What was the testimony of Guyana pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo?

Dr. Cyril Leslie Mootoo (1924–2000), chief pathologist and bacteriologist for the nation of Guyana, was commissioned by the government to investigate the crime scenes of November 18, especially that in Jonestown. Documents released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the Freedom of Information Act provide Dr. Mootoo’s sworn testimony and give a clear picture of his actions. A complete analysis of Dr. Mootoo’s investigation appears here.

His movements can be traced as follows:

  1. He arrives in Jonestown in the late afternoon of Monday 20 November 2018. Odell Rhodes shows him around. It is unlikely that any meaningful examinations occur that night.
  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. They take blood and urine from about 65 individuals. Dr. Mootoo does not conduct any standard autopsies on the bodies in Jonestown.
  3. Mootoo and his team fly back to Georgetown on Tuesday afternoon or evening.
  4. On Wednesday 22 November, Dr. Mootoo conducts formal autopsies in Georgetown on a total of nine individuals: four who died in Georgetown, and five who died in Port Kaituma.

A timeline of Dr. Mootoo’s actions and statements appears here.

An anonymous source (probably Dr. Mootoo) claimed in a 12 December New York Times article that at least 70 residents had died by injection, rather than ingestion. At the Guyana Inquest convened to investigate the Jonestown deaths, however, Dr. Mootoo did not mention injections of cyanide in his sworn statement. According to Washington Post reporter Charles Krause, Dr. Mootoo did introduce a letter to augment his oral testimony in which the pathologist said “several” of the 39 bodies he examined on the ground in Jonestown had needle marks on their arms.

Over time, Dr. Mootoo’s statements concerning the nature of the deaths in Jonestown grew increasingly contradictory. As a result, they have served as the foundation of a number of alternative theories as to what happened on November 18, 1978. A comprehensive assessment of the pathologist’s statements and actions appears here.

– by Rebecca Moore