11/18/1978 - In Jonestown, Guyana, mad 47-year-old cult leader, James Warren "Jim" Jones decides to cash in his chips ... and through persuasion and outright murder, gets over nine hundred other souls to join him in the afterlife (the greatest loss of American civilians by way of a deliberate act until the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001).
Cracked from the beginning, Jones is born in rural Crete, Indiana, to James Thurman Jones (a WWI veteran) and Lynetta Putnam on May 13, 1931 ... with his mother believing she has given birth to a messiah. A Depression baby, the first part of his life takes place in a shack without running water. Signs of trouble are on display early ... he studies voraciously the careers of Stalin, Marx, Mao, Hitler, and for a change of pace, Mahatma Gandhi, he becomes obsessed with religion and death, childhood acquaintances recall him as being a "really weird kid," a cat is stabbed to death, there a numerous funerals for small animals, and there are violent fights with his alcoholic father over the boy's friendship with local African-American children. Despite everything, he graduates with honors from high school, marries nurse Marceline Baldwin in 1949, attends Indiana University and night school at Butler University, eventually earning a degree in secondary education in 1961.
High School Senior
An avowed communist by 1951, using his gift-of-gab conman skills, Jones creates his first church in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1956 that becomes the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel. In 1960, the Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, Charles Boswell, appoints Jones the director of the local Human Rights Commission, and the budding rabble-rouser uses his position to expand his church, while integrating major portions of the city such as restaurants, the police department, and the telephone company (and receives considerable criticism for his stands, and threats of intimidation in the form of a swastika painted on the Temple, a stick of dynamite left in the Temple's coal bin, and a dead cat thrown at Jones' house ... later there will be questions as to whether Jones conjured up all the incidents himself). During this period Jones also expands his family ... he and his wife adopt three Korean-American children, a partly Native-American girl, a white girl, have their own child, Stephan Gandhi Jones, become the first white couple in Indiana to adopt a black child (a boy named James Warren Jones, Jr.), and adopt a white boy too.
Selling Monkies As Pets To Garnish Church Funds
Believing a nuclear apocalypse is coming any day to America, in 1961, Jones explores moving his operations to Brazil ... but returns to the United States in 1963 when he receives word that his People's Temple in Indiana is floundering without his leadership. And lead his people he does ... predicting a nuclear war will start on July 15, 1967, Jones begins moving his followers to Northern California, near the town of Ukiah. There, even though no nuclear holocaust takes place, Jones creates his own religion, a mix of communism, socialism, and a hodge-podge of religious beliefs in which he casts himself as the glorious reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, Father Divine, Jesus, Gautama Buddha, and Vladimir Lenin ... and begins believing his own bullshit. Limited by the number of pinheads in the Ukiah region, in the early 1970s Jones moves his base of operations to San Francisco, and soon finds willing acolytes there, and in branches of his church which open in Los Angeles and San Fernando ... and a host of political fools willing to accord respect to the cult leader for his cash and endorsements ... San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appoints Jones the chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission, he meets with vice-presidential candidate Walter Mondale, meets several times with First Lady Rosalynn Carter, is lauded at a testimonial dinner by California assemblyman Willie Brown, Governor Jerry Brown, and Lt. Governor Mervyn Dymally, and has San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, Harvey Milk, speak at the Temple several times. Seemingly sweet times, Jones' world begins falling apart when New West magazine publishes an expose of Jones' activities that includes allegations of members being physically, emotionally, and sexual abused, and that tax fraud might be taking place.
With Governor Brown
Recipient Of Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award
And so, to escape media attention into his activities (by this time he had also become addicted to amphetamine and barbiturates, and he is rumored to have had homosexual relations with several politicians), Jones makes his final move, opening up a "socialist paradise" and so-called "sanctuary" in Guyana called the "Peoples Temple Agricultural Project," which will become the hellhole known as Jonestown ... a site with fences, little food, guards, and many, many rules broadcast to its residents over a loud-speaker system from Jones (in a test of loyalty called "White Nights," members several times are given a red "death" juice to drink to escape into the next life, then told they won't be dying, it was just a test). Before long, with the prod being a custody battle over a child taken to the Guyana compound, Congressman Leo Ryan decides to lead a fact-finding mission to Jonestown to investigate the rumors of human-rights abuses taking place in South America to some of Ryan's former constituents ... and the table is set for the tragedy that will ensue.
Congressman Leo Ryan
Arriving in the Guyana capital of Georgetown, in November of 1978, Ryan and some members of his staff, a number of relatives of Temple residents, an NBC camera crew, and reporters for a variety of newspapers spend two days there, then take an airplane to Port Kaituma in the northern part of the country, and from there are driven by limo to Jonestown, seven miles away in the jungle. At Jonestown, the group is given a tour, talks to several residents, and is feted with a reception in their honor ... but things go abruptly south when the next day, Temple member Don Sly attacks Ryan with a knife (despite Ryan stating he will be issuing a positive report on the Temple) ... attack fended off, the mission immediately leaves for the airport, taking fifteen residents along that had expressed a desire to return to the United States ... and there, the murders begin.
Jonestown - Newsweek Map
Entrance To Jonestown
Expecting to be a small enough group to get in a 19-passenger Twin Otter from Guyana Airways, with the additional defectors brought along, the party is forced to wait for a second aircraft for over thirty minutes to get everyone to Georgetown. At about 5:10 in the afternoon, the second plane, a six-passenger Cessna arrives and the party begins its boardings ... just as a group of armed Red Brigade security guards from the Temple compound arrive and open fire (along with fake defector, Larry Layton, on board the Cessna). Fire from shotguns, rifles, and pistols is launched at the party by nine shooters, two of whom circle the planes looking for victims ... amazingly, only five people are killed in the shootings ... Congressman Ryan (he is hit more than twenty times), NBC reporter Don Harris, NBC cameraman Bob Brown, San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson, and Temple defector Patricia Parks (while nine others are injured in the chaos at the airport).
Moments Before The Gunfire - Robinson With Camera Equipment
Diagram Of Airport Incident
Madness embraced and death decision made, when the airstrip killers return to Jonestown, Jones calls his staff together and has them prepare, and then distribute grape Flavor Aid (which will morph into Kool-Aidin the aftermath of the Guyana deaths) laced with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan to his disciples, with children getting dosed first (the mix takes about five minutes to kill) ... some have the solution forced on them, others take it willingly, and some are shot for refusing to participate (while the madman leader of the Temple consuls his people to "die with dignity" while they are committing "revolutionary suicide" to prevent the torture of their children by unknown enemies that are coming "soon"). For his own death, Jones shoots himself in the head (at his autopsy, enough chemicals are found in his system to kill a normal human being not grown accustomed to their toxicity). Over in roughly an hour, 908 Americans die at Jonestown with their insane leader (one of his last acts is to send an acolyte off with a request that $7.3 million of Temple money be transferred to the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).
Not everyone however dies in the holocaust of stupidity and murder ... several members are given assignments and sent away from the compound on their missions, a few guards balk at taking their own medicine once there is almost no one left around, and a few individuals manage to hid (including Jones' two lawyers, Charles Garry and Mark Lane, Lane being famous as Lee Harvey Oswald's lawyer and the author of the Warren Commision criticizing book, Rush To Judgment about the JFK assassination). And there is one survivor left to punish ... airstrip gunman Larry Layton. Placed in custody at the airstrip, after being found "not guilty" of murder and attempted murder by a Guyanese court (his defense of brain washing is of course true to a degree), Layton is returned to the United States by U.S. marshals, placed on trial in San Francisco (four times), and eventually is sentenced to 20 years behind bars for conspiracy and aiding and abetting in the murder of Congressman Ryan and the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer (he is paroled in 2002) ... the only person to ever be held criminally responsible for the Jonestown massacre.
Layton Under Arrest
The jungle has now reclaimed most of the site where Jonestown once stood, but events there are remembered by many in Guyana and in the United States still, each November 18th ... and of course, all the ghosts have never forgotten the day Jim Jones ordered so many suicide deaths of his followers.