Monday, July 1, 2013

Fate of 700 Cultists Poses Mystery; Police Speculate the Missing Died Before Mass Suicides, by Donald Neff,

November 21, 1975, Washington Star-News, page A1, Fate of 700 Cultists Poses Mystery; Police Speculate the Missing Died Before Mass Suicides, by Donald Neff, Time-Life News Service

A Guyanese source who returned last night from a six-hour inspection of the jungle site 150 miles northwest of here said an examination of the area---and other related developments---revealed more odd and disturbing facts.
  • Though 1,100 to 1,200 persons were believed living in the agricultural commune, a close search found fewer than half that number of bodies.
  • Two days after the suicides, only a handful of stragglers had emerged from the heavy bush. There was no indication that any sizeable number of cultists were roaming lost, though it obviously was still too early to be sure.
  • All but three of the followers had died of poisoning. One of the three was identified by Guyanese officials as the cult's charismatic leader, Jim Jones, 48, former housing authority chairman of San Francisco. He was found shot in the head.
  • Large sums of money were found on three arrested cult members and in the commune.
  • Most of the bodies were of persons believed to be under 40, though the cult had an unknown---but not negligible---number of older members.
This set of facts, said the source, who asked not to be identified, has led police to speculate about a grisly possibility: Perhaps, goes the reasoning, the older and less sexually attractive cultists were killed and their bodies secretly disposed of in the jungle over the past four years since the founding of Jonestown, the name of the commune.

Or maybe there never were 1,100 to 1,200 people living in the commune; no accurate statistics were kept by the Guyanese government or the U.S. Embassy. It is possible that the Peoples Temple spokesman and various visitors had exaggerated the number attracted to the cult, though authorities are especially suspicious at the lack of older people's bodies at the site.

The commune was widely known to be quite wealthy, partly because members when they joined had to sign over personal possessions, bequeath any future riches to the commune and work without wages. In this way, even dead older members could continue to be assets since the commune could fraudulently continue to collect such benefits as pensions and Social Security checks.

Reinforcing this line of conspiratorial speculation was the finding of large sums of money on three commune men who were arrested over the weekend.

Larry Layton, 32, was taken prisoner shortly after he shot another commune member in a small plane Saturday during the ambush of Rep. Leo Ryan and a group of newsmen. It was at first thought that Layton's shots signaled the start of the ambush.

The plane's pilot, Tom Fernandes, 34, said in an interview, however, that the ambush was well under way before Layton fired a pistol into the back of a woman cult member, perhaps as a prelude to skyjacking the plane. But the pilot shut down the engines.

When Layton was arrested, it was discovered he had around $60,000 in cash and a Peoples Temple bank draft on a Panama Bank for $1 million, said the source.

Two other unidentified cult members were arrested Sunday making their way to the nearby Venezuelan border. Both had "enormous sums of money" in their pockets, said the source, adding that he did not know the exact amount.

These revelations have led police to add speculation to speculation and come up with what under almost any other circumstance would be considered a wild possibility---a small band within the commune had plotted to kill Jim Jones and abscond with the cult's treasury.

[ 3 or 4 missing words] may have been in collusion with a few others to divvy up the riches after nearly all the members were dead, and the at the last moment was betrayed.

Moreover, $1 million worth of gold, jewelry and cash was found at the commune, in addition to 800 U.S. passports, 40 automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Whatever the details, police are investigating the possibility that at the final moment---when masses of cultists lay dying of poison---that a small band decided to destroy those too.

"Face it," said the source, "how could you profess mass poisoning and not use it on yourself. It makes more sense if someone else shot him."

Jones was found lying at the entrance of the commune's large assembly hall with a bullet in the head. Near him were his wife, who was cuddling one of their children in her arms, both dead of poisoning.

Also nearby lay a pistol that Jones could have used to kill himself. But, said the source, the weapon may have been planted there.

Police entertained that suspicion, said the source, because there seemed to be a certain amount of stage setting with the bodies.

"If you die of cyanide, which seems to have been the poison, your body goes into spasms and contorts in death," said the source. "But at Jonestown, everyone looked relaxed."

There would have been time for anyone to stage-manage the scene, however gruesome that sounds, since the first troops and police to enter the commune did not do so until Sunday night, more than 24 hours after the suicides began.

Jones' attorneys, Charles Garry of San Francisco and Mark Lane, were at the commune when the death ritual began around 5:30 Saturday night.

Only an hour earlier they had saved Rep. Ryan, they said, from a knife attack by cultist Don Sly, 50.

The attack came at the end of Ryan's overnight visit to the commune, while the congressman was chatting with Jones and the two attorneys in a room, said Garry.

"Sly ran in with a knife and screamed, 'I'm going to kill you, you S.O.B. He grabbed Ryan around the neck and put a knife in front of his body. Matk and I wrestled him off and Ryan was not injured."

Because there was not room enough in the two small planes taking Ryan and his party back to Georgetown, Garry and Lane decided to stay overnight at the commune. Shortly after the attack---and about the time that Ryan, three newsmen and a member of the cult who was leaving were gunned down at the airport six miles away---Jones called a general meeting of the commune members in the assembly hall. Garry said Jones appeared very distressed that 14 of his followers had decided to quit the commune and the [sic] accompany Ryan out of the area.

Garry and Lane were not allowed to attend the general meeting, which was unusual and a bit frightening for both men,

After they heard snatches of speeches calling for mass suicide, the two attorneys said in interviews in Georgetown, eight men emerged, went to a room, and ran back to the hall with rifles, some of them carrying two and three weapons.

About this time, said Garry, two black youths with rifles "at semi-ready" came up to the attorneys "smiling, very happy and said, 'We are going to die in protest against fascism and racism. Revolutionary suicide is to die with honor and dignity.'"

Added Garry: "the way they were carrying those guns we thought they were sent to kill us."

With some fast thinking, Lane told the men that "we will be left to write your glorious history."

That seemed to satisfy the two young men and they told the attorneys how to escape, said Garry.

Dusk was falling as Gary and Lane set out through the marshes and thickets of the jungle. As they reached a nearby hill, both men said, they heard Jones screaming, "mother, mother, mother."

Then shots began ringing out, they said. It was nearly 24 hours later when they finally escaped the jungle, tired but uninjured, and made their way into Port Kaituma, where for the first time they learned of the deaths of Ryan and the others. They finally got to Georgetown late Sunday night.


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