ENCINITAS, CA Las Vegas fiberglass worker Tony Parker knew Marshall Wayne Cooke for more than a year, called him a friend and worked at his side on a "revolutionary" chair designed to make computer use easier.
|Cooke never let on that he'd been a former member of the cult or that his wife had been a victim.||The two had grown so close that when Cooke moved out of his Las Vegas apartment three days ago, he left a forwarding address and vowed to stay in touch.
That's why Parker, 32, refuses to believe the 54-year-old killed himself Tuesday in a San Diego hotel room, his only possible motive being his desire to join 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult, including Cooke's wife, who killed themselves March 26.
Cooke moved into The Glade apartments on Lynnwood Street a 20-apartment complex with one-bedroom units going for $430 a month 17 months ago. Parker took over as apartment manager 15 months ago.
From the day the two met they hit it off, sharing interests in design; Cooke used a computer to design a chair he believed would make computer use easier, and Parker has worked almost 18 years designing boats and casino facades out of fiberglass.
"He was a friend; he was a good guy, and I still don't believe that he did it," Parker said.
Parker, who had heard about the Heaven's Gate suicides, said Cooke never let on that he had any attachment to the cult. "He was just Wayne, the same old Wayne," said Parker.
"He talked about having a wife, or maybe an ex-wife," Parker said. "But he mostly talked about his daughter."
|Cooke and an unconscious Chuck Humphrey, 56, of Denver, were found in the Holiday Inn Express Tuesday by deputies at 12:25 p.m. after the San Diego County Sheriff's Department received a phone call from CBS reporter Lesley Stahl, who had spoken with Cooke's daughter, Sgt. Don Crist said.||The pair left a note suggesting they were going to meet their leader on the other side of the comet.|
"They did have a note similar to the one that was found at Heaven's Gate, suggesting they were going to meet with their leader on the other side of the comet and suggesting suicide," Crist said.
Humphrey was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. He had phenobarbital in his system, suggesting he and Cooke may have used the same concoction as the other members.
Cooke was married to Suzanne Sylvia Cooke, who committed suicide with the other cult members in March. In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" after the suicide, he said he wished he could join the group.
"I wish I had the strength to have stuck it out and gotten stronger and continued to be a part of that crew," he said.
Cooke said he was an "off and on" adherent for 23 years, but did not say why he left the cult. At a San Diego news conference in April, Humphrey said he left after growing impatient.
|Each had a packed suitcase and a $5 bill and quarters in their pockets.||"I left the group because it had been 15 years, because many of the things we were told were going to happen didn't," he said. "I got tired of waiting."
CNN reported it received what appeared to be a suicide tape from Cooke.
Deputies came to the motel after being notified by CBS that Cooke's daughter Kelly had received a tape from her father saying he planned to join his former cultists by committing suicide.
In that tape Cooke told his daughter, "I'm saying I'm very happy and I want very much to follow my classmates and my teachers Do and Ti ... So goodbye." Do and Ti were the names taken by Marshall Herff Applewhite, who led the mass suicide, and co-leader Bonnie Lu Nettles, who died a decade ago of cancer.
Cooke was found with a plastic bag over his head held by a rubber band around his neck. A plastic bag with a hole in it was found near Humphrey, suggesting he may have changed his mind about dying and ripped the bag off, Crist said.
Both men had packed tote bags similar to those found near the bodies of the Heaven's Gate cult members. They each had a $5 bill and three quarters in change in their pockets just like the other cult members.
|Heaven's Gate cult members, led by Applewhite, committed suicide in the belief they would be taken to paradise aboard a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.
Former cult member Dick Joslyn said both Cooke and Humphrey had talked longingly about rejoining their former cultists.
|"They felt left behind ... Chuck often said as soon as his work was done, he'd be out of here, too."|
Joslyn, who left the cult in 1990, said Humphrey had been updating the group's computer website and also trying to sell some of its videotapes in which cult members explained their off-beat philosophy.
Both Cooke and Humphrey had given interviews in the weeks after the shocking discovery in Rancho Santa Fe but had grown tired of media sensationalism, Joslyn said.
Cult member Richard Ford talked Tuesday about Humphrey's apparent failed attempt at suicide. "I think he knows what he's doing. I feel badly for him that he was not successful because I'm sure physically it's tough on the body."
He said he has no plans to commit suicide. "It does not interest me," Ford added. "I have things to do." Among those things is working on a movie about Heaven's Gate.
Sheriff's deputies found Cooke and Humphrey by tracking the Federal Express package containing Cooke's tape back to the motel, Crist said.
The two men had apparently checked into the hotel Monday and paid $59 to stay one night. Humphrey had come to San Diego in April to explain the cult's beliefs to the public. Officials said the time of death had not yet been determined.
After being interviewed by Las Vegas television news crews, Parker sat in his girlfriend's apartment, just 50 feet or so from Cooke's apartment. Asked to look at the apartment, Parker replied there was nothing in it. Cooke had cleaned it spotless before he moved.
"He was super clean," Parker said, adding that Cooke "never cussed, smoked or drank. I always thought maybe he was a little Christiany."