Financial Letters of November 18

On Jonestown’s final day, its leaders sought to ensure that the assets of the dying community would go to the country to whom they had sworn political allegiance, the Soviet Union.

The most well-known attempt to transfer money was publicized within a matter of days. Maria Katsaris, the Temple’s financial secretary, had given three suitcases and two passports to Tim and Mike Carter, and Mike Prokes. The suitcases contained cash – over $900,000 in US currency and over $135,000 in Guyanese currency – and several letters bequeathing Temple assets to the Soviet Union. The two passports were those of  Annie McGowan and Maria Katsaris, apparently to verify the signatures on the enclosed letters.

They were also given three revolvers, along with the instructions that “under no circumstances are you to be taken alive.”

The three men didn’t make it to the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown, as they had been instructed. They barely made it out of Jonestown. The suitcases were heavy with the money, and one by one, they were abandoned, along with one of the guns. The men removed about $48,000 in US currency and a thousand Guyanese dollars from the third suitcase, and left it by railroad tracks directly across from the entrance to Jonestown. They then headed towards Port Kaituma, where they were placed in protective custody.

According to Tim Reiterman and John Jacobs in Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (pp. 562-563), Maria Katsaris was also making arrangements to transfer money from accounts in Swiss banks in Panama City, Panama to the Soviet Union. The funds were held in fixed time deposits in the name of Annie Jean McGowan, “a jovial and loyal seventy-year-old black woman born in Mississippi,” as Raven describes her.

  • One letter signed by Annie McGowan dated November 18, 1978 directs Rudolf Keller of the Union Bank of Switzerland in Panama City, Panama to send cashiers checks to Feodor Timofeyev “as each deposit comes due … plus the interest earned.” The letter then lists six deposits by amount and due date. The letter concludes with a request that the instructions are followed exactly, “[a]s I will not be able to do much traveling right now.”
  • Another letter signed by Annie McGowan dated November 18, 1978, was addressed to Andre Mennet of the Swiss Banking Corporation in Panama City, Panama. “When the fixed time deposit for the $557,000.00 [in account number 3357] comes due, please send a cashiers check including the interest earned to Mr. Fidor [Feodor] Timofeyev… With the fixed time deposit that is due on July 6, 1978 for $1,486,000.00 please also send a cashiers check addressed to Mr. Fedor Timofeyev. Please also include interest earned in this check also. ”This letter to Andre Mennet was typed out at least four different times on November 18. The language is identical, but the typeface, the spacing, and the spelling of Feoder Timofeyev vary from draft to draft. Three of the letters were signed by Annie McGowan, and the fourth has no signature. Given the fact that the signature is so far removed from the text of the letter, it could have been that the Jonestown leadership used blank pieces of paper signed by Annie McGowan as the pages for the different versions.
  • Annie McGowan’s signature also appears on a letter to Feoder Timofeyev dated November 18. Above a detailed listing of Temple bank accounts, and dates and amounts of deposit, a paragraph explains that the letter is one of instruction “regarding all our assets which we want to leave to the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics… I am doing so on behalf of Peoples Temple because we, as Communists, want our money to be of benefit for help of oppressed people all over the world, or in any way that your decision-making body sees fit. ”The letter attaches business cards of the Swiss bank officials in Panama and anticipates the enclosure of all the instructions to various banks. It concludes “you should have no difficulty in receiving the checks upon the above mentioned maturity dates.”The total amount of the accounts, according to the letter, was some $7.3 million.
  • A handwritten letter from Maria Katsaris was recovered from the suitcase. It reads: “I, Maria Katsaris, leave all the money in the Banco Union de Venezuela in Caracas to the Communist Party, Soviet Union. The person to contact is Mr. [illegible] in the Main Branch of Banco Union. This is my final wish before I die.” A final sentence begins “I died” but is crossed out. Under her signature are those of two witnesses: Jim McElvane and Marilee Bogue.
  • A typewritten letter signed by Marceline M. Jones and witnessed by Ann Elizabeth Moore and Maria Katsaris, also dated November 18, 1978, is addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” and reads:

    I, Marceline Jones, leave all bank assets in my name to the Communist Party of the USSR. The above bank accounts are located in the Bank of Nova Scotia in Nassau, Bahamas.

    Please be sure that these assets get to the USSR. I especially request that none of these are allowed to get into the hands of my adopted daughter, Suzanne Jones Cartmell.

    For whoever finds this letter, please honor this request as it is most important to myself and my husbank [husband] James W. Jones.

    I swear under penalty of purjury [perjury] the above is true and correct.

  • A handwritten letter signed by Carolyn Layton, was also witnessed by Ann Elizabeth Moore and Maria Katsaris, also dated November 18, 1978, and also addressed “To Whom It May Concern”:

    This is my last will and testiment [testament]. I hereby leave all assets in any bank account over which I am a signatory to the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.

    However it can be sent to them would be my deepest request.

    I have an account in the Bank of Nova Scotia in Nassau, Bahamas.

Annie McGowan letter to Rudolf Keller, RYMUR 89-4286-1637, p. 232
Annie McGowan letters to Andre Mennet, RYMUR 89-4286-1637, p. 231, 233
Annie McGowan letter to Feodor Timofeyev, RYMUR 89-4286-1637, p. 230
Maria Katsaris letter, RYMUR 89-4286-1637, p. 235
Marceline Jones letter, RYMUR 89-4286-B-1-k-3
Carolyn Layton letter, RYMUR 89-4286-B-1-k-4