James Warren Jones
May 13, 1931
Crete, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||November 18, 1978 (aged 47)|
|Cause of death||Suicide by gunshot|
|Known for||Leader of Peoples Temple|
(m. 1949; their deaths 1978)
James Warren "Jim" Jones (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was an American cult leader and preacher. His church was called the "People's Temple". It began as a Christian church (a member church of the Disciples of Christ). Over time, it became a cult. Jones and most of the members of his group died on November 18, 1978 in Guyana. Jones died when he committed suicide on that day after forcing most of the members of his group to drink poison.
Visit by Congressman Ryan, murders[change | change source]
In November 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission to Jonestown to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Ryan's delegation included relatives of Temple members, Don Harris, an NBC network news reporter, an NBC cameraman and reporters for various newspapers. The group arrived in Georgetown on November 15. On November 17, Ryan's delegation traveled by airplane to Jonestown.
The delegation left hurriedly the afternoon of November 18 after Temple member Don Sly attacked Ryan with a knife. The attack was thwarted, and the visit ended. Congressman Ryan and his people took with them fifteen People's Temple members who had expressed a wish to leave. At that time, Jones made no attempt to prevent their departure.
Port Kaituma Airstrip shootings[change | change source]
As members of Ryan's delegation boarded two planes at the airstrip, Jones' "Red Brigade" armed guards arrived in a tractor-pulled trailer and began shooting at the delegation. The guards killed Congressman Ryan and four others near a twin engine Otter aircraft. At the same time, one of the supposed defectors, Larry Layton, drew a weapon and began firing on members of the party that had already boarded a small Cessna. An NBC cameraman was able to capture footage of the first few seconds of the shooting at the Otter. The five killed at the airstrip were Congressman Ryan; Don Harris, a reporter from NBC; Bob Brown, a cameraman from NBC; San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson; and Temple member Patricia Parks. Surviving the attack were future Congresswoman Jackie Speier, then a staff member for Ryan; Richard Dwyer, the Deputy Chief of Mission from the U.S. Embassy at Georgetown; Bob Flick, a producer for NBC News; Steve Sung, an NBC sound engineer; Tim Reiterman, a San Francisco Examiner reporter; Ron Javers, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter; Charles Krause, a Washington Post reporter; and several defecting Temple members.<
Deaths in Jonestown[change | change source]
Later that same day, 909 inhabitants of Jonestown, 303 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, in and around a pavilion. This was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the September 11, 2001 attacks. No video was taken during the mass suicide, though the FBI did recover a 45-minute audio recording of the suicide in progress.
On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that the Soviet Union, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Ryan and four others at a nearby airstrip. The reason given by Jones to commit suicide was consistent with his previously stated conspiracy theories of intelligence organizations allegedly conspiring against the Temple, that men would "parachute in here on us," "shoot some of our innocent babies" and "they'll torture our children, they'll torture some of our people here, they'll torture our seniors". Parroting Jones' prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to fascism, one temple member states "the ones that they take captured, they're gonna just let them grow up and be dummies".
Jones and several members argued that the group should commit "revolutionary suicide" by drinking cyanide-laced grape-flavored Flavor Aid. However, later released video made to show the best of Jonestown shows Jones opening a storage container full of Kool-Aid in large quantities. This may have been what was used to mix the "potion" (as was referred to in several statements on the tape recordings) along with a sedative.
One member, Christine Miller, dissents toward the beginning of the tape. When members apparently cried, Jones counseled, "Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity". Jones can be heard saying, "Don't be afraid to die," that death is "just stepping over into another plane" and that it's "a friend". At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world". According to escaping Temple members, children were given the drink first and families were told to lie down together. Mass suicide had been previously discussed in simulated events called "White Nights" on a regular basis.
Jones was found dead in a deck chair with a gunshot wound to his head that Guyanese coroner Cyrill Mootoo stated was consistent with a self-inflicted gun wound. However, Jones' son Stephan believes his father may have directed someone else to shoot him. An autopsy of Jones' body also showed levels of the barbiturate Pentobarbital which may have been lethal to humans who had not developed physiological tolerance. Jones' drug usage (including LSD and marijuana) was confirmed by his son, Stephan, and Jones' doctor in San Francisco.
References[change | change source]
- Reiterman, Tom; Jacobs, John 1982. Raven: the untold story of Rev. Jim Jones and his people. Dutton, ISBN 0-525-24136-1
- Zain, Maitland 1998. Surviving the Heart of Darkness. SFGATE
- Who died? Archived 2008-11-02 at the Wayback Machine, Alternative considerations of Jonestown, San Diego State University
- 1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead. BBC, November 18, 2005
- Rapaport, Richard, Jonestown and City Hall slayings eerily linked in time and memory, San Francisco Chronicle, November 16, 2003
- Jim Jones, Transcript of recovered FBI tape Q 42. Archived 2013-01-16 at the Wayback Machine Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Jonestown Project: San Diego State University.
- Affidavit of Deborah Layton Blakey. Archived 2013-03-05 at the Wayback Machine Alternative considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Jonestown Project: San Diego State University.
- Guyana Inquest — Interviews of Cecil Roberts & Cyril Mootoo (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on May 23, 2013, retrieved February 23, 2010
- Jonestown: Paradise Lost, interview of Stephan Jones, documentary airing on Discovery Networks, 2007
- Autopsy of Jim Jones by Kenneth H. Mueller Archived 2012-12-07 at the Wayback Machine, Jonestown Institute at SDSU