How Bobby Survived and Returned

Photo Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

(Ed. note: Bobby Stroud survived Jonestown by being in Georgetown on November 18, 1978. He returned to the United States, eventually finding work in sales with both radio stations and real estate. He married three times and had five children. An injury he had suffered while in Jonestown caused him great physical pain for much of the remainder of his life. He died of natural causes in February 2005. He was 47.

(The following description of his life after Jonestown was written by his mother, Judy McAbee. Judy died in June 2017.)

Bobby was working in the jungle in Jonestown one day, when a piece of heavy equipment rolled on him, smashing him. At first they thought he was dead, then someone noticed some movement so they radioed for a helicopter which came and flew him to a hospital. He was in terrible shape. When he came to in the hospital in Georgetown, Marcie was there with him. He told her that as all he wanted was to walk again and see his mom. Marcie told him that with her help, he would do both. That’s when she read him the letter I had written earlier with my phone number. Even though Bobby had been estranged from his stateside family when he was in Jonestown, I wanted him to call me. He didn’t right away, but he would after the deaths.

Marcie saved my son’s life. She got him out of Jonestown the night before the tragedy. Marcie had told Jim that Bobby needed to go into Georgetown for a doctor’s appointment. Jim said he couldn’t, and Bobby said he didn’t have one, but Marcie insisted that he did. That’s how he happened to survive. I was so grateful to her when he told me that she truly spared his life.

Right after everything happened, he started calling me at the number Marcia had passed along from me. Each time I would pick up the receiver, I would hear those overseas telephone bells jingling. I got so excited because I knew it was my beloved son calling me. He would cry into the phone over the loss of all his friends and extended family.

When he returned to the United States, he couldn’t come to see me right away. Instead, he had to go to San Francisco to be interrogated before the grand jury. Finally after everything was done, the State Department called and said they were sending Bobby to me. The State Department had kept in close touch with me – as had Bobby, throughout the whole process – letting me know what was going on. I was finally going to see my son.

I told my boss I needed to pick up my son from the airport. I had never mentioned Bobby or Peoples Temple before, and my boss was furious and threatened to fire me from the job I had had for almost three years. I was totally shocked. As I told him, my son’s involvement with Jim Jones had nothing to do with the excellent job I was doing for the company. He finally got over his rage and said I could keep my job, which I did for 10 more years.

When I got the call about which airline he would be coming in on, I hurried from work to the airport. I had no idea I was being followed by the press. When Bobby hobbled off the airplane, all kinds of cameras started flashing. Bobby tried to hide his face and asked me why I told the media. I tried to explain to him that I hadn’t, but he was so upset because they wanted statements and pictures of us together. We got out of there as quickly as possible.

The year of 1979 was probably the coldest winter up here in Idaho that I could ever remember. After being in Guyana, poor Bobby was not used to being in cold weather, and he looked like a gangster in that horribly ill-fitting long black coat they gave him. That, plus the pain he was still suffering, made his life miserable.

His whole lower body had been put back together with pins and plates, and he said it was like dogs biting him all over. He would sob for hours from the pain and also from the tragedy he had been through. We would talk for hours, him telling me everything he could think of. He told me he wished he had never gone there in the first place, and that he was so very sorry for leaving me and his siblings. He also told me he couldn’t stand to go out to the jungle because all he could hear was that madman’s voice screaming over the loudspeakers.

He was not in good shape, and I finally decided to send him to my mother’s house in Palm Springs, California. I hated to put him on that plane, but I knew I had to for his sake. When he arrived, he was taken to a doctor for more tests and x-rays. They found a huge blood clot in his left side, so he had to have surgery. I made him a quilt while this was going on to keep him warm, as he kept telling me that he couldn’t get warm.

He stayed down in Southern California, met a woman named Janice, and eventually married her. They moved to Texarkana, Texas, and about a year or so, later they had a son.

A couple of years later, he started an affair with a woman named Beverly, and he and Janice split up. Bobby and Beverly lived together for a few years, then they married. They did really well until Beverly transferred with the phone company to Dallas, leaving Bobby in Texarkana. They were supposed to be with each other every weekend, but Bobby’s screwed-up life got him in big trouble with women again. They split up too, but became friends after she got over all the hurt. He went to see her about a week before he died.

My son had horrible nightmares almost every night after he returned from Guyana. Both of his wives told me about how he would scream in the middle of the night because of all the lost loved ones. I knew that they meant. I too had heard him crying in the night because of all the tragedies he had been through.

Bobby had two brain tumors removed in the 80’s. He was in such horrible pain most of the time, which was why he was so badly hooked on drugs. Towards the end he hobbled all the time. Beverly told me that Bobby got fired from his job in sales at the TV station because he failed the drug test. She practically had to force him to go to work each day as he was so drugged. His drug use is what ended things for everything and everyone who loved him so much.

He had just really started to come to grips with his life by contacting his old friends from the Temple when he died. I hope he had a chance to find the peace in his last months that had eluded him for more than 25 years.