- 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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With his trademark dark glasses, suits and slicked-back black hair, Jones was an impressive figure at the pulpit. His fiery rhetoric and remarkable "healings" continued to draw new members into the fold. Not only did they fall for his talk of a better life, many surrendered what they had to Jones. What they thought was for the common good actually ended up in Jones's pocket.
As part of his teachings, Jones discouraged sex and romantic relationships. He, on the other hand,
had several adulterous relationships, including one with a church administrator, Carolyn Layton, with whom he had a son. Jones also claimed to be the father of Grace Stoen's son John Victor. Jones also sought to disrupt familial bonds, positioning himself as the "father of all."
In 1974, Jones bought land in Guyana to develop into a new home for himself and his followers. He had become increasingly paranoid and disturbed by this time and soon moved to the Peoples Temple compound there with about 1,000 people. The compound was known as Jonestown, and it wasn't any tropical paradise. Jones ran the site like a prison camp. His followers received little food and weren't allowed to leave. Armed guards stood at the compound's perimeter. Jones often preached over the loudspeaker system at Jonestown. Fearful of a plot against him, he started conducting suicide drills. His followers were woken up in the middle of the night. They would receive a cup with a red liquid that they were told contained poison, which they were ordered to drink. After 45 minutes or so, the members were told that they were not going to die, that they had just passed a loyalty test.
In September 1977, Jones threatened mass suicide to force the Guyanese government from taking action against him. Former Peoples Temple member Grace Stoen had been asking the government to help her regain custody of her son John Victor. Another ex-member of the group, Deborah Layton Blakely, had been speaking publicly against Jones as well. Finally, in November 1978, Leo J. Ryan, a congressman from California, decided to investigate Jonestown for himself.
On November 18, 1978, Ryan toured Jonestown with a television crew in tow. He invited anyone who wanted to leave the compound to come with him, but his rescue operation did not go as planned. That afternoon, Ryan, some leaving Peoples Temple members, and the rest of visitors were driven to an airstrip in Port Kaituma. There they were attacked by Peoples Temple gunmen sent by Jones.
By the time the shooting stopped, there were five people dead, including Congressman Ryan, NBC correspondent Don Harris, NBC cameraman Bob Brown, and San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson. One of the defectors, Patricia Parks, was also killed. Two more defectors were seriously wounded, shot by Larry Layton, brother of ex-Peoples Temple member Debbie Layton Blakely, who joined the group under the pretense of wanting to leave.
Meanwhile back at Jonestown, Jones launched what he called his "revolutionary suicide" campaign.
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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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