Jonestown Massacre

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JONESTOWN MASSACRE, 18 November 1978, was the mass suicide of 913 members, including 276 children, of the Peoples Temple cult led by the Reverend Jim Jones. After moving his Peoples Temple to California in 1965, Jones persuaded his followers to relocate to an agricultural commune in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1977, following allegations of financial misconduct. In Guyana, Jones confiscated passports, manipulated his followers with threats of blackmail and beating, and staged bizarre rehearsals for mass suicide. Friends and relatives of cult members warned U.S. officials that Jones was using physical and psychological torture to prevent defections from Jonestown. On 14 November 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan of California flew to Guyana with a group of journalists and relatives of cult members to investigate the charges. As Ryan's party, along with fourteen cult defectors, prepared to leave, Jones ordered them assassinated. Upon learning that only four of them had been killed, Jones organized a mass suicide ritual. On 18 November, Jones presided over the enforced suicide ceremony during which his followers drank cyanide-laced punch. Jones died later that day from a gunshot wound, possibly self-inflicted.


Kilduff, Marshall. The Suicide Cult: The Inside Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.

Klineman, George. The Cult that Died: The Tragedy of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. New York: Putnam, 1980.

Weightman, Judith Mary. Making Sense of the Jonestown Suicides: A Sociological History of Peoples Temple. New York: E. Mellen Press, 1984.

CarolynBronstein/h. s.

See alsoCults .