Jonestown … 44 years ago

November 18, 1978…A  man who was a complete waste of oxygen started one of the most terrible tragedies in history. What I hate is that some of the media described it as a mass suicide which it was not.

When I think of evil human beings…Jim Jones checks off every box. When people think of Jonestown or the Peoples Temple they probably remember the horrible images and disbelief that blanketed the news from Guyana. Interviews with people who happened to be out of Jonestown that afternoon or one of the very few who escaped (36) who started their day there.

The death toll kept rising daily on the news…200, 400, and then 800 or more. The reason was that the bodies were on top of each other and the more they were moved the more they realized some were 3 deep. There seems to be a misconception that all of these people committed suicide which is not true.

918 children and adults died on November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, and most were murdered not suicide. It was either drink the poisoned Flavor-Aid or get shot by the guards or injected right after watching the kids poisoned. According to the Guyanese court which had jurisdiction in the matter, all but three of the deaths in Jonestown were ruled to be the result of murder, not suicide. Source: The New York Times, 12/12/78

The Peoples Temple was a microcosm of society.  Some people joined for socialism, religion (ironic since Jones was a non-believer), or just to belong somewhere. There were young naive members, elderly vulnerable members, drug addicts, drunks, lawyers, doctors, rich, middle class, poor, black and white. Like many organizations…it started off good in the 50s but soon he got too much power. They did good things for people but it soon fell off a cliff. It started before the move to Guyana.

They were kept hungry with no sleep with Jones waking the entire compound in the middle of the night. He had everyone’s passport locked up so if they escaped it would be hard to get out anywhere.

I always wanted to know more about what happened. There are some good books on this. The best one I’ve read is Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman (I just provided the link…I get no money if you buy it). Tim was there for two days including the last day when Congressman Leo Ryan was killed…Reiterman was also shot but survived.

The event, of course,  inspired the phrase “Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid”…although it was really a cheap knockoff…Flavor-Aid.

The more I read the more I was imagining being held prisoner in that jungle under his totalitarian rule…what a helpless feeling…and I was wanting the impossible to happen…a different ending. It’s so puzzling that today with all the info we have there are still cult leaders out there playing by the Jim Jones playbook.

If Jones would have allowed the people to come and go they could have made a good go of it in Guyana. The people developed a town that had a post office, daycare, a cafeteria, and everyone had a job. When it started Jones wasn’t down there all of the time and people were working hard and for the most part happy. When he settled in…that was over. He took control and it all went to hell.

Jones didn’t drink the flavor aid… he had one of his helpers shoot him…something I wish would have happened a day earlier.

A good abbreviated version of Jonestown and Jim Jones can be found here on the History Channel website.

A documentary of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Jonestown … 44 years ago”

  1. I remember this awful event. It was a deadly example of a man with a god complex and a case study for how intelligent people get sucked into a cult. Men like Jones existed before him and exist today. Just take a look at some of the world political leaders.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, yes…remember this. My twelve year old self couldn’t quite grasp the magnitude. I do remember my paternal grandmother’s remarks…”Crazy SOB…”

    Fast forward to late 1982 and I am at a basement party with some friends. The conversation turned to music tastes and a couple of rich, “gag me with a spoon” airhead girls put on this song…Guyana Punch. A group of us had been talking about Boston (the group) and these two weirdos turned absolutely goofy and said they hated Boston. My group was in stunned silence for a solid 10 seconds before one guy piped up with “…WHAT are y’all smokin’?” Those two decided to demonstrate some bizarre dance routine to the Guyana Punch song. They had no clue what they were listening to.

    Heaven’s Gate was just as bad & bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea Heavens Gate was bad and awful… but this one was about the astronomical number of it all…I mean over 900 people…


    1. When I was 11….I just couldn’t believe this happened… I always wondered why they just didn’t rebel and charge him but he had enough believers with guns where it would have been a slaughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In one of my lower division cultural anthropology courses, we were required to make an oral presentation if we wanted a grade above a B. Not everyone opted to do it, but I will never forget my fellow student’s presentation on the People’s Temple. His aunt died at Jonestown.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Good write-up on a difficult topic, Max.

    In a strange bit of coincidence I was netflix surfing and watched an episode of 2019 series “The UnXplained with William Shatner” where he narrates and the episode was on cults. He covered Jonestown but very lightly, but the pictures of the heaped bodies were haunting. To learn how many died and that most all of them were murdered is blood chilling 😦

    They also covered the Heaven’s Gate cult. It was shocking to learn that the cult had been together for 20 years, that the leader had unsuccessfully tried to start other cults before that one, the men in occult consented to being castrated (!), there is a museum somewhere (forgot where) with the actual items laid out exactly how they were when the bodies were found (with mannequin of course.) Probably most disturbing is that the website is still actively maintained (by who I’m not sure!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read about that Heavens Gate website…who in the heck would want to keep that going? Dont answer that! lol.

      I was 11 when Jonestown happened…I just remember being in shock. At that time I thought it was purely suicide… After reading about that place…it’s so tragic because it COULD have worked…if he wasn’t a maniac.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Madness. Whenever I hear someone say ‘only I have the answer, just trust in me,’ my stomach drops and my feet feel this need to run, and any which way. Never stop thinking and questioning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea we are cynical…thank goodness. Like most smart mainiacs…. he did enough good to make people trust and once they were dependent…it was all over with.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a strange coincidence!? The subject of Guyana was brought up just 2 days ago and I was telling my kids about the Jonestown mass suicide which occurred in this country after they exiled from San Francisco. This Jonestown documentary which I still have in my archives – I cannot return to. Once was enough for me. Too horrific to even contemplate, let alone see again. I’m forever scarred by the images and actual audio of the incident.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt… back in 2017 I read 3 books about it in a row. When I was reading the 3rd book…I wanted to go back in time and shoot the guy. I never made it through the last book because my sadness and anger was too great.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I missed this one yesterday somehow. Interesting story but to state the obvious, rather tragic and senseless. Rather similar in end result to the Branch Davidian compound near here… same type of deranged , authoritarian leader. Puts me in mind of Dire Straits ‘Industrial Disease’ …”two men say they’re Jesus – one of them must be wrong…’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh…I hardly ever post two posts in a day on a week day…but next week I am because of Thanksgiving.
      Yea and the crazy thing is…he didn’t even believe which is quite obvious the way he acted. Just a stupid stupid waste of life. The guy was a coward and wanted to take everyone with him.


  8. I’m one of those who can’t read or watch the reports of this, because the evil is too haunting. It is hard for me to hold back and not write a long stream-of-consciousness comment about how I view the insidious tendency of charismatic preachers. Jones was an extreme example, in becoming a mass murderer. But plenty of lives are still being shattered or ended by ‘lesser’ corruption that began as ‘spreading the faith’. It’s a slippery slope. No, God doesn’t want any preacher to amass followers, exploit their weaknesses, and harvest wealth or power from them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t get through the 3rd book. Anger and sadness just prevented me…not because it was a bad book either. Looking back I don’t see how I made it through one. There is a lesson in it but it seems some still don’t get it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They are so insidious. It’s like any crime, the way they draw people into their schemes. It’s by the criminal’s design. You aren’t supposed to know you’ve been had until after they’ve controlled and fleeced you and left you too embarrassed or weak to report it.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I vividly remember when this happened, as I was 24 years old and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up. Nine days later, while the city was still reeling from the Jonestown massacre and the death of Congressman Leo Ryan, the mayor of San Francisco George Moscone and County Supervisor Harvey Milk were both assassinated in City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White. It was a terrible period for San Francisco.

    Liked by 1 person

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