My sister, Patty Chaffin Parks, came from a large family. She and I grew up with an older sister Joan – who has passed – a younger sister Linda, and a younger brother Dennis – who just passed last December. We were a fairly happy family. Our parents married young, and Patty and Joan also married young, when they were 16 or 17. I remember that Patty and I had to share a bed when we were very young. In those days – I would have been between 5 and 10 – our parents used to fight once in a while, and on one particular time it got a little rough. While they were fighting, Patty tried to protect and comfort me. She held me close as we hid in the bathroom. I remember I was crying and she held me close and tell me that everything was going to be all right.
Patty and Joan would kid around and flirt with some of the guys I hung out with, usually the ones a little older then me. Patty married a nice young man Jerry Parks from South Charleston, Ohio. Patty and I were close, but later our sister Linda became much closer. I did spend the night several time with Patty and Jerry. I also spent the night with Jerry’s brother Dennis. Later on as adults we ran around together.
I also remember riding with Patty in her car one time and thinking what a smart and beautiful sister I have. Patty and Jerry had three children: Brenda, Dale and Tracy. After Patty and Jerry were married for several years, they both went to work for a local dairy company, Lawson Dairy. They were managers of one of their stores and Jerry also did some work at the main plant. Patty always seemed happy to me. Like most families, there were some problems in their marriage, but I don’t believe it was anything to worry about.
In the mid-1960’s, my wife and I had a daughter, and a month or two later Patty had their youngest child Tracy, who by the way is the youngest survivor of Jonestown. It was just a few months after that when Patty and Jerry attended a little church in South Charleston that Jerry’s grandfather had started several years back. It was a Pentecostal church. I bring this up because Jimmy Jones also preached in a Pentecostal church in Indiana and he had visited their church several times. It was around this time they started telling us about him. My wife and I actually visited their church and heard Jimmy Jones speak. He claimed to have done a healing on a child that night we were there. I remember him having the child brought up to the front so he could lay his hands on him and then he claimed he had removed a tumor from some organ and the child was healed.
Patty told us that Jimmy Jones had told them that God had told him there was going to be a nuclear war and God wanted him to take his church and these folks in South Charleston and a few other churches to Ukiah in northern California. It was a little town down in a valley where they would be protected from fallout, and the people there would be the people God would start the world over with. It sounded good. I believe it was just a couple of months later that most of Jerry’s family – and of course Patty – packed up and move to Ukiah.
Right away Patty wrote Mom and told her how happy they were and how nice it was where they were living. Then she let us know that we were not to send any Christmas gifts because Jimmy taught that they should all be equal, that no one should receive more then the other.
After they moved out there, many poor people became a part of this group and some of them lived in bad situations. Patty and Jerry were able to get their own place, though. Both of them had jobs and worked hard.
In the early 70’s I went into the ministry and began to hear troubling things about Jimmy Jones and this cult that my sister and her family got wrapped up in. My mother and my older sister both went out to visit them, and my mom actually lived out there for a while. They said it was a little weird, that the people treated Jimmy Jones as though he were God and that they heard him say he was the Christ. My brother also visited while he was in the service, but he didn’t seem to understand what was going on.
Jimmy Jones wrote my mother after she came home and tried to talk her into leaving our father and moving back out there. This was what God wanted her to do, Jimmy said. I remember reading that letter and pointing out to my mom how many times he mentioned his name – about 30 – to how many times he mentioned God’s name was mentioned – once.
I wrote Patty a number of letters telling her what I was hearing, but she just said she was happier than she had ever been and it was not really any of my business.
I was preaching in Indiana at this time and then moved to a ministry in Louisiana. We had heard that Patty and her family were going to a South American country to help start a children’s home. And then there I was watching TV and they broke in and told what had happened and it was there that I heard the horrible news about my sister being killed on some airstrip and they showed this video of people on a wagon being pulled by a tractor shooting at people trying to board the plane. This of course is where my sister was killed as her youngest daughter Tracy stood next to her side. Tracy was not hurt – and we thank God for that – but she did spend several days in the jungle hiding with others.
My wife and I recently went out to Ukiah to visit Patty’s and our family. We found that they are still devastated by what had taken place in their lives 30 years ago. They never really had any closure since Patty’s funeral was held before her family got back to the States.
Patty was a good person and full of love. I know she was a good mother but somehow this nut Jones really had her brainwashed at least until they got to Jonestown.
(William Chaffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)