These are questions that may never be definitively answered. All that is known for certain is that Jim Jones died of a gunshot wound to the head, and that he was one of only two people to die in Jonestown of a gunshot.
Jones was one of only seven people to be autopsied, but the report shed no new light: He died of a gunshot wound to the head, but the limited forensics – the location of the entry wound, the path of the bullet – were consistent with both murder and suicide.
The autopsy report is inconclusive on the subject. “The manner of death is consistent with suicide because of the finding of a hard contact gunshot wound of the head,” the report concluded. “The possibility of homicide cannot be entirely ruled out because of the lack of specific and reliable information.”
The position of the gun that killed Jones doesn’t provide any answer as to his manner of death. He was found lying on the ground, with the gun several feet away. Someone could have shot him and dropped the gun close by. He could have shot himself, and the recoil could have knocked the gun that distance. (Other anecdotal reports say alternately that the gun was on his chest, within reach of his arm, and 200 feet away.)
Jones spoke of death – including his own – many times. He spoke of suicide many times. Yet, if he chose suicide, why didn’t he take the poison like everyone else? Did he want to differentiate himself from the rest of the community? Did he witness the agony that a cyanide-induced death brought about and decide to die more quickly?
The strongest evidence that someone else shot Jones is that the same autopsy report that offers ambiguous conclusions does spend considerable space discussing the wound, with much elaboration upon its finding that the “wound track [was] left to right.” However, Jones was right-handed, and as several commentators have pointed out, that would have made a gunshot wound to the left temple much more difficult.
Even that possibility raises other, equally vexing questions, though. There is speculation that he asked someone else to – in essence – participate in his suicide. Under this scenario, Jones would have asked someone close to him to perform the act, which means both his request and the acquiescence to the request might have been considered acts of love.
Another possibility is that the person who shot Jones took him by surprise, and that the killing was truly an act of murder, born in anger, revenge, and dissent. This may have been the case, but it also begs the question: why wouldn’t those emotions have led the assassin to rush the vat of poison sometime earlier in the day and stopped the deaths before the entire community perished?
Finally, others have suggested that the person who shot Jones could have been Annie Moore, the only other person in Jonestown known to have died of a gunshot wound. Moore could have fired the gun, but only if one accepts the scenario that Jones asked her to do it. Since Moore was Jones’ personal nurse who was in charge of his medications, though, a more likely request would have been for her to administer a lethal dose of poison. In addition, Moore’s death likely occurred several hours later, and with the use of a second gun. In other words, there is no real connection between the two deaths other than they both died of gunshots.