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.

Danny Schacht and three of Larry Schacht's Houston friends contacted for this story declined to comment. But an FBI memo from the Jonestown investigation suggests that what lured Schacht to California was a cosmic call.

The memo indicates that a Peoples Temple member, whose name is redacted, told agents that "Schacht supposedly had a vision to come to California — and another vision which told him to go to Jim Jones."

I have always considered it a miracle that I left Texas, traveled to California, and heard Jim Jones speak my third day in that new state.

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.

— Larry Schacht, affidavit in support of Jim Jones, August 1977

When Jim Jones met Larry Schacht, he pulled a neat trick: He healed Schacht's body while simultaneously destroying his spirit.

Jones helped Schacht get clean and offered to pay for medical school. Then, according to an affidavit purportedly written by Schacht, Jones had sex with him. This was one of Jones's customs, a way to exercise complete control over his followers. Jones described these coerced encounters as a personal sacrifice on his part, as if the sex was purely for the benefit of the ­follower.

As in the cases of other church members who signed affidavits, the one bearing Schacht's name was likely heavily coached if not plain ghostwritten and is of dubious validity. Still, Schacht was willing to sign it, as it was intended to support Jones in his child-custody battle with two former church members.

It reads: "Jim Jones has always shown great love and concern for me. He permitted me to accept my bisexual nature by having sexual relations with me at my request before I went to medical school. He penetrated me in the anus." This in turn gave Schacht the confidence he needed to become a doctor and "fulfill my goal to be of service to suffering humanity in the medical profession." (How such an affidavit was supposed to help Jones's court case is clearly beyond ­explanation.)

In another FBI memo from December 1978, an unidentified former Peoples Temple member told agents that, upon first coming to a Temple service, "Schacht was quickly evaluated by Reverend Jones and members of [the] 'inner circle' as [an] extremely intelligent individual who demonstrated unstable, insecure emotional state. Schacht possessed dissatisfaction with 'state of things in general.' Schacht characterized as extremely rebellious personality...It was these personality flaws which prompted Jones to personally select Schacht to attend medical to serve Jones' and PT ends."

Bottom line: "Schacht loner who was used as tool by Jones."

Former Peoples Temple Laura Johnston Kohl, who was at the PT's offices in Georgetown the night of the deaths, met Schacht at the church's northern California commune around 1970. She describes Schacht as being especially easy prey for Jones.

"Larry was really different because once he got [to the commune], he never really established close relationships with anyone. It's almost like he was kind of a recluse in the community." She adds, "There wasn't anybody else in Larry's life that was anywhere near as monumental as his relationship with Jim...there's not one friend that I can think of that Larry ever spent time with or hung around with."

In 1970, Schacht and a few other Peoples Temple members enrolled in Santa Rosa Junior College and moved into the dorms. Church member David Parker Wise had the bunk below Schacht's. Wise, who says he was one of the rare freethinkers in the church at the time, says Schacht was willing to overlook certain things about Jones out of a profound sense of gratitude.

"It was just more in his personality to be deeply grateful that anybody loved him or took him in, and he was capable of ignoring things that were wrong," Wise says. "He was just an extraordinarily sweet, nice guy."

Wise also picked up on a bit of his bunkmate's depressive streak. Schacht painted morose self-portraits, infusing his face with dark circles under the eyes and an exaggerated nose.

After two years at Santa Rosa, Schacht studied for a year at UC-Berkeley and another year in Guadalajara before being accepted into the medical school at UC-Irvine. In 1977, after graduating, he scored an internship at San Francisco General Hospital. Five weeks into it, Schacht was called to Jonestown.

Schacht didn't explain his sudden departure to the staff; he didn't even clean out his locker. But a hospital secretary would later tell The San Francisco Examiner that, right after Schacht left, she received a phone call from a woman named Sharon Amos.

"This is Larry's sister, and our father is ill," the secretary recalled Amos saying. Everyone at the hospital assumed it to be a family emergency. In fact, Amos was a high-ranking Peoples Temple member. According to the article, she came to the hospital to clean out Schacht's locker and collect the paychecks that Schacht had never bothered to pick up during his brief time there.

Although he was at San Francisco General for only a brief time, Schacht apparently made a positive impression. A staff supervisor at the hospital told The New York Times after the Jonestown deaths that Schacht "was a very intense young man with a tremendous concern for people."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
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.

Houston Concert Tickets