On August 18, 1977, Grace Stoen filed a declaration with the California Superior Court in San Francisco outlining her life in Peoples Temple, her reasons for leaving the Temple slightly more than a year before, and her efforts since that time to regain custody of her son, John Victor Stoen, who was by then living in Jonestown.
In the declaration, Grace says she has learned that members of Peoples Temple had taken John Victor to Guyana, “and that they will refuse to return him to me or bring him within the jurisdiction of this court unless ordered to do so.” She adds that in his current situation, “John will continue to be held in an atmosphere that is detrimental to his mental and emotional well being, and that he will be permanently deprived of the loving and stable home that I can provide for him.”
The declaration came in the context of the divorce proceedings between Grace and Tim Stoen. The two had been in “informal negotiations” – along with the Temple – first to prevent John from being taken to Guyana and then, when that failed, to arrange joint custody.
As it turned out, the exact whereabouts of Tim Stoen were probably still unknown – he spent three months in England following his departure from the Temple and before returning to the States – but a month later, when Grace Stoen’s attorney Jeffrey Haas went to Guyana to try to enforce a California court order, the Stoens’ had reunited, at least for the purposes of reclaiming John Victor for Grace.
The declaration filed with the court is slightly shorter than an initial draft from a week earlier. That version included one of the first official mentions of Joseph Mazor, a private investigator who already worked for Concerned Relatives and who would eventually provide information to Jonestown about the oppositional group. “I am now convinced that my only hope in becoming reunited with John is to have a private investigator serve Temple representatives with an order issued by this court,” the declaration states. “I have retained Joseph Mazor of Mazor Investigations.”
The reason for the deletion to the Mazor reference in the final version of the declaration is unknown.
Finally, Grace wrote a third declaration, in which she described the Temple’s abusive practices towards its members that would cause “psychological, moral, and possible physical harm” to her son. The only copy known to exist of this document is signed, but does not have the court’s stamp indicating it was submitted.