- NAME: Jim Jones
- OCCUPATION: Cult Leader
- BIRTH DATE: May 13, 1931
- DEATH DATE: November 18, 1978
- Did You Know?: Jim Jones and his wife Marceline were the first white couple to adopt a black child in Indiana in 1961.
- EDUCATION: Indiana University, Butler University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Crete, Indiana
- PLACE OF DEATH: Jonestown, Guyana
- Full Name: James Warren Jones
- AKA: Jim Jones
- AKA: James Jones
Best Known For
Jim Jones was best known as the cult leader of the Peoples Temple who led more than 900 followers in a mass suicide via cyanide-laced punch known as the Jonestown Massacre.
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Born on May 13, 1931, in Crete (near Lynn), Indiana, Jim Jones was a notorious cult leader. As the self-proclaimed messiah of the Peoples Temple religious cult, Jones promised his followers utopia if they followed him. On November 18, 1978, in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre, Jones led more than 900 men, women and children to their deaths in a mass suicide via cyanide-laced punch (spawning the metaphor "Don't Drink the Kool-Aid").
Cult Leader James Warren "Jim" Jones was born on May 13, 1931, in Crete, Indiana, and was responsible for the deaths of roughly 900 of his followers in 1978, in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre. He was the son of James Thurman Jones, a disabled World War I veteran, and Lynetta (Putnam) Jones, who worked a variety of jobs. Jones was largely left to himself as his mother was often working and his father had little interest in him.
For years, one of his neighbors often took him to visit her church. Jones began his own religious quest around the age of 10. He visited churches in the small town of Lynn where he lived with his family and befriended a Pentecostal minister for a time. An observant child, Jones began taking what he learned at these different houses of worship and started preaching to other children in the community. He was a strong student, especially in public speaking, but he had few friends. His overpowering religious zest turned off some, and he, in turn, disliked many typical teenage boy activities, such as sports, and objected what he believed to be sinful behavior, such as dancing or drinking.
After his parents split up, Jones and his mother moved to Richmond, Indiana. There he had a chance to reinvent himself. He worked at a hospital as an orderly where he met Marceline Baldwin, an older nursing student. After graduating early from high school in December 1948, Jones started at Indiana University the following January. He married Marceline after his first term on June 12, 1949. The couple eventually adopted several children.
After years of struggling to find his way, Jones announced that he was entering the ministry in 1952. He got a job as a student pastor at the Somerset Methodist Church in a poor, predominantly white neighborhood in Indianapolis. By the following year, Jones was making a reputation for himself in the state as a healer and evangelist. He was interested in holding racially integrated services, but this interest was not shared by his church. Soon Jones branched out on his own, forming the Wings of Deliverance church in 1955. The church soon became known as the Peoples Temple. To help build his following, he bought time on a local AM radio station to air his sermons.
In the mid-1960s, Jones moved his religious group to Northern California. More than 100 church members accompanied Jones to California. They lived in the remote, small towns of Ukiah and Redwood Valley. By the early 1970s, Jones had expanded his recruitment efforts. He started preaching in San Francisco, opening up a branch of his church there.
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Combine a charismatic personality with fringe beliefs and an appetite for violence, and you get some of history's most notorious cult leaders. Charles Manson terrorized frightened Americans in the late 1960s, convincing his followers to commit heinous murders in his name. David Koresh led the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, leading to a standoff with the federal government in 1993 that resulted in the death of Koresh and 75 of his believers. Learn about these leaders, and many more, who inspired hundreds to follow their unconventional philosophies—often with tragic results.
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