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On March 29, 1998, the quiet community of Mountlake Terrace, Washington woke to the sound of gunshots coming from a nearby trailer.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they discovered the body of 40-year-old Dan Jess inside the caravan. He had been shot several times, and multiple shell casings from a Glock 19 were found on the floor.
Speaking with neighbors, investigators learned a white man was spotted fleeing the scene after the bullets were fired, and another man was seen behind the wheel of the getaway car.
Finding no offender DNA or fingerprints at the crime scene, investigators interviewed Jess’ loved ones to see if they knew of anyone who had a motive to harm him. Speaking with an acquaintance, Terry Clemens, they got a major lead.
“The first thing that came into my mind when my wife told me that he had been murdered was this group called The Gatekeepers that he had been involved in,” Clemens said in a recorded interview obtained by Oxygen’s “Deadly Cults.”
“The wanted total obedience from him,” Clemens added. “They wanted total control over his life … They obviously were fanatics. They were off.”
Led by Christopher Turgeon, The Gatekeepers cult started as a Bible study group in the early 1990s. One day, Turgeon announced to his members that God had spoken directly to him, and he dubbed himself a prophet of the Lord.
“His mentality was that they were called to be the keepers of the gate, which was kind of in reference to the gate to salvation and the gate to the answers that Chris believed he held,” former member Nathaniel Chapman told producers.
It wasn’t long before the small group morphed into a religious cult, and Turgeon espoused several extremist convictions, including his belief that death was the proper penalty for being gay or having an interest in astrology.
“And God said to me, you were born on this day to symbolize what your calling is. That you were called to bring judgement to this Earth. You are my Elijah,” Turgeon said in a recording obtained by “Deadly Cults.”
As their following grew, The Gatekeepers secluded themselves more and more from the outside world, and its members cut off contact with their family and loved ones.
“His world view was starting to become less the Bible and more paranoia of the government and what they were doing,” Chapman said.
Under the guise that he was sent by God to eradicate evil, Turgeon carried out several low-level fraud schemes against those he said were immoral, telling his followers that the crimes were necessary to bankroll the group and prepare for the coming apocalypse.
Jess disapproved of the group’s criminal activity, and he left the Gatekeepers shortly before he was killed.
Authorities obtained images of four male cult members and showed them to one of the shooting witnesses in a montage, and they identified Gatekeeper Blaine Applin as the suspect who fled the scene.
The cult, however, had left Washington, and its whereabouts were unknown. In hopes of tracking the cult down, investigators entered the members’ information into several national databases, and in June 1998, they got a hit.
One of the cult members’ wives had used her social security number at a Mail Boxes Etc. store in Carlsbad, California, and they discovered the Gatekeepers had moved to nearby Pala and set up a rural compound.
“In California, Chris’ paranoia and his worry about the government watching us definitely grew. And we did have weapons … kind of preparing for the end times,” said Chapman.
The cult members continued their plundering missions after they relocated, burglarizing people and businesses that Turgeon claimed were evil. That all came to an end on July 13, 1998, however, when Turgeon and Applin carried out their final robbery.
While leaving the crime scene, Turgeon was spotted driving erratically, and San Diego police attempted to pull them over in a traffic stop. The duo sped away, and Applin began shooting at the pursuing officer. After a multi-agency chase, they were eventually captured and taken into custody.
When searching Applin, authorities found him in possession in a Glock 9 mm handgun, the same type of firearm that killed Jess.
Local police contacted investigators from Mountlake Terrace, who flew down to California and tested the gun, confirming it had indeed fired the rounds found at Jess’ crime scene.
Speaking with Applin, they learned that Jess had called Turgeon after the group moved to California, and the two got into an argument over a bad check that Turgeon had written using Jess’ name. He called Turgeon a fraud and a false prophet, enraging the Gatekeepers leader.
Following the phone call, Turgeon called an emergency meeting, telling his followers that Jess was going to report their crimes to the police and that he needed to die. Applin and Turgeon then drove back to Washington, and Applin carried out the murder before fleeing the scene and returning to the compound.
For their robberies in California, Applin and Turgeon were convicted of 17 felonies. Applin received 101 years, and Turgeon was sentenced to 89 years, according to “Deadly Cults.”
Once their case was adjudicated, they were extradited to Washington for Jess’ murder trial. Applin was sentenced to 39 years, and Turgeon was given 50 years.
To learn more about the case and hear exclusive interviews with Applin, watch “Deadly Cults” on Oxygen.
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