The Mystery Of the Post-Mortem Cassette: Who? Where? Why?

by Jason Schwechter

The post mortem tape is the most confusing tape found in Jonestown after the tragedy that occurred there. While many theories exist about who actually made this tape following the deaths of over 900 people on November 18, 1978, each answer leaves many questions unanswered.

My thoughts on this tape have changed several times since I heard it for the first time. I can hear where some people heard the word “triage” and “Sue.” Strangely at the beginning of the tape you can hear the sound of a needle on a record player, still spinning at the end of the record, but I have no confirmation that there was a record player in Jonestown (even though Peoples Temple did cut an LP).

Rather then focus on what the tape says, let’s look at who could have made it.

Question 1: Was the tape made in Jonestown or not? I believe the tape was made there, and here is why. How many of us have made a cassette tape in our lives (or burned a CD)? There was nothing remarkable about that cassette. This means that the cassette would have been one of the ones used by Peoples Temple in Jonestown. If someone brought the tape with them into Jonestown, they would have either had to dub the cassette to a cassette they found there – a process taking time – or would have had to know what brand of cassette the people of Jonestown were using at that point in time. Also, the sound quality is very poor. People reused tapes in Jonestown, and this would explain the poor quality.

Question 2: Who were the first people to arrive at Jonestown after the deaths? As I discussed in a companion article, there is a small section on the death tape which indicates that two members of the GDF “dropped their machine guns and ran … but there’ll be more of them.” This to me means the GDF were already in the area. Whether they were in Jonestown or – more likely – at the Port Kaituma airstrip, if these two witnessed what was going on before they fled, they would obviously report to the GDF as fast as they could. For that reason, I feel very strongly that the GDF was the first to arrive in Jonestown.

The GDF would also have called in for medical teams. It would use the word “triage” as we would. If they were the first on the scene, they would have taken these actions on their own, without taking instructions from US sources, which undercuts theories that there is a CIA or US government conspiracy, at least at this point on the tape.

This does beg the question, though: how did the US find out about this so quickly? Perhaps the GDF first contacted the US and the tape was made once they arrived. However, since there was a radio call from Jonestown to Georgetown – remember, people died in Georgetown as well – with instructions to die, the US, monitoring Jonestown’s radio transmissions, may have used this as their indication that something was going wrong in Jonestown.

Question 3: Why use both sides of the tape? I believe it was to let the world know that the tape was intentionally made. Someone wanted to record the outcome of this tragedy, either for personal reasons, posterity, or for political motivation. I know that some people want to record their presence at the scene when they are a part of history. This would also argue against the CIA’s role in the creation of the tape, since it would want no records of its involvement. It would have to be someone else. The people at Jonestown were dead, and the laughter clearly heard on the tape makes it unlikely that any mysterious survivor could have made it. That leaves some local who, although there were reports of looting, would have to stick around for a large period of time – surrounded by 900 dead bodies  – in order to make the tape. Only a member of the GDF who would have had orders to be there amidst such carnage would have had time and professional detachment to create this postscript to the tragedy.

The three answers to the questions above make the most sense given the information we have at this time on Jonestown. As more information is released, it is my hope that we can finally fill in the gaps on this tragic story.

(Jason Schwechter can be reached at jschwechter@gmail.com.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on February 25th, 2014.
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