It is 5:00 p.m . California Congressman Leo J. Ryan finishes loading a trunk onto a small Guyanese plane at the Port Kaituma Airstrip. He, along with his congressional delegation and several members of a news crew, have just left Jonestown, the People's Temple Agricultural Project. Ryan's legislative aide, Jackie Speier, was so terror-stricken before the trip that she put her last will and testament inside her desk on Capitol Hill and made certain Ryan did the same.
As 15 defectors and relatives of other Temple members are climbing the stairs of their planes, a tractor-trailer suddenly roars onto the runway. Aboard, armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, are nine Temple gunmen. They quickly aim their weapons and unleash a murderous fusillade. The delegation scatters, many fleeing into the jungle. But eleven are wounded, and fatally struck down are Ryan, three journalists, and Temple defector Patricia Parks.
Ryan lays dying beside critically wounded Speier, whispering that he wants her to take his place in the next election. Moments later, one of Rev. Jim Jones's hitmen finishes off the Congressman with a shotgun blast to the head.
Six miles away at Jonestown, "Dad" stands before his flock of over 900 in the pavilion. Jones turns on a small tape recorder and begins rambling.
"...What's going to happen here in a matter of a few minutes is that one of those people on the plane is going to shoot the pilot. I know that. I didn't plan it, but I know it's going to happen. And we better not have any of our children left when it's over...
"...So you be kind to the children and be kind to seniors, and take the potion like they used to take in ancient Greece, and step over quietly, because we are not committing suicide -- it's a revolutionary act...I don't know who killed the Congressman. But as far as I'm concerned, I killed him...
"...Lay down your life with dignity. Don't lay down with tears and agony...I don't care how many screams you hear; death is a million times preferable to spend more days in this life...No more pain. No more pain...That's what death is, sleep. Have trust. You have to step across. This world was not our home."
The final minutes of tape record the gruesome sounds of 913 lives being snuffed out -- 276 of them children. The nurses take babies from their mothers and inject a purple concoction into their mouths. Armed guards surrounding the pavilion menace those who hesitate to dip their cups into vats of cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. But many Temple members drink willingly. Children scream in a chaos accented with eerie background music, which slowly fades into a ghastly silence. Like his enemy Leo Ryan, Jim Jones dies a violent death. One of the cultists, or Jones himself, fires a pistol into his brain.
In the days following the massacre, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appears before a swarm of reporters. The mayor, who ironically will fall victim to a deranged gunman later that month, has been one of many that fortified Jones's rise to power. He appointed the madman to head the city's housing authority in 1976. But Moscone is in no mood for a mea culpa, telling the reporters:
"Anybody who wants to connect the mayor of San Francisco with the slaughter that took place in another continent really is reaching far out -- it must be made very clear that nobody, other than the people directly involved, is responsible to a superior being, and those that are yet to be found, ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Today, 20 years, later, images of bloated corpses, scattered syringes, poison drink, and dixie cups are what most Americans likely remember about the People's Temple. The tragedy was written off as a "mass suicide" led by "a maniac in the jungle."
There is, however, more to this story. Much more. The sociopathic cult leader had some very important friends that aided and abetted his "family." Yet, to this day, they remain unrepentant. These community leaders, through their endorsements, helped fuel the People's Temple descent into hell. The late George Moscone wasn't the only Jones ally to feign innocence. Current San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was even more shameless. There were also the clergymen, such as flamboyant Rev. Cecil Williams, head of the city's Glide Methodist Church. A number of journalists, as well, neglected their duty to expose the very dangerous Rev. Jones until it was too late. Renowned San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote enough glowing praises that he was considered by the Temple to be a close friend and ally.
There were some, however, that tried to stop the Temple juggernaut. Herein is an account of how courage under fire ultimately was eclipsed by the corruption and weakness of California power brokers, empowering a monster to destroy more than 900 men, women, and children.
"Church Filled To See 'Cures' By Self-Proclaimed 'Prophet of God'" was the first Jim Jones exposÚ ever published. Indianapolis Star reporter Bryon C. Wells had attended afternoon and evening "miracle healing services" at People's Temple in downtown Indianapolis. There he heard Jones proclaim, "With over 4,000 members of our California church, we haven't had a death yet!...I am a prophet of God and I can cure both the illness of your body, as well as the illness of your mind." Wells noted that "people who were called upon in the evening to be cured had a striking resemblance to some who were called earlier in the day." Wells's second account, "State Psychology Board to Eye 'Prophet' Jones" reported that, for the first time, Jones would be investigated. The State Board of Psychology Examiners would decide whether they could prosecute Jones for practicing psychiatry without a license, since he claimed he could cure psychosomatic diseases. After careful scrutiny they concluded that Jones was protected under the First Amendment, and state law forbid prosecuting "faith healers."
Wells's first exposÚ provoked a deluge of furious letters and phone calls to the Star from Temple members. Jones, meanwhile, claimed during services that he received 23 phone calls from Indianapolis "hatemongers." Nine months later, Wells received an alarming letter from Indianapolis resident Georgia Johnson. Once one of Jones's earliest followers, she was now a concerned mother trying to get her two young daughters to return home from the Temple's other base in Redwood Valley, California. Wells passed it onto the city editor, who in turn handed it to Carolyn Pickering, the Star's leading investigative reporter.
Although Pickering was a bit apprehensive when reading Georgia Johnson's long-winded letter, she nevertheless set up an interview. Her month-long full-time investigation into People's Temple had begun.
"Dear Tom", wrote Pickering to Executive Editor Tom Eastham of the San Francisco Examiner. "The Star is contemplating sending me out to your grand and glorious state to probe into a religious cult operation in Redwood Valley, near Ukiah...called People's Temple...
"...The fraud who conducts this holy organization is the Rev. James W. Jones who once had a small church here...If there is someone on your staff who might have some knowledge of this bunch, or could provide some entrees to state officials who might be interested, I'd appreciate it." Eastham told Pickering that he already had a reporter, the Rev. Lester Kinsolving, investigating Jones. Kinsolving, who wrote a weekly column entitled "Inside Religion", had contacted Ukiah Daily Journal editor George Hunter on February 7th of that year after hearing reports that the People's Temple charismatic pastor was attracting thousands to his Sunday services. Four days later, Examiner editor Ed Dooley received a letter from Timothy Stoen, whose letterhead identified him only as "Attorney at Law". Stoen, Jones's point man, sang the Temple praises.
It was obvious Hunter dutifully reported Kinsolving's phone call to Stoen. Stoen elaborated on a long list of achievements, such as Jones's past appointments to various positions of public trust, "including Foreman of the Mendocino County Grand Jury...and that Jones was "the most compassionate, fearless, and honest person I know of..."
After being briefed by Eastham, Kinsolving contacted Pickering and the two reporters began collaborating.
On the 10th, Kinsolving and photographer Fran Ortiz drove 120 miles north of San Francisco to cover the People's Temple Sunday service. Within a few minutes of entering People's Temple Sanctuary, Kinsolving was interrogated by Stoen, who was wearing a blue-green pulpit robe. Stoen then revealed himself not only to be an (unordained) assistant pastor of People's Temple, but Assistant District Attorney of Mendocino County. Ortiz was ordered to leave his cameras at the church entrance; he refused and was banished to wait outside.
As throngs of congregation were spilling out of buses traveling from Los Angeles and Portland the night before, Kinsolving was greeted warmly by Rev. Jones himself, a slim, raven-haired, handsome 41 year-old donning a pulpit gown and white turtle-neck. Jones raved to the columnist about the excellence of his weekly column, and let him know specifically that he admired his "courage in exposing Cecil Williams for the phony he is."
An hour and a half after listening to the congregation ranting praises of Jones, Kinsolving was feeling weary and bored. His photographer suddenly approached and implored that they leave. Once inside the car, Ortiz informed Kinsolving that he was able to photograph not only the many busses, but one of the Temple guards as well. "And Les", Ortiz added, "he was carrying a .357 magnum."
Stoen sent a letter to Kinsolving two days later, disclosing the Temple's finances and apologizing for his Treasurer's refusal to provide the information. He continued gushing about "this wonderful group of people and their remarkable pastor Jim Jones...Jim has been the means by which more than 40 persons have literally been brought back from the dead this year.
"...I have seen Jim revive people stiff as a board, tongues hanging out, eyes set, skin graying and all vital signs absent...Jim will go up to such a person and say something like "I love you" or "I need you" and immediately the vital signs reappear...Jim is very humble about his gift and does not preach it..."
On Sept. 17th, Kinsolving's first exposÚ, "The Prophet Who Raises The Dead", featured excerpts from Stoen's letter. It made the front page of the Examiner.
The second article, published on the18th, was "'Healing Prophet' Hailed as God At S.F. Revival". If contained a quote from one of Jones's followers who, during a special service in San Francisco, shrieked: "I know that Pastor Jim Jones is God Almighty himself!".
The third exposÚ, on the 19th, was "D.A. Aide Officiates for Minor Bride', which reported on the Georgia Johnson affidavit charging that Stoen officiated the marriage of Mildred Johnson, a minor. Shortly afterward, Mildred was placed on the Mendocino County welfare and forced to turn over her $95 monthly welfare check to the People's Temple. The Sept. 20 story, "Probe Asked of People's Temple", revealed that earlier that year Ukiah Baptist pastor Richard Taylor had asked Mendocino County District Attorney Duncan James to investigate Tim Stoen's conduct surrounding Temple member Maxine Harpe's suspicious suicide. Rev. Taylor had also requested that Sheriff Reno Bartolomie investigate the Temple on the suicide issue as well as many others. But no action was taken. So, on September 19, one day before Kinsolving's fourth expose appeared, Rev. Taylor wrote to State Attorney General Evelle Younger with yet another request:
"...What is of utmost concern is the atmosphere of terror created in the community by so large and aggressive a group...I sincerely believe...questionable activity is going on, I do request that your office conduct an investigation."
As Kinsolving commuted into work on the morning of the 19th, he was greeted by a long picket line in front of the Examiner. 150 members of the People's Temple would march that day for nine hours protesting the articles. They carried signs proclaiming "This Paper Has Lied", "Government That Governs Least Governs Best", and "This is Invasion of Privacy of Religious Services".
Kinsolving watched the spectacle from his desk window, amused. His editor Tom Eastham dropped by and suggested that he "ought to go down and welcome them." Kinsolving replied, "I'll do better than that, I'll go down and take up a collection!"
Eastham had gone ahead and contacted television stations, who by now were there in full force. Kinsolving was soon parading through the picketers with a borrowed policeman's hat, announcing, "We're passing the hat, ladies and gentlemen, an opportunity for sweet charity to come out from amongst you."
KRON-TV, a station owned by the San Francisco Chronicle (which was scooped by the Examiner once again), covered the story and added a segment that was as much People's Temple propaganda as legitimate news. The station invited Jones into their television studio to answer questions. But the news editors took footage of Kinsolving commenting on Jones's hypocrisy, enlarging the reporter's face and freeze-framing it as the volume of his voice was turned into a high-pitched shriek. The special effects then dissolved into Jim Jones quietly seated in a chair, answering questions with angelic aplomb.
After watching the KRON-TV program, Examiner publisher Charles Gould sent a blistering memo the next day to Kinsolving: "You did not show charity, compassion or consideration when you harangued the peaceful, picketing parishioners seeking a collection. You seemed to be playing the role of bully and bigot...They have every right to practice their religion...
"I caught about one minute of [the] interview with Reverend Jones. He came off as [a] low-key, soft-voiced, convincing believer. A charlatan he may be, however he definitely knows how to make friends and influence people...you should never let another man of God beat you at your own game. Jones did. Yesterday, at least."
Nonetheless, three days later, the Examiner awarded Kinsolving a $100 bonus for the People's Temple stories.
Yet the Examiner held off on publishing the reporter's four additional exposÚs because of fear of a lawsuit by the People's Temple. They were already being sued by Synanon, a controversial drug and alcohol rehab group. The remaining four stories dealt with further investigation into the Maxine Harpe suicide, welfare scam, "survival training", and Jones accusing a pastor of propositioning two Temple choir girls.
Kinsolving pleaded with the editors to publish the remaining articles; instead, they insisted he return to Ukiah to gather more evidence such as sworn taped testimony and signed affidavits.
On Sept. 21 "Former City Preacher Feels Heat of Publicity In West" appeared on page one of the Indianapolis Star. Carolyn Pickering elaborated further on what was already investigated, including Temple defectors Marion and Opal Freestone tithing 25 per cent of their earnings but given receipts for only 10 per cent. Four more of Pickering's exposÚs followed.
"Woe-Beset Woman Says 'Prophet' And Aide Harasses Her and Mate" described how assistant pastor Archie James told the Freestones they had to tithe 25 per cent or their lives would be in danger.
"Family Pleads With Aged Aunt Not To 'Throw Away Her Bible'" told how 70 year-old Edith Cordell ignored her family and followed Jones to California. "'Prophet', Attorney Probe Asked", delved more into what spawned Rev. Taylor's investigation request and the controversy surrounding Temple member Maxine Harpe's alleged suicide. "2 Firms Rev. Jones Founded Lax on Filing Tax Returns" described how Jones never filed state tax returns on his two corporations, Wings of Deliverance and Jim-Lu-Mar.
Like the Examiner, the Star suffered picketing and other harassment including threats of lawsuits. But the Star didn't back down, in stark contrast to the gutless Examiner. And the People's Temple never sued. Two days after his fourth article appeared, Kinsolving sent off a memo to one of his editors, John Todd: "Let me briefly outline my deep concern at present...one of my very best sources in Ukiah area phoned me in serious anxiety. The Ukiah Daily Journal reported that the Rev. Mr. Jones had been approached by some other Examiner reporters who wanted to hear his side of the story. This came on the same day that my articles abruptly stopped -- when so many in the Ukiah area know full well that there is so much more to this story than what we have so far exposed... "...the widespread and inevitable conclusion will be that the Examiner has been so overawed by that giant picket line and by The Prophet's presence, that I have been removed from this story and The Prophet has been able to traduce the Examiner just as he has the Ukiah Daily Journal...if all my evidence is threatened by even the momentary impression that I have been removed from the story, I wonder how I can possibly do the job which so desperately needs to be done."
"Prophet Tells How He Revives Dead" was the headline featured on the 24th, page one of the Examiner. Because Jones and his attorneys had threatened a lawsuit if he wasn't entitled to tell "his side of the story", the editors selected John Burks and John Todd to conduct an interview with Jones.
Burks, who thought Jones resembled a "hick preacher" who was "strange" and "looked like a really dim bulb", chose to use Jones's own words which were often contradictory and misleading.
Burks's story ran in the "bulldog edition" of the Examiner, the first to hit the stands. By the time the late edition appeared, Burks requested his by-line be removed, because the editors had butchered the original article after Jones and his lawyers paid a return visit to the paper. Therefore, two versions of the Jim Jones interview were published. This was the day after Kinsolving's home in Berkeley was burglarized. Returning from a UC-Berkeley football game, the Kinsolving family noticed one of the front door's glass panels smashed in. Their two small watchdogs were unhurt, and no valuables were missing. It wasn't a "normal" burglary, Kinsolving realized, as he checked downstairs in his basement office. Stubs were missing from his checkbook and copies of future columns had been rifled through his files.
Seven years later, two Temple defectors, Al and Jeannie Mills, confirmed in a news interview this had indeed been a People's Temple raid. On the 29th Kinsolving sent another memo, this time to editor Ed Dooley: "...I have contacted Sheriff Reno Bartolomei to ask for his comments on the latest requests for an investigation of the case of Maxine Harpe who committed suicide. The Sheriff confirmed reports that he is a trustee of the fund set up by the People's Temple for the 3 Harpe children...when I asked about such details as why the children's father or aunt are not among trustees of this fund -- and when the children are to receive its benefits, he declined comment."
Kinsolving also stated that District Attorney Duncan James was not available for comment. The reporter added that he "spent two hours with Tim Reardon of the State Attorney General's office" and "an hour with a Mr. Roby of the FBI in regard to interstate telephone threats [and ] rumors of an arms cache."
"I will probably be receiving further info as the days go by. Should I give it to you, or one of our police reporters? Should I do anything further on this case? I await your instructions."
No instructions came from Dooley, or any of the other editors at the Examiner. Deputy Attorney General Tim Reardon felt it appropriate to hand over the bulk of evidence to Deputy Attorney General Charles Rumph in the charitable trust division. Kinsolving was never informed of the outcome of the case by Rumph. The FBI took no action -- until November 18, 1978.
"Thank you [from] the concerned citizens of Ukiah and Redwood Valley", Brenda Ganatos wrote to the Examiner. "Had not your reporter, the Rev. Lester Kinsolving, brought to light the strange events at the People's Temple, we wouldn't have had a prayer as far as investigation in our town is concerned...our radio station KUKI and Ukiah Daily Journal have presented only biased stories..."
Ganatos's friend, Pat Rhea, repeated Taylor's warning in her own letter: "The fear in this town is unbelievable. The feeling is everywhere..." Immediately after reading her letter to the editor, Kinsolving contacted Ganatos, who was a long-time resident of Ukiah, a neighboring town of Redwood Valley.
Ganatos had first heard of Jim Jones in the late 60's. She was a neighbor to the Cobb family, who migrated to California from Indiana. Her first impression of People's Temple was positive. She donated clothes to the Cobbs after hearing them discuss plans of helping to build the People's Temple church.
Then, around 1970, disturbing rumors started to persist. Chatting with co-workers at the Telephone Company, Ganatos learned that community residents were becoming frightened of Temple members. Members themselves who wanted to leave were receiving death threats. Temple defectors who took their case to the Sheriff got nowhere, since any complaints or evidence of wrong-doing would end up in the Temple's hands via Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen.
One of the most deplorable stories she heard was what occurred when Jones took children on a camping trip for "survival training." One youngster, 4 year-old Tommy Kice, was forced to eat when he wasn't hungry. When the little boy threw up, Jones forced him to eat his own vomit. He repeated the torture over and over as the child continued vomiting.
Ganatos began spending three to six hours on the phone nightly, gathering as much information as she could. By 1971 she had meetings in her home with a dozen people, known later as the Concerned Citizens. They tried to alert public officials, but no one would investigate.
In desperation Ganatos spoke to Walter Heady of the John Birchers, but to no avail. Jones had manipulated liberals and conservatives alike, thrown money around, and infiltrated every branch of county government. The local media was hoodwinked as well. In fact, Ukiah Daily Journal employees were ordered to throw away any letters to the editor criticizing the People's Temple.
During their first phone conversation, Ganatos told Kinsolving that when the Examiner issues containing his stories hit the stands in Ukiah, People's Temple soldiers bought up all the newspapers. She had to ask a liquor store to save three papers.
Kinsolving met with the Concerned Citizens several times, managing to record sworn statements and have affidavits signed by the group. When Jim Jones heard Kinsolving was making return trips to Ukiah, he sent his troops out on surveillance runs. "We would be at someone's home," recalled Ganatos, "...some cars would go up and down the street, and they'd stop and they'd look at our cars...as soon as we walked out the door, they'd jump in their cars and leave."
Kinsolving turned over to the Examiner the taped sworn statements and signed affidavits the editors had requested. He was unaware of the increasing risk to his and the lives of the Concerned Citizens. The remaining four stories never ran.
Later that month, Chronicle reporter Paul Avery wrote to Temple supporter Charles Preston, thanking him for sending information to assist on an investigation he was conducting: "...Jim Jones has been subjected to vicious attack by a couple of people who should be ashamed to call themselves reporters.
"While my investigation of the allegations against JJ is not yet complete, I can say that as of this moment I have yet to find one shred of evidence backing up anything bad that has been said against him. In fact, most everyone I've contacted has had nothing but good words about Jim Jones and his work."
Kinsolving felt the Chronicle had a vendetta against him because he had quit two years earlier to work for the Examiner, where he scooped the Chronicle more than once. Moreover, he believed Chronicle city editor Abe Mellinkoff was on to Jones, but nevertheless refused to follow up on the Kinsolving and Pickering leads.
The Chronicle instead allowed KRON-TV to concoct their own version of the Examiner picket line story. It was the perfect opportunity to lash out at Kinsolving and embellish Jones.
Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham wrote to Temple member Richard Tropp: "I am grateful for your kind words of praise for the Post. Please extend my thanks to Pastor Jones for his interest in such issues as the free press and free speech."
Two months after Graham's letter, Jones waged a public relations campaign by awarding $4,400 "in defense of a free press" to 12 papers, a newsmagazine, and a television station. Each newspaper was given checks of various amounts, depending on their circulation. Incredibly, the Star and the Examiner were each sent gifts of $300 each.
Although the Star, Examiner and other newspapers had the decency to return the checks, the Chronicle reinforced its support once again by accepting their award of $500 and forwarding it onto Sigma Delta Chi, a professional journalism society.
"The pastor is in good company and obviously has many fine friends", wrote Herb Caen to fellow Temple supporter Andrew Silver. "...the picture I get is of an intelligent and warm human, of which we have regrettably few these days."
A San Francisco institution, Herb Caen was beloved by readers of his Chronicle daily column. He was also a good friend of Jim Jones, according to the Temple's Mike Prokes, who added that Caen couldn't "show it too openly." The columnist at one time confided to Temple member Jean Brown, "I'm glad we're on the same side, for we shall win."
One of the nation's top investigative reporters, Jack Anderson, also received a check from the Temple's coffers. Although he sent the money back so they could "donate it to someone in more need than we are", Anderson assured them that he was "going to take the liberty, though, of writing about your offer, your church and Rev. Jones...It's a wonderful thing your Church and Rev. Jones are doing."
Dr. Karl Irvin, regional president of the Disciples of Christ, spoke glowingly of Jones's effort in a form letter to the media: "Inspired by the remarkable Pastor Jones (a Disciples-ordained minister), this congregation initiated a precedent that subsequently influenced the entire convention. We feel that such action will have a snowball-effect, arousing our entire 1.4 million-member denomination to the DEFENSE OF A FREE PRESS."
After attending one of Jones's marathon services in 1970, Disciples of Christ member David Conn wrote a concerned inquiry to acting regional president Nellie Kratz: "What responsibility do we have, since we can either encourage or discourage people regarding the People's [Temple] church? How much will the brotherhood suffer if some bad scene develops at the Ukiah community?"
In her response to Conn, Kratz wrote "I really don't feel that I have any evidence on which to act or even on which to talk to Jim", and mentioned that Irvin would soon replace her.
"Friend Jim", Irvin wrote to Jones, "You are so often in my thoughts. Your work, your people -- how fine a ministry you have...my prayer for you is for understanding, for strength, for power. "Thanks for the recent $1,500.00 check designated for use in Reconciliation. Your continued financial support of our Brotherhood ministry is truly exemplary."
So exemplary, in fact, that from 1966 until the 1978 massacre, People's Temple had contributed $1.1 million to the Disciples of Christ. How much of this money was bilked from those who went to their deaths in Guyana is unclear.
All this dirty money from Jones must have provided incentive for Irvin's letter published in the Indianapolis Star in 1971:
"My attention has been called to an article by Bryon C. Wells...this is shoddy reporting and reflects a predetermined bias...I have yet to find one reason to question the integrity of the group or of their leader, Reverend James Jones."
In December 1972, three months after his series was killed, Kinsolving attended a meeting of the National Council of Churches in Dallas and confronted the Disciples of Christ leadership.
They ignored his pleas for an investigation, claiming every church had local autonomy, and that "a probe was already being done by the district attorney's office and other legal bodies." A year later, though, they broke their own rule by sending general counsel Wade Rubick to Redwood Valley after Kinsolving's "The Undisciplined Disciples" story appeared. The extent of this investigation included the attorney staying just one day. Rubick didn't bother to attend a Temple service.
The Disciples of Christ leaders notified Jones about Kinsolving's visit. This was evident in Temple Treasurer James R. Pugh's letter to Examiner publisher Charles Gould in January, 1973: "Lester Kinsolving grossly abused his First Amendment trust in writing his four negative articles on Reverend Jones, and it is a further abuse of his professionalism that he last month went to the [NCC] convention in Texas, and according to our national denominational leaders who contacted us, demanded that each of them take steps to sever the denominational ties with our church.
"On the other hand, we are well aware of the professionalism shown by yourself, Mr. Hearst, and editors such as Mr. Todd."
Two years later, Irvin sent Jones a shimmering letter of endorsement despite Kinsolving's exposÚs, pleadings, and informal inquiries made to the regional office after Pickering's articles appeared: "I consider it a privilege", wrote Irvin, "to be acquainted with, and to have the opportunity of working with Reverend Jim Jones...I've always been impressed by his integrity, his courage, and the very selfless way in which he commits himself and his congregation to serve people in need...Jim Jones is a very compassionate and dedicated human being. I am grateful that our paths have crossed and that we share together in the ministry of Jesus Christ."
The Reverend John V. Moore, a District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church, had two of three daughters who were devout members of the People's Temple. 33 year-old Carolyn, a mistress of Jim Jones, also served as his chief of staff. His other daughter, Annie, was a 24 year-old Temple nurse. They had asked their father to write a letter of endorsement, which he obliged. Without his consent, though, his letter had been duplicated on Methodist letterhead and sent out in Methodist envelopes from the Temple in Redwood Valley.
Kinsolving had left the Examiner two years earlier to accept a job in Washington, D.C. that would broaden his reporting into national politics. As he was broadcasting for a Virginia news radio station during July 1975, Kinsolving was handed one of these endorsement letters which had been mailed to the station.
He immediately contacted four newspapers which carried his syndicated column: the San Francisco Progress, San Jose Mercury, Berkeley Gazette, and Sacramento Union. He inquired if they were interested in running a special series on the People's Temple highlighting this latest development. Kinsolving made appointments and sent memos to the papers as each expressed enthusiasm.
After setting up an interview, Kinsolving went to Rev. John Moore's home. According to Moore, the two sat in his backyard and Kinsolving began "belittling" Tim Stoen by discussing his connection with "a woman who had committed suicide" and Stoen's claims of Jones raising 40 people from the dead.
According to Kinsolving, he then confronted Moore on the mailing. "Do you have permission from the Bishop to use the Methodist stationary? Because here's a letter of endorsement." At that point, Moore said, "Take yourself and get off my property."
Kinsolving grabbed his files and stormed out. But he left his briefcase, filled with important files, underneath Moore's picnic table. He would later call this "about the worst mistake I ever made."
California Historical Society records revealed that Moore received an urgent phone call from Tim Stoen the day after he told daughter Carolyn about Kinsolving's visit. Stoen claimed it was important for Moore and his wife Barbara to come to People's Temple in San Francisco immediately. "It is for your welfare", Stoen admonished.
When Kinsolving arrived at the San Francisco Progress for his first appointment, Tim Stoen and Michael Prokes were waiting for him. They threatened a lawsuit if any kind of series was published. The Progress dropped the story, fearing high legal costs. So did the other three newspapers.
Kinsolving was perplexed, until he arrived home in Virginia to discover his briefcase, which had been picked-up at the airport by his wife. It was turned in to United Airlines by John Moore, the same day of his meeting with the Temple.
It soon became clear why Jones sent his top goons around threatening lawsuits. Three items were missing from the briefcase: Kinsolving's confidential memo to the newspapers, a file containing a letter with enclosures from Eugene Chaikin, and a letter from Ukiah resident Ruby Bogner.
Besides Methodist letterhead and envelopes being used without Moore's permission, his signature also appeared on a blank piece of letterhead, a Jones tactic to incriminate potential defectors. Moore's support of the Temple bloomed. He and wife Barbara visited Jonestown six months before the massacre. He honored a Temple request to send an article about his experience to the District Attorney of L.A. County:
"...We came away from the People's Temple Agricultural Project with a feeling for its energy and enthusiasm, its creative, wholesome ways...and an understanding and high sense of adventure it holds for its residents." Three months before the massacre, Moore assured British journalist Gordon Lindsey that "Jim Jones is in touch with the pain and suffering of people...I think that anyone who can lead 1,200 people from their country to settle in a new country has got it together."
In the winter of 1978, after the murder of Congressman Ryan, the FBI began an investigation. On January 15, almost two months after Moore's two daughters died at Jonestown, Special Agent John Morris questioned Moore on several subjects, including the controversy surrounding Kinsolving's briefcase.
Moore told the FBI: "I deny the allegation that People's Temple and I arranged for the theft of the briefcase or of its contents...I delivered the case to the United Airlines Counter...The agent asked me if the case had been opened. I said it had not...I did not open the case, and I am convinced that the case was not open while it was in my possession."
At 7:30 Sunday morning, two days after Moore met with the Temple and dropped Kinsolving's briefcase off at the airport, Ruby Bogner was awakened by a phone call. A woman on the other line told her that they had her letter to Kinsolving. She also went on to say that "if you have another negative thing to say, or make a single comment against the People's Temple, it will be your life, your property or your job."
The Ruby Bogner letter missing from Kinsolving's briefcase was not a letter to the editor, but one sent to him personally. It was written in 1972.
Former State Senator George Moscone, who was running against Republican John Barbagelata for San Francisco mayor, won in a run-off election by 4,000 votes. A few months before his narrow victory, Moscone contacted Jim Jones, who was busy courting elected officials.
Moscone and campaign manager Don Bradley needed a great deal of help if they were to beat Barbagelata. A meeting was held in Bradley's office with Jones and Michael Prokes, in which Moscone requested Temple volunteers.
Jones provided Moscone a small army of campaign workers that worked the city's tough precincts. In a December 16 phone conversation taped and transcribed by Michael Prokes, "Moscone acknowledges in essence that we won him the election" and that "he promises J. an appointment." It was reported after the Jonestown massacre that Temple members were bussed in from Redwood Valley and fraudulently registered as San Francisco residents. As many as 5,000 members cast ballots, outnumbering voters on the rosters.
Barbagelata suspected voter fraud and heard testimony to confirm this. He turned over several allegations to District Attorney Joseph Freitas, who had just been elected alongside Moscone. Freitas had created a special elections crime unit, and had hired a supervising attorney to head it. His choice was none other than Timothy Stoen.
As a result of Stoen's "investigation", a few token convictions for election violations were filed. The People's Temple was not even mentioned.
A month after the Jonestown massacre, state and federal agencies requested records to investigate the alleged voter fraud. All were missing.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, realizing that Jones was one of several Housing Authority nominees, requested that Moscone have all prospects receive background checks. Instead, Moscone turned the matter over to a nominating committee that included Jones's chief aide Michael Prokes and Dr. Carleton Goodlett, who in 1974 awarded Jones a Citizen of Merit Award. Jones's candidacy was rubber-stamped.
To insure success, then-state assemblyman Willie Brown introduced legislation to alter appointment procedure to the housing authority commission. The resolution was a ploy to remove any decision-making from the Board of Supervisors and turn that power over to the mayor. The Board, desperate to maintain the status quo, caved in and voted unanimously for Jones in October, 1976.
Willie Brown was one of Jones's staunchest supporters. He served as master of ceremonies at a testimonial dinner for Jones in September 1976, where he introduced the cult figure as "a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, and Chairman Mao." Jones provided his own compliment one day as Brown spoke before the Temple congregation. Sitting behind the assemblyman, the good Reverend impulsively flipped his middle finger in mockery.
Brown was one of many who wrote endorsements for Jones during the Temple exodus to Guyana: "He is a rare human being", wrote Brown, "he cares about people...Rev. Jim Jones is that person who can be helpful when all appears to be lost and hope is just about gone."
On Martin Luther King's birthday, the Temple held a special memorial service. At Jones's invitation, California governor Jerry Brown shared the pulpit. Also in attendance were State Senator Milton Marks, Mayor Moscone, and Ben Brown, a member of President Carter's Transition Team. "We are pleased and honored that you will be with us...to accept Glide's 4th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award", the Rev. Cecil Williams wrote to Jones, "in recognition of your leadership to many communities of people."
Pastor of Glide Memorial Methodist Church, Rev. Williams presented this coveted honor to Jones at the height of the Temple's power in San Francisco, two years after People's Temple made a $6,500 contribution to William's organization.
Like so many others, Williams fell victim to the cult's populist facade, and its financial rewards.
Williams, along with many supporters, attended a special meeting at the Temple, when an exposÚ of Jones appeared six months later in New West magazine.
"The atmosphere at New West magazine these days resembles a military encampment under siege" wrote the Examiner's W.E. Barnes in his article "Yet-to-be printed story builds a storm."
What Wells, Kinsolving and Pickering had suffered resurfaced at the magazine. Relentless phone calls, letters, and threats started flooding New West's San Francisco offices. There was even a break-in at one point, echoing Kinsolving's burglary five years earlier.
The exposÚ, "Inside People's Temple", was written by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy. Kilduff was a Chronicle reporter, but the newspaper's city editor Steve Gavin discouraged the exposÚ from being published. Kilduff was forced to go elsewhere.
Gavin, like his predecessor Mellinkoff, was aligned with Jones; in fact, when Kilduff visited Temple Sunday services, Gavin was seated in the front row.
Kilduff and Tracy collaborated with freelance reporter George Klineman, who introduced the two journalists to several defectors that described life inside the Temple as "a mixture of Spartan regimentation, fear, and self-imposed humiliation." Accounts included a teenage girl being beaten in front of the congregation, 75 times with a large wooden paddle, and a man being vomited and urinated on.
"When somebody like Jim Jones comes on the scene...and constantly stresses the need for freedom of speech and equal justice under law for all people, that absolutely scares the hell out of most everybody...I will be here when you are under attack, because what you are about is what the whole system ought to be about!"
These words of unwavering allegiance were spoken by Willie Brown at the Temple after the New West exposÚ hit the stands. Other supporters in attendance were fellow state assemblyman Art Agnos, Rev. Cecil Williams, NAACP President Joe Hall, AIM leader Dennis Banks, and gay activist Harvey Milk. Before being elected supervisor, Milk had used Temple volunteers, wrote endorsement letters, and, in a hand-written note, told Jones "my name is cut into stone in support of you - and your people." Because he almost "fell out of his chair" while reading the New West exposÚ, Board of Supervisors President Quentin Kopp urgently requested Mayor Moscone launch an inquiry into the allegations.
Moscone issued a news release, claiming: "The Mayor's Office does not and will not conduct any investigation" because the article was "a series of allegations with absolutely no hard evidence that the Rev. Jones has violated any laws, either local, state or federal" and added "I will not comment upon the alleged practices of the Temple, as it is not my habit to be a religious commentator."
The People's Temple's good friend Herb Caen added his support in asserting that Jones was a "target of a ceaseless media barrage" and included Mike Prokes' suggestions that "this campaign against Jim is orchestrated at the highest level, perhaps FBI or CIA."
While Caen affirmed Jones was "doing the work of the Lord" in Guyana, horrors occurred at Jonestown, notably to children. Because Jones forced parents or guardians to sign notarized releases, he was given legal permission to dole out punishment.
Tracy Parks, a 10 year-old survivor of the Port Kaituma airstrip shootings, recalled that "Children who said they were not happy and wanted to go away were severely beaten." It was also reported that one 12 year-old girl was "kept imprisoned for weeks in a plywood box three feet wide, four feet high and six feet long."
For the next 16 months, the individuals allied with Jones tried to counter the increasing reports of Jonestown atrocities. In May, 1978, John and Barbara Moore rallied their support for the Temple, appearing at a press conference as "Positive Parents" of two Jonestown residents. The Examiner began another investigation of Jones which, like the Kinsolving series, appeared on page one. However, when the paper used the headline "Report of People's Temple Terror" six months before the massacre, Temple attorney Charles Garry threatened litigation. Two weeks later, a correction was printed on page 3: "The word terror was inappropriate and created a misleading characterization of the activities of the People's Temple in Guyana. The Examiner regrets the headline." Such journalistic cowardice mixed with unscrupulous clergy and politicians, helped usher in an unspeakable tragedy.
Hypocrisy and self-righteous posturing prevailed when news of the massacre arrived.
"Gray skies dripped sadness and sorrow over San Francisco yesterday", wrote Herb Caen, "Headlines told of tragedy and madness in steaming jungles...how to judge the insanity surrounding the end of Rev. Jim Jones...Who would have expected THIS?"
Willie Brown stated "he has not regrets" over his past association with Jones and the People's Temple. Brown also mentioned he would not try to dissociate himself like so many other politicians were. "They all like to say, 'Forgive me, I was wrong', but that's bulls--t. It doesn't mean a thing now, it just isn't relevant."
Famed civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also defended Jones, stating that "until all the facts are in, he would regard Jones as a man who 'worked for the people'...I would hope that all of the good he did will not be discounted because of this tremendous tragedy."
Shortly after the massacre, Brenda Ganatos, still holding ground in Ukiah, was flooded with phone calls from reporters. They wondered if she had any comment about the murder of Congressman Ryan and over 900 others. Her response: "Where were you when we needed you?"
Kinsolving was notified by the FBI of Temple death squads, and advised by agents that he should arm himself. Weeks later, the New York Times reported that Tim Stoen "planned the murder of Lester Kinsolving" and "had even used the District Attorney's office of Mendocino County" to research "the type of poison that could be used."
Former supervisor Terry Francois joined others in a picket line in front of the San Francisco newspaper Sun-Reporter, protesting editor Carlton Goodlett's remarks in a press conference that Jones was "a good man" because of what he did for the community. One picket sign read "We had a madman in our midst and you told people he was a saint."
Corey Buscher, former press secretary for George Moscone, shed a revealing light: "There was a time when, if you were running for office in San Francisco, and you counted in your votes the poor, the s, or young people, you'd better have Jones's support."
Moscone, who "proceeded to vomit and cry" when he received news of the massacre, conceded that "he may have been 'taken in' by the People's Temple." He insisted, though, that "he was happy to be photographed with Jones because he needed the support of the minister's followers.
"...But I'm not taking any responsibility", said the mayor, "it's not mine to shoulder."
Days later, as he watched the casket carrying his close friend Leo Ryan go by, Moscone cried again. Perhaps grief wasn't the only thing he was feeling.
Ganatos, along with 14 fellow Ukiah residents, wrote to Kinsolving: "Although our pleas for investigation were ignored by our local media and government officials, our small group of defectors and concerned citizens as well as yourself, do not feel the guilt that the many reporters and other citizens now feel since the senseless tragedy in Guyana, knowing it could well have been prevented years ago right here in Ukiah."
Around the same time, Kinsolving wrote to the Advisory Board on the Pulitzer Prizes: "I do not know if there has ever been a special Pulitzer award for a courageous source...I will affirm that Brenda Ganatos is one of the bravest people I have ever known. And I have never in my life known such frustration as in trying to persuade the Examiner, as well as so many other media, to keep exposing this Disciples of Christ clergyman, whom we both knew to be very dangerous."
Two decades may have softened the anguish. Out of this is the lesson that people must always be vigilant against the malignant union of demagogues, shoddy politicians, unprincipled clergy and craven editors. Those that had the courage to battle the nightmare of Jim Jones are what sustains the hope it will never happen again.
For Leo J. Ryan, who gave his life, we dedicate this article.