An Enigma Within a Conundrum

The Q875 tape, like so many other aspects of the Peoples Temple story, seems to be an enigma within a conundrum.

This is what we do know: That the tape was made on November 19th, probably sometime in the early evening. The news broadcasts heard in the background make the timeline relatively finite.

I first listened to the tape over a year ago. My very first blush impression was that I was hearing the voices of Maria Katsaris and Jim Jones. After several repeated hearings of the tape, I wasn’t nearly as certain of my initial conclusions.

I heard the tape once again in August 2004. My gut reaction was that the female voice on the tape is Maria Katsaris, and that the voice in the background could be Jones’.

However, the tape is filled with contradictions, and confronts me with several glaring questions:

First, why is there such a huge gap between when voices are first heard (side 1, beginning), and when they are next heard (side 2, toward end)? Was the rest of the tape erased by someone after the tape was discovered?

As disturbing as the fact that ANY tape could have been made in Jonestown on November 19th is, the fact that over half of that tape is “missing” is even more disturbing.

Secondly, there are several inconsistencies between the sounds that are heard on the tape, and the physical realities of Jonestown. To wit:

  • There were no screen doors in Jonestown, with the possible exception of Jones’ quarters. I personally can’t positively remember, nor have I found someone who does.
  • At one point in the tape one can clearly hear the sounds of a ham radio. The ham radio in Jonestown was several hundred yards from Jones’ house, and the radio room most definitely did not have a screen door.

Thirdly: Upon returning to Jonestown on Monday morning, November 20th, Mike Prokes, my brother (Mike Carter), and I had the gruesome and horrific task of trying to identify bodies. I personally saw Jones’ body on stage. The decomposition present in his body was consistent with the decomposition in all the other bodies (color, bloatedness, etc). This begs the question: If it was Jones’ voice on the tape that we know to be recorded in the late afternoon/early evening of the previous night, how could his body have suffered the same rate of decomposition as the others that perished twenty-four hours earlier? To my layperson’s eye, that seems an impossibility, especially when considering the relatively advanced nature of decomposition present.

Another contradiction the tape presents cones from the news broadcasts themselves. American radio news was not aired in Guyana on any kind of consistent basis. The news broadcasts that one hears on side 1 of the tape are of Guyanese radio (I remember the announcer’s voice, as I knew him personally). On side 2 of the tape, however, the news broadcasts are definitely US in origin, and the reception is absolutely crystal clear. Reception of US radio in Jonestown was rarely crystal-clear (or 5/5, radio-relay talk for “perfect reception”). Where did these American news broadcasts air from? Georgetown? Miami? New York?

There are alternative explanations and possibilities (as I said, the tape is an enigma within an conundrum). Perhaps the tape was mislabeled, and was actually found in Port Kaituma. This would account for all sounds heard: the ham radio, the clear radio reception, and the screen doors.

I wish the tape itself could be cleaned-up so that the voices heard were clearer, and that the background sounds were more distinguishable. That may also answer the seriously relevant question of whether the tape itself had been tampered with.

For now, as with so many other things “Jonestown” and “Peoples Temple,” I am left with my personal opinions, and questions.

Would that it were not so.

(Tim Carter lived in Jonestown and escaped on the final day. His complete collection of stories for the jonestown report may be found here.)