I tremble as I write.
The first time I heard about the evil acts perpetrated upon poor deceived, lonely, disenfranchised souls in Jim Jones’ false Utopia, I just about fainted. It was like a hurricane slammed into the very core of my being. When I heard that Larry Schacht was the doctor used to murder these people, my heart stopped. It was staggering. How can this emotion be described? I found a book written about Peoples Temple in the library because I wanted to be sure it was my Larry. Every page, every picture haunted me. And then I saw his name, a bit of his bio there in black and white. It was my teenage sweetheart. In some ways only those who are touched by the deep-freeze shadow of evil can know the bone-chilling, cringing effect. This shadow fell upon my soul. It was darkness substantial, touchable, engulfing, suffocating. I began to turn pages and recoiled, slamming the book shut. The memory of my young friend had been raped. It seemed that if I went any further in that book, I would have been entering a living nightmare from which I might not be able to awake. I just could not let those images or one more sentence of that story take root in my mind. Even touching the book was like touching the heart of evil. I had to turn away.
Why so violent a reaction? The evil was personalized for me. Larry had been a close friend, and that meant I narrowly escaped there with Larry myself. I was facing a personal, shattering loss.
It was in the spring semester of my senior year in high school in the year of our Lord, 1966… I had already dropped out so to speak from the social mainstream by running away from a volatile situation in my home at 16; getting married in Mexico to a tragic alcoholic, abusive teenager; leaving him; finding out I was pregnant; divorcing said teenage tyrant; and finally giving birth to a precious baby girl, all before my 18th birthday.
I returned to high school disenfranchised by my troubled choices. In that day and time girls could only wear skirts or dresses to school; guys weren’t allowed to have long hair, and there were no divorced girls with babies in the high schools. I was on the fringe, ripe for some message that would ease my pain and searching for some community, a sense of belonging. What normal prom-going, corsage-giving, clean-cut, college bound guy would date a divorcee with a child?
In other words I became a member of a certain group by default. We were the people with holes in our souls for one reason or another, and we found each other. We were drawn by a similar need and hunger much like certain bees drawn to certain flowers. Our flower and scent of choice were the flowers and buds and leaves of the mind-bending Hemp. Marijuana truly became a gateway drug. The times they were a’ changing. Things happened in the 60’s, monumental things. Among them were new immigration laws which resulted in an influx of different cultures to American shores. Vastly different ideas were blowing in the wind. Ideas which brought into existence a group of radical revolutionaries, anarchists at heart who wanted to bring down the American Republic and replace it with Socialism – the now well-known” Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). This is the group of Bernadette Dohrn and Bill Ayers, of Carl Oglesby and Mark Rudd. The group also included feminists who talked about male chauvinists.Oh, the list could go on and on. A few advocated throwing bombs, rioting on college campuses, killing policemen, or for that matter ripping open the bulging wombs of pregnant women to get their point across. This group of anarchists was part of a so-called counter-culture. We all became as it were a new tribe. Though I was not involved in political anarchy, I was involved in moral and spiritual anarchy. We all decried chains of any kind, and the chains we hated most were those we perceived to be forged by a Sovereign God of Absolute Truth, a Lawgiver… If God says that fornication and adultery are wrong, God has to be a liar, or else He is just a myth. Yes, we liked that idea. God is just a myth. Why, no one ever felt as free as we felt. If it feels good, it can’t be wrong, can it? We broke those scary rules and yet we’re dancing in the streets with flowers in our hair… Life was like a continuous party. We turned on, tuned in and dropped out of the bondage of the dead, stodgy, unfun, profit-seeking, moralistic, money-grasping, keep-up-with-the-Joneses, over-30 so-yesterday society. We grew, we communed, we succeeded. No misery here, that is except for the occasional overdose of one of our drug buddies. God must be dead, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, those who had been pioneers of human psyche assured us it was so. We certainly have no worries in this area. Did not our magazines, our street philosophers and rampant unruly passions confirm this death of God notion as fact? One does have to eradicate God if one wants to make one’s own rules. I even remember the day I declared my own independence from God. It is not hard to understand how the rejection of an absolute moral code could produce Jonestown or for that terror that walks on our present world stage… Larry was waiting in the wings for me to find.
I used to frequent a teenage “cabaret” named “The Pot Plant”, which was housed in a converted warehouse, in the shadows of my high school. I am not sure if it was there, but it could have been, that I heard about a guy named Larry Schacht. I was intrigued with the idea, the description, the narrative of this guy. I don’t remember exactly why this story about Larry made such an impression on me, but I remember that he was said to have started a chapter of SDS at Lamar High School. He was brave. He was a leader. He had a cause. He was also an outsider, on the fringe! He was disillusioned. And, as we have come to find our, he had a hole in his soul.
Hearing about Larry Schacht did not change my life at that time. He was no more than an interesting character among many. I went about my life: dropping my baby daughter at the babysitter; going to school; smoking pot after school; picking up my daughter after school and a little weed; and letting my parents be her parents while they let me be a teenager nights and on weekends! One such night or weekend I happened into a party at the old Holiday Inn on South Main. The exact moment I walked into that room, I locked eyes with a dark-haired, dark-eyed guy sitting at the back. His eyes were pools of mystery. I fell in. I was mesmerized; drawn to him. I was amazed to hear myself blurting out of the blue, “You’re Larry Schacht!” Everybody in the room was shocked. It was a “happening”. I had never laid eyes on Larry before. No one had described his appearance to me. I just knew who he was…. and then we were.
His brother Danny, who was President of the SDS at the University of Houston, would pick me up as Larry did not have a car so we could hang out together. We spent time walking in Herman Park, sitting on the benches in the moonlight, talking, talking, talking, and occasionally kissing. Larry had no job and no money. We were high school students ready to graduate. We were like soul mates. I loved Larry, and I think Larry loved me. He was so young, so smart, so sweet, so tender. It seemed so innocent. He never made advances. He wasn’t out for sex. We were real friends.
Sometimes we would go to his brother’s apartment. It is a little frightening now for me to think how close I was to the movement which produced the Weather Underground. Bernadette Dohrn, who served time for her involvement, actually complimented Charles Manson on his murdering spree. Manson was aware of the tactics of the anarchist movement to foment discontent and rebellion among various groups especially by rubbing raw the newly healing wounds of racism. Manson thought he could actually begin a race war with his murderous spree and catapult him into supreme power. We were actually a kind of schizophrenic movement. On the one hand we were the gentle, peace and love people ushering in the age of Aquarius, while our other hand was inciting hatred among the classes for the common enemy – Authority – and calling for bloody revolution as per the Marxist protocol…
I digress!!! Memories of the way we were come out from the corners of my mind. Other times Larry and I would spend at the garage apartment behind his parents’ home. Larry was an artist. I thought he was a gifted artist. Who wouldn’t think so under the influence of our sense-affecting drugs, but I really do think that Larry had an artistic gift. I would sit amazed as Larry would fill blank white spaces with fantastical lines and curves, shapes and shade, things hard to imagine, but flowing like an inspired stream from his pen. Watching Larry compose his drawings was a magic carpet ride in itself. I sat transfixed. I was always asking him to draw for me.
We talked about life. At least we tried to talk about life. Many of our thoughts were drawn from the new philosophies streaming in from every shore. We thought it provocative to imagine that we were just figments in some great big being’s dream, as intimated in a lecture by Alan Watts given at the University of Houston. It was a little disconcerting to realize that we would not exist when it woke up, though. I’m sure these ideas fanned the flame for many to live in extreme indulgence. Better get all the pleasure that we can while we can. I lived by that rule myself. Why did I make it out of that time alive? I now know it was because of the undeserved mercy of a Sovereign God based solely on His decision before I was ever born to raise me, so to speak, from the dead. Who can understand these things?
Many of our group were living in high-speed reckless abandon with the aid of an avalanche of drugs flowing freely into our hands, not only hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin, but also easily obtained Crystal Meth, not to mention the bread and butter fuel of life, Marijuana. Why did we so easily use drugs? What was it that made us inject substances into our veins or pop sugar-cubes or pills which could have instantly or presently killed us? “The Valley of the Dolls” movie peered into an all too prominent trend for our parents to self medicate. I could find a small pharmacy in my own medicine cabinet in the family bathroom. A plethora of propaganda about drugs from college professors and writers like Aldous Huxley encouraging the experimentation was rolling off the nation’s presses. Rock and Roll trip-masters, Hindu maharaja’s, psychology majors, became our spiritual leaders. We were all too eager and willing to fearlessly pass through our doors of perception. Our lives were our own.
Larry was also brilliant. I kept encouraging him to go to college. He did plan to enroll at U of H. Unfortunately, drugs are a cruel tyrant, and obviously Larry was on his way to complete enslavement. I read one report which said that Larry became addicted to heroin. Sadly one addiction was replaced with a false prophet who deceived Larry into thinking he was the Dad, the supernatural God figure, that Larry must have longed for. I heard a chilling recording of Larry before the mass murders. He sounded like his soul had died.
Jim Jones found in Larry the brilliance he could build into a medical doctor to do his bidding at Jonestown. Because of Larry’s drug addiction problems, Jones was forced to find a medical school that would accept him. He had to go to Mexico to do it I am not sure that Larry ever kicked the drug addiction. Drugs do change one’s perception. I know this from almost unbearably sad experience. I am inclined to think that the whole population was kept under the control of drugs without their knowledge.
Larry and I stayed friends, even though we each gravitated to new partners. The last time I heard from Larry was in 1969. That was a watershed year for me. God, who has revealed and explained Himself to us in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, reached into my ravaged life and gave me the gift of repentance and faith in the efficacious life and death and resurrection of the Messiah. I was caught up in the Charms of the Shepherd Savior. I was “surprised by joy” on May 7, 1969. Quite unbeknownst to me that dutiful, “magnanimous” trip to a little Baptist Church to placate my mother was orchestrated by an Unseen Lover of my soul. That day I heard His call, “Come to Me. Meet thy heart’s desire.” “Put your hand in My nail-pierced Hand.” “All your guilt and shame has been absorbed into My crucified body.” O, yes I ran, as it were, to that Man, that God. The light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shown upon my soiled, battered, burnt out soul and unshakeable faith was born in my heart for you see faith is a response to the Light. I felt as if I had been eating at a swine’s trough all my life and was now sitting down to the pure delights and unimaginably satisfying delicacies from the table of the Creator and King of the Universe. The pleasures I now have in Christ are like the difference between the ocean and one drop. Back then there was a group named the Jesus People who were equating this supernatural gift with being high on drugs. This is not the gospel and it is an affront to the Holy Majestic Christ who is the fountain of life. My Christian journey which began in seed form on this date has been in learning to walk with a crucified Savior. Sensuality of any form is idolatry and treachery not spirituality. It costs everything to follow Him, and the cost ever so painful as it is, cannot be compared with the gain. It is true that you must lose your life to find it.
Larry called me later that year out of the blue. I had been out of town and had lost touch with my Houston group. I was so glad to hear his voice. I tried to tell him about my new Friend, but he said that he had found a more ancient religion. I asked him to come over and talk. He said he would, but I never heard from him again. If Larry had called me before May 7, 1969, when the call from Heaven arrested me, I could just as easily have gone with Larry.
Nothing can excuse or put a good light on what Larry did. Larry was a murderer. Of course he was deceived, but that does not negate the evil of his choices. He murdered babies, babies he had helped bring into the world. He drugged those who decided they no longer wanted to be part of the communist experiment and the cruel tyranny of a despicable liar. I just am aghast. O, Larry!
But lest we think any of us are better than Larry, I think it important to recognize that the same monster lies in each of our hearts. This monster is known as original sin. The human heart is desperately wicked—who can know it? O, we may put on our good face, but Mr. Hyde is lurking. Maybe even hiding from our own eyes. Yes, humans can do good, and are we not grateful. Imagine a world with unrestrained evil. That would be Hell. But our human good is always tainted with impure motives. It is written that there is none righteous – no not one. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Any sin has infinite consequences because it is an affront to an Infinite Holy Being.
Given the right circumstances, as Larry was, our true colors would also show. Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall. Larry will stand before the judgment seat of the Most High God one day like all of us to give an account for everything he did or thought. We are accountable for every word we speak! My only answer to the Judge of all flesh, when my sins are flashed upon the screen of the universe for all to see, will be “You, Holy God, are right about my sins; they deserve the worst punishment conceived. In fact my sins are just as heinous as the sins of Larry Schacht in your Pure and Holy sight; but look there, see that slaughtered Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world? His blood drips because of my sins and for my sins.” “You, His Father, have counted that payment infinitely valid and complete by resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead.” “You, Father, made this promise,” ‘Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white at snow’.” “The bloody Lamb has washed me clean and stands between me and Divine Justice.” “The demand I could not meet has been met for me by Another.”
I do not know if I will see Larry in the eternal city. But I know of one criminal who went into that city on the very day he died with the triumphant resurrected Christ – one of the thieves on a cross next to His.
Maybe someone will read this story and be drawn to The Way, The Truth and The Life. For this I pray.
(Linda Hopkins Lowe Crutchfield may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)