Peoples Temple in the News

pixelThe following is a summary of news stories from 2005 related to Peoples Temple and Jonestown.

  • Police in Berkeley, California have re-opened their investigation into the murders of Al and Jeannie Mills and their daughter, Daphene, more than 25 years after their deaths.The reason for the renewed “cold case” investigation is unknown, according to family members, since there is apparently no new evidence that has been uncovered, nor have advances in forensics technology assisted in reviewing existing evidence.

    In addition, the police apparently have no new leads on suspects. Instead, they have re-focused their attention on Eddie Mills, the then-17-year-old son of Al and Jeannie Mills who was in the house at the time of the shootings but who was left unharmed.

    Al and Jeannie Mills – who were known as Elmer and Deanna Mertle during their years in Peoples Temple – left the church in 1974 and became two of its most vocal critics. They founded the Human Freedom Center as a refuge for other Temple defectors and were active in the Concerned Relatives organization which was founded to focus media, political, and government pressure on Jim Jones. Because of their defections and their high-profile campaigns against him, Jones often lashed out at the Mills, calling them traitors and threatening retribution against them.

    The three members of the Mills family were shot in their home in February 1980, more than a year after the deaths in Jonestown. Nevertheless, their murders raised the fear that Temple “hit squads” – ex-members who would supposedly avenge the deaths in the Jonestown community against its perceived enemies – had become active. Those rumors dissipated when the police turned their attention to Eddie as a suspect.

    The initial investigation was eventually shelved, but earlier this year, the police re-interviewed several surviving members of the Mills family, asking them to turn over any evidence they may have of Eddie’s involvement. Family members have answered police questions, but – since they maintain their belief in Eddie’s innocence – feel there is no evidence to turn over to officials.

    A news story of the Mills’ 1980 murders is here.

  • Former Temple attorney and Jones’ confidant Tim Stoen asked former religion reporter –  and longtime Temple antagonist – Lester Kinsolving for forgiveness earlier this year, apologizing for his role in the Temple’s campaign to discredit the newsman.Stoen, who eventually left the Temple and joined his wife Grace in an unsuccessful effort to retrieve John Victor Stoen from Jonestown, helped the Temple to organize pickets around the San Francisco Examiner, where Kinsolving worked, following a series of negative articles in 1972. He also filed a libel suit against the writer over the same articles.

    In his letter of February 11, 2005, Stoen said that he had been wrong – and that Kinsolving had been right –  about the Temple. Stoen wrote the letter a few weeks after Kinsolving had a heart attack, an event which Stoen said was the impetus for the letter.

    Tim Stoen is currently the financial crime prosecutor for Mendocino County. Kinsolving is a talk show host for a radio station in Baltimore and a member of the White House press corps.

    The full story on Stoen’s letter and Kinsolving’s reaction is here. A second story from the Religion News Blog, plus the text of Stoen’s letter is here.

  • Records released during the U.S. Senate’s examination of newly-confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts revealed that – while working for the Reagan White House in 1983 –  the young attorney had harsh criticism of slain Congressman Leo J. Ryan.

    Five years after Ryan was assassinated at the Port Kaituma airstrip in Guyana during his fact-finding tour to Peoples Temple facilities in Georgetown and Jonestown, Congress awarded the California Democrat a posthumous gold medal for his service. Ryan remains the only congressman killed in the course of his duties in American history.

    Roberts’ view of the legislator was not as charitable as those of Ryan’s former colleagues. In a November 18, 1983, memo to then-White House counsel Fred Fielding, Roberts wrote: “The distinction of his service in the House is certainly subject to debate, and his actions leading to his murder can be viewed as those of a publicity hound.” The attorney added, however, that there were no legal problems with Reagan signing the legislation authorizing the award of the Congressional Gold Medal.

    Roberts’ comment was in a memo among 420 documents which the National Archives released to Senators looking into the nominee’s background during the summer of 2005.