State Department memos to file, Winter 1978

[Editor’s note: The following pages are random notes to the file from State Department employees – principally Elizabeth Powers of the Office of Consular Services – from winter 1978 regarding the John Victor Stoen custody battle. The first is an undated note, likely from January 1978; the second is the end of a memo dated February 3; the third is a memo on a phone call of February 10; and the last is a memo to the file dated February 20.]


FROM: CASC (Stoen, John Victor)
SUBJECT: W/W [whereabouts and welfare] – John Victor Stoen

Ref: A-4386,

1. As Post aware, Dept. receiving numerous inquiries from Congress and American public concerning custody case of John Victor Stoen. Most of the inquiries are expressions of support for Stoens or People’s Temple without real interest in actual proceedings. However, substantial number of Congressional inquiries in particular involve the actual court proceedings, i.e., what will happen next and are the courts acting impartially and speedily toward resolution.

2. RefAir outlines circumstances in which principal officer may request authority to retain local counsel to advise consular office and ways to improve performance of duties [handwritten insertion illegible]. Dept. would find detailed advice from qualified attorneys attorney [following words struck out “on the judicial process in the Stoen case”] most useful in dealing with domestic interest in Stoen case. Such a device would also prove invaluable should there be other custody cases in the future.

[Appended note] if Post believes 2 FAM 283 should be used to retain independent local counsel, please provide pertinent information as set out in 2 FAM 283 ASAP.

[Illegible name]/EA Powers


– and at the end of the Jan 10 hearings the judge took the case under advisement and stated he would study the issues and make a decision. The Stoen’s attorneys expressed optimism that the decision would be made shortly but thus far there has been no decision. The decision is whether the September order for Jones to produce the child was legal or not. The custody case has not yet been formally introduced into court.

Mr. Stoen is an attorney and was formerly the assistant District Attorney in San Francisco. He has visited many Senators and Congressman during the past two weeks and sent mailgrams 91 members of Congress.

On the opposite side of the desk has received at least 400 letters from supporters of the group alleging that the Embassy has interfered in the internal workings of the Guyanese government by assisting the Stoens when their visas were suddenly and without reason revoked during the hearings.

As far as SCA and ARA can determine the issue is still a child custody dispute involving all American citizen disputants in Guyana.

We have now received an expression of interest from DHA who feel that the USG [United States Government] should come out openly in favor of the Stoen’s case. They are deaf to our reasoning that we are unable to determine the merits of the case, that the court is the proper form for such a determination, and that without any court decision it would be improper for us to attempt to influence the total government.

EA Powers 2-3-78


Memo on Phone Conversation February 10, 1978 Powers SCS – DCM Blacken Guyana

SCS called Embassy to elicit response to State 4386. DCM informed Dept that reply had been drafted Feb 13, he regretted we had not received an outline of Embassy belief that Embassy attorney/advisor not required as Embassy felt confident of legal issues at stake. SCS then inquired how long Embassy believed it should normally take to get decision in type of case held January 10 in Stoen/Jones matter. DCM replied that given lack of clerical assistance etc. it would seem reasonable to wait about two-six weeks. SCS then informed that we were going to instruct Embassy to inquire of local govt how long we should expect to wait for decision on hearing held over a month ago.



Date: 2-20-78

Re: John Victor Stoen

Attached are copies of the briefing papers which we prepared for Miss Watson for meeting with Ambassador Burke on February 23.

I informed CA that we had not been replied to Guyana [form member illegible] as you wished to discuss problems with Ambassador.

(I that was correct. I received that information from M. Truitt after her phone conversation with you this afternoon.)


Memo to the File re John Victor Stoen

2/16/78. Mrs. Jim Jones and three members of the People’s Temple met with Ms. Riki Poster of Senator Mark Hatfield’s office and representative of Senator Hayakawa’s office. Ms. Poster reported that the purpose of the meeting was to convince the Congressional offices to “stay out of the case.” Generally, Mrs. Jones refused to answer questions and referred the inquiries to their attorney, Mr. Charles Garry of San Francisco. However, Mrs. Jones did state that the People’s Temple would honor the decision by the Guyanese court.

2/17/78. Mrs. Jim Jones, Terry Buford and another member of the People’s Temple, first name [illegible], met in the Department with Elizabeth A. Powers and Fred [last name illegible] of CA/SCS and Frank Tumminia, ARA/CAR/C. The meeting was at the request of Mrs. Jones. It was apparent that Mrs. Jones and her associates were trying to determine the Department’s position concerning the custody case. Mrs. Jones was told that the Department had no position on the merits of the case buy was interested only in a fair and impartial determination by the Guyanese court. She was given a copy of the form letter we sent in response to Congressional inquiries. It was pointed out to Mrs. Jones that the People’s Temple was not at issue and that the Department had no position concerning the Temple. In her comments, Mrs. Jones asserted that her husband was the natural father of the child. She appeared satisfied with the Department’s position on the case and was probably appreciative for the meeting.

Originally posted on June 16th, 2020.

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