Obituaries

Cyrus Vance, who was Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter at the time of the deaths in Jonestown, died in January 2002 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84. The State Department — both in Washington and through the American Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana — was involved in many negotiations between Jonestown residents and relatives who expressed concern about their safety.

While many relatives and their congressional representatives directed pleas for intervention to Mr. Vance, there is no indication that he himself knew anything of Jonestown before November 18, 1978. Within 48 hours of the deaths in Jonestown, however, Mr. Vance had asked the Guyana government for an immediate burial of the bodies in a mass grave, citing health and cost as the reasons for his request. The Guyana government balked at the idea, and to facilitate removal of the bodies, waived its requirement that victims of non-natural death receive autopsies. By Tuesday, November 21, both Mr. Vance and Defense Secretary Harold Brown had agreed that the bodies should be evacuated to the U.S. Nevertheless, according to U.S. government forensic pathologists, the disruption caused by the initial request for the mass grave and the haste to remove the bodies before Vance changed his mind, resulted in inadequate — even non-existent — examination of the bodies on the ground at Jonestown. Such examination might have answered many questions about the nature and circumstances of the deaths, both military and civilian pathologists have said.

The editors of the jonestown report have also learned of the following deaths:

Richard Cordell, who left Jonestown in the spring of 1978, died in December 1983. His wife Barbara and three of their four children died in Jonestown. His remaining son, Mark, survived his father’s death.

Beverly Oliver, who, together with her husband Howard Oliver, was active with the Concerned Relatives organization in an effort to remove her sons, Bruce and Bill, from Jonestown, died recently. Bruce and Bill died in Jonestown; Howard Oliver pre-deceased his wife.

Helen Swinney, a Jonestown survivor, died recently in South Carolina. She was in her late 80’s. Her husband and two children died in Jonestown.

Last modified on March 16th, 2014.
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