The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy

May 15, 1979


MAY 15, 1979


This investigative factfinding report has been submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs by the Staff Investigative Group. Per my directives and pursuant to the committee's investigative authority, the Staff Group conducted a comprehensive inquiry into the international relations aspects of the activities of the People's Temple, the tragic events that led to the murder of Representative Leo J. Ryan and other members of his party, and the mass suicide/murder of the followers of People's Temple that occurred in Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978.

The findings and recommendations in this report are those of the Staff Investigative Group and do not necessarily reflect the views of the membership of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Clement J. Zablocki, Chairman.


A. Ryan Trip Background

The chain of events which led to Representative Leo J. Ryan's death in Guyana on November 18, 1978 began 1 year earlier almost exactly to the date. The spark that ignited his interest was a San Francisco Examiner article of November 13, 1977, involving an old friend and constituent, Mr. Sam Houston of San Bruno, Calif. Headlined "Scared Too Long," the story recounted the death of Sam Houston's son, Bob, beneath the wheels of a train on October 5, 1976, 1 day after he had announced his decision to leave the People's Temple. The article explained that Mr. Houston was "speaking out" because he was outraged by the way the Temple had treated his son, about whose "accidental" death he had lingering doubts. He was also speaking out because his two granddaughters, who were sent to New York on a "vacation," ended up at the People's Temple agricultural mission in Jonestown, Guyana-never to return. Sam Houston was also described as speaking out because he didn't have much time left. Doctors would be removing his cancer-choked voice box within a few days. Finally, Sam Houston said he was speaking out because he was "tired of being scared."

Representative Ryan read that story and soon thereafter took the initiative to contact the Houstons and visited their home. Reinforced by the fact that a relative had been involved in an unusual church group, Mr. Ryan decided at that time that the matter needed to be looked into.

Over the next 6 to 8 months several other developments took place which increased his interest in the activities of the People's Temple. One was another San Francisco newspaper story recounting the defection from People's Temple of Debbie Blakey, including excerpts from her sworn affidavit of June 15, 1978, noting mass suicide rehearsals at Jonestown. Further impetus came in letters he received from concerned relatives of People's Temple members, some of whom were constituents, asking his assistance and alleging, among other things, social security irregularities, human rights violations, and that their loved ones were being held in Jonestown against their will. He subsequently met with a group of these concerned relatives in August 1978. As his interest in People's Temple became more widely known, he also began receiving extensive mail and petitions favorable to People's Temple. He also hired a young California attorney to interview former People's Temple members and concerned relatives. His specific instruction was to look for possible violations of Federal and California State laws.

The cumulative effect of this effort undertaken by Representative Ryan led him to request a meeting on September 15, 1978, with Viron P. Vaky, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, U.S. Department of State, and other State Department officials. What he had earlier considered merely the "possibility" of going to Guyana appears to have become firm in his mind at that meeting. On October 4, 1978, he requested House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Clement J. Zablocki's permission to go to Guyana. He explained his interest in part stemmed from his membership on this committee's Sub-committee on International Operations, as a result of which he had become increasingly aware "of the problems related to protecting the lives and property of U.S. citizens abroad." A key paragraph in his letter stated:

It has come to my attention that a community of some 1,400 Americans are presently living in Guyana under somewhat bizarre conditions. There is conflicting information regarding whether or not the U.S. citizens are being held there against their will. If you agree, I would like to travel to Guyana during the week of November 12-18 to review the situation first-hand.

In response to Chairman Zablocki's request, and in compliance with committee travel guidelines, Mr. Ryan subsequently attempted to interest other committee members in accompanying him. Although Hon. Edward J. Derwinski was originally scheduled to do so, he subsequently had to cancel those plans because of unavoidable conflicts in his schedule.

Prior to his departure for Guyana on November 14, Mr. Ryan and members of his staff and this committee's staff received briefings and met with State Department officials on October 2, 25, and November 9 and 13. Chief among the topics discussed in those briefings was the Privacy act because both the Embassy and the State Department were highly sensitized by legal actions taken under this statute by the People's Temple and because some 1,000 Americans living in Jonestown were protected by the provisions of this act. Logistical problems in getting to Jonestown and other related matters were also reviewed.

During approximately this same period the media became aware of Mr. Ryan's trip as did members of the Concerned Relatives of People's Temple members in San Francisco. By the time he departed for Guyana on November 14, the group of newspaper and television media accompanying him grew to 9 and the Concerned Relatives delegation numbered 18. In this connection, it is important to note that neither the media nor Concerned Relatives were a part of Mr. Ryan's official Codel.1 Rather, the official party was made up of Mr. Ryan, Mr. James Schollaert, staff consultant for the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Miss Jackie Speier, of Mr. Ryan's personal staff and whose expenses were not paid for by the U.S. Government.

On November 1, Mr. Ryan sent a telegraph to Jim Jones outining his plans and expressing his desire to visit Jonestown. On that same date, Mr. Ryan wrote to Hon. John Burke, U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, informing the Ambassador of his proposed date of arrival in Georgetown (November 14), and relaying to Ambassador Burke the text of his telegram to Jones. On November 5 the U.S. Embassy advised Mr. Ryan that the People's Temple wanted Mr. Ryan to work with People's Temple legal counsel, Mark Lane, on the appropriate arrangements for the Ryan Codel to visit Jonestown.

The Embassy also relayed to Mr. Ryan that the People's Temple had informed an Embassy official that Mr. Ryan could visit Jonestown provided: (1) that the Codel was "balanced"; (2) that there would be no media coverage associated with the visit; and (3) that Mr. Lane be present during the visit. Attempts by Mr Schollaert to negotiate these matters with Mr. Lane on Representative Ryan's behalf were unproductive.

On November 6, Mr. Lane wrote a letter to Mr. Ryan outlining logistical difficulties if the Ryan Codel decided to visit Jonestown and informing Ryan that Lane would be unable to be in Jonestown at the time Ryan wished to visit the settlement. Lane also made inferences in the letter to a "witchhunt" against the People's Temple by the U.S. Government. On November 10, Mr. Ryan responded to Lane's letter, expressing regret at Lane's remarks about the Codel's motives and informing him that despite Lane's scheduling conflicts, the Codel planned to leave for Guyana on November 14. Further negotiations between Representative Ryan and Messrs. Lane and Charles Garry, also legal counsel to the People's Temple, resumed in Georgetown after the Codel's arrival.

B. Summary of Events of November 14-19, 1978

The Ryan Codel, together with its unofficial contingent of media and Concerned Relatives, arrived in Georgetown, Guyana at approximately midnight November 14. The official Codel group proceeded into Georgetown where Mr. Ryan was a house guest of U.S. Ambassador John Burke and Miss Speier and Mr. Schollaert registered at the Pegasus Hotel. Despite confirmed reservations, the Concerned Relatives group was unable to obtain rooms at the same hotel and spent the night in the lobby. With one exception, the media group cleared customs and took rooms at the Pegasus Hotel. The exception, Mr. Ron Javers of the San Francisco Chronicle, was detained overnight at the airport because he lacked an entry visa and for what was later described as on orders from "higher ups."

Over the next 2 1/2 days the following incidents took place:

On the group's arrival at the Port Kaituma airstrip the chronology of events which ensued was as follows:

On Saturday, November 18, the following chronological order of events took place:

1. "Codel" is an abbreviation for an official Congressional Delegation traveling overseas. (Back)

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