Shortly after leaving Peoples Temple in the summer of 1977 – and in coordination with Grace – Tim Stoen launched his campaign to have John Victor returned to the United States from Guyana, where the child had been living since before the beginning of the year. The campaign meant the Stoens would have to work through the Guyanese court system, which in turn meant they would have interactions, both with the U.S. State Department and the American Embassy in Georgetown, to monitor and coordinate those efforts.
The Embassy soon found itself in a difficult spot. One of its diplomatic responsibilities was to help any Americans who were in some sort of difficulty with the Guyanese government or court system. In this particular instance, however, there were two competing – conflicting – sets of interests, and there were Americans on both sides. That meant the Embassy had to remain neutral in the battle, even as it provided diplomatic and consular services for everyone involved.
The challenges of that unique situation – and the frustration it engendered – is reflected in the cables which went back and forth between Washington and Georgetown. Also reflected is the frustration of the Stoens – and their lawyers, the press and several members of Congress – to reach a resolution in the matter.
On December 8, 1978, three weeks after the deaths in Jonestown, Richard McCoy – former Consul to the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, then-Guyana Desk Officer at the State Department – wrote a memo to the file summarizing the agency’s and embassy’s contacts with the Stoens during the previous two years. The memo, initially intended for internal use only, discusses many of the cables below and offers both analysis and overall context to the official narrative on the custody case. While not overtly stated, the intra-office memo reflect the frustration felt in all sides of the dispute.
The chart below represents a compilation of the cables discussing the custody battle over John Victor Stoen. Most were obtained from a release under the Freedom of Information Act for State Department documents related to the Stoen case, although some came from a more general FOIA request for State Department records. All of these also appear on three other pages: the State Department Cables (1974-1977); the State Department cables (January – November 1978); and the State Department cables (Leo Ryan trip).
A key to the notations in the columns appears below the chart.
|770830||0025||State||206679||Jeffrey Haas to travel to Guyana on Stoen custody matter||Stoen||Text|
|770909||1700||Georgetown||5273 2175||Haas fails in attempt to serve process on Jones||State Stoen||Text|
|770909||2135||State||216553||Embassy declines to accompany Haas to Jonestown||Stoen||Text|
|770912||1110||Georgetown||5288 2206||Attempts to serve Jim Jones are unsuccessful||Stoen||Text|
|770914||1428||Georgetown||2236||Haas has authority to obtain passport for John Victor Stoen||State||Text|
|770919||1545?||Georgetown||5329 2269||Stoen custody battle “now entered political arena”||State||Text|
|770919||2034||Georgetown||None||Looman complains about lack of neutrality in JVS case||Stoen||Text|
|770922||1030||Georgetown||5349 2316||Jones to challenge in Stoen custody case||Stoen||Text|
|770923||1700||Georgetown||5363 2334||Court hearing on Stoen custody case||Stoen||Text|
|770927||1900||Georgetown||5381 2363||Court hearing on Stoen custody case||State Stoen||Text|
|771004||1544||Georgetown||2435 5418||Court ruling on Stoen custody expected||State Stoen||Text|
|771012||1500||Georgetown||5477 2528||Court denies motion to produce JVS||Stoen||Text|
|771122||2008||State||279720||Stoens present custody order to Guyana court||Stoen||Text|
|771125||1340||Georgetown||5732 3033||JVS cannot leave Guyana until case resolved||Stoen||Text|
|771223||1250||Georgetown||5905 3316||W/W custody case of John Stoen||State Stoen||Text|
|780105||2210||State||002640||Members of Congress express interest in Stoen custody||Stoen||Text|
|780106||1300||Georgetown||0057 5968||Hearing set on nullification of Jones arrest warrant||Stoen||Text|
|780106||2306||State||004065||Haas criticizes State over assistance in Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780109||1840||Georgetown||0092 5991||Judge hears Stoen custody case||Stoen||Text|
|780111||1940||Georgetown||0147 6005||Judge hears motion on voiding Jones arrest order||Stoen||Text|
|780114||1345||Georgetown||0201 6039||Embassy note to foreign ministry on Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780114||1415||Georgetown||0202 6040||Stoens told to leave Guyana||Stoen||Text|
|780119||1914||Georgetown||0270 6074||Jones claims paternity of JVS to Embassy||Stoen||Text|
|780127||2246||State||022642||Embassy meets with Stoen and Katsaris||Stoen||Text|
|780201||1031||Georgetown||6148 0406||GOG aware of interest in Stoen case||State||Text|
|780204||0233||State||029903||State urges neutrality in Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780206||1830||Georgetown||6180 0462||John Victor Stoen believed to be in Jonestown||Stoen||Text|
|780207||2151||State||032341||Tim Stoen contacts State for meeting||State||Text|
|780209||1722||State||034403||State responds to public query on Stoen||Stoen||Text|
|780210||2314||State||036362||Senators express interest in Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780214||2227||State||039014||Embassy asked to approach GOG on Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780215||1355||Georgetown||6231 0549||Consul discusses Stoen case with lawyer||Stoen||Text|
|780216||2244||State||041710||State urges caution in depending on Stoen attorney||Stoen||Text|
|780217||1805||Georgetown||6261 0581||GOG, Embassy discuss Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780224||1745||Georgetown||6283 0631||GOG, Embassy discuss Stoen case||State||Text|
|780313||1718||State||063670||Passport to be made for John Stoen||State||Text|
|780321||1933||State||072407||Passport issue becomes complicated||State||Text|
|780401||0312||State||084025||Tim Stoen provides requested documents to Embassy||State||Text|
|780406||1847||Georgetown||6512 1056||Tim Stoen provides requested documents to Embassy||Stoen||Text|
|780816||1040||Georgetown||7419 2629||Guyana justice recuses self from Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780908||2151||State||228391||State urges quick resolution in Stoen case||Stoen||Text|
|780918||1702||Georgetown||7636 3016||Embassy meets with Guyana Supreme Court on Stoen||Stoen||Text|
|781006||2228||State||255332||Tim Stoen declares intention to take John||Stoen||Text|
|781010||1940||Georgetown||7821 3338||Stoen case assigned to Supreme Court||Stoen||Text|
|781101||1523||State||277716||State Dept meets with Ryan staff||Stoen||Text|
This is a key to the meaning of the columns and the notations within them:
Columns 1 and 2 comprise the dates and times that the cables were sent. The dates are in the format of the last two digits of the year (74-79), the month (01-12) and the day. As an example, November 18, 1978 would be designated as 781118. The times are in Greenwich Mean Time, used internationally on all cables. They are included because – especially in the first few days after the tragedy – scores of cables were flashing back and forth between offices on a single day.
Columns 3 lists the government agencies and embassies sending the cables. On this listing, the only two originating entities are the State Department and the American Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana.
Column 4 provides the cable identification number, unique to each document.
Column 5 presents a brief description of the cable’s contents.
Columns 6 and 7 provide links to the PDF and Text versions of the cables. The PDF indicates whether the cable came pursuant to the general FOIA request of State or to the second request for Stoen documents.