“To Whom It May Concern” Memo

The language of mass death did not begin in 1978, nor was Jim Jones the only Temple leader to speak of it.

A memo entitled “To Whom It May Concern” from Carolyn Layton outlines how far the Jonestown community was prepared to go to in preventing its residents from being forced back to the United States against “the collective will.” While the memo addresses the immediate concern of John Victor Stoen, it acknowledges at the outset that “[p]ragmatically the issue of John Stoen is not an isolated custody case to us…if John Stoen were taken from the collective, it would be number one in a series of similar attempts.”

The memo is undated, but was most likely written in late 1977, after the Six-Day Siege, during which the people of Jonestown took positions around the perimeter of the encampment for almost a week to defend themselves against what they believed was imminent attack. There are references to the standoff – “A line of people with cutlasses just waiting” – and to the Temple leadership’s uncertainty on the whereabouts (or the continued allegiance) of their political backers in the Guyana government.

Under these pressures, Carolyn Layton wrote, “we have decided that we would die if that were required and it seemed to us that it was…we made our resolve we had no idea at all what the outcome would be, so we genuinely felt our resolve could easily end up in violence or death.”

There is no indication who the audience for the memo was. It refers to potential readers  – Jim Jones, the Temple’s Guyana attorney Lionel Luckhoo, and Ptolemy Reid, one of their most politically-powerful allies in the government – in the third person. Neither does it seem to be written to the people of Jonestown, whom Layton describes but does not address. It could be a memo to the file, where it was discovered following the deaths in Jonestown a year later.

This is the best available copy of this memo.

To Whom It May Concern, RYMUR 89-4286-x-3-b-2, pp. a&b
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Last modified on October 22nd, 2013.
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