Why is the child custody battle over John Victor Stoen so important?

John Victor Stoen was born on January 25, 1972. His birth certificate lists Grace Grech Stoen as the mother and Peoples Temple attorney Timothy O. Stoen as the father. Less than two weeks later, Tim Stoen signed an affidavit stating that the Temple’s leader Rev. Jim Jones had sired the child. In the years to follow – and especially after Tim and Grace both left the Temple, both without the child  – Jones would cite the affidavit countless times to demonstrate his paternity of the child, to denigrate Grace’s worthiness to be a mother, and to dismiss Tim’s claims of custody rights.

Eventually, John Victor Stoen came to the most visible symbol in the battle between Jim Jones and the Concerned Relatives organization, with which both Tim and Grace were both allied by then. Everyone – Jim Jones, the Temple leaders and members, and the entire Jonestown community on one side; and the Stoens, the oppositional group they belonged to, and the growing number of the Temple’s critics on the other – knew that if Jones were forced to surrender John Victor, the precedent would have been set, and every relative seeking child custody or adult conservatorship of their family members in Jonestown would be emboldened. Jones would have lost more than just the boy he claimed as his own. He would have lost his claims of absolute power of protection for his followers. After all, if he couldn’t hold on to his own flesh and blood, how could he defend anyone in the community against the other dangerous forces – real, imagined and exaggerated – which were aligned against them?

For more information and documents, see the page on the John Victor Stoen child custody under Primary Sources.