Jim Jones (James
Warren Jones) was born in 1931 to his father, a klu klux klansman and
his mother a cherokee indian (although this has never been substantiated).
After graduating from high school, and then university, Jones eventually
became a Methodist minister and preached at a church in Indianapolis.
He very quickly became disillusioned with the Methodist church and in
1953, disappointed by the lack of racial differences in the church congregation
he founded The Peoples Temple, an inter-racial mission for the unemployed,
disenfranchised, and the destitute.
When Jones started
to perform healings at the church, the congregation began to acquire
greater numbers and public interest grew. Following a government investigation
into his reputed miraculous cures, Jones moved his Church to Ukiah in
Northern California, and later to San Francisco. During the next twelve
years the Peoples Temple grew even larger and the group became more
active in the community, but Jones’ preaching had become increasingly
apocalyptic, emphasising his belief in the imminent end of the world
in a nuclear war.
During the 1970\'s,
Jones had been abusing prescription drugs and became increasingly paranoid.
Jones developed the belief that he and his followers would all die together,
and pass on to another planet for a life of bliss. Mock suicides were
staged in which his followers pretended to drink poison. Rumours of
beatings and abuse within the church began to circulate, and journalists,
law enforcement groups, and politicians began to investigate Jones.
In 1976 Jones moved
the Peoples Temple and over 800 followers to Guyana where they built
a closed community called Jonestown, and on November 18, 1978, 914 members
of the Peoples Temple committed suicide by drinking a poisoned juice
When the Guyanese
military uncovered the tragedy, they discovered that a number of the
congregation appeared to have been murdered by poison injection, and
still other victims had been shot.
Jones, Jim, 1931–78,
American religious leader, b. Lynn, Indiana. An influential Indianapolis
preacher since the 1950s, Jones formed the People's Temple (1955), which
he eventually moved to Ukiah, Calif. (1967) and then San Francisco (1971).
After Jones became the subject of criminal investigations, particularly
regarding his alleged diversion of cult members' donations for his personal
use, he and about 1,000 followers relocated to Jonestown, Guyana (1977).
In Nov., 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan was killed by cult members
as he attempted to leave after an investigatory visit. The following
day, Jones orchestrated the mass suicide of 912 followers, who were
compelled to drink cyanide-laced punch. Jones died the same day of a
bullet wound in his head.
Jim Jones was the
founder and leader of Jonestown, Guyana, a community of over 900 members
of The People's Temple Full Gospel Church, an offshoot of the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ). Jones had been an untrained preacher in
Indiana and California before moving his congregation to Guyana to avoid
government scrutiny. In November of 1978, U. S. Congressman Leo Ryan
visited Jonestown to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.
Ryan and his group were murdered at Jonestown, and on November 18, 1978
Jim Jones and 911 of his followers committed suicide or were murdered.
Initial reports said the members drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide,
but a report from the Guyanese coroner said that hundreds of the bodies
showed needle marks, indicating foul play. The U. S. government has
not released all the documents pertinent to their investigation of the
incident, further complicating the long-held conspiracy theory that
Jonestown was a mind-control experiment conducted by the Central Intelligence
Lynn, Ind. -- Jimmy
Jones was born to preach.
As a grammar school
student in this small town in rural Indiana, the architect of one of
the most notorious mass murder-suicides in history liked to hang out
with kids one or two grades behind him.
Jimmy would arrange
the members of his childhood congregation on the porch steps of a friend's
house. Then, he would drape a sheet over his shoulders, step up on a
wooden packing crate and start preaching like the devil.
"Most of the
time, Jim was a pain,'' said Peter Jones, who is unrelated. "There
always seemed to be trouble around him."
ago, on Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 members of the Rev. Jim Jones'
Peoples Temple perished in the South American jungle, either shot, injected
or otherwise poisoned by the deadly punch he had ordered them to drink.
The world was shocked
by Jonestown. But interviews with people who knew Jones before he brought
his congregation to California reveal early warning signs in the young
life of this crazed prophet -- the quick temper, the lust for power,
the turning points from which there would be no turning back.
The spiritual journey
of Jim Jones would end in a remote jungle compound littered with bloated
bodies. But it began with a troubled farm boy here in America's heartland.
James Warren Jones
was born in the hamlet of Crete, Ind. -- just outside of Lynn -- on
May 13, 1931.
His father, James
Thurman Jones, saw combat in Europe during World War I and was never
quite the same when he got home. Some of the old-timers around Lynn
believe that Old Jim had been exposed to mustard gas. Others say he
was just a drunk. Medical reports show he spent five years in a psychiatric
hospital in the 1920s.
Shortly after his
release, he married Lynetta Putnam, a woman who was 15 years younger
and had been married twice before. She gave birth to Jimmy.
When Jimmy was 4
or 5 years old, his mother would give him a sack lunch and send him
out of the house. He would wander around town with his lunch, often
with a stray dog following him around.
"My mom was
in the kitchen having coffee one day, and there was this little kid
at the door with his sack lunch,'' said Phyllis Wilmore, who now lives
in Indianapolis. "He said, 'Can I come in?' He sat down and was
very polite. He said, 'This is my lunch, but I think I'll eat it now.'
Wilmore dated Jimmy
in high school. By that time, he had figured out how to deliver a sermon.
"When we were
in our sophomore or junior year, we had this basketball rivalry with
another school,'' Wilmore recalled. "We had a big pep rally before
one of the games, and Jimmy decided to stage an elaborate funeral for
the other school. He got up and started preaching and did an incredible
job. He had the control and inflection. It was like the real thing,
but was all intended to be a joke. He was very self-assured on stage.
He had that coal black hair and piercing eyes that would look right
There were five
churches in town -- Friends, Nazarene, Methodist, Apostolic and the
Church of Christ. Jimmy went to all of them.
"He was idealistic
and cynical at the same time. He'd join these churches, and then he'd
get disillusioned and quit and go join a different one,'' Wilmore said.
"When he'd join, he'd listen to everything they said. He'd go whole
hog for it and then decide the people leading it weren't following what
they were preaching."
Jones wanted to
be a preacher, and he moved to Indianapolis to fulfill that dream.
He became a student
minister with a temporary appointment for the Methodist Church, but
he didn't stay there long.
leaders in Indiana thought that the young, charismatic preacher was
"too free a spirit to be constrained by the close supervision and
discipline of the district superintendent," according to church
records. So in 1955, Jones took a small flock of followers he had gathered
from a few local churches and founded his first Peoples Temple at the
corner of 15th and New Jersey in Indianapolis.
It was a place where
the Holy Spirit seemed to be rattling the windows and shaking the walls.
Blacks and whites worshiped together freely. There was prophecy, faith
healing, speaking in tongues and loud, joyful music. The church was
booming, and the media were paying attention.
Jimmy Jones, the
troubled boy in Lynn, had become "the Rev. Jim Jones."
Gene Cordell and
his family began their association with Peoples Temple on Easter Sunday
50 years ago. His Aunt Edith had just lost her pet monkey.
said Cordell's wife, June, "she found the monkey that she'd bought
had hung himself on his leash. She wanted another monkey."
Jones was selling
pet monkeys to raise money to start a church. He had placed an ad in
the Indianapolis Star.
"So she went
over and she bought 'em -- a boy monkey and a girl monkey. . . . Jimmy
started telling her about his church. She comes back, and she tells
me I'm going with her on Easter morning," said June Cordell.
Before long, the
Cordells and other members of their family were mainstays of the church.
Peoples Temple also
was where Gene Cordell had one of the most powerful spiritual experiences
of his life.
I was sitting in church,'' he said. "I turned around, and there
were two older guys behind me. I looked at them, and they said, 'God
is in you.' I turned back around later, and they were gone. To me, they
were angels standing behind me. I stood up, and I felt like I could
have walked through a wall."
But there were other
spirits at work. Cordell and several other early associates said Jones
changed in 1957 after he and a busload of church members rode off to
Philadelphia to visit an infamous black evangelist called Father Divine.
Born George Baker
in 1880, Father Divine founded the Peace Mission movement in New York
in 1932 -- a spiritual revival that made this son of former slaves a
very wealthy man.
come back from seeing Father Divine, he was a changed man," Cordell
said. "I saw it right away. . . . I sensed the change. After that,
it was 'my way or no way.' It was 'I am He. I'm in control.' He was
not just the pastor in the church. He was The Man. Father Divine convinced
him he was The Man -- that he was God."
Max Knight, who
knew Jones as a kid growing up in Lynn and later as a reporter working
at the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium, a local paper, also blames Father
moment on, Jim went downhill fast," Knight said. "He got into
drugs. He got into sex. You name it. He felt that he was bigger than
God himself, and it destroyed him. He became a little god of his own.
There is no doubt about it."
Peoples Temple was
starting to look like a cult, and June Cordell wanted her husband back.
Not only that, she had seen patients abused at a nursing home that Jones
had set up as part of his Indianapolis ministry. The Cordells told Aunt
Edith about it, and their report got back to Jones. The Cordells started
to get threatening phone calls and had to change their telephone number.
Then, they got a late-night visit from Jones.
"He got me
up in the middle of the night," said June Cordell. "He said,
'You don't ever open your mouth to anybody about anything you see in
that nursing home or anything involving me. The look out of his eyes
really scared me. I never wanted to come across him again -- especially
In the late 1950s
and early 1960s, Jones took several long trips to South America, looking
for a place where he could someday escape with his flock. But by the
summer of 1965, Jones had put his South American plans on hold. He had
decided to head for Northern California with his Indiana followers.
June and Gene Cordell
already had left the church and wanted get Aunt Edith and other family
members out of Peoples Temple. But by then, Aunt Edith had changed her
will and left her entire estate to Jones.
In June 1965, Cordell
found Edith and some other temple members packing up the car. They had
planned to sneak out of town without a word.
Eventually, 20 members
of the Cordell family would join Jones in California. Over the years,
a few family members would leave the cult, but others would be born
into Peoples Temple.
In the end, 20 members
of the Cordell family died in Jonestown.
Peoples Temple established
its California beachhead in Ukiah and soon built a large, modern church
in scenic Redwood Valley in Mendocino County. During the 1970s, Jones
expanded his California empire, taking over an abandoned synagogue on
Fillmore Street in San Francisco.
In February 1974,
he secured a tract of jungle from the Guyana government.
But Jones never
lost touch with his Indiana roots. He would return for revival meetings
and take busloads of his devotees to visit the land of his birth.
Knight hardly recognized
Jones when he ran into the Peoples Temple leader during one of his last
Knight was still
working as a reporter for the Palladium. On that day, he was having
trouble coming up with his lead paragraph and went out for a walk around
the block to clear his head.
down Main Street and realize there are three people coming toward me,"
he said. "I didn't think much about it. I had my head down and
was thinking about my story, and I glanced up, and all of a sudden I
realized I was walking straight into the middle of them. I did a double
take and stopped and said, 'My goodness. Jim! What in the world has
happened to you?'
had his hair combed back, and he had on -- not a zoot suit -- but certainly
not a suit that was 'Indiana.' He had big sunglasses sitting up on top
of his head and a goon on each side of him. Two enormous big guys --
one black, one white. We stood there on the street and talked. He was
back from San Francisco. We talked for a good 10 minutes.
I said, 'I'm curious. Why the change? Why the sunglasses? The bodyguards?'
He grinned and said -- this is a statement I'll never forget -- he grinned
and said, 'Max, when you reach the top, you've got to play the part.'
Jim Jones was playing
the part and playing it well in San Francisco. Many saw him as a politically
progressive minister with one of the most racially integrated and socially
active churches in town.
Mayor George Moscone,
whose campaign had been given a much-needed boost by Peoples Temple
activists, named Jones president of the San Francisco Housing Authority.
Willie Brown, then a powerful state assemblyman, was another close political
Jones also had won
the praise of several influential editors in the local press as well
as of some of the top religious leaders in San Francisco. But by the
summer of 1977, an expose of abuses of power inside Peoples Temple appeared
in New West magazine.
Reporters in the
daily press were unleashed and allowed to investigate the charismatic
preacher who used threats, intimidation and an army of devotees to hold
onto power and maintain his progressive reputation.
Jones took off for
South America, and in Nov. 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan, a Democratic
congressman representing San Mateo, along with a group of reporters
and concerned family members. headed down to Jonestown to investigate.
The fuse was lit.
Ryan and four others were shot and killed at a nearby airstrip -- a
prelude to the coming carnage.
was one of the early converts who followed Jones to California and then
on to Guyana.
She and her sister
joined Peoples Temple in Indianapolis in 1957, but in the months leading
up to Nov. 18, 1978, Thrash saw troubling changes in Jones and his church.
What had begun in Indiana as an enlightened, racially integrated Christian
ministry in the 1950s had turned into an armed camp of fear, brutality
and paranoia deep in the South American jungle.
Thrash was living
in a cottage she shared in Jonestown with three other older women. One
of her roommates told her that something had happened at the Port Kaituma
airstrip, where the congressman from California was taking off with
some temple defectors.
She hid under the
bed and didn't wake up until the next morning.
"When I got
outside," she said in an interview before she died, "it was
like a ghost town. I didn't see or hear anybody. I went over to another
senior citizen building where my friend Birdy lived. When I got to the
door, I saw Birdy sitting in the chair, draped in a sheet. I could tell
it was Birdy by her shoes. I say, 'Birdy, Birdy, what's wrong?' "
"But she didn't
move . . .I looked down the row of beds, and all the people were either
sitting up or laying in bed. They were all covered with sheets."
"I said, 'Oh,
God, they came and they killed them all, and I's the onliest one alive!
Why didn't they take me, too?'
screaming. I thought maybe I was dead, too. I pinched myself. Was I
alive? I couldn't believe it. I just stood there."
Thrash was the only
one alive. A few Peoples Temple members had fled into the jungle and
escaped the murder-suicide ritual, but she was the only survivor who
was there when Guyana troops came to Jonestown more than a day later.
returned to Indianapolis, where she died in 1995 at the age of 93. Before
her death, she told her story to a local writer, Marian Towne, in hours
of taped interviews. Last month, to mark the 25th anniversary of Jonestown,
Towne and another Indianapolis writer, Marsha Grant, produced a play
about Thrash's life, "The Onliest One Alive: Surviving Jonestown,
To her dying day,
Thrash credited Jones with curing her of breast cancer in the late 1950s.
She continued to believe that even after she saw him fake faith healings
by "removing" bloody chicken livers from people's bodies and
proclaiming their tumors were gone.
"In San Francisco,''
Thrash said, "he started throwing the Bible away. He threw away
the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Noah's Ark. . . . Jim did get a
shipment of Gideon Bibles in Guyana. But when the toilet paper ran out,
he told us to use the leaf of the Bible. But I couldn't do it! Not God's