(This article originally appeared in the December 6, 1978 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.)
Investigators admit the Peoples Temple “hit list” is based on rumor, speculation and outdated information. Some other law enforcement officials call the list a joke.
“The whole damn thing might be paranoia,” said one investigator about the list. The San Francisco district attorney’s office compiled the original list November 19, the day after the temple massacre in Guyana. Nevertheless, purported targets have been provided with increased security and, in some cases, “safe houses.”
There actually were two lists prepared by the district attorney’s office. One named 10 “potential assassins.” The other named 16 potential targets. The lists were sent immediately to other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.
The original lists, which contained numerous misspellings, were compiled from allegations made by ex-temple members who have banded together at the Human Freedom Center in Berkeley.
In addition, district attorney’s investigators were told by ex-temple members of documents supposedly signed at least four years ago by members of the temple’s planning commission that pledged the assassination of the US president, vice president, members of congress, governors and unspecified local official.”
That report spurred an inquiry by the Secret Service, charged with protecting the president and vice president.
No documents – not one shred of paper – have been found so far to substantiate the hit lists, investigators said. The lists are based solely on word of mouth, sometimes from only one source, and often from persons who have not been associated with the temple for years.
But the local investigators defend their hit list inquires, which have been reported in the press around the world, by saying that no one is taking any chances.
“Everyone thought it was crazy that there might be a mass suicide,” on investigator said. “So now we’re taking every precaution and screening every piece of information that comes up.”
One local investigator said the lists, which have burgeoned to more than 60 names as the result of further interviews, include virtually every member now living in the Peoples Temple.”
“I don’t want to slander anyone.” said a police investigator, “but if, say, Grace Stoen came in here right now and gave us two more names, they’d go on the list.”
“People have been told us that Grace and Time Stoen (leading temple opponents) are members of the assassination squad and that’s absurd,” said an investigator.
The latest list comes from a woman who defected from the temple in 1976. She told the FBI in New York that members carried around “enemies lists” naming Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Assemblyman Willie Brown, the late George Moscone and journalists who had written articles critical of the temple.
The woman later told the FBI that the “enemies” were not written down, but merely discussed from time to time.
Moscone and Brown were among the most vocal supporters of the temple. The Examiner had obtained a draft of a temple letter urging Nixon not to resign the presidency.
“Please know, Mr. President,” the April 7, 1974 letter said, “that all 15,000 of the active members of our church stand behind you and will support you come ever what may.”
Meanwhile law enforcement officials in Mendocino County, where some of the persons listed as “potential assassins” are going about their daily business, aren’t taking the hit lists seriously.
“Some of the names I saw,” said Ukiah Police Chief Donn Saulsbury, “well, there was no way I would consider these people to be trained assassins.
“Let’s just say the list is based on rumor, inference and innuendo.”
Saulsbury paid a cursory visit to one of the “assassins” and, after determining that she had left the temple four years ago and had lost several relatives in the Jonestown mass murder suicides, didn’t bother her again.
Officials in the San Francisco district attorney’s office said they are winnowing down the assassins list to “a hard core dozen.”
Many of the names on the list are of persons known to have died on Jonestown, they said.
One of the office’s top priorities, they said, is “trying to find out if there’s any substance to the hit list.”