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Jim Jones was a religious leader of some sort (or better put, a sect leader). His followers worshiped him as an oracle of divinity and his words were carried out to the last jot. He led an organization simply known as the Peoples Temple – a cult group where he brainwashed everyone into seeing him as their God and Messiah. Jones performed staged miracles among the people which further strengthened their ‘believe’ in him as divine. Worst still, there where incidents of sexual abuse, pedophilia, and rape reported within the organization.
However, the Peoples Temple was a journey to what would come to be known as one of the worst cases of mass suicide in the US. Jones who was aware that government authorities were now on his trail (as a result of his killing of a US Congressman), convinced his 900-plus followers, including children on November 18, 1978, to consume a punch drink laced with cyanide which they all did and met their untimely deaths.
Jim Jones’ Bio
Jim Jones was born in Crete, Indiana, on May 13, 1931, with the name James Warren Jones. His parents were James Thurman Jones and Lynetta Putnam. His father fought in the World War 1 and was disabled from the injuries he sustained from the war while his mother was busy on so many jobs and both of them had little time for Jones while he was growing up. When his parents divorced, his mother moved with him to Richmond and he enrolled at Richmond High School where he graduated from in 1948. For his college education, he attended Indiana University Bloomington, and later Butler University, where he majored in secondary education.
Young Jones, who was of Irish and Welsh ancestry, lived his life on his own and got interested in religious activities when his neighbors took him to church. Alongside his learning about religious activities and how they are carried out, young Jones began to enlighten his mind through books. He was an addicted reader and was fascinated by Gandhi, Marx, Hitler, and other mass movement leaders and he really studied to know how they succeed and why they failed.
As a kid, he would preach to other children in the way he had learned or seen preachers do and even though he did this, he hardly called anyone “friend.” As a young man, he was secluded and didn’t indulge in extracurricular activities such as sports, partying, and the likes.
Jones spoke of his relationship with his father and recalled that they had opposing views on a variety of subjects especially in relation to race. While he was sympathetic to people of color because of the treatment they received in those days (a sympathy which stemmed from the fact that he was also a societal reject), his father on the other hand, who associated himself with the Ku Klux Klan, would not agree with him (Jones) on that and would not even let his African-American friend into their home.
Career and Movement
One thing was for sure, Jim Jones was growing disillusioned with the segregation of people of color, a thing that was prevalent in the in the United States at the time. He thought of ways to propagate his Marxist idea of integration so that it would reach the corridors of government and so he decided to use the church.
He joined the Sommerset Southside Methodist Church in 1952 and became a student pastor. He would later find out that people responded to faith healings and would happily give their monies in such gatherings and so he decided that was his best bet and by 1953, he had earned a reputation as a faith healer and preacher. Motivated by the need for integration between races – whites and blacks – especially in his services, he found that his church would not share in his sentiment, and so he left them to begin his own assembly.
After successfully organizing a crusade that was attended by a huge crowd in June 1956, his church metamorphosed into The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ (having been previously known as Wings of Deliverance Church and later, Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel). Jones did his best to stop segregation and promote integration among the nationals and his efforts saw a lot of public places including hospitals, desegregated.
Jones’ congregation continued to grow in size. He promised them utopia – a better life, away from the oppression of the government. He was a sweet talker, who swayed so many through his messages which were heard by thousands on the radio. His members surrendered their money and valuables for the cause which they believed was real. However, their donations only swelled Jones’ bank accounts.
One way Jones used to ensure loyalty was to sever alliances along family lines while projecting himself as the “father of everyone” and while he discouraged his members from having sexual relationships, he slept with a majority of his female congregants and even had children from several women.
At the time of the massacre, the total net worth (assets and interests) of the Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ was estimated to be $13 million. This included cash found in several banks, and cash turned in to the Temple’s finance keepers. The sum was used in several settlements relating to the Peoples Temple. Part of the money was used to transport the bodies back to the US, for logistics and burial of unidentified bodies, some were used in legal settlements, and the remaining parts went to the families and relatives of the dead.
Jonestown, The “Utopia” City
Jones bought and developed a property in Guyana, a state in northern South America, and a place to accommodate his growing members who at this time, were about 1,000 people. Again, he sought to take them away from society so as to avoid the prying eyes of the media who had begun to question his activities and that of his henchmen. And even though he operated the “city” like a prison yard, with guards stationed at every point, he told his teeming followers that he was giving them the land he promised and barred anyone from leaving the place which he called “Jonestown.”
In order to keep his followers in check and in preparation for a government invasion, He sold the idea of “dying by suicide” to his followers and constantly told them not to be afraid to die. Intermittently, Jones would make the members of the Peoples Temple to drink liquid substances, which he would falsely tell them is poison and so after a while, he would announce that their loyalty was only being tested. He also used the idea of mass suicide to get favors from the Guyanese government.
Trouble started in Jim Jones’ paradise when he sired a child with the wife of one of his followers, Timothy Stoen. Stoen who was the Temple’s attorney had asked Jones to have sexual relations with his wife, Grace and that produced a son, John Victor. After defecting in 1976, Grace Stoen began to raise awareness about the ill treatments meted out to people within the Temple. She held protests and sued the Temple for custody of her son, who was held back by Jim Jones. She was also joined by other defectors, most notably, Deborah Layton Blakely, in the protest and soon, it became a national issue.
In November 1978, Californian congressman, Leo J. Ryan, together with a team of media people went to Jonestown to see what the situation was at the Peoples Temple. After his tour (which ended abruptly), Ryan invited anyone who wanted to go home to come with him. This was not welcomed by Jones, even though he showed no such sign.
As Congressman Ryan and his crew, including 15 defectors headed for the airstrip in Port Kaituma, they were ambushed by members of the “Red Brigade,” guards of the Peoples Temple on the orders of Jim Jones and Congressman Ryan, alongside, four others, including one of the defectors, were killed in the attack.
Having done this and knowing what will follow, it was time to go and so a grape-flavored drink mixed with cyanide and valium was shared to his 918 members, including 276 children, to drink in what was termed the highest loss of American lives before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He told families to lie together so they could die together.
Was Jones Married? – Wife & Children
Jim Jones married Marceline Baldwin on June 12, 1949. He met her in Indiana while he worked at a hospital as an orderly. Marceline was a nurse at the time. They had a very large family which Jones often referred to as a “rainbow family”. The couple who had only one biological child – Stephan Gandhi Jones, born in June 1959 – adopted so many multi-racial children including Korean-Americans, Native American and African American.
In fact, they were the first white couple to ever pull off such (adopting a black kid) and he was named James Warren Jones. The names of the other children were Lew, Suzanne, Stephanie, Agnes and Tim Jones (The latter was formerly called Timothy Glen Tupper). Jones had other children from other members of his congregation like John Victor Stoen – whose parents were catalysts for the fall of the Peoples Temple.
Jim Jones’ Death – How Did He Die?
After overseeing the greatest mass suicide in the history of the United States (as at that time), rather than try to escape, Jim Jones decided to die with his flock. According to the reports, he was found dead with his wife, Marceline and other senior members and those of the inner circle. He was found with a bullet wound to the head, which upon examination was reported as a close-range shot. That gave the impression that Jones must have shot himself or ordered one of his followers to shoot him (His son believes the latter narrative is the truth).