Summary prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III. If you use this material, please credit The Jonestown Institute. Thank you.
To read the Tape Transcript, click here. A supplemental transcript by Josef Dieckman appears here. To listen to MP3, click here. To read the French translation of this tape, click here.
To return to the Tape Index, click here. To return to the Index on the November 19th tape, click here.
FBI Catalogue: Miscellaneous
Date cues on tape: November 19, 1978 (specific)
Rep. Leo Ryan (D-California)
Greg Robinson, photographer, San Francisco Examiner
Robert Brown, NBC News
Don Harris, NBC News
U.S. President Jimmy Carter
State Department spokesman Tom Rushton (speaks)
Ted Koppel, ABC News correspondent
Autumn Ryan, Leo Ryan’s mother (speaks)
Charles Garry, Temple attorney
Mark Lane, Temple attorney
Temple adversaries; members of Concerned Relatives:
Sherwin Harris, husband of Sharon Amos (by reference)
Peoples Temple members:
Martin Laurence Amos (by reference)
Wayborn Christa Amos (by reference)
Liane Harris (by reference)
Bible verses cited: None
This tape consists of four news stories recorded off the air on November 19, 1978, all concerning the deaths of Congressman Leo Ryan and members of his party “last night” at the Port Kaituma airstrip in Guyana. Two of the broadcasts are of Guyanese origin, and two are American, including an ABC broadcast.
The first newscast includes “unconfirmed reports reaching Georgetown” of mass suicide at Jonestown. Later reports said that Temple attorneys Charles Garry and Mark Lane are safe, although at the time there was still “nothing about reports of mass suicide in the commune.”
The reports are sketchy and somewhat inaccurate on detail. For example, Patty Parks, the only defecting Temple member who was killed at the airstrip, is identified as Patty Mark.
Throughout the broadcasts, there are unknown people moving about at the recording end. Doors open and close, chairs squeak, voices murmur, voices shush others, there is at least one electronic beep of some duration. More importantly, the stories coming out of the Northwest District are the only items on the tape. As a new story begins, someone tunes the radio to another station – ostensibly looking for more coverage? – then turns the recording equipment off.
Almost as important, the voices are American. Even though most of the conversation is unintelligible, there are a couple of exceptions. When the ABC broadcast cuts to the interview with Autumn Ryan, the congressman’s mother, someone says quietly, “Oh boy.” During the third broadcast – which was the last on side one – someone says “Shit” following word that there will be autopsies done on the bodies at the airstrip. Whether the speaker was referring to the decision to perform the autopsies, or was upset about something else unrelated, there is no way of knowing.
Date of transcription: 6/21/79
In connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into the assassination of U.S. Congressman LEO J. RYAN at Port Kaituma, Guyana, South America, on November 18, 1978, a tape recording was obtained. This tape recording was located in Jonestown, Guyana, South America, and was turned over to U.S. Officials in Guyana and subsequently transported to the United States.
On June 10, 1979, Special Agent (name deleted) reviewed the tape numbered 1B102-C10 This tape was found to contain the following: A recording of newscasts about the murder of five people, one of which was Congressman LEO J. RYAN.
Differences with FBI Summary:
The summary is accurate and meets the FBI’s purposes. It also fails to note whether the agents who listened to it were curious about its origin.
This tape was found along with the hundreds of others at the Jonestown community following the mass deaths of 18 November. There was apparently nothing special about the location of the tape, or any differences in appearance to distinguish it from the others, or anything else. It was just there. As opposed to all the other tapes, though, this is the only tape made after the deaths.
The fact is, there are many questions which the contents of tape raise but do not answer:
1) Who made the tape? Most of the people at Jonestown were dead. The few known surviving members of the Jonestown community had left considerably earlier – some before the deaths actually started – or were stunned by what surrounded them when they returned after escaping to the bush. Yet the people who made this tape were calm, competent and even methodical in the recording.
On the other hand, there were no confirmed reports of the mass deaths when the recordings were made. That means it was much too early for the known Guyanese military or American State Department personnel to have arrived on the scene. Anyone representing a governmental agency on the ground at that time was there earlier by one or two days than any acknowledged presence.
2) Where was the tape made? It seems to have been made in the Jonestown radio room. The space is small with the echoes of an interior setting, there are sounds of metallic and/or heavy objects being shifted, and there is an electronic pulse near the end of the last segment. Moreover, the tape is similar in tone to many of the other tapes made at that location.
It could have been made in the Georgetown radio room – and if the recorded ABC broadcast was from a television instead of a radio, that might be more likely – but that adds an additional layer of questions about transporting the tape to the Jonestown settlement.
3) What were people doing as they made the tape? The Guyana military personnel who came into Jonestown on Monday found a contaminated crime scene. There had been some looting – attributed to Amerindians and Guyanese living in the area – and more looting followed. By the time American military personnel arrived to clean up the bodies, some buildings had been ransacked, and paper was strewn everywhere. Were the people who made the tape doing other things at the same time, cloaking it under the mess of simultaneous vandalism?
4) Why did anyone bother to make a tape? The other Jonestown tapes documented the history of Peoples Temple; they gave lessons, either instructional or institutional; they included loyalty oaths and statements that could be used against people who defected; they provided entertainment in the form of music or comedy. Even the so-called “death tape” can be considered part of the continuum, a final message of resistance, defiance and political outrage directed to the world outside.
This tape does none of the above. It is an obituary, written in first person, by the deceased, after death. The motivation for making the tape defies reasonable explanation.
4) Who left the tape behind, and why?
Tape originally posted August 2002