Jonestown's Medicine Man

A young Houston physician designed a lethal cocktail that killed more than 900 men, women, children and babies at a place that was supposed to be a paradise but is better known as Jonestown.

The Schachts' oldest son, Danny, was a member of the University of Houston's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. In December 1967, Danny acted in a bit of street theater outside the Armed Forces Induction Center. What the skit lacked in writing, it made up for in heavy-handedness: According to court records, Schacht and another man portrayed armed soldiers who opened fire on a third actor portraying a Viet Cong combatant with squirt guns loaded with red liquid. The kicker was the twist ending: After "killing" the enemy, Danny and his partner walked over to assess their kill, at which point they exclaimed, "My God, this is a pregnant woman!"

Because Danny Schacht wore an actual Army jacket and hat, he was charged with violating a federal law prohibiting the "unauthorized" use of a military uniform. In 1968, he was convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty under the law, six months in prison. Danny appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And won.

While Danny Schacht was fighting his legal battles, brother Larry was carving out a similar antiestablishment path.

Survivors say Schacht credited Jones with turning his life around by sending him to medical school.
Peoples Temple Collection, California Historical Society, MSP 3800.35.0822
Survivors say Schacht credited Jones with turning his life around by sending him to medical school.
Larry Schacht (center) told Jim Jones (right) he wanted to first test the cyanide on one of Jonestown's pigs.
Peoples Temple Collection, California Historical Society, PC 010.07.0740
Larry Schacht (center) told Jim Jones (right) he wanted to first test the cyanide on one of Jonestown's pigs.

A friend of Larry Schacht's from that time, who asked that her name not be used, remembers that his reputation preceded him. Word was that Larry Schacht headed an SDS chapter at Lamar High. (Whether there was actually such a chapter, or if Schacht was the sole member, is unclear).

The woman (we'll call her Judy) was a student at Oak Forest who became disenchanted with what she saw as a materialistic culture.

The goal "was not to go out and make a whole lot of money so you can be better than somebody else...Your goal was that you wanted something to happen to society where...everybody was in harmony with one another and you could be accepted for who you are."

So when she first heard about Schacht, she thought, "Here was a person who was fighting for those principles...This was a person that cared about something besides just getting a job and becoming a banker...He was more interested in something besides material wealth."

Another friend from that time, Sherrie Tatum, wrote about Schacht in a work-in-progress posted on a Web site dedicated to Jonestown research.

"He always sounded so certain of everything, sure that he was right, that he spoke the truth," Tatum wrote. "As a young girl, I found this very reassuring. Others must have felt the same, since Larry was quite often the central focus of the loosely knit group of budding young political, artistic and poetic types that comprised his friends in Houston in the mid-'60s."

After weeks of hearing about Schacht, Judy finally got her chance to meet him at a party. Not even knowing what he looked like, she identified him instantly.

"The minute he walked in the door, I said, 'You're Larry Schacht.' And we were both stunned," she laughs.

They were of course fast friends. They spent days in Hermann Park, checking out museums, or getting high and listening to records in the garage apartment behind Schacht's house.

In Schacht's case, puffing on a joint was a somewhat remarkable activity, since he believed he was being monitored by federal agents.

Tatum recalls one late evening when the two of them were kissing and talking in a car parked on a quiet residential street. According to Tatum, Schacht pointed to the driver of a car parked down the block and chuckled, "That's my FBI agent who follows me everywhere."

Such an anecdote might seem apocryphal were it not for a December 1978 FBI memo making it clear that the smoking of weed by this particular Lamar High School junior was a subject of national concern: The 1978 memo references an existing FBI file on the Schacht family and notes that, as early as 1966, Houston G-men knew that Schacht enjoyed marijuana and LSD.

For Judy, such drugs, coupled with music, were a vehicle toward a higher understanding, not a means for escape. Or at least that's how she felt at the time. Now a born-again Christian, she says, "It was a lie. All of it. It's not spiritual."

Schacht might have figured this out sooner; for one thing, he started shooting methamphetamine, a decidedly unspiritual substance.

"I have always considered it a miracle that I left Texas..." Schacht wrote around August 1977. "I had done five years in the drug scene, and after 150 trips on psychedelic drugs and two years shooting speed, I was wasted."

The last time Judy remembers speaking to Schacht was in 1969, within a year of his departure to California. By that time, Judy had found Jesus Christ, and she tried to introduce him to Schacht.

"Larry called me and so I was trying to tell him about...the Lord," Judy says. "And he said that he had found something more ancient than Christ...I was hoping that I might be able to get together and talk about the salvation that had come to me, and, you know, get my head on straight...But he was taken away."

What took him away is unclear. But both Judy and Tatum remember Schacht as an outgoing, confident teenager before he started shooting meth. After that, he seemed to have lost his grip.

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Gorgo Aleksandr
Gorgo Aleksandr

I read this article last night, precisely. It is absolute madness what our ludacris beliefs can make us do =(

Judy Ohr
Judy Ohr

Stick to posting recipes! What a horror to relive that terrible time.

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