James Warren “Jim” Jones (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which is best known for the November 18, 1978 death of more than 900 Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana along with the deaths of nine other people at a nearby airstrip and in Georgetown, Guyana.
909 inhabitants of Jonestown, 276 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, mostly in and around a pavilion. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the September 11, 2001 attacks. No video was taken during the mass suicide, though the FBI did recover a 45 minute audio recording of the suicide in progress.
On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that the Soviet Union, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Ryan and four others at a nearby airstrip. The reason given by Jones to commit suicide was consistent with his previously stated conspiracy theories of intelligence organizations allegedly conspiring against the Temple, that men would “parachute in here on us,” “shoot some of our innocent babies” and “they’ll torture our children, they’ll torture some of our people here, they’ll torture our seniors.” Parroting Jones’ prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to fascism, one temple member states “the ones that they take captured, they’re gonna just let them grow up and be dummies.”[
Given that reasoning, Jones and several members argued that the group should commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking cyanide-laced grape flavored Flavor Aid (often misidentified as Kool-Aid) along with a sedative. One member, Christine Miller, dissents toward the beginning of the tape. When members apparently cried, Jones counseled “Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity.” Jones can be heard saying, “Don’t be afraid to die,” that death is “just stepping over into another plane” and that “[death is] a friend.” At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: “We didn’t commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.” According to escaping Temple members, children were given the drink first and families were told to lie down together. Mass suicide had been previously discussed in simulated events called “White Nights” on a regular basis. During at least one such prior White Night, members drank liquid that Jones falsely told them was poison.
Jones was found dead in a deck chair with a gunshot wound to his head that Guyanese coroner Cyrill Mootoo stated was consistent with a self-inflicted gun wound. However, Jones’ son Stephan believes his father may have directed someone else to shoot him. Anautopsy of Jones’ body also showed levels of the barbiturate Pentobarbital which may have been lethal to humans who had not developed physiological tolerance.Jones’ drug usage (including LSD and marijuana) was confirmed by his son, Stephan, and Jones’ doctor in San Francisco.
Here is the recording of Their last half hour.
Write up from wikipedia and soundclip from