No one from Peoples Temple made tape Q 875.
I say this primarily because it was done in such an amateurish way. Anyone who would have had access to the radio room in Jonestown, or in the USA, would have known how to make a tape correctly. The background noises – shuffling movements, papers rustling – don’t sound at all frenzied, which means whoever was making the tape wasn’t in a rush. And that means – if a Temple member had made it – the tape would have been recorded with more expertise. We were perfectionists (self-made or not).
For example, people in the Jonestown radio room often made tapes in complete silence. Especially for the few moments of a tape this short, a Temple member would have been quiet. And if the point of Q 875 was to capture the audio on the radio broadcasts and nothing else, that’s all the tape would have on it. But the tape includes a few audible comments, as well as the sounds of movement.
Beyond that, none of the Jonestown survivors that I have had any knowledge of were in Jonestown for an extended period of time on November 19, the day after the suicides, the day this tape was made.
I believe the tape was recorded in the radio room, where the equipment would have been sitting right there. It was probably more complicated than a novice would be able to use – finding the radio station, putting the mike nearby – all of that. It was not a chance occurrence.
The lack of care in recording 875 extends over its entire length, which was apparently done over a wide time frame. The updates on the story seemed to unfold on the tape, meaning that it wasn’t just someone stopping by the radio room on chance and recording five minutes of news. Someone was there for a good while, had time to shuffle papers and tape the emerging story coming across the radio. One segment was recorded at least 12 hours after Sharon Amos was found dead, because the information on the radio told about Sharon and her kids, and further details that would have taken some time to determine. Interestingly enough, it gave her Temple name of “Sharon” instead of her passport and legal name of Linda Amos.
One possible explanation would have been if either Mark Lane or Charles Garry, attorneys representing the Temple who were in Jonestown on November 18, went back into Jonestown after hiding in the jungle, and made the tape while they examined what papers they could, but that scenario seems almost as implausible as a Temple member recording the tape.
It was definitely NOT a random government official or policeman, since the programs taped were filled with specific information – almost like the official knew Sharon Amos, Garry, Lane, and Rep. Leo Ryan – because I am sure that the airwaves were filled with many different commentaries. In fact, because of the selection process in deciding what to tape of these broadcasts and the names used, I believe the tape was made to verify some point beyond the general tragedy of the suicides.
This event seemed horrific to people in the United States, but it REALLY looked horrific in Guyana, where the worst criminal activity was limited to was “choke and rob” purse snatchings. There is no way was this handled by anyone but top government officials – high enough up to get clearance for this event, but not smart enough to leave the area without loose ends for others to question.
For these reasons, then, I think those taping were Guyanese government officials – the voices sound Guyanese, but not definitively so – or governmental agents from some country or other, including the possibility of the CIA.
Why was it done? I think the officials wanted to tape the broadcasts, they were out in the jungle far from Georgetown, and they knew the government of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham had imposed a news blackout about the suicides. So, they used some news from another Caribbean news agency reporting over the radio. I think whoever made the tapes was interrupted and forgot to take them, or thought better about taking things out of the crime area, or hesitated about being found with the tape when they found other things that were so much more important/meaningful/valuable.
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It is inconceivable to imagine, sitting here using a computer in the USA, with so many creature comforts, and such various means of communicating – these 26 years later – what happened more than just a world away. When the suicides occurred in Jonestown – as the tape says, in a remote jungle community of Guyana – things moved much more slowly, even by American standards of the day. Jonestown was accessible by boat – 24 hours away from the sleepy capital of Georgetown – and through the ham radio. We had no telephones (much less cell phones), no TV, no news radio station. CNN wasn’t even around then.
The creation of the tape seems like a crude, low-tech way to start collecting specific details about the suicides. All the radio broadcasts mentioned specific names of PT members or associates. I do think that is significant. The tapers knew, or knew of, some of the names mentioned. Many people, in either the US or in Guyana, would have heard of Sharon Amos, Charles Garry and Mark Lane. Very few would have heard – yet – of Larry Layton.
I don’t think anyone would have been able to anticipate how much information would be passed around the world about this tragedy. Whatever the people who made the tape intended – why they were, why they did it, why they left it – they could not have anticipated what would happen once they completed the taping. It was a mystery then, and until someone who has first-hand experience speaks up, it will remain a mystery.
(Laura Johnston Kohl is a teacher who lives with her husband and son in San Diego. Her complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She may be reached at email@example.com.)