U.S. officials supervising the airlift of the bodies of the 400 Americans who died in Jonestown have raised doubts here about whether there really were 300 to 400 more Jonestown residents who disappeared into the surrounding rain forest.
Under pressure from reporters, who asked why U.S. military aircraft and personnel were not being used to help the Guyana Defense Force search the dense forest for missing Americans, a spokesman said the U.S. military personnel here doubted there were many missing people to find.
"The evaluation that we have made," U.S. Army Maj. Helming told reporters, "is simply that there were not many more people in Jonestown at the time of the suicide.
"We cannot find hard evidence that people did go off into the jungle, more than what have already returned. This is not to say that there aren't more out there somewhere, but if there are, they are a long way from Jonestown."
Four hundred and nine bodies have been found in the Jonestown agricultural community in remote northwestern Guyana, the victims of the mass suicide-murder led by People Temple cult leader the Rev. Jim Jones last Saturday. Three, including Jones, died of gunshot wounds, and the rest took poison.
By late this afternoon, 177 of the bodies, including one tentatively identified as Jim Jones, had been brought by helicopter from Jonestown to Timehri international airport here, and many had been transferred to military cargo planes for transportation to the U.S. Air Force base at Dover, Del.
In addition to 409 known dead, which includes about eight Guyanese children living in Jonestown, 32 other Jonestown residents who escaped on Saturday are here in Georgetown. Some of them slipped out of the commune early Saturday and others fled into the surrounding forest late that afternoon when Jonestown security guards began rounding people up for the ritual suicide that they had rehearsed many times.
Others of the 32 survivors had left Jonestown with the fact-finding mission of Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.) on Saturday afternoon and survived the ambush by Jonestown gunman who killed Ryan, three newsmen and one of the Jonestown defectors on a nearby airstrip.
There are also 46 more Peoples Temple members under house arrest inside the cult's headquarters house here in Georegtown.
One cult member. Sharon Amos, and her three children were found in the Georgetown house with their throats slashed after the Jonestown mass suicide Saturday night.
That makes a total of just under 500 People Temple Church members in Guyana who have been accounted for. The mystery that Guyanese and U.S. officials are now trying to solve is how many more there were and where they are now.
Correspondents and lawyers who went into Jonestown with Ryan and toured its housing and attended a mass meeting of its residents said they saw about 800 people there, althought they did not count them.
Guyana and U.S. military personnel found 789 passports in a trunk in Jonestown. Residents had been told they did not need to carry passports there and should turn them over to Jonestown leaders. This apparently was one of many measures taken to keep residents from leaving Jonestown.
Those passports were turned over badly to U.S. Embassy officials here, who are counting them again and comparing them to the lists of known Jonestown dead and survivors.
Questions have been raised about wheather there was a live person in Jonestown for each passport, especially since so many older people had been brought there by Jones and their Social Security checks confiscated. But Military spokesman said they had no information on whether any graves have yet been found in Jonestown.
Whether there are hundreds of survivors of Jonestown somewhere in the onidrest "remains the big mystery," said James Ward from the State Deparment's Office of Emergency Services.
All 32 survivors came out of the forest chin a day or two of the mass suicide. No more have appeared during the last two days, according to U.S. and Guyanese officials.
Embassy officials said they were acting to see that the survivors are rodised and fed and receive assistance in returnign to the United States. Although a few of the survivors are in boets nearly 20 are staying at their request in a large second-floor room of the central jail under police protector.They are still afraid they will be killed by cult gunmen.
One theory about the people who may be missing from Jonestown is that they were led into the forest to be killed by Jonestown gurads or where shot while fleeing through the forest. Lawyer Mark Lane, who went to Jonestown with Ryan and escaped into the forest when the mass suicide roundup began, told reporters later that he heard screaming and shooting in the forest.
Another theory, one offered by some Guyanese authorities, is that a number of Jonestown residents who lived in buildings on its periphery stattered inot the forest when Jones summoned them for the mass suicide.
In the rain forest they may not have survived exposure, dampness, poisonous snakes or numerous jaguars.
One Guyana Defense Force solider asked by a reporter touring Jonestown if he and the other soldiers were making a wide search of the forest answered that the reporter must be joking.
"If you went 15 feet in there," the soldiers said, "you would be so lost we might never find you."
What the Guyanese troops apparently have done is travel down the paths through the forest to the few mines and camps of people who live in the forest, looking for sign of people travelling recently along the paths and asking if the Indians have seen anyone.
Maj. Helmling told reporters. "If people go off in the jungle they leave trails they leave evidence. These have not been found. There are some existing trails in the area and these trails to the best of my knowlege and belief have been covered, and people have not been found."
Meanwhile the military spokesman here made clear that/their first priority is to use the aircraft and personnel brought here to move the decomposing bodies out of Jonestown as quickly as possible.
"I don't think the priorties are necessarily backward," James Ward said. "The fact remains that 400 deceased people in this situation demands a certain immediate action. This does not mean that there is no concern for survivors to try identify which people are potential survivors."
U.S. Air Force Capt. John J. Moscatelli said today that after all the bodies have been transported to the United States the aircraft and 200 U.S. military personnel here might be used for a wider search of the rain forest.
The airlift of bodies, begun late yesterday, continued with dispatch today.
After technicians spent the night under field lights putting the dead into plastic body bags in Jonestown, huge HH-130 "Super Jolly Green Giant" U.S. military helicopters ferried them from Jonestown to Georgetown.
At the rate the airlift was moving yesterday barring bad weather, the task could be finished Friday or Saturday.
The more than 200 bodies that still have not been identified are among the first being transported back to the United States.
"We have to get them out first," said Moscatelli, "to arrest decomposition as soon as possible [by refrigeration i nthe U.S.] and make identificat-
About 175 of the bodies were tentatively identified as they lay on the ground in Jonestown by a team of assisted by about a dozen of the survivors, including, as it turned out, two of Jones' lieutenants who were then arrested by the Guyanese police, yanese and U.S. Embassy officials assisted by about a dozen of the survivors, including, as it turned out, two of Jones' lieutenants who were then arrested by the Guyanese police.
The two men, Mike Prokes, 32, from Modesto, Calif., and Tim Carter, 28, of Boise, Idaho, have been held by police under suspicion of having some connection with violence in Jonestown because of the guns and large sums of money they were reportedly carrying when arrested.
A third surviving Jones lieutenant, Larry Layton, 32, from San Francisco, has been formally charged in court here with five counts of murder, and one count of discharging a loaded firearm in connection with the ambush of Ryan's party at the airstrip near Jonestown last Saturday.