Obituaries

Odell Rhodes, who was one of the few Jonestown survivors to witness the deaths as they were occurring, died in Sacramento, California on July 12 following a long illness. He was 72. A remembrance appears here.

Sammie Jones, a former Temple member, mother of Kay Henderson, and stepmother of Tommy “Fayzo” Washington, died on July 18. As Fayzo wrote about her, “From pecan pies, to cakes, to mac and cheese, to gumbo, she used to cook some of the best food in the Temple during those days.” A remembrance appears here.

Zoanna Kille, the first wife of Elmer Mertle and mother of former Temple member Linda Mertle, died on July 29 in Point Richmond, California. She was 84.

Barbara Sines, the mother of Ron and Nancy Sines, died on January 15 in Las Vegas, Nevada after a long illness. Her efforts to complete the memorial for the Jonestown dead at Evergreen Cemetery were instrumental in accomplishing that task in May 2011. A remembrance appears here.

Jeff Brailey, the senior medic of the Joint Humanitarian Task Force sent to Guyana in November 1978 to retrieve the remains of the Peoples Temple members, and the author of the book The Ghosts of November, died on January 31, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. A death notice appears here. His collected writings for the website appear here. A remembrance appears here.

Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo, a self-described “anti-cult activist” who both offered psychiatric services to Jonestown survivors and who consulted extensively with the FBI about the anticipated behavior of Temple members returning from Guyana, died on April 14 in New Jersey. His obituary is here; also here.

In addition, we learned this year of other deaths from previous years.

Melvin Johnson, a relative of numerous Jonestown residents and himself a former member of Peoples Temple who was known for his singing voice, has died. The date and cause of death are unknown. A story about his contributions to the Temple’s album He’s Able, appears here.

Harold Cordell, a Jonestown resident who left with Rep. Leo Ryan on November 18, 1978, has since died in Lewiston, Idaho, according to family records. The date and cause of death are unknown.

John Maher, the founder of a drug rehabilitation program in San Francisco known as the Delancey Street Foundation, died in December 1988. He was 48. An obituary from The New York Times appears here. Maher was a friend and political ally of Peoples Temple during its years in the Bay Area, appearing several times at Temple services and offering personal advice to Jim Jones in Temple-recorded telephone conversations.

Shirley Field-Ridley, who was Guyana’s Minister of Information at the time of the deaths in Jonestown and whose post-tragedy press conference opened the national government to great criticism and charges of cover-up, died in June 1982. She was 45. An obituary appears here.

Originally posted on October 10th, 2014.

Last modified on November 13th, 2018.
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