Grace Stoen left Peoples Temple for good on July 4, 1976 on the arm of Walter Jones – her lover who eventually became her second husband – but her departure wasn’t a problem for another year. Up until the summer of 1977, the Temple had what it wanted, not only in its physical custody of John Victor Stoen but also in the extent of the documentation granting permission for him to travel in the company of, and to be cared for, numerous Temple members who were already in Guyana.
Things changed in mid-summer 1977. Grace was one of the ten former members featured in the New West exposéof Peoples Temple, and in so doing, became an enemy of the organization. More significantly, she filed suit in Superior Court in San Francisco to regain custody of her son. She not only prevailed in the initial skirmish for custody, but she demonstrated to the Temple that she would use another high-profile defector – and her former husband – Tim Stoen to pursue the issue.
The Temple responded as it did in numerous battles against other foes, with sworn statements and affidavits from its various members, attesting to the sheer unworthiness of both the actions and the moral character of its opponents. Of the hundred or so statements reproduced on these pages, almost all are from August 1977, in the four weeks between publication of the New West article and the preliminary custody order awarding John Victor to his mother.
While cast in legal terms and presented with the official stamps of seals of American notaries public and Guyanese commissioners – almost always swearing to the truth of the statement under penalty of perjury – the statements were designed to serve as legal instruments against the Stoens. (It should be noted that, not only was Jim Randolph, the principal Notary Public witness to the Temple’s statements in San Francisco, himself a Temple member, but that Grace Stoen had herself once been a Notary Public during her years in the Temple.)
The affidavits follow a limited number of themes, made numerous times. The first was about Grace herself: that she was mentally unbalanced; that she was sexually promiscuous and aggressive; that her relationship with her lover led her to abandon her son; that these actions and conditions made her an unfit mother; and that John had suffered as a result of her neglect and abuse.
The second theme was equally compelling, at least in the eyes of the Temple: It was a “commonly-known” fact that Jim Jones was the father of John Victor Stoen; that Tim Stoen had shown no interest in the child (and why should he, since his own previous affidavit admitted that Jim Jones was the father, and he was estranged from his wife); that John shared physical, temperamental, and even medical traits and conditions with Jim Jones; that John had been embraced by the Jones family, staying at the Jones house, participating in family events, and finding comfort in the company of his brothers; and that John himself identified Jim as his father.
The importance of these affidavits is reflected in the number of times that copies of them appeared in various file folders in Jonestown. The question of their veracity must be answered in part by the context in which they were written.