult-related mass deaths


Bodybags with victims of a Christian cult are seen during the exhumation from a forest at Shakahola outskirts of Malindi town, Kenyan Coast Tuesday, April 25, 2023. [AP Photo]

At least 90 bodies have been found at the ranch of a pastor in Kenya who is accused of telling his followers to starve themselves to death to meet Jesus.

Detectives have only dug up one grave site and it is believed many more bodies will be retrieved in coming days rising the death toll with the Kenya Red Cross Society saying 213 people are missing.

It has sparked memories of some of the world’s worst cases of cult-related mass deaths.


More than 900 men, women and children died when American preacher and Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones orchestrated a ritual of mass suicide and murder by ordering followers to drink a cyanide-laced grape drink at their jungle settlement in Guyana in 1978.

The settlement and the cult deaths gained worldwide infamy as Jonestown.

Although the deaths were initially referred to as mass suicide, survivors claimed some followers were shot, injected with poison, or forced to drink the beverage by guards.

The deaths followed a visit to the settlement by a San Francisco congressman. As Rep. Leo Ryan was about to return to the United States with journalists and temple members who wanted to leave, they were ambushed on an airstrip. Ryan, three journalists and a defector were killed.

Jones then urged 912 followers to drink the grape punch. The gruesome mass deaths ritual was captured on the “Death Tape,” an audio recording on a cassette tape believed to have been set up by Jones.

He was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head, leaving speculation as to whether it was suicide or murder.


A 51-day standoff between federal agents and members of the Branch Davidians religious group led by David Koresh ended in a huge fire at their ranch compound just outside Waco, Texas in 1993. More than 70 Branch Davidians, including Koresh, died inside the compound. Authorities said the Branch Davidians started the blaze.

The nearly two-month siege began when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute search and arrest warrants at the Mount Carmel Center ranch on Feb. 28, 1993, suspecting Koresh of stockpiling weapons.

The botched raid resulted in a gun battle that left an initial six Branch Davidians and four agents dead. The FBI and Koresh entered into weeks of negotiations, during which Koresh allowed some women and children to leave. He told federal agents he was waiting for “further instruction from God.”

The FBI finally led an assault on the ranch on April 19, during which the buildings were burned to the ground. Some of the Branch Davidians were found fatally shot by other members, some died of suffocation and smoke inhalation. Koresh was found dead with a gunshot wound to the forehead.


When Sheriff’s deputies went to a million-dollar mansion in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe in March 1997, they discovered the bodies of 39 men and women lying on bunks wearing identical black clothing and black and white shoes, their faces and chests covered with a triangular shroud of purple cloth.

Investigators ultimately pieced together a mass suicide by the Heaven’s Gate cult led by Marshall Applewhite, who was also one of the dead.

He had recorded videos of himself saying that mass suicide was the only way for him and his followers to evacuate Earth, and they were timing their deaths to coincide with the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet, which was a warning that “heaven’s gate” was closing. The comet would be followed by a spacecraft that would take their souls to a higher level of existence, Applewhite said.

To prepare, Applewhite and his 38 followers took the anti-seizure drug phenobarbital mixed with apple sauce or pudding. Most of them also drank vodka to enhance the drug’s potency and they tied plastic bags over their heads so they would suffocate.


Authorities first believed that more than 500 members of a reclusive sect in southwest Uganda known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in a mass suicide in 2000 when their chapel was set alight and they burned alive.

But when the bodies of six men were discovered nearby with stab wounds and evidence of strangulation, it changed to a mass murder investigation. More bodies were also discovered in mass graves at other sites. Ultimately, more than 700 people died in the Kanungu cult massacres.

It’s believed that cult leader Joseph Kibweteere had convinced followers to confess their sins and sell their possessions in preparation for the end of the world on Jan. 1, 2000. When that didn’t happen, followers became disillusioned. Kibweteere chose a new date for the end of the world; March 17.

After a party, where followers ate meat and drank coca-cola, 530 died in the fire in the church. Authorities later found that the windows and doors had been boarded up to prevent anyone escaping.

Leaders of the sect are also suspected of killing hundreds of followers at other sites by poisoning them. No one has been held accountable and Kibweteere disappeared on the day of the church fire.