Obituaries 2015

Christopher O’Neal, who went to Jonestown to be with his girlfriend Brenda Parks and who – along with the Parks family – left with Congressman Leo Ryan on November 18, was shot to death during an incident described as a “suicide by cop” in November 2014. Additional coverage of his death appears on the Peoples Temple in the News 2015 page. A reflection on his life’s story appears here.

Teresa Ann Cobb, whose family moved with Peoples Temple from Indiana to California, and who was among the eight college students who defected in 1973, died on February 13, 2015. Remembrances by Laura Johnston Kohl, Leslie Wagner Wilson and Vera Washington reflect on different aspects of Teresa’s life.

George Klineman, who co-authored the book The Cult that Died: The Tragedy of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, published in 1980, died in late 2014 or early 2015. Further details of cause and date of death are not known.

PJ Paparelli, the Artistic Director of American Theater Company in Chicago who staged the Leigh Fondakowski play The People’s Temple both in Chicago and Juneau, Alaska – and who more recently worked with a new education program called Youth Ensemble to bring theater into the lives of the students of Chicago’s public schools – died in a traffic accident in Scotland on May 21, 2015. His writing about his work in bringing The People’s Temple together with 13 teenagers from Chicago appears here. Several other related articles – including those by PJ’s students and by former Temple members whom the students interviewed – appear in the “Film and Drama” section of the Peoples Temple in the Arts page for 2014. Remembrances on this site include those by Laura Johnston Kohl and Leigh Fondakowski.

Thomas Robbins, an author and independent scholar of sociology of religion who wrote extensively on the Jonestown tragedy, died of cancer on August 31, 2015.

Mary Sawyer, a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University in Ames, who wrote often on Peoples Temple and Jonestown, including for this site, died on May 20, at Clare House in Dubuque, Iowa. Dr. Sawyer became involved with Peoples Temple while working on many of the same issues – especially those concerning black elected officials – in San Francisco during the 1970s. She was an editor of the volume, Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, published in 2004.


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

Warren Christopher, the Deputy Secretary of State at the time of the deaths in Jonestown, died in 2011. Mr. Christopher was instrumental in coordinating the department’s response to the Jonestown tragedy, including his work with Guyanese officials on issues surrounding repatriation of the remains.

John Barbagelata, who lost the San Francisco mayoral race to George Moscone in 1975 – and who swore that Peoples Temple committed election fraud that led to his defeat – died on March 19, 1994.

Victor Dikeos, a longtime diplomat, including several years as the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Panama in the late 1970s, died in May 2014. Mr. Dikeos volunteered in a similar capacity in November 1978, filling in for Richard Dwyer, who was wounded at the Port Kaituma airstrip, and was one of the first people from the American Embassy to arrive in Jonestown, on November 20, 1978.

John Judge, whose seminal work written in 1985, The Black Hole of Guyana, laid out his evidence for alternative theories as to what happened in Jonestown – including Jim Jones’ alleged connections to intelligence agencies, as well as those agencies’ independent interference in the Jonestown experiment, died on April 15, 2014.

Carolyn Pickering [Lautner], a reporter for The Indianapolis Star who was the first to investigate charges against Peoples Temple prior to its migration to California in the mid-1960s, died on June 16, 2011.

Lloyd Barker, who was Guyana’s Chief Commissioner of Police at the time of the deaths in Jonestown, and who was instrumental in that country’s negotiations in the removal of the bodies following the deaths of November 18, 1978 died in July 1999.

Sir Harold Bollers, who served as Chief Justice of Guyana’s Supreme Court during the years of Jonestown’s existence and who was involved in the John Victor Stoen custody suit before the deaths of November 18, and in the trials of the two Temple members arrested in their aftermath, died on December 26, 2006.