Lawsuit targets Jonestown cult leader's name on Oakland massacre memorial

The Examiner, California/May 12, 2011

Of the 918 names listed on a memorial for the victims of the Jonestown Massacre, one stands out: "James Warren Jones," the cult leader who ordered the killing of a congressman and a news crew at his Guyana compound in 1978, then instructed his entire following to swallow a fatal dose of a cyanide-laced drink.

His name appears on one of the four stones recently installed at Oakland's Evergreen Cemetery, where the bodies of more than 400 unidentified victims are buried in a mass grave.

The Jonestown Memorial Foundation and Jones' adopted son, Jim Jones Jr., wanted the name included, but it has sparked a lawsuit from the leader of another group who had been working to build a memorial for nearly two decades.

The Rev. Jynona Norwood - who lost 27 family members in the tragedy and now leads the Guyana Tribute Foundation - is angry the cult leader is named in the new memorial. She is seeking $30,000 from the cemetery for stones she bought for her never-built memorial, which she said the cemetery agreed to install.

"Why would anyone want to honor an Osama bin Laden or an Adolf Hitler?" Norwood said Thursday at Alameda County Superior Court. "Because that's what Jim Jones is."

The younger Jones said he wanted his father's name on the memorial simply to note that he was among the dead. He has told media previously that his father was the victim of his own insanity. "It's part of history and it's part of what happened," Jones said. "You can't erase a name from history, nor can you add one."

Following a hearing Thursday, Judge Robert McGuiness denied Norwood's request for a court order that would have made the cemetery stop work on the existing memorial, which is complete except for a fence.

Evergreen Cemetery Executive Director Ronald Haulman, who is named in the lawsuit, said the memorial was partly funded by donations from more than 120 family members of Jonestown victims. He said Norwood's plans were sometimes incomplete and never fully funded, and that problems arose with her plan after she paid only $30,000 of the $97,000 cost of granite stones, and she did so without first getting approval from the cemetery.

Haulman said Norwood's plan would have ultimately cost around $300,000 due to the slope of the gravesite. The cemetery is planning an unveiling of the new memorial for families of the victims May 29.

"We have not made that a secret," Haulman said.

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