Undated Phyllis Chaikin Letter on Revolutionary Suicide

A number of the “Dear Dad” letters recovered from Jonestown declare a willingness to die for the cause. Some of the letters offer ideas and proposals to kill both named and unnamed enemies before committing suicide. According to numerous survivors, these letters were not only encouraged, but required to be written. There is also evidence that the Jonestown leadership kept files on individuals which included a range of letters, from these declarations of loyalty, to false confessions, to professions of sexual longing for Jim Jones.

Most of those letters are short, transparent and – in the context of hundreds of others like them – even predictable. This letter from Phyllis Chaikin is not.

Phyllis was a nurse in the Jonestown medical clinic, a 39-year-old woman with an outspoken husband – there are numerous allegations that Gene Chaikin, one of the Temple attorney living in Jonestown, was drugged to quell his dissent – and two children.

Phyllis’ letter is a detailed argument for suicide, beginning with an analysis of the community’s ability to withstand torture and moving on to embrace death as the way to defeat their enemies. Rather than suggest dying by cyanide poisoning, it calls for executions by gun shot and cutlass. In order to keep the people waiting to die from panicking, it proposes blindfolding them ahead of time. It also recognizes the need for “highly trusted security with guns” to surround the community and to accompany individuals to the place of execution.

“The idea sickens me,” Phyllis writes in the last paragraph. “There is nothing exhilarating about this plan. It is horrible, but it is safe.”

Even though the letter is undated, it reflects the increasing desperation and loss of perspective among much of Jonestown’s leadership in the community’s final months.

Phyllis Chaikin Argues for Revolutionary Suicide, RYMUR 89-4286-EE-1-C-28, pp. b & c
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Last modified on October 22nd, 2013.
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