What follows is an interim report about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. In so far as it has a central thesis, it is that the “mass-suicide” that took place at Jonestown in 1978 was, in reality, a massacre. It seems to me that this much can be proven by reference to the medical evidence—particularly the evidence collected by the Guyanese pathologist, Dr. Leslie Mootoo.
The importance of this conclusion should be obvious. To suggest that hundreds of members of the Peoples Temple murdered their children and killed themselves is, in this writer’s view, a blood libel on those who died there. Indeed, it seems comparable to contending that because Jews worked in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and walked to their deaths in gas-chambers, they, too, committed “suicide.”
A second argument put forward in these pages is that Jones instigated the massacre because he feared that Congressman Leo Ryan’s investigation would disgrace him. Specifically, Jones appears to have been terrified that Ryan and the press would uncover information that the leftist founder of the Peoples Temple was for many years a witting stooge, or agent, of the FBI and the CIA. This concern was, I believe, mirrored in various precincts of the U.S. intelligence community, where it was feared that Ryan’s investigation would embarrass the CIA by linking Jones to some of the Agency’s most volatile programs and operations.
This may be why the cult-leader’s 201-file was purged by the CIA immediately after Jones’s friend, and suspected case-officer, Dan Mitrione, died. And it may also be why Congressman Ryan’s contingent was escorted to Jonestown by the CIA’s undercover chief-of-station in Guyana, Richard Dwyer.
What I believe and what I can prove are, in some instances, two different things. There is no smoking gun in the pages that follow. But I think the reader will agree that there are certainly a great many empty cartridges lying about—enough, perhaps, to stimulate further investigation by others.
That said, it must also be said that I am hardly the first to suggest that the Jonestown massacre was the outcome of someone’s secret machinations. The affair is inherently mysterious, and conspiracy theories abound—the most prominent among them that “Jonestown” was a CIA mind-control experiment.
The view has been put forward in a number of venues. Congressman Ryan’s close friend and chief-of-staff, Joe Holsinger, is persuaded of it. The Edwin Mellen Press has even published a book on the subject, answering its titular question — Was Jonestown a CIA Medical Experiment? — in the affirmative. By no means, finally, there is the work of well-intentioned conspiracists such as John Judge, one of the first writers to approach the story with as much skepticism as horror.
I.1 RYAN AND THE NUMBERS
In the Fall of 1978, with Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, Congressman Leo Ryan (D-CA) flew to Georgetown, Guyana accompanied by a contingent of “concerned relatives” and members of the press. The purpose of the trip was at once simple and difficult: to determine whether or not American citizens were being abused or held against their will at the Peoples Temple agricultural settlement in Jonestown.
Reports to that effect had been received from a number of sources, including former members of the Temple, their relatives and the press. Whether those reports should be believed was a separate matter. An American-based political organization that used the trappings of religion to attract members and avoid taxes, the Temple was a controversial institution—a personality cult that put itself forward as a vehicle of “apostolic socialism.” Though its membership was predominantly black, the group was run by a white matriarchy that was, in turn, under the spell of a Bible-hating, charismatic sadist named Jim Jones.
Escorted by Richard Dwyer, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, Congressman Ryan and a part of his contingent visited the remote commune on the afternoon of November 17, a Friday.
Though the visit was an unwelcome one, and filled with tension, Temple attorneys Charles Garry and Mark Lane arranged for the delegation to be given a tour of the settlement, food and a place to sleep. Accordingly, members of the Ryan party met with the Temple’s leader, Jim Jones, and spoke with many of the organization’s rank-and-file. Speeches and entertainment went on until late at night.
By Saturday afternoon, November 18, though Ryan himself had spoken favorably about several aspects of the settlement, a number of “defectors” had declared themselves, saying that they wanted to leave. It was then, as the congressman and his company were preparing to depart, that Ryan was suddenly, freakishly, attacked by a knife-wielding man. Though the scuffle was quickly broken up, and Ryan uninjured, the provocation put an end to the uneasy truce that both sides had cultivated.
Driven to the airstrip at Port Kaituma, where two small planes waited for them, Ryan and his party were ambushed as they prepared to embark. When the shooting ended, five people, including the congressman, lay dead on the tarmac. Nearby, and in the surrounding jungle, survivors of the delegation, having fled from the shooting, hid from sight, tending each other’s wounds. Meanwhile, as the death-squad returned to Jonestown, one of the small planes, its engine damaged, took off for Georgetown, transporting both flight crews and all the bad news it could carry.
As night fell, both the wounded and the well concealed themselves in a rum shop at Port Kaituma, awaiting evacuation in the morning. Meanwhile, some five miles away, and unknown to anyone in Port Kaituma, a holocaust was unfolding in Jonestown.
Guyanese defense forces arrived at the airstrip shortly after dawn that Sunday morning. Securing the runway, the troops turned toward Jonestown, marching down the long, rough road to the commune. Arriving there at mid-morning, they were horrified to find a field of cadavers: men, women and children lying in an arc around the settlement’s central pavilion.
Some two-hundred bodies were quickly counted, but the numbers of dead continued to climb throughout the days that followed. Revisions to the toll were continual, and sickening: 363, 405, 775, 800, 869, 910, 912, 918… To newspaper readers and watchers of the evening news, it seemed almost as if the slaughter was on-going, rather than a fait accompli.
Amid the confusion and horror, the escalating body-count provoked suspicions, though explanations abounded. It was said, for example, that the count was consistently low because the bodies of children lay unseen beneath the corpses of adults. Skeptics, however, pointed out that some of the earliest reports listed 82 children among 363 dead. Baltimore Sun, November 21, 1978. A subsequent report, by the Associated Press on November 25, listed 180 children among 775 cadavers. The final count, recorded by the Miami Herald on December 17, reported that 260 children were among the dead. It seemed fair to say, therefore, that the children’s presence was known from the beginning, and ought to have been taken into account. Moreover, even if the dead had been counted from the air, and even if one assumed that all of the children had been hidden from sight—which, as photos attest, was not the case—the body-count ought to have been more than 600 from the very first day.
But it wasn’t. Of course, conditions were primitive, and the circumstances ghastly. Mistakes were inevitable. Nevertheless, 789 American passports had been found at Jonestown within a few hours of the troops’ arrival.This discovery, coupled with the low body-count, had somehow caused those at the scene to believe that hundreds of “cultists” were “missing.” Indeed, it was to find these supposedly missing Templars that military search-parties were sent by foot, plane and helicopter to comb the surrounding area.
And meanwhile, incredibly, the dead lay in plain sight—nearly a thousand of them in an area the size of a football field.
It was a almost a week, then, before the body-count stabilized at 918 and, when it did, skeptics wondered how it was possible that 363 bodies had concealed 550—particularly when 82 of the 363 were said to have been small children.
Even mathematically, and from its inception, “Jonestown” did not make sense. Something was wrong with the reports from the very first day.
I.2 THE CAUSE AND MANNER OF DEATH
More than 900 men, women and children were suddenly, violently dead under circumstances that, even at this late date, remain mind-boggling. The mounting body-count, as well as the subsequent handling of the bodies, threatened to make conspiracy-theorists of even the most gullible.
It was alleged, of course, in newspapers and instant-books, that upwards of a thousand brainwashed religious fanatics committed suicide in the jungle because their leader, Jim Jones, told them to. One by one, they’d come forward without protest to drink cyanide-laced “Kool-Aid” from a vat. It was as simple as that. Jonestown was proof-positive of the effectiveness of brainwashing, and of the dangers inherent in the new religions.
As it happened, however, this was only a theory and, as it turned out, an inaccurate one. Viz.:
Seven months after the massacre, the New England Journal of Medicine commented on the handling of the bodies at Jonestown. Citing the criticisms of forensic experts and organizations, the Journal noted that:
only one-third of the bodies at Jonestown had been positively identified more than six months after the massacre;
no death certificates had been obtained on any of those who’d died in Guyana;
a medicolegal autopsy ought to have been performed on every body to establish the cause and manner of death in each case.
In fact, however, only seven autopsies were carried out among the 918 victims—an appalling figure. (As one forensic expert, Dr. Cyril Wecht, remarked: every American who dies under suspicious circumstances has a right to an autopsy.) Even then, the autopsies that were carried out were hardly conclusive: all of the bodies had been embalmed in Guyana, using a procedure that “ripped up” the internal organs, almost a month before the autopsies were conducted.
This was unfortunate, to say the least. Indeed, six leading medical examiners described the handling of the bodies (by the military and others) as “inept,” “incompetent” “embarrassing,” and a case of “doing it backwards.” Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker, who assisted at the seven autopsies, agreed. There had been “a series of errors,” he said. “We shuddered about the degree of ineptness.”
Despite the difficulties, “probable cyanide poisoning” was listed as the cause of death in five of the seven autopsy reports—though, as it happened, only one of the five bodies, that of Maria Katsaris, showed any traces of cyanide (“although carefully searched for…”).
Still, the suspicion of cyanide poisoning in the absence of cyanide itself is not as strange as it may at first seem. As one of the examining physicians pointed out, cyanide is unstable in “the postmortem interval.” Perhaps, then, it broke down in the victims’ tissues. In any case, the “relevant body fluids” may have been contaminated by the embalming process itself or, in the course of that procedure, the fluids may have been diluted or discarded. The fact that Diphenhydramine was found in the stomachs of several victims and in the “poison-vat” as well, suggested that the victims had drunk from the vat’s contents. That the contents of the vat included cyanide could not, however, be proven from an examination of the vat itself—which, upon study, betrayed no traces of the poison. (The explanation was offered that the vat had an acid pH at which cyanide is unstable. The assumption, then, was that the poison broke down in the days after the massacre.)
“Probable cyanide poisoning” was, therefore, a conclusion based upon circumstantial evidence: i.e., reports, including press reports, from the scene. These accounts noted the presence of cyanide salts in the inventory of Jonestown’s medical dispensary; and, also, the discovery of cyanide in syringes and bottles in the area around the pavilion. Finally, there was the account of Dr. Leslie Mootoo, chief medical examiner and senior bacteriologist for Guyana, who examined scores of bodies within a day or two of the disaster. According to Dr. Mootoo, who labored long and hard, taking specimens and samples from many of the dead, cyanide was present in the stomachs of most of those whom he examined. Unfortunately, evidence of his findings disappeared soon after it was collected. According to Dr. Mootoo, his specimens and samples were given to “a representative of the American Embassy in Georgetown, expecting that they would be forwarded to American forensic pathologists.” They weren’t. No one knows what happened to them.
Of the two remaining bodies that were autopsied, Jim Jones was found to have been killed by a gunshot wound to the head. As for Temple member Ann Moore, her death was attributed to two causes because it was impossible to say which came first. She had been shot in the head; and, unlike the others, a massive quantity of cyanide was found in her body’s tissues. (Why the poison should have broken down in the bodies of the other victims, but not in the body of Ann Moore, is unknown.)
All in all, physicians were able to determine the cause of death in only two of the more than 900 cases—though Dr. Mootoo’s field-work lent considerable weight to the conclusion that most had died of cyanide-poisoning.
As for the manner of death, whether suicide or homicide, the best evidence was again Dr. Mootoo’s. The Guyanese physician, trained in London and Vienna, concluded that more than 700 of the victims had been murdered. This conclusion was based on several observations. In the case of the 260 children, for example, they could hardly be held responsible for their own deaths. They’d been killed by others. As for the adults, Dr. Mootoo reported that 83 of the 100 bodies that he examined had needle-punctures on the backs of their shoulders — suggesting that they had been forcibly held down and injected against their will. (A second possiblity is that they may have given coup de grace injections, perhaps after feigning death.) Moreover, Dr. Mootoo noted, syringes containing cyanide, but lacking needles, lay everywhere on the ground at Jonestown — a circumstance which led him to conclude that the syringes had been used to squirt poison into the mouths of those (children and others) who’d refused to drink. Still others seem to have duped into thinking that they were taking tranquilizers: bottles containing potassium cyanide, but labelled “Valium,” were scattered on the ground around the pavilion. Based upon this evidence, a conservative estimate would be that as many as 700, and possibly more, of Jonestown’s victims were murdered.
No other conclusion seems reasonable.Once Dr. Mootoo’s findings are accepted with respect to the cause of death, cyanide poisoning, we have little choice than to accept his judgment upon the manner in which the vast majority of the victims died. As the only physician to gather evidence at the scene and to examine the dead where they lay, Dr. Mootoo based his findings upon the best (and, sometimes, the only) evidence that was available.
An eye-witness account would help to answer many of the lingering questions, but none would appear to be forthcoming. Those who survived the massacre — Charles Garry, Mark Lane, the Carter brothers, Michael Prokes, Odell Rhodes and others — did so because they fled the scene. The only exceptions to this were an elderly woman named Hyacinth Thrash, who slept through the massacre and remembered nothing of it; a man named Stanley Clayton, who hid through the night in a tree; and a third person whose identity will be discussed subsequently.
Just as the cause and manner of death were to be obscured by the decision to embalm the corpses before they could be autopsied, identities of those who died were also encrypted. Why this was so is a mystery in its own right.
“Lots of people had identification tags on their wrists, usually their right one,” said Frank Johnston, an American magazine photographer who toured the commune shortly after the massacre. Some of these tags were hand-made, apparently by the communards themselves, while others were issued by the medical clinic at Jonestown. Still other victims had been identified on the ground by Ms. Thrush and others who’d known them. These bodies had then been tagged by the military. Relatives of the dead, including Stanley Clayton, saw the tags. So did anyone who glanced at the Newsweek cover to the issue in which the massacre was reported.
Inexplicably, however, the wrist-identification bracelets and tags were removed prior to the bodies’ return to the United States.
In a real sense, therefore, the bodies were dis-identified, though no one is able to say why. According to Newsweek, however, the order to remove the tags was issued by Robert Pastor, the National Security Council’s staff coordinator for Latin American and Caribbean affairs. Asked about this, Pastor denies that he gave such an order, adding that it would have been senseless for him to have done so. He’s right, of course, but the mystery remains: why were the tags removed?
A great deal more could be said about the mishandling of the bodies. It may be enough, though, to call attention to news reports published as recently as last year. According to UPI and the Los Angeles Times, three of the Jonestown dead were discovered in January, 1986 stacked in caskets inside a Storage-R-Us facility in Southern California. They’d been forgotten, and were still awaiting burial.
I.3 THE NOIWON ALERT
As Dr. Mootoo’s best evidence established, most of the people at Jonestown were murdered. How is it, then, that Jonestown has become synonymous with “mass suicide”? An “After Action Report” of the Joint Chiefs of Staff helps to establish the chronology of the myth.
According to the Pentagon, which took responsibility for transporting the dead back to the United States, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) was first notified of a disaster in Guyana at 7:18 P.M. on Saturday, November 18. This information, apparently based upon the reports brought back from Port Kaituma by the escaping small plane, was that Congressman Ryan had been shot at the jungle airstrip.
At 8:15 P.M., a Department of Defense MEDEVAC was requested by the State Department. Its mission: to evacuate the wounded from Port Kaituma, and to return the bodies of those who had been killed at the airstrip.
At 8:49 P.M., the State department relayed a request from the Prime Minister of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, asking that a pathologist accompany the MEDEVAC. Why Burnham should have requested a pathologist from the U.S. is, under the circumstances, a considerable mystery. The information available to him at that time would seem to have been restricted to the news that Congressman Ryan and others had been ambushed by small-arms fire. At the very least, therefore, it may be said that Burnham’s request demonstrated remarkable prudence — if not prescience.
At 3:04 A.M. on November 19, the C-141 MEDEVAC left Charleston, N.C. for Guyana.
Twenty-five minutes later, at 3:29 A.M., the JCS chronology indicates that “CIA NOIWON reports mass suicides at Jonestown.”
All entries in the JCS chronology are Eastern Standard Time. In Guyana, however, it was one hour and fifteen minutes later than it was in Washington, D.C.—which means that the CIA notified the Defense Department of the “mass suicides” at 4:44 A.M. (Guyana-time).
This is clearly one of the most important mysteries in the entire affair. How did the CIA know that anyone was dead in Jonestown — let alone so many as to justify the notion of “mass suicides”? And how could it be so mistakenly certain of the manner in which the dead had died: i.e., suicide as opposed to murder?
Obviously, the CIA somehow learned of the massacre in Guyana prior to 4:44 A.M. Which is to say, while it was still dark, and hours before Guyanese Defense Forces arrived at the commune.
How the Agency was able to do this is uncertain—the matter remains classified nine years after the events. Satellite imagery is only the most remote possibility, given the darkness and the low-priority of Guyana as a surveillance site. Radio intercepts are a second, more likely, possibility; at present, however, it is unknown if there were transmissions from Jonestown that would have permitted an eavesdropper to report the occurrence of “mass suicides.” A third possibility, and the one that seems most likely, is the existence of a CIA officer or agent in Jonestown at the time of the massacre.
We’ll return to this third possibility momentarily. Before we do so, however, it is worth quoting from the “narrative summary” of the JCS report:
At approximately 1800 that same evening (November 18), Reverend James Warren Jones, the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple cult, held a meeting of all members. He convinced them that they and their children would have to die. The members of the cult lined up and began receiving a poison drink. Guards were stationed around the compound to insure that no one left the camp…”
While we do not know the extent to which the military’s perspective was shaped by the press reports that followed, it may be assumed that the CIA’s early notification, alleging mass suicides even before the bodies had been discovered by the Guyanese, must have affected the way in which the tragedy came to be seen and reported.
But how did the CIA learn of the deaths? Who was its witness?
I.4 RICHARD DWYER
Author’s note: When this article was first written, suspicion fell on Richard Dwyer, the Deputy Chief of Mission, who accompanied Congressman Ryan to Jonestown and, fatefully, to the Port Kaituma airstrip. That suspicion is elaborated in the paragraphs that follow, but the reader should know that, in fact, the elaboration is mistaken in its central premise. While Dwyer was certainly a spook, his likely affiliation was with the State Department’s Intelligence & Research Bureau, rather than with the CIA – and that, moreover, it was not he, but the actual CIA chief of station in Georgetown, who was the first to notify Washington of the horror in Jonestown. (How Adkins learned of the murders and suicides, and got the word out, is discussed in my article, Jonestown and the NOIWON Alert.) With that proviso, I leave my original text unchanged in the paragraphs that follow, so that the reader may be able to consider the persistent mysteries that surround Dwyer’s identity and whereabouts during the massacre.
Dwyer’s background is that of a sheepdipped CIA officer whose State Department cover had long ago worn thin. After graduating from Princeton in 1957, he’d gone to work at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research until February, 1959. In the years that followed, he was posted to Damascus (1960-63), Cairo (1963-66), Washington (1966-68), and Sofia, Bulgaria (1970-72). After returning home in 1972, he was subsequently shifted to Chad until, in 1977, he was brought home again to become part of the State Department’s Inspection Corps. In that role, he traveled throughout much of western South America: Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador. Finally, on April 14, 1978 he arrived in Georgetown, Guyana to take up his responsibilities as Deputy Chief of Mission.
That Dwyer was a deep-cover CIA officer is apparent. Dr. Julius Mader, an East German author with ties to the Stasi intelligence service, alleged as much in a book that he’d written ten years prior to Jonestown: Who’s Who in the CIA. Joseph Holsinger, Leo Ryan’s best friend and chief of staff, echoes the charge, citing congressional sources. Not finally, the same allegation is made by the defense attorney for Larry Layton, recently convicted for his role in the assassination of Congressman Ryan. Unfortunately, Justice Department attorneys (representing Dwyer) and the judge (who presided over the Layton case) refused to let Layton’s defense attorney question Dwyer about his work for the CIA.
The information that a CIA agent (or officer) was at the scene of the Port Kaituma ambush was given to Joe Holsinger by a Washington colleague whom Holsinger regards as an unimpeachable source. Despite the efforts of Layton’s defense attorney, this evidence was not admitted in court. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the CIA man was present at both the ambush and the massacre.
A tape-recording found at the scene of the massacre was transcribed by the FBI. This is the so-called “Last Tape” that Jones recorded while urging his followers to commit suicide. Against a background of wailing and screams, one hears
JONES: “And what comes, folks, what comes now?”
UNMAN [in background]: “Everybody…hold it! Sit down right here…” [loud background noises, agitated]
JONES: “Say peace, say peace, say peace, say peace…what comes, don’t let…take Dwyer on down to the middle (?) of the East House. Take Dwyer on down.”
UNWOMAN: “Everybody be quiet, please!”
UNMAN: “Show you got some respect for our lives.”
UNMAN: “Let me sit down, sit down, sit down.”
JONES: “I know… (Jones begins to hum, or keen.) “I tried so very very hard… Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him.”
JONES: “I’m not talking about Ujara, I said Dwyer.”
The Last Tape is anything but indistinct, and there would seem to be only one way of making sense out of it: that is to say, it means what it says. Jones is giving orders to his followers to protect “Dwyer” by taking him to East House (a part of the Jonestown encampment from which attorneys Charles Garry and Mark Lane had already escaped). There is no other “Dwyer” associated with the Peoples Temple, so it would seem fair to conclude that it was Richard Dwyer whom Jones intended to protect. Why Jones should have wanted to protect a CIA agent is an interesting and important question. So, too, it seems important to ask whether or not Dwyer’s appointment to the Embassy post in Guyana was in any way connected to the presence of the Peoples Temple in that country. And, also, whether it was a coincidence that Congressman Ryan’s tour-guide at Jonestown was, secretly, the CIA’s Chief of Station in the country?
Here, however, we are concerned, not with Jones’s motives and relationships, but with tracking down the origins of reports about the supposed “mass suicides.”
According to Richard Dwyer, he did not leave Port Kaituma that evening. On the contrary, he says, he tended the wounded throughout the night. If few people noticed his presence, as some have remarked, athen it must be because he was moving back and forth between the two locations at which the wounded were being kept.
“What reasons people may have had for saying these things, I don’t know,” Dwyer has testified. “I was not present in the tavern, obviously, when I was at the tent. I wasn’t present in the tent when I was in the tavern. But that’s it.” One would like to enlighten Dwyer about the reasons why people felt that he had left Port Kaituma that night but, unfortunately, the Last Tape was not admitted into evidence in the Layton trial—which meant that no questions were asked about its contents.
We might speculate about the means by which the CIA was notified of the supposed “mass suicides.” A burst-transmitter, concealed in an attache-case, has been suggested, but there is no way of knowing for certain if Dwyer carried such a device.
I.5 DR. SUKHDEO AND DR. HERSH
The CIA’s relationship to Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, and therefore to the Jonestown massacre, is an important issue that will be discussed in subsequent pages.
Here, however, we are concerned with the initial reports of the massacre. And, in particular with those responsible for labeling the disaster a “mass suicide” — contrary to the evidence being gathered by Dr. Mootoo. And while the CIA report was undoubtedly a significant source of misinformation, an even more important source of spin was a psychiatrist named Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo.
Dr. Sukhdeo is, or was then, “an anti-cult activist” whose principal interests (as per an autobiographical note) are “homicide, suicide, and the behavior of animals in electro-magnetic fields.” His arrival in Georgetown on November 27, 1978 came only three weeks after he had been named as a defendant in a controversial “deprogramming” case. It is not entirely surprising, then, that within hours of his arrival in the capital, Dr. Sukhdeo began giving interviews to the press, including the New York Times, “explaining” what had happened.
Jim Jones, he said, “was a genius of mind control, a master. He knew exactly what he was doing. I have never seen anything like this…but the jungle, the isolation, gave him absolute control.” Just what Dr. Sukhdeo had been able to see in his few minutes in Georgetown is unclear. But his importance in shaping the story is undoubted: he was one of the few civilian professionals at the scene, and his task was, quite simply, to help the press make sense of what had happened and to console those who had survived. He was widely quoted, and what he had to say was immediately echoed by colleagues back in the States.
That Sukhdeo’s opinions were preconceived, rather than based upon evidence, seems obvious. Nevertheless, it is clear that he was aware of the work that Dr. Mootoo had done—which, as we have seen, contradicted Sukhdeo’s statements about “mass suicides.” In an interview with Time, Sukhdeo refers to an “autopsy” that had been performed on Jim Jones in Guyana. This can only have been a reference to Dr. Mootoo’s somewhat cursory examination, in which Jones was slit open on the ground. It is difficult to understand how Sukhdeo could have been aware of that procedure’s having been conducted without also knowing of Mootoo’s finding that most of the victims had been murdered.
Dr. Sukhdeo was himself a native of Guyana, though a resident of the United States. He claimed at the time that he’d come to Georgetown at his own expense to counsel and study those who had survived. But that is in dispute.
According to his own attorney, Robert Bockelman, the psychiatrist retained him to prevent his having to testify at the Larry Layton trial in San Francisco. Dr. Sukhdeo’s primary concern, according to Bockelman, was that it should not be revealed that the State Department had paid his way to Guyana. You see the problem: was Sukhdeo there to help the survivors—or to debrief them on behalf of some other person or agency?
Nor was this all. Prior to retaining counsel in San Francisco, Dr. Sukhdeo had himself been retained by Larry Layton’s defense attorneys and family. (Indeed, he testified in Layton’s trial in Guyana, where “most of his testimony concerned cults in general and observations about conditions at Jonestown.”) And, during the time that he was helping Layton’s defense, Dr. Sukhdeo was meeting—surreptitiously, according to his own lawyer—with FBI agents. Asked about this, Sukhdeo says that at no time during these meetings did he disclose any confidential communicatins between himself and Layton.
The suggestion that Dr. Sukhdeo may have secretly “debriefed” Jonestown’s survivors on behalf of the State Department (or some other government agency) may seem unduly suspicious. On the other hand, a certain amount of suspicion would seem to prudent when discussing the unsolved deaths of more than 900 Americans who, in the weeks before they died, were preparing to defect en masse to the Soviet Union. The government’s interest in this matter would logically have been intense.
It is true, of course, that not every psychiatrist agreed with Dr. Sukhdeo’s analysis. Dr. Stephen P. Hersh, then assistant director of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), commented that “The charges of brainwashing are clearly exaggerated. The concept of ‘thought control’ by cult leaders is elusive, difficult to define and even more difficult to prove. Because cult converts adopt beliefs that seem bizarre to their families and friends, it does not follow that their choices are being dictated by cult leaders.”i
The massacre, according to Dr. Hersh, was “an isolated thing” and “not something the public should fear from other” groups. “We have no information that…(the new religions)…are vulnerable to this type of extreme behavior,” Dr. Hersh said.
That said, there is more at stake here than public perceptions. Investigators of the Guyana tragedy have a responsibility to both the living and the dead: to find out what actually happened, and to make certain that it cannot happen again.
II. 1 THE DOG THAT DIDN’T BARK
To understand the fate of the Peoples Temple, one must first understand why the intelligence community seemed (against all odds) to ignore the organization for so long—appearing to become interested in it only when Congressman Ryan began his investigation. Consider:
The Peoples Temple was created in the political deep-freeze of the 1950s. From its inception, it was a leftwing ally of black activist groups that were, in many cases, under FBI surveillance. During the 1960s, when the Bureau and the CIA mounted Operations COINTELPRO and CHAOS to infiltrate and disrupt black militant organizations and the Left, the Temple went out of its way to forge alliances with leaders of those same organizations: e.g., with the Black Panthers’ Huey Newton and with the Communist Party’s Angela Davis. And yet, despite these associations, and its ultra-left orientation, we are told that the Temple was not a target of investigation by either intelligence agency.
In the early 1970s, suspicions began to surface in the press, implicating the Peoples Temple in an array of allegations including gunrunning, drug-smuggling, kidnapping, murder, brainwashing, extortion and torture. Under attack at home, and feeling the pressure abroad, Temple officials undertook secret negotiations with the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown, laying the groundwork for the en masse defection of more than a thousand poor Americans. According to the CIA, it took no interest in these discussions.
Nevertheless, when Congressman Ryan began to scrutinize the Temple in 1978, two things happened. First, according to his aides, he was stonewalled by the State Department. Second, upon arriving in Guyana, he was given an escort who had been identified a decade earlier as a ranking CIA officer.
This second fact would seem to explain how it is that the CIA was the first to learn of the deaths at Jonestown, describing them as “mass suicides” — hours before the bodies were discovered by the Guyanese Defense Forces.
Under the circumstances, only the most naive could fail to be skeptical of the disinterested stance that the FBI and the CIA claim to have taken. But what does it mean? Why would these agencies give a de facto grant of immunity to the Peoples Temple? And why would the CIA maneuver its Chief of Station into position to surveil Congressman Ryan, the co-author of legislation curtailing CIA activities abroad, on his trip to Jonestown?
The answers to those questions are embedded in the contradictions of Jones’s past and, in particular, in that most mysterious period in the preacher-man’s life: the 1960-64 interregnum that every biographer has preferred to gloss over. As I intend to show, the enigmas of Jones’s beginnings do much to explain the bloodshed at the end.
II. 2 JONES AND MITRIONE IN RICHMOND
Jim Jones was born in Crete, Ind. in 1931. When he was three, he moved with his family to the town of Lynn.
His father was a partially disabled World War I vet. Embittered by the Depression and unable to find work, he is alleged (without much evidence) to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Jones’s mother, on the other hand, was well-liked, a hard-working woman who is universally credited with keeping the family together.
Jones’s religious upbringing took place outside his own family. Myrtle Kennedy, a friend of his mother’s who lived nearby, saw to it that he went to Sunday School, and gave him instruction in the Bible. While not yet a teenager, Jones began to experiment, attending the services of several churches. Before long, he came under the spell of a “fanatical” woman evangelist, the leader of faith-healing revivals at the Gospel Tabernacle Church on the edge of town. (This was a Pentecostal sect of so-called “Holy Rollers,” a charismatic group then believed in faith-healing and speaking in tongues.) Whether there was more to their relationship than that of a priestess and her protege is unknown, but it is a fact that Jones’s association with the woman coincided with the onset of nightmares. According to Jones’s mother, he was terrorized by dreams in which a snake figured prominently.
Whatever the nature of his relationship to the lady evangelist, Jones soon found himself in the pulpit, dressed in a white sheet, thumping the Bible. The protege was a prodigy and, by all accounts, he loved the attention.
In 1947, 15-years-old and still a resident of Lynn, Jones began preaching in a “sidewalk ministry” on the wrong side of the tracks in Richmond, Indiana — sixteen miles from his home. Why he traveled to Richmond to deliver his message, and why he picked a working-class black neighborhood in which to do it, is uncertain.
What is certain, however, is that, while in Richmond, Jones established a relationship with a man named Dan Mitrione. Like the child evangelist, Mitrione would one day become internationally notorious and, like Jones, his violent death in South America would generate headlines around the world. As Jones told his followers in Guyana,
“There was one guy that I knew growing up in Richmond, a cruel, cruel person, even as a kid, avicious racist—Dan Mitrione.“
Myrtle Kennedy has confirmed that the two men knew one another, saying that they were friends.
That Jones knew Mitrione is strange coincidence, but not entirely surprising. A Navy veteran who’d joined the Richmond Police Department in 1945, Mitrione worked his way up through the ranks as a patrolman, a juvenile officer and, finally, chief of police. It is unlikely that he would have overlooked the strange white-boy from Lynn preaching on the sidewalk to blacks in front of a working-class bar on the industrial side of town.
What is surprising about Jones’s statement, however, is his description of Mitrione as a “vicious racist.” There is nothing anywhere else to suggest that Mitrione held any particular views on the subject of race. Communism, certainly — but race, no.
Which is to say that either Jones was wrong about the Richmond cop, or else he knew something about Dan Mitrione that other people did not.
If Mitrione were to play no further part in Jones’s story, there would be little reason to speculate any further about their relationship. But, as we’ll see, Jones and Mitrione cross each other’s paths repeatedly, and in the most unlikely places. Neither family friends nor playmates (Mitrione was eleven years older than Jones), their relationship must have been based upon something. But what?
Two possibilities suggest themselves: either Mitrione was counseling in Jones in the way policemen sometimes counsel children, or their relationship may have been professional. That is to say, Mitrione may have recruited Jones as an informant within the black community. This second possibility is one to which we’ll have reason to return.
II. 3 JONES IN THE FIFTIES
Very little research seems to have been carried out by anyone with respect to Jones’s early career. It is almost as if his biographers are uninterested in him until he begins to go off the deep end. This is unfortunate—particularly in light of the possibility that Jones may have been a police or FBI informant, gathering “racial intelligence” for the Bureau’s files.
What is known about his early career is, therefore, known only in outline.
He graduated from Richmond High School in about January, 1949, and began attending the University of Indiana at Bloomington. He was married to his high school sweetheart, Marceline Baldwin, in June of the same year.
In the Summer of 1951, Jones moved to Indianapolis to study law as an undergraduate. While there, he began to attend political meetings of an uncertain kind. Ronnie Baldwin, Marceline’s younger cousin, was living with the Joneses at the time. And though he was only eleven years old, Baldwin recalls that Jones sometimes took him to political lectures. On one such outing, Baldwin remembers, he and Jones went to a “churchlike” auditorium where “communism” was under discussion. They didn’t stay long, however. Soon after they’d arrived, someone came up to Jones and whispered in his ear—whereupon Jones took his ward by the arm and exited hurriedly. Outside, Jones said “Good evening” to a man whom Baldwin believes was an FBI agent.
It’s a peculiar story, and Jones’s biographers don’t seem to know what to make of it. What sort of meeting could it have been? The assumption is made, in light of Jones’s later politics, that it was a leftist soiree of some kind. After all, they were talking about communism. But that makes very little sense. Indianapolis was a very conservative city in 1951. (It still is.) Joe McCarthy was on the horizon, and the Korean War was beginning to take its toll. If “communism” was being discussed in anything other than whispers, or anywhere else than a back-room, the debate was almost certainly one-sided and thumbs-down.
It was at about this same time that Jones gave up the study of law and, to everyone’s surprise, decided to become a minister. By 1952, he was a student pastor at the Somerset Methodist Church in Indianapolis and, in 1953, made his “evangelical debut” at a ministerial seminar in Detroit, Michigan.
By 1954, Jones had established the “Community Unity” Church in Indianapolis, while preaching also at the Laurel Tabernacle. To raise money, he began selling monkeys door-to-door.
By 1956, Jones had established the “Wings of Deliverance” Church as a successor to Community Unity. Almost immediately, the Church was christened the Peoples Temple. The inspiration for its new name stemmed from the fact that the church was housed in what was formerly a Jewish synagogue—a “temple” that Jones had purchased, with little or no money down, for $50,000.
Ironically, the man who gave the Peoples Temple its start was the Rabbi Maurice Davis. It was he who sold the synagogue to Jones on such remarkably generous terms. Today, Rabbi Davis is a prominent anti-cult activist, a sometime deprogrammer, and an associate of Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo.
II. 4 JONES AND FATHER DIVINE
By the late 1950s, the Peoples Temple was a success, with a congregation of more than 2000 people. Still, Jones had even larger ambitions and, to accommodate them, became the improbable protege of an extremely improbable man. This was Father Divine, the Philadelphia-based “black messiah” whose Peace Mission movement attracted tens of thousands of black adherents and the close attention of the FBI, while earning its founder an annual income in seven figures.
For whatever reasons, beginning in about 1956, Jones made repeated pilgrimages to the black evangelist’s headquarters, where he literally “sat at the feet” (and at the table) of the great man, professing his devotion. With the exception of Father Divine’s wife, Jones may well have been the man’s only white adherent.
It was not entirely inconvenient. Living in Indianapolis, Jones could easily arrange to transport members of the Peoples Temple by bus to Philadelphia—where they were housed without charge in Father Divine’s hotels, feasted at banquets called “Holy Communions,” and treated to endless sermons.
That Jones made a study of Father Divine, emulated him and hoped to succeed him, is clear. The possibility should not be ruled out, however, that Jones was also engaged in collecting “racial intelligence” for a third party.
Whatever else Jones may have picked up from his study of Father Divine, there is reason to believe that it was in the context of his visits to Philadelphia that he was introduced to the subject of mass suicide. Among Jones’s personal effects in Guyana was a book that had been checked out of the Indianapolis Public Library in the 1950s, and never returned. In the pages of Father Divine: Holy Husband, the author quotes one of the black evangelist’s followers:
‘If Father dies,’ she tells you in the calmest kind of a voice, ‘I sure ’nuff would never be callin’ in myself to be goin’ on livin’ in this empty ol’ world. I’d be findin’ some way of gettin’ rid of the life I never been wantin’ before I found him.’
If Father Divine were to die, mass suicides among Negroes in his movement could certainly result. They would be rooted deep, not alone in Father’s relationship with his followers, but also in America’s relationship with its Negroe citizens. This would be the shame of America. (Emphasis added.)
II. 5 JONES GOES TO CUBA
In January, 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship, and seized power in Cuba. Land reforms followed within a few months of the coup, alienating foreign investors and the rich. By Summer, therefore, Cuba was in the midst of a low-intensity counter-revolution, with sabotage operations mounted from within and outside the country.
Within a year of Castro’s ascension, by January of 1960, mercenary pilots and anti-Castroites were flying bombing missions against the regime. Meanwhile, in Washington, Vice-President Richard Nixon was lobbying on behalf of the military invasion that the CIA was plotting.
It was against this background, in February of 1960, that Jim Jones suddenly decided to visit Havana.
The news of Jones’s visit to Cuba—one is tempted to write “the cover-story for Jones’s trip to Cuba”—was first published in the New York Times in March, 1979 (four months after the massacre in Guyana). The story was based upon an interview with a naturalized American named Carlos Foster. A former Cuban cowboy, Baptist Pentecostal minister and sometime night-club singer, Foster showed up at the New York Times four months after the massacre. Without being asked, he volunteered a strange story about meeting Jim Jones in Cuba during the Winter of 1960. (Why Foster went to the newspaper with his story is uncertain: news of his friendship with Jones could hardly have helped his career as a childrens’ counselor).
Nevertheless, according to the Times story, the 29-year-old Jones traveled to Cuba to expedite plans to establish a communal organization with settlements in the U.S. and abroad. The immediate goal, Foster said, was to recruit Cuban blacks to live in Indiana.
Foster told the Times that he and Jones met by chance at the Havana Hilton. That is to say, Jones gave the Cuban a big hello, and took him by the arm. He then solicited Foster’s help in locating forty families that would be willing to move to the Indianapolis area (at Jones’s expense). Tim Reiterman, who repeats the Times‘ story, adds that the two men discussed the plan in Jones’s hotel-room, from 7 in the morning until 8 o’clock at night, for a week. More recently, Foster has elaborated by saying that Jones offered to pay him $50,000 per year to help him establish an archipelago of offshore agricultural communes in Central and South America. Foster said that Jones was an extremely well-traveled man, who knew Latin America well. He had already been to Guyana, and wanted to start a collective there.
After a month in Cuba, Jones returned to the United States (alone). Six months later, Foster followed, on his own initiative, but the immigration scheme went nowhere.
The anomalies in this story are many, and one hardly knows what to make of them. Foster’s information that Jones was well-traveled in Latin America, and had already been to Guyana, comes as a shock. None of his biographers mentions Jones having taken trips out of the United States prior to this time. Could Foster be mistaken? Or have Jones’s biographers overlooked an important part of his life?
An even greater anomaly, however, concerns language. While Reiterman reports that Foster was bilingual, and that he and Jones spoke English together, this isn’t true. Foster learned English at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx — after he’d emigrated to the United States. (Reiterman seems to have made an otherwise reasonable, but incorrect, assumption: knowing that Jones did not speak Spanish, he assumed that Foster must have been able to speak English.)
Today, when Foster is asked which language was spoken, he says that he and Jones made do with the latter’s broken Spanish.
The issue is an important one because Foster is, in effect, Jones’s alibi for whatever it was that Jones was actually doing in Cuba. That the two men did not have a language in common makes the alibi decidedly suspect: how could they converse for 13 hours at a time, day in and day out, for a week—if neither man understood what the other was saying?
As for Jones’s own parishioners, those who’ve survived have only a dim recollection of the trip. According to Reiterman, “Back in the States, Jones revealed little of his plan, depicting his stay more as tourism than church business.” This sounds like a polite way of saying that the trip served no obvious purpose. Nevertheless, he did bring back some strange souvenirs. “He showed off photos of Cuba… One picture—a gruesome shot of the mangled body of a pilot in some plane wreckage—indicated that Jones witnessed the pirate bombings of the cane fields. Jones told his friends that he had met with some Cuban leaders, though the bearded man in fatigues standing beside Jones in a snapshot was too short to be Castro.”
It would be interesting to know just what Reiterman is talking about here. The presumption must be that there is a photograph in which Jones is seen with a man who might easily be confused with Castro — if it weren’t for the latter’s diminutive size. In fact, however, it probably was Castro. When Jones arrived in Brazil in 1962, he carried a photograph of himself and his wife Marceline, posing with the Cuban premier. Jones said that the picture was taken on a stopover in Cuba on the way to Sao Paulo. That is to say, in late 1961 or early 1962.
How Jones met Fidel Castro—and why—is an interesting question. So, too, we can only wonder at his proclivity for taking photographs of mercenary pilots in their crashed planes. Pictures of that sort could only have been of interest to Castro’s enemies and the CIA.
Returning to Carlos Foster, if the tale that he told to the Times was a pre-emptive cover-story, a “limited hang-out” of some sort, what was Jones actually doing? Why had he gone to Havana? At this late date, and in the absence of interviews with officials of the Cuban government, there is probably no way to know. What may be said, however, is this:
Emigration was an extremely sensitive issue in the first years of the Castro regime. The CIA and the State Department, in their determination to embarrass Castro, did everything possible to encourage would-be immigrants to leave the island. As a part of this policy, U.S. Government agencies and conservative Christian religious organizations collaborated to facilitate departures. Jones’s visit may well have been a part of this program.
But there is no way to be certain of that. Cuba was in the midst of a parapolitical melt-down. While the CIA was conspiring to launch an invasion, irate Mafiosans and American businessmen had joined together to finance the bombing-runs of mercenary pilots. Meanwhile, the Soviets had sent their Deputy Premier, Anastas I. Mikoyan, to Havana for the opening of the Soviet Exhibition of Science, Technology and Culture. The visit coincided with the Soviets’ decision to give Cuba a long-term low-interest loan, while promising to buy a million tons of Cuban sugar per annum. The “Hilton Hotel” at which Jones was staying was the temporary home of a Sputnik satellite that the Soviets had put on display. According to former CIA officer Melvin Beck, the CIA was trying to photograph it, and the lobby was crawling with spies from as many five different services (FBI, CIA, KGB, GRU and DGI).
While one cannot say that Jones’s 1960 visit to Cuba was necessarily a spying mission, the circumstantial evidence suggests that it was. That is to say, virtually every element of the trip can be shown to have been of particular interest to the CIA: encouraging Cuban emigration; documenting the destruction of aircraft piloted by mercenaries; the Sputnik at the Hilton; and, it would seem, Castro himself.
II. 6 JIM JONES, HIS PASSPORT AND THE CIA
Cuba wasn’t the only country to which Jones intended to travel in 1960. On June 28 of that year, at about the same time that Foster arrived in Indianapolis from Cuba, the State Department issued a passport (#2288751) to Jones for a seventeen-day visit to Poland, Finland, the U.S.S.R., and England. The purpose of the trip, according to Jones’s visa application, was “sightseeing – culture.”
Which presents us with an enigma. According to State Department records, this was Jones’s first passport. How, then, did he travel to Cuba in February if he did not receive a passport until the end of June? Did he enter the country “black”? Was he using someone else’s documents? And what about Carlos Foster’s certainty that Jones had previously traveled throughout Latin America? Was Foster mistaken, or had Jones in fact visited Guyana?
It is almost as if we are dealing with two Jim Joneses. And perhaps we are. It’s a subject to which we will need to return.
Here, however, I want to point out certain coincidences of timing in the lives of Jim Jones and Dan Mitrione, and to discuss Jones’s own file at the CIA.
Passports typically require about 4-6 weeks to be mailed out. Since Jones’s passport was issued on June 28, 1960 his application would have been filed in early May. As it happens, it was during that same month that Dan Mitrione was in Washington D.C., being interviewed for a new job with a component of the State Department’s Agency for International Development (AID), the International Cooperation Administration (ICA). An acknowledged cover for CIA officers and contract-spooks such as Watergate’s E. Howard Hunt and the JFK assassination’s George de Mohrenschildt, the ICA would become infamous during the 1960s, funding the construction of tiger-cages in Vietnam, and training foreign police forces in the theory and practice of torture.
A few years earlier, in 1957, Mitrione had spent three months at the FBI’s National Academy. The connections he’d made stood him in good stead. Immediately after his interview with the ICA, he was hired by the State Department as a “public safety adviser.” Three months later, in September, 1960 he was in Rio de Janeiro, studying Portuguese; by December, he was living with his family in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Whether Mitrione was an undercover CIA officer in South America is disputed. The Soviets say he was. Officially, however, Mitrione was an AID officer attached to the Office of Public Safety (OPS). But OPS was very much a nest of spies: in the Dominican Republic during the mid-1960s, for example, six out of twenty positions were CIA covers. Moreover, Mitrione’s partner at the time of his 1970 kidnapping in Uruguay was a public safety officer named Lee Echols — whose previous assignment had been as a CIA officer in the Dominican Republic.
Whether or not Mitrione was an undercover CIA officer, it is a fact that the CIA’s Office of Security opened a file on Jones, and conducted a name-check on him, coincident with Mitrione’s departure for Rio. Why it did so is a mystery: the Agency won’t say.
It is speculated, of course, that the file and name-check were sparked by the Soviet Bloc destinations for which Jones had applied for a visa. But that could hardly have been the case. The visa requests had been made in May, and the passport issued in June. It was not until November, some five months later, that the Office of Security sent agents to the State Department’s Passport Office, there to examine Jones’s records — an activity that would hardly have been necessary if the passport application had stimulated the name-check in the first place.
Given the CIA’s reluctance to clear up the matter, one can only speculate that the Agency may have been “vetting” Jones for employment as an agent.
Two points should be made here. The first is that the CIA claimed, in the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre, that its file on “the Rev. Jimmie Jones” was virtually empty. According to the Agency, it had never collected data — not a single piece of paper — on Jones or the Peoples Temple.
Nevertheless, CIA records indicate that Jones’s file remained open for 10 years. It was finally closed, without explanation, in the wake of Dan Mitrione’s assassination by Tupamaro guerrillas in Uruguay.
Which is to say that the lifespan of Jones’s file at the CIA coincided precisely with the dates of Dan Mitrione’s rather suspect tenure at the State Department. What I am suggesting, then, is that Richmond Police Chief Dan Mitrione was recruited into the CIA, under State Department cover, in May, 1960; that a CIA file was opened on Jones because Mitrione intended to use him as an agent; and that Jones’s file was closed and purged, ten years later, as a direct and logical result of Mitrione’s assassination in 1970.
II. 7 JONES IN SOUTH AMERICA
To understand the significance of next occurred, one has to go back more than one hundred years. It was then, in the Northwest District of Guyana, that a prophet named Smith issued a call to the country’s disenfranchised Amerindians, summoning them to a redoubt in the Pakaraima Mountains—the land of El Dorado.
Akawaios, Caribs and Arawaks came from all around to witness what they were told would be the Millennium. “They would see God,” Smith promised, “be free from all calamities of life, and possess lands of such boundless fertility, that a… (large) crop of cassava would grow from a single stick.”
But Smith had lied. And “when the Millennium failed to materialize, the followers were told they had to die in order to be resurrected as white people…
“At a great camp meeting in 1845, some 400 people killed themselves.”
One-hundred-and-thirty-three years later, in the Fall of 1978, at a great camp meeting in the same Northwest District of Guyana, upwards of a thousand expatriate Americans, most of them black, and about as poor and disenfranchised as the Amerindians who’d preceded them, died under circumstances so similar as to be eerie. They, too, had been promised that they would be freed from the calamities of life, and that they would possess lands of boundless fertility. Like Smith, their charismatic leader had a generic sort of name and he, too, had lied.
This time, 909 people died in front of a large, hand-lettered sign that read: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
The coincidence here is so dramatic that is impossible not to wonder if Jim Jones knew of Smith’s precedent. Because, if he did know, and if his politics were, as seems very likely, a fraud, then the Jonestown massacre is revealed to have been a ghastly practical joke—the ultimate psychopathic prank.
According to Kathleen Adams, the anthropologist who first related the story about Smith and the Amerindians, Jim Jones was in fact familiar with the suicides of 1845. He had learned of them, she said, while working as a missionary in the Northwest District.
Adams does not tell us when this was, but the implication is that it was long before the establishment of Jonestown. The possibilities here are two:
The first is that Jones’s Cuban friend, Carlos Foster, is correct when he says that Jones was well-traveled and had been to Guyana prior to 1960. The difficulty with this, of course, is that Jones’s biographers are ignorant of any such travels. But if Jones did not go to Guyana prior to 1960, he must have learned about Smith’s precedent while doing missionary work in Guyana — after his 1960 visit to Cuba. But when could that have been?
The answer would appear to be at about the end of October, 1961. Arriving at that conclusion is by no means an easy matter, however, given the chronological confusion that his most responsible biographer, Tim Reiterman, relates. Because this confusion raises a number of interesting questions about Jones’s activities, whereabouts and true loyalties, the matter is worth straightening out.
In the Fall of 1961, Jim Jones was becoming paranoid. Under treatment for stress, he was hearing “extraterrestrial voices,” and suffering seizures. Hospitalized during most of the first week in October, he resigned his position as Director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. It was then, according to Reiterman, that Jones confided in his ministerial assistant, Ross Case, that he’d had a vision of nuclear holocaust.
“A few weeks later, Jones took off alone in a plane for Hawaii, ostensibly to scout for a new site for Peoples Temple….” (At a loss to explain why Jones should have gone to Hawaii, Reiterman implies that Jones viewed the islands as a potential nuclear refuge—a ludicrous notion in light of their role as stationary aircraft carriers.)
“On what would become a two-year sojourn, Jones made his first stop in Honolulu, where he explored a job as a university chaplain. Though he did not like the job requirements, he decided to stay on the island for a while anyway, and sent for his family. First, his wife, his mother and the children, except for Jimmy, joined him. Then the Baldwins followed with the adopted black child…. During the couple of months in the islands, Jones seemed to decide that his sabbatical would be a long one.”
According to Reiterman’s chronology, therefore, Jones left Indianapolis for Hawaii near the end of October, 1961. He then sent for his family, which joined him in what we may suppose was November. The family remained in Hawaii for a “couple of months”: i.e., until January or February.
In January, 1962, Esquire magazine published an article listing the nine safest places in the world to escape thermonuclear blasts and fallout…. The article’s advice was not lost on Jones. Soon he was heading for the southern hemisphere, which was less vulnerable to fallout because of atmospheric and political factors. The family planned to go eventually to Belo Horizonte, an inland Brazilian city of 600,000.
Jones’s biographer goes on to say that, after leaving Hawaii, the subject traveled to California, and then to Mexico City, before continuing on to Guyana. There, Jones’s visit “made page seven of the Guiana Graphic.”
That Jones made page 7 of the local newspaper is a matter of fact. Unfortunately for Reiterman’s chronology, however, he did so on October 25 (1961). Which is to say that the head of the Peoples Temple is alleged to have been in two places at that same time: in Hawaii and Guyana during the last week in October—with intervening stops in California and Mexico City.
Obviously, Reiterman is mistaken, but the issue is not merely one of a confused chronology. There is evidence (including, as we’ll see, a photograph) which strongly suggests that two people may have been using Jones’s identity during the 1961-63 period. Because of this, rumors that Jones was hospitalized in a “lunatic asylum” during that time should not be dismissed out of hand. The rumors were started by a black minister in Indiana who is said to have been jealous of Jones’s success among blacks at the Peoples Temple. While the allegation has yet to be documented, there are many other references to Jones’s having been under psychiatric care at one time or another.
Ross Case says that Jones sometimes referred to “my psychiatrist.” Others have suggested that the real reason Jones went to Hawaii was to receive psychiatric care without publicity.
In later years, Temple member Loretta Cordell reported shock at seeing Jones described as “a sociopath.” The description was contained in a psychiatrist’s report that Cordell said was in the files of Jones’s San Francisco physician (probably Dr. Carleton Goodlett).
In a recent interview with this author, Dr. Sukhdeo confirmed that Jones had been treated at the Langley-Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Francisco during the 1960s and 70s. According to Sukhdeo, he has repeatedly asked to see Jones’s medical file from the Institute, and he has been repeatedly refused permission.
“I have asked (Langley-Porter’s Dr.) Chris Hatcher to see the file several times,” Sukhdeo told this writer. “But, each time, he has refused. I don’t know why. He won’t say. It’s very peculiar. Jones has been dead for more than 20 years.”
“The nation’s leading center for brain research,” Langley-Porter is noted for its hospitality to anti-cult activists such as Dr. Margaret Singer and, also, for experiments that it conducts on behalf of the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). While much of that research is classified, the Institute has experimented with electromagnetic effects and behavioral modification techniques involving a wide variety of stimuli—including hypnosis-from-a-distance.
Some of the Institute’s classified research may be inferred from quotations attributed to its director, Dr. Alan Gevins (see Mind Wars, by Ron McRae, St. Martin’s Press, 1984, p. 136). According to Dr. Gevins, the military potential of Extremely Low Frequency radiation (ELF) is enormous. Used as a medium for secret communications between submarines, ELF waves are a thousand miles long, unobstructed by water, and theoretically “capable of shutting off the brain (and) killing everyone in l0 thousand square miles or larger target area.”
“No one paid any attention to the biological affects of ELF for years,’ says Dr. Gevins, ‘because the power levels are so low. Then we realized that because the power levels are so low, the brain could mistake the outside signal for its own, mimic it (a process known as bioelectric entrainment), and respond when it changes.”
The process is one that would no doubt fascinate Jonestown’s foremost psychiatric interpreter, Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo. Interestingly, virtually every survivor of the Jonestown massacre seems to have been treated at Langley-Porter. This occurred as a result of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone’s request that Dr. Hatcher undertake a study of the Peoples Temple while counseling its survivors. (Hatcher’s appointment was made with surprising alacrity since Moscone himself was assassinated only nine days after the killings at Jonestown.)
Returning to the Guiana Graphic article about Jones’s visit to Guyana, it is worth pointing out that the story throws a crimp in much more than Reiterman’s chronology. It makes hash as well of Jones’s motive for going to South America. The Esquire article, published in January, 1962 could hardly have prompted Jones to go anywhere in October, 1961.
So, too, the story in the Graphic provides clear evidence of Jones’s immersion in political intrigue.
At the time of his visit, the former British colony was wracked by covert operations being mounted by the CIA and MI-6.
By way of background, the most important political group in the country was the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), established by Dr. Cheddi Jagan during the 1940s. A Marxist organization, the PPP’s activities had caused the British to declare “a crisis situation” in 1953. Troops had been landed, the Constitution suspended, and recent elections nullified in order to “prevent communist subversion.”
Over the next four years, MI-6 and the CIA established a de facto police state in Guyana. Racial tensions were exacerbated between the East Indian and black populations—with the result that the PPP was soon split. While Jagan, himself an East Indian, remained in charge of the party, another of its members—a black named Forbes Burnham—began (with the help of Western intelligence services) to challenge his leadership.
Despite the schism, the PPP was victorious in 1957 and, once again, in 1961—just prior to Jones’s visit. Coming on the heels of Castro’s embrace of the Soviets, Jagan’s re-election chilled the Kennedy Administration. Accordingly, the CIA intensified its operations against Jagan and the PPP, doing everything in its power to increase its support for Burnham, provoke strikes and exacerbate racial and economic tensions. It accomplished all these goals, secretly underwriting Burnham’s political campaigns, while using the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) as a cover for operations against local trade unions.
Eventually, these operations would succeed: Jagan would be ousted, and Burnham brought to power. A decade later, that same Burnham regime would facilitate the creation of Jonestown, leasing the land to the Peoples Temple and approving its members’ immigration.
It was in this somewhat dangerous context that Jim Jones arrived in the Guyanese capital. Putting on a series of tent-shows, replete with faith-healings and talking in tongues, he warned the local populace against thieving American missionaries and evangelists—who, he said, were largely responsible for the spread of Communism.
Even Reiterman, who accepts almost everything at face-value, is puzzled by this: “Entering politically volatile South America,” he writes, Jones “seemed to want to put himself on the record as an anticommunist.”
Exactly. And how convenient for the CIA, whose activities were being hindered by reform-minded missionaries.
II. 7 BELO HORIZONTE
After entering Guyana, and making anti-communist speeches, Jones seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. Following the Guyana Graphic article of October 27, he disappears from the public record for almost six full months.
It is possible, of course, that he journeyed into the interior of that country to work among the Amerindians—but the evidence for this is so slim as to be invisible. Indeed, it consists solely of a remark by anthropologist Kathleen Adams, who wrote that Jones had at one time worked as a missionary in Guyana. Where and when is left unstated, but it was presumably during that period that Jones learned about his homicidal predecessor, the Reverend “Smith.”
The only disturbance in the empty field of Jones’s whereabouts from 10/61 until 4/62 is the information that Passport #0111788 was issued in his name at Indianapolis on January 30, 1962.
This is a considerable anomaly. As we have seen, Jones already had a passport—#22898751, issued to him in Chicago on June 28, 1960. This earlier passport, which he had planned to use on a trip to the Soviet Union, was still valid. Why, then, did someone make an application for a new passport, and who picked it up? Moreover, how is it possible that Jones’s second passport had a lower number than the one that he’d received more than a year before?
These questions cannot be answered at this time: the evidence reposes in the files of the State Department. What may be said, however, is that there is good reason to suspect that someone was impersonating Jim Jones during this period; and that, in fact, a photograph of the impostor survives. We’ll return to this subject shortly.
According to the Brazilian Federal Police, Jim Jones arrived by plane in Sao Paulo on April 11, 1962. There does not seem to be any surviving record of his point of embarkation, but it may well have been Havana. According to Bonnie (Malmin) Thielman, who met Jones at about this time, there was “a picture of him and Marceline standing on either side of Fidel Castro, whom they had met during a Cuban stopover en route to Brazil…”
An American family, making “a Cuban stopover,” seven to eleven months after the Bay of Pigs? Physically, transportation would not have been difficult to arrange; both Mexico City and Georgetown were transit-points for Havana. But Cuban visas were by no means issued automatically — especially to Americans making well-publicized, anti-communist speeches in Guyana. How much harder it must have been for Jones to arrange to have a photo taken of himself with Castro (who was at that time the target of CIA assassination attempts planned by yet another Indianapolis native, William Harvey).
It’s a peculiar, even eerie, business. I’m reminded of the man who impersonated Lee Harvey Oswald while applying for a visa at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City during 1963.
Whatever his reason for visiting Cuba during the Winter of 1961-62, and whatever the reasons he was permitted to enter the country, Jones had no trouble entering Brazil that April. Given a visa that was valid for eleven months, he and his family traveled to Belo Horizonte where, as we have seen, Dan Mitrione had settled in as an OPS adviser at the U.S. Consulate.
Jones took rooms in the first-class Hotel Financial until he and his family were able to move to a house at 203 Rua Maraba. This is a pretty street in an attractive neighborhood on a hill in one of the best parts of town. Accordingly, his new neighbors were almost all professionals: doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and journalists. It was not the sort of place from which one could easily minister to the poor.
Not that it mattered. Jones’s stay in Belo Horizonte had little or nothing to do with alleviating poverty.
According to his neighbors, Jones would leave his house early each morning, as if going to work, and return very late at night. Sebastiao Carlos Rocha, an engineer who lived nearby, noted that Jones usually left home carrying a big leather briefcase; on a number of occasions, Rocha said, he saw Jones walking in Betim, a neighboring town.
Elza Rocha, a lawyer who lived across the street and who sometimes interpreted for Jones, says that her neighbor told her that he had a job in Belo Horizonte proper, at Eureka Laundries.
This is a huge dry-cleaning and laundry chain, a quasi-monopoly whose central plant is serviced by more than a score of pick-up points (small storefronts) throughout the city. In essence, a customer delivers his laundry to one of the stores, where it is later collected by a delivery truck. The truck takes the dirty clothes to the central plant, where they’re cleaned, and then returns them to the store from which they came. It’s a big business.
But it’s not one in which Jim Jones ever worked. According to Sebastiao Dias de Magalhaes, who was head of Industrial Relations for Eureka during 1962, Jones’s claim to have been an employee of the laundry was false. Senor de Magalhaes, and two other Eureka workers, have told the press that Jones lied in order to conceal what they believe was his work for the CIA.
Still, if you didn’t know better, Jones’s cover-story served three purposes: first, it explained where he went during the day—to work. Second, it offered a theoretically visible means of support: he had a check from Eureka (everyone knows Eureka). And third, it gave Jones an alibi for a mysterious period during which he’d vanished from Belo Horizonte. According to Elza Rocha, when Jones returned, he told her that he had been sent to the United States for “special training” in connection with the machinery used by Eureka. Where Jones actually went, and why, is a unknown.
Eureka wasn’t Jones’s only cover, however. He didn’t mention Eureka to Sebastiao Rocha. Instead, he claimed to be a retired captain in the U.S. Navy. He said that he had suffered a great deal in the war, and that he received a monthly pension from the armed services. The implication was that he had been wounded in the Korean conflict. According to Senor Rocha, “Jim Jones was always mysterious and would never talk about his work here in Brazil.”
Yet another Rocha, Marco Aurelio, was absolutely certain that Jones was a spy. At the time, Marco was dating a young girl who was living in the Jones household. Because of this, and because Rua Maraba is a narrow street on which parked cars are conspicuous, he noticed that a car from the American Consulate was often parked outside Jones’s house. According to Marco, the car’s driver sometimes brought bags of groceries to the Joneses—which, if true, was definitely not standard consular procedure.
Marco Rocha’s interest in Jones was more than idle, however. According to him, he was keeping a loose surveillance on the American preacher at the request of a friend—a detective in the ID-4 section of the local police department. The detective was convinced that Jones was a CIA agent, and was trying to prove it with his young friend’s help. Unfortunately, the policeman died before his investigation could be completed, and Jones moved shortly thereafter.
Gleaning the purpose behind Jones’s residency in Belo Horizonte is anything but easy. He is reported to have been fascinated by the magical rites of Macumba and Umbanda, and to have studied the practices of Brazilian faith-healers. He was extremely interested in the works of David Miranda, and is said to have conducted a study of extrasensory perception. These were subjects of interest to the CIA in connection with its MK-ULTRA program. So, also, were the “mass conversion techniques” at which Jones’s Pentecostal training had made him an expert.
Whether these investigations were idle pastimes or Jones’s actual raison d’etre in Belo Horizonte is unknown. Neither is there hard evidence that Jones’s presence was related to Dan Mitrione’s work at the Consulate—though Jones was certainly aware of Mitrione’s post. According to an autobiographical fragment that was found at Jonestown, Mitrione
…was known in Belo Horizonte by everybodyto be something other than a mere “traffic
advisor”. There were rumors that he participated with the military even then, doing strange things to dissenters… Mitrione’s name would come up frequently.
Subsequently, according to that same fragment, Jones went out of his way to socialize with the Mitrione family.
I’d heard of his nefarious activities in Belo Horizonte, and I thought “I’ll case this man out.” I wasn’t really inclined to do him in, not me personally, but I certainly was inclined to inform on his activities to everybody on the Left.
But he wouldn’t see me. I saw his family and they were arrogantly anti-Brazilian…
Because Jim Jones was a sociopath, a suspected agent of the police/intelligence community, and a man whose historical stature was intimately entwined with his false public identity as an “apostle of socialism,” there is good reason to be skeptical of the sincerity of his pronouncements about Dan Mitrione and his family. If Mitrione was, as seems likely, Jones’s first “control,” then Jones would obviously fear the revelation of that fact. In particular, he would fear the chance discovery of their past association, and the questions such a discovery would raise. To allay such suspicions, Jones may well have acted to co-opt the discovery—explaining it away in advance. Thus, he tells us that he knew Dan Mitrione as a child, and that, in Brazil, he wanted to “inform on his activities to everybody on the Left.” So it was, we’re told, that he decided to “case this man out,” and came to know his family.
This may explain the presence of a consular car outside Jones’s house: if Jones was socializing with the Mitrione family, the consular car was probably their’s. But who are the people on the Left to whom Jones refers? Whom was he going to tell about Dan Mitrione? So far as anyone knows, Jones’s acquaintances in Brazil were all conservatives. Indeed, like Bonnie Thielman’s father, the Rev. Edward Malmin, they should more accurately be described as right-wingers. And, as such, they would undoubtedly have approved of Mitrione’s work.
Nevertheless, while there is every reason to be skeptical of Jones’s memoir, it is interesting that he characterizes his relationship to the Mitriones as that of an informant, or spy. Given Jones’s sociopathic personality (not to mention his rightwing sermons in Guyana and the implications of his CIA file), it is very likely that Jones was working for Mitrione rather than against him.
While Jones is said to have gone to the U.S. Consulate often, the only person whom he is known to have seen there was Jon Lodeesen.
On October 18, 1962, Vice Consul Lodeesen wrote a peculiar letter to Jones on Foreign Service stationary. The letter reads:
Dear Mr. Jones:
We received a communication and we believe its your interest to come at the Consulate at your earliest convenience.
Signed by Lodeesen, there is a redundant post-script to the letter, requesting that Jones “Please see me.”
While the letter itself is entirely opaque, an attachment to it is not. This a passport-type photograph of a man who, despite his mustache and receding hairline, looks remarkably like Jim Jones — or, more accurately perhaps, like Jim Jones in disguise. While one cannot be certain, it may well be that the photo is related to the peculiar circumstances under which a second passport was issued to Jones — while the first passport was still valid.
That it was Jon Lodeesen who contacted Jones is significant in its own right. This is so because Lodeesen has been a spy for much of his life. According to Soviet intelligence officers, he is a CIA agent who taught at the US intelligence school in Garmisch Partenkirchen, West Germany — a sort of West Point for spooks. Subsequently, he worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow — until he was declared persona non grata for suspected espionage activities. Kicked out of the Soviet Union, he went to work for Radio Liberty, a CIA-created and -financed propaganda network based in Munich. There, he was Deputy Director of the Soviet Analysis and Broadcasting Section. More recently, Lodeesen was recommended for work with a CIA cover in Hawaii. In a letter to the proprietor of the cover, Lodeesen was described as “fluent in the principal Russian tongues” and an expert on “Soviet double agents, dissidents and escapees.”
Just the man, in other words, to handle the passport problems of an American psychopath who’d applied for a visa to visit the Soviet Union; who’d made repeated trips to Castro’s Cuba; who had two valid passports at the same time; and who seems to have been the victim of, or a party to, an impersonation.
II. 8 JONES IN RIO
Friends of the Jones family in Belo Horizonte are agreed that he lived in the city for a period of eight months, beginning in the Spring of 1962. He then moved to Rio de Janeiro.
Once again, Jones seems to have been following Dan Mitrione’s lead. In mid-December, as the Jones family packed for the move to Rio, Mitrione left Belo Horizonte for a two-month “vacation” in the U.S. At the beginning of March, he returned to Brazil—but not to Belo Horizonte. Instead, he found an apartment in the posh Botafogo section of Rio de Janeiro.
There, he was not far from Jim Jones, who was recumbent in equally elegant surroundings, having found an expensive flat in the Flamengo neighborhood.
According to Brazilian immigration authorities, who are said to keep meticulous records, the Jones family left Rio for an unknown country at the end of March. And they did not return.
According to Jones, however, he and his family lived in Rio until December of 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (in November of that year) was the stimulus for their return to Indiana.
There is, in other words, a nine-month period in which Jones’s whereabouts are at least somewhat questionable. One would think, of course, that there would be a great many records and witnesses to the matter. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Those members of Jones’s family, and his associates, who might have seen him in Rio either died at Jonestown—or were too young at the time to be certain where they were in 1963.
The issue should have been settled, of course, by the newspaper articles that appeared in Brazil after the Jonestown massacre. These were stories with local angles, describing Jones’s life in Brazil. Curiously, however, none of the articles originating in Rio quote identifiable sources. This is quite unlike counterpart articles written about Jones’s stay in Belo Horizonte. In the latter, almost everyone seems delighted to get his name in the paper. In Rio, nobody wants to be identified.
By far the most extensive account of Jones’s stay in Rio de Janeiro was published in a newspaper that is thought by many to have been owned, or secretly supported, by the CIA. This was the English-language Brazil Herald.
According to the article, it was “through a friend in Belo Horizonte” that Jones “found a job as a salesman of investments” in Rio. The source for this information is unstated, as is the identity of Jones’s friend in Belo Horizonte.
The company for which Jones is said to have worked was Invesco, S.A., which had offices in the Edificio Central in downtown Rio. At least, it did until the firm went bankrupt, under scandalous circumstances, in 1967. Though this occurred more than ten years before, Invesco’s former assistant manager—Jim Jones’s boss—was still in Rio at the time of the Jonestown massacre. An American who’d come to Brazil in the late 1940s, and stayed, he was willing to confirm Jones’s employment at Invesco—but not much more. And he did not want his name used.
“As a salesman with us,” he told the Herald, “(Jones) didn’t make it. He was too shy and I don’t remember him selling anything,”
Applied to Jim Jones, this is a remarkable statement. Is it possible that someone who sold monkeys door-to-door in Indianapolis during the Fifties could be too timid to sell mutual funds in Rio de Janeiro during the bull-markets of the Sixties? The mind boggles. Here is a man who is said to have talked 900 people into killing themselves for what he hoped would be his greater glory…and he was “too shy”?!
“We hired him on a strictly commission basis and as far as I know he didn’t sell anything in the three months that he worked for us,” the former assistant manager said.
This, too, is an interesting remark because it implies that, while Jones worked for Invesco, there would be no record of the fact as a consequence of his failure to record any sales. Without putting too much of a point on it, the reader should know that commission-only sales’ jobs are favorite covers for CIA agents in foreign countries. This is so because the agent is not required to produce any cover-related work-product for his civilian boss (i.e., he doesn’t need to sell anything at all)—because he’s working strictly “on commission.” At the same time, salesmen working on commission are expected to travel, and to cultivate a broad spectrum of acquaintances.
Thus, whether Jones was working for Invesco or not, it served as a good cover for whatever else he might have been doing.
Still, if the sales-job which Jones is supposed to have held down produced no income at all, how did he support himself? According to the Brazil Herald, he “was receiving donations of checks sent by his followers in the US. His ex-boss notes having seen Jones’ briefcase filled with checks.” This is possible, of course, but extremely unlikely. Membership in the Peoples Temple had plummeted during Jones’s absence, dwindling from 2000 members in 1961 to fewer than 100 parishioners at the time of the Kennedy assassination. By the end of 1963, the electric and telephone bills had gone unpaid, and disconnection threatened. The idea that parishioners were supporting Jones in high style, by sending him personal checks, is ludicrous. Not only did they not have the money, but Jones would probably have starved had he depended upon cashing small personal checks, written on Indianapolis bank accounts, in Rio de Janeiro.
Elsewhere in the Brazil Herald story, the December 4, 1978 article in Time Magazine is cited. According to Time, Jones spent a part of 1963 working at the “American School of Rio.” Asked about this, the American School issued the following statement: “Neither the salary records maintained in the business office nor the personnel records maintained in the headmaster’s office reflect this name (i.e., Jim Jones) as having been connected with our school as an employee.”
Jones’s former boss at Invesco was not the only source for the article in the Herald. A second source was a Cariocan who claimed to be a Jones’s closest friend in Rio. In the article, she is identified only as “Madame X.”
After leaving Invesco, Madame X said, Jones went to work at the Escola Sao Fernando, while his son, Stephan, attended the British School. As it happens, however, there is no “Escola Sao Fernando” in Rio, and the British School denies that Stephan Jones was ever one of its students.
Elsewhere, Madame X says that Jones decided to return to the U.S. upon hearing of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination (on November 22). The trip to the States was supposed to be a temporary visit. Jones intended to straighten out the problems that the Peoples Temple was experiencing in his absence—and then to return to Brazil. Accordingly, Madame X added, a friend of the family continued paying Jones rent on the apartment in Rio. Eventually, when it became clear that the Joneses would not return, Madame X sold their furniture and other goods, and donated the money to charitable causes.
The “friend of the family” is, like Madame X and Jones’s boss at Invesco, never identified.
So who is Madame X?
The author of the Brazil Herald article, Harold Emert, doesn’t know. The reason he doesn’t know is that he himself never spoke to her. Jim Bruce did. Who, then, is Jim Bruce? According to Emert, Jim Bruce was at that time an American freelancer based in Brazil. It was he who inspired the Jim-Jones-in-Rio story and he who provided the sources: i.e., the Invesco executive and Madame X.
Why Bruce failed to write the story himself is unclear.
II. 9 Invesco
There have been persistent rumors that Jim Jones worked for a CIA cover during his stay in Rio. The cover is said to have been an advertising agency, but no one can say why they think so. The Washington Post‘s Charles Krause and then-New York Times reporter John Crewdson each pursued the story, but neither was able to track it down.
Clearly, Invesco was at the heart of the matter, though its connection to Jones cannot have been more than a faded memory when Crewdson and Krause were looking into it. The only public reference to Jones’s association with the firm was in the weekend edition of a small, almost ephemeral, newspaper. The sources for the story were anonymous, and the newspaper itself no longer existed, having long since been swallowed up by a rival. As for Invesco, its 1967 bankruptcy had taken place under military rule amid strict censorship of the press. Because bankruptcies reflected poorly on the economy, and therefore on the ruling junta, their occurrence—however scandalous—often went unreported.
For these reasons, then, Invesco has remained almost entirely unknown.
Here, it needs to be emphasized that, for whatever reason, Jim Jones felt the need for some sort of cover in Brazil. That’s why he lied to his neighbors in Belo Horizonte, telling some that he was employed by the Eureka Laundries and others that he was a retired Navy captain living on a pension. In Rio, which has a small and gossipy expatriate community, the need for a cover would have been even more strongly felt. And for Jones’s purposes, Invesco was ideal.
In essence, the company was an offshore analog of Bernie Cornfeld’s Investors Overseas Services (IOS). In South America, at least, it pioneered the practice of selling shares in mutual funds.
Created as a venture-capital firm in 1951, its original name was Expansao Tecnico Industrial, S.A. (ETIN). It was a subsidiary of Victorholt, S.A. Industria e Commercio, whose President was Lewis Holt Ruffin. According to an old Rio hand, ETIN was set up by employees of Price, Waterhouse, including a man who was reputed to have been a German spy during World War II.
While ETIN/Invesco has always had Brazilian investors, its affairs have tended to be dominated by the participation of Rio-based Americans, English, Germans and “Swiss. ” This last contingent includes a number of individuals who arrived in Brazil in the mid-to-late 1940s. While they claimed to be Swiss, they are thought to have been Germans.
Sources in Rio say that several of Invesco’s principals are associates of a former owner of the Brazil Herald, Gilbert Huber, Jr. Among other business activities, Huber is a part-owner of American Light and Power, and publishes the Rio de Janeiro “Yellow Pages”. Huber is credited by many Brazilians with helping to pave the way for the reign of terror that followed the 1964 coup d’etat. By this is meant that Huber was one of two people credited with founding the Instituto de Pesquiasas e Estudos Sociais (IPES). Known in English as the Institute for Social Research Studies, IPES was established in 1961 by conservatives who were alarmed by the Cuban revolution and the leftward drift of the Brazilian government. Similar in many ways to the John Birch Society, IPES was almost certainly funded by covert American sources.
Initially, IPES was an instrument of propaganda, saturating the cuntry with films, books, pamphlets and lectures attacking communism and “the threat from within.” but propaganda was only a part of its strategy. Within a year of its founding, the Institute had begun to organize armed, paramilitary cells. It had also established a clandestine hand-grenade factory, and developed plans for a civil war. At the same time, it had hired a network of retired military officers “to exert influence on those on active duty.” One of those retired officers was General Golbery do Couto e Silva. His job was to compile 40,000 dossiers on Brazilians whose loyalties were considered suspect. When the coup succeeded, Golbery came out of ‘retirement’ at IPES. Moving to Brazilia with ‘hundreds of thousands’ of files, he established Brazil’s first intelligence service, the SNI — a South American fusion of its counterpart services in the United States, the FBI and theCIA. Many of the men and women in Golbery’s political dossiers suffered mightily under the junta. Some were placed under house arrest or imprisoned, while others were tortured. Still others fell prey to the esquadraos da mortes (death squads).
While Gilbert Huber’s connection to Invesco is merely rumored, another Huber’s is not. This is Joyce Huber Blumer, who owned 55,000 shares in the firm. British by birth, she has attracted a certain amount of attention in the Brazilian press for what has been characterized as a “baby-selling” enterprise. Two other owners of Invesco were a Swiss or German national named Werner Blumer (24,000 shares), and an American named Scott McAuley Johnson (54,000 shares). Blumer owns an art gallery in Rio, while Johnson is described by various sources as “a mystery man” of independent means.
The Train Robbers
Which brings us to an interesting story.
In the same year that Jones went to work for Invesco, a British hoodlum named Ronald Biggs participated in what came to be called “the Great Train Robbery,” sharing more than $7-million in cash and valuables stolen from a Glasgow-to-London mail-train.
Apprehended, and sentenced to 30 years, Biggs escaped from prison in 1965. Fleeing to France, he relied upon an international criminal network to obtain plastic surgery and passage to Australia. Tracked by the police as the “most wanted” man in the world, Biggs subsequently found his way to Rio de Janeiro (where extradition is, at best, a rarity). According to a reporter who was ultimately instrumental in revealing Biggs’s whereabouts, the fugitive’s patrons in Rio were the same people who owned Invesco: Joyce Huber, Werner Blumer, Scott Johnson and others.
How Biggs, while hiding out in Rio, came to live at Scott Johnson’s apartment, where he was patronized and protected by Huber and the others, is an important question. Among other things, it suggests the possibility (indeed, the likelihood) that the firm which provided cover (or an alibi) for Jim Jones’s activities in Rio was part of the so-called ODESSA network.
In this connection, Piers Paul Read’s The Train Robbers is of interest. Read undertook to write the book more than a decade after the robbery, and long after several other books had already been published on the subject. What made these unpromising circumstances auger well, according to Read, were two things: first, he had the cooperation of most of the men who’d pulled off the robbery. Previously, only Ronald Biggs had given an account, and Biggs was considered an outsider by those who’d conceived and executed the plan. Second, and even more importantly, the gang confided important new information to Read. This was that the train robbery, and several of the subsequent escapes, had been financed and finessed by Gen. Otto Skorzeny. Among other things, this explained why it had never been possible to account for more than half of the money stolen in the robbery.
An unrepentant Nazi, Skorzeny had been Hitler’s favorite commando. After the war, he’d re-established himself in Madrid as an arms-dealer and, with even greater secrecy, as the mastermind behind Die Spinne — the underground railroad that obtained forged documents and plastic surgery for war criminals and others requiring safe-havens in South America and the Middle East. As the proprietor of a de facto intelligence agency with connections throughout the world, Skorzeny made millions as a consultant to countries and organizations whose politics were compatible with his own (e.g., Nasser’s Egypt and the Secret Army Organization in Algiers).
Train-robber Buster Edwards and his wife gave Read a detailed description—names, dates and places—of how Die Spinne had smuggled him from England to Germany to Mexico. A woman named “Hannah Schmid,” whose father had served with Skorzeny in the Second World War, saw to it that he received plastic surgery and the documents necessary to travel. Edwards recuperated for nearly a month in the home of a Prussian aristocrat, “Annaliese von Lutzeberg,” and was then sent on his way to Mexico—but not before he’d purchased shares (under an assumed name) in a business that Skorzeny owned.
While in Mexico, Edwards and two of the other train-robbers reunited with Schmid, who “proposed that they should run guns to the Peronists in Argentina; or train troops for a planned putsch in Panama…” Edwards and his friends declined: it just wasn’t their scene.
In checking Edwards’ story, and the stories of the other robbers, Read found that every verifiable detail was confirmed. Before finishing his book, however, it was left to him to interview Ronald Biggs in Rio. Accordingly, he got on a plane.
Finding Biggs was not that difficult. He was living at Scott Johnson’s apartment. What he had to say, however, was in flat contradiction to the accounts of everyone else. According to Biggs, there were no Germans.
Read was flabbergasted. Had he been hoaxed? Or was Biggs lying on behalf of what Read suspected were his Nazi protectors? Read couldn’t be sure.
At best (Biggs) wished me to disbelieve the Skorzeny connection so that he himself could break it to the world and reap the benefit; at worst he was still in the care of Skorzeny’s organisation and had been told to persuade me that it did not exist.
The more I pondered this last possibility, the more convinced I became that this was the explanation — for it still seemed inconceivable to me that June (Edwards) had invented her meeting with Skorzeny in Madrid, or could have discovered that he was a friend of the Reader’s Digest editor who spoke fourteen Chinese dialects. I suddenly realised how thoughtless and foolhardy I had been to come to a country (Brazil) known to be a nest of ex-Nazis. Clearly Biggs had been saved from extradition not because of his child, but because of neo-Nazi influence in government circles. The woman who had been with him at the airport, Ulla Sopher, a German-Argentinian with blonde hair and blue eyes, was part of their network. All the strands of the story came together to form a noose around my neck.
And yet, despite this cogent explanation for what had happened, and despite the evidence that Edwards and the others had provided, Read demurred. Over drinks in a sidewalk cafe, “I began to believe that Biggs was telling the truth.”
A bizarre turn-about that occurs at the very end of the book, Read’s conversion to Biggs’ account makes no sense at all. Biggs’s own fugitivity, which (like Edwards’s) was facilitated by plastic surgery and forged documents provided by an unnamed criminal syndicate, is the best argument against the story he tells.
One wonders if Read would have ended his book differently if he had known about Jim Jones, Scott Johnson and Invesco.
Not that Read didn’t have clues to the fact that Biggs was living in the parapolitical twilight — a world defined by the inter-penetration of criminal syndicates and the intelligence community.
One such clue pertained to Biggs’ son, “Mikezinho,” who was born while his father was a fugitive in Rio. “Little Mikey” had a very interesting godfather, a man with powerful European connections and who, like Werner Blumer, was in the business of selling art.
This was Fernand Legros, who concerns us here only because his association with Biggs’s, and Biggs’s friends in Rio, adds perspective to what might be called “the Invesco circle.”
Legros has been described as a “playboy, millionaire, art dealer and CIA agent…” A native Egyptian, with apartments in Switzerland, France and Spain, he was a homosexual whose lovers included the Secretary-General of the United Nations (Dag Hammerskjold) and members of French cabinet. A naturalized American, Legros resorted to at least four passports: French, American, Canadian and British.
It is alleged (by author Henrik Kruger and others) that Legros played a lethal role in the mysterious (and still unsolved) kidnapping and murder of the Moroccan dissident, Ben Barka—who disappeared from the streets of Paris (where Legros owned an art-gallery) in October, 1965. According to Kruger, Legros had been in contact with Ben Barka in Geneva, where the art-dealer had a second gallery and both men had apartments. Lured to France, Ben Barka was kidnapped, tortured and killed. While his disappearance remains unsolved, the operation has often been attributed to French gangsters (including a man named Christian David) acting on Legros’s orders. Legros himself is believed to have been working at the time for either the CIA or France’s SDECE.
In 1967, Legros fled to Brazil upon being implicated in the authentication and sale of forgeries attributed to modern masters. Sold for millions to gullible investors around the world, the forgeries are believed to have been painted by Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving’s friend and neighbor on Ibiza.
But Legros’s influence seems not to have been much diminished by the notoriety surrounding the forgeries. According to Kruger, the art-dealer was “a personal friend of Henry Kissinger’s,…(and) the man the CIA assigned to snoop on UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold. Legros helped the CIA kidnap the African leader Moise Tshombe…” Not finally, Legros became an associate (in France and in Brazil) of the legendary French gangster Christian David.
While in Rio and Sao Paulo, David established a Brazilian-based narcotics syndicate to fill the vacuum created when the so-called “French connection” was broken. In this task, he was abetted by fugitive French collaborators and war criminals living in Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Brazil.
Arrested by the Brazilian authorities in 1972, David was eventually deported to the United States, and then extradited to France—where he was sentenced to death. Meanwhile, David’s pal, Fernand Legros, was himself in a Rio prison—occupying the cell next to Ronald Biggs. The circumstances of Legros’s imprisonment are murky, but it has been suggested that he was locked up as an exercise in protective custody, supposedly for having helped the CIA to arrange David’s arrest. While that allegation is unproven, it is certainly true that Legros had a rather easy time of it behind bars. “Each day…he was brought lavish meals including lobster, champagne, cognac and fat Havana cigars.”
All of which is to say: what? That Jim Jones was somehow involved in the 1963 Great Train Robbery, or in the 1965 murder of Ben Barka? Hardly. Do I mean, then, to suggest that Jones was a party to the making and breaking of the “Brazilian Connection,” or that he was implicated in the wave of forgeries that culminated in Clifford Irving’s “autobiography” of Howard Hughes? Of course not.
My intention has only been to demonstrate that the milieu in which Jones found himself in 1963 — the Invesco milieu, revolving around Scott Johnson, et al. — was anything but banal. A suspected CIA conduit, Invesco was owned and operated by men and women whose connections to criminals such as Ronald Biggs and spooks like Fernand Legros — and to gangster-spooks such as Christian David—deserve scrutiny. The coalescence of organized crime and the CIA during the early 1960s was responsible for parapolitical enormities which continued to resonate beneath the surface of American politics and culture for the remainder of the century.
Jones’s connections to Dan Mitrione and Jon Lodeesen, his resort to cover stories, his use of multiple passports, and his strange involvement with the Invesco circle, strongly suggests that the 1978 tragedy in Guyana was set in motion in Cuba and Brazil some fifteen years earlier.
 In this connection, an interesting coincidence concerns the presence of New York Times reporter James Reston at the Hilton. He was there to cover the Mikoyan visit, as well as the Soviet exhibition, and it seems fair to say that, in a literal sense, at least, he must have crossed paths with Jim Jones.
It is ironic, then, that nearly twenty years later, his son should one day write a book (Our Father Who Art In Hell) about the decline and fall of the Peoples Temple. And in that book, a peculiar story is told:
In December, 1978, James Reston, Jr. [met] a journalist friend at the Park Hotel in Georgetown. The journalist announced ominously that he now knew the full story behind Jonestown. But he would not write it. He would not tell his editors he knew it. He would forget it and flee Guyana as soon as possible. He told Reston the name of his informant. “He will contact you at your hotel. If you want it, you will get the full story. I have just heard it, and I’ve sent the man away. If I were you, I wouldn’t take it either. It will make you the most celebrated writer in America, and you will die for it.”
Reston felt a nervous laugh rising from his belly and controlled it.
Reston seems not to have pursued the matter.