The debate about the Q875 tape has gone on for quite some time. Many people have listened to it, tried to analyze it, theorize it, and explain it. It has caused quite a bit of controversy as to its origin. Most of the information that I found about the tape have been theories, speculations, and interpretations. I haven’t seen any reports about anyone putting the integrity of the actual audio recording to the test. As a musician who is very familiar with sound recording and audio engineering, I decided to break the tape down myself and perform an “audio-autopsy.”
I don’t know all the facts about Jonestown, or Georgetown, or Port Kaituma. I don’t know if there were dogs there, or jungle birds, or screen doors. In a way, that gives me an advantage over other observers. Since I wasn’t in a position to offer an opinion about where or why the tape was made, I didn’t have to try to “make the case,” or “see something that wasn’t there,” but instead, to find an honest answer as to what the tape contains. As a result, I can tell what is actually on Q875, what are some of the hidden “secrets” that it contains.
Most of what I have researched about the integrity of this tape is other people’s interpretation of what they think they are hearing on the cassette. Some may think they hear the voice of Jim Jones, some people hear a “shhh” noise, and some people hear someone say, “Shut up.” Obviously, we would all agree that we hear someone sneeze on the tape. But some of the other sounds are too open for interpretation. So how can we be sure what’s there, and what isn’t?
I did much more to this recording than just listen to it. In order to make a factual comparison, you need an accurate scale to measure things by. You can’t just listen to what you think you hear and then draw a conclusion. You might as well be looking at an ink blot and interpreting it in any way that you see it. The experiments and testing that I did were much like a fingerprint specialist would do on fingerprints found at a crime scene. I analyzed the prints, found their attributes, and then compared these facts to known references. I used many unorthodox methods, such as playing the tape at twice the speed, playing the tape at half the speed with the pitch returned back to normal, playing the tape backwards, filtering certain frequencies, converting to “double mono,” and offsetting channels, used “phase cancellation” to isolate certain sounds, sampled segments of silence in the tape to compare white noise from all of the segments found on Q875 and to other tapes recovered from Jonestown. I also ran sound samples through a digital tuner, to lock on to actual pitches created by the recording devices themselves, the voices found in the background, and to measure room ambience. I even converted the audio to a visual histogram, to visually compare how certain sounds looked.
I spent hours working with this recording, long before I had any evidence to compare it to. Then I did the same with the recordings known to have been made in the Jonestown radio room and in Jim Jones’ cabin.
My results were amazing. Nothing from the Q875 tape matched any known recording from Jonestown. None of the frequencies match, none of the pitches, none of the background sounds. Beyond that, nothing else makes sense: the time frames, the voices, the disposition of the people who recorded it, the motor hum created by the recording device compared to those recording devices found in Jonestown, the motive, nothing. In short, based on the scientific evidence that I found provided by the Q875 tape, I think I can safely say, there is no way that Q875 was recorded in Jonestown.
Here are a few facts about the cassette:
What is referred to as Segment 2 was actually the last recording to be made. After the end of this segment, it cuts right into the second Guyanese reporter. In other words, the end of this segment is superimposed over what is considered to be Segment 3.
Tape ran out after Segment 3, and the tape was turned over to side 2 for Segment 4. The beginning of Segment 4 is obviously the start of the cassette tape on Side 2, where the leader tape finally passes the record head, and starts recording audio. This is also confirmed by the absence of the audible “clicking” sound, which is typical of a recording device being engaged into its record mode. After this segment, the tape was flipped over, back to Side 1, and the final segment (considered to be Segment 2) was recorded over a previous taping.
I found many other unusual sounds, too numerous to mention.
However, the most interesting part of the whole Q875 tape, is what I call the “mechanical device.”
During segment 1, there’s a strange “clink, (pause), boom, rattle” noise, which I have seen transcribed as “Door opens.” Very peculiar. I compared this alleged door sound to the other door sounds. In fact, I removed all of the door sounds from all of the segments, and placed them into one sound file, to be played one right after the other. As expected, the “Door opens” in segment 1 doesn’t match any of the other door sounds in the other segments. If this was true, then it means that there were multiple doors, which would be helpful in trying to identify the origin of this tape to Jonestown. I even tested the pitches produced by this mechanical device. I then compared this sound to all of the recordings that I have known to be recorded in Jonestown, and as expected, none of them match either. This mechanical device does not appear on any of the other Jonestown tapes I analyzed.
At first I thought of a pool table, a cigarette machine, or – as I say – some type of mechanical device. By looping the strange sound over and over, though, I found that it really resembles the sound of an old-fashioned glass bottle/soda machine dispenser. Then I slowed the recording down, and while playing at half the speed – but at the correct pitch – I discovered the rattle of the door, as the bottle bounced off the back of it. With its tight-fitting reverberated slap back echo, we can easily determine that it takes place in a larger room, rather than that of a small cabin or hut.
After my research and ballistics test of the Q875 tape, I talked to a survivor of Jonestown who could shed some light on what I was examining. Only then did I hear about an establishment in Port Kaituma that actually furnished a soda machine, pool table, and accessible radio.
* * *
I remember when I started this project, that I was excited to think that maybe I would be able to solve a mystery. The more I examined the tape, the more I became disheartened with its connection to anything made at Jonestown. The only mystery here is how an irrelevant cassette managed to make its way into evidence collected from Jonestown.
But at least it’s a new mystery. The old mystery came from trying to fit a round peg into square hole, trying to make sense the misplaced audio clues, working from an assumption that this tape came from Jonestown. Sometimes you have to examine the facts and ignore your beliefs.
I remember listening to the news events unfold on the radio back in 2002 about the Washington D.C. sniper. Many people called local radio stations, offering theories and tips as to who the shooter might be and how he operated. Rooftops, overpasses, treetops, we heard all about them. They were all guesses, of course, and no one had guessed that the shooter was lying in the back of a car trunk, firing from the back end of a car while his accomplice drove. In other words, speculation did not lead to the right answer. Only by unbiased research did we solve the mystery.
So who made Q875? Probably someone from Port Kaituma, just recording news bulletins from their radio. Given the fact that it ended up in Jonestown, the person making the recording was likely with the GDF troops who secured the scene later on November 19. We don’t know how the tape ended up in a stack of other Jonestown, but given the chaos confronting the Guyanese military, it isn’t too hard to believe that the tape was just dropped in the confusion than created as part of conspiracy.
In the grand scope of things, though, it doesn’t matter. Q875 is irrelevant to Jonestown and the events of November 18. There was no inner circle alive the next day to record it, or looters, or anyone else. It has no connection – and therefore no meaning – to the people who lost their lives there.
During my conclusion of studying this recording, I remembered what was most important to me: not trying to find the location of a specific recording, but rather, to add a different dimension to this very tragic event. I am sure that the families of the people who died in Jonestown would like closure instead of confusion. Hopefully, for them, I have helped bring a little piece of mind to an already horrific nightmare.
We need to focus more on the emotions and feelings of those who lost loved ones at Jonestown, instead of chasing conspiracy theories and unproven rhetoric. It only prolongs the sadness of those who have lost more than us. To those family members who have survived, my heart goes out to you, and I hope that my discoveries have helped you. It’s my tiny contribution to all the pain that you must have felt.
I can’t even imagine.
(Joel Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)