[Editor’s note: In late January 1978, as Tim and Grace Stoen wrote to elected officials, they often included a 15-page attachment presenting the details of the child custody battle from their point of view. The attachment included descriptions of actions they had taken to date, as well as news articles and a copy of the court order awarding custody of john Victor Stoen to them.]
John Victor Stoen – Requested Action
- Letter to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (with copy to Ashley Hewitt, Director, Office for Caribbean Affairs):
- Asking him to direct US Ambassador to communicate official concern of US Government and the Congress of the US the child be safely restored to parents;
- Asking him to seek action by Guyanese government to facilitate safe return of child by negotiation with Jones and by all other necessary means.
- Letter to Forbes Burnham, Prime Minister of Guyana, and to Dr. Ptolemy Reid, Deputy Prime Minister:
- Communicating your concern that child be safely restored to parents;
- Requesting Guyanese government to facilitate safe return of child by direct negotiations with Jones and by all other necessary means;
- Pointing out that it is in the best interests of the Stoens, the People’s Temple Agricultural Mission, and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana that the child be safely returned so as to avoid dangers inherent in a confrontation.
- Points to possibly include:
- The only issue is the restoration of a child to his parents.
- Jones, the child, and the Stoens are all US citizens, making this a particularly appropriate case for comity.
- Jones was found by the California Superior Court to be property before it, and the order of the court is unequivocally clear in ordering Jones to deliver the child.
- The parents have taken all reasonable action by submitting themselves to the courts. By failing to personally appear and raise defenses, Jones has in effect defaulted.
- The California Superior Court is so concerned as to have ordered the District Attorney to assist in obtaining compliance by Jones. The District Attorney has sent official letters to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Foreign and Justice Minister (Fred Wills) but received no response.
- Jones has knowledge of the order but refuses to comply. Jones refused to let parents even see their son on their visit to Guyana this month.
JOHN VICTOR STOEN, Age 6, Son of Grace and Timothy Stoen, San Francisco, California. Now held illegally by Jim Jones, leader of People’s Temple Agricultural Mission, Jonestown, Cooperative Republic of Guyana, South America.
Situation: John Victor Stoen, now age 6, was born to Grace and Timothy Stoen in 1972 and raised in the community of Peoples Temple, San Francisco, California, of which his parents were active members. By 1976, the Peoples Temple was a significant political force in Northern California.
In June 1977, Timothy Stoen, then at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission in Guyana, quit the Temple in disagreement over its authoritarian practices, but left John Victor with his teachers at the Mission. The Mission, known as Jonestown, is in a remote jungle area accessible only by air or boat. The US Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, reports that some 850 Americans are believed to be in residence.
In July 1977, New West magazine reported charges by 30 former Peoples Temple members the Jones controls the organization through fraud, fear, physical beatings and appropriation of the property of its members. Jones thereafter resigned his position as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority and moved to Guyana. See Newsweek, August 15, 1977, attached.
In August 1977, the California Superior Court issued an ex parte order giving custody of John Victor to Grace Stoen. Jones has not released the child in response to this order. In September 1977, habeas corpus proceedings against Jones were brought in the Guyanese courts, but the proceedings have been contested by Jones on procedural grounds and progress is been extremely slow. In November 1977, the Stoens, still legally married though separated since July 1976, appeared together in California Superior Court and were awarded joint custody of John Victor. The Court ordered the San Francisco District Attorney to take all actions necessary to obtain release of the child from Jones. Jones has refused to comply with this order and continues to contest the proceedings in Guyana.
Jones has claimed to be the natural father of John Victor, but has not raised this issue in either the California or Guyanese Court proceedings.
All persons involved in the matter are US citizens.
Problem: Jones strongly resists release of the child and is politically influential in the highest circles of the Guyanese Government. The court is expected to award custody to the Stoens, but enforcement may require a political decision to use the Guyanese Army and could result in harm to John Victor or other innocent persons. The Stoens wish to avoid a dangerous confrontation with Jones and to enlist the aid of the US and Guyanese Governments to this end.
Requested Actions: Ask the Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, to direct the US Ambassador to Guyana to communicate the official concern of the US Government and the Congress of the United States that John Victor Stoen be safely restored to his parents, and to further direct the US Ambassador to seek action by the Guyanese Government to facilitate his safe return by negotiation with Jones and all other necessary means.
Communicate this concern and requested action directly in the letter to Forbes Burnham, Prime Minister, and Dr. Ptolemy Reid, Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana.
Chronology: A chronology of events is attached.
JOHN VICTOR STOEN – CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
January 25, 1972: John Victor Stoen born to Grace and Timothy Stoen in Santa Rosa, California, and raised in community of Peoples Temple.
July 1976: Grace leaves Temple.
February 1977: Timothy resigned position as Assistant District Attorney and Special Prosecutor for City of San Francisco to go to Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission in Guyana, South America.
June 1977: Timothy quits Peoples Temple, leaving John Victor with his teachers in Guyana.
July 1977: Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple, is attacked in the Press. Jones resigns his position as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority and moves to the Mission, which is in a remote jungle area of Guyana.
August 1977: The California Superior Court issues an ex parte order giving custody of John Victor to Grace. Jones is notified but refuses to permit John to be returned.
September 6 and 10, 1977: Habeas corpus proceedings are brought against Jones in the Supreme Court of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. A writ of habeas corpus is issued, making John Victor a ward of the court, ordering him brought into court, and granting leave to commence contempt proceedings against Jones. Jones evades personal service. The court authorizes substituted service, which is made with the help of the Guyanese Army.
September (a few days later): The Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana, the Hon. Dr. Ptolemy Reid, returns to Guyana from a trip abroad. All effective action in the “summary” habeas corpus proceedings stops.
November 18, 1977: Timothy and Grace Stoen testify together in California Superior Court, and are awarded joint legal custody. The Superior Court determines that it has personal jurisdiction over Jones and that Jones has been properly served; the court determines that Jones is in violation of its order to appear.
The court orders:
- “that Reverend Jim Jones… immediately deliver the minor, JOHN VICTOR STOEN, to the Petitioner.”
- that the San Francisco District Attorney “take all actions necessary … to secure Reverend Jim Jones’ compliance with this order.”
- that petitioner “is granted leave to institute contempt proceedings against the Reverend Jim Jones.”
November 18, 1977: The above-mentioned court order is served on Jones’ attorney of record in San Francisco. Jones does not comply.
November 25, 1977: The District Attorney of San Francisco, Joseph Freitas, Jr., since an official letter to the following persons requesting each “to use whatever influence you have to help us obtain Reverend Jones’ compliance with the aforesaid order:”
- United States officials: President Jimmy Carter; Secretary of State Cyrus Vance; Bay Area Congressional Representatives;
- Cooperative Republic of Guyana officials: Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ptolemy Reid, Foreign and Justice Minister Fred Wills.
December 16, 1977: The US Department of State write a letter to District Attorney Freitas saying in effect that the State Department is unable to help and that the “question of John Victor Stoen’s custody will almost certainly be decided by the Guyanese court … on the basis of Guyanese law.” The Guyana officials do not respond to Freitas.
December 1977: The Stoens are advised by their Guyanese lawyer that final argument on procedural objections on the habeas corpus writ will commence January 7, 1978.
January 4, 1978: Stoens travel from San Francisco to Georgetown, Guyana.
January 7, 1978: The Guyanese court here’s argument in the habeas corpus proceeding. The Stoens are present. Jones appears by counsel.
January 10, 1978: At the conclusion of argument, the court case the matter “under submission.” The Stoens’ Guyanese lawyer advises that the outlook for a favorable order confirming habeas corpus against Jones is very positive and that a decision should be issued in a matter of days.
January 13, 1978: At 3:50 PM an official of the Guyana Immigration Office comes to the Tower Hotel and advises the Stoens that they must be out of the country before midnight the next day. No reason is given, although visas are good through January 19. Tim advises the US Embassy in Guyana that the order is illegal and that he will stay but Grace will go to Trinidad. The next day while Grace is checking baggage at the airport, the Stoens are informed by a Guyanese Immigration official that the order has been rescinded. Go requested, no explanation is given.
January 17, 1978: The Stoens are advised by their Guyanese lawyer that a decision may not be reached for a matter of weeks. The matter has now been pending since September.
January 18, 1978: The Stoens decide to leave Guyana and to fly back when the court’s decision is imminent. At Guyana’s Timehri Airport, Tim is surrounded by three agents of Jones and the Peoples Temple who demand that they drop the court proceedings and verbally threaten their lives.
January 1978: The Stoens remain married with a possibility of reconciliation and are in full agreement and harmony on all questions pertaining to the raising of John Victor.
For Further Information, contact:
Timothy Oliver Stoen
c/o Mayer, Brown & Platt
888 Seventeenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Telephone: (202) 785-4443
c/o Jeffrey A. Haas
Attorney at Law
3609 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94188 
Telephone: (415) 922-6200
[Article in Newsweek magazine, August 15, 1977]
[“Parents awarded custody: Jones temple asked to return child,” by Tim Reiterman, S.F. Examiner, Nov. 19, 1977]
[Pages 11-13, California Superior Court order on child custody, November 18, 1977]
TIMOTHY OLIVER STOEN – PROFESSIONAL RESUME
- Stanford Law School: Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree, 1964
- Wheaton College (Illinois): Bachelor of Arts Degree, 1960.
- Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship: England, 1961-62.
- Admissions: California Supreme Court, 1965; United States Supreme Court, 1974.
- Mendocino County (California) Practice:
- Deputy District Attorney (Prosecutor), 1967-68.
- Directing Attorney, Legal Services Foundation, 1967-68.
- Assistant District Attorney (Acting County Counsel), 1970-76:
- Evaluation: “He has one of the finest legal minds Ihave ever encountered and is an outstanding trial advocate. Tim is undoubtedly what might better be termed, a lawyer’s lawyer.” (District attorney Duncan M. James.)
- Evaluation: “his dedicated and Herculean labors as a public attorney and County Council.” (Board of Supervisors Resolution.)
- San Francisco Practice:
- Criminal Defense And General Private Practice, 1968-69.
- Assistant District Attorney for City and County of San Francisco, 1976-77:
- May 1976, hired to handle Voter Fraud Scandal: Filed 39 felony indictments, resulting in 37 convictions.
- November 1976, appointed by District Attorney Joseph Freitas, Jr. to head new “Special Prosecution” felony team.
- Gave Training Instruction to prosecuting attorneys, emphasizing fairness to defendants in grand jury procedure.
- February 1977, resigned to do nonprofit legal work, eventual private practice.
- Evaluation: “Your work before the Grand Jury and with the Press has been nothing short of sensational. Watching you last week was a pleasure. I have had numerous comments from lawyers, grand jurors, and press extolling your fairness, professionalism, and human qualities. You are a real credit to this office.” (Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel H. Weinstein.)
- Service to State Bar of California:
- April 1976, appointed by Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. to State Advisory Council for Federal Legal Services Corporation, pursuant to a unanimous recommendation of Board of Governors of California State Bar as possessing “such superior qualifications and motivation” as to be in top 3 of 90 lawyers originally considered. Reappointed by Governor in April 1977.
- 1972-73, served on State Bar Ad Hoc Committee re Local Governments.
- Community Service:
- President, Heart Association of Mendocino County Supervisor, 1973-1975.
- Director, North Coast Coordinating Council on Developmental Disabilities, 1975-76.
- Ukiah Rotary Club, 1973-76.
- Professional Memberships: American Bar Association, California District Attorneys Association, San Francisco Bar Association, Lawyers Club of San Francisco, National Legal Aid and Defender Association; ACLU, NAACP.
TIMOTHY OLIVER STOEN – PROFESSIONAL RESUME
Originally posted on June 16th, 2020.
- Superior District Judge Arthur B. Broaddus: “He is an extremely capable trial attorney [illegible word] work is careful, thorough and prompt. Add to this his fine judgment and common sense approach and you start to get an approximation of the fine attorney he is.” (4/8/76)
- Attorney Leo M. Cook: “His intellectual level is very high, and he has an extraordinary ability to analyze complicated issues.… He is certainly incorruptible.” (4/14/76)
- Chairman of Mendocino Board of Supervisors Ernest F. Banker: “He has great integrity and a dedication to any job that he undertakes in a degree that I have found unsurpassed. I have never really known of any advice that Tim has given our Board that has caused the skin the embarrassment or financial loss, and our reliance on him is unequivocal.” (4/15/76)
- State Assemblyman Barry Keene: “By virtue of his fair and public spirited approach to the practice of law, Mr. Stoen has garnered the admiration of the Bench and the Bar of the state as well as is community at large.” (10/15/75)
- Former Stanford Assistant Professor of Law Jared G. Carter: “I have the highest possible regard for Tim Stone’s ability, integrity and fairness. I first knew him as a student of mine at Stanford Law School for the period between 1963 and 1965.… Tim enjoys not only my high opinion, but also the high regard of the entire county administration and the Bar in this area.” (4/15/76)
- Attorney and Mendocino County Supervisor Burgess Williams: “I am now completing four years on the County Board of Supervisors, and Mr. Stoen has always been our legal counsel. During that time, the Board has conducted many public hearings involving complex legal matters, and I have always gone into those hearings confident that our attorney was better prepared and more knowledgeable on the issues than any other advocate in the chambers. Mr. Stoen is an ethical, principled person whose character is beyond reproach. I don’t believe there is a better public attorney in the State of California.” (4/15/76)
- Mendocino County Bar Association President Richard J. Peterson: “He’s knowledgeable, believes in what he’s doing, is truthful to himself and therefore can be truthful to a jury; he’s an honor to his profession.… I would be hard-pressed to list one attorney – and I’m saying these words literally – not one attorney in the Mendocino County Bar who does not believe Tim Stoen an honest man, a principled man, an effective lawyer, and perhaps most importantly, a well-balanced man.” (4/15/76)
- Superior Court Judge John J. Golden: “Tim is an excellent lawyer.” (4/14/76)
- Attorney Merle P. Orchard: “He… has distinguished himself in the practice of law to a high degree. He also commands the utmost personal respect in this community (Ukiah). He is also a fine scholar as well as an aggressive and exceptionally fine practitioner of the law. Of all the young men whom are using practice in the last 26 years in this community, I would place, Tim, in all respects, at the very top.” (4/14/76)
- Mendocino County Public Defender Joseph D. Allen: “Mr. Stoen compiled a brilliant record as a criminal prosecutor.… I have found him to be deeply committed to civil rights matters as well as social justice, the vigorous prosecution of lawbreakers and vigorous protection of the county taxpayers in handling the county’s civil legal business. Mr. Stoen… in his professional capacity has a reputation in our county for fairness, intelligence, absolute integrity and total honesty. He is not active in partisan politics but he is in my opinion a very shrewd and deft negotiator.… He enjoys absolutely the highest reputation by all who have known him in Mendocino County.” (4/14/76)