The Forensic Investigation of Jonestown Conducted by Dr. Leslie Mootoo: A Critical Analysis

The standard American autopsy begins with a cut known as a Y incision (the cut looks like the letter Y when it is completed). . . . The skin and muscle are then cut back, revealing the rib cage beneath . . . . Each organ (the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, stomach, and testicles) is removed, weighed, and examined for injury. Each organ is then sliced, and samples are preserved for toxicology screens (tests for any drug use or poison) and histology analysis (study of the organ on a microscopic level). Samples are also preserved in case they are needed for reexamination at some point in the future. Blood, bile, and urine are also taken, examined, and preserved, along with fluids from the lungs and pleural cavity. The contents of the stomach are also inspected.[1]

A number of articles concerning the 1978 deaths in Guyana have relied upon the testimony of Dr. Cyril Leslie Mootoo (1924–2000), a pathologist commissioned by the Guyanese government to investigate the crime scenes of 18 November, especially the one in Jonestown. The most notable of these articles include “The Black Hole of Guyana,” by John Judge; “The Secret Life of Jim Jones,” by Jim Hougan; and, more recently, a two-part series on “Unanswered Questions About Jonestown,” by Tom Whittle.[2]

The reason why Dr. Mootoo’s account is highly valued is that he was the first medical doctor on the scene. More importantly, his description of the deaths in Jonestown seemed to challenge the mainstream narrative. Rather than referring to the deaths as mass suicide, he claimed that most residents had been murdered.

Dr. Leslie & Savitri Mootoo

In some respects, Dr. Mootoo was correct. It is clear that the children were murdered, as they were below the age of consent. In addition, according to eyewitness accounts, the medical team, along with some parents, forcibly gave children poison.[3] Further, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that some individuals were injected—even against their will—with the cyanide-laced fruit drink. But Dr. Mootoo expanded upon that assessment and eventually claimed that almost everyone was murdered, including Jim Jones and my sister Annie Moore.

There are several problems with relying on Dr. Mootoo’s opinion, however. Later information arose to indicate that his initial opinions were incorrect. His own description of his actions changed over time. Some writers then misquoted or mischaracterized what he said, or tendentiously misread his findings, to advance their own agendas.

This article examines all of these issues in order to determine what we may believe in Dr. Mootoo’s testimony and what we should regard with suspicion. It begins by reconstructing Dr. Mootoo’s actions, using the earliest documentation of his activities. It then examines the issues in which he was clearly incorrect and the ways in which the pathologist changed his story. Finally, it looks at how writers have inaccurately related his findings or have twisted the facts.

My thesis is simply this: Some of the evidence Dr. Mootoo presents can be trusted, but some of it cannot. A resulting sub-thesis is that articles that rely upon Dr. Mootoo as their primary or even sole witness must be viewed with great skepticism.

The Initial Story

At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, 20 November, Dr. Mootoo performed an autopsy on Congressman Leo J. Ryan at the Central Medical Laboratory in Georgetown, Guyana. The examination was witnessed by James Schollaert, a staff member from the U.S. House of Representatives who had accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan to Guyana.[4] As chief pathologist and bacteriologist for the Government of Guyana, Dr. Mootoo apparently autopsied the other four airport fatalities—Greg Robinson, Bob Brown, Don Harris, and Patricia Parks, since he signed off on all of the postmortem reports.[5] An Associated Press wire story reported that autopsies were being conducted by “Guyanese doctors, with American physicians in attendance,”[6] but we have never learned who these physicians were, and none have come forward to say they were present.

On Wednesday, 22 November, beginning at 11:00 a.m. Dr. Mootoo performed complete autopsies on the four Peoples Temple members who died on 18 November in the group’s Georgetown residence. The date and time are important, because they prove that Dr. Mootoo was back in Georgetown on 22 November. They further indicate that he was in Jonestown for only one full day, 21 November.

Dr. Mootoo’s testimony at the official inquest into the deaths in Jonestown—known as the Guyana Inquest—held in Matthews Ridge in mid-December, offers an important chronology. According to his testimony, the physician arrived in Jonestown on 20 November and viewed what he stated were “several hundred of dead bodies some [of which] were identified to me by Odell Rhodes.”[7] He testified that he “really started my examination of the said dead bodies on the Monday night 20 November.”

Cables from the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown supplement this chronology. According to one such cable:

Dr. Cyril Mootoo, GOG pathologist, testified that beginning on Nov 20 he conducted toxicological studies without [dissection] on thirty-nine bodies identified by Odell Rhodes [name withheld by FBI], and on twenty-five bodies, chosen at random, from those that had not then been identified. Results showed that all sixty-four died of ‘acute cyanide poisoning,’ according to the testimony of both [Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Cecil “Skip”] Roberts and Mootoo[.][8]

As his testimony continued, he reported that “I started to work on the 21st November, 1978 about 9.00 a.m.” to conduct “a post mortem with autopsy” on Jim Jones, concluding that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. He declared that he “examined James Warren Jones’ abdomen and found no abnormality.” Nor did he find any abnormality in the “partial dissection” he conducted on Ann Moore. He concluded in her case that she, too, had died of a gunshot wound.[9]

It is crucial to remember that Dr. Mootoo “partially dissected” only two people in Jonestown—Jim Jones and Ann Moore—and conducted toxicology studies on just sixty-four.[10] In other words, he did not perform any autopsies on Jonestown victims. Indeed, “[t]he autopsies normally required by Guyana law were waived by the government after a U.S. toxicologist and a Guyanese doctor tested some of the bodies and determined that poison was present.”[11] In addition, both Dr. Mootoo and Police Commissioner Roberts testified that they saw only two bodies with external wounds—again, those of Jones and Moore.[12] All of these facts will be at issue in subsequent analyses.

One additional fact is significant: the presence of hypodermic needles, as well as syringes without needles, scattered amidst the paper cups which people used to drink the poison. (A syringe is a hollow, cylinder-shaped piece of equipment used for sucking liquid out of something or pushing liquid into something, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. With a needle attached to the end, it may be called a hypodermic.) As early as 22 November, reporters described finding such needles.[13] An account from 23 November stated: “[b]ut not all died by drinking the brew. Scattered among the bodies, many of them locked in a death embrace, were numerous hypodermic needles, indicating some chose injections as their way.”[14] The question of choice, of course, is contested today, but the existence of syringes and needles is not.

Robert J. Oglesby Jr.— the Legal Attaché from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas assigned to work the investigation out of the Georgetown Embassy[15] —conducted an interview with Dr. Mootoo in Georgetown on 14 December 1978. At that time the pathologist said he

observed many syringes (well over 50 but too numerous to count) and numerous hypodermic needles both uncapped and capped. He tested one syringe which contained cyanide. He tested one of the hypodermic needles and it contained valium. He observed numerous vials and one of the vials tested contained cyanide and valium.[16]

In that same interview, Dr. Mootoo stated that he observed “what appeared to be recent skin punctures on some of the bodies about the upper arms.” His personal opinion was that they may have been made by needles, but that could be verified only by tests made of skin tissue, which he said he was presently conducting. The results of the tests “will be available at a later date,” he told the embassy official.

Finally, on 27 December, Dr. Mootoo furnished two samples of the poison recovered from Jonestown, according to a cable from the American Embassy. “One sample, darker color, in [a] smaller bottle, was taken from the cauldron by a syringe, and was stored in the syringe. The other sample, lighter color, in taller bottle, was taken from the cauldron in an open [container], and has been stored in an open container. These samples have been placed inside crate number six.”[17]

To our knowledge, these two vials of poison were the only evidentiary items ever turned over by Dr. Mootoo to U.S. government representatives. The FBI expected to receive complete reports from him, as shown by a cable dated 16 February 1979:

Dr. Mootoo indicated pathology report of examination made of bodies at Jonestown on November [date illegible], was complete and he was carrying report with him as well as toxicology study for poison on unidentified bodies made at Jonestown. Dr. Mootoo will also have list of names of bodies identified by Odell Rhodes at Jonestown.

During visit of Dr. Mootoo at FBIHQ on February [date illegible], 1979, Xeroxed copies of the above documents should be obtained for forwarding to the San Francisco office.[18]

Dr. Mootoo was in the United States to attend a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Atlanta, where his speech of 17 February stunned medical examiners from around the country (more on this below). But a snowstorm prevented his continuing to Washington, D.C. for the meeting slated for 20 February. A cable dated 14 March indicated that the FBI still wanted the reports and instructed the legal attaché from the Caracas Embassy to obtain them from Dr. Mootoo.[19] A cable sent from Caracas the next day informed the FBI Director that the Georgetown Embassy had been instructed to get the documents.[20] Clearly, U.S. officials were anxious to learn about Dr. Mootoo’s findings.

The disappointing response was revealed in a cable signed by Ambassador John Burke dated 26 March:

1. Dr. Leslie Mootoo, GOG pathologist, believes there has been some misunderstanding as he had no formal report to present to FBI [Headquarters] and had intended to only make an informal oral report.
2. Mootoo states also that he did not make any toxicology studies of those assassinated at Port Kaituma airstrip as all victims died of gunshot wounds.
3. Finally, with reference to press reports that he had given American Embassy Georgetown samples, Dr. Mootoo stated that this referred to vials of poisonous drink that he had given [Assistant Legal Attaché Dwight] Garrettson.[21]

This concludes the presentation of how Dr. Mootoo initially described actions concerning examination of the bodies found in Jonestown, Port Kaituma, and Georgetown. There is a postscript, however. Robert Oglesby and Donald R. Hale—the Special Agent from the FBI’s San Francisco office in charge of that office’s investigation of Leo Ryan’s death—traveled to Guyana in late April 1979 to conduct further investigations. A cable recounting the results of their visit states that “Numerous attempts were made to meet with Dr. Mootoo, with no success.”[22]

Dr. Mootoo was Mistaken

Leslie Mootoo was charged with an almost impossible task: to determine the cause of death of more than 900 people, and to conduct appropriate medical-legal examinations of five individuals shot at an air field in Port Kaituma, as well as the four who died in Georgetown by having their throats cut.[23] He and his staff faced daunting conditions in Jonestown, where the heat and rain accelerated the decomposition of countless bodies. By his own account, he “stopped working in Jonestown after 32 hours because of fatigue and insufficient supplies of equipment and food.” He added that “he and his three Guyanese assistants ran out of water and could not drink from the Jonestown wells for fear of poison.”[24] It is therefore understandable that he got a few things wrong—most significantly, the nature of the gunshot wounds on Jim Jones and Ann Moore.

Dr. Mootoo stated that Jim Jones had been shot on the right side of his head. He furnished the following information to the American Embassy in Georgetown:

He said there was a small bullet entry wound above the right ear, with a large, 4 centimeter exit wound behind the left ear. The wounds appeared to be self-inflicted, using a small pistol which was found lying on the victim’s chest. Dr. Mootoo said he also tested for poison and there was not evidence that he had taken any. A complete autopsy was not done as the cause of death was obvious.[25]

At the Guyana Inquest in December, Mootoo repeated his belief that “Jones died as a result of a head wound caused by the ‘near discharge’ of a .38 caliber handgun.” He stated that the wound “was located in one of the ‘suicide areas’ for a right-handed person,” though he could not deduce whether the injury was self-inflicted.[26]

In the case of Annie, however, Dr. Mootoo declared that she had been shot by a high-powered rifle because the left side of her head was blown away. He concluded that she had been murdered.[27]

Because U.S. officials were more interested in who murdered Congressman Ryan than in how 900 American citizens died, they made little effort to perform even the most rudimentary tests on site.[28] Working with the primary investigative body involved—namely, the FBI—the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) did agree to conduct seven autopsies in the United States: Jim Jones, Maria Katsaris, Carolyn Moore Layton, Ann Elizabeth Moore, Laurence Schacht, Violatt Dillard, and Richard Castillo. The government required an autopsy of Jones. With the exception of Dillard and Castillo, the autopsies on the others had been requested by family members.[29]

What AFIP reported was that the entrance wound for Jones was in the left temple and the exit wound was on the right.[30] Since no cyanide was present, the physicians concluded the cause of death was due to the gunshot. In contrast, the entrance wound for Annie was in the right temple, with the exit wound on the left.[31] Because the staff at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, where the bodies were processed, immediately embalmed everyone upon their arrival from Guyana, meaningful toxicological studies could not be conducted. Nevertheless, in Annie’s case, traces of cyanide were found in muscle tissue, leading to speculation as to cause of death:

The shooting [of Ann] was surely not antecedent to the administration of cyanide. The possibilities then are a self-inflicted gunshot wound during an agonal period following cyanide ingestion/injection or a coup de grâce gunshot wound inflicted by another party. Incapacitation following cyanide poisoning is not necessarily immediate. The use of multiple modalities for effecting suicide is not uncommon.[32]

In other words, Annie might have taken poison and then shot herself to speed up the process of dying. Although an outsider might have shot her, it is more likely that she shot herself, given the fact that she left a suicide note.[33]

In the case of Jones, however, the AFIP’s autopsy findings support the view that he might have been shot by someone else. It is believed, though not confirmed, that Jim Jones was right-handed. An entrance wound on the left temple would not be impossible for a right-handed person. But an injury on the left, coupled with the fact that Dr. Mootoo reported finding “a small pistol” on Jones’ chest, suggests murder. Or assisted suicide.

There are several reasons to explain how Dr. Mootoo got it wrong in these instances. First, of course, was the inability to conduct complete autopsies in laboratory conditions. A close examination of the skulls would have clearly indicated the bullets’ trajectories. Second, in cases of gunshot “generally, the exit wound is larger than the entrance wound, but it is just the opposite when you talk about a contact gunshot wound,” according to Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker, a civilian member of the AFIP team that performed autopsies on Jones and Moore. “Even in the decomposing state of [Jones’] body and everything else, we could establish without any doubt that it was a contact wound from the left.”[34] These facts account for Dr. Mootoo’s erroneous beliefs that the entrance wound for Jones was on the right side of his head; and that Annie had been shot with a dum dum, given that the left side of her head—where the actual contact wound was—was virtually destroyed.

Dr. Mootoo Changes His Story

It is no wonder that some of Dr. Mootoo’s initial findings were incorrect. He was working under the most adverse circumstances. More problematic, however, is his departure from the sworn testimony he provided in a court of law, as well as multiple interviews he gave to both government officials and to reporters.

It is essential to recall that Dr. Mootoo did not perform autopsies on anyone who died in Jonestown. Nor did he claim to, at least not at first. His postmortem examinations consisted of spot checks at the scene and toxicology samples of fewer than 70 people. These hardly comprise what are widely-accepted to be autopsies, as anyone who has watched the television program Crime Scene Investigation would know. Yet Dr. Mootoo came to insist that that’s exactly what he had done.

On 12 December 1978, the New York Times cited an unnamed source as saying that “At least 70 members of the People’s Temple, most of them adults, were given injections of cyanide at Jonestown instead of drinking it.”[35] A Times article published two days later revealed the probable sources as Dr. Mootoo and police officials, who spoke to reporters prior to the commencement of the Guyana Inquest.[36] In an interview with the Chicago Tribune on 16 December, Dr. Mootoo declared that “I do not believe there were ever more than 200 persons who died voluntarily,” adding that “he based his conclusions on 70 autopsies performed on victims, as well as his examination of other bodies and an inspection of the scene.”[37] In that same interview—given almost a full month after 18 November—he stated for the first time “that dozens of adult victims whose bodies he examined had died of poison injected into a portion of their upper arms. Mootoo said it is virtually impossible for a person to inject himself in that part of the upper arm.”[38] A news story on 19 December more modestly reported that “he found evidence of needle injections in the bodies of some cultists, indicating that they had been murder, and not suicide, victims.”[39]

The number of bodies examined by Dr. Mootoo continued to grow. When he spoke at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in February 1979, “Dr. Mootoo reported that tests of stomach contents from 81 bodies at Jonestown showed evidence of cyanide, and that additional tests showed another 83 people had been injected with cyanide.”[40]

These ever-inflated claims of examinations, coupled with the first references to injections, beg the following question: Why did Dr. Mootoo not introduce his belief that people had been injected when he gave his testimony at the Guyana Inquest? He had reported finding syringes present. As noted previously, he also told a representative of the U.S. Embassy that he had found syringes and hypodermic needles, and had tested a single syringe, which contained cyanide, and a single hypodermic needle, which contained valium.Dr. Mootoo also told this same official that he observed “what appeared to be recent skin punctures on some of the bodies about the upper arms, and his personal opinion is that they may have been made by needles.”[41]

Yet at the inquest, neither Dr. Mootoo nor Police Commissioner Roberts said anything about injections, according to reporter Charles Krause, a journalist who had accompanied Congressman Ryan to Jonestown and was wounded in the Port Kaituma attack. Nor did they speculate on the cause of death:

Neither Mootoo nor Roberts gave any indication during their testimony of how many persons they thought voluntarily had drunk the Peoples Temple poison and how many were forced to drink it.

Mootoo testified that he had done 56 autopsies during the first days after the Jonestown tragedy was officially discovered on the evening of Nov. 20. He mentioned nothing about finding syringe marks on any of these bodies, as had been reported.[42]

Dr. Mootoo’s own testimony confirms that of Krause, although the number of bodies examined is a bit lower, according to the reporter’s notebook. The jury at the Guyana Inquest concluded that all but Annie Moore and Maria Katsaris were victims of murder. Clearly, members had not learned of “unconfirmed news reports of the past week that many of those found dead at Jonestown had apparently been killed by poison injected into them by the Jonestown medical staff,” wrote Krause:

The only evidence introduced during the 10-day inquest that indicated that anyone might have been injected with the cyanide poison came from Dr. Mootoo, who is the Guyanese government’s official pathologist.

In a letter that was introduced to augment his oral testimony, Mootoo said “several” of the 39 bodies he had examined on the ground in Jonestown had needle marks on their arms.[43]

The reluctance of Dr. Mootoo to speculate as to the cause of the puncture marks may be rather simple: he was the one who made them. Charles Krause, who was at the scene for several days, reported on Dr. Mootoo’s appearance in Jonestown on 20 November (though not by name):

The bodies, which had been on the ground for almost three days in the muggy climate here, were beginning to bloat. A Guyanese doctor was sent in yesterday to puncture them because it was feared many would burst open before today [21 November], when U.S. Army medical teams are scheduled to arrive at Jonestown to begin identifying and shipping the[m] back to the United States.[44]

Admittedly, Krause may have been mistaken as to the doctor’s purposes: this may well have been Dr. Mootoo drawing toxicological samples, rather than puncturing the bodies to prevent rupture.[45] Inserting a needle into the abdomen to determine if cyanide was present in the stomach might well have appeared to deflate the putrefying bodies. Inserting a needle into the upper arm of many of the bodies might have been the only option available, given the fact that they were face down on the ground. What is strange, however, is that Krause himself did not report seeing any victims of forcible injection.

There are other inconsistencies in Dr. Mootoo’s stories. In December 1978, for example, he told an embassy official he had tested only a single needle and a single syringe;[46] but in February 1979 he used the plural in speaking before a gathering of 800 medical examiners: “tests of syringes fitted with needles showed cyanide in large concentrations and also traces of Valium, a tranquilizer, he said. Tests on other syringes, without needles, showed far larger concentrations of cyanide.”[47]

The Church of Scientology’s Freedom Magazine shows additional inconsistencies in Dr. Mootoo’s account, revealed in an interview with the medical examiner.[48] It is worth citing in full.

Dr. Mootoo, the government’s top pathologist and the first physician on the scene, told Freedom that many had died from injections of cyanide. After 32 hours of nonstop work in stifling heat, amid decaying flesh, in Mootoo’s words, “We gave up.” By that time, 187 bodies killed by injections had been examined by Mootoo and his team. Victims had been injected in portions of their bodies they could not have reached themselves, such as between the shoulder blades or in the back of an upper arm. “Those who were injecting them knew what they were doing,” Mootoo said. [Italics in original]

The article goes on to quote an American Green Beret, rather than Dr. Mootoo, who asserted that many individuals were found shot in Jonestown. Dr. Mootoo told reporters that he believed that a number of individuals might have been shot, but in his testimony he named only two.

I wrote to Tom Whittle, the lead author on articles about Jonestown published by the Church of Scientology, to determine what Dr. Mootoo had actually said. (Some information in “Unanswered Questions About Jonestown” seems to have come from a New York Times article published in 1979.[49]) Mr. Whittle spoke with Dr. Mootoo on several occasions. The first time was in late 1979, and other instances occurred prior to publication of articles in 1995 and 1997, and shortly before he died. The pathologist verified that the information and comments attributed to him were correct. In the words of Mr. Whittle:

Dr. Mootoo was the original source about the injections being given between the shoulder blades. Charles Huff, a former member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, came forward and also stated that injections had been administered between the shoulder blades.[50]

These claims were new. Dr. Mootoo had belatedly reported seeing puncture wounds about the upper arms, but he never mentioned observing injections applied between the shoulder blades in his testimony at the Guyana Inquest, his comments to U.S. officials, or his presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

I am not suggesting that no one in Jonestown was injected against their will on 18 November. There are photographs that show hypodermic needles at the scene, and eyewitness testimony as to what happened. I am merely arguing that Dr. Mootoo himself provided no credible evidence in support of this conjecture.

More troubling, however, is that Dr. Mootoo’s inconsistencies mounted as time passed. And as more primary sources go online at Alternative Considerations that detail the earliest accounts of the deaths, his credibility should be declining. Instead, it continues to increase. He has become the dominant source for both well-reasoned accounts of what happened in Jonestown and for speculative counter-factual accounts. This should give us pause.

Misrepresenting Dr. Mootoo

While it is one thing for Dr. Mootoo to have been mistaken and another for him to revise his account, it is a vastly different issue when Dr. Mootoo’s findings are misrepresented by writers for their own ideological agendas. John Judge’s “The Black Hole of Guyana” is a veritable goldmine of disinformation. I focus on Judge in particular because many of the following ideas—and exact words—appear in subsequent online conspiracy memes.

Let us first consider Dr. Mootoo’s arrival in Jonestown. He said he got there on 20 November. At the earliest, this would have been in the afternoon, given his oversight of autopsies in Georgetown in the morning. In addition, Police Commissioner Roberts confirms that Dr. Mootoo did not arrive until late that day. Yet Judge asserts that the pathologist was quickly on the scene: “Dr. Mootoo, the top Guyanese pathologist, was at Jonestown within hours after the massacre.”[51] I think the normal understanding of “within hours” for most people would be just a few—not forty-eight, or two whole days.

Next, it is true that Dr. Mootoo declared in a newspaper interview in December 1978 (though not in his sworn testimony) that he believed that 700 Jonestown residents had been murdered, adding that he did not think that more than 200 died voluntarily.[52] But nowhere does any document assert, as Judge does, that “Dr. Mootoo found fresh needle marks at the back of the left shoulder blades of 80-90% of the victims. Others had been shot or strangled.”[53] Judge’s endnote cites the New York Times, which actually reported injections in the upper arm, not the back of the left shoulder blades. The sources he cites do not support his assertion of widespread gunshot injuries or strangulation. Moreover, since only about 400 bodies were visible when Dr. Mootoo was on site, he could not have determined how many people had been murdered or what percentage of them had been injected.

Finally, Dr. Mootoo initially stated that the gun presumably used to kill Jones was found on the victim’s chest.[54] At the Guyana Inquest, the gun had moved 20 feet from Jones’ body.[55] Still later, John Judge says, “The gun that reportedly shot Jim Jones was lying nearly 200 feet from his body, not a likely suicide weapon.”[56] This trope of the gun lying 200 feet away—created by Judge—was picked up by at least one internet source.[57]

The Facts of the Matter

Thus far I have summarized what Dr. Mootoo said at the outset, looked at two errors he made, identified the ways in which he embellished his initial account, and noted a few egregious misuses of the doctor’s name in support of speculative hypotheses. The following sketch is what I believe is an accurate report of what Dr. Mootoo does during the first few crucial days after 18 November.

  1. He arrives in Jonestown in the late afternoon of Monday 20 November. Odell Rhodes shows him around. Since sunset occurs at 6:38 p.m. in Port Kaituma on 20 November, it is unlikely that any meaningful examinations occur that night. Artificial lighting is minimal, since Jonestown is a village set in the middle of a jungle.
  2. On Tuesday 21 November, Dr. Mootoo examines Jim Jones and Ann Moore relatively closely, and later he and his assistants draw toxicology samples from some of the bodies identified by Rhodes, along with some who were not identified. Depending on the source, they take samples from 56, 64, or 65 individuals; at any rate, no more than 70 are tested.
  3. Mootoo and his team fly back to Georgetown on Tuesday afternoon or evening. I conclude this from several facts: he says he “spent the night” (singular) in Jonestown; he says he worked 32 hours in Jonestown; and he is back in Georgetown performing autopsies on the Amos family by 11:00 a.m. the next day.
  4. On Wednesday 22 November, Dr. Mootoo conducts autopsies on a total of nine individuals: four who died in Georgetown, and five who died in Port Kaituma.

These facts raise a number of questions that seriously undermine Dr. Mootoo’s credibility.

The pathologist had no more than twelve hours of daylight to work in Jonestown (sunrise in Port Kaituma being 6:53 a.m. on 21 November). Thus, his examinations were cursory, at best. Coupled with the brevity of his time at the scene was the enormity of the disaster. “There were piles upon piles of bodies,” said Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman, who was there on that same day.[58] The photographer graphically described the decomposing bodies that had burst apart, with fluids, guts, and intestines running out, “bodies virtually held in by clothing.” How exactly could Dr. Mootoo and his team find puncture wounds—in either the upper arms or between the shoulder blades—of people who were clothed and literally bursting at the seams?

Nor did he did autopsy Jim Jones, as he claimed. He did make an incision into Jones’ abdomen, but when pathologists from the AFIP examined the body they found that the incision “did not go anywhere other than into the abdomen,” according to Dr. Breitenecker. “The abdominal organs had not been dissected and the chest had not even been opened for examination. This was a totally meaningless incision.”[59]

For me, Dr. Mootoo’s most egregious boast, however, is that he autopsied 70 people in Jonestown. That simply is not, and never was, true.


It should be clear by now that we must be very cautious in relying upon much of what Dr. Leslie Mootoo said of the deaths in Jonestown. It is true that he was the first medical examiner on the scene, but I don’t think this grants him more credibility than actual eyewitnesses to the events. Tim Carter watched his wife and child die, shortly after the process had begun; Odell Rhodes observed the deaths of the children and the beginning of those of the adults; Stanley Clayton provided the most complete account, since he was there the longest before he fled.[60] Each contributes a great deal more than anything Dr. Mootoo has to offer.

I am writing this analysis having the benefit of numerous documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and Wiki-Leaks. Previous writers had limited, or no, access to this information. They relied upon news reports and, a very few, upon personal interviews. I do not fault them, therefore, for accepting news accounts at face value. The initial reports were wildly inaccurate, but improved as more information, and facts, became available. My sister Annie Moore, for example, was confused in some early news accounts with the elderly Annie McGowan, and vice versa. This was corrected as time went on.

With the publication of this article, however, I would assert that no one can any longer use ignorance of the facts as an excuse. I have presented Dr. Mootoo’s original story, what he said at the very outset, before he became a type of celebrity. Subsequent writers who ignore this testimony, therefore, are simply spreading falsehoods—either ones fabricated by Dr. Mootoo or their own. This is not a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of documentation.


[1] Russell S. Strasser, “Autopsies,” in Forensic Science, ed. Ayn Embar-Seddon and Allan D. Pass (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2009), n.p.

[2] John Judge, “The Black Hole of Guyana: The Untold Story of the Jonestown Massacre” (Portland, OR: Feral House, 1993), republished on Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (henceforth Alternative Considerations); Jim Hougan, “The Secret Life of Jim Jones: A Parapolitical Fugue” Lobster 37 (1999): 2–20, republished on Alternative Considerations, Tom Whittle, “Unanswered Questions about Jonestown,” 10 June 2018, and “Unanswered Questions about Jonestown, Part Two,” 16 July 2018.

[3] See the accounts of Odell Rhodes, given in Ethan Feinsod, Awake in a Nightmare: Jonestown the Only Eyewitness Account (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981); and of Stanley Clayton, given in Kenneth Wooden, The Children of Jonestown (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981).

[4] Leo Ryan Autopsy Report, RYMUR Section 16, Serial 1271, Alternative Considerations. RYMUR was the FBI’s shorthand to denote the investigation into the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan.

[5] Autopsy Reports provided to officials from U.S. State Department and the FBI by Crime Commissioner Cecil Roberts, 2 February 1979, RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1894, Alternative Considerations.

[6] Associated Press, “Mass Guyana Sect Suicides—Hundreds More Flee Into Jungle,” Oakland Tribune, 20 November 1978, p. 15.

[7] C. Leslie Mootoo, Guyana Inquest, 13 December 1978, RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1840, Alternative Considerations. Text presented as it is in the transcript.

[8] Cable, U.S. Embassy Georgetown to State Department, 14 December 1978, RYMUR Section 15, Serial 1232, Alternative Considerations, PDF pages 325–27. The bracketed word [dissection] replaces the original word “vivisection.”

[9] Mootoo, Guyana Inquest, 13 December 1978.

[10] The description of the autopsy of Ann Elizabeth Moore conducted by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology gives the figure of sixty-five toxicology screens, citing “reports by the consultant forensic pathologist to the government of Guyana, Dr. Leslie Mootoo, that cyanide was recovered from syringes at the scene and from the stomach contents of 65 victims.” “Autopsy Protocol,” 15 December 1978, RYMUR Section 32, Serial 2178, Alternative Considerations.

[11] Jeremiah O’Leary, ““U.S. Begins Airlift of Cultists’ Bodies,” Washington Star, 22 November 1978, p. A-6.

[12] Cable, U.S. Embassy to State Department, 14 December 1978.

[13] O’Leary, “U.S. Begins Airlift of Cultists’ Bodies.”

[14] Leonard Greenwood, “Airlift of 400 Bodies Begins,” Los Angeles Times, 23 November 1978, p. 6.

[15] For the identification of Robert J. Oglesby Jr. as the Legal Attaché from the Caracas Embassy assigned to the Georgetown Embassy, see RYMUR Section 23, Serial 1668, Alternative Considerations. Other documents characterize Oglesby as a Special Agent in the FBI, see e.g., RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1894, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 431.

[16] FBI Transcription, 14 December 1978, RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1894, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 420.

[17] Cable, U.S. Embassy in Georgetown to FBI Headquarters, 28 December 1978, RYMUR Sec 20, Serial 1464, Alternative Considerations, PDF pages 10–11. Text as in original cable.

[18] Cable, U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela sent to FBI Headquarters and forwarded to San Francisco FBI Field Office, 16 February 1979,RYMUR Section 30, Serial 1990, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 61.

[19] Cable, FBI Director to Caracas Legal Attaché, 14 March 1979, RYMUR Section 30, Serial 1991, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 62.

[20] Cable, Caracas Legal Attaché to FBI Director, 15 March 1979, RYMUR Section 30, Serial 1997, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 103.

[21] Cable, U.S. Embassy Georgetown to U.S. Embassy Caracas, 26 March 1979, RYMUR Section 30, Serial 2062, Alternative Considerations, PDF pages 362–63.

[22] Cable, San Francisco FBI Office to FBI Director, 1 May 1979, RYMUR Section 31, Serial 2142, Alternative Considerations, PDF page 157.

[23] For complete autopsy reports of those who died in Port Kaituma and in Georgetown see “Autopsies in Guyana,” Alternative Considerations.

[24] Lawrence K. Altman, “Official of Guyana Tells of Aid Offer,” New York Times, 18 February 1979, p. 26.

[25] Cable, U.S. Embassy to State Department, 23 November 1978, RYMUR Section 1, Serial 74, Alternative Considerations.

[26] Cable, U.S. Embassy to State Department, 14 December 1978, RYMUR Section 15, Serial 1232. See also Mootoo, Guyana Inquest, 13 December 1978.

[27] Mootoo, Guyana Inquest, 13 December 1978.

[28] Rebecca Moore, “Last Rights,” Alternative Considerations.

[29] For autopsy reports of seven who died in Jonestown see “Autopsies in the United States,” Alternative Considerations.

[30] Autopsy Report, James Warren Jones, 15 December 1978, Alternative Considerations.

[31] Autopsy Report, Ann Elizabeth Moore, 15 December 1978, Alternative Considerations.

[32] Autopsy Report, Ann Elizabeth Moore.

[33] “Annie Moore’s Last Letter,”.

[34] Lawrence K. Altman, “Findings in Jones Autopsy Called Consistent With Murder or Suicide,” New York Times, 19 December 1978, p. B17.

[35] Nicholas M. Horrock, “Some in Cult Received Cyanide by Injection, Guyanese Sources Say,” New York Times, 12 December 1978, p. A1.

[36] Nicholas M. Horrock, “Cult Victim Slain, Guyana Jury Told,” New York Times, 14 December 1978, p. A15.

[37] Associated Press, “Most Jonestown Deaths Not Suicide, Doctor Says,” New York Times, 17 December 1978, p. 42.

[38] Associated Press, “700 Jonestown Victims Were Murdered, Chief Pathologist Believes,” Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1978, p. C9.

[39] Altman, “Findings in Jones Autopsy Called Consistent With Murder or Suicide.”

[40] Altman, “Official of Guyana Tells of Aid Offer.”

[41] FBI Transcription, 14 December 1978, RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1894.

[42] Charles Krause, “Doubt Remains on Jones Suicide,” Washington Post, 14 December 1978, p. A21.

[43] Charles Krause, “Guyanese Panel Rules All but 2 Were Murdered,” Washington Post, 23 December 1978, p. A1.

[44] Charles Krause, “Survivor: They Started with the Babies,” Washington Post, 21 November 1978, p. A1.

[45] Puncturing bodies with a needle seems a bit more respectful than bayoneting the bloated bodies “to release the internal gases caused by the hot sun and high humidity,” as U.S. troops allegedly did when they arrived to remove the bodies, according to Wooden, 198.

[46] FBI Transcription, 14 December 1978, RYMUR Section 28, Serial 1894.

[47] Altman, “Official of Guyana Tells of Aid Offer.”

[48] Thomas G. Whittle and Jan Thorpe, “Revisiting the Jonestown Tragedy: Newly Released Documents Shed Light on Unsolved Murders,” Freedom Magazine, 1997. Italics in original.

[49] Altman, “Official of Guyana Tells of Aid Offer.”

[50] Email communication, Tom Whittle to Rebecca Moore, 15 July 2018.

[51] Judge, “The Black Hole of Guyana.”

[52] Associated Press, “Most Jonestown Deaths Not Suicide, Doctor Says.”

[53] Judge, “The Black Hole of Guyana.”

[54] Cable, U.S. Embassy in Georgetown to State Department, 23 November 1978.

[55] Joseph B. Treaster, “Finding on Jonestown: Few Facts Emerged,” New York Times, 25 December 1978, p. 16.

[56] Judge, “The Black Hole of Guyana.”

[57] “The Truth About Jonestown,” accessed 10 July 2018.

[58] Tim Cahill, “In the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” Rolling Stone, 25 January 1979.

[59] Altman, “Findings in Jones Autopsy Called Consistent With Murder or Suicide.”

[60] In addition to published accounts by Odell Rhodes and Stanley Clayton (EN 3), see their testimony, along with that of Tim Carter, at the Guyana Inquest, Alternative Considerations.

(Rebecca Moore is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. She is currently Reviews Editor for Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions and Co-Director of The Jonestown Institute.  Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are The Brainwashing Myth; Cult, New Religious Movement, or Minority Religion?; Nesci Book Offers Psychoanalytic Portrait of Jim Jones; Cue the Kool-Aid: Watching Jonestown Docs in the ‘Fake News’ Era; and Jonestown Journal. Her complete collection of articles on this site appears here. She may be reached at