The ashes of nine people who perished in the 1978 Jonestown massacre that claimed the lives of more than 900 men, women, and children have been discovered in a Delaware funeral home.
The bodies from the mass-killing had been flown to a Delaware Air Force for identification and burial preparation, but authorities are unclear why these remains were never claimed.
"It was definitely a shock when we found out exactly what we had," Dover Police Department Spokesman Mark Hoffman told the Wilmington News Journal last week. "Obviously, it's an intriguing 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."
A native Houstonian, physician Larry Schacht, played an integral role in the mass killings that occurred in the French Guyana compound named after Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones. In 2013, we explored how Schacht moved to California in the early 1970s, when Jones took him under his wing.
About nine months before the killings, an increasingly paranoid Jones tasked Schacht with devising an effective way to liquidate the compound's residents.
Schacht's research concluded that cyanide would probably be the most efficient means, writing to Jones that "I had some misgivings about its effectiveness, but from further research, I have gained more confidence in it, at least theoretically. I would like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is to be sure we don't get stuck with a disaster like would occur if we used thousands of pills to sedate the people and then the cyanide was not good enough to do the job."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Ultimately, a deadly solution of cyanide and diphenydramine mixed into Flavor-Aid was administered to the victims. The horror was captured on audio tape. Only a handful managed to escape.
The News Journal reported that "documentation found in the funeral home, including death certificates, helped forensic investigators tie the nine remains to the Jonestown Massacre...State forensic investigators have taken possession of the remains and are continuing to identify them and make notifications to family members."
JIn a statement issued last week, Jynona Norwood, a Los Angeles minister who lost her mother and other relatives at Jonestown, noted that "Although this is a horrific discovery that causes painful wounds to be reopened, I pray that whoever the next of kin is receives some closure today."
We reached out to Fielding McGehee of the Jonestown Institute for more information on this discovery and will update when we hear back. With thousands of pages of hard-won FBI files on the events leading up to the massacre; recordings and transcripts from People Temples meetings -- both before and during the Jonestown days; and reflections and essays from survivors and researchers, the Institute is a must for anyone remotely interested in the history of Peoples Temple, or of American history in general. It is powerful stuff.