Wanted: Personal Stories

Entry to Jonestown, 2008
Entry to Jonestown, 2008
Photo by Julia Scheeres

The more I learn about Peoples Temple, the more impressed I am by the vastly different experiences people had of the group. From those who joined for the egalitarian ideals, to those who thought Jim Jones was Jesus Christ reincarnated, from those who remained true believers until the bitter end, to the kids who hated Jonestown and were only there because their parents brought them – each individual has her or his own story to tell.

This is why, for the book I’m writing on Jonestown for Free Press, I’ve chosen four individuals whom I believe represent various aspects of Peoples Temple membership. These are:

• Edith Roller, a single, college-educated, white woman who was primarily interested in social/political ethics of Peoples Temple.

• Stanley Clayton, a young African American man from a troubled home whom Jim Jones helped by getting him a reduced prison sentence, and then giving him a job and a home.

• Hyacinth Thrash, an elderly black woman who followed Jones from Indianapolis. Having grown up under Jim Crow in Alabama, she was won over by Jones’ efforts to integrate restaurants, churches and hospitals. She also believed Jim Jones healed her breast cancer.

• Thom Bogue, a white teenager who was in constant trouble in Jonestown and was there because only his parents were members of Peoples Temple.

I am actively interviewing Clayton and the Bogue family, but Thrash and Roller are deceased. If anyone reading this has any recollections of any of these four people from the Peoples Temple era, I would love to hear them.

Another thing that impresses me is how skillfully members were kept in the dark about the more sinister elements of Peoples Temple, including Jones’ plans to kill his followers. There’s evidence that the massacre was plotted months before it actually happened. There were also inklings that something was wrong with the direction the church was taking long before it moved to Guyana. So I’m interested in knowing when and how folks realized that something was wrong with Jones/ Jonestown/ Peoples Temple, and how they responded to their hunch.

I welcome contact from any of you, no matter what stories you have to tell.

(Julia Scheeres can be reached at Juliascheeres@gmail.com.)