Peoples Temple and Carolyn Pickering

Peoples Temple had gadflies other than Lester Kinsolving. Carolyn Pickering, a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, had written several critical articles about the then-local church during the 1960s, and her interest in the Temple did not end with the group’s departure for California.

In September 1972, The Indianapolis Star published a four-part series by Pickering on Peoples Temple, reporting on its roots in Indiana and extending through its years in Ukiah and San Francisco. It ran simultaneously with the Kinsolving series – his began on September 17, 1972 and was slated to run through September 24; Pickering’s began on September 21 and extended through September 24 – and reported some of the same charges against the church.

The two reporters were aware of each other. As Jeff Guinn wrote in The Road to Jonestown, Pickering had learned a year earlier “that the Temple was establishing a new San Francisco church [and] wrote to the Examiner news department asking for details.” The letter was forwarded to Kinsolving, who – having already heard rumors about the Temple’s activities in Ukiah – launched his own investigation (pp. 257-258).

No evidence has been uncovered to suggest the two reporters made sure their stories came out at the same time, although there is evidence that they discussed their own findings with each other. Those discussions likely contributed to the fact that the contents of the two series are remarkably similar.

The Pickering Series
“Former City Preacher Feels Heat of Publicity in West,” September 21, 1972
“Woe-Beset Woman Says ‘Prophet’ and Aide Harassed Her and Mate,” September 22, 1972
“Family Pleads with Aged Aunt Not to Throw Away Her Bible,'” September 23, 1972
“‘Prophet,” Attorney Probe Asked,” September 24, 1972

The Temple struck back against Pickering much as it did against Kinsolving, although her newspaper’s distance from California made it much less of a threat. The single document located in Temple files which challenges “the several articles that Carolyn Pickering wrote” opens with descriptions of the positive work the church has done over the years. Once it starts analyzing the Pickering series, however, it becomes quite detailed in its rebuttal.

The Temple Response to Carolyn Pickering, RYMUR 89-4286-HH-6-A-24 – HH-6-A-37