Carolyn Layton: The Grey Eminence

As the collection of articles, reflections and remembrances on this website grows, so does the speculation about how one individual could have controlled so many. Moreover, the speculation extends – and rightfully so – to the responsibility of others in Peoples Temple who helped Jim Jones implement his plans. Yet there has been little of substance written about the organization of the Peoples Temple and those in its hierarchy. Given my experience in corporate America, I know something about effective organizations; given my experience in the Temple, I can attest to the effectiveness of that organization.

For purposes of this reflection, I’m not examining the entire structure of the church but only exploring the responsibility of the chief administrative officer of the organization, a kind of grey eminence, if you will, who played a role in the kingdom of Jim Jones somewhat similar to that of Cardinal Richelieu to Louis XIII. I’m particularly interested in this individual because I’m convinced it was she, more than anyone else, who could have stopped much of what went wrong that final day. The individual I’m referring to here, of course, is Carolyn Layton (née Moore).

Why do I place such responsibility on Carolyn? Simply because I saw for myself the influence she exercised over Jim throughout their ten-year affair and her involvement as Jim’s chief of staff.

I first met Carolyn and her husband Larry Layton at a meeting Jim held at my family’s home in May 1968 to plan our strategy to back Bobby Kennedy in that year’s presidential race. They had moved to Ukiah so Larry could complete his alternative military service as a conscientious objector at the Talmadge State mental hospital. I’m sure they had learned about the church because of its widely applauded work in civil rights and social justice movements throughout California. My first memory of Carolyn is that she was educated, attractive, well-mannered, and – to a slum kid like me – very upper class. In plain English, she always seemed together and in control.

Inasmuch as I’d grown up in the Temple and became, at 19, Jim’s designated successor, I was a close confidant and participated in the making of many Temple policy decisions. Shortly after the meeting, Jim confided in me his physical attraction to Carolyn. Given Marceline’s medical condition, as Jim described it, he and she had had to terminate their sexual relationship. Consequently and, of course, through no fault of his own, he averred that he was smitten with Carolyn.

Given my budding romance with Suzanne Jones, Jim and Marcie’s daughter, and my devotion to Jim, I hoped he would find at least some happiness with Carolyn, especially since he seemed so unhappy with Marcie. Very soon thereafter, he told me that Carolyn and he had begun a torrid affair. What’s more, instead of taking “the boys” (as we always referred to Jim’s sons) to San Francisco for weekend outings as Jim said he was doing, he left Suzanne and me in charge of them and spent many of these jaunts alone with Carolyn.

Initially, Carolyn was very friendly with me, and I had the impression that, given my position in the organization, she was deferring to me. However, once she was firmly ensconced as Jim’s mistress, it became clear that all decisions were to be run through her and that all those of us in senior staff positions were to accept her instructions as if they were Jim’s. From that moment on, she became, in effect, Jim’s “Go To Guy.”

As I recall, Carolyn never occupied a publicly recognizable leadership or ministry position. Those functions were pretty much left to Marceline and a bevy of associate pastors. Nevertheless, no one “in leadership” had any doubt about Carolyn’s ultimate authority.

Given the growth of the organization in the late 60s and early 70s, the somewhat independent authority I exercised in the youth group and the college dorms, and equally important the time I devoted to my studies while in law school, I had no problem with the change and certainly understood the organizational requirements for just such a position. And Carolyn was highly capable of discharging the functions of her unique role.

Along with Carolyn’s assumption of authority came a change in personality, from my new classy, amusing, and smart “friend,” to a ruthless authoritarian, for whom the ends always seemed to justify the means. Almost immediately, she dumped her husband and instructed him to find new lodgings. Although she always masked her determination through a superficial friendliness, there was no doubt that her instructions were to be followed. For example, in the catharsis sessions we held in our more private meetings, she frequently organized the personal attacks we were to make on each other. I know because I was often the recipient of these instructions. My sister, Patricia, who lived with her for years and quite simply adored Carolyn, was the victim of one such attack, organized by Carolyn. All Patricia had done to warrant this attack was to refuse Jim’s sexual advances. Patricia later told me that after this ridiculous though bruising confrontation, Carolyn shunned her.

Very strangely, Carolyn not only cared little about the personal consequences of her actions and instructions on others, but she seemed little affected by those to her. For example, she personally organized Jim’s trysts with other Temple members, male and female.

That disconnect became even more profound as she sacrificed even her family relationships for her affair. For example, in 1974, she became pregnant by Jim. We in staff and on the Planning Commission were told that Carolyn had been on a dangerous mission in Mexico and had been jailed and tortured, but was holding up admirably. In truth, she was going through her pregnancy comfortably in the Berkeley home of her parents, John and Barbara Moore. I learned this when Suzanne – to whom I was then married – and I were invited over to go to dinner with Jim and “the boys.” Carolyn’s parents were wonderful people, who opened their beautiful craftsman residence, to Jim and “the boys” as well as Carolyn. I was astonished, first off, to find Carolyn, living in such comparative luxury and in California no less. Jim and Carolyn both had a good laugh at the deception they carried off about her experience in Mexico. On the few occasions I was invited, it was pretty clear that Jim and sons had visited often.

Even at that point, I was curious to learn how a family as principled, dignified, and kindly as the Moores felt about Carolyn’s illicit affair, not to mention the advantage taken by Jim of them and their hospitality. Carolyn personally exploited their goodwill on at least one other significant occasion. She was directly involved in the theft of a briefcase inadvertently left at her family home by a Temple antagonist, and created a cover story which, if penetrated, would likely have subjected her father to embarrassment and possible censure in his profession.

Alone and with the boys, Jim and Carolyn happily enjoyed many leisure activities and vacations, which would have been beating offenses if they’d been enjoyed by any other members. To be sure, I was only too happy to join them after Saturday meetings in Los Angeles for dinner and movies in Hollywood.

It was a rare occasion when Marceline joined us rather than Carolyn. Indeed, once Carolyn was in the picture, we rarely saw Marceline with Jim except on courtly parades around the church. Although Suzanne and I never discussed it – out of fear of disclosure – I could tell she was disgusted by her father’s infidelity to her mother. And Carolyn never quite seemed to understand why Suzanne was always so distant to her.

Whatever costs to her family and others around her, Carolyn’s loyalty – and her love – for Jim became all-consuming. Similarly, her authority eventually became absolute, as Jim’s dependence upon her became complete. To my knowledge, particularly as time passed and he began to slip, Jim did nothing without Carolyn’s concurrence.

Even though I had been out of the Temple for a year and a half when Leo Ryan’s decision to go to Guyana inadvertently set the events of November 18 into motion, and even though I never personally visited Jonestown, my understanding is that all of these factors – her loyalty, her authority, Jim’s dependence – continued on a trajectory that peaked on that terrible day. Simply put, I believe Carolyn was as corrupt as Jim, and alone had the opportunity and influence to change Jim’s actions. She betrayed the principles on which she was raised, her family of origin, her sister, Annie, and her son, Jim Jon, and remains in my mind as complicit in the murders of November 18 as Jim Jones himself.

(Mike Cartmell is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. His complete set of writings for this site appears here. He may be reached at