Officials are seeking relatives of two Texas women whose ashes were among cremains discovered in a Delaware funeral home last month and identified as victims of the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana, South America.
The victims were identified as Victoria native and former Houston resident Katherine Martha Domineck, who died at age 83; and Ruth Atkins, birth city unknown, who died at age 74.
Domineck's cousin, Victoria native Christine Bates, also perished in the incident, in which more than 900 followers of Peoples Temple church leader Jim Jones were forced to ingest cyanide-laced punch. About one-third were 17 years old or younger.
In the days following, the bodies were flown to a staging area at a U.S. Air Force base in Delaware and then released to area funeral homes. Unfortunately, the remains of nine victims sat unclaimed in the now-shuttered Minus Funeral Home for 36 years.
Peoples Temple had its share of native Texans, perhaps most notably Houstonian Larry Schacht, Jonestown's doctor and architect of poisoning, who we profiled in 2013.
Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find out nearly as much about the Texas women -- for example, we can't find Domineck's maiden name -- but here's what we've learned, drawn from the Jonestown Institute, FBI files, and online genealogy searches. (The Jonestown Institute, co-founded by Fielding McGehee, is ground zero for anyone interested in the history of the Peoples Temple. The documents maintained on the site, including transcripts and MP3s of Jonestown recordings, are invaluable.)
Domineck was born October 27, 1894, and was educated through freshman year in high school. Census records show that, in 1940, she lived in Houston at 2608 Dallas, and was married to Joe Domineck, whose occupation is listed as "paperhanger." He had a fifth-grade education.
The couple lived with Joe's divorced niece, 20-year-old Jessie Valentine, and her 2-year-old son, Lufkin. They shared the house with 20-year-old Beulah Robinson and 23-year-old Willie Dentist.
By 1946, the Dominecks lived in Seattle. Before Joe died in 1970, the couple had adopted a boy, who played drums in a local R&B band called the Black and White Affair. (You can hear him drumming on the band's song "Sweet Soul Lady.")
It's unclear when Domineck joined the Peoples Temple, but the northern-California-based church held services in Seattle often in the early 1970s. By August 1977, she had followed hundreds of her fellow congregants to the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project , aka, Jonestown, in Guyana.
On an internal Jonestown "skills inventory" sheet, Domineck's strengths are listed as "seamstress, quilt maker, farmer, landscaping."
She caused a fuss when two members of the U.S. Embassy toured the camp in February 1978. Jones told his followers exactly how to act during the visit, but Domineck threw a curveball.
According to the diary of Jonestown resident Edith Roller, when the officials entered the cottage Domineck shared with several other seniors, Domineck complained that someone had "made her take a top bunk from which she fell."
Roller wrote that Domineck was lying "and she probably did it out of hostility purposely to demand Jim's [Jones's] attention." Jones called Domineck and others to the compound's radio room, where "Jim said her statements were very harmful and could have broken down all the careful preparations that he had made. Most of the membership was very indignant. Jim proposed a system of isolation of potential troublemakers when we had guests. This confrontation lasted about an hour."
It's unclear why Roller felt Domineck was lying. Even if she were, we can understand why -- this was an 83-year-old woman who'd spent the past seven months living in cramped quarters in the middle of a jungle, under the thumb of a violent lunatic. We might have gotten a bit ornery ourselves.
There was no shortage of indignities, either: Roller wrote six months after that incident about Domineck saving empty paper flour sacks so she cut could them up for use as toilet tissue.
Domineck is heard on a tape of a camp-wide meeting in spring 1978, held after two teenage residents were caught trying to escape with stolen supplies. Jones opens up the floor for suggestions on how to punish the boys. Responses include making at least one of them "crawl on his belly" for weeks before being shot to death; and receiving 40 licks from a cat-o-nine-tails.
On the tape, Jones asks, "What is it you would like to say, Katherine?" To which the woman responds, "I think they ought to be separated. I don't think they ought to be together anymore."
The suggestion isn't sadistic enough to merit much of a response from the crowd, but Jones says later, "Don't underestimate Domineck."
Not much is known about Atkins beyond her birth date: March 4, 1904. We've been unable to find any record of a marriage or children.
Like most of the other Peoples Temple seniors, Atkins lived in church housing even before moving to Jonestown in March 1977. Roller knew Atkins from the pre-Jonestown housing, writing in July 1976, "Jim says she [is] one of his true followers on bus from Seattle when it nearly went over."
Atkins lived in cottage 7, and tended to pumpkins and eddoes in the senior garden.
Like everyone else in Jonestown, Atkins regularly attended classes where she was tested on her loyalty to Jones and her ability to recognize his greatness. Among the thousands of pages of internal documents discovered at Jonestown are individual residents' summaries of a lesson given in the wake of a major defection. Peoples Temple financial secretary Debbie Layton left the group in May 1978, incurring Jones's wrath.
Jones made note on how this betrayal occurred close to this birthday, and Atkins's classwork summarizes Jones's address to his followers this way: "Dad said he actually died on his birthday; felt like no one cared for him, after putting his life on the line for each and every one of us. He thought about the traitors, how he trusted them, hoping someone could see the love he has for each of us. I think Dad believes the mind lives on after death; he is an atheist, believes only in himself....Never will be, and never been, such a great liberator."
Six months later, Atkins would die on the jungle floor.
Anyone with information on next of kin is urged to call the Delaware Division of Forensic Science at 302-577-3420.
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