Mass suicide is associated with cults. Without doubt the most famous mass suicide was that of the People’s Temple in November 1978 at Jonestown, Guyana. Headed by the Rev Jim Jones, US Congressman Leo Ryan had gone there with journalists to investigate claims that the thousand strong congregation was being held in slavery.
On the fateful morning, whilst travelling to a local airstrip with a handful of members who had decided to leave, Jones’s henchmen gunned them down. Many died, including Ryan. Meanwhile, back at Jamestown, vats of poison were brought out and they killed themselves. Those who refused were gunned down.
Jones was born in a small farming community in Indiana in 1931. A poor but deep thinking boy, he turned to the Bible at an early age, preaching to passers-by by the age of twelve.
Appalled to discover his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he suffered much abuse by standing up for racial minorities. Gaining a small following, the People’s Temple began with good intentions in a ghetto in Indianapolis.
Determined to set up a socialist community based on the Blble, Jones’s growing power began to corrupt. Moving to California, and eventually Guyana, he became a fake healer and abuser. By the time Jonestown was set up in 1977, he had become a dictator.
(c) Anthony North, Jan 2007