The four members of the Chaikin family – Temple attorney Eugene Chaikin, Jonestown medical administrator Phyllis Alexander Chaikin, and their two children, 17-year-old Gail and 15-year-old David – died in Jonestown. As was the case with many relatives, the deaths devastated Phyllis’ parents, Freda and Herbert Alexander. According to stories about the parents, the house they had commissioned in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles – the house in which Phyllis had grown up – fell victim to neglect as her parents struggled to comprehend the deaths of their daughter and grandchildren. The source of much of their grief is common to other relatives: they had seen problems within the Temple and expressed their concerns to their daughter, but she had dismissed them.
For many years after the Alexanders left their home, rumors circulated that they had put a number of letters in a briefcase, then stashed them away somewhere in the house so they wouldn’t have the physical reminder in their presence. Early in 2008, as the current house owners Barry and Jenny Isaacson began a remodeling project, workers removed the interior facing of a basement wall and discovered the briefcase. The contents consisted of several letters – including a carbon of one which Herbert Alexander wrote to his daughter – as well as articles from Southern California newspapers and magazines about the deaths in Jonestown. A final item – the most mysterious – is a drawing of the house in which the briefcase was found, with red raindrops (or drops of blood) encasing it.
The Isaacsons have donated the letters and the newspaper articles to the California Historical Society in San Francisco.
The letters include:
Barry Isaacson has written about his discovery for several publications. His article “Living With Ghosts” was included in the 2008 edition of the jonestown report. An earlier article, “The Secret Letters of the Jonestown Death Cult,” appeared in the May 14, 2008 Spectator Magazine in London. He also has two articles in the LA Weekly: “From Silver Lake to Suicide” which appeared in the October 23, 2008 edition; and a follow-up piece, “Reliving Jonestown,” which was published on December 31, 2008.