On November 18, 1977 – one year to the day before the deaths in Jonestown – a California Superior Court judge in San Francisco issued an order awarding custody of John Victor Stoen to his mother, Grace Stoen, as well as visitation rights to Tim Stoen. The order came in the context of the divorce proceedings between Grace and Tim Stoen.
The judge ruled that Grace and Tim Stoen’s earlier statement authorizing Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, Joyce Touchette and other Temple members to serve as the child’s guardian “is hereby declared null and void,” and that Jones must “immediately deliver the minor John Victor Stoen” to Grace Stoen.
The ruling noted that Jones had not responded to any of the judge’s earlier orders in the case, including one to appear in court that day. For that reason, the court ordered the San Francisco District Attorney to take “all actions necessary to locate Reverend Jim Jones and to secure Reverend Jones’ compliance.” It also authorized Grace Stoen to initiate contempt proceedings against Jones.
The order served to further entrench Jones – and John Victor Stoen – in Jonestown. The Temple leader believed he could not return to the U.S. with this court order pending, nor did he feel safe to travel to Georgetown the following January when the Stoens and their attorney, Jeffrey Haas, came to Guyana to urge local courts to enforce the California ruling. A California state court didn’t have any jurisdiction in foreign lands, Jones’ lawyers told him, and its rulings did not compel Guyanese courts to do anything. But Jones was not willing to take that chance.