Peoples Temple obtained powers of attorney over a number of its members in the U.S. for two principal reasons: to manage family relationships, such as foster care of children, guardianships over infirm or incompetent adults, and decision-making for senior citizens and those in nursing homes; or to manage financial affairs of these and other members. The documents allowed Temple leaders to act – and act quickly – on behalf of a member when that person was unable to act on his or her own. In a community in which members turned over all their assets in exchange for lifetime care, such powers of attorney were considered essential.
The practice extended to Guyana as well. Jonestown residents had made that lifetime commitment, and – as survivors of the tragedy profoundly understood upon their return to the U.S. – they turned over everything for the Temple to use, dispose of, or sell for the good of the greater community. To get past any legal questions of whether a power of attorney signed in the U.S. would be valid in Guyana, the people of Jonestown were asked to sign a Guyanese document.
This power of attorney is for David Bettis Jackson, known as “Pop” Jackson, who, at age 81, arrived in Guyana in December 1974 as one of Jonestown’s earliest permanent settlers. He signed the document during a visit to Georgetown a year later, in January 1976. He was 85 when he died in November 1978.
The document grants to Paula Adams and Joyce Touchette the authority to represent him in “all matters, circumstances and things wherein he…may be interested.” The document spells out several of those interests, including buying and selling of real estate, entering into contracts, opening bank accounts, and filing lawsuits.
It is unknown who drafted the document – whether it was a Guyanese lawyer specifically representing Peoples Temple’s interests, or whether it was Guyanese boiler-plate legal language, with the names of Temple members inserted where appropriate – and different aspects of the documents argue for different answers to this question.