Correspondence between Richard Tropp and State Department

[Editor’s note: The State Department would eventually report receiving more than 400 letters from members and supporters of Peoples Temple in response to the campaign by Tim and Grace Stoen to gain custody of John Victor. One of those letters was written by Richard Tropp, who later died in Jonestown. His letter is followed by State’s response.]

PO Box 15157
San Francisco, CA 94115
20 January 1977 [1978]

Assistant Secretary
Inter-American Affairs Bureau
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Sir:

It is with some concern that I call to your attention to what I have learned quite reliably to be a serious instance of unwanted interference and abuse of authority within the US Department of State in the affairs of a sovereign nation. I refer specifically to actions taken to exert influence on behalf of one of the parties in a custody dispute that is being handled through official legal channels of the country of Guyana.

All of the parties in the dispute are Americans. One of them (upon whose behalf there was direct interference from within the State Department), a Mr. Timothy Stoen, conducted himself in front of Guyana officials in such a manner as to reflect that they did not know how to handle their affairs, and that he could not trust anything they would do in the matter. (This matter concerns his wife’s child, who was abandoned by both of them to the third party in the dispute, Rev. Jim Jones, who is the child’s natural father, several years ago). There is absolutely no reason for the United States to take any position on the matter, official or unofficial, and to do so constitutes an insult to the nation that is handling the matter within its proper jurisdiction, implying that it is not itself capable of doing so.

It is precisely this kind of mailing or pressure tactics that have, in the past, contributed to the distrust of not only Guyanese, but people of many small nations vis-à-vis the United States. The idea that a private citizen of the United States, who is having some form of dispute with another person, can bend the machinery of State to his own personal ends, should be cause for alarm, since it creates the distinct possibility of subverting whatever constructive diplomatic efforts that may be underway towards building good relations. Particularly so in the case of Guyana, where a great deal of mistrust for the United States has been evident, reaching a high point with the Cubana Airlines disaster of a couple of years ago, where 73 young Cuban and Guyanese professionals perished in an explosion that has been widely attributed to a US-financed saboteur.

Since that time, and thanks to the constructive efforts of President Carter, Ambassador Young, and others in the US government, relations between the United States and progressive Caribbean nations such as Guyana have been improving. We have


even heard that Guyana, while accepting a substantial loan for development from the United States, has turned around aid from the USSR, a sign that Guyana, though following a mall, quite obviously, socialist course, certainly need not become part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Now, quite obviously, the application of pressure by an individual or individuals within the State Department to control the course of a private matter is not going to help this state of affairs: indeed, it can very easily harm them, and may possibly already have done so.

I should also like to point out that the organization which Rev. Jim Jones heads, Peoples Temple, has been developing in large mission/community in Guyana which has been a great success, and has made outstanding contributions to the development of the region where it is located, extending vital medical services. In fact, the Peoples Temple project has to a significant degree helped to dispel a lack of anti-American feeling in Guyana by showing the constructive, practical and helpful aspects of Americans, rather than the “ugly” aspects that have created a stereotype that the US has found hard to overcome.

In any case, any interference on the part of the State Department or any other US agency is regrettable, and should be immediately stopped. I am aware that it is very difficult to be able to control this kind of thing in such a vast department. But, as I think you are aware, it can be to seemingly trivial matters like these, taking place perhaps on lower levels of the “bureaucracy” where they are not very easily noticed, that incidents with serious ramifications can take place.

Your attention to this incident would, then, the most deeply appreciated, in the interest of US-Guyana (and, by extension, US-Caribbean and third world) relations.

Sincerely yours,
/s/ Richard D. Tropp
Richard D. Tropp

CC: Guyana Desk, US State Department
Senator Hubert H. Humphrey
Rep. John Burton
Rep. Philip Burton
Hon. Willie Brown
Hon. Andrew Young
Vice-President Mondale
President Carter



3 March 1978

Mr. Richard D. Tropp
PO Box 15157
San Francisco, California 94115

Dear Mr. Tropp:

Thank you for your inquiry of January 20 concerning the custody of the child of Mr. and Mrs. Tim Stoen.

I asked that the issue you described in your letter be investigated and that a report be made to me. I have been advised that the US Embassy in Georgetown, at the request of Timothy [John Victor] Stoen’s parents, expressed this interest in this case to Guyanese authorities solely to explain our hope that the custody dispute be adjudicated fairly and impartially. The Embassy has not taken sides in what is essentially a civil dispute between two groups of Americans, and the Embassy has exerted no pressure on the Guyanese Government to rule on this question in favor of one side or another.

The inquiries made by the American Embassy on behalf of the child’s parents were normal protective services which any American citizen abroad can expect to receive from his government. The inquiries were not in any way directed to the substance of the case which is presently before the courts.


I trust this information will help you to understand more fully the role that the US Embassy has played in this case. If you have any further questions, please feel free to call Ms. Elizabeth Powers in the State Department’s Offices of Special Consular Services on 632-9461.

Terence A. Todman
Bureau of Inter-American Affairs

Originally posted on June 16th, 2020.

Skip to main content