Today, she is known for her final act of following Jim Jones’ orders to kill her three children and herself at Lamaha Gardens, the Peoples Temple headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana.
She was Jones’ only follower outside of Jonestown to follow his directive on November 18, 1978.
One of his most ardent followers, Sharon was a member of the Staff, which surpassed the better known Planning Commission as the Temple’s highest ranking group in the U.S.. The Staff comprised white women, most of whom were college educated, and “intelligence, resourcefulness, absolute loyalty and unquestioning obedience were their qualifications” (Raven, p. 157). These women would visit the homes of potential Temple members to gather information for Jones to use and create an impression of omniscience.
Sharon was committed to Jim Jones from the beginning. After the defection of a high-profile member named Linda Swaney in 1973, Jones formally declared the name anathema in the church. In response, Sharon Amos dropped Linda from her name.
As was the rest of the Staff, Sharon was isolated from the other members. She was a mystery then and she is a mystery now.
In her life before the Temple, Linda Sharon Amos is remembered as a vivacious, loving, dedicated mother with a beautiful singing voice as well as a bright graduate student with an affinity for Jungian analysis, the I Ching and reincarnation.
By the time she left for Guyana, she was someone else. She has been described as highly intelligent, relentlessly effective, and very committed to Jim Jones. Her public relations role kept her in touch with the political leaders and dignitaries throughout Guyana.
I spent the better part of this year transcribing 200-plus pages of meeting notes and letters written by her. Many of these notes related to the custody battle over John Victor Stoen. Others concerned the church’s efforts to relocate to the Soviet Union.
Sharon’s personality reveals itself in the dozens of memos and meeting notes, no matter what she was writing about on any particular day. Her notes felt intense. Her letters were long and unrelenting. They reminded me of Jim Jones and his news reports to Jonestown in their persistence and repetitiveness of certain phrases (the reactionary news media, frequent references to “racists,” etc.). She was a force of nature, a keen and unflappable observer of people who seemed to defer to almost no one.
She shared Jones’s flair for deploying emotion and dramatic language when she felt it would make her point or advance her cause. For example, she wrote a number of letters seeking an exception for the requirement that Dr. Larry Schacht undergo a yearlong internship in Georgetown to be licensed by the Medical Council of Guyana.
Her language regarding the potential consequences of this did not hold back. In a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Ptolemy Reid (BB-2–rr-1-3), she is bold and persistent in asking for exceptions to Dr. Schacht’s internship.
Similarly, in a letter to Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, she outlined the types of urgent cases that he would see and, supposedly, only he could address:
One person had body lacerations. In other cases there were cut tendons, concussions. One woman was hemorrhaging for two weeks and when she reached Georgetown, she was operated on for a pelvic mass. (BB-2-xx-1)
Another case Dr. Schacht worked with was a 15 year old who had diarrhea for a year. He was given a couple of tablets by the Mathews Ridge Hospital. He was found by Dr. Schacht to have Giardiasis, an intestinal parasite Trichuriasis (which is a worm), likely also Amobiases, and a severe deficiency of iron. (BB-2-xx-3)
In a meeting with Lionel Luckhoo, the attorney who represented Jim Jones in the battle for custody of John Victor Stoen, Deborah Touchette – another Temple member of the Georgetown staff who also wrote meeting summaries – shares her opinion about the meeting and offers insight into Amos’ personality and its effect (BB-2-dd-1-2).
Luckhoo was irritated at the questions asked. I think it’s because he not use to having his opinion questioned so throughly, we ask the same questions over again, (out of concern and necissity)…Mike Prokes felt Sharon was to pushy in asking questions, but I don’t feel she was. We wouldn’t have gotton any answere if we didn’t probe. I thought she conveyed concern, but was not confrontative [spellings in original].
Perhaps most surprisingly, Sharon possessed a dry sense of humor and rapier wit. Following a meeting with Birdie London, she notes:
I asked if he was religious and he said he was “indifferent”/ I asked what his politics were and he said he was “indifferent” there too
both he and Ralph were talking us on so I said “oh you want to find out about PT so you can be indifferent to us too” and everyone laughed (BB-2-o-2)
Later in the memo, she writes:
Steve and Ralph said they wanted to get together again for debate (I said OK but I said I’m kind of old to go thru this kind of thing and would we always have to argue) (BB-2-o-3)
Sharon is one of the hundreds of examples of what humanity lost when Jones ordered his followers to commit suicide. She was a strong woman, a leader, a relentless fighter, and committed to what she believed to be right. It’s tragic that her loyalty was to someone like Jim Jones.
(Heather Shannon was raised throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and was 5 when the Jonestown tragedy took place. She currently lives in Yucca Valley, CA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)