Frequently Asked Questions

The sign reads: "Welcome to Jonestown, Peoples Temple Agricultural Project"
The sign reads: “Welcome to Jonestown, Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”

“Jonestown” is a word with several meanings. First, it refers to an agricultural project established by the Peoples Temple, a religious group based in California which immigrated to Guyana in the mid-1970s to establish an agricultural utopia. Second, it refers to the events of 18 November 1978 in which a U.S. Congressman was assassinated, along with four other individuals, at a jungle airstrip in South America. These tragic killings were followed by the mass murders and suicides of 900 men, women, and children by ingesting potassium cyanide mixed into a vat of fruit punch and tranquilizers. Finally, the word “Jonestown” has been used to describe any New Religious Movement which may or may not have the potential for violence, as in “Heaven’s Gate was another Jonestown.”

A concise introduction to Peoples Temple – written by this site’s manager for the Virginia Commonwealth University World Religions and Spirituality Project – includes a timeline on the Temple’s history, information on the group’s doctrines and beliefs, its rituals, its leadership, and the challenges and issues that culminated on November 18, 1978.

The following answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Jonestown provide additional information about the group, its beliefs, and its practices.

Unless otherwise noted in an individual answer, the texts of the questions and answers below were written by Fielding M. McGehee III. We are always ready to receive other questions for this page. Thank you.

Peoples Temple
Jonestown, Pre-November 18, 1978
November 18, 1978
Post-November 18, 1978

Peoples Temple

  • What is the correct spelling of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What were the years of Peoples Temple’s existence? Answer
  • Where did Peoples Temple get its start? Was it always known by that name? Answer
  • Who was the leader of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What was Jim Jones’ racial heritage? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple a church? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple associated with a denomination? Answer
  • Why did Peoples Temple alter the words in some of the hymns they sang? Answer
  • Who joined Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What were the beliefs of Peoples Temple members? Answer
  • What is Apostolic Socialism? Answer
  • How many people belonged to Peoples Temple? Answer
  • Did Jim Jones have the power to heal? Answer
  • Why did Jim Jones wear sunglasses? Answer
  • Why did people refer to Jim Jones as “Father” or “Dad”? Answer
  • When did Jim Jones first ask the members of Peoples Temple to call him “Father” or “Dad”? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple responsible for the deaths of some of its former members? Answer
  • Why did Peoples Temple make so many audiotapes? Answer
  • Did the recording of Temple services or Jonestown meetings affect how people participated in them? Answer
  • Did Jim Jones ever make commercial recordings of his sermons? Answer
  • Who was Chris Lewis? Answer

Jonestown, Pre-November 18, 1978

  • Where exactly was Jonestown? Answer
  • Why was Jonestown established in a remote area of the small South American country of Guyana? Answer
  • How did so many members of Peoples Temple migrate to Jonestown in so short a time? Were they forced to go? Answer
  • What were conditions like in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was the Peoples Temple project in Guyana always known as Jonestown? Answer
  • Were there religious services held in Jonestown? Answer
  • Did people have Bibles in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was Jonestown a self-sustaining community? Answer
  • Was there Social Security fraud in Jonestown? Answer
  • Did Peoples Temple commit fraud in its relationship with state welfare agencies, especially with the foster children under its care? Answer
  • Why did people have so many different names in Jonestown? Answer
  • Were people happy in Jonestown? Answer
  • How many guns were in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was Jonestown a concentration camp? Answer
  • Were outsiders able to visit Jonestown? Answer NEW
  • What were the disciplines and punishments in Jonestown? Answer
  • Were cattle prods used for discipline in Peoples Temple? Answer
  • Were members of Peoples Temple forced to go to Jonestown against their will? Answer
  • Were any holidays celebrated in Jonestown? Were people given time off on other days? Answer
  • What was Lamaha Gardens? Who lived there? Answer
  • Who was Mr. Muggs? Answer
  • What was Peoples Temple’s plan to move to the Soviet Union? Answer
  • What are White Nights? How many of them were there? Answer
  • What is the origin of the term “White Night”? Answer
  • Why is the child custody battle over John Victor Stoen so important? Answer
  • What was the Six-Day Siege? Answer
  • Where did Jim Jones live in Jonestown? Was his residence separate from the community? Answer
  • What was Jim Jones’ mental and physical condition in November 1978? Was it related to his use of drugs? Answer
  • What is the definition of “revolutionary suicide”? Answer

November 18, 1978

  • Who accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan on his trip to Guyana in November 1978? Answer
  • What exactly happened on 18 November 1978? Answer
  • How many people died on November 18? Answer
  • Who was killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip on November 18? Who was wounded? Who were identified as the assailants? Answer
  • Did the airstrip shooters deliberately target Congressman Ryan and members of the news media? Answer
  • Who was Richard Dwyer? Where was he on November 18? Was he CIA? Answer
  • How did Sharon Amos and her children die? What happened to the others in the Lamaha Gardens bathroom? Answer
  • How many people survived November 18? Answer
  • Who else – other than members of Peoples Temple – survived November 18? Answer
  • Who was in the group that left Jonestown to go on a “picnic” the morning of November 18th? Answer
  • What were the boats used by Temple members in Jonestown? Where were they on November 18? Answer
  • Who was on the Jonestown basketball team and why were they in Georgetown on November 18? Answer
  • Should the deaths in Jonestown be considered as suicides or murders? Answer
  • How many children and minors died in Jonestown? What were their ages? Answer
  • How many Guyanese died in Jonestown? Did any other non-Americans die? Answer
  • Who shot Jim Jones? Was it murder or suicide? Answer
  • Did the armed guards in Jonestown also die? Were they among the last ones to do so? Answer NEW
  • What is the explanation for the changing body count in Jonestown the first week? Answer
  • Why are there differences in the final death toll, and why do those differences still persist? Answer
  • Why were so many of the people found face down or in rows? Answer
  • Why do photographs show some bodies – including that of Jones – moved from their positions when they were first discovered? Answer
  • What is the explanation for the syringes found at Jonestown following the deaths and for the puncture marks on some of the bodies? Answer
  • Were there any eyewitnesses to the deaths in Jonestown? Answer
  • What are the facts about the cyanide in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was it Kool-Aid? Answer

Post-November 18, 1978

  • What is known about the tape that was recorded the day after the deaths in Jonestown? Answer
  • What pathologists investigated the deaths that occurred in Jonestown, Georgetown, and Port Kaituma? Answer
  • What was the testimony of Guyana pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo? Answer
  • Were any people prosecuted for their roles in what happened on November 18, 1978? Answer
  • What happened to the bodies from Jonestown? Answer
  • What was the disposition of Jim Jones’ body? Answer
  • Did Jim Jones have tattoos? Answer
  • What happened to the graves of the people who died in Jonestown before November 1978? Answer
  • Was there a Peoples Temple hit list? Answer
  • Why are there so many conspiracy theories about what happened in Jonestown? Answer
  • Who is Philip Blakey? Was he a mercenary for the CIA in Angola in 1975? Answer
  • What happened to Peoples Temple after 18 November 1978? Answer
  • What happened to the Peoples Temple church buildings in the United States? Answer
  • What happened to Jonestown in the aftermath of the deaths? Answer
  • What happened to the plan to house Hmong refugees at Jonestown? Answer
  • How much did Peoples Temple have in assets at the time of the deaths in Jonestown? Where did it go afterwards? Answer
  • Who were Al and Jeannie Mills? Answer
  • Who was Paula Adams? What was her relationship to Laurence Mann? Were their deaths connected to Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What happened to the survivors of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • Who is entitled to Unclaimed Property from the California State Controller? Answer
  • What does Jonestown look like today? Is it possible to visit the site? Answer