The People’s Temple and Maxine Harpe

by Lester Kinsolving
Examiner Religion Writer
[First of four parts which were never published]

Ukiah, Calif. September, 1972 — The sister and former husband of the late Maxine Harpe, who was found hanging in her garage here in March of 1970 have asked the Attorney General’s office to investigate the disposition of $2400 belonging to Mrs. Harpe – which they allege was placed in a trust fund set up by the People’s Temple Christian (Disciples) Church.

Daniel Harpe, a local resident, and Mrs. William Key of Citrus Heights near Sacramento, in a joint letter to the Attorney General’s office, asked that the People’s Temple be required to release this trust fund set up for Mrs. Harpe’s three children, who are now in custody of their father.

Their letter encloses a photostatic copy of a $2400 check issued by the Redwood Title Company as part of the proceeds of the sale of the Harpe’s former home. The check is endorsed by Mrs. Harpe – as well as by James Randolph, a member of the People’s Temple.

Randolph is a social worker for the Mendocino County Department of Welfare who, the letter says, was “keeping company” with Mrs. Harpe at the time of her death, which the County Coroner’s office ruled as suicide.

The letter also notes:

* That Mrs. Key contacted Mendocino County Assistant District Attorney Timothy O. Stoen, who told her that the People’s Temple had placed the $2400 in a trust fund for the Harpe children – to which she could not have access. (Stoen, in addition to his duties as Assistant District Attorney, is a member of the Board of Directors of the People’s Temple.)

* That Harpe asked Mendocino County Sheriff Reno Bartolemei for assistance in recovering the $2400 from the People’s Temple trust fund – but that the Sheriff had replied that he didn’t know anything about it; even though Harpe has since heard that the Sheriff is a trustee of this trust fund.

* That Mrs. Harpe had attended the People’s Temple for more than a year prior to her death – and that she had definitely sought advice from District Attorney Stoen.

But in a front page article published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Sept. 21, Stoen wrote:

“The woman (Mrs. Harpe) referred to – was not, incidentally a member of my church – was somebody I did not know, had never talked with and certainly never counseled.”

Stoen’s statement in the Ukiah Daily Journal also took obvious issue with The Examiner’s reporting of his relationship to and statements about the Rev. Jim Jones, charismatic pastor of the People’s Temple.

“I never said at any time that I saw 40 people raised from the dead.”

(But in a letter dated Sept. 12, 1972, Stoen wrote: “Jim has been the means by which more than 40 persons have been brought back from the dead this year… I have seen Jim revive people stiff as a board, tongues hanging out, eyes set, skin graying and all vital signs absent.”)

Stoen’s statement also contains the following:

“People’s Temple Christian Church does not, as far as I know, advertise that Jim Jones raises people from the dead.”

Yet the People’s Temple’s mimeographed bulletin, which was distributed at the 11 a.m. service on Sun. Sept. 10 (at which Stoen was present), specifically reported that in Los Angeles:

“Pastor Jones walked to the dead man and commanded ‘Arise!’ Instantly the man was resurrected before thousands there.”

Stoen was not available for comment, as the District Attorney’s office said that he began a five-week vacation.

Stoen’s boss, District Attorney Duncan James, declined comment when asked if he had been fired.

James also declined comment on a report by The Indianapolis Star which concerned an alleged telephone threat, which was attributed to Stoen’s wife, Grace.

The Indianapolis newspaper quoted Mrs. Cecil Johnson (whose daughters, Mildred and Gwin, recently left the People’s Temple to return home to Indianapolis) as saying that she recognized Mrs. Stoen’s voice during a 6:15 a.m. long distance telephone call last week.

Mrs. Johnson told The Star that she had been listening on an extension phone when the caller told her daughter, Gwin:

“The newspaper out here is harassing Jim. Your parents have signed something saying bad things about the Temple. You find out what they did and call me back. Get them to stop it. It’s for your own safety.”

Mrs. Stoen was one of some 150 People’s Temple members who picketed The Examiner last week. When asked about the alleged phone call, she declined comment.

But Mrs. Stoen told a TV interviewer that her husband was an ordained minister – which she had denied, when asked during a People’s Temple service the previous Sunday in San Francisco. Her husband also told The Examiner, the following evening, that he was not ordained.

The issue arose over Stoen’s admission that he had officiated at the marriage of one of the Johnson sisters, Mildred, despite the fact that Section 4100 of the Civil Code requires that in order to solemnize a marriage, the officiant must either be ordained or a judge.

Stoen told The Examiner that despite his being neither ordained nor a judge:

“I meet all the requirements of the Civil Code,” but was unable at the time of this interview to state which section of the Code he had in mind.

And three days after this statement to The Examiner, Stoen’s written statement appeared in the Ukiah Daily Journal, in which the Assistant District Attorney wrote:

“I am not only a duly authorized minister of my church, I have been ordained in another, and I have taken theological studies including two years of New Testament Greek.”

Stoen’s statement did not identify this other denomination which he claims had ordained him, nor does his statement provide any such information as to where, when, or by whom he was ordained.