I remember how excited I was to have my very own place to live. I was 18 years old with a new baby, and I needed some space from the rest of my family.
I had just moved out of my dad’s house. Daddy had remarried, to a woman with five sons. Five sons. As if he needed more kids. Their marriage was violent and turbulent. They fought more than they did anything else. I’ll bet if I charted their activities, fighting would top the list. I was sick of the fighting. I had run away from mom’s house in San Francisco and thought I was going to escape some madness. Even though my father’s home in Los Angeles was full of chaos, I liked his wife, and I liked her sons. She was from Louisiana and had some of the best cooking this side of Lake Pontchartrain. She died more than ten years ago, but her sons and I are still close. They are still my brothers.
Coming home to L.A. pregnant and seeking solace. That’s what I thought I was coming back to. But the fighting in my father’s house drowned out the solace. It climaxed one night with daddy stabbing his wife right in front of us kids. I still feel pained as I remember her sons crying in horror. Her 21-year-old son tried to protect her, and my father almost severed his finger. My dad was a force to be reckoned with. I’d never known him to hit a female other than his daughters, so to see him be so violent with a woman was strange to me. We’d seen him knock a man out with one punch and even get into knife fights, but always with men. After that incident I started saving every penny I could to move.
Peoples Temple had purchased a three-story apartment building at “1435 Alvarado Terrace, Los Angeles, CA 90006.” I say it like that, because that’s the address I gave to turn on my utilities. I’ve never forgotten that place. I paid $150 a month for a studio apartment. It was small, but it was big enough for us. My best friend Toni James had left home after her 18th birthday to move into one of the apartments. Toni’s family was heartbroken over her moving out and into the clutches of Peoples Temple.
Toni shared her apartment with Brian and Claudia Bouquet. I liked Claudia. We both sang in the choir and sang together sometimes. I used to love to hear her sing.
I visited Toni in her apartment before I moved into the building. In fact, Toni was the one who urged me to apply for an apartment there. I didn’t like their apartment, though, because it was haunted. I got spooked several times in there by doors slamming and rushes of wind. I always felt like I was being watched. Claudia told me to ignore it. I guess they were used to it.
Toni lived alone in the apartment after Brian and Claudia went to Jonestown. One day Jim McElvane and Vee Hollis asked me if Toni could move in with me so that they could rent her apartment to outsiders. They said they’d reduce my rent to $75 if I did. Toni and I had been doing sleepovers we were twelve years old when we met, so that was more than agreeable.
So now it’s Toni, the baby, and I in a studio. I’m from a large family so two adults in a studio was like a master suite to me. We had a lot of fun times the Spring of 1978. A lot of people had already made an exodus to Jonestown, so a lot of our friends were gone. But the building still had some members of Peoples Temple living there. Miss Annie Mae was on the first floor. We used to go visit her in the evenings. We’d play cards and dominoes and just chit chat about any and everything. She said she wasn’t going to the “Promised Land” and leave her mother behind. I was so impressed that she had the guts to say she wasn’t going.
Malika Willis lived at the front end on the third floor, directly across from Toni’s old place. Malika fell in love with my baby and would come over and beg to keep her. I trusted her with my baby, and she was really good to her. She would come get her when her daughter Brenda came to visit, and sometimes they’d take her on outings with them. Malika used to tell us stories about Louisiana, and I got the impression that the “Promised Land” wasn’t on her to-do list. I was very surprised when I saw her name on the memorial list. She used to tell me, “Don’t take my baby over there!” She used to call my daughter “my baby.”
* * *
Across the hall from us was a guy named Harvey. Harvey. I used to see him at services. He was very quiet and reserved, and usually sat to himself. He didn’t have family in Peoples Temple, and I wondered how he got involved. One day my nephew John brought him to our house one day in San Francisco. I still laugh as I remember Mom asking him why he was standing in her doorway looking silly. Mom blatantly asked him if he was a retard.
One day when I was eight months pregnant, Harvey took Toni’s sister Donetta, Willie Mitchell Jr, and me to Magic Mountain. Why I thought it was a good idea to go to an amusement park in the height of summer at eight months pregnant is beyond me. It was in the triple digits and I was miserable. I couldn’t keep up with everyone, so I told them to go ahead and enjoy themselves while I sat in the shade. A short time later, Harvey apparently got ticked with Willie Jr and decided to leave. He was sneaking out and leaving a pregnant girl and two teens at an amusement park in the desert. I found Donetta and told her Harvey was leaving. They didn’t take him seriously, but I did. I waddled after him to the car. It was so hot that a transistor radio in the backseat melted. I made up my mind he was a nutcase when he left them there.
Toni was the one who formally introduced me to him. He used to give her rides when she needed it. Harvey was a little touched, and not by an angel. He was an ex-Marine and he had experienced things during his service in the military. Maybe that’s why he was so weird. He received veteran’s benefits and was very generous. But people really took advantage of Harvey.
After Toni introduced us, he started hanging out at our apartment. Harvey would take us places. We’d go to dinner, the movies or just ride around. We never asked him for anything, so that’s probably why he hung out with us.
One Sunday evening, Harvey came over and asked Toni and me if we’d like to take a drive. It was hot, so we said yes. We thought we were going to the beach like we did some Sundays, but Harvey said he wanted to take us somewhere else. He drove to Hollywood, so then I thought we were going to cruise the Boulevard. Nope. Harvey took us to Laurel Canyon and drove up the mountain. It turned pitch black out there when the sun went down. We kept asking him where he was going, and he just had his hands in an old lady lock on the steering wheel looking straight ahead and not responding. Toni and I began to yell at him to turn around and take us home. He accelerated faster.
Suddenly he pulled over and asked, “What if I told you that I was the Hillside Strangler?” I said, “What if I told you we’re gonna beat your $#% if you don’t turn around.” Toni and I began hitting him, and he turned into a frightened kid. “You guys know I’m just playing, don’t you?” he asked.
We made him turn around and we drove home in silence. As we stormed to our apartment, he trailed behind us, begging for forgiveness and saying how sorry he was. Once we got inside, I really started talking my talk. I probably called him everything except a child of God. He begged us not to tell on him. I told him not to ever speak to me again and slammed the door in his face.
I lost contact with Harvey after I left Peoples Temple. I was grateful that his name is not mentioned among those who died in Jonestown. I often wonder what became of him. Wherever he is, I pray he isn’t taking anyone else on a Sunday drive.
(Glenda Randolph Bates is the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Shirley, The Middle Picture, The Joy of Cynthia’s Dance, Night Whispers, An Empty Jungle, The Summer of ‘72, and White Nights, Black Paradise: We Deserved Better. Her previous articles appear here. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)