Recordings indicate Jim Jones may have died the day after the massacre
OAKLAND — One day after the Jonestown mass suicides in 1978 in the jungle of Guyana, Jim Jones and leaders of the ill-fated settlement were still alive and calmly discussed the suicides and the murder of Rep. Leo Ryan, a historian said Saturday.
“Everybody has assumed until recently that all 912 Jonestown residents, including Jones, died on the same day — Nov. 18, 1978,” said Fielding McGehee, who oversees the Jonestown Institute with his wife, Rebecca Moore, whose sisters and nephew died in Jonestown.
But the tape found in Jonestown that the FBI labeled Q-875 appears to have been made many hours later, possibly on Nov. 19, McGehee said. The tape is one of 900 McGehee and Moore obtained from the FBI under a Freedom of Information Act request.
It was made later because the people on the tape — apparently including Jones — talked about what had happened, about the murder of Rep. Ryan and the mass deaths in Jonestown, he said.
McGehee said summaries of some of the tapes are included in the sixth Jonestown Report. The report also contains a great deal of new information and fleshes out the lives of many of the victims. It has just been published in advance of the Nov. 18 memorial service, held each year at 11 a.m. at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.
There are 409 infants, children, men and women who died at Jonestown buried at Evergreen.
Every cemetery contacted in the United States turned down a request for a gravesite for the unclaimed victims of what remains the largest mass suicide in American history. But Evergreen said yes and took responsibility for the burial.
Jones — who many thought was leading a great, radical social movement — moved his congregation from San Francisco to Guyana, and many Jonestown survivors and relatives of victims live in Oakland, San Francisco and surrounding communities.
McGehee said they continue to gather biographical information on the victims and post it on their Jonestown Web site. “We really want to humanize the people who died there — to let the world know that they were more than 900 bodies rotting in the jungle sun.
“These weren’t just a bunch of crazy cultists,” he said. “They had real names; they were real people.”
He said one of the tapes obtained from the FBI — Q-042 — records the deaths and the decisions by Jonestown residents to die as they came forward and drank a grape punch laced with cyanide.
But tape Q-875 is among the most disturbing.
“Some people who knew Jim Jones say they hear his voice on the tape,” McGehee said. “My wife heard her younger sister, Ann Moore, who was Jim Jones’ personal nurse.
“Ann was also in the leadership and was one of only two people to leave behind a suicide note,” he said. “What we figure is that after the mass deaths, the remaining leadership gathered in Jim Jones cabin to figure out what to do.”
The tape is very professional; the people in Jonestown, in that way, were like the Nazis, McGehee said. Everything they did, they recorded.
“At least 13 people in that cabin died there,” he said. “There were a total of six gunshots according to people there; five came during the late afternoon, and one came about midnight.
“We figure the last shot was Annie. She shot herself. She was found leaning against the door of Jones’ cabin. No one could enter the door without moving the body,” McGehee said.
“Jones was found outside; he was the only person besides Annie who was shot,” he said.
McGehee, a publisher who now devotes most of his time to the Jonestown archives, said he doubts a report of automatic weapons fire and shooting deaths of many Jonestown residents.
“The report of just six shots is based on statements by one of two survivors who hid out in the jungle and escaped,” he said. “When Guyanan soldiers arrived in Jonestown, the found no automatic weapons. The Guyanan police chief, Skip Roberts, said only two people were shot.
“Jim Jones was smart; we believe he had the babies killed first. After they were dead, their mothers had no reason to live, so they died. Then, the fathers had no reason to live and died.
“By that time, he’d knocked off over 700 people. The rest realized that they were the people they lived with. They thought: ‘What’s left for me.’ Really, only two or three people made a decision not to die,” McGehee said.
If Jonestown did one thing, it ended a lot of radical movements, especially in San Francisco, he said. Then just nine days later, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered.
“Those events really knocked the stuffing out of San Francisco. You just didn’t hear the kind of revolutionary rhetoric about peace and justice and revolution after that,” he said.
The Jonestown Institute Web site is: http://jonestown.sdsu.edu