(Gene Cordell lives in Indianapolis. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His wife June died in Indianapolis on August 26, 2010 at age 82.)
To the best of our recollection, it was on Easter of 1953 that I first met Marceline and Jim Jones at a Methodist church on Keystone Street here in Indianapolis, Indiana. On the Saturday before Easter, my mother-in-law, Edith Cordell, had answered an ad in the Indianapolis Star for two monkeys which Jim Jones had. When Edith went over to his home to buy the monkeys, Jim and Marceline invited her to come to their church on Easter. Edith asked me, my sister-in-law Carol Ann, and my three children to go with her; my husband didn’t go, since he was working seven days a week back in those days.
There were about 25 people at the service. One thing I remember about it was that Jimmy said there were people in the neighborhood who did not want him there, and that some of them had thrown rocks through the church windows.
Edith sewed and made clothes for the monkeys, dressing them up as a little girl and boy. They were really cute. Jimmy liked them too. One thing that is true about Jimmy was that he genuinely liked animals.
This was the beginning of the Jones and Cordell families getting together. Edith invited them over to the Cordell homestead that her father had built. We all had a friendly time.
Jim started up a church at 15th and New Jersey in Indianapolis about that time. My husband and kids, Edith, Carol Ann, and Grandma Cordell – who was still alive at the time – attended regularly. Then our cousins started coming. By then, the congregation was around 300.
In 1957, Jim’s church was at 10th and Delaware, but by Easter of that year, my husband and I were noticing things we didn’t like, and we started attending another church.
By that time, Jim owned a nursing home that Marceline was running. He also had a job with the county. But he continued to provide services for the needy, such as providing meals for them. My folks lived on a farm, and I brought in eggs to help out.
The last church where he held services before he went to South America was on 17th Street between Park and Broadway. During his two years in Brazil, Carol and Edith went to the church that Gene and I attended, but Jim was writing Edith all the time, telling her he needed money. She was always helping him out.
When Jim returned, he was upset that Edith was attending our church, so she went back to Peoples Temple. She moved with the church when it went to Ukiah that night in 1965. Other people we knew who went with Jim ended up in Jonestown, and dying there. But we know just as many who did not go, and who are still alive.
Carol’s kids went too, but Carol Ann did not go at first. When she went out to Ukiah for a visit, Jim wouldn’t let her bring any of the children back. Finally, Carol and Bill closed up their home near Whitestown, Indiana, and went out to California. Bill was a guard for the church until he himself became disenchanted with it, and left.
Carol Ann McCoy and her four children – Leandra Renae, Lowell Francis (Bill), Marcenda Dyan, and Patty Ann – all died in Jonestown. It has been so hard for Bill to lose his wife and children. He has since remarried and tried to go on with life, but now has lung cancer. He has just completed a treatment of chemo and radiation. He has had more than his share of misfortune.
Jim Jones stole the lives of some of our family, and the property of everyone else. Everything that my husband’s grandfather worked for all of his life, was turned over to Jim Jones. It is all gone.
If we have learned one thing from this, it is to follow no man, but to follow the Lord.
There is a lot we could write about all of this, but we are getting old now, and our lives are getting short. We spend our time with our precious great-grandchildren, and thank God that we did not go with this group. We just hope nothing like this ever happens in our family again.
Beware of cults. This is what my grandmother, Florence Hinshaw Venable, told me when I was ten years old, and I wish my family had listened to those words.