Jonestown cult ended in mass suicide of 909 as Jim Jones' devoted followers drank cyanide-laced "Kool Aid"

WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT Religious cult members of the Peoples Temple died in mass murder-suicide after drinking poison at the urging of their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, in a secluded South American jungle settlement

Mirror, UK/June 12, 2018

By Steve Myall

It was supposed to be Utopia.

But it ended in a sickening story of violence and death deep in the South American jungle.

A cult leader who once preached peace and equality and railed against the violence of the global nuclear arms race now urged his followers towards death.

Jim Jones was found shot in the head lying among the bodies of 909 followers - including women and babies.

The 1978 mass suicide was the largest ever single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act, and remained so until the 9/11 terror attacks.

Followers of Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known as Jonestown, had committed mass suicide.

Earlier other cult members had butchered congressman Leo Ryan, in an act that Jones ordered, after he arrived in north Guyana to investigate claims people had been held against their will.

He had met disciples who begged for his help amid lack of food and a dictatorship regime.

Jones feared he was about to be exposed and so ordered Ryan's death, with several of his entourage also killed. The cult leader then set in motion the plans for mass suicide he had long anticipated.

He called his adopted son, also called Jim, at the cult HQ in Georgetown, the largest nearby city, and gave him an order with a terrifying secret meaning.

In a new documentary he recalls: "In the early evening I went down to the radio room because my father wanted to talk to me.

"He says, 'We're going to meet Mr. Fraser'. And that was code for committing revolutionary suicide, and 'you need to work out how you guys can meet Mr. Fraser in Georgetown'.

"I'm like, 'What the hell is going on, is there something else we can do?'

"Then my father went into a rhetoric: 'This is the cause that you have to stand up to, our avenging angels will protect us, and prove things right or make justice happen, but we have to meet Mr. Fraser.'"

Terrified about what was happening, Jim and his brothers went to the American Embassy to raise the alarm - but it was already too late.

Back at the camp Jones had called a large meeting at the town's pavilion using the speaker system he often gave propaganda laden speeches over.

Deadly cocktail

Meanwhile a cocktail of sedatives and cyanide had been mixed by 30-year-old camp doctor Lawrence Schacht and flavoured with powdered grape juice flavouring.

The phrase "Drinking the Kool-Aid" was later born from the Jonestown suicides to mean a person or group who goes along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure.

The assembled were told it was time to die.

The first to take the poison were Ruletta Paul and her one-year-old son Robert. A syringe with its needle removed was used to squirt poison into the infant's mouth, after which Paul squirted another syringe into her own mouth.

One eye-witness stated that while the poison was squirted in some children's mouths, there was no panic or emotional outburst and the assembled Temple members looked like they were "in a trance".

This though was contradicted when a 45 minute audio recording - known as the "death tape" - emerged revealing cries and screams of children.

On the tape Jones could be heard ranting: "I tell you, I don't care how many screams you hear, I don't care how many anguished cries...death is a million times preferable to 10 more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you – if you knew what was ahead of you, you'd be glad to be stepping over tonight."

Humble beginnings 

The cult leader had begun as an American evangelical preacher who was certain the Cold War of the 1970s would bring a nuclear bomb.

He created a community in San Francisco, California, where he said his followers would be safe from nuclear fallout.

Many of his followers were recovering drug addicts from the black community and he seemed to offer a warm welcome at a time when racial divides were strong.

But the authorities started to pay extra interest to his community - called the People's Temple - and there were stories in the press from disaffected former members of the church.

Then almost overnight Jones relocated to Guyana, in South America.

One member of the cult who survived the massacre with his children, Jerry Parks, recalled a car journey when what he thought at the time was a miracle happened.

He said: "My son Dale was driving to school with Jim Jones with two or three cars.

"The lead car which he was in hit a duck and knocked it to the side of the highway.

"Jim had him pull over, open the door, got out, walked over and picked the duck up in his hand and Dale says he stroked the duck.


"He said he was saying something but he didn't understand what he was saying and all of a sudden the duck jumps up to his feet on the hand and flies away.

"That is something to this day we don't understand how to view it, what to think about it, was it real, was the duck alive, would it have happened anyway?

"We didn't think that way at the time, because it was too early on with Jim Jones so we believed that it was the real thing."

He said: "I knew early on that we were going to die over there.

"He had backed himself into a corner that he couldn't get out of and it would soon fall in on him.

"He said we may have to die for this. But he didn't mean we're going to grab guns and stand out there and protect ourselves. 'You have to die for it' means we're gonna kill ourselves before they get us."

New start 

In South America in the baking heat Jones and his followers built a town housing 1,000 - mainly women and children.

But it was not to be a peaceful life as quickly his methods of controlling a community containing those who had begun to doubt their mission became increasingly cruel and driven by paranoia.

Residents had their passports collected on arrival and any dissent was treated with brutal beatings or menial tasks as punishment.

Members of the cult were forced to sign confessions to theft, abuse and terrorism as a sign of loyalty but in reality they were used to keep the members quiet.

Former member Joyce Shaw told the Mirror in 1978 that Jones imposed celibacy on members, telling them he was the only heterosexual in the world but slept with both men and women.

Shaw, who had been a member in the US, said: "I saw beatings and physical abuse. For discipline people were publicly spanked or beaten with thick sticks.

"You could see that he could no longer have functioned as a man.

"Another man who complained about the celibacy rule was forced to perform humiliating acts in public with a woman who vomited over him. That cured his ardour.

"Little kids who misbehaved had to box each other, so did elderly people."

Word began to leak back to the USA that some residents were being held against their will in the community - which was known as Jonestown - and relatives lobbied their elected representatives for help.


Jones believed the American Government had it in for him and was terrified he would lose control, so he ordered his brainwashed followers to conduct drills in preparation for a mass suicide.

Then, in November 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan decided to visit the community after his interest became aroused when the son of a friend who was a member of the cult was found murdered days after saying he wanted to leave.

It was to begin the ball rolling towards a tragic conclusion.

By the time Ryan arrived on November 14, Jones' health had declined, according to survivors, and he was abusing LSD, Quaaludes, stimulants and barbiturates.

His once sharp speaking voice was slurred, his eyes were glazed and he was increasingly paranoid.


Ryan was initially refused entry to the town but once inside he was treated to a well-rehearsed musical show designed to show all was happy and well.

In fact it would later emerge he had told an aide that he planned to report all was well upon his return to the US.

Jones, though, had already decided on his deadly course.

Inside the camp several unhappy families approached Ryan asking to come with him when he left, but the numbers were still small in relation to the overall population.

On the evening of November 18 the departing Ryan party - along with 30 defectors - assembled at the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip to fly back to Georgetown.

They had been joined by Temple loyalist Larry Layton despite the concerns of those leaving who did not trust him.

As the party waited at the airstrip a tractor and trailer appeared and hidden gunmen opened fire - Congressman Ryan, two reporters and an NBC cameraman were killed along with defector Patricia Parks, while several other people were also injured.

Congressman Ryan was shot more than 20 times.

Jerry Parks was at the airstrip when the shooting happened and recalls in a new Investigation: Discover documentary: "I had just fastened my seatbelt and was siting right by the window and I heard the guns going off and the bullets flying and all I could think to say was 'my God!'

"I heard my mom holler 'look at Patty', my wife.

"I looked back and she was sat slumped over with the top of her head gone."

Larry Layton had shot two people inside the plane but when he tried to shoot Jerry's son Dale, the gun jammed.

The gunmen fled after killing the Congressman and the survivors hid in the jungle until help arrived.

Back at the camp Jones used news of Ryan's death to speed up the mass suicide telling his followers: "The Congressman’s dead … please get us some medication.

"It’s simple, it’s simple, there’s no convulsions with it, it’s just simple, just please get it before it’s too late. The GDF (Guyana Defense Force) will be here. I tell you get moving, get moving, get moving …"

The poison took just five minutes to kill.

When the army arrived they found a scene of unimaginable devastation with bodies littering the ground around the pavilion.

A handful of cult members survived by fleeing into the jungle or hiding.

Grover Davis, 79, who was partly deaf, missed the announcement to assemble on the loudspeaker, lay down in a ditch, and pretended to be dead.

The children

A first body count put the death toll at 400. Only when the bodies were moved was it discovered that children and babies had been murdered and their bodies lay hidden beneath the adult corpses.

Plastic cups, Flavor Aid packets, and syringes, some with needles and some without, littered the area where the bodies were found.

Jones' body was found with a self inflicted gunshot to the head.

At the cult's headquarters in Georgetown, cult member Sharon Amos cut the throats of two of her own children and then killed herself.

Larry Layton, who had fired a gun at several people aboard the Cessna, was initially found not guilty of attempted murder in a Guyanese court, employing the defence that he was "brainwashed".

He could not be tried in the US for attempted murders on Guyanese soil and was, instead, tried under a federal statute against assassinating members of Congress.

He was convicted of conspiracy and of aiding and abetting the murder of Ryan. He was the only person ever to have been held criminally responsible for the events at Jonestown. He was paroled in 2002.

The bodies of over 400 of those who died are buried in a mass-grave in Oakland, California.

"A man who confessed to being a homosexual was stripped, beaten with a rubber hose and made to march around to show his welts.
Jerry says now that he never fully bought into Jones' hyperbole and suspected disaster was on the horizon the moment he landed in South America.
Followers - to whom he preached about communism, socialism, the US government, the rich, economic equality and ending childhood hunger- believed he had special powers and followed him to the new planned utopia
Jones ordered mothers with babies to take the poison first and it's been speculated that it was to make adults more willing to die after their children were dead.

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