Larry Schacht on Cyanide

Many of the writings which emerged from Jonestown – especially those written by community residents – consist of letters of confession, pledges of loyalty to Jim Jones, or expressions of willingness to die for the cause.

A typed document from Jonestown doctor Larry Schacht reads more like an administrative memo, but still contains elements of other Jonestown letters. It is undated – and, given the tone of the opening paragraph, may actually be the end of a longer memo, the first pages of which were not recovered – but its expressed desire to kill Debby Blakey places it after May 1978, when the Temple financial secretary defected from Jonestown to the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown and drafted an affidavit reporting on conditions in Jonestown.

Although Schacht repeats his message that they should kill Debbie Blakey, he also recognizes that it is “not pragmatic.” Moreover, he warns, it “could drive suicidal people into traitorous acts just to elicit a vengeful murderous act from the group. Leaving People’s Temple is a form of suicide. It is suicide.”

But the first three surviving paragraphs of the memo are more important, in that they reveal how the Jonestown leadership was making plans for the mass deaths, even if the time and circumstances for carrying them out were still unknown. Schacht discusses cyanide as “one of the most rapidly acting poisons,” and although he lists the symptoms of cyanide poisoning, he is uncertain beyond a theorectical level how it would work. “I would like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is,” he says, adding that it would be a disaster if they used “thousands of pills to sedate the people” and then found out “the cyanide was not good enough to do the job.”

He also speaks of ordering antidotes, “just in case we may need to reverse the poisoning process on people.”

Larry Schacht on Cyanide, RYMUR 89-4286-EE-1-S, pp. 55-56
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Last modified on October 22nd, 2013.
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