Serial 2370

United States Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Memorandum

Date: 11/9/79

To: [name illegible]
From: W.D. Gow

Subject: RYMUR

Purpose: To furnish background briefing paper (copy attached) regarding captioned matter showing status of case as of 11/9/79, and to furnish copy of same briefing paper to Robert L. Keuch, Deputy Assistant Attorney General (DAAG), Department of Justice (DOJ).

Recommendation: That copy of attached briefing paper be furnished to Mr. Keuch, 11/9/79.

Details: On 11/7/79, Judge [William] Webster requested a briefing paper setting forth the current status of RYMUR investigation. On that same date, Robert L. Keuch, DAAG, Criminal Division, DOJ, requested a similar background briefing paper. Mr. Keuch stated he is to be interviewed by ABC Television News on 11/9/79, in connection with a news story that network is preparing for release on the first anniversary of Congressman Ryan’s murder.

If approved, Personal Crimes Unit, Criminal Investigative Division, will hand deliver a copy of briefing paper to Mr. Keuch.

[Page 2]

Unknown Subject: Assassination of Congressman Leo J. Ryan, Port Kaituma, Guyana, November 18, 1978
Congressional Assassination Statute

On 11/17-18/78 Congressman Leo J. Ryan, certain members of his staff, various news media representatives, and a group of concerned relatives visited Jonestown, Guyana. The purpose of the Congressman’s visit was to personally investigate allegations he had received from various sources that some Peoples Temple (PT) members were being held against their will at the PT compound in Jonestown.

After inspecting the PT compound at Jonestown, Congressman Ryan and his party returned to their two airplanes at the Port Kaituma airstrip to fly back to Georgetown, Guyana.a member from the PT compound (Larry Layton) had professed to be a defector and secured permission from Ryan to accompany his party back to the US. Shortly after arriving at the Port Kaituma airstrip, a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer carrying a number of PT members opened fire on the Ryan Party. Layton had boarded one of the aircraft and began firing at the persons already on board with a handgun. It appears Layton began firing after hearing the shots fired from the flatbed trailer.

[Page 3 of serial; page 2 of briefing paper]

The following persons were killed by gunfire from individuals on the flatbed trailer:

Congressman Leo J. Ryan
Don Harris, NBC Correspondent
Bob Brown, Nbc Cameraman
Greg Robinson, San Francisco Examiner photographer
Patricia Parks, PT “defector”

A few other people on the plane with Layton when he began firing at them were injured, but none died as a result of their wounds.

FBI involvement in the investigation of the assassination of Congressman Ryan is based on the Congressional Assassination Statute, Title 18, US Code, Section 351. Immediately after Congressman Ryan was murdered, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was contacted to determine jurisdictional aspects of the FBI and DOJ in this matter. The Department replied that the Congressional Assassination Statute gives the Department extra-territorial jurisdiction to prosecute attacks on Congressman [Congressmen]. Such prosecution, of course, must be conducted in the US FBI investigative jurisdiction under this Statute is limited, however, to the US, its territories and possessions. The FBI has authority to investigate this matter in the US to determine whether a conspiracy existed to assassinate Congressman Ryan. Investigation to determine if the conspiracy existed is continuing.

[Page 4 of serial; page 3 of briefing paper]

Within hours after Congressman Ryan was murdered at Port Kaituma PT leader Jim Jones ordered his followers to drink a poisoned fruit flavored drink. It was later alleged some of the PT members are forced to drink the poisoned liquid at gunpoint.

A subsequent count revealed 913 bodies at the Jonestown compound as result of suicide or murder. These bodies were flown by US Air Force personnel to the Armed Forces mortuary at Dover, Delaware; autopsies were performed on seven bodies including that of PT leader James Warren Jones. The combined efforts of FBI Identification Division and Dover Air Force Base personnel were successful in identifying 631 bodies of the 913 total (69%).

577 individuals were identified by fingerprints alone.
45 were identified by dental charts alone.
9 were identified by a combination of fingerprints and dental charts.

The above identifications reported by the FBI Identification Division on 1/3/79. A few other identifications may have been successful as additional fingerprints, dental charts, x-rays, etc., were located.

Of the unidentified bodies most were infants and children for whom there were no identifying documents available.

[Page 5 of serial; page 4 of briefing paper]

The Government of Guyana has charged Larry Layton with five counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and two counts of gun violation. A preliminary hearing began in that country during the week of 10/29/79. If the presiding magistrate determines there is sufficient probable cause, he will authorize an indictment to be issued chunking latent with those offenses.

The US Department of State (USDS), DOJ, and FBI coordinated efforts to assist the Guyanese by helping to key witnesses, Vernon Gosney and Odell Rhodes, returned to Guyana to testify. The preliminary hearing in Guyana has been continued and the results will be reported when it concludes.

Miscellaneous

As of 9/2/79, the latest data for which information is available, $546,263 have been expended during this investigation for salaries and related expenses.

The main file for this investigation in the San Francisco FBI Office consists of 50 volumes.

A subfile consisting of 20 volumes holds interviews of survivors, witnesses, and other pertinent investigations recorded on form FD-302.

The San Francisco Office has 700 1A envelopes containing pertinent documentary evidence.

There are also 107 subvolumes containing information about certain individuals identified as key witnesses or suspects.

[Page 6 of serial; page 5 of briefing paper]

Approximately 2000 pounds of bulky evidentiary material consisting of 22 footlockers of tape recordings, documents, and other items is maintained in the San Francisco FBI Office.

San Francisco is also maintaining 14 crates of video tape material received from various sources.

Immediately following the Jonestown incident, 30 Special Agents in the San Francisco FBI Office were assigned full-time to this investigation. During its early stages as many as 80 Agents were assigned to this investigation at any one time across the country.

Eighty Jonestown survivors were interviewed by the FBI upon their return to the US.

A total of approximately 2000 individuals have been interviewed during this investigation. These individuals are probably described as PT members, survivors, former members, certain of their associates, and other individuals who may have had pertinent information.

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION SHOULD NOT BE PUBLICLY RELEASED.

During March, 1979, a Federal Grand Jury in San Francisco began hearing testimony to determine if the conspiracy existed in the US to assassinate Congressman Ryan in Guyana. Approximately 50 individuals testifying before that Grand Jury. On 3/14/79, a sealed indictment was returned by the Grand Jury charging Larry Layton and 14 unindicted deceased co-conspirators with conspiracy to murder

[Page 7 of serial; page 6 of briefing paper]

Congressman Ryan, a violation of Title 18, US Code, Section 351 (d). Layton was also charged in a separate count with aiding and abetting, a violation of Title 18, US Code, Section 351 (a).

The DOJ is closely following Layton’s possible prosecution in Guyana. Depending upon the results of prosecutive action in that country, decisions will be made as to the prosecution of Layton in the US on the charges set forth above.

[Pages 8 and 9: Handwritten note – and typed version – which reads: “I’d appreciate briefing on status of Ryan Assass. case & related investigation.”]

Originally posted on November 10th, 2020.

Last modified on August 1st, 2022.
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