Many people know how Jonestown ended, but they don’t know where it began, and for area residents, it is their own backyard.
Many are curious and some even come looking for the answers. It began in the tiny Randolph County town of Crete, with the birth on May 13, 1931, of James Warren Jones to Lynetta and James Thurman Jones.
James Thurman Jones was one of 10 children born to Randolph County native John Henry Jones and his second wife, a Wayne County native. James “Jim” Warren Jones was their only child.
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Alicia Heck, now a resident at Friends Fellowship Community, remembers the Crete into which Jim Jones was born.
She was born there in 1921 in the house next to where Jim Jones was born 10 years later. Heck’s family moved to Arizona for a few years and during that time the Joneses came to Crete and left. She remembers hearing about the family from her grandparents and vaguely recalls Lynetta Jones, Jim’s mother.
By 1934, the Jones family had moved to Lynn.
Money was tight in the Depression years, especially with the elder James Jones in poor health. School records show that little Jimmy Jones’ dad was employed by the Works Progress Administration, as foreman for community sanitation and as a truck driver.
Those who knew the young Jimmy found him quiet and fairly well-behaved, interested in religion. He attended services at the Nazarene church and at the former Gospel Tabernacle.
Joyce Overman Bowman, a 1950 Lynn High School graduate living in Indianapolis, grew up about half a block away from Jim Jones.
“I don’t know that I ever sat down and had a conversation with him. There were only 500 kids in the whole school, grades 1-12. Everybody knew everybody,” she said. “He was just a guy in this other class. He was a nice looking young man, very striking, his black hair and black eyes.”
Bowman and Monisa Wisener, also a 1950 Lynn graduate, were freshmen in a Latin class they shared with Jones, a sophomore.
“I sat in the middle of the room by the teacher and he sat over in the back corner,” said Wisener, now of Winchester.
One day, the class slipped out the school’s east door and Wisener snapped a photo of the group, taught by Violet Myers.
It wasn’t until after the tragedy at Jonestown that she realized who she had captured on film.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve got a picture of Jimmy Jones!” she recalls saying to herself.
Education and marriage
As his senior year approached, Jones took a job as an orderly at Reid Hospital in Richmond.
Margaret Anne Kaiser of Richmond graduated in 1949 with Jones.
“I just remember seeing him. I didn’t have that much personal contact with him. I remember seeing him and knowing who he was,” Kaiser said.
The Pierian yearbook for 1949 shows Jones’ senior photo and he also is captured with the members of Hi-Y in a winter sweater with a reindeer in the pattern.
A Pierian from four years earlier shows the woman who would become his bride, Marceline Baldwin: “Always soft spoken.” Marceline went on to nursing school at Reid, where she met Jones.
On June 12, 1949, Jones and Baldwin married in a ceremony they shared with her sister, Eloise Baldwin, and her groom, Dale Klingman. The wedding was at Trinity United Methodist Church, home church of the Baldwin girls and their parents, Walter and Charlotte Baldwin.
The newlyweds moved to Bloomington, where Jones had begun Indiana University classes after graduating at mid-term from Richmond High. Marceline worked and Jones studied.
On May 29, 1951, Jones’ father died in Lynn at age 63. He was buried in the Mt. Zion Cemetery between Lynn and Winchester.
The 1951 Richmond City Directory lists Jones’ mother, Lynetta, as a resident of 1130Þ E. Main St., an apartment in the same building as the Walter Hiller watch repair service. According to city directories through 1958, she remained in that apartment and as an employee at Perfect Circle. The business-apartment building is now gone.
Growing into the ministry
The Joneses left Bloomington at about the same time for Indianapolis so that Jones could enter the ministry. He became a student pastor at Somerset Methodist Church.
A March 15, 1953, article from the Palladium-Item and Sun-Telegram tells the community about Jones.
According to the article, Jones’ mother recalled a young Jim Jones questioning a tramp about his home and what he was doing in Lynn.
In response to the youngster, the tramp was to have answered: ” ‘I don’t have a friend in the world. I’m ready to give up.’
“The boy, barely through his first year of school, looked at the tired beaten old man and said firmly: ‘What do you mean, mister? God’s your friend and I’m your friend. And mom will help get you a job.’
“And ‘mom,’ Mrs. Lynetta Jones, did just that…
The article noted that the young minister had launched a campaign to build a recreation center for children on Indianapolis’ south side. It said that the Joneses had an adopted 10-year-old daughter, Agnes. His intention was to attend the Garrett Bible Institute in Evanston, Ill.
Charting his own course
However, Jones’ life did not take that path. He started his own Indianapolis churches, first Community Unity, then Wings of Deliverance, and finally, the Peoples Temple.
As his churches grew, so did his family. It was diverse with adopted children who were Korean and black. An adopted daughter died in a car accident while traveling with church workers. And the Joneses had their only biological child, Stephan, in 1959.
Jones’ church was a congregation of all colors that was interested in helping those who were less fortunate. The church opened a soup kitchen and the Joneses opened a nursing home. Marceline’s parents came from Richmond to help.
Marceline’s youngest sister, Sharon Mills of Richmond, remembers.
“It was the only church I have ever been in that was so integrated. They all loved each other and it was a very powerful thing,” she said.
The congregation included some good singers and the group even made a record, Mills said.
Peoples Temple moves
In 1961, Jones’ work brought rewards. He was appointed the first director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission.
But Jones wasn’t content. He and his family spent time in Brazil, returned to Indianapolis and then, in 1965, moved to Ukiah, Calif. More than 100 Hoosiers, including his mother, followed Jones to California. Soon the church was growing again, with about 300 members by 1969.
It was late in his Indiana tenure that Jones began to exhibit signs that not everything was as it should be.
Jones won awards and established congregations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. With nearly 10,000 members, Jones mustered church members to vote, protest and travel. The church became as much a political animal as a religious.
It was helping people through drug rehabilitation programs, care homes for children and elderly, a free diagnostic and outpatient clinic, a legal aid program and a free dining hall for indigents.
In June 1976, 12 travel buses filled with Peoples Temple members pulled into Lynn to visit their leader’s hometown.
By the time, the buses rolled into Lynn, the Peoples Temple was already building its agricultural mission in Guyana, an effort to feed the hungry of the world.
Problems begin developing
As problems arose stateside, Jones encouraged members to go south and eventually joined them. Soon after arriving in Jonestown, Lynetta Jones died.
In 1978, a group, Concerned Relatives, began seeking help from Congressman Leo Ryan because they believed family members were being mistreated.
In Guyana, Jones began talking about how others might be out to bring the organization down and he began practicing the “White Night” suicide plan.
In October 1978, Marceline Jones made what would be her final trip to Richmond. Family members say she was notably concerned about her husband’s mental and physical health. There was a finality about her visit.
Her parents returned to Jonestown with her on Oct. 31. A few days later, the Jonestown basketball team — including the Joneses’ natural son Stephan and adopted sons, Jim Jr., and Tim Tupper Jones — went to play in Georgetown, Guyana.
As Ryan, media representatives and Concerned Relatives headed for Jonestown, Marceline Jones asked her mother to pray that the team not return during their visit.
She sent her parents home the day Ryan and his entourage arrived. As Charlotte Baldwin waved goodbye to her daughter, she had a sense of doom.
Three days later, after a day spent at the agricultural mission and helping defectors leave the encampment, Ryan and his group made their way to the airstrip at Port Kaituma. As they boarded two planes, a tractor-pulled flatbed arrived with gunmen who shot at the group.
Ryan and four others were killed. Those wounded escaped into the jungle grasses.
Back at Jonestown, Jim Jones set in motion events that would create a sensation. Through urging and intimidation, followers and many children of the compound consumed or received a killing dose of poison. Some were shot, including Jim Jones.
In all, 913 people died there and several followers at an office in Georgetown followed suit.
The basketball team was spared, but the mother who prayed for them was not.
Along with Jim and Marceline Jones died their adopted daughter, Agnes, 36, and her three children, and adopted son, Lew Eric, 22, and his child.
Horror and grief assailed residents of Richmond, Lynn and tiny Crete, along with Indianapolis and a large part of California.
The remains of Marceline Jones were returned home for burial at Earlham Cemetery, as were the remains of her two children. Her grandchildren were among those buried in a mass grave in California.
However, the family chose not to create a final resting place for the Rev. Jim Jones. He was cremated on the East Coast and his ashes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.