With little doubt, one of the biggest puzzles to come out of the Jonestown tragedy in recent times is the discovery of tape Q875, which was recorded at least half a day after the deaths. Until now, it was generally accepted that the last of the deaths occurred around midnight of November 18, 1978, and that presumably the few on-site survivors-roughly twenty of Jones’s inner circle-pulled a Houdini and disappeared shortly thereafter. After that, Jonestown was thought to have been deserted (I hesitate to use the term ‘ghost town’) for about 20 hours, until the Guyanese Defense Force arrived at dusk on the 19th. But, much as the crucial Christian period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Jonestown chronology has a 24-hour gap in it: what happened in the time between the last of the deaths at midnight and the arrival of the GDF little less than a day later?
At the very least, Q875 requires that the generally accepted chronology of events during those mysterious 24 hours be rewritten. Clearly, someone was on-site at that time, though who and why are unknown. If we can determine who was there, it might be possible to extrapolate why.
The voices on the tape-at least five males and one female-speak English with American accents, except for one possibly Guyanese speaker, so we can immediately rule out any locals. Realistically, this leaves us with three possibilities for suspects: the U.S. military, and the U.S. government (i.e.: the CIA), and the aforementioned “missing twenty.” Cases can be made for and against each group. In the interest of helping curious readers draw or debunk their own theories over this, I offer the following analyses of each suspect scenario without endorsing any, other than to mention that I present the groups in order of what I consider least to most likely.
The Military. Rumors that the American military (usually Army Rangers or Green Berets) were on-site during the lost time between the 18th and the 19th have been lurking around for decades, though there is no credible evidence or paper trail to back this up. Of course, one wouldn’t expect there to be such blatant evidence if this were a covert operation. All such stories of military involvement are at least second-hand, and the sources disseminating them tend to be conspiracy theorists. Of government groups that would have an interest in Jonestown, the military is low on the totem pole, so the question of motive is immediately raised. Most conspiracists would respond that the Army would be pawns in this case, acting on orders from “elsewhere,” with Langley, Virginia being the most popular spot. Alas, this shows a lack of understanding of how the government works: the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community are separate entities, and there has always been a bit of a rivalry between the two and a reluctance to cooperate. There are contemporary examples of collaboration between the two, of course, with the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission being the best instance. Even that, however, not only took an Executive Order, but more to the point required months of planning and coordination. With Jonestown, we are talking about a window of opportunity of less than 24 hours with next to no advanced notice.
That said, if any group had the means to get in and out on such short call and without anyone knowing, it would be the military. The American military did have a presence throughout Central America, and flight time from a base in Panama, for example, to northern Guyana is only a few hours. The Guyanese officials at the nearest airstrip, Port Kaituma, have steadfastly insisted that no one from the “outside world” showed up in the time between the suicides and the GDF rescue mission, so access to Jonestown would have to be done by helicopter. In terms of pulling off this logistical coup, then, the military would be best set up to do it.
The CIA. Alleged Agency involvement in Jonestown has been a hotly-debated topic over the past 25 years, and is indeed fertile grounds for a bumper crop of conspiracy theories. Jim Jones was a Marxist messiah-type who floated plans to relocate to the Soviet Union, so in this Cold War context it stretches credibility to think that the government wouldn’t have at the very least a passive interest in Jonestown. Unlike the above-mentioned Military Scenario, coming up with a motive for the CIA to make a quick trip to Jonestown requires very little imagination. Likewise, if one is exceedingly lenient and generous as to their capabilities, they could conceivably have been able to pull off the admittedly impressive feat of assembling a team on no notice and dipping in and out without anyone knowing.
Q875 itself offers two very tantalizing-if ambiguous and open-ended-clues suggesting this.
First, the people on the tape can be heard rummaging around the radio room, as if they were looking for something. The GDF themselves reported that Jonestown seemed to have been either looted or ransacked when they showed up. Although this is usually attributed to local native Amerindians and Guyanese living near-by, the people on Q875 are clearly American, and from the context of the sounds, seem to be looking for something. Incriminating evidence, perhaps?
Second, there is this snippet of dialogue:
“He’s in Georgetown with Richard [unintelligible] right [unintelligible, sounds like ‘now’], [unintelligible, sounds like ‘unless’].”
“[interrupting] I thought you said he [unintelligible]” [laughs]
“Who was it?”
“He was the [unintelligible].”
“He was the, uh, executor of the, uh, settlement in Costa Rica, right? He’s the bigwig.”
There were two survivors named Richard: Richard Clark, and Richard Janaro. Neither were in Georgetown during this time-frame. Of course, there was a third Richard involved with the events. Richard Dwyer was an Agency Man who survived the Port Kaituma shootout and even gets a hotly-debated reference from Jim Jones himself on the infamous Death Tape. If the people on Q875 are indeed referring to Mr. Dwyer, we have as close to a smoking gun of CIA involvement as we are probably going to get.
Obviously, it is tenuous at best to assert that the “Richard” in question is Richard Dwyer, for two reasons. I have been unable to determine how Dwyer referred to himself-thus influencing what others would call him. There are multiple forms of the name: Rich, Rick, Dick, etc. Also, it is unclear just when Q875 was recorded, as efforts to time-stamp it against the broadcast times of the news broadcasts in the background have as of now been unsuccessful. If Q875 were recorded early enough, there may not have been enough time to have evacuated him to Georgetown and have this information known to the people on the tape.
However, the speakers on the tape show more than a passing familiarity with the whole situation, as reference to the “bigwig Costa Rica executor” demonstrates, which you would expect of CIA operatives handling the case.
Of course, that would also be evidence for the third scenario of suspects.
The Missing Twenty. It is known that a number of Jones’s inner circle survived the suicides and subsequently dropped out of sight. Since they were obviously on-site at the time of the suicides, it plausible to allow that they would stick around longer than is generally accepted. It is also plausible to attribute the general ransacking evident at Jonestown to them removing any self-incriminating evidence. Of course, this begs the question: if they stuck around to remove incriminating evidence, why would they be dumb enough to put themselves on tape?
Putting that plot hole in logic aside, the very fact that this was taped at all seems to suggest members of the Missing Twenty made it. Q875 was recorded on one of the existing cassettes at Jonestown, so whoever made it knew where the cassette cache was, and then apparently went to the trouble of returning it to that location. I have trouble believing that military or CIA agents would have that detailed knowledge of the commune. More to the point, they wouldn’t be so sloppy and stupid as to record such a tape, as it defeats the whole purpose of a clandestine "black bag" operation. Conversely, if Q875 were made for the purposes of misinformation or misdirection, you would think that it would be better than it is: the audio parts would be clearer and contain dialogue that would serve as expository for whatever red herring they were trying to set up. The very existence of Q875 is an amateurish gaffe that flies in the face of professional training. However, it is a bit more understandable of people who had just been through a traumatic event-such as the deaths of 900+ friends-and weren’t quite thinking straight.
That said, one of the curiosities of the tape is the vocal tone of the speakers: they seem cool, calm, and collected, where-as you’d think the members of the Missing Twenty would be exceedingly stressed out.
One final thought on the matter that tends to support the tape being made by Peoples Temple survivors: one of the voices is a female, and much of Jones’ inner circle-as opposed to other power structures of the period-was female. Not that I want to sound misogynistic, but it strikes me as highly unlikely that a woman would have been included in any type of military or government operation of this type. Obviously, I could be wrong, as determining precedent for this is exceedingly difficult and beyond my meager means.
Other than these three suspects/scenarios, there are others, but almost all of them require leaps of faith that even televangelists wouldn’t try. Occam’s Razor points toward the tape having been made by the Missing Twenty, but that is just my opinion, and I could be wrong. Simply put, we do not know who recorded Q875, or why.