Jones' ashes scattered over ocean decades ago

The News Journal, Delaware/August 8, 2014

By Jon Offredo

A total of 913 body boxes – more than 900 victims of the mass killing and a handful of others, including leaders of the Peoples Temple – were flown from Guyana to the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in 1978. The bodies were identified and prepared for burial, according to articles published at the time in The News Journal.

Just under half were identified, the bodies becoming the responsibility of funeral homes like Torbert's and Minus. As with any other death, staff contacted the families and arranged burials. The funeral home handled about 100 victims, he said.

Some families, like Jones', didn't want the cremains, and directed funeral homes on how to dispose of them. That's how Torbert ended up scattering Jones' ashes along the ocean, following the family's direction, he said.

Others said they just didn't want them and offered no direction, he said.

"They didn't say what to do with them, and we didn't know what to do with them– and we're not going to do anything with them," Torbert said.

The Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security's Division of Forensic Science has taken possession of the 38 cremains found in the former Minus building. Of those, five were unidentifiable.

Forensic investigators are using a two-pronged approach of DNA analysis and thorough search of records to identify the five cremains with no identifying documents. Investigators are using documents, like death certificates, to contact the families of the other cremains.

Irvin Ray Perkins, 64, of California, told the Associated Press on Friday he could not determine what happened to his wife's remains until Delaware officials contacted him the day before. The remains of his wife, Maud Ester Perkins, who died when she was 28, were found in the funeral home.

Perkins says he plans to put his wife's ashes on his mantle, he told the AP.

A state spokeswoman released the names of five of the people whose remains were found, including four from the Jonestown Massacre. In addition to Perkins, they were: Wanda Bonita King, Mary Rodger and Irra Jean Johnson. Unrelated to the massacre, Bryan Glass' remains also were found. State investigators will hand over any unwanted remains to the state department of Health and Social Services, which will dispose of them at a state-owned burial site near Wilmington.

Delaware doesn't have any strict guidelines or regulations about the storage or disposal of cremains when a family doesn't want them and offers no instruction on disposal, said Matthew Hartigan, a spokesman for the Department of State, which oversees the Board of Funeral Services.

It's largely up to the funeral home, and many store unwanted cremains, Torbert said.

"I knew Mr. Minus for a long, long time. He was a nice gentleman and would never, ever do anything that was wrong," Tolbert said. "He was trying to abide by good, clean ethics not to dispose of them unless someone told him what to do with them."

Edward Minus Jr., whose father ran the funeral home, said this week he wasn't surprised that the containers were found. He knew they were there, but the Jonestown connection was a little surprising, as was Wednesday's excavating along the exterior.

He said he wasn't allowed into the building after the bank foreclosed for nonpayment on the mortgage. No one asked questions.

"If they asked questions, I could have been able to tell them exactly what was where," Minus said. "Mystery is over, huh?"

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

"We never throw any of them away, even if the family says they don't want them," Torbert said. "They might come back in 20 years."

If it's not the family that comes back to find them, it could be a new property owner that makes the discovery. That's what happened at the Minus Funeral Home building, which was foreclosed and sold to a bank in late 2013.

The discovery of unclaimed cremains surprised authorities, who then dug around the building's exterior, scouring for any other cremains. Veteran funeral home directors, like Torbert, were nonplussed.

The cold weather is what long-time funeral director Bill Torbert Sr. remembers most from that spring day in 1979.

It swept into the cabin of his friend's single-engine Piper plane as Torbert opened the door and scattered the ashes of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, and seven others who died in the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, across the Atlantic Ocean, a mile off of Bethany Beach.

"After the ashes were put in the ocean, we couldn't close the door," Torbert said Friday. "We had to hold it until it landed."

Torbert Funeral Chapels in Dover was just one of the many funeral homes in the area inundated with business in the massacre's immediate aftermath.

Minus Funeral Home on North Queen Street was another, now out of business and the site where 38 containers of unclaimed cremains, including those of nine victims from Jonestown, were found, authorities said Thursday.

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