Interviewer: Moe Seo
[Introduction] Hello, and welcome to the Gnostic Warrior radio show and podcast, broadcasting from gnosticwarrior.com in San Diego, California, to around the world. I’m your host, Moe. And today on the show I have Jonestown survivor Laura Johnston Kohl. When 914 members of the Peoples Temple and 4 visiting Americans died in Guyana, South America on November 18, 1978, Laura Johnston Kohl survived. She is one of the 87 who lived through the trauma. After participating with the Black Panthers and attending Woodstock, Laura moved into the Peoples Temple in California in 1970 and was an active, enthusiastic member until the day it ended. She moved to Guyana in March, 1977. She frequently traveled between Georgetown and Jonestown, a 24-hour boat ride, but moved into Jonestown in October 1978. Laura’s survival was a fluke. It took her 24 years for Laura to rebuild her life and have the determination to research this tragedy. She reunited with many of the other survivors to put the pieces back together and to get some understanding. This is really an awesome podcast about the Jonestown cult and Jim Jones, the psychopathic mind control leader who led 914 members to commit suicide. You’re really going to want to listen to this awesome, heart-wrenching podcast. But before we get into the show, I have a quick announcement…[announcement not transcribed]
M: Thanks for being on the show today, Laura. How are you doing?
L: I’m doing great.
M: Awesome, and before we get into the great work that you’re doing now, can you please tell us about who you are, and a little bit about your background?
L: Yes. So my name is Laura Johnston Kohl. I always put the Johnston in there because that was the name I used when I was in Peoples Temple, but I’ve since been married for 33 years, so that was quite a long time ago. I was born in 1947 in Washington, D.C., and pretty much grew up in the Washington, D.C. area until I went off to college. My mother was an activist with the Democratic Party, I moved to her left but she, you know, was very active growing up and always a role model. She was raising my two sisters and myself as a single parent, and really did a good job making sure that we insisted on justice in the things we saw around us, and you know, she was always somebody who modeled that you can’t just talk it, you have to do it. So really, I did follow in her footsteps quite a ways, although I put my own twist on it, actually quite a twist. So I grew up in Washington, and I was an activist. In the 60s in Washington, even though technically we were north of the Mason-Dixon line, in Maryland where I lived, the area was a very conservative area. I was in a segregated school until I went to middle school, and even in middle school there were many people who were very much anti-integration, and so pretty early on I established that I was part of the group that really wanted integrated housing, we were part of a demonstration group, then we went to a…we were called “Students Against Discrimination” and in high school we went and integrated Glen Echo Park, which was one of the segregated parks with a swimming pool in Washington, D.C. So I started out being an activist. In 1965 I graduated from high school and moved on to college and I stayed in college in Connecticut for the next 4 years. But during that decade, it was really a formative decade for me, because it was the worst time in American history that people thought that they could just indiscriminately kill off leaders that they didn’t like. So John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and Malcolm X and Medger Evers, and so many more were people who were just slaughtered because someone disagreed with their politics, and…
M: And let me ask you, Laura. You know, Laura, I grew up, I was born in the 70s, so I was basically post this era. And at the time, growing up and being a young activist, did you guys know at the time there was some type of conspiracy behind these murders and what you call slaughtering of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, that some powers that be were killing these people, did you guys know that at the time?
L: You know, I think that there…conspiracy issues have always arisen around them. And in a way, my point is, it doesn’t really matter if it was a conspiracy or if it was Lee Harvey Oswald. The point being that somebody, or some group of people, thought that killing off, actually killing people as opposed to voting them out of office or not giving them political clout, killing people was the way that we were going to move on through that decade. So, you know, whether it’s a conspiracy or not a conspiracy, in a way, my point, my reaction to it at the time was, I don’t want bullies running our country. And I don’t want people who think they have to kill, you know, they have to assassinate people, to then become the people in charge of the country. So it just motivated me to become more of an activist. It didn’t scare me off. And so, I mean, I think that anytime you talk about, you know, history you’re going to have many different points of view. Even as I talk about being a survivor, there are other survivors who strongly disagree with me on a lot of things, even about my reflections about Peoples Temple vs. theirs, so I think you are going to have a lot of different points of view. But really I think we have to all acknowledge that in the 60s having all those wonderful people shot and killed for their political ideology, was just outrageous.
M: It was, it was. And you know, looking back at that time, there was a lot of that going on. And you had mentioned of course, you were involved with the Peoples Temple, and also the leader at the time was called Jim Jones, can you tell those people out there that aren’t really familiar with the Peoples Temple, Jonestown and Jim Jones? Explain it, briefly, how it started, and maybe how you became involved? I think that’s about five different questions, (laughs) but, maybe let’s just start with, can you tell us a little bit about Peoples Temple?
L: Yeah, so uh, just to kind of finish up. So I was in Connecticut until 1970 and then, you know, while I was in Connecticut I continued to be active against the war in Vietnam, and I demonstrated in New York, I worked with the Black Panthers in the free breakfast program for 6 or 8 months, that didn’t work for me at the time. Then I tried going to Woodstock, that didn’t work for me, and eventually my sister, who lived in San Francisco, told me that I seemed to be making worse decisions by the day, and I really needed to come move in with her in San Francisco. She is my older sister, and so she had insight into my decline, so, I moved to San Francisco in March of 1970, and at that point she worked in a law office, and so the law off…, some attorneys in the law office had told her that Jim Jones and Peoples Temple had started forming a community in Redwood Valley. So, it turns out that Jim Jones was an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ, and he grew up in the Indiana area and from early on, he was an advocate of integration and he and his wife adopted the first black child in the state of Indiana. They adopted Jimmy Jones, Jr. in the ’60s. And so, I mean they were way ahead of the curve of what was going on in the country, I mean even now people are fighting to open up adoptions for loving parents. But back then, you know, there was no thought that a white couple, would adopt a black child. So they adopted a black child, they had an interracial church, and um, pretty much, Jim was thrown out of the church that he had started with, and he formed his own church. And from there, in Indiana, he moved out to Redwood Valley, California, which is a very rural part of California about 2 hours north of San Francisco.
M: OK, so his decision of course in Indiana and those areas of the country, they were less accepting of this racial integration, so he felt it necessary to move to California and of course, near San Francisco which seemed to be the epicenter of these demonstrations and people who were more accepting to biracial or integration of blacks and whites together, it was much more accepting in the San Francisco area?
L: Yeah. I mean, I think that that’s kind of a benign interpretation of it. The other part is, I think that he thought he personally would be more successful with his message, and so I think part of that was altruism and the other part might have just been ego, that he wanted to be in a place where he was successful and renowned for being an advocate of these issues. So, I mean, for whatever reasons drew him out, he thought that California was a good place for him. So, he did come to California, but we were, we stayed in rural, you know, this rural area, that was very much white and not diverse for a couple of years while he regrouped. And that’s when I joined Peoples Temple. I joined it in Redwood Valley. I drove up the two hours on a Sunday morning to see what the service was going to be like, so I’d have, go up there for service, my sister went with me the first couple of times, and then she said, it wasn’t really her cup of tea, so I kept going.
M: Was she there before you? You had mentioned that, she was actually a part of it before you became?…OK,
L: No. She lived in San Francisco. And she thought I should come to San Francisco, and then, you know, the first weekend after I came, as we were kind of looking around to see what we should do for the weekend, she said, you know, my attorney friends told me that Jim Jones is somebody that you might be interested in. He has this complete rainbow family and he has a very diverse group, and he’s very politically astute, so he might be somebody that you would be interested in learning about. So we went up, just kind of on a field trip, this 2 hours each way from San Francisco, to go up and see what it was like up there.
M: And so, each time you came there, he was actually the one preaching and speaking in front of the congregation, correct?
M: And can you explain, maybe, that first experience, of going into the Peoples Temple and and hearing Jim Jones? What was, what was that like?
L: Well, you know, I had always been an atheist. So I wasn’t looking for a religious leader, or even a church. I had kind of gone to all kinds of different discussion groups while I was in college, I’d been raised as kind of a, you know, knowing the Christian ethic, but not really going to church every Sunday. So I wasn’t looking for a religious leader, but I was very much into politics.
L: And when I first met Jim Jones, even though he had a sermon, the part that I was most interested in would be something like, “well, I talked to Angela Davis last night” or “Dennis Banks, you know, was on the phone with me just the other day,” or “I talked to Cesar Chavez” or… he name-dropped all the people that I really respected who were out front in trying to get the country back on track. And so he was a political leader that I really respected. And then, I saw him at home, you know, where you can tell if somebody is for real or if it’s all phony, and he had adopted these children of all different races, American Indian and black and Asian and a home-grown child, and then all of the kids who were in Peoples Temple at that time, they all wanted to change their last names to Jones. So I mean, I felt that they, they were kind of the litmus test, to tell me that he was really doing the right thing. Because the kids would understand what he was doing, his family was just wonderful, I loved his children. And then the congregation itself was completely diverse. Even in this rural community, there were, you know, blacks and whites and Hispanics, and Native American, and everything, unlike anyplace, anything you would see outside of the church building in that area.
M: And was it set up like with cabins and a meeting center? How was, can you explain what was it like there, at that Redwood meeting area where you were at?
L: Yeah. So we’re in Redwood Valley, and so the Temple building, we built it right on the road, in the middle of Redwood Valley, which is next to Ukiah (chuckles) which most people never heard of either, in Mendocino County. So the building was right along the street, and when we bought the building we had one house right next to the street, and then we had a house kind of set back probably 1,000 yards from the street, and that was Jim’s house, where he lived with his family. And then, as more time went by, we bought the house to the south, and the house right across the street. But we bought other houses in Redwood Valley, but not right close to the house, to the church.
L: The church, though, let me tell you, it was really interesting because, it was, you know, a regular church with, you know, glass and stained glass and other things. But in the back of the church there was a swimming pool, so Jim would use it to baptize people. And then, when the meeting was over, and everybody was eating outside and, you know, people were ready to relax, then he just opened it up as a swimming pool for the kids, because it gets really hot up there, so we would have kids swimming, you know, every Sunday after meeting they’d go swimming.
M: That was pretty popular, I’m sure, with the kids.
L: Yeah, it was great for everybody, really, because I mean, everybody had a different use for the pool. So that was kind of the way we did things in Peoples Temple. Nothing was permanent. Everything could be moved so that it could, you know, you could dance, or have music, or do whatever. (laughs)
M: So the Peoples Temple and Jim Jones, was it a Christian, non-denominational type of church?
L: Well, he was an ordained minister of the Disciples of Christ. So he, taught, spoke from the Bible, and you know, he was a really brilliant man. And so, I actually have doubts to this day whether he really believed any of the Bible information that he disbursed. I think he memorized the Bible front to back and back to front, and he could argue the Bible on any biblical issue, or discussion, or controversy, he could, you know, talk about it hands down. I, um, I think that, you know, my own point of view is that when he was a young man and he would visit churches in Indiana, he would walk to churches and see that the ministers or pastors or even lay ministers, would be speaking at the front of a congregation and have everybody’s full attention, and I think he knew right then that that was the position he wanted. That he would be at the front of a group, however large, and that everybody would stop talking when he started. So I think that early on he thought that was going to be a source of his power.
M: And, your first impressions of the man? He was very charismatic, you didn’t sense, like an egotistical maniac at all, of course, you wouldn’t have been involved, but was it just the charisma, and the intelligence, and then of course, as you had mentioned, you looked for proof in other people, in the children, and how they responded to him, so all those matched up, and it seemed like he was just a good charismic guy?
L: Right. And that he was living what he talked about, so…
M: He walked the walk.
L: Yeah. Like, you know, I had a crummy old car. He had a crummy car. You know, he would wear, I would see him wear the same clothes, he didn’t have diamonds dripping off his hands. And he didn’t abuse power as noticeably as many other healers, as many other healers or religious leaders did at the time, you know, Rev. Ike or some people like that, that you could look at them and feel, you know, that you had nothing in common with their lifestyle. And so Jim Jones was really a different kind of guy. He dressed like I did, you know, worked like I did, and so for the 2 or 3 years that I was up in Redwood Valley, that he spent most of his time up there, I, so I didn’t say, I did move into Redwood Valley in August of 1970. So really for the next 2 and a half years, I saw him 3 or 4 times a week. You know, I would see him during our meetings on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, I’d see him at a business meeting, a family meeting on Sunday night, at a Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday night, and you know, I would just see him around, and so, I just picked up, you know, watching what he did and how he did it, that you know, if he walked into the room, the person who was emptying the garbage, or the person who was opening the door for someone in a wheelchair, that would be the person he’d always notice. The same people that many of us overlook, you know, trying to get closer to power, or something, he was the person who always noticed…
M: The little guy.
L: Yeah! And so, that was consistent, that was a consistent part of who he was. And so, whatever power or anything else, or charisma he wanted, the reality was that he always noticed what was going on around him and gave credit to people who were making things better, that was just the way he was.
M: The way you explain him and his upbringing and everything he did up until this time, he seems like he was a decent man. Do you believe that he was genuinely a decent man that became corrupted? Or he was a corrupted man that was just putting on an act?
L: Um, I think that he was always dysfunctional. Always.
L: And uh, I think that a lot of us are dysfunctional. And then some of us are lucky enough to find strong people around us who kind of bring us back to our senses, and like…
M: Sure. Then we can work on our dysfunctions and make them functionable, right? (laughs)
L: Right. And I mean, we, like in Synanon, the other group I belonged to, there used to be something like a sanity check. Like…
M: Heh, heh, heh, heh..
L: … “Do you see what you’re saying? And…Does that make sense? Uh, no. OK, let me revise that.” So, you know, I thought that what he was saying, and what he was doing, and the way he was behaving was really great, but…so much of that was a façade. Like, he did tell a friend of mine who was in leadership with him in 1972, so that was when I was already convinced, he told her in ’72, “yeah, keep everybody tired and keep ‘em poor, and they’ll never leave.”
M: Gotcha. So he was already talking about this.
L: Right. So I mean, I think that as soon as he got a little power he surrounded himself with people who wanted to share the power, or who could be persuaded to, or, I mean like me, too, like I loved what he was doing. I loved that he talked to Angela Davis. I loved all those things. And so I did want to be part of that. And so, in a way, like you know, the best con man around, he figured out what it was you needed, and that was what he provided to you, and then the next person might need something else, and he would figure that out and, you know, make sure that he provided that. So in a service, you know, he would talk about Bible, he would talk about you know, sinning, he would talk about all that, for the people who he wanted to draw in from that point of view…
L: …and then with me, he talked about all politics, how you have to live simply and save to make the world better, da da da, and we had to do this, then protest, you know, when they were closing down the International Hotel, and, I mean, all these protest moves because that was my, that’s where I was coming from. So he figured out how with each of us in Redwood Valley, certainly, what it was we needed to hear and see on a daily basis, to make us hard workers.
M: Sure. He seems to be a master of all the hot buttons of that time period. And he kind of rolled it all into one enchilada and figured it out, and with him being intelligent, he was able to manipulate people by working on those hot buttons, without them even knowing it.
L: That’s exactly right. Like, you know, a lot of the times, he’d quote in the Bible, he’d say that “Jesus was all things to all people.” Or something like that, and he said, you know, and that, that’s what … I don’t know if he ever said he was doing that, but that’s what he did. He was all things to all people. So whatever you needed, that was gonna be what he was going to come up with. So, very smart, you know, so and, and way more cunning than those of us who were looking on.
M: Sure. Sure. So, and can you explain the shift from Redwood Valley to eventually to Jonestown, and Africa? Correct? Or actually, the…
L: (Laughing) South America.
M: …South American country of Guyana. Can you explain that?
L: So, yeah, so while I was in the Temple, I worked at the welfare department in Ukiah, as did a number of us. And so for the first two years, up until the middle of 1972, Jim was pretty much settled into Redwood Valley, where we had bought housing, we had care homes, we brought kids up from San Francisco who could go to school up there and live in a more rural setting than, you know, in some parts of San Francisco that were pretty much dangerous, or we had kids come, move up, who had parents in prison and their grandparents were raising them under difficult circumstances. So, we had that going, and then in about 1972, Jim said, OK, let’s see about expanding what we’re doing. And so we tried an experiment of going to Seattle, Washington one weekend a month, and Los Angeles one weekend a month, and San Francisco alternate weekends. And so we tried looking up and down the West Coast to see where, you know, it seemed to be a better fit. And really, San Francisco opened their arms to Jim. So, within the next 6 months or so, Jim was spending most of his time down in San Francisco, in the Temple we bought there on Geary and Fillmore. So um…
M: That would be the first move, from Redwood Valley. Or would that be just the second location?
L: Uh, no, it was…Well, it was the first move of most of the church. Like people who got tied down to good-paying jobs, and you know, care homes and stuff in Redwood Valley. A lot of the young people who were in college, a lot of the kind of people who were not locked in in Redwood Valley, they went down to San Francisco. And then we limited, we went to San Francisco alternate weekends, and Los Angeles, Jim would go down to Los Angeles on a Thursday night one week, and the weekend, the following weekend. So anyway, we spent half our time in San Francisco and half in LA, and then Jim would come up for you know, Wednesday night meetings in Redwood Valley for awhile. But pretty much by 1973 or so, he was located in all the time in San Francisco. And we just went down to San Francisco for all of our meetings, even though we lived, you know, in Redwood Valley. So we had a fleet of Greyhound buses. I was a driver, and so, we would just get everybody on the bus, and we’d drive down, and back. And we’d drive to LA and back on the buses, so…
M: Wow. Who was funding this? Was this just the congregation, all together?
L: (Laughing) The congregation was funding it, but you know. Jim was the kind of person that…you really didn’t want to be in the room when he was taking an offering. Because I always say, you know, if you had penny loafers on, and you had a penny, probably at the end of the offering you would already have taken off your shoes and taken the penny out, I mean he could wring a dime out of…you know, zip. So, he took, just these, you know, amazing offerings. Several. He said, you know, every time you take an offering you get more, so why take one? When you have all that potential? So, he would take offerings, and then those of us who lived and were part of the Temple, we lived communally. So, like I worked at the welfare department, I would turn in my check. And then I would have…somebody who bought in bulk would buy all our food, would insure our cars, or get our cars, put gas in the cars, all that stuff was covered by the commune. And so, but it saved us a lot of money.
L: So, probably by 1978, when people were starting to go over to Guyana, I mean I would say probably maybe 50% of the long-time members were living communally in all parts. Either in San Francisco or Redwood Valley, or LA. So that saved money, although it also gave them a much better lifestyle. Because the average social security for somebody in Peoples Temple was about 300 a month. So it didn’t…that’s a drop in the bucket for what you need to live on. On the other hand, if you had a lot of people living in one house with that, then you’d still have money left over.
M: Sure, I’m sure that was a draw for some people. So basically the way it worked, if you lived in the commune and worked in the commune you know, part-time, you would, and of course, a lot of people worked off-site, or they got Social Security or money from the government, they would have to turn in their full check to the commune or the treasury, whoever took care of it, and then they would be taken care of, all their little needs, through the commune, and how you guys had it all worked out…
L: Right. Yeah, housing and food, yeah. So, you know, that’s kind of the basis for all communal living, you know. That you would live in a place and have all your bills covered while you turn in your salary. But a lot of us had salaries, I mean there were many people – we had an assistant district attorney, we had people, many nurses, many teachers – different people who lived communally, and even people who didn’t live communally did tithe. So, I mean, so that was a source of income. Also, Jim was a healer. He had a healing ministry and uh, when we were in San Francisco or other states, he would have a healing ministry and then people would send in healing requests. So we had an enormous, um, kind of PR, I don’t know exactly what it’s called, but you know healing cloths, and things. So, we had a big mail-order business that people would say, you know, my daughter’s going in for surgery next Tuesday, could you pray for her and send me a healing cloth? And then they’d make donations. So, um we had not only the offerings that came in, and people tithing and turning in their money, and some people were donating houses, or jewelry, or other things that they had accumulated in their lives. And then we had this huge uh, mail ministry that people would ask for prayers, and so they would send in you know, money for that. So, I mean, money came from all different areas like that.
M: [sounding dazed & almost speechless by your description of the finances and the idea of limitless income, but takes a run at a question] But, and…what? Let me see here, let me ask a question…OK, so, basically you’re in San Francisco. And how long were you guys in San Francisco before you made the move to South America?
L: OK, so I still lived in Redwood Valley. And in Mar, let’s see, so about 1975, one of our members in San Francisco overdosed. And uh, this young man overdosed on heroin that he had gotten in the…off the street in San Francisco. And we started a conversation saying, you know, we said, here we are in San Francisco, wanting to give our children a safe place to live, and yet, no matter what we do, there are drugs available on every corner. And there were really so many other problems that came up. I mean we had just really a number of grandparents raising grandkids, because the kids were either on drugs or in prison; we had a number of foster kids who had been you know, abused by the system over the years. And we had, you know, just so many situations that were difficult, many single mothers with large families, and so we really tried to figure out what we could do to get these kids out of harm’s way. And so Jim had been to Guyana in the 60s, I didn’t know it at the time but I’ve learned it since. So he had an idea that, you know, Guyana would be a good place. So we studied it and found that Guyana was English-speaking, it was in the tropics so it was in, you know, warm weather that would be interesting or fun to live in. It was a socialist government and they seemed to want to welcome us to the Northwest District, and so, and it was half-black, half East Indian, with a sprinkling of Chinese and white, so it was a very mixed culture that we would fit right in. So all those things made it seem really enticing. So in 1975 at Christmas, he sent a group of us down who were on the Planning Commission, and we took a look at where it looked like we might build a Jonestown out in the Northwest District of Guyana. So we saw it in 1975. I immediately fell in love with it, because, I mean, it was tropical, it was a paradise, you know, you, you’d walk through the forest and see birds, bird of paradise flowers right along the pathway, I mean, there was, it was just exquisite. I just loved it. But I think also I got the idea then that saved me grief that others had later, that it was going to be very primitive to start with. Because we were starting in the middle of the rainforest. So we had to tear down everything in the rainforest in that area of our community, then we had to build roads, put in electricity, build all the housing, everything that had to be done, so, I do think that people who came who had not seen it first, didn’t really have an idea of how primitive it was going to be for awhile. So, that was an issue that’s come up really with me and with some of the other survivors. That, when they got down there, they didn’t know that it was, you know, it..there’s no steakhouse on the corner and there’s no Starbucks…
M: Sure. And you knew that full well going into it. I know you had mentioned it was beautiful, but did you know the amount of work you guys would have to put in to make this happen?
L: You know, we, I was young then. That was…you know, those were the days that you thought, “Oh, be a piece of cake.” You know, you could do anything. So, I mean I think that you knew it was going to be hard, but we were really hard workers in the Temple. There was no space for anybody who was on vacation.
L: So I knew that we could do whatever we set our minds to do. So we went down and saw it in ’75, and decided to go ahead and fund it. So we had a group of like 20 or 25 people go down there and live, and they were the heavy equipment operators. So they you know, got, cleaned out the brush, and we used, had the neighbor Amerindians show us more how to do things, so we broke down the brush and, you know, cut down the trees, and planed everything so it was fairly level, and did all the things you needed to do, and then they started building houses. So we were all back in the United States, the crew would send back you know, regular reports on how things were going. But in about the beginning of 1977, people started going down. So all this is going on and this is kind of Peoples Temple information. On the other hand, Jim Jones was really getting deeper and deeper into his morass and quicksand. I mean, he had this enormous ego, and so by 19… by 1973, in San Francisco, he had established political clout with the leadership there, with the mayor, the police chief, and different ones. When Rosalyn Carter came to town, um, he met with her for an hour in private about his ideas on how to make the City better. He was not an elected official. He was appointed to the Housing Commission. He was traveling up and down the state, he had a soup kitchen, he had free legal aid, he had, you know, like on weekends I would explain to people how they could appeal decisions from disability or welfare and different things. He had a whole system set up to help people. But as he created these programs, his ego was just more and more, um, you know, …
L: Inflated, yeah, so that…and that’s the part we didn’t see. And then the other part is, in 1973, I believe, or ’72, he was part of a sting operation in Los Angeles, where he was picked up in a mens’ bathroom at a park or someplace in LA, and he, you know, told the people who heard about it that he had been targeted because he had an interracial church. But, really that information didn’t get into the Temple. So, he was involved in things…
M: So…that was like a homosexual prostitution kind of thing, in a park?
M: OK. Gotcha. OK.
L: So what was happening really is the part of him that was a disorder became more and more behind the scenes. And it was protected by his…he had you know, a flock of mistresses and secretaries who really protected him, kind of like the code of silence in some police departments we’ve seen, you know, nobody was going to bring any of the rumors out of the things he was doing behind the scenes…
M: Because of the supposed good he was doing, they swept the bad stuff under the rug.
L: That’s right.
L: And also, I do think that his insanity was infectious, in that people who were unfortunately closer to him were infected by the same insanity, because we even saw it in Jonestown at the very end, when he was incoherent, so…I mean, we’ll get there. But basically, he surrounded himself with people who were either interested in his power, or his sex, or his leadership, or his politics, whatever it was, you know, each person was different again. And so, all of the things that were going on behind the scenes were very carefully protected. So, when we started going down to Guyana, you know, we had the vision and the dream ahead of us, but we didn’t know that he was becoming more and more obsessed with this paranoia and this ego that was driving him. So in March of 1977, exactly 7 years since I moved to California, Jim asked me if I’d go down to Guyana, and my job was gonna be, I would fill the boat. And, from Georgetown, Guyana into Jonestown it was a 24-hour ride by boat. So you’d go 12 hours up the ocean, along the coast, and 12 hours inland, up into Port Kaituma, which was the closest town, city…none of those applied. It was the closest group of shacks near Jonestown. You know, it was very undeveloped and abandoned. The people who lived there lived off the land, so they were not city folks at all.
M: So you guys all took a boat there.
L: Right. So, there was a boat…
M: OK. …Was this a chartered boat? Was it like a Jim Jones sponsor gave you guys a boat to get there, kind of thing?
L: No. We bought our boat. Yeah, we owned 2 boats.
M: OK. Gotcha.
L: So, this one was the Cudjoe, and so we would um, so my job was…
M: How big was it? Sorry.
L: Um, you know, I’m not so good with boats, but…
L: … it was like at least 100 feet…
M: It was a big boat.
L: …and it had a deep area underneath, that we could take a lot of things up. Like, we took all of our equipment up that way.
L: It’s…you needed heavy equipment to get into Jonestown and to start doing any of the demolition. So, we had really heavy equipment in Jonestown, and so my job was to fill the boat with all the parts that had broken down and, you know, that continued to break down because you were in the rainforest and there was no place nearer to get spare parts, so I would buy that, and food, and clothing, and anything that came from the US, and so I would fill the boat, it would go up to Jonestown, and come down with, you know, go up for a day, unload and come back down for another day. So about every 3 or 4 days I’d have to fill the boat with supplies.
M: Wow. How long was the trip?
L: Oh, so it, you know, the trip for the boat was a full day each time. But I would stay in Georgetown. So you know, as soon as I got one boat leaving, I’d have to start stocking up for when it came back.
L: So my job was to refill the boat for each of its trips, while I stayed in Georgetown. So, you know, a number of us did it. There were about at that time probably 20 people living in the house in Georgetown. We had one house where we always lived in Georgetown. So, I did that for a year, so I, you know, loaded up the boat, took orders over our radio communication, that was the only communication we had. There were no phones, no computers, nothing, so, into Jonestown. So everything we did was on the radio. So, you know, I would send back… And then, after about a year, I moved into Jonestown. At that time there were about 500 people in Jonestown, by the beginning of the summer or by March of 1978. Um, so, you know, once again, Jonestown was moving along, people were coming at 20 or 30 a month, we were building housing, getting things established, putting in roads, starting our medical clinic, and things like that, and then behind the scenes, in San Francisco, Jim continued to be controversial, because he would have all these political allies, but behind the scenes, you know, he continued to have his mistresses and things going on, and you know, there was some intimidation. People who left the Temple were threatened, um. So there was, you know, there were several different layers of things going on. And in the beginning of 1978, Marshall Kilduff had his magazine, the New West magazine. And one of his reporters, investigative reporters, said, “you know, we have a Jim Jones here. We don’t know much about him, really. We see what he does, we see that he’s close with all these political leaders in San Francisco, but he’s not an elected official. Why does he have so much clout? Why do these people all bow to him when he wants something?” So he said, “I’m going to start doing some investigative reporting about what’s going on with Jim Jones.” So Jim was absolutely appalled that anybody would investigate him. And so he started calling in all his favorite friends saying, “Stop this guy from you know, spreading rumors and bad things about me. You know I do wonderful work and do great things.” So he tried to call on all his allies to make New West magazine stop production on the article.
M: And did that work?
L: Well, it, you know, it…everybody called the magazine, and Marshall Kilduff, and the investigative reporter. They got death threats over the phones. Everything tried to stop it. And finally by the summer of 1978, the beginning of the summer, Marshall Kilduff says, “you know what, I don’t care about all this going on. I’m just gonna go ahead and run the article.” So at that point, Jim tried to get everybody who was in San Francisco who was mobile back to Jonestown. So for those next few months, you know, we had a huge jump in the people who came to Jonestown, like maybe we’d have 80 or a 100 people come, for like three or four months in a row. Because what Jim didn’t want to have happen is have half the people in Jonestown, half the people back in the States hear horrible reviews, and then everybody decide not to come.
M: Sure. So this, this one article, he knew, was going to change things for him in America.
L: Right. And he…
M: And it did.
L: Yes. And he was very careful about his reputation. You know, he tried to always look clean-cut, aboveboard, you know, because he took on controversial issues. And so he tried to have the part that, you know, had him look kind of like a normal guy doing controversial things. He couldn’t afford to risk his reputation, too.
L: Too much was at stake. So, he was very…and also that’s part of his ego. Part of his ego would be, that he only wanted people to worship him. Why would he want people to destroy him? Um, you know.
M: Of course. And, were you aware of his drug use at that time? Was he using drugs as well, as part of that façade that no one knew about?
L: You know, I have heard that he was using drugs when he was back in the United States, and that that may have been why he started wearing sunglasses. Because pretty early on, probably in 1973 or ’74 he wore the sunglasses all the time. When I first met him in Redwood Valley, many times he didn’t wear them, and he would only put them on when he was having the healing ceremony part. So, you know, because in Redwood Valley you know, it was just less sophisticated, and so things worked. But once he started into San Francisco, and he got political, and had all these other things going on, that’s when the sunglasses came on, too, and so I suspect that the sunglasses and the drug use had, you know, I think one thing was to hide the other, more and more.
L: But I didn’t pick up on the drug use. You know, I just didn’t. Some people did, but I think actually not very many people knew except people in the inner circle who saw. And then by the time he got to Jonestown, it was pretty apparent though. By the time he got to Jonestown, it was very clear that he was on uppers sometimes and downers other times. It was really clear to people who (chuckles) paid attention to that sort of thing, which again was not me.
M: When did he first arrive in Jonestown and stay for good? What date was that, about, or month?
L: So, he came to uh Jonestown in the summer of 1977, but he still went back and forth into Georgetown. So, he’d be in Jonestown, where, you know, it is very primitive, and then he would fly into Georgetown and meet with, you know, the government and have meetings and things like that, at the Georgetown house. He was settled in Jonestown, but he still went back and forth.
L: But, uh, he never went back to the United States after that. Everything that was done in the United States was either done by his wife Marceline, or by the assistant pastors, who sometimes went back and forth, so it was all by people that he had given the authority to, to be in the States. But he stayed in Jonestown. And he stayed in Guyana from the summer of ’77.
M: Explain how his wife was and how she was involved with Jim in this, and your perception of her.
L: Well, you know, she was an extremely articulate, loving, smart nurse. And her job for the State of California was to inspect nursing homes, so she would go in and if she found that the conditions in the nursing homes were not adequate, she would just raise hell and get things fixed. So, in that setting, she was really effective and, you know, a very responsible person. But I think in her home, you know, Jim Jones, his, um, … he could be so overbearing, and you know, she had these wonderful children with Jim, like she and Jim had this family of, you know, just wonderful kids. So I think that she was always put in the position that she couldn’t make too much um, she couldn’t bring on Jim’s animosity towards her without it affecting the kids. And so I think she was always in that hard place of how much could she speak out, or fix things or, you know, confront things that she didn’t like, without it really affecting how much time, or what spin Jim would put on it with the kids, so…
L: I think she was always torn between those… that conflict.
M: and we were still at a time…I believe it was kind of prior to the women’s movement, where the wife was a lot more submissive to the husband than what we find today, so would that be part of it, too? Just kind of playing the submissive role and, you know, Jim being the man and the father, kind of he leads and even if it’s wrong at some times, she just remained silent, kind of thing?
L: You know, she was not a passive type. I mean, her jobs had never been passive. I just think that, when you are around somebody with an enormous ego and you know that every, things could flare up any minute. I mean, it’s really psychological abuse.
L: More than, it wasn’t really her being meek or mild, because she wasn’t meek or mild. I think that she feared that, you know, Jim had so much power during those times. He had so much, he was such an effective speaker, he had so many contracts, and so many liaisons with people in power, I mean I think that she just felt threatened that he could take everything, and her family, away from her if she wasn’t careful. And so I think she just decided that nothing was more important than her family. And so she just didn’t, she wouldn’t go anywhere else, besides taking care of them.
M: In regards to that article that ended up coming out, that investigative piece in the United States, were you guys aware of that, the after-effects of that? Did you hear anything at the time?
L: Well, you know, the interesting part was that, in Jonestown, our only source of information was Jim. So Jim listened to the BBC, it would go through his paranoid mind, and then he would interpret it and give us the news. So, really we didn’t have any access to do any kind of individual or independent study. So he would talk about it and say, “Oh yeah, they’re gonna put this article out.” And he might focus on it for a half an hour. But then, you know, we were working really hard. Just like he kept us tired and poor in the US, we were tired and poor there. And I mean, I think part of it is, his ego was shattered, because he would feel like, he’s on uppers, he has all of this energy, he has profound wisdom that drew us all to move to Guyana and everything, and so he’d come into the auditorium to speak to us, and we’d be half-asleep, because we’d been working since sunup. So I think he thought more and more, you know, reflected back on San Francisco, when he’d have people adoring him, and we were like farm-workers, exhausted by the end of the day. So I think that was another blow to his ego. He said, “well, I don’t know what to do about this one.” As we all slept through his proudest moments. So, I mean, that may have been why he taped everything. Because he wanted to make sure somebody would hear it, sometime, since we were sleeping through it. I’m not sure, but…so in any case, when that was going on in San Francisco, one of the things that happened was that then we had all these people move in those 3 months, and we were not ready for them in Jonestown. We didn’t have adequate housing, we didn’t have adequate systems for an additional 300 hundred people more than we expected. We thought if we had 20 or 40 or 60 people a month, we could keep up with that, kind of slow growth, even though that’s fast growth, it was nothing like the summer. So we thought we could keep up with it, and then when everybody came, and we had to you know, get jobs for people, beds for people, all the things that went with it. It was a very complicated time in Jonestown where all the systems were stretched. So that was going on and so that pretty much took all of our attention, those of us living in Jonestown.
M: This was the summer of 1978?
L: And so Jim was thinking, you know, more about what was going on in the United States, and getting more drug-addicted, and getting more paranoid, and more out of control of everything. And you know, he had some kind of an illness that his doctor said it might have been a brain stem infection, or something. All that going on, and Jim was actually under kind of house arrest, because there were several people who went to Guyana to appeal, trying to get their children out of Jonestown. And so, the government of Guyana loved Jim Jones, because he had brought money and all this, you know, flourish of activity to this area in Guyana, so they tried to cover Jim and they said, you know, we’re going to resolve all these things, but for right now, could you just I mean you could technically come into Georgetown, but really it’s probably in your best interest if you stay in Jonestown until we get things resolved.
L: So here’s this guy, coming from all this power, housing authority in San Francisco, and he’s under house arrest in a very remote village of, of Jonestown…I mean…
M: He could never do, have the free will to do whatever the hell he wanted anymore.
L: That’s right. I mean, it completely stifled that part of him that liked to accrue more power. So, anyway, so that was going on with him, too, behind the scenes, because since we weren’t privy to the whole, all the issues going on, he kept those from us very deliberately, we didn’t know. So all that was going on in the summer of ’78. And then back in San Francisco, a group of people called the Concerned Relatives started getting involved, and they said, you know, my family members are down there and I think they want to leave and Jim’s not letting them leave. So they started being very vocal in the local area, and to their congressmen. And then a couple of Jim’s secretaries left Peoples Temple at the time. And so they left to, they went to Washington and spoke to Congress, saying that there was a lot going on in Jonestown and that somebody needed to go down and take a look at it. So there was this interest and curiosity and fear going on back here in the States, and finally Congressman Ryan said, “OK, well a lot of these people are from my district in San Francisco, Santa Clara, or San Leandro,” and he said, “I’m going to go on down to Jonestown and take a look at it.” And he was set to go down with another congressman, but that didn’t work out. So he went down anyway with photographers, so he let them know he was coming and Jim said, “Absolutely not.” And so, …
M: And you were there at this time, of course?
L: Right, and I was there and I was in Jonestown. And so Congressman Ryan said, “I am going to come” and Jim Jones said, “No, you’re not going to come.” So they had this back and forth for awhile. And finally Congressman Ryan said, “OK, I am going to come.” So he flew into Georgetown. And just about that time, or just before then, Jim had…I had moved back. I was living in Jonestown. And just before Ryan came, Jim sent me back into Georgetown. He said, “OK, can you go relieve the people that took your job in Georgetown, and bring them back, they can come back into Jonestown, and you can stay in Georgetown and do your same job.” And so I was in Georgetown with the basketball crew, which included 2 of Jim’s sons, and you know, another, a bunch of young people, and so about 50 of us were living in the house in Georgetown…
M: They were called the basketball crew?
L: Yeah, because they were playing an international competition. They called it ‘international’ because we had come from the United States some time before. But it was with Guyana, we were gonna have a challenging basketball game with the Guyanese team…
L: So they were in town getting ready for the competition. And so Congressman Ryan came into Georgetown. And the first thing Jim did was buy up all the airplanes, so that no plane would fly Ryan out to Jonestown. He booked all the airplanes, that, you know, all the individual pilots, for the next 3 days, so that Ryan could not get out to Jonestown. So Ryan just you know, waited it through, until finally Jim realized it wasn’t a good thing to spend money on, since Ryan seemed to be determined to come. So after 3 days waiting in Georgetown, Congressman Ryan did go out to Jonestown, and he had a group of people with him and they went into the community. And there was a big talent show that night, cause we had just wonderfully talented people, in so many areas, I mean music and just creative with, I mean, education, every… so many different things. So he went into Jonestown and saw the show, and then after the show, he stepped off the podium and people started passing him notes, saying, “you know what, I want to get out of here. Jim won’t let me leave. Don’t believe him if he says he’s gonna let me go in 2 weeks, it’s not gonna work, he’s not going to do it. Don’t believe anything he says. I want to go with you.” And so, Congressman Ryan had not come down with any seats on the plane. He never expected people were going to be leaving with him. So when he flew down from the United States, and when he flew into Jonestown, there were no seats on the plane for anybody to go back with him, other than the group that came in. So he had to order a third plane, which you know, in an area that remote, took its own, you know, was its own exercise in futility.
L: But finally the plane did get there. So then Ryan and about 20 people from Jonestown left on the trucks. And soon after they left, Jim sent another truckload of people with guns to the airstrip. And so…
M: Sure. And prior to that, I know we’re gonna get to that. Prior to that, Congressman Ryan wasn’t supposed to go. Jim was adamant of him not going there, but he ended up flying in. What was Jim doing and his security guards and inner circle, you know, at those first moments when Congressman Ryan was there? Did they just kind of let him go and they hid behind the scenes? What happened then?
L: Oh, well, when Congressman Ryan came, Jim was the wonderful host, and like pretended everything was OK. And um, so he just met up with Congressman Ryan and had the talent show, welcomed them. I mean, Jim was trying to control everything. He didn’t let everybody in that the, that Congressman Ryan brought down to Guyana, anyway. So I mean, Jim was trying to hold whatever power he could. But the bottom line was, Ryan was not gonna take No for an answer. And once Jim got that, then he just had to figure out how to do it best, and so, you know, there’s some discussion on when Jim and the secretaries, mistresses made the plan. Some people think they didn’t even plan the poison until the night that Ryan got there, you know, and then people started passing notes. Some people thought that you know, nothing had been planned until then. I don’t believe that, because I don’t believe there was ever anything that spontaneous with Jim Jones. I think that …
M: Sure. So you think maybe this was a possible plan, and that it was quickened and hastened once Congressman Ryan came there, they’re like “we gotta do this now.”
L: Yeah. I mean, because you know, we had cyanide. There was cyanide in Jonestown for at least 6 months or a year before Ryan came. Because Jim had said, you know, we were going to have a jewelry business there. And so he had gotten authority or authorization to have cyanide in Jonestown. But we hadn’t used any of it on the jewelry. So, my assumption is that there was a plan, like a fall-back plan, for whatever happened. Because you know, Jim was all about planning out details to every single thing. And I just cannot imagine that he would say, “Oh yeah, Ryan’s gonna come in, and then let’s see what we should do.” I mean, he, even when Jim was on the final videotapes, the day that he was leaving he was totally incoherent. When he was talking to Vern Gosney, he was absolutely, you know, drugged out of his mind and incoherent. So there was no way he was going to plan anything as sophisticated as the way the poisoning was done…at last …
M: That makes sense, that makes sense. So Congressman Ryan, he arrives at night, sees the talent show, he’s getting these notes from various members of the Temple, and he realizes, hey, there is trouble here. He orders a plane somehow, and it arrives that night…and he leaves the next..
L: No, no. Um, you know (laughs), you know, when I say remote, I mean really remote. Like, at the airstrip in Port Kaituma, there were no lights. So you couldn’t take off or land at night. And so, at one point we had a young Amerindian boy who was bitten by a snake. And the anti-venom he needed was not something that we had in our pharmacy in Jonestown. And so we took all the vehicles from Jonestown to the airstrip and put them in a big circle with the lights on so that the plane would know how to land.
L: So…you know, there, profoundly rural and primitive. So there was no way to order another plane. And so Ryan ordered it the first thing in the morning, and then it was getting there about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. But then there was a horrific rainstorm. So you know, it was one of those days that everything that could have delayed and made things less fortunate, that all happened. That day, November 18, must have been like, when the stars just crashed into each other. Everything went wrong.
M: Sure. And you had mentioned that he had taken the 20 individuals with him in the day, and then the security guards had followed him, or Jim Jones had sent a truck of men with guns to the airstrip. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what happened?
L: Yeah. So what we know for sure is that Jim said, “OK. I want you to kill everybody, but particularly you have to get Congressman Ryan and the news media people, you know, focus on particular people.” And so I, you know, we know he said, “be sure to get Ryan.” Excuse me, I actually don’t know myself personally what the other instruction was, but I am absolutely sure of that part.
L: So the truck went, after Ryan left, then the next truck went with the guys with guns. And so they went to the airstrip. They killed Congressman Ryan. They shot Jackie Speier, and she pretended to be dead so that they wouldn’t shoot her again. They shot two of the newspaper reporters. They shot Patty Parks, who was a member of the Temple who had left with her husband and two daughters. And they shot her in front of her daughters. And then people ran into the woods. And then the gunmen got back on the truck and headed back to Jonestown. So that was 7 miles away by old, you know, dirt roads, and muddy roads. And so while they were gone, Jim gathered everybody in the pavilion. And he said, you know, “you have conspired with me to kill this congressman. We’re killing him as we speak. So our lives will never, never, never be the same.” And he said, “You know, you can’t go home and just, everything’s going to be the way it was before you came here. You don’t have any money. You’ve donated your houses to me. You, um, you know, have given me everything. Your family doesn’t want to have anything to do with you because you’ll be felons, co-conspirators in this murder. You can’t go home and see family members that you left in the middle of the night to get away from. They’re not going to take you in with open arms. Nobody has money to help support you until you get back on your feet. Your children will be taken away because you are felons. Anyway, he went on and on and coerced these people who were absolutely exhausted. Who had come to Jonestown because, you know, he had proven to them over the years that he made good decisions for them. Had gotten their kids out of prison, had saved people who were drug addicts. Had gotten them you know, the medical care they needed or legal aid. I mean, he had done personal favors for most of the people in the Temple at that time, so they could never believe that he would do anything that would harm them, that wasn’t in their best interest. So it’s not like, you know, if a stranger came into any setting where I am and said, “OK, now you are going to kill yourself,” I’d say, “yeah, right,” and just leave.
L: But, you know, he had proven himself over these last 8 years by doing really hard things to help these individual families. So I mean, they felt, too, that he would never turn against them. And really at that time there had never been a time in US history where somebo…a leader had talked 900 people into death. It was not something that you could say, “Oh yeah, remember that one guy who killed all his parishioners?” Nobody had that point of reference. It had never happened.
L: So it was beyond anybody understanding that that could happen.
M: So your understanding, he’d given this speech to the congregation, and then, people – I’m assuming – a lot of the leaders and fathers, and different people started agreeing with him, and there was a plan set that they were all going to take their life. And how did that happen and when did that happen?
L: So. After Ryan had left and Jim had people gathered in the pavilion for 2 hours or something, while the people were shooting at the airstrip and on their way back, he just really coerced people and talked to them that there was no way out, life would never be the same, and then one woman did stand up to argue, and say, you know, “couldn’t we go to Cuba? Couldn’t we do some other things?” And really, what Jim always did, when there was controversy, is he would set the tone of absolute disbelief and, you know, showing the person to be a traitor. And then he sat back and just let the community tell her to shut up, sit down, and you know, go with the rest of them. So, he just manipulated the whole crowd into intolerance, so that nobody would listen to anything. And then, as people were kind of mulling over what was going on and kind of coming to terms with what it was Jim wanted, then he had the secretaries and mistresses go along the side, where all the kids were sitting, and start the poisoning. And so by the time everybody kind of sat up to take notice, the children were already dying.
M: Wow. So they didn’t know they were drinking the poison, but they were getting administered it through like a punch, and then they of course targeted the kids, because they were kind of ignorant of what was happening, and then they start dying.
L: Yeah. Once the kids started dying, then the parents, I mean, I don’t know if you’re a parent, but …
M: Yes, I am.
L: I mean, I’m a parent. If you’re like someplace that you totally believed in until, you know, five minutes before, or two hours before, and then you saw your child dying there, I mean you…
M: You have no choice. You have no choice.
L: So, I mean, who…to live through that, and keep going. I don’t know. So, anyway, he just took that right out of their power. And once he started having the children die, then the parents followed through. And you know what I mean? There’s a lot of discussion, like somebody I know just said, “Oh, yeah, but everybody was given a shot.” That wasn’t true. Jim had people’s minds…you know, it was mind control.
M: No, it was. And everything that you’ve stated Laura, it seems like that, up to this last point, you know, and you really. You know, I do have children, and you really touched a chord there, you know, for him to do that, he was really a master manipulator.
L: That’s right. But see, and also that last day, see it wasn’t just Jim, cause Jim was doing the coercing. He was doing all the talking. And so, so I mean he, it’s like he, had his hands clean. Do you know what I mean? It’s like he had clean hands during the whole thing. And so, then his secretaries and mistresses, kind of behind the scenes, set out the vat, got the poison together, got the, you know, started giving it to the kids, I mean, once again, he was kind of above the fray. And so even at the end, it was just like unbelievable that that was going to happen. And so, people were just…you know, really the people in Jonestown were as surprised as the rest of the people in the world.
M: Sure. And…were there any survivors left in Jonestown?
L: Yes, so…the morning of… that morning, Leslie Wilson went, she wrote a book, “Slavery of Faith,” and she and 12 people went on a picnic and got out of Jonestown with the youngest child, OK? And so, um, so she got out that morning. They said they were going on a picnic, so she was able to save her son and some other people. And 2 seniors were able to not die that day. One man asked security if he could leave because he didn’t want to die, and the security guy let him go, and another woman pretended to sleep through it. And that was Hyacinth Thrash. And she wrote her book, “The Onliest One Alive,” which is a wonderful book.
M: So she pretended like she drank it? And then just acted like she was dead?
L: No… She just stayed in her dorm, under her bunk and you know, didn’t go, just listened to it all and slept through the night, and by the morning that’s when the Guyanese defense force and everybody came. And then 2 young men, who, you know, had some street smarts, left during the poisoning. They just got out of there, you know, made up some way to go to pick up some equipment or something, and they ran into the woods and stayed out there. And then Jim sent 3 people out with money to go to the Soviet embassy, and so they survived. And then, it appears that the last 2 people alive in Jonestown were Jim and his nurse, Annie Moore. And, there’s some…there’s discussion on every issue, but it seems like she probably shot him and then shot herself.
M: OK, so they, they didn’t have poison. They were shot.
L: I mean, in a way he was always the elitist, you know, that he would set this up, and then of all the people not to take the poison, he didn’t take the poison. I mean, it’s like. Anyway, I don’t, I don’t understand how, how he came to terms with that. But during that time, what happened was, just as people were dying in Jonestown, there was a coded message that went out to Georgetown, where I was, and to San Francisco and Los Angeles and Redwood Valley. And the coded message was, “People in Jonestown are dying. It’s time for revolutionary suicide. We can’t do anything else, and everybody is to kill themselves right now.” So, in Georgetown, the woman who took the call was one of his secretaries, and so she sent me across town to get the basketball team, because Jim’s sons, Stephen and Jimmy, were with, you know, a group of other people. So I went across town, and got Stephen and Jimmy and some others and brought them back to the Georgetown house. And then she met with them in an upstairs bedroom and told them the message. And so Stephen was 19, and he says, “Absolutely not. We’re not doing that. Why would we do that? Let me get to Jonestown.” And he tried to figure out how to get to Jonestown to stop it there. But you know, it was 24 hours by boat, an hour at the very least, if you could get to the airport. Anyway, there was just, there was no way he could stop it, what had already started in Jonestown. But he got on the phone and he said, you know, “we’re not doing it.” He called San Francisco, Redwood Valley, and LA, and said, “stop it now, we’re not doing it. It’s all over. Don’t do a thing. Don’t listen to any instruction, it’s all over.” And really he literally stopped it every place.
M: This is Jim Jones’s son.
L: Yeah. Stephen.
M: What happened with Stephen after this? I know you’re talking, it just interested me, about him being the son of Jim Jones and basically saying, “you know, this is it. We’re not gonna die. This is over.”
L: Well, I mean, Stephen’s just a wonderful guy. And you know, he bears the weight of being Jim’s…
M: His father.
L: Yeah, and so, he lives his life, but it’s never far from his consciousness of what’s gone on. He’s a single father of three daughters. And, you know is just a great guy, very thoughtful and everything, but. And he carries that weight, just like Jimmy does. They were the only two children to survive.
M: Did they have any type of normal life after this? Or any of you? Was it hard to reintegrate back into society?
L: Well, I mean, everybody has struggled, and not only those of us who survived, but family members of people who died in Jonestown. I mean, the circle, like, I was just reminded because I was at a library the other night and I was with a sister of somebody who was at (breaks down) Guyana…
M: Sure, it’s OK, Laura (he’s choked up, too)
L: You know, it’s like, we talk about the number 918. but really 918 is only the people who didn’t survive. It’s not the family members back here, who had to keep going. Who had to raise their kids…
M: Thousands and thousands of people were affected.
L: Yeah, and so, I mean, sometimes we forget and we say, 918, boy, that’s a lot of people dying. But really, that’s really a drop in the bucket of the damage that’s been done by this. And even you know, I mean I just met this, this woman this week, so it’s been [crying again] 36 and a half years, and she’s never had a way to, you know, she’s never met anybody, she’s never you know, been able to talk to, to talk about it, in a more personal way other than just grieving. It’s just been horrible. So…
M: Well, your work is, I know, Laura, that it’s been therapy. And I know, like you talk about it and it’s almost like a story, but this is real. This is real life and real people were affected, so…
L: That’s right.
M: A lot of the people that were affected, they haven’t been able to deal with it as you have, by telling your story and sharing it, which of course, helps tremendously, but it sometimes brings up that pain. But there’s a lot of people, as you had mentioned, that deal with it in silence.
L: And, and you know, everywhere I go I meet people like that. Like, you know, so my, like, I’m friends with all the survivors. So, we are in touch, so we go to the anniversary on Nov. 18th each year, and we gather, and I’ve done oral histories of, you know, 10 people, and I’m doing more; and actually some of us are interested in going back to Guyana in March, so we’re looking for funding now from some major news source or something, so that we can get back down there, so, I mean… We’re all tight and in a way, we have needed each other as a support group, because there was no way to really work this out on our own. It was just too hard to do it by ourselves. And yet, all these people who were not close to us, who didn’t know who to contact, who were just so appalled and grief-stricken they didn’t know where to turn, but a lot of like, grandchildren are reaching out to me, you know? I mean, I’m, like every week or so I have somebody’s nephew, or cousin, or grandchild reach out to me to say, you know, “Did you know my relative?” and “what’s going on with this?” And, I mean, finally people are trying to make some sense out of that is insane. Something that, there’s no way to make sense out of it, really.
M: I know, Laura, you’re a tremendous person for stepping out on a limb, you know, and telling the story of Jonestown and Georgetown. And doing it the way you do. You’ve been doing it for so many years. You’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for everyone.
L: [Still crying] Right. And you know, people ask me, so, you know, you know, it’s too bad you cry, but I usually do cry. Some of us who are survivors call it PTSD, Peoples Temple Stress Disorder, um, I say, I think that … I mean, I do cry, but I can’t imagine not, not telling people what went on. Like I can’t just shut up about it. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s not an option for me to just sit down and not talk. That’s not an option because, in a way, my mental health, and I mean I’ve gone on to do so many other things…
L: …I mean, I’ve been a public school teacher 25 years, I’m a Quaker, I you know, do all kinds of other things. I’m an activist, I was part of the Occupy movement. And I do a lot of things, but very much a part of me is everything about Peoples Temple, why I joined, why I lived there, how I survived, all of that is who I am today.
M: It is, Laura. And, and you’re, you know, you went through some tough times. But that’s who you were when you had joined, and before you had joined, and even though things have changed and chapters have closed, you’re still that Laura, that activist in the 60s and the 70s, but just different, and more alive, more awake, to this type of thing, and again, telling this story I believe that everyone that goes through something traumatic, you know, when there’s multiple people involved, or even thousands, or people that have similar experiences. It’s always that person who’s willing to go out on a limb and tell the story that speaks for all those people that are either too afraid or scared to tell their story. And I thank you, Laura, for doing that. You educated me a lot about this, you touched my heart (he starts crying) on a story, that I, of course, and I don’t know why I’m crying, but it touches me, and having children and caring about people, and you know, thousands of people were hurt by this event and this man, that manipulated them. And you also, Laura, not only speak for those victims, but other people out there that might be interested in a movement, or some type of cult. And there might be another Jim Jones in the making out there and maybe they could awaken to this and get away from it, and go out on their own or to more healthy endeavors.
L: Right. And always question. I mean, nothing is ever so good that you can stop asking questions and fixing things. I mean, even when I try my very best, I still need improvement, so you have to say the same thing about a movement. You can’t turn off critical thinking. You can’t ignore obvious things. You can’t say, “Oh, it’s not that important.” Things are important and you need to never just make assumptions that it’s OK.
M: I agree, I agree, Laura, and it’s interesting because I put a quote today on my blog on the Gnostic Warrior and it’s by Manly P. Hall. It says, “the power to think true, is the savior to humanity.” And let me read it real quick before we leave today. It says
The power to think true is the savior for humanity.
The mythological and historical redeemers of every age were all personifications of that power. He who has a little more rationality than his neighbor is a little better than his neighbor. He who functions on a higher plane of rationality than the rest of the world is termed the greatest thinker; he who functions on a lower plane is regarded as a barbarian. Thus comparative rational development is the true gauge of the individual’s evolutionary status. Briefly stated, the true purpose of ancient philosophy was to discover a method whereby development of rational nature could be accelerated, instead of awaiting the slower processes of nature.
And that’s what makes us human is the ability to think, to rationalize and use reason and common sense, and we’ve always got to use that in everything we do and at every stage of our lives. Laura, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming on the show today and educating my audience around the world about the Jonestown event. You’re really an awesome person and before we wrap up this show, can you let the audience know where are the best places to find your great work?
L: Um, yeah. I think the easiest way is to go to Amazon.com, because I have it in paperback or hardback, and I have it in Whisper, with the audiobook and Kindle book together, and Nook, so you can get it there…
M: What’s the name of your book again?
L: It’s called Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look…
L: …and so they can also, if they want a signed copy or want me to write a message, you can just go to my website, jonestownsurvivor.com.
M: OK, great. And I’ll be sure to post links when I post the podcast, to your amazon book and also your website, for those people that didn’t get it, or come to my website in the future. It’s been a great pleasure speaking to you. Laura, I learned a lot. You touched my heart and I’m sure you touched a lot of people around the world. I wish you the best in everything you do.
L: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
M: You’re welcome, Laura. Take care.
L: You too. Bye. [end of interview]