WASHINGTON, August 7, 2014 — The massacre at Jonestown, Guyana is still a fresh memory for many. Before David Koresh and Waco, Texas, or Marshall Applewhite and the Heavens Gate mass suicide in 1997, or the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in 2000, there was the People’s Temple led by Jim Jones.
Jones preached apostolic socialism. The charismatic leader met with people such as Vice President Walter Mondale and First Lady Rosalyn Carter. When his cult came under scrutiny in the U.S., he moved it to a settlement in Guyana, South America that became known as Jonestown.
In November, 1978, U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California, three reporters, and a person who had previously escaped from Jonestown were ambushed and murdered on the airstrip at Jonestown. The group was on a fact finding mission, propelled by families and friends of those who were involved in the cult and concerned about their loved ones’ involvement.
The outcome of that day were the deaths, demanded by Jones, of 911 members of the Jonestown cult. They died in a suicide-murder, most of them forced to drink cyanide-laced grape drink. Those who refused were shot, or injected with the poison. No one escaped — not children, not infants — no one.
Today, the cremated remains of nine victims from Jonestown were found at the Minus Funeral Home in Dover, Delaware, amongst 38 containers of ashes. Of the 38 containers, 33 have been identified and date from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Working with the Delaware Department of Safety and the Homeland Security Division of Forensic Science, Delaware police investigators used death certificates and other documents found in the funeral home to identify the remains.
“It was definitely a shock when we found out exactly what we had,” Dover police spokesman Mark Hoffman told reporters. “Obviously it’s an intriguing story and a tragic story, and to think this was found right here in our jurisdiction, about six blocks from the police department, makes it very compelling to us.”
Following the tragedy at Jonestown, the bodies were brought to Dover Air Force Base, which houses the largest military morgue in the U.S. How they ended up unclaimed at the funeral home is, at this time, being investigated. It is presumed that the funeral home was contracted to cremate those returned from Jonestown.
“We don’t know why they were unclaimed,” said Kimberly Chandler, a spokesperson for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “What we intend to do is identify family members, reach out to them and make them aware that the cremains are available to them.”
Funeral director Edward G. Minus Sr., 74, died in 2012 and the funeral home was taken over by a bank. Jonestown survivor Yulanda Williams, 58, who spent a decade with the temple, including three months in Jonestown before leaving with her 8-month old daughter, called the discovery of the remains another bizarre turn of events.
“This is just another example of how these victims were further victimized,” she said
If you don’t remember Jonestown, this PBS Documentary offers one of the most complete descriptions of the camp, the cult and the deaths of over 900 persons in the jungles of Guyana.
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