The Uncounted Losses of Jonestown

by Janet Arnold

Photos Courtesy of
California Historical
Society, MSP 3800

I am the aunt of Karen Marie Harms, who died in Jonestown. My sister Beverly Garrett/Harms/Greenwell was Karen’s mother. Her father’s name was Richard Harms, and he was a Marine.

My sister married Richard when I was about eight or nine years old. The marriage didn’t last, yet Karen was one of the happy blessings of my sister’s life. Karen and Beverly lived at home with my family for the first five years of Karen’s life, then Beverly moved out when she could afford an apartment.

From an early age Karen seemed sad and always upset. Since I was pretty young myself, I didn’t know all that was going on, but when Karen became a teenager she was angry and rebellious and finally ran away from home. I think she was doing drugs, which led to her being arrested at least once. It was about that time – 1973 or 1974 – that Peoples Temple in Los Angeles took her in for community service and “rehabilitation.”

Several years later, Karen called her mother to say she was leaving the country with other members of the Temple. I met her at LAX on her way to Florida and we talked. All I knew of Jim Jones was what the media was saying, which was that he was a Christian – as am I – and that he was doing so much good. I naively thought Jones might be a positive influence in her life. It did disturb me when Karen said she knew nothing good about God, since her life had been filled with such misery, and that Jim Jones was the best man she’d ever known. He was her “god.”

My sister corresponded with her while she was in Guyana, although it was very infrequent.

Then came that terrible day in November of 1978, when Beverly called me hysterically with the news was coming out of Guyana. Karen’s body was transported with the others to Dover, Delaware, but my sister couldn’t bring herself to view her daughter. I think she lived with regret over that for the rest of her life.

I always felt that I not only lost my niece in Jonestown, but my sister as well. She became a very angry woman after Karen died. I honestly think that she somehow felt that God was to blame for it all, and because I am a believer, a gulf opened between us that remained until her death.

I’m the only surviving member of my family, and I really do want to honor Beverly and Karen. I would love to speak with anyone who remembers my niece. I can be reached at janetarnold66@yahoo.com.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on January 14th, 2014.
Skip to main content