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Jim Jones

Jim Jones was an American religious cult leader. He was the founder of the People's Temple religious group.

Following his cult's assassination of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, he led one of the largest mass murder/suicides (more than 900 dead) in human history, known as the Jonestown massacre.

The tragic story of the Jonestown massacre was effectively told in the gripping 1980 TV-movie, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Powers Boothe won critical acclaim and an Emmy Award for his riveting portrayal of Jim Jones in the film.

Jim Jones
Reverend Jim Jones
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: James Warren Jones

Date and place of birth: May 13, 1931, Crete, near Lynn, Randolph County, Indiana, U.S.A.

Date, time, place and cause of death: November 18, 1978, at 5:30 p.m., Jonestown, Guyana (Probable suicide - Gunshot)

Wife: Marceline Baldwin (m. June 12, 1949 - November 18, 1978) (their deaths)
Wedding took place at Trinity United Methodist Church, Richmond, Indiana, U.S.A.

Son: Stephan Gandhi Jones (b. June 1, 1959)
Adopted sons: Lew Eric Jones (b. November 23, 1956 - d. November 18, 1978)
James Warren Jones, Jr. (a.k.a. Jim Jones, Jr.)
Tim Tupper Jones

Adopted daughters: Agnes Paulette Jones (b. February 14, 1943 - d. November 18, 1978)
Stephanie (b. 1954 - d. May 11, 1959, in an auto accident)

Father: James Thurman Jones (b. 1887 - d. May 29, 1951)
Mother: Lynetta Putnam Jones (b. April 16, 1902 - d. December 1977) *

Remains: He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea over the Atlantic Ocean.

Error corrections or clarifications

* Jim's mother, Lynetta Jones, was not among those who committed suicide in the Jonestown massacre. Contrary to what some sources report, she died nearly a year before the mass suicide took place.

Note: The Peoples Temple was founded in Indianapolis as "People's Temple", but the apostrophe disappeared from their name about the time the ministry moved to California, becoming simply, "Peoples Temple."


Jones began preaching on the streets while still in his teens. By his late twenties he'd gained a reputation as a charismatic church leader, and would eventually found the People's Temple. The church began innocuously enough with its message of racial equality, and popular social services, such as free meals for the poor. To attract new members, he began performing "healings" and other "miracles" that brought large crowds to his church and helped expand his congregation. After moving his church headquarters to northern California in 1965, he saw his congregation grow to several thousand members. By the mid-'70s, he'd established congregations in Los Angeles, and San Francisco. This was the period in which Jim Jones reached the pinnacle of his influence and respect. He was named one of the top clergymen in the nation, appointed to San Francisco's Housing Authority Commission, and even given awards for his humanitarian work. It was also the period during which disturbing reports began to surface from former members about Jim's paranoid, erratic behavior and allegations that he was illegally diverting the income of church members for his own use.

In 1977, amidst bad publicity, and increasingly negative press reports, Reverend Jim Jones moved the majority of his congregation to Jonestown, Guyana.

The communal village he had carved out of the jungles of South America was to be a theoretical utopia. But the agricultural commune called Jonestown was anything but "The Promised Land" he'd promised followers. The food was reported to be woefully inadequate and conditions descended to the point that half of those at Jonestown were reportedly ill with severe diarrhea and high fevers. Reports of threats, torture, "accidental" deaths, and hostage-holding, only increased after the move. Jim's use of illegal drugs increased and the utopian community he'd hoped to establish in the jungles of South America began to unravel. On behalf of his Bay area constituents, Congressman Leo Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate the negative reports that had been escalating about the Peoples Temple cult. After a brief stay, Ryan was assassinated as he tried to leave with his delegation. A short time later, Jones ordered his followers, including hundreds of children, to commit "revolutionary suicide" by drinking a poisoned drink he provided.

Jim Jones, his wife, two of their kids, and some of their grandchildren were among the more than 900 who died either voluntarily or through intimidation, at about 5:30 p.m., November 18th, 1978.

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