Before Tim Stoen’s defection from Peoples Temple in 1977 – before he became Jim Jones’ principal antagonist – he was arguably the most influential member of the Temple’s inner circle. He was an attorney who provided legal perspectives, if not always legal advice, on issues facing the Temple; but more than that, he was a strategist, a confidante, and a friend to Jim Jones. The depth of Jones’ personal sense of betrayal following Stoen’s departure mirrored the affection and trust that the Temple leader had in his lieutenant. It is one reason that, when Jonestown residents list their fantasies for getting back at their enemies during the White Nights of 1978, the worst descriptions of torture and death are reserved for Tim Stoen.
Much of the trust and friendship that Jones had in Stoen appears in a transcript of an undated phone call between the two men as they discuss what to do about some of the political and religious opposition confronting the Temple, even as the group negotiates a lease for the land in the Northwest District of Guyana which has already been put into cultivation. Jonestown pioneers started developing the land in 1974, but whatever agreements the Temple had with the Government of Guyana have been more political than legal, more tacit than explicit, and – worst of all – more verbal than written, and the insufficiency of the claim which the Temple holds on now threatens their continued presence there. As it turned out, it wasn’t until early 1976 that the Guyana Government and Peoples Temple signed a land lease granting the use of 3852 acres in the Northwest Region of Guyana to the Temple’s agricultural community. The lease was made retroactive for two years back to April 1974.
Stoen speaks specifically as an attorney once during the call (“my lawyer instincts say to me…”), and the balance of the call is between two peers exchanging ideas for handling a difficult situation, with the unspoken assumption that the conversation is solely between the two of them. They discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Temple member and attorney Gene Chaikin, and – to a more limited degree – point out the faults of two or three other Temple members. They work out some unresolved issues regarding an ad they want to place in a Guyana newspaper, with each man soliciting advice from the other.
The date on the phone call is likely from early 1975. Deanna Mertle – who herself would defect in October 1975 with her husband Elmer and, as Jeannie and Al Mills, would provide the initial organizational structure for Concerned Relatives – is still a member of the church. The principal presence for the Temple in Georgetown – and to whom both Stoen and Jones refer to several times – is Paula Adams, who arrived in early 1974. With those dates as bookends, the Georgetown church service which the two men discuss is probably the Christmas service in 1974.