Where have the people who died in Guyana been buried?

by Don Beck

In the week following the deaths in Guyana in November 1978, the U.S. military airlifted 913 bodies to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the FBI Disaster Squad began its work on identification and notification of next-of-kin. The remaining five bodies – those of Congressman Leo Ryan, the three journalists in his congressional party, and one immediately-identifiable Guyanese national, Jimmy Gill – were transported to their relatives for burial.

The principal method of identifications came from fingerprints, which were obtained from Guyana immigration records, driver’s licenses, and – to a lesser degree – military service, police, welfare, and employment records. Other identifications were made using medical and dental records, body markings such as tattoos and scars, photos, and personal effects on the bodies themselves.

It must have been a complex and frustrating forensic puzzle, as the bodies were quite degraded after only a week or so in the heat of tropical Guyana.  Body numbers had been assigned to the remains in Jonestown, but there was no organized manner, and there was enough duplication and confusion that some bodies received new numbers in Dover. Fingerprints, hand prints, and footprints had been taken, and observations had been made as quickly as possible before the condition of the bodies prevented even this. Military personnel assigned to the task also had to work through their own feelings of horror and the magnitude of the task, and the totality of it sometimes overwhelmed them.

Nevertheless, the work in body repatriation and identification seems very thorough. Each identification went through multiple steps and processes, as can be seen from materials in the six boxes of paper records from this process, including the following.

  • On December 1978, the first report of 587 IDs emerged: reporting Body ID#, name, and how identification was made.
  • In January 1979, dental records had ID’d some 60+ bodies (bringing the total IDs to 650+).
  • By March 1979, reports of five more IDs from fingerprints emerged, as found in several more Serials.
  • Oddly, the May 1979 Congressional Report on Leo Ryan’s assassination lists only 554 names.

The next question was what to do with the bodies after ID work was complete.  Relatives and families had to be located to let them know of the formal identification and to release bodies for burial or cremation.  Not all bodies had identified relatives to contact (sometimes because the entire family had died in Jonestown); some relatives could not be found; some families could not afford to take custody of the bodies; and finally, some families declined the assume responsibility, due to a combination of factors such as alienation of the family member or the stigma of the deaths themselves. Nevertheless, more than half of the remains were reunited with their families.

The State of Delaware had made it clear from the start, it didn’t want any mass burial within its borders. The Guyana Emergency Relief Committee – an ad hoc group working under the auspices of the Northern California Council of Churches – had already assisted families of the identified remains. Now it began a search for a final resting place for the others. After a lengthy search for appropriate locations, the group finally worked with Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California, to take them for burial.

In late April 1979, 100 remains, both identified and unidentified, were transported on tractor-trailers by a Delaware moving company to Fort MacArthur in Los Angeles, while another 201 went to Oakland Army Base. In May 1979 – six months after the tragedy – 409 unidentified bodies, mostly of children, were buried at Evergreen.

The comprehensive “Who Died” list of 925 names online is the result of many years’ work by numerous people and the use of many resources.The 925 people on the list include (1) the four in Ryan’s congressional party, (2) the eight Jonestown residents who died of natural causes before November 18, and (3) the remaining 913 bodies. The listing does contain AKAs — also known as — to assist people in finding names. If you have a name that does not appear on this list, please contact this website.

There are only two real caveats to this list:

  • Beatrice Alberta Jackson OR Beatrice Mazell Jackson: Body #83-I was identified as Beatrice Jackson with no more information. Two members had that name: Beatrice Alberta Jackson and Beatrice Mazell Jackson.  In the Report made to Congressional Committee, in May 1979, the name “Beatrice Jackson” appears with a birthdate of 12/22/1896.  This refers to Beatrice Alberta Jackson and suggests that Body #83-I is Beatrice Alberta Jackson.
  • Body #46-E was identified as Dorothy Oliver, with no more information provided. No one by that name was known to be a member of Peoples Temple, and she is not included on the Who Died list. Further research may reveal who she was.

The following are notes in using the Cemetery & Burial Locations pages on the splash page:

  • Locations in BLUE. These are bodies of members who were not identified and were then interred at Evergreen.
  • Locations in RED. These are bodies of members whose burial locations are known, gathered so far by the site. This also include the nine cremated remains found in a mortuary in Dover, Delaware in 1914 — five went to Evergreen and four to their relatives.

As cemetery and burial locations are discovered, they will be added to the list here.  If you have any information to add, please contact this website.

Originally posted on May 2nd, 2019.

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