Jim Jones

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Jim Jones

James Warren "Jim" Jones (born May 13, 1931 in Crete , Indiana , USA ; † November 18, 1978 in Jonestown , Guyana ) was an American sect leader and the founder of the People's Temple . More than 900 of his supporters were killed in 1978 in a mass murder or suicide he ordered in the jungle of Guyana.


Family and childhood

Jim Jones grew up with his sister in very poor circumstances in the farming village of Lynn . His father was the war invalid James Thurman Jones, who suffered a serious lung disease during the First World War due to a mustard gas attack , which made him unable to work for life. His mother, Lynetta, was a factory and casual worker who isolated herself and her family from the small town community. She was shaped by an alleged dream in which her late mother prophesied that she would give birth to a son who would correct all injustice in the world . After the birth of her son, she was convinced that her son would be a Messiah .

After a near-miss train accident, a neighbor, Myrtle Kennedy, took him under her wing. She became a sort of surrogate mother for Jones and introduced him to the fundamentalist beliefs of the Nazarene Church . For the first time he experienced an emotional affection that was supposed to bring order and orientation into his previously largely unstructured life. He showed an early inclination to preach, but always remained a loner. Jim Jones later found his home with the Pentecostal movement . In the early 1950s he was expelled from this community.

In the early 1940s, his parents separated and Jim moved with his mother and her new partner to the nearby city of Richmond . During his high school years at the end of the 1940s, Jim Jones began to campaign for racial equality, expressly differentiating himself from his father. After a short time he broke off university education and began working as a nurse in a hospital. There he met Marceline Baldwin, a nurse four years his senior, whom he married in 1949. A roommate at the time later said that Marceline was a kind of mother figure for Jones. Around this time, Jones found a father figure in the charismatic black preacher Father Divine who became a role model for him.

Preacher and founder of a religion

In 1950 Jones and his wife moved to Indianapolis . Without being properly trained and consecrated, he took over a pastor's position in the Methodist community when he was only nineteen . There he represented liberal views on civil rights and was actively involved in racial integration . Conservatives within the church reacted with hostility - among other things, dead animals were thrown into the church. Because of this hostility, he founded on April 4, 1955 a sect called Wings of Deliverance , which he called from 1956 Community Unity Church (Assembly of God Church). During a series of sermons he led in the same year at the Cadle Tabernacle in Indianapolis, he received the support of William Branham, who appeared as a spiritual healer and prophet . In 1956, Jim Jones opened his own church, the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis. Behind this was his dream of a perfect harmony among the races within a utopian community, without hatred and without violence. The theology of the Peoples Temple was highly syncretic . The Pentecostal movement was associated with elements of the ideologies of Karl Marx , Father Divine , Josef Stalin , Mahatma Gandhi , Martin Luther King and Fidel Castro . Jim Jones spoke with his teachings, a mixture of socialism and Christian belief in salvation , above all disadvantaged, needy and disoriented. He reinforced his beliefs about racial integration by adopting seven children of different origins into his family. Because of his features and deep black hair, he later developed the myth that his mother was an Indian.

In 1964, Jim Jones graduated with a bachelor's degree and was officially ordained a pastor in the Methodist Church. In 1961 he was appointed head of the local human rights commission by the mayor of Indianapolis. Attacks by advocates of segregation against him and his family increased against the backdrop of the civil rights movement ; at the same time, Jones's self-idealization grew and he expected absolute loyalty from his followers. During an extended stay in South America, where he wanted to bring his family to safety from a nuclear war , Jones stayed in Guyana for the first time in 1963.

In 1963 Jones finally baptized his church in Peoples Temple and subsequently undertook revival trips, during which he also increasingly practiced his alleged ability to pray well. In 1965 he moved with about 150 loyal disciples, including many blacks, to a farm in the allegedly nuclear-safe Redwood Valley near Ukiah in California, 200 km north of San Francisco . Within a short time, the number of his followers there doubled. Through social activities, Jones gained so much influence in San Francisco and the surrounding area that he was appointed a member and spokesman for the County Grand Jury in 1967. At the end of the 1960s his following was estimated at up to 400 people. In San Francisco, the sect gained popularity not least because it offered free health tests and childcare at its center in the Fillmore district , a ghetto of the city. His disciples were mainly recruited from outcasts of society, discontented, uprooted, disabled and idealists - from people to whom he was close because of his own life story. His thoughts and speeches increasingly revolved around the topic of sexuality . Relatives of cult members around the time charged that Jones seduced female cult members and had several of them impregnated. On December 13, 1973, he was temporarily detained in Los Angeles for allegedly trying to induce an undercover police agent to commit homosexual acts in a park.

Mass suicide

To escape the growing pressure, Jones and his most devoted supporters eventually left the country and relocated to Guyana , where they established Jonestown in the jungle . Jones ruled here unreservedly. When a delegation from the US Congress arrived to investigate allegations that many US citizens were being held and mistreated against their will, Jones first assassinated the delegation on November 18, 1978 and then organized a mass murder or suicide, in which he, in addition to over 900 people, also found death himself.

Jones' body was found with a gunshot wound to the left temple. To date it has not been conclusively clarified whether he killed himself. An autopsy scheduled and carried out by the United States Air Force on December 15 could not rule out a possible homicide.


In the 2006 documentary Jonestown - a sect's death craze , filmmaker Stanley Nelson describes the story of Jim Jones. The film documents the totalitarian sect state with original images and sound material as well as interviews with contemporary witnesses.


  • Tom Reiterman, Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People , EP Dutton Inc. (1982), 2008
  • (fr) Vial, Franck, Recordead: The Jonestown Tapes , Kindle Publishing, 2014
  • Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple , Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2017
  • Charles A. Krause, The Tragedy of Guiana

Web links

Commons : Jim Warren Jones  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files