True Crime Vol. XXXVI: Jonestown Massacre(Jim Jones)

By: Kendall Zuniga 

How do you drink your Kool-Aid? Cold and sweet? Chunks of ice and light sugar? Bitter and poisoned with cyanide? Sadly that’s how the followers of “Jonestown” drank their Kool-Aid. It’s estimated that over 900 followers of Jim Jones had died that day from Cyanide poisoning, making it the largest mass intentional civilian death to be recorded since before the events of September 11th, 2009. 

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ(more formerly known as Jonestown) was founded in 1955 in Indianapolis, Indiana by Jim and Marceline Jones. Pastor, Jim Jones, would preach to a racially-integrated congregation during church services. At the height of its popularity during the 1970s, the Temple had a membership estimated in the thousands and was courted by local politicians in San Francisco, California. But by 1977, Jones had grown paranoid from the media scrutiny over the Temple’s suspicious activities, so he and his numerous followers moved to an agricultural settlement in Guyana, a remote country east of Venezuela.

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November 1978. Ryan was spurred to visit Jonestown after hearing word from a friend and former Peoples Temple member who couldn’t reach family members at the commune, as well as an written statement from Deborah Layton Blakey, a Jones aide who sought refuge at the American embassy, who recounted the goings-on at Jonestown. Sources say Jones had been rehearsing people for weeks on end on what to say to Ryan and the media. Soon after checking out the settlement, Ryan was shot to death along with four other people by Temple gunmen at an airstrip. 

The fear in Jones was setting in and believed something had to be done to keep his dark secret from reaching the light of day. Jones would often hold mass suicide rehearsals in order to see who his true followers were and which of his followers would give him the most trouble, making the trouble makers line up first to take the poison. He would also come to decide that if he were to “kill off” all the children, their parents wouldn’t have any reason to live. So, he starts with the babies and the people want to believe that this is just another rehearsal. For a lot of them it was just surreal. They couldn’t believe this man, who professed to have their best interests in mind, would actually kill them. It wasn’t until they saw the babies frothing at the mouth and writhing that they realized what was going on. 

The people of Jonestown, some acceptant and serene, others probably coerced, queued to receive cups of cyanide punch and syringes. When Guyanese troops reached Jonestown the next morning, they discovered an eerie, silent vista, frozen in time and littered with bodies. A tiny number of survivors, mainly people who had hidden during the poisoning, emerged. Jim Jones was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot.

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