Letter to LA District Attorney John Van de Kamp

On September 3, 1978, hundreds of residents in Jonestown signed a letter to Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp, urging him not to participate in the conspiracy against Peoples Temple.

The most immediate impetus for the letter was a lawsuit filed against the Temple by Wade and Mabel Medlock, two disaffected members of the Temple who were trying to reclaim the property which they had donated to the church. The attorney for the Medlocks was Tim Stoen, whose several lawsuits was perceived as perhaps the greatest threat that the Concerned Relatives organization had initiated against the Temple.

The letter is both defensive and aggressive. It presents the evidence of the conspiracy against the church and its leader, Jim Jones, and asserts its confidence that “you would not allow your office to be used and compromised to further [the conspiracy’s] schemes.” It reminds the district attorney that “the majority of us signing this letter come from the Los Angeles area” – a claim that, while exaggerated, tries to demonstrate the Temple’s political muscle – and adds that most of these Jonestown residents had once represented burdens to the city’s welfare and crime problems. It speaks to the great political support which the Temple has enjoyed, and suggests that even more support will come when it documents the church’s role in representing international struggles for justice. But the letter also insists that it will resist any efforts by Van de Kamp’s office to go after the community.

Our only in basic desire is to be left in peace. However, if this political frame-up is seriously pursued, we will be accepting support from all groups in the Los Angeles area as well as all over California and elsewhere who have offered to protest on a broad front in our defense.… Make no mistake about our resolve. We are pledged to defend our integrity, our community, and the justice of our cause. We are not afraid, and have been through battles before.

The author of the letter is not known, although the lead signature is that of Richard Tropp, a Jonestown resident who had conducted numerous interviews and oral histories in Jonestown with the idea of producing a book about the project. He is also considered to be the author of an unsigned note from Jonestown’s last day.

The Medlock lawsuit was still pending on November 18, 1978, and there is no evidence that Van de Kamps’ office had replied to this letter when the deaths occurred that day.

The PDF is a combination of two RYMUR serials, which this website obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The first nine pages of the 10-page letter come from RYMUR 89-4286-793; the last page of the letter – which is also the first of 23 pages of signatures – come from RYMUR 89-4286-886.

Letter to LA District Attorney John Van de Kamp

Originally posted on March 13th, 2019.

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