The HAM Radio Operator, the OB/GYN, and the Jonestown Doctor

As one newspaper account of the event remarked, if it had been a Hollywood movie, no one would have believed it.

One stormy night in mid-February 1978, Jonestown doctor Larry Schacht needed help. A pregnant Guyanese woman several weeks overdue with twins, was in distress after 14 hours of labor. She needed to get to a hospital, but the Port Kaituma airstrip was fogged in, and the weather precluded an emergency flight to Georgetown. Instead, Jonestown ham radio operators made an emergency call for assistance over the amateur radio network. In suburban Maryland, a ham operator heard the call on his set and contacted a neighbor, a OB/GYN, to ask if he could do anything. The doctor guided Dr. Schacht through the procedure long-distance, and a few hours later, mother and daughters were fine.

It didn’t become a Hollywood movie, but it did turn into a PR coup for Jonestown. The Sun-Reporter – the weekly newspaper serving the black population of San Francisco whose publisher was friendly with Jim Jones – ran a glowing account of the procedure which may have been written by the Temple itself. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a short AP story. The longest piece – upon which the AP story was likely based – was published on February 16, 1978, by The Washington Star. The Ob.Gyn. News, a newspaper for physicians in the practice, gave the story front page coverage.

The news articles of the successful long-distance operation became a standard element of all press kits distributed by Peoples Temple after that date. The package went to new and potential supporters of the Temple, as well as to ham operators who expressed interest in the Jonestown project. Some recipients were also furnished with copies of letters from Temple members to the doctor and ham operator in Maryland, as well as a letter to the doctor from Larry Schacht’s parents.

Neither the mother nor the twin girls were named in the news coverage. The mother is still anonymous. The girls – Marchelle Jones and Monyelle Jones – were adopted by two families in Jonestown. They died on November 18, 1978.

Dr. Larry Schacht’s Caesarean-Section Delivery of Twins, RYMUR 89-4286-1127