Jim Jones and Me

(The following article was dictated by John V Moore, age 99, to his daughter, Rebecca, on 29 August 2018.)

I first heard of Jim Jones in 1969. Our family was living in Davis, California, and our oldest daughter Carolyn had just begun teaching at Potter Valley High School. She was teaching P.E. and I had to show her how to use a tennis racket. She told us she and her husband Larry Layton had found a new church.

I met Jim Jones in this way. We hadn’t seen Larry in a month. We all drove to Redwood Valley, where Carolyn lived. Our younger daughters Becky and Annie were sent outside of Carolyn’s home, while my wife Barbara and I stayed to talk to Carolyn. Jim Jones arrived. In the course of the conversation we learned that he was having an affair with Carolyn. We were shocked by the idea that they would be living together in that house. He turned to Carolyn and said, “I told you that your parents would respond in this way.”

Once when I was talking to Carolyn, I asked her, “What’s all this about Jim Jones raising people from the dead?” She said, “Oh, Dad, he can bring people back to life.” She made an excuse, saying there were cases of resuscitation.

When our youngest daughter Annie graduated from the nursing program at Santa Rosa Community College, we went to the commencement ceremony. Peoples Temple had quite a few young women getting that degree. We went there to see the honoring of the graduates, but who was speaking? It wasn’t Jim Jones, it was his chief lieutenant – and eventual nemesis – Tim Stoen. Tim talked the whole time about Jim Jones. The adulation was sickening. He didn’t say anything about those who were graduating. He apologized for Jim not being there, but excused him by saying he was a very busy man.

When we were living in Berkeley, I invited Jim to talk to students in a class I was teaching at Pacific School of Religion. I thought he would have something interesting to say about having such a phenomenal group. About four PSR students come over to our house to hear him. The first thing that happened was that Carolyn pulled out a sheaf of public relations stories about Jim Jones. I was embarrassed and thought, “Oh my God, I expected students to be asking him questions.” I felt terrible. But that’s who he was.

Jim came frequently to our house in Berkeley when Carolyn was pregnant with their child Kimo. Every time Jim he came to dinner, Barbara would ask, “When are you going to divorce your wife and marry our daughter?” Jim never said a word. Barbara loved Marceline, Jim’s wife, so she wasn’t just speaking for our family, but for Marceline as well.

One time I received a phone call from the editor of a conservative Christian magazine, Christianity Today. He asked, “What’s this about endorsing Jim Jones and Peoples Temple?” I said I didn’t know anything about it. That was when I learned that Jim had written a letter to several hundred people using my official letterhead. I told him I wanted him to write all those people and tell them I did not send that letter. He said he didn’t know who had received it. I never believed him. Carolyn said she would take responsibility for the problem. Over and over again, people took responsibility for what Jim Jones did.

I also remember one occasion when Barbara and I were visiting a service in San Francisco and Jim Jones was speaking. Just out of the blue he announced, “John Moore is here.” Then he invited me to speak. I said I was impressed by the activity of his church and the people of his church in social justice causes. I endorsed the work of the church, but not Jim Jones.

On another occasion, we were going out to dinner and we saw a panhandler. Jim also saw him and went over and talked to him, and gave him some money. That was the most human I’d ever seen him. When my sister-in-law asked me what Jim Jones was like, I told her that story.

At another time, the reporter and former Episcopal priest Lester Kinsolving came walking down our driveway in Berkeley. He wanted to get a story about Peoples Temple. I sent him off, but he left his briefcase behind. The next morning, we received a call from Annie, saying we had to quickly go to San Francisco. Barbara and I went to San Francisco. The leadership group and Jim Jones were there discussing the briefcase and what we should do with it. They also began talking about homosexuality and my former work with Glide Church in San Francisco. Jim said there was a rumor that I was gay. I said I wasn’t gay. But he was trying to get something against me to use in the future.

Unbeknownst to us, Annie had slipped into our house and was ransacking the briefcase Kinsolving had left behind. Thus, Peoples Temple had confidential information he had gathered. The upshot was that Kinsolving became convinced I had shared information with the Temple and became totally hostile. It wasn’t until decades later that a former Temple member informed us what had actually happened during our meeting with leaders in San Francisco.

Carolyn Layton, Annie Moore & John Moore • Jonestown 1978

Barbara and I traveled to Guyana in May 1978 to visit Carolyn and Annie. When we were in Jonestown, we had a long lunch, with good food. We later learned that the residents didn’t have the same menu. I wrote Carolyn afterwards and pointed out that no one questioned anything that Jim had said. Not a one. He was always pontificating. She did not respond to that criticism.

My greatest concern while I was there was the treatment of people. I asked where Gene Chaikin was. Apparently he was drugged when we were there. Obviously Jim authorized that. I didn’t see this at the time, but have since learned that that’s why Gene and others weren’t around.

When we returned from our visit to Jonestown, we had a call from the Temple asking if we would answer questions from reporters, as part of the Temple’s effort to counteract negative publicity coming from Deborah Layton’s report of life in Jonestown. A black woman came up to me and asked, “Do you think it’s safe for me to go to Guyana?” I said that we had not seen any indication of danger. I don’t know whether she went.

These memories are snapshots. They tell only a small part of the Temple story. But they are all I remember about Jim Jones.

(John Moore’s complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here.)