Was there Social Security fraud in Jonestown?

The short answer is no.

On 18 December 1978 — one month after the deaths in Jonestown — the U.S. Embassy in Guyana released a list of 656 uncashed government checks which were recovered from the jungle community site. The Embassy compilation — including the check numbers, their date of issuance, the names and Social Security numbers of their recipients, the check amounts, and their designation as Social Security benefits — was reprinted in The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy, the May 1979 report of the Staff Investigative Group of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In a letter of 26 April 1979 to the House committee — also reprinted in the May 1979 report — Social Security Administration Acting Director John P. McHale said his agency had “identified 199 SSA beneficiaries who were in Jonestown, Guyana at the time of the disaster.” Since the letter did not include the names, we compiled an independent tally, which arrived at an approximate number, 203 SSA beneficiaries. However, we cannot say whether the names on the lists below match those of the SSA.

A few of the 656 uncashed checks dated from as early as spring 1978, but most bore dates from the fall of 1978. In order to get a snapshot of Peoples Temple income from Social Security, we chose the month of September, and listed everyone who received their SSA benefits when those checks were issued on 3 October 1978. (A few September checks were issued on 2 October, although most of those apparently covered Cost Of Living Adjustments [COLA] that were added to benefits for future months.)

The following lists break down our analysis of SSA beneficiaries and other seniors in Jonestown:

  1. List 1 is of the 173 individual beneficiaries or wards who received SSA checks in September 1978 (including 16 beneficiaries who received two checks).
  2. List 2 is of the 9 Social Security recipients in Jonestown for whom no September check was found, but who were named on checks for other months.
  3. List 3 is of the 21 Jonestown residents who do not appear on the Embassy tally, but who, according to records maintained by Peoples Temple, had received Social Security benefits while living in the United States. Why they no longer received benefits — or alternatively, why the checks they may have received were cashed and those of the others were not — is unknown. The total for these three lists of SSA beneficiaries is 199. The total for these three lists (1, 2, 3) of SSA beneficiaris is 203.
  4. List 4 is of the 18 Jonestown residents who were over 65 but for whom we have been unable to locate any record that they ever received Social Security benefits, whether in the U.S. or Guyana. Again, the reason for the apparent lack of benefits to these people is unknown.

There are several reasons for compiling these lists. First, they show how much the Social Security recipients — especially the seniors — contributed to the day-to-day functioning of the Jonestown community of which they were part. The total amount of $36,548.30 from the 191 checks to the 173 people on List 1 was not the same every month, but it approximates what the Temple leadership knew it could depend upon each month for the agricultural mission at Jonestown. As a corollary, it shows the gravity of the threat the community perceived from Temple antagonists, especially the Concerned Relatives, who had lobbied the Social Security Administration — as well as the Customs Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the Treasury DepartmentĀ¹s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Internal Revenue Service — to launch investigations of the Temple.

Finally, these lists reveal that, on the surface at least, there was little (if any) fraud regarding the legitimacy of Social Security benefits. Jonestown was apparently complying with its obligations to notify the SSA of deaths in the community, since the only uncashed check for Chotile Butler, who had died of natural causes earlier that year, dated from March. With one notable exception, the identity of everyone else on the Embassy compilation is known. Only the name of Clara Winters is unknown to us, and that may be due to the lack of completion to our research into Peoples Temple dead and surviving members.

List 1. Social Security Checks to Jonestown residents for September 1978

Name SSN Date of Check $ Amount
1. Stephen M. Addison (3) 303-46-0172 3 Oct 78 526.20
2. Ida M. Albudy 487-01-1159 3 Oct 78 255.60 (1)
3. Samuel M. Anderson 437-09-2867 3 Oct 78 181.80
4. Luberta Arnold 435-07-4659 3 Oct 78 166.70
5. Ruth Atkins 496-10-9508 3 Oct 78 126.60
6. Geraldine H. Bailey 454-03-4909 3 Oct 78 100.80
7. Christine E. Bates 464-14-0063 3 Oct 78 267.40
8. Geneva Beal (3) 428-01-8599 3 Oct 78 187.70 (1)
9. Alfred Bell 430-22-6843 3 Oct 78 328.10
10. Ethel Belle 062-22-7393 3 Oct 78 209.00
11. Julia Birkley 184-07-2441 2 Oct 78 8.20
11a. Julia Birkley 184-07-2441 3 Oct 78 153.40
12. Odell Blackwell 299-10-4079 3 Oct 78 346.40 (1)
13. Willie L. Bowie 546-32-8316 3 Oct 78 176.70
14. Debbie Schroeder for Georgiann Brady (3) 548-56-3806 (9) 3 Oct 78 73.20
15. Maureen Fitch for Michel [Michele] Brady (3) 548-56-3806 (9) 3 Oct 78 73.20
16. Michaeleen Brady (3) 548-56-3806 (9) 3 Oct 78 259.60
17. Miller Bridgewater 462-14-6771 3 Oct 78 369.30
18. Princeola Bryant 557-20-4404 3 Oct 78 157.00
19. Zelline O. Bryant [sic. name is O’Bryant] 565-42-7169 3 Oct 78 150.30
20. Mildred Carroll 155-14-2055 2 Oct 78 8.20
20a. Mildren Carroll 155-14-2055 3 Oct 78 184.80
21. Ruby J. Carroll 462-58-4023 (9) 3 Oct 78 224.80
22. Ruby J. Carroll for Robert K. Carroll [Johnson] 462-58-4023 (9) 3 Oct 78 116.50
23. Jossie Chambliss 057-18-2089 3 Oct 78 112.80 (1)
24. Joicy E. Clark 460-16-1906 3 Oct 78 120.00
25. Leola Clarke 568-20-5356 3 Oct 78 238.50 (1)
26. Nancy Clay 466-12-3550 3 Oct 78 319.80
27. Ida M. Clipps (3) 450-20-9515 3 Oct 78 244.00
28. Alma Coachman (3) 439-28-5815 3 Oct 78 188.00
29. Arlander Cole 426-09-8340 3 Oct 78 342.90
30. Arvella Cole 427-36-5314 3 Oct 78 194.70
31. Mary Coleman 162-20-6607 3 Oct 78 121.10
32. Susie L. Collins 439-34-2413 3 Oct 78 187.30
33. Inez S. Conedy 444-16-3639 3 Oct 78 379.70
34. Bertha P. Cook 548-28-8879 3 Oct 78 209.00
35. Edith E. Cordell 303-12-2557 3 Oct 78 156.10
36. Mary Cottingham 251-26-9583 3 Oct 78 152.90 (1)
37. Millie S. Cunningham 258-48-4173 2 Oct 78 8.20
37a. Millie S. Cunningham 258-48-4173 3 Oct 78 123.00
38. Najuandrienne Darnes (3) 462-54-3532 3 Oct 78 252.80 (1a)
38a. Najuandrienne Darnes 462-54-3532 3 Oct 78 126.40 (1a)
39. Hazel F. Dashiell 037-18-9457 3 Oct 78 352.60
40. Lexie S. Davis 464-18-8045 3 Oct 78 315.30
41. Beatrice J. Dawkins (3) 490-20-5807 3 Oct 78 243.60
42. Edith F. Delaney 524-03-0457 3 Oct 78 311.70
43. Lovie H. De Pina 145-07-0053 3 Oct 78 131.00
44. Bessie L. Dickson (3) 463-16-7544 3 Oct 78 205.90
45. Katherine M. Domineck 460-01-9261 3 Oct 78 352.60
46. Farene Douglas 511-07-7428 3 Oct 78 141.50
47. Corrie Duncan 464-24-1023 3 Oct 78 106.90
48. Irene Eddins 440-18-1621 3 Oct 78 99.10 (1)
49. Zipporah Edwards 304-26-4141 3 Oct 78 233.10
50. Amanda Fair 553-14-6607 3 Oct 78 170.50
51. Sylvester C. Fair 450-26-3373 3 Oct 78 372.70
52. Marshall Farris 429-05-3245 3 Oct 78 381.10
53. Beulah Foster 426-40-3745 3 Oct 78 281.50
54. Attie [sic. name is Mattie] Gibson 410-26-9220 3 Oct 78 163.40
55. Irma L. Gill 429-34-4050 3 Oct 78 130.00 (1)
56. Raymond O. Godshalk (3) 555-07-4198 3 Oct 78 308.70
57. Claude Goodspeed 463-16-6315 (9) 3 Oct 78 333.50
58. Lue D. Goodspeed 463-16-6315 (9) 3 Oct 78 150.30 (1)
59.Estella M. Railback for Mae K. Griffith (3) 457-26-5033 (9) 3 Oct 78 111.10
60. Mary M. Griffith for Marian L. Griffth (3) 437-26-5442 3 Oct 78 267.20
61. Mercedese M. Guidry 439-26-5550 3 Oct 78 117.10
62. Carl G. Hall 568-18-9611 3 Oct 78 373.50
63. Artee Harper 437-09-5543 3 Oct 78 203.70
64. Ollie B. Harrington (3) 428-70-2459 3 Oct 78 291.00
65. Annie M. Harris 437-26-8365 3 Oct 78 146.90
66. Josephine Harris 357-07-5154 3 Oct 78 101.60
67. Nevada Harris 465-32-6333 3 Oct 78 188.20
68. Willie M. Harris (3) 253-16-0266 3 Oct 78 174.80 (1b)
68a. Willie M. Harris 253-16-0266 3 Oct 78 174.80
69. Joseph Helle (3) 544-24-9228 3 Oct 78 149.30
70. Nena D. Herring 548-03-9351 3 Oct 78 256.10
71. Emma M. Hill (3) 454-24-1452 3 Oct 78 146.20
72. Hazel Horne (3) 200-20-0447 3 Oct 78 121.80
73. Beatrice A. Jackson 557-34-9632 3 Oct 78 195.70
74. Dave B. Jackson 435-05-5208 3 Oct 78 307.10
75. Donald Jackson (3) 438-64-3394 3 Oct 78 494.70 (1)
76. Rosa L. Jackson (3) for Leticia L. Jackson (3) 449-38-8571 10 Oct 78 274.20
77. Luvenia Jackson 435-05-5208 3 Oct 78 138.20
78. Rosa L. Jackson 449-38-8571 10 Oct 78 237.00 (1)
79. Lavana James 467-52-1190 3 Oct 78 109.50
80. Margaret James (3) 124-16-6941 3 Oct 78 336.00 (1)
81. Eartis Jeffery 450-20-4230 (9) 3 Oct 78 134.10
82. Margrette Jeffery 450-20-4230 (9) 3 Oct 78 66.00
83. Berda T. Johnson 564-16-4496 3 Oct 78 113.60
84. Earl Johnson 440-12-6910 3 Oct 78 130.00
85. Vennie Thompson for Garnett B. Johnson (3) 500-18-1647 3 Oct 78 244.20
86. Helen Johnson (3) 437-38-6670 2 Oct 78 8.20
86a. Helen Johnson 437-38-6670 3 Oct 78 133.20
87. Jessie Johnson 440-26-1483 3 Oct 78 209.00
88. Mahaley Johnson 457-38-5678 3 Oct 78 237.10
89. Ruby L. Johnson (3) 464-50-9154 3 Oct 78 211.90
90. Eliza Jones 526-28-8756 3 Oct 78 121.80
91. Nancy M. Jones 430-70-3159 3 Oct 78 90.30
92. Dessie Jordan 547-28-9725 3 Oct 78 185.40
93. Fannie Jordan 433-56-1779 2 Oct 78 8.20
93a. Fannie Jordan 433-56-1779 3 Oct 78 214.20
94. Emma Jurado 434-24-0616 3 Oct 78 225.70
95. Rosa L. Keaton 563-30-8822 3 Oct 78 343.90
96. Tommie S. Keaton Sr. (3) 452-07-3010 3 Oct 78 342.60
97. Viola B. Kelley (2) 492-09-5056 3 Oct 78 215.40
98. Elfreida Kendall 453-28-7761 3 Oct 78 241.30
99. Charlotte King 568-24-0133 3 Oct 78 119.40
100. Pearl Land 461-12-0179 3 Oct 78 194.40 (1)
101. Lossie M. Lang 452-16-4351 3 Oct 78 114.40
102. Heavenly H. Love 177-28-8480 3 Oct 78 106.20 (1)
103. Lovelife Lowe 088-42-5801 3 Oct 78 208.00 (1)
104. Lovie Jean Lucas 567-28-7088 2 Oct 78 8.20
104a. Lovie Jean Lucas 567-28-7088 3 Oct 78 112.40
105. Lillian E. Malloy 124-14-0111 3 Oct 78 256.50
106. Irene Mason 421-24-4439 3 Oct 78 207.80
107. Mary Mayshack 435-05-7625 3 Oct 78 214.50
108. Allie McClain 430-38-8524 3 Oct 78 113.60
109. Annie J. McGowan 355-01-1484 3 Oct 78 204.70
110. Levatus McKinnis 437-20-9204 2 Oct 78 9.00
110a. Levatus McKinnis 437-20-9204 3 Oct 78 412.50
111. Henry Mercer 199-03-7717 3 Oct 78 309.30
112. Lucy Miller 421-42-9554 3 Oct 78 77.30
113. Callie Mae Mitchell 573-03-9362 3 Oct 78 101.50
114. Edward Moore (3) 435-12-5944 3 Oct 78 206.20
115. Pearley Morris 428-05-7925 2 Oct 78 8.20
115a. Pearley Morris 428-05-7925 3 Oct 78 80.10
116. Lugenia Morrison (3) 461-26-5632 (9) 3 Oct 78 147.00
116a. Lugenia Morrison (3) for children of J. Morrison 461-26-5632 (9) 3 Oct 78 147.00
117. Eura L. Moses 549-24-7040 3 Oct 78 225.30
118. Glen Moton 263-05-7316 3 Oct 78 287.20
119. Esther Mueller 303-26-4442 3 Oct 78 171.60
120. Mary Murphy 385-26-7009 3 Oct 78 107.70 (1)
121. Ida M. Nichols 367-26-9838 2 Oct 78 8.20 (1c)
121a. Ida M. Nichols 367-26-9838 3 Oct 78 [illegible]
122. Jane Owens (3) 510-12-5707 2 Oct 78 8.20
122a. Jane Owens 510-12-5707 3 Oct 78 156.40
123. Beatrice Parker 096-03-0411 3 Oct 78 345.00
124. Lore B. Parris 490-14-8308 3 Oct 78 219.90
125. Lucille E. Payney 568-12-2637 3 Oct 78 259.60
126. Lenora Perkins 548-30-8151 3 Oct 78 162.50
127. Rosey L. Peterson 549-38-5158 3 Oct 78 177.90
128. Oreen Poplin 466-05-6300 3 Oct 78 359.80
129. Eva H. Pugh 304-01-7850 3 Oct 78 479.20
130. Estella M. Railback 457-26-5033 (9) 3 Oct 78 209.00
131. Willie B. Reed 423-16-8734 2 Oct 78 8.20
131a. Willie B. Reed 423-16-8734 3 Oct 78 112.10
132. Bertha Reese 449-32-5572 3 Oct 78 227.60
133. L. Bee Reeves 351-03-3642 3 Oct 78 269.90
134. Gladys Roberts 564-36-6628 3 Oct 78 284.40
135. Mary [Flavia] Rodgers 547-30-4649 3 Oct 78 264.90
136. Edith F. Roller (3) 524-05-2230 3 Oct 78 260.20
137. Elsie Ross 466-12-6011 3 Oct 78 113.60
138. Lula M. Ruben 464-30-1169 3 Oct 78 154.20
139. Flora B. Sanders 567-30-0464 3 Oct 78 185.40
140. Pauline Scott (3) 214-26-7043 3 Oct 78 164.30
141. Rose O. Sharon 185-44-3527 3 Oct 78 184.40
142. Rose J. Shelton 548-38-8705 3 Oct 78 274.90 (1)
143. Jose Simon 548-22-9700 3 Oct 78 269.90
144. Bertha Smith 437-12-4033 2 Oct 78 8.20
144a. Bertha Smith 437-12-4033 3 Oct 78 209.20
145. Vernon Smith (3) 457-05-5188 3 Oct 78 167.80
146. Eloise Sneed 449-10-6349 3 Oct 78 257.80
147. Helen Snell 464-10-8551 3 Oct 78 213.10
148. Alfred R. Stahl 310-03-8968 (9) 3 Oct 78 318.40
149. Carol A. Stahl (3) 310-03-8968 (9) 3 Oct 78 157.80
150. Carol A. Stahl (3) for Bonnie L. Stahl (3) 310-03-8968 (9) 3 Oct 78 157.80
151. Abraham L. Staten 223-24-5162 3 Oct 78 390.80
152. Ameal Staten 435-30-8092 3 Oct 78 205.10
153. Adeleine M. Strider 568-24-4025 3 Oct 78 263.60 (1)
154. Cleave L. Swinney 303-10-4049 3 Oct 78 280.10
155. Bernell M. Tardy 570-18-9112 3 Oct 78 155.60
156. Lillian M. Taylor 565-12-2482 3 Oct 78 180.00 (1)
157. Lucille B. Taylor 564-36-8501 3 Oct 78 206.70
158. Virginia V. Taylor 205-12-2261 3 Oct 78 112.10
159. Bernice Thomas 494-30-7132 3 Oct 78 100.90
160. Ernest Thomas (3) 464-18-4492 3 Oct 78 353.20
161. Etta Thompson 450-20-5494 3 Oct 78 218.20 (1)
162. Vennie Thompson 436-44-0348 3 Oct 78 109.90
163. Essie Townes 554-50-7066 2 Oct 78 8.20
163a. Essie Townes 554-50-7066 3 Oct 78 132.10
164. Alfred W. Tschetter (3) 545-48-0030 3 Oct 78 375.60
165. Martha Turner 556-34-6783 3 Oct 78 134.80
166. Roberta Wade 525-40-9358 3 Oct 78 89.80 (1)
167. Mary N. Walker 566-52-7362 3 Oct 78 117.50
168. Eddie Washington 548-44-3253 3 Oct 78 217.20
169. Bessie M. Wesley (3) 573-09-2371 3 Oct 78 103.30
170. Louise Williams 463-34-2951 2 Oct 78 8.20
170a. Louise Williams 463-34-2951 3 Oct 78 264.20
171. Theo Williams (3) 459-03-8056 3 Oct 78 222.40
172. Erma M. Winfrey 547-30-0322 3 Oct 78 109.70
173. Leomy Wright (3) 428-22-0096 (9) 3 Oct 78 34.90
173a. Leomy Wright (3) for children of C. H. Wright 428-22-0096 (9) 3 Oct 78 69.80

 

List 2. Other Checks to Social Security Recipients Recovered from Jonestown
(no September check)

1. Chotile Butler (5) Died earlier in 1978, only check dated March 1978
2. Armondo Griffith One Social Security check for August; same SSN as Mary M. Giffith
3. Leroy Jackson (4) One Social Security check, for October; same SSN as Rosa L. Jackson
4. Bossie Jones Two Social Security checks, for June and July. Appears on death list, but other information is scant; perhaps died in Jonestown before 18 November 1978?
5. Jessie B. McNeal One Social Security check, for October
6. Virginia Middleton (3) One Social Security check, for October
7. Richard Wade (4) One Social Security check, for July; same SSN as Roberta Wade
8. Annie Washington Two Social Security checks, for July and August, each $122.60
9. Clara (?) Winters (4) Two Social Security checks, for July and August, each $141.40

 

 

List 3. Other Jonestown Residents Who Had Received SSA Benefits While Living in the United States

Name Date of Birth
1.Orelia Anderson 6/8/1910
2. Vivian Anderson (5) 1/1/1909
3. Lena Mae Camp Benton 11/24/1909
4. Madeleine Josephine Brooks (6) 12/15/1904
5. Isabel Davis 12/14/1906
6. Miguel De Pina (6) 9/19/1894
7. Eugenia Gernandt 3/12/1923
8. Juanita Green (3) 9/5/1916
9. Heloise Janice Hall (6) 12/7/1911
10. Dorothy Lasheene Harris (3,6) 1/17/1961
11. Mabel Ellen Walker Hines (6) 12/29/1912
12. Phyllis Houston (3) 3/26/1944
13. Robert Johnson 12/8/1903
14. Emma Addie Kennedy 10/28/1911
15. Gertrude Nailor 3/21/1910
16. Plickards Norris (5) 10/31/1905
17. Odenia Adams Roberson 3/19/1905
18. Novella Novice Sneed 6/18/1907
19. Vera Talley 2/3/1903
20. Hyacinth Thrash (6) 4/25/1902
21. Mary Pearl Willis (3) 12/21/1940

 

 

List 4. Jonestown Seniors for whom No SSA Benefits Are Listed, either in U.S. or Guyana

Name Date of Birth
1. Lillian Boyd Alexander 2/17/1906
2. Mary Francis Canada 1/20/1901
3. Grover Davis Cleveland 1/22/1899
4. Florine Dyson (7) 12/6/1890
5. Ever Rejoicing, aka Amanda Poindexter 10/9/1881
6. Helen Ford, aka Helen Love 11/6/1900
7. Herman W. Gee 3/27/1897
8. Emmett Alexander Griffith, Jr. (5) 4/13/1911
9. Osialee Hilton 1/4/1894
10. Lynetta Jones (5) unknown
11. Lula Elizabeth Jordan 11/25/1970
12. Love M. Joy 12/18/1891
13. Georgia Lee Lacy 2/9/1910
14. Alluvine McGowan 3/13/1888
15. Earl McKnight 2/18/1895
16. Lela Murphy (8) 7/17/1897
17. Syola Williams Turner 6/27/1912
18. Carolyn Young 9/1/1900

 

Notes:

(1) When a SSA recipient received two checks in one month, the lesser amount appears to be a COLA payment for September (since the lesser amount is then included in the October check). The exceptions to this are:

    (1a) Najuandrienne Darnes, who received two checks for the same amount each month.
    (1b) Willie M. Harris, who received two checks for the same amount each month.
    (1c) Ida M. Nichols, whose primary September check is illegible, but whose August and October checks are the same amount ($121.80)

(2) Viola Kelley is listed as receiving only one SSA check, for September.

(3) While most Social Security recipients were men and women over 65, there were 43 recipients of Social Security checks who were younger. Another three had received SSA checks in the U.S., but not in Guyana.

(4) These three listed recipients were not on any death or survivor lists of Peoples Temple members in Guyana in November 1978. Two recipients (Leroy Jackson and Richard Wade) had the same Social Security numbers as their spouses (Rosa L. Jackson and Roberta Wade, respectively), and these spouses received subsequent checks in their own name. The third, Clara Winters (whose first name is a guess, since the telegram had been photocopied into illegibility at several points) is unknown.

(5) Six people are known to have died in Jonestown of natural causes before the events of 18 November 1978.

(6) Six of the 15 people who received SSA benefits in the U.S. — but who have no listing in the Embassy telegram of 18 December 1978 — had immediate family relatives who did receive benefits in Guyana. Madeleine Brooks, Dorothy Harris, and Hyacinth Thrash had sisters; Miguel De Pina, Heloise Hall and Mabel Hines were married to recipients.

(7) While Florine Dyson received no SSA benefits, she did receive VA benefits, at least while living in the U.S. The VA benefit seemingly did not transfer to Guyana.

(8) Lela Murphy was born in Canada, which may explain why she didn’t receive SSA benefits.

(9) Many family members at that time had the same SSN, shared with parents or spouse. This is no longer the practice.

Report Prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III

Last modified on September 30th, 2013.
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