“Closing in on Q875?” by Josef Dieckman
Out of the hundreds of audio tapes pulled out of Jonestown, Guyana following the tragic events of November 18th, 1978, one tape continues to perplex researchers. Audio tape Q875 was found along with the hundreds of other recordings that comprised the Peoples Temple audiotape collection. The material on this tape is unique, consisting of four open-air recordings of radio broadcasts concerning the shooting death of Congressman Leo Ryan as well as unconfirmed reports of a mass suicide in Jonestown. The existence of the tape, however, challenges long-held beliefs about the events of November 18th, 1978, and forces researchers to seek answers to a host of questions. Fielding McGehee III, primary researcher for The Jonestown Institute, has posed five questions based on Q875 and its contents, three of which I will use as a basis for this paper. McGehee's questions include: Who made the tape? Where was the tape made? Why was the tape made? Why was it left behind? What were the people doing as the tape was made? For this paper I have chose to concentrate on the "Who?" "Where?" and "Why?" questions. I will also include a brief paragraph on "When?" as well as my own questions and suppositions throughout. It should be noted that any ideas I present here are my own opinions, based on reasonable conclusions that I have drawn from the material I have access to. I am in no way presenting an infallible proof of an absolute scenario.
Although not a question posed by McGehee, I feel that I must first touch briefly on when the tape was made. The unlabeled tape yields no clues as to when it was made, its contents, or its purpose. However, its date of origin lies within itself. Throughout the four broadcasts many references were made to the shootings that "took place on Saturday," and one report in particular refers to events that occurred "last night." During segment two a female reporter speaks of individuals "killed last night" and makes reference to "last night's attack" Based on these statements it is reasonable to conclude that the tape was made on the 19th of November, the day after the mass murder/suicide. But who could have possibly been in Jonestown on the 19th of November, 1978 making Q875?
The task of answering exactly who made Q875 is nearly impossible given what researchers have to go on. It is much easier to speculate who could have made the recording. In my opinion, there are three broad and unequally weighted possibilities: 1) Temple members who had not yet committed suicide, 2) Temple members who had escaped only to return after the rest had died, or 3) Outsiders. The field of outsiders includes local Guyanese and/or American military or American agents of some kind. However, each possibility can be supported or criticized, thus making the task of answering the question that much more difficult.
If the first possibility is to be considered, that as-of-then undead Temple members made the tape, then some interesting problems arise that need resolution. First, we would have to accept that a small number of individuals, presumably a group of elite insiders, either made the conscious decision to temporarily abstain from the ritual or were ordered to abstain from the ritual for approximately 24 hours with a specific reason for doing so-perhaps to make the tape. Obviously, this scenario flies in the face of common belief that everyone who died in Jonestown did so on November 18th, 1978, given the reasonable conclusion that the tape was made on the 19th.
Secondly, if we believe this, then we are faced with the challenge of reconciling the fact that while four to five people sat around talking and listening to radio broadcasts, over 900 of their friends and family lay dead all around them on the jungle floor. Moreover, they worked with the knowledge that, within a few hours, they would be joining their fallen comrades. In my mind this is an unlikely scenario due to what I call the "laugh factor." On side two of Q875, near the end of the recording, laughter can be heard twice, interspersed in the muffled conversation of a small group of men. It seems hard to accept that people would be able to casually converse and laugh knowing they were just hours away from their own deaths, especially under such unique and extreme circumstances. For this reason, I believe this first scenario is highly improbable.
To be fair, it has been suggested that in this scenario the individuals were under a unique kind of stress and that laughing would not necessarily be inappropriate behavior. The basis for this argument, as far as I understand it, is that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their friends and family were by their nature a kind of irrational reaction to a unique kind of stimulation. More to the point, mass suicide is irrational behavior by itself, and so why would mere laughter during such a stressful time seem irrational in comparison and thus preclude as-of-then undead Temple members from making the tape? To this point I can only say that the "laugh factor" does not absolutely preclude this possibility, but I still believe that it makes this scenario rather unlikely. If one considers the depth of love and commitment that many Temple members felt for one other then it becomes even harder to believe that those as-of-then undead Temple members, or "insiders", would callously joke with each other after such a tragic event had taken place. As former Temple member Laura Kohl said, "Anyone from the Temple would have been sobbing at that point, not talking. We were flooded in the Georgetown house - I mean FLOODED and distraught! So, no one who had been in any way part of PT would have been conversing with that in the background so soon afterwards."
Additionally, if "insiders" did make Q875, why then do they not identify themselves? Why did they not make some kind of comment as to the purpose of the recording they were making such as, "Today is the 19th of November, 1978. My name is Joe Blow, and I am making this recording as a last entry into the Jonestown audio archives. Soon I too will step over." And so on.
Some have speculated as to the precise identity of the people whose voices are heard on Q875. Staying within the context of the "insider" theory, the possibilities include Maria Katsaris and Jim Jones himself. After countless reviews of the tape, I strongly disagree with those who say that Jones' voice is present on the tape. Of the many audible voices, several belong to African-American males, while the one or two Caucasian-sounding voices (also male) are clearly not Jones. Also, if Jones were alive on November 19, presumably helping to make the tape, wouldn't Hyacinth Thrash have heard the shot that killed him? Yet she makes no mention of it. The composition of the speakers alone weakens the "insider" theory, as it is generally understood that Caucasian females filled most of the leadership positions within Peoples Temple. Why then would a group of males, mostly black, be given the responsibility of carrying out this final act?
The only reasonable arguments that could support the "insider" theory are, first, the fact that no one, to my knowledge, has come forward to claim responsibility for making Q875. It stands to reason that the individual(s) responsible for making the tape have failed to come forward simply because, after making the tape, they too ended their own lives. Secondly, the voices of on Side 2 of the tape are speaking English with American accents, and only one speaker's voice has a British/Guyanese edge to it. This leads me to reasonably conclude that a group of local Amerindians or Guyanese were not responsible for making Q875. Also, the diverse makeup of the voices on Side 2 of the tape is consistent with the diverse makeup of residents in Jonestown. However, these two arguments alone are not enough to convince me that this scenario is the most likely one.
The second possibility that exists is that a group of defectors and/or Jonestown escapees returned the next day and made the tape. But then again, we must ask, "Why hasn't anyone come forward?" Certainly many of the survivors of November 18th, 1978 are still alive today, and some are aware that Q875 has been discovered and examined. In my opinion, there is no reasonable explanation to account for silence on the part of the people who made the tape in this specific scenario. Additionally, what conceivable motivation would this group have had for doing so? Therefore I find this possibility highly improbable and nearly insulting to those survivors who have been so forthcoming with information regarding the events in Jonestown.
In my opinion, the third possibility is most likely, but it is not without its problems, for it only leads the researcher down the undesirable conspiracy-theory path and inevitably creates even more questions. Conspiracy-theories aside, the presence of outsiders in Jonestown (presumably, but this is discussed more in the "Where?" section) after the tragic events could account for Q875 being made. In supporting this possibility, I return to the "laugh-factor." I believe that outsiders - rather than insiders - would have been more apt to lounge around, joking and chatting with each other. Although this idea may still appear odd, given that human nature is rather constant and predictable, it is far easier to accept that outsiders would be able to distance themselves from the carnage around them. And if conspiracy-theories are introduced into the mix, it becomes even easier to believe that these individuals would be able to act so casually under the circumstances. Consider the Guyanese Defense Force. We know that the first GDF contingent arrived in Jonestown sometime in the late morning hours on the 19th of November. We also know that the GDF had no love for Jonestown or its residents, as is evidenced by their mere spectatorship of the shooting at Port Kaituma the day before. Isn't it possible that at least one of the cold, giggling voices on Q875 - the speaker with the Guyanese accent - belonged to a GDF member?
The "outsiders" argument is strengthened by notions of conspiracy, given that no one has come forward to claim responsibility for making the tape. This is the very same argument one could use to support the first scenario, thus muddying both arguments. But if one considers the many conspiracy-theories surrounding the events in Jonestown, the quarter-century long silence is even more understandable.
As I stated before, all three of these scenarios can be supported or criticized, depending upon how deep one wishes to dig or infer. But until researchers find credible evidence that identifies the makers of Q875, we can only speculate on the matter.
Q875 was found amongst more than 900 other audio tapes in Jonestown. The logical inference is that it was made there, but there has been some debate about this. The best possible alternative would be that the tape was made in Georgetown, but clues from the tape weaken any argument for this possibility. The first obvious obstacle one must overcome is the problem of transportation. Georgetown is about 250 miles from Jonestown, a considerable distance to travel just to mysteriously place an otherwise inconspicuous tape randomly amongst other tapes. The second problem is apparent in the audible portion of the low conversation on side two of the tape. At one point, one male is heard saying, "He's in Georgetown." It seems logical to conclude that the tape wasn't made in Georgetown simply because most people don't use language this way. More likely, if the tape had been made in Georgetown, the person would have said, "He's here." or "He's here in town." Thirdly, we can conclude that the tape was not made in Georgetown due to the unmistakable growl/whine of a dog during segment 2 on side one of the tape. Shortly after the newsman says, "In Georgetown (unintelligible word, interrupted by [U.S. State Department spokesman Tom] Rushton)" the low rumblings of a dog can be heard in the background. Twice a black male can be heard telling the dog to, "shu-up", which McGehee has, mistakably in my opinion, transcribed as "shit," supposedly in reaction to what the newscaster was saying. The presence of a dog supports the idea of the tape being made in Jonestown rather than Georgetown because first-hand accounts show that there were no dogs in Georgetown. Laura Kohl said that although the residents adopted a dog at the Temple's Georgetown headquarters, it was not until after the 19th of November. Concerning the presence of dogs in Jonestown, we know from witness statements and photographic evidence that dogs were present in Jonestown. Combined together, these points create a compelling argument for placing the origin of Q875 inside Jonestown.
Part of the mystery of Q875 is its mere existence. There seems to be no highly appreciable reason for it being made, especially since it lacks any kind of identification or indication of purpose anywhere on the tape. One researcher has based his opinion about why the tape was made on the assumption that it was made by "insiders" prior to their own demise. His argument reasons that since the tape was made by as-of-then undead Jonestown residents, they experienced a sort of visceral reaction that drove them to make the recording as part of the Temple's ongoing practice of documenting their own history. Although I find the basic premise for this argument to be flawed, the reasoning is clear, accurate, and totally plausible.
However, the "flow-chart" of possible reasons must include the idea that outsiders made Q875, and this leaves researchers with the problem of speculating why they would make the tape. I can think of no logical reason why any outsider would do this. This is perhaps the strongest circumstance against outsiders being the makers of Q875. In this case, motive is a heavily weighted component for all arguments, and must be included in any speculation of the matter. If we ask why outsiders made the tape, we cannot forget to ask why have they not come forward to say they were in Jonestown and, "oh.by the way.we made a tape while we were there."
Prior to setting fingers to keyboard to write this, I reviewed time and again the many possible answers to the questions posed by McGehee. At best, the end result was a complex web of interrelated factors. a flow chart of gigantic proportions that skewed in every direction. The "ifs, thens, and therefores" staggered my mind as I tried to break down each argument. What I was left with was the same thing I had when I started. a big question mark. A friend put it best when he said that Q875 was a complete enigma. Minor clues aside, this is in my opinion a very accurate label. However, I feel that it is important for researchers to keep chipping away at it. We may never be able to decisively answer all the questions posed by McGehee, but I believe it is possible to move ever closer to the truth. It is our obligation as historians and researchers to do so.
(Josef Dieckman is a graduate student at the University of the Pacific. His other two articles in this issue appear at“QSL cards provide insight into Temple radio communications” and “Listening to Jonestown”. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
 From transcript of Side 2 chatter on Q875, compiled by Josef Dieckman, 26 September, 2003.