What happened to Jonestown in the aftermath of the deaths?

There were two major priorities for both the US and Guyana governments immediately following the mass deaths in Jonestown. One was the removal and repatriation of the bodies to the United States; the other was to treat the community as a crime scene and to gather as much evidence as possible, even as the bodies were being evacuated, for possible criminal prosecution of any survivors. The latter priority included gathering audiotapes from the Jonestown radio room and elsewhere, as well as thousands of pages of documents, many of which were scattered outside of offices and file cabinets.

There had apparently been a minimal of looting at Jonestown before it was secured by the Guyanese Defense Force, in part due to the relative speed with which the GDF moved in and in part due to the intimidating carnage confronting would-be pillagers. Even after the removal of the bodies and the evidence which authorities thought they needed, the buildings and infrastructure of the community remained relatively intact.

The same could not be said in terms of many of the personal possessions and community supplies. Some of the photos taken of the bodies during the clean-up operations also show papers and clothing scattered across the ground. In addition, Jonestown residents who returned to assist with identification of the bodies reported that several of the cabins had been ransacked. More significantly, the shelves of the supply shed were bare, and many of the items that were taken were those which had been imported into Jonestown from the U.S., things which could not be found in Guyana.

The survivors put the blame for this looting on the Guyanese police and military which had the responsibility of securing the site against such pillage. And while there were undoubtedly some items of value that U.S. troops pilfered during the clean-up operations, the fact remains that the Americans flown in to assist with the body removal were more anxious to get away from Jonestown as soon as their job was done.

There was less looting following the departure of the American and Guyanese military and police units, although that may be in large part due to the fact that the Guyana government did maintain a presence within Jonestown for several months. Nevertheless, as time went on, more and more small items – clothing, personal effects, kitchen implements and housewares, school and office supplies, musical instruments, etc – began to disappear. Things were there one day and gone the next.

While the government did maintain the site for a number of years – allowing Hmong refugees from Laos to live there for a few years in the early 1980s, using it at various times as a training camp for GDF personnel – it eventually withdrew, and local populations began to dismantle the cottages and dormitories, using the lumber for construction projects in nearby Port Kaituma. They also salvaged the remaining tools and heavy farm equipment, although much of it was ruined or damaged by neglect in the intervening years to have much beyond scrap value.

In addition to the physical remnants of the community left behind in Jonestown, there were numerous shipping cases of supplies on the docks in Georgetown which were being processed for delivery to the Northwest District. Those cases disappeared as well, with no record of their disposition.

Answer uploaded January 2017

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