And Then They Were Gone Nears Completion

(A sample chapter from the book And Then They Were Gone appears here. A Peoples Temple timeline which will appear in the book is here. Ron Cabral can be reached at His co-author Judy Bebelaar can be reached at

The book that began five years ago as a dream is closing in on becoming a reality. We have completed the writing of And Then They Were Gone, and – with the editorial assistance of Stephanie Baker – trust the work will be even better in its final form.

The next step in our process is photo selection. We have identified a number of pictures of our students which are owned by the California Historical Society and are now working with CHS to use some of them.

The list of characters in the book is long, partly because we didn’t want to omit any of the young people we knew. We were able to talk to former student coordinator Terry Preston, members of the baseball team, Linda Mertle, and several other former students who told us parts of the story we didn’t know. As the book moves from Opportunity High in San Francisco to Jonestown, others became important to the story. Tim Reiterman is now a character in our book because he saw and experienced much in Jonestown, and interviewed many others who survived. Deborah Layton’s book was helpful as well.

We continue to make interesting discoveries as the book is in its final stages. Recently we learned that Edith Roller was at Opportunity High on the October evening in 1976 that Jim Jones came to speak to students and faculty. Edith and her journals were a great help in writing the Jonestown half of the book, so it’s good to be able to place her in one of the scenes of the first half.

The three Jones brothers – Tim, Jim Jr. and Stephan – are also important in the story. Both Judy and I have powerful memories of them being at Opportunity High in 1976. Tim and Jim were on the baseball team I coached – although Jim didn’t play in any games, since he had to leave due to his Temple-related duties – and all three brothers were on the Jonestown basketball team that saved their lives. They have come back and made positive new lives for themselves.

Many people have helped us finish the story. We especially want to thank Stephan Jones for providing guidance and inspiration to us and for contributing some of his own writing in the Jonestown chapters. Linda Mertle was in one of my classes at Opportunity High, and she has helped Judy with several aspects of the story.

I would like to thank all the Peoples Temple members of the school baseball team at Opportunity High, as their real life exploits on the baseball fields of San Francisco help tell the story of these teenagers living in San Francisco during exciting times.

In the process of writing the book we have learned time and again that no one can write the absolute truth. But we did write our book with a constant vigilance to tell the truth as best we could, and to let the story tell itself.