Content warning: This post series discusses the mass death of People’s Temple members at Jonestown
Continued from part 1
As he gained fame and notoriety, Jones became increasingly paranoid, perhaps influenced by his own experience of government scrutiny as part of the McCarthy era. He took to wearing large sunglasses when out and surrounded himself with bodyguards. He started to plan the group’s relocation to South America. Guyana had only gained independence six years prior, and is the only South American country with English as the official language. It looked to him a perfect spot for the socialist utopia he dreamed of.
Over 1,000 American members of the People’s Temple followed Jones to Guyana. Their new settlement was officially named The People’s Temple Agricultural Project, but was informally nicknamed after the leader they called Father, and became known as Jonestown. It was a sprawling tropical estate, full of overgrown jungle plants and without hot water. Mosquitoes and tropical diseases plagued them, and Jones took possession of all medicine for his drug habit.
The people who went to Jonestown were devoted to communal living, and generally supported the Soviet Union. They were black, white, latinx, and Asian. They were young singles and families, and most of the over 300 children who lived there were under the age of 12. Most of these children were with their parents, but there was an exception, John Victor Stoen.
Jones claimed to have sired the son of one member, although her husband Tim Stoen was listed as the father on the boy’s birth certificate. When she left the group and started divorce proceedings against her husband (who was still a member), Jones and the Temple kept the boy. In order to evade a possible custody ruling in her favor, Jones ordered Tim to take the boy to Guyana.
Mrs. Stoen fought to keep her son, to have him brought back to the United States, but she was ultimately unsuccessful. John died at Jonestown on that fateful November day, his body found in Jones’s cabin. The father, Temple loyalist Tim Stoen managed to survive, and later joined a group committed to fighting against the People’s Temple and other cults like it.
(Continue to part 3)