Remembering My Friends and Relatives

newell-purple heart treeIt was 36 years ago, but it seems like yesterday…

We had a job to do, Amondo Griffith, Ed Crenshaw, and I. We would go into the jungle every day, looking for hardwood trees. One in particular, called the Purple Heart, was the best to make the charcoal that we needed in Jonestown. Sometimes we would search half the day looking for the right tree, then it would take the other half of the day to cut it down, because the wood was so hard. If we were lucky, we’d have a little bit of time afterward to explore the jungle, and we loved it. We were a good team.

At the end of the day, we’d get the tractor to drag the felled tree back to the community. The charcoal we made would go to the bakery, where my girlfriend Shirley Ann Robinson baked the bread and cookies for the people of Jonestown.

I think also about Amondo’s brother Emmett, who married my cousin, Gloria Warren. He was a good man, and she was a good woman. On that last Friday around noon, Jones called an alert because Leo Ryan was on his way. Emmett was supposed to be in the group going to the airstrip to meet the congressman, but he asked me to take his place. When we got to the airstrip, Johnny Brown, Mike Prokes, and Jim McElvane were already there. But leaving Jonestown that day was the last time I remember seeing Emmett.

The next morning – Saturday, November 18 – Ed Crenshaw took me and Clifford Gieg to the Cudjoe to pick up provisions. He must have known something we didn’t, because he said they were all gonna be dead by the time we got back, so you guys will just go back to the States and start kickin’ it like we used to. I told him that shit is not going to happen. I wish I had taken him more seriously, although I’m not sure what I would have done if I had believed him. If nothing else, maybe I would’ve thanked him for getting us out, and maybe I would’ve told him goodbye.

Thirty-six years later, then, I’m telling my friend Ed Crenshaw goodbye. I will never forget you, bro.

(More than a half dozen relatives of Herbert Newell died in Jonestown. His other stories for the site may be found here. He can be reached at