Identification of Jonestown Bodies

Shortly after the remains of the Jonestown dead arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, morticians from the Armed Forced Institute of Pathology (AFIP) and forensic technicians from the FBI Laboratory began the arduous process of body identification.

The work was difficult and grisly. Most of the bodies had been subjected to several days of rain and tropical heat while lying on the floor of a cleared jungle, followed by lengthy travel times and numerous transfers en route from Jonestown to the mortuary at Dover AFB, and decomposition was well underway before the morticians and technicians even began their task.

The identifications were principally based on the thumbprints of the dead, which were compared to those on file from two major sources: California driver’s licenses; and Personal Identification Card which the Guyana government issued to immigrating Temple members (although some of the latter received Police Identification Cards instead).

AFIP and the FBI Laboratory issued its first report on December 14, 1978, wherein it listed the 587 bodies identifications made by that date, their body numbers, the description of the means of identification for each. There were several additional reports in the weeks to follow, but all were of between one and three more names.

In addition, the FBI reported on several unsuccessful efforts to identify the remains, despite the cooperation of numerous state agencies and private physicians in supplying medical records. These unsuccessful efforts were usually for those of the children.

By the time AFIP and the FBI Laboratory suspended the their efforts, the workers had identified a total of 593 bodies. The remaining 320 were among the 409 who were transported to Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California for burial in a mass grave. Almost all of the unidentified were children.

Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identification Division, FBI, 12/14/78 [RYMUR 89-4286-1730]
PDF
Text

Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identification Division, FBI, 3/1/79 [RYMUR 89-4286-1934]
PDF
Text

Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identification Division, FBI, 3/9/79 [RYMUR 89-4286-2013]
PDF
Text

Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identification Division, FBI, 3/9/79 [RYMUR 89-4286-2049]
PDF
Text

Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identification Division, FBI, 4/10/79 [RYMUR 89-4286-2102]
PDF
Text

A more detailed account of the handling of the bodies of the Jonestown dead, including the work of AFIP and the FBI Laboratory, appears here.

Skip to main content