Don’t Drink the Kool Aid: The Massacre at Jonestown

On November 18, 1978, over 900 people lost their lives in a secluded settlement in the jungles of Guyana. On this fateful day, members of the San Francisco-based cult called the Peoples Temple consumed Kool-Aid under the command of their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. Known as the “Jonestown Massacre,” this mass murder-suicide represents the largest American civilian casualties in a non-natural event until the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Jim Jones / Jonestown / Jim Jones Family / Jonestown.
Source: Getty Images

Photographs taken in the aftermath of the carnage reveal the sheer scale of the tragedy. They showed hundreds of men, women, and children lying face down on the glass. It’s been decades since the disaster, but the world is still fascinated by the Jonestown Massacre. It has inspired books, documentaries, and movies, making it an integral part of pop culture.

By now, you probably know not to drink the Kool-Aid, but here is what you might not know about the Jonestown Massacre.

The Beginnings of the Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, also known as the Peoples Temple, was established in Indianapolis in 1956 by a man named Jim Jones. Jones wanted to help people in need and found a perfect way to do so, by starting a church.

A portrait of Jim Jones.
Jim Jones. Photo by Janet Fries/Getty Images

It didn’t take long for the Peoples Temple to gather followers who were drawn towards Jones’ message of racial justice and social equality. At a time when racial segregation was the norm, Jones’ philosophy was considered revolutionary. They donated money to charity and created social and medical organizations, such as soup kitchens and job placement services.

The Rise of Jim Jones

As the Peoples Temple continued to attract more followers, Jim Jones became an increasingly powerful and influential figure. People looked up to the charismatic leader as a kind man who only wanted the best for the community. However, Jim Jones was actually a manipulative monster.

Jim Jones speaks at a microphone during a rally.
Jim Jones. Photo by Janet Fries/Getty Images

Some former members claimed that they had to give up their belongings, while others were forced to give up custody of their children. Jones convinced his members to move with him to find the perfect spot to settle, tearing them away from their jobs and families. Jones would ultimately brainwash his members into drinking poisoned Kool-Aid, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The Church’s Headquarters

The Peoples Temple was initially founded in Indianapolis, Indiana. About a decade after it was established, the church was relocated to Redwood Valley, California. Soon after, Jones opened up a branch in San Francisco, which turned into the church’s new headquarters.

A needle and syringe lie near a vial of valium.
Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Jim Jones grew increasingly paranoid as the Peoples Temple began to face scrutiny from the media and law enforcement agencies. In the late 1960s, Jones flew to Guyana and found a piece of land that he fell in love with. He was convinced that his church would never be respected in the United States, and by the mid-1970s, he somehow persuaded over 900 members to move to Guyana with him.

The Big Move to Guyana

Jim Jones was aware that convincing almost a thousand people to give up their entire lives in the United States wasn’t going to be an easy task. However, with his charm and manipulation, he successfully got people on board with the promise of building a utopia. As the members made the move, Jones made them feel as comfortable as possible.

A photo of a road and a sign leading to Jonestown.
Source: ABC

The 4,000-acre property in Guyana was the perfect spot for Jones and his congregation. It had more than enough room, and the community had the entire place to itself. They resided about 150 miles away from the capital of Guyana, so they were pretty isolated from society.

The Government Was Suspicious

When Jim Jones transferred the church and his followers from California to Guyana, he finally felt like he would be able to escape the scrutiny and criticism he faced back home. But it didn’t take long for him to realize that wouldn’t be the case at all.

A picture of the Jones family.
Jones family. Source: ABC

Government officials in Guyana were extremely suspicious of the People’s Temple. They viewed them as more of a cult than a religious organization. They were also cautious of Jones as they believed he had bad intentions for the country. Technically, they were right: Jones picked Guyana because he saw it as a weak country where he could easily influence people.

We May Never Understand

Decades after the horrific disaster, many people still have trouble separating fact from fiction. Some aspects of the case that we all thought were true turned out to be false. Over the years, former Peoples Temple members have opened up about their stories. However, they were absent from the awful event, so they are also in the dark when it comes to the details of the massacre.

A look inside the People's Temple in Jonestown.
Photo by The Washington Post/Getty Images

In addition to the rumors and lies, new evidence and previously unknown aspects of the story continue to emerge. The new information leaves us with even more questions. Unfortunately, most of them will never be answered, like what came over Jim Jones that caused him to force his people to drink the poison?

Jim Jones’ Children Open Up

Two of Jim Jones’ sons, Jim Jones Jr. and Stephen Jones, spoke about their father and the devastating Jonestown tragedy in an ABC documentary called Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost. They discussed their father’s leadership and how he acted as a parent. They also spoke about his distorted sense of reality, which had a huge effect on everyone around him.

A picture of Jim Jones in church.
Source: ABC

Stephen explained that there was nothing spiritual about his father. In fact, he said that while his dad had a soul, he completely lost sight of it, especially when his power increased. His whole existence was superficial.

Jim Jones Was a Strange Kid

Since the heartbreaking events at Jonestown came to light, multiple psychologists and other experts have attempted to analyze Jim Jones, study his past, and try to understand what led him to commit such a gruesome act. While he came across as a normal guy, there was still something unusual about him.

A portrait of Jim Jones.
Photo by Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

People who knew Jones as a child described him as a strange kid who had a bizarre obsession with religion and death. He would conduct experiments on animals and then hold funerals for them. He even murdered a cat in front of his traumatized friends.

Jim Jones’ Role Models

Other than being fascinated by death and religion, Jones was also intrigued by the darker side of life. He studied the works of the most evil individuals like Adolf Hit*er, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, and Mao Zedong. He was particularly interested in how Hit*er convinced so many people to support him and believe in his causes.

A picture of Jim Jones next to his wife, adopted children, and sister-in-law.
Photo by Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co./Getty Images

Eventually, Jones started to mimic how Hit*er and Stalin spoke to crowds, and he shaped his personality around theirs. He sure knows how to pick role models! Jones was inspired by how Hit*er hindered his enemies by killing himself before they could capture him.

A Socialist Movement

The Peoples Temple started off as a religious organization, but as time went on, it turned into a socialist movement. Despite their name that made them seem like a church, they also advocated for socialist values. This was one of the main reasons they moved the church to Guyana, a country that was more accepting of socialism.

An aerial view of the Jonestown massacre.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Jones wished that all his followers would live in one location. He told them that he would be their leader and would always be there for them, as long as they obeyed his orders, with no questions asked.

Control by Fear

When Jim Jones decided to move the church to Guyana, he needed a way to convince the members to move too. Some people went without question, but others needed a good enough reason to pick up and leave and abandon their homes, jobs, friends, and extended family.

An image of the passports belonging to the members of the cult.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The way Jones was able to convince so many followers to leave their home country was by instilling fear in them about the evils of American society. Fear is a huge tactic when it comes to control. He explained to them that settling in Guyana would keep them far away from sin and allow them to thrive.

The Massacre Was Planned

The tragedy at Jonestown wasn’t a last-minute decision. There was a lot of planning. Peoples Temple members were involved in rehearsals that Jones called “White Nights.” The skilled manipulator told them that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were after them. Jones explained that when these evil forces came for them, they could either run to the Soviet Union, stay in Jonestown, commit “revolutionary suicide,” or flee into the jungle.

A look inside Jonestown.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

During these rehearsals, Jones spoke on the loudspeaker so every member could hear him give the signal. If they heard Jones say, “White Night! White Night! Get to the pavilion! Run! Your lives are in danger,” they had to run to the middle of the compound.

More Fear and Deception

Jones managed to convince his followers to join the rehearsals by telling them that the US government was putting African Americans in concentration camps and that everyone walked around with guns. Jones explained that whenever he yelled “White Night,” it meant that all the members (many of whom were African American) were going to be taken away by the CIA.

A girl who survived describes their Jonestown ordeal.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The members truly believed that the “White Night” signal was a way to protect them. However, on the day of the massacre, when everyone reached the middle of the compound, they were ordered to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid. Those who didn’t want to were forced.

The Children of Jonestown

If parents join the Peoples Temple, their children automatically become part of the organization. Adults and children had to take part in the organization’s activities, listen to Jim Jones and obey his every command.

A picture of followers gathering around Jim Jones.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Sadly, hundreds of children drank the poisonous Kool-Aid the day of the massacre. In fact, Jim Jones and his wife took care of many of the children, though many were also wards of the state of California. This basically means that they never should have been taken out of the state in the first place. So, Jones did what any good leader would do: he smuggled them into Guyana.

The Truth About the Rainbow Family

In the ABC documentary, Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost, Stephen and Jim Jones Jr. spoke about their family situation at the time, which helped shed light on what was going on. People may have seen them as the perfect “rainbow” family, but things were far from ideal.

A photo of Jim Jones.
Source: ABC

Many of Jim Jones’ children revealed that they had a strong resentment towards the Peoples Temple because they felt that their father was neglecting them and paying more attention to his followers than his actual family. Stephen also admitted that their father needed constant praise and cared about what everyone thought about him. Well, everyone but his own family.

Many Ways to Die

Initially, it was believed that everyone who perished at Jonestown died from drinking the poisoned Kool-Aid. But new information has come to light, showing that some people refused to drink the Kool-Aid after seeing other people die from it. Some of the children begged their parents to let them go.

A photo of Jim Jones speaking at the microphone.
Source: ABC

The ones who didn’t drink started to look for a way out, but they couldn’t escape. The compound was heavily guarded. Some of those who didn’t drink got shot; others were forcefully injected with the poison. Reportedly, some people died of knife wounds.

Putting the Plan Into Action

Before the massacre, various members of the Peoples Temple contacted authorities to report the abuse they had dealt with at Jonestown. Many of them worried for their safety. Congressman Leo Ryan and his delegation that included other government officials and some journalists traveled to Jonestown to speak to those members.

A picture of a reporter speaking on the phone about Jonestown.
Photo by Frank Johnston/The Washington Post/Getty Images

After the meeting, Ryan, his delegation, and some defectors returned to the Port Kaituma airstrip. Before they could leave, gunmen from the Peoples Temple started shooting. Five people died, including the congressman. Following this event, Jim Jones realized it was time to put his plan into action.

“Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid”

The phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” derives from the massacre at Jonestown and is uttered when you want to prevent someone from blindly taking part in dangerous activities due to peer pressure. However, the phrase is also considered offensive by people who survived the tragedy and the friends and family of the victims.

A photo of the poison found at Jonestown.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

In addition to being insensitive, it turns out that the phrase is actually incorrect. It is widely believed that the victims were forced to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, but it was actually grape-flavored Flavor Aid – which is pretty much the same thing. It’s like calling all cleaning sprays Windex or calling all cotton swabs Q Tips. I’ve been referring to it as Kool-Aid in order not to raise confusion, but it should be noted that it was a different brand.

The posion was made out of Grape-flavored Flavor Aid mixed with cyanide, Valium, Phenergan, and chloral hydrate.

Jim Jones’ Demise

Jim Jones ordered his followers to drink the poisoned drink, but he did not consume it himself. Jones actually died from a single gunshot wound to the head. He was discovered on the floor, lying on a pillow near his deck chair.

A photo of Jim Jones outdoors in the fields.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Following an autopsy, Jones’ death was officially ruled a suicide, but that didn’t stop the rumors from flying. Some people strongly believe that Jones shot himself, while others think that the leader was shot by one of his followers.

Supported the Civil Rights Movement

Jim Jones supported the Civil Rights movement. His philosophy was that American society should be fully integrated and that African Americans and white Americans should be equal. Because of his ideas, the Peoples Temple was considered progressive for its time. At the height of the church, more than half of the members were African American.

Jim Jones speaks on the microphone.
Photo by Michèle VIGNES/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Jim Jones fought against segregation with his wife by adopting many children of different ethnicities, which gave the family as the name the “rainbow family.” They had just one biological child and adopted three Korean American children, a girl who was part Indian and a white boy. They were also the first family in Indiana to adopt a Black kid.

Not Everyone Was Brainwashed

Cults tend to brainwash their followers; however, that wasn’t necessarily the case with the Peoples Temple. Sure, Jim Jones attempted to brainwash all his followers, but there is evidence to suggest that many kept their sense of individuality and were aware of the looming danger.

A photo of Jim Jones and his cult followers in the fields.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Way before the massacre, many of Jim Jones’s followers were trying to escape the church. Some went as far as to call the California government for help. Some people just didn’t want to die and stayed in order to convince everyone else that death wasn’t the answer. Ultimately, it was dwindling willpower and desperation that allowed Jones to take the lives of so many of his followers.

Jones’ Followers Believed in His Quest to Make the World a Better Place

Many people assume that members of the Peoples Temple were social rejects shunned by mainstream society, but that definitely wasn’t the case. The truth is that many of Jim Jones’s followers were productive and healthy members of society who had jobs and families back home.

A picture of Jim Jones podium chair.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Many of his followers were attracted to his desire for an equal and integrated society. They believed in his dreams of making the world a better place, and they wanted to be a part of it. Many of the members were young, idealistic, college-educated people who truly wanted to help others in need.

The Infamous Death Tape

Most of what people know about the Peoples Temple and the Jonestown massacre can be credited to what is now known as the “Death Tape.” This was a cassette tape that included a 44-minute audio recording of a meeting that took place at the pavilion on the evening of November 18, 1978.

An aerial view of Jonestown on the day of the massacre.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The Death Tape recorded conversations from the meetings, like Jim Jones’ message to his followers, their hesitations about his plans for the night, and so much more. Until this day, experts continue to analyze this recording to learn more about Jones and the tragic events of that fateful evening.

Death Wasn’t the Answer

Many people find the idea of listening to the Death Tape unsettling; however, it gives us valuable insight into what happened on that tragic day. The recording could be interpreted in several different ways, but one thing was very clear: many members of the Peoples Temple were not ready to die.

Jim Jones raises his fist while preaching.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The recording revealed that some of the Peoples Temple members tried to convince fellow members that death wasn’t the answer. Some protested Jones’ plans for a revolutionary suicide and asked if they could make peace with the United States or go to the Soviet Union instead.

Jonestown Was Like Jail

Jim Jones got people to join him by claiming that he was saving them from being taken by the government and placed in concentration camps. But survivors recounted stories of Jonestown being like a war prison. The members weren’t given enough food, and they couldn’t leave the settlement. There were even guards to ensure that no one could escape.

A picture of a couple who escaped the Peoples Temple.
Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG/Getty Images

Many residents of Jonestown had to work under harsh conditions in the fields for at least twelve hours a day – rain or shine. They weren’t given much water and were forbidden from communicating with each other to prevent a possible revolt.

The Haunting Aftermath

Despite the notoriety of Jonestown following the horrific events that happened there, the site has been abandoned in the years since. Fragments of the community remain, although today they are overgrown by the Guyanese jungle. This photo of the children’s school in the community was taken shortly after the mass suicide. You could tell that the posters and supplies are still intact. The smiling sun of the wall serves as an eerie contrast to the lives of the children who once learned there.

A view inside the Jonestown compound.
Source: YouTube

People who visited the site said the area feels haunted. Many cited an atmosphere of immense emptiness. On a 2008 trip, writer Julia Scheeres said, “what struck me most was the silence. No birds, no bugs, nothing.”

Jim Jones’ Madness Was Rooted in His Childhood

You may wonder how Jim Jones, a man who fought for racial and social equality, became evil. As Tim Reiterman explained in Raven, Jim Jones’ dark qualities could be traced back to his childhood.His need to control others, his deceit, and his extreme anger toward anyone who betrayed or abandoned him all stemmed from his childhood

An aerial shot of the Peoples Temple.
Source: ABC

Jim Jones was a loner in his youth. He would play with his friends in the loft of his family barn by making them his captive audience. On one occasion, he even locked his friends in the barn. They watched him perform experiments on animals before conducting funerals for them.

His Psychopathic Tendencies

“I thought Jimmy was a really weird kid,” said his childhood friend Chick Wilmore in the 2006 documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple: “He was obsessed with religion; he was obsessed with death. A friend of mine told me that he saw Jimmy kill a cat with a knife.”

A picture of Jim Jones.
Source: LA Times

As stated in Jeff Guinn’s book, The Road to Jonestown, the leader was also fascinated with Adolf Hit*er: “When Hit*er committed suicide in April 1945, thwarting enemies who sought to capture and humiliate him, Jimmy was impressed.”

Moving to California…

As we know, Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis in 1995. The revolutionary church stood out in a time of racial segregation. But in the early 1960s, Jones came across an Esquire article that listed the nine safest places in the world if a nuclear catastrophe were to ever happen.

A picture of a sign that reads Peoples Temple.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

One of those places was Eureka, California. Esquire reported that the city “escapes damages in the war games attack because it is west of the Sierras and upwind from every target in the United States.”

…Because of Nuclear War

That’s when Jones convinced the congregation to move to California and warned them about a nuclear attack that would take place on July 15, 1967. “Jones wanted others to adopt his apocalyptic vision,” wrote Reiterman in Raven. “In his grand castle of paranoia, justifiable concerns about thermo-nuclear war exploded into a doomsday scenario. He, like some latter-day Moses, would lead the people to live interracially.”

A photo of the members of the cult.
Source: Flickr

Jones, along with his family of 70 followers, moved to Redwood Valley in northern California. By the mid-1970s, his church empire extended all the way to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jim Jones Was No Saint

As it turned out, Jim Jones didn’t always practice what he preached. In December 1973, the church leader was arrested for vulgar conduct at a movie theater in Los Angeles, and during his last months in Jonestown, Jones was addicted to pharmaceutical drugs. The married man who adopted many children was also involved in sexual relationships with some of his male and female followers.

A photo of Jim Jones talking with the kids of the cult.
Source: ABC

“Jim said that all of us were homosexuals,” said former Temple follower Joyce Houston in the Jonestown documentary. “Everyone except [him]. He was the only heterosexual on the planet, and that the women were all lesbians; the guys were all gay. And so, anyone who showed in interest in sex was just compensating.”

Jim Jones Claimed He Was the Only Heterosexual on Earth

Another ex-member, Tim Carter, said that Jones despised romantic relationships within the Peoples Temple because they were viewed as a threat to the cause. The members should pay more attention to their work than potential lovers.

A picture of Jim Jones in church.
Photo by Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

“[My wife] Gloria and I were one of those couples who never really talked to each other about what our true feelings were about Jones,” Tim said, “or anything else because we were afraid that the other one might get called up the carpet.” Yikes! Thankfully, the couple managed to escape when they did.

The Adorable Mr. Muggs

Mr. Muggs was basically the mascot of the Peoples Temple. Jim Jones claimed he rescued the chimpanzee from scientific experiments, but according to Jeff Guin’s The Road in Jonestown, the cult leader actually bought Mr. Muggs from the pet store.

A photo of Mr. Muggs in Peoples Temple compound.
Source: YouTube

As a matter of fact, back in Jones’ Indiana days, he sold monkeys door to door. Muggs kind of became a symbol of the Temple and was friendly with all its members. The chimp was cared for by Joyce Touchette, a woman whose family were devoted members of the church.

The Chimpanzee Was Also a Victim

Unfortunately, human beings weren’t the only ones to die in Jonestown on that horrific day. According to a 1973 article from the Temple Reporter (the church’s publication), this is the story of Mr. Muggs:

A picture of Jim Jones and Mr. Muggs.
Source: Flickr

“Only 18 months old, he has the intelligence of a four-year-old child… it may sound anthropomorphic, but Muggs will follow every command of Pastor Jones, and will defend him when anyone comes up casually to the pet chimpanzee.” Like hundreds of other victims, Mr. Muggs met his untimely death on that very tragic day. The innocent pet didn’t drink the Kool-Aid, though; he was shot.

A Six-Year-Old Boy Was the Catalyst That Led to the Tragedy

Tim and Grace Stoen were a happily married couple who also happened to be Jim Jones’ followers during the early years of the church in California. Tim was actually a lawyer for the Temple and Grace was a member of Jones’ inner circle. Grace gave birth to her son, John Victor Stoen, in 1972, and Jim Jones claimed to be the father.

A picture of Tim, Grace, John, and Jim Jones.
Tim Stoen, Grace Stoen, John Soten, Jim Jones. Source: Flickr

Complicating the paternity matters, Tim signed an affidavit verifying that Jones was indeed John’s father. In 1976, when Grace abandoned the church, she left her son with Jones, terrified that her and John’s life were in great danger.

RIP John Victor Stoen

Tim and Grace, who escaped the church the following year, tried to get John back through the United States courts. Unfortunately, by that time, John was already Guyana, and even though the court ordered him to return John, Jones adamantly refused to hand over the child.

A portrait of John.
John Victor Stoen. Source: YouTube

The dispute over John’s paternity represented the bitter conflict between the Temple and its opponents. If the Stoens succeeded in getting their son back, it would signify the loss of Jones’ extreme power over his people and might encourage others to seek the return of their family members whom they lost to Jonestown. Ultimately, John Victor Stoen was one of the 304 children (aged 17 and younger) to die in Jonestown that day.

Survivor Stories

Despite the hundreds of deaths, there were a few survivors in Jonestown on the morning of November 18, 1978. Hours before the terrible events unfolded, 11 members of the Peoples Temple, including a mother and her three-year-old son, walked 35 miles to escape while pretending to go on a picnic.

A photo of young survivors from the cult.
Photo by Matthew NAYTHONS/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Two men, Stanley Clayton and Odell Rhodes, also managed to bypass the armed security through a mixture of luck and deception. Three more members, Mike Prokes and brothers Tim and Mike Carter, were sent on a mission by Jim Jones to deliver a money-filled suitcase to the Soviet Embassy. There were plenty of others at the Temple outpost in Georgetown, Guyana, and the church’s San Francisco headquarters who didn’t listen to the suicide order.

She Slept Through the Massacre

One of the most remarkable survivor stories from Jonestown belongs to Hyacinth Thrash, an elderly African American woman who was in her cabin fast asleep during the whole ordeal. She woke up in the morning and headed to the senior citizens’ building, where she saw bodies covered in sheets. One of the bodies belonged to her sister, Zipporah Edwards.

A picture of an elderly survivor from the Jonestown massacre.
Hyacinth Thrash. Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

In her 1995 memoir, the Onliest One Alive, Thrash explained: “There were all of those dead being put in bags… people I’d known and loved… God knows I never wanted to be there in the first place. I never wanted to go to Guyana to die… I didn’t think Jim would do a thing like that. He let us down.”

A Farewell Note

At least two goodbye notes were found in Jonestown, including an unsigned letter that is believed to be written by Richard Tropp, a teacher at the Peoples Temple. The letter basically explained why the suicide was necessary and that Jim Jones wasn’t the one who ordered the attack on Congressman Ryan and his party.

A picture of Richard Tropp, Marceline Jones, Jim Jones, and Richard Dwyer in the cult’s compound.
Richard Tropp, Marceline Jones, Jim Jones, Richard Dwyer. Source: YouTube

The letter ends with: “If nobody understands, it matters not. I am ready to die now. Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on earth.” Some people think the farewell letter was not written by Tropp. Tim Carter is one of those doubters.

Did Richard Tropp Really Write It?

Tim Carter said that on the day of the Jonestown massacre, he witnessed Tropp and Jones arguing about the suicide plan before Jones made his speech in the Jonestown pavilion. Apparently, Tropp had strong reservations.

A photo of Tim Carter.
Source: Tim Carter

“The reason it doesn’t resonate,” explained Carter, “is because it was not written from somebody who was completely against what was happening. It does not jive with the Dick that I saw around 5 o’clock in the afternoon or whatever that time was. It was well written. I could see Dick writing something like that, but the words that were in that seemed very peaceful and very accepting and very kind of pro-everybody dying. That’s not where Dick was coming from.”

Mass Suicide or Mass Murder?

It is generally believed that the Jonestown massacre was a mass suicide since people lined up to drink the poisonous Kool-Aid. However, former Temple members have argued that it was really a mass murder. Way before the event, Jones told his followers to drink what they believed was poison to test their loyalty to him. In hindsight, it was a rehearsal for what was yet to come.

A photo of the aftermath at Jonestown.
Photo by New York Times Co./Neal Boenzi/Getty Images

When Jones implemented the real suicide plan in Jonestown, there were armed guards holding guns and crossbows, making sure that no one would get out of there alive. Several victims were found with marks on their bodies, indicating that they were injected with the poison.

The Theory Holds Up

Adding to the mass murder argument is that countless little children died in Jonestown that day. They were way too young to possibly know or understand what they were doing. Tim Reitner, a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner who was injured during the attack on Congressman Ryan at the airstrip and the author of Raven, also believes in the mass murder theory.

Two survival members of the People's Temple are held in custody.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

“Jones put all the pieces in a place for a last act of self-destruction,” Reitner wrote, “then gave the order to kill the children first, sealing everyone’s fate.” That sounds absolutely terrifying.

Everyone’s Fate Was Sealed

It is beginning to sound like mass murder to me. I mean, we can’t know for sure that every victim knew the Kool-Aid was poisoned. Tim Carter, who lost his wife and baby in Jonestown that day, also insists that it was mass murder.

An image of a sign that reads Welcome to the Peoples Temple.
Photo by David Howells/Corbis/Getty Images

“Jones was going to kill everybody, no matter what,” Carter clarified. “There were so many lies that Jones told to people to create a state of siege mentality in the community that even those that were making ‘a principled stand of revolutionary suicide’ probably were influenced a lot by the lies that he was telling them.”