The Opposition, The Returned, Crisis & White Nights

After the Temple moved to California, settling in Redwood Valley, services were small at first but gradually grew as a few local people joined.  As word spread, people began coming from wider areas into Sunday services. What had been small informal gatherings gradually developed into more formal “shows.”  Once the Temple started holding services in San Francisco – and then in Los Angeles – a different course was begun, eventually leading to the permanency of buying buildings there. The summer trips that began as a vacation time for the children, became “healing services” that crossed the nation with Temple appearances in Houston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Vancouver and more. By the time the exodus to Guyana began, the Temple had a strenuous two-week schedule of services on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with main services on weekends rotating between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Temple “membership” grew to a reported high of more than 20,000, including all the many thousands who attended only a few services. Perhaps a more accurate figure is 5000, which is the number of individual membership card photos at the California Historical Society. Some of the more committed members relocated to Redwood Valley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and then, of course, Guyana.

While many of the members were still part of the Temple in November 1978, many others had left, and for many reasons. Most former members quietly left the group – many of them just stopped attending services – but others were openly and vocally critical of the Temple. A number of the critics eventually gathered together under the leadership of Jeannie and Al Mills (known as Deanna and Elmer Mertle during their years in the Temple) and formed a group called Concerned Relatives, based in Berkeley, California.

The group challenged Peoples Temple – and especially Jim Jones – on many fronts. They organized press conferences; they filed lawsuits on child custody and property disputes; and they lobbied Congress, eventually finding a champion in the person of Leo Ryan. By the summer of 1977, though, as Concerned Relatives was beginning to come together, the Temple’s most prominent critics told their stories to two reporters, Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy. The resulting article in New West precipitated the sudden and massive departure of Jim Jones and Temple members to Guyana.

With the critical press of the New West article and more, the Temple built a list of known and potential hostile people known as: People Critical of Guyana. The Temple published copies of some of the materials being circulated by Concerned Relatives as well as statements about other attacks on the Temple: Victims of Conspiracy and Interpol Special Agent.

1. People Critical of Guyana

2. Concerned Relatives Brochure, “This Nightmare is Taking Place Right Now”

3. Victims of Conspiracy Brochure

4. Interpol Special Agent Attacks Jim Jones & Peoples Temple

With a wide variety of complaints against the Temple, ranging from welfare fraud, social security fraud, exporting of prohibited items, to suspicion of homicide, the Temple became concerned and paranoid of a “conspiracy” to destroy Peoples Temple. Charles Garry and Mark Lane were hired to help investigate and protect the Temple. In addition to an ongoing legal battle, there were reports of activities to “break into” Jonestown.

Some Who Were in Guyana but Returned to US

Who left the Temple and returned to the States
Les Matheson & Greg Frost They were among the first pioneers in Jonesown, arriving in Guyana in April 1974, and while their departure dates are unknown, they appear to be in late 1977. They seem to have returned to the States on their own after leaving Jonestown, although Jim Jones once referred to them as if they had died in the surrounding jungle.
Chris & Mae Lewis Chris Lewis entered Guyana in June 1974 with “Pop” Jackson and his wife. Chris’ wife Mae went to Guyana in late 1974. Chris was believed to have returned in 1975 to San Francisco, where he was murdered in December 1977. When Mae left Guyana is unknown, although it is likely she went with Chris.
Ron and Yulanda Crawford The Crawfords returned to California in the Spring of 1977, after living in Jonestown for several months. Yulanda’s affidavit about conditions in Jonestown was included in materials published by Concerned Relatives and filed in Tim Stoen’s court cases against the Temple.
Norman Ijames A pilot working in the Caribbean/South America with wife Judy Ijames and child in Jonestown, Norman was in and out of Jonestown. Though not officially “out” of the Temple, not officially in either.
Tim Stoen Spent several months in Jonestown to support John Victor being there. After leaving the Temple, Tim Stoen reunited with his wife for purposes of reclaiming John Victor, and became active in Concerned Relatives.
Debbie Layton Blakey Left in May 1978, after being there for five or six months. Her affidavit about conditions in Jonestown – and the publicity surrounding her departure – spurred Rep. Leo Ryan’s interest in going to Guyana.
Teri Buford Left in October 1978
Walter Jones Walter went down to Guyana in the Spring of 1976 to set up the electrical system of poles and wiring to power Jonestown. He was encouraged to stay but insisted on returning. He left the Temple with Grace Stoen in July 1976.
Leon Broussard Stayed only several months, between June and November 1977. Walked to Port Kaituma, spoke to a policeman talking about Jonestown, saying he wanted to leave and ended up in Mathews Ridge. Richard McCoy, US Consul, was in the area, and with Johnny Brown, spoke to Leon asking if he wanted to return to the US. Leon said he did, was given his passport and return ticket by Brown the next day.
Who returned to the States and were still in the Temple
Don Beck Spent two summers in Guyana – 1974 and 1976 – when Jonestown was first being built. He returned to the States and was in Redwood Valley in November 1978.
Archie Ijames Had been in Guyana in Spring of 1974 to help obtain and set up the Land Lease. When he returned to California in June 1974, he stayed busy with construction work in Redwood Valley and never returned to Guyana.
Leona Collier Went down in Fall 1977 and returned after several weeks to San Francisco.
Frances Johnson Went down August 1978 and returned to the San Francisco in October 1978. Edith Roller’s account of her brief stay in Jonestown is here.
Hue Fortson Went to Guyana in Spring 1978 and returned to the States in October 1978 to handle some Temple business. He was in San Francisco in November 1978.

5. White Night and Reflection from Roller Journal – February 16-17

Edith Roller reports in her journal some of the Days of Crisis and Alerts of activity against Peoples Temple. Another defense practiced were the White Nights, when people faced and practiced so-called revolutionary suicide, when the community would make a statement by dying, rather than return to life in the states. Another alternative discussed at such times was immigration to a socialist country such as Russia or Cuba.

“Alerts” and Crisis Events in Jonestown reported in Roller Journals

Here are some references in Edith Roller’s 1978 Guyana Journals to crisis events in Jonestown. You may wish to read her description of them as part of life in Jonestown.

Entries in Edith Roller’s Journals to Crisis Events







Thu 2:

US Embassy Rep & attorney visit to JT

Wed 1:

Intruder into JT

Sat 1:

Shots in Bush

Sat 13:

D. Layton Defection discusson

Fri 2:

Group to Caracas,

D. Layton defection

Mon 21:

6am call to Pavilion

Thu 16:

Day of Crisis

White Night

Mon 20:

Alert Called

Wed 12:

Discuss White Nights

Thu 28:

Alert called

Mon 26:

Enquirer Plane flyover

Tue 22:

6 to 11pm Alert call to Pavilion

Fri 17:

White Night reflection: Edith Roller’s candid comments

Wed 29:

Shots in


Thu 13:

Discuss White Nights

Fri 30:

Enquirer Plane discuss

Fri 14:


Mon 17:

SF Press Conf, Garry