The Jailhouse Letters of Chuck Beikman

Charles Beikman was the only other person besides Larry Layton to be arrested on criminal charges arising out of the events of November 18, 1978. In Beikman’s case, it was over his alleged role in the deaths of Sharon Amos and her children in the upstairs bathroom at the Peoples Temple house in Lamaha Gardens, Georgetown – a role he consistently denied. Beikman served five years in Guyana prison before being released in 1983. He died in 2001.

Beikman’s wife Rebecca and son Ronald died in Jonestown. His older son Thomas was in Georgetown that day, and survived. Thomas returned to the family’s home state of Indiana where he reunited with his paternal uncles Dale and Chester.

During the first ten months of his imprisonment in Guyana, Charles, who was illiterate, dictated eight letters to his son, Thomas. The letters include several references to relatives on both sides of the family, including Charles’ in-laws, Bill and Gertrude Cramer (whom the prison scribe consistently spelled “Creamer” in these letters.).

There are several themes to the correspondence, mainly in Beikman’s frustration with his lawyer Rex McKay, who – according to Charles – has told his family “that I will walk out of here free and he was going to send me home.” Instead, he says, “I have a feeling there is not very much truth being told to me as a client.”

He is also concerned that his son gets a good job, stays out of debt, and find a nice woman, not only for himself but one for his father as well. “Save me one thirty-eight years old,” he says in one letter. “I know I am forty four and I don’t think there is any hope for a twenty-one year old.” In general, he has an expectation that he would return home soon, an expectation that increasingly dimmed over the months.

It is not known why he stopped writing after August 1979.

Chuck Beikman Letter, January 9, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, January 17, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, January 26, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, February 6, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, February 26, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, May 11, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, July 22, 1979
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Chuck Beikman Letter, August 12, 1979
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[Editor’s note: The editors are grateful to Thomas Beikman for his donation of these letters to Special Collections at San Diego State University. We also thank SDSU for scanning these documents for our use.]

Originally posted on April 14th, 2021.

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