Little attention paid to stories told by Ukiah women of abuse at church
Twenty-five years have done nothing to diminish the anger of Brenda Ganatos and Nancy Busch.
The two women still get fighting mad about how Mendocino County officials and the local news media, and later their counterparts in San Francisco, turned a blind eye to the Rev. Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple. Jones arrived in Mendocino County in 1965, and he and his followers quickly infiltrated the local political and government establishments.
Temple members worked at every level of local government, from the Social Services Department to the District Attorney’s Office. Jones was to repeat the pattern on an even grander scale when he moved on to San Francisco in the early 1970s.
- J. Gordon Melton, The Sacramento Bee, Nov. 15, 1998, as quoted in the Cult Apologists FAQ
By the time Jones and his temple tactics were beginning to come under intense public scrutiny in the late 1970s, he already had led more than 900 followers into the jungle of Guyana. There, on Nov. 18, 1978, they perished in a mass murder-suicide that still defies the imagination.
“We can live with ourselves today because we know we did everything we could to try and stop this madman,” Ganatos said.
“Frankly, I still don’t understand how all those people who should have been concerned and weren’t can look themselves in the mirror today,” adds Busch.
Ganatos first learned of Jones and his Peoples Temple when some followers from Indiana moved in next door in the late 1960s.
“They were lovely people. I liked them, and helped get them settled,” said Ganatos.
But by 1970, Ganatos began to take note of persistent rumors about misconduct at the Redwood Valley church.
Ganatos went into action after hearing a story about a 4-year-old boy named Tommy. On a “survival training” camping trip, Jones allegedly forced the boy to eat his own vomit after he became ill at dinner.
“That was it. I couldn’t handle any more of these stories without doing something,” Ganatos said.
Ganatos and Busch organized about a dozen friends and co-workers into a group called “Concerned Citizens.”
The group began to plead with local and state law enforcement agencies and government officials to take notice of the many concerns that were being outlined to them by neighbors and former temple members. They included a litany of incidents at Jones’ Redwood Valley church, including armed guards, beatings, sexual abuse and financial wrongdoing.
Ganatos and Busch say they were rebuffed at every level of law enforcement, government and the news media.
“We were dismissed as busybodies and kooks,” said Ganatos, a retired telephone company supervisor who now lives in Oregon.
Busch, who still lives in her Ukiah home, believes she was frequently put under surveillance by Jones, and said it wasn’t easy to be among the few who were publicly questioning a man so eagerly accepted by community leaders and the local political elite.
“We kept being reminded what good deeds Jones was doing on behalf of the poor and the elderly, and how he was so informed that a local judge decided to name him foreman of the county grand jury,” recalled Busch.
Finally, in 1972, a San Francisco Examiner religion writer — the Rev. Lester Kinsolving — took notice of Ganatos and Busch and their citizens’ group.
Kinsolving, working with an Indiana reporter who also was investigating Jones, soon wrote the first published stories in Northern California about a man he dubbed the “messiah from Ukiah.”
The response from Jones and Temple members was swift. They threw up a picket line around the Examiner building, and Jones’ lawyers threatened legal action. Four more Kinsolving articles were shelved.
It wasn’t until publication in 1977 of a damning article in New West magazine that media attention was revived in Jones and the temple’s surging influence in San Francisco politics.
“By then it was too late. The wheels were already in motion,” said Ganatos.
After the Jonestown mass murder-suicide in 1978, Ganatos and Busch received calls from reporters around the globe inquiring about the information they had gathered.
“It probably wasn’t very smart, but I used to snap at them and say, ‘Where were you then?’” Ganatos recalled.
Kinsolving didn’t forget his earliest sources about Jones, according to daughter Kathleen Kinsolving and son Tom Kinsolving, the authors of a new book, “Madman in Our Midst — Jim Jones and the California Coverup.”
Lester Kinsolving, according to his children, wrote the advisory board for the Pulitzer Prizes on Ganatos’ behalf.
“I do not know if there has ever been a special Pulitzer award for a courageous source, but I will affirm that Brenda Ganatos is one of the bravest people I have ever known,” Kinsolving said.