Social Security Recipients in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978 Report

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On 18 December 1978 – one month after the deaths in Jonestown – the U.S. Embassy in Guyana released a list of 656 uncashed government checks which were recovered from the jungle community site. The Embassy compilation – including the check numbers, their date of issuance, the names and Social Security numbers of their recipients, the check amounts, and their designation as Social Security benefits – was reprinted in The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy, the May 1979 report of the Staff Investigative Group of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In a letter of 26 April 1979 to the House committee – also reprinted in the May 1979 report – Social Security Administration Acting Director John P. McHale said his agency had “identified 199 SSA beneficiaries who were in Jonestown, Guyana at the time of the disaster.” Since the letter did not include the names, we compiled an independent tally, which arrived at an approximate number, of 203 SSA beneficiaries. However, we cannot say whether the names on the lists below match those of the SSA.

A few of the 656 uncashed checks dated from as early as spring 1978, but most bore dates from the fall of 1978. In order to get a snapshot of Peoples Temple income from Social Security, we chose the month of September, and listed everyone who received their SSA benefits when those checks were issued on 3 October 1978. (A few September checks were issued on 2 October, although most of those apparently covered Cost Of Living Adjustments [COLA] that were added to benefits for future months.)

Social Security Recipients in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978. (pdf)