The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I didn’t want her to go’: The families who lost loved ones to Jonestown

The Washington Post Style section front from Dec. 3, 1978 featured a 1964 photo of the five Talley siblings who died at Jonestown: From second from left, Michaeleen Talley Brady, Ronald Talley, Marlene Talley Wheeler, Maureen Talley Fitch and Christine Talley. (At far left is George Brady.)
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Forty years ago, more than 900 Americans were killed at an agricultural settlement in Guyana known as Jonestown. They were members of the Peoples Temple, a cult with roots in Indiana and Northern California led by a minister named Jim Jones. On Nov. 18, 1978, a visit by a congressman and journalist investigating abuses at Jonestown ended in bloodshed: Jones’s acolytes shot and killed Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) and four others as they tried to help several cult members defect; and then Jones ordered the mass suicide-killing of his followers, many of them children, via cyanide poisoning.

Two weeks later, The Washington Post set out to capture the magnitude of the tragedy by focusing on a few of the victims — as recalled by relatives who had watched with frustration and horror as their loved ones vanished into the cult and then off to South America, never to be seen again. The story is republished here.

SAN FRANCISCO — It is always so much easier to deal with numbers. They don’t die and rot so you have to wear gauze over your face and peel skin off fingers to get the prints to tell who they are.

It is comfortable to think about people as numbers when you don’t really want to think about them. In World War I they spoke of “wastage.” During World War II, for 6 million Jews, it was the Final Solution.

You can say “6 million” and not feel a thing. You can say “911” and study the photographs of the bodies piled up at Jonestown, and it is a horror, all right, but an abstract horror.

How do you find a human scale for the Jonestown tragedy?

The story of these varied and scattered lives and how they ended in that steamy compound at Jonestown compels many of us to seek out parallels, references, some anchor that will make it seem more real to us. Some people speak of the bridge of San Luis Rey. Some start talking about an appointment in Samarra. It doesn’t help. We are still left with all those converging fates, those lives so neatly wound up at the same time and place. The impossible mystery of why things happen anyway.

The Talleys

There were Maureen and Marlene and Christine Shannon Talley, who came to live with Helen Evans, and went to school in Long Beach and went to Guyana.

“They were little Irish Dubliners,” said Helen Evans, their aunt. “They had good report cards. They went to church every Sunday — Our Lady of Victory. They always wanted to help the underprivileged. They talked about how they wanted to live in the country. But the main thing about these kids was that they wanted to act as a family.”

Marlene was quiet and dark-haired, “she came back home every day and studied.” Maureen had “fiery red hair, with the disposition that went with it. She was always looking to do good.” And Christine Shannon — she was her aunt’s favorite, Christine who loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian, joined the debate club and tutored the other students at the Catholic boarding school to which Helen Evans sent her.

“They were all beautiful girls,” said their aunt. But their parents’ deaths and the death of a much-loved grandfather seemed to mark them permanently. Their father had been a battalion chief in the Long Beach fire department, a man well-liked by his men. He died of cancer in 1960. Four years later their mother, Betty Talley, died as well, dropped dead in the street, the night before their eldest daughter’s engagement party.

“They were hit every time they turned around,” said Helen Evans. “And Christine simply refused to accept the fact that her parents were dead.”

The fireman and his wife left five children. Maureen, Marlene and Christine went to live with their aunt in the small frame house in Compton, a lower-income suburb, predominantly black. The eldest girl, Michaeleen, was married within the week of her mother’s funeral. The only son, Ron, got a job in a Long Beach liquor store.

In Helen Evans’ home, there was a strict upbringing, a firm discipline, a planting of austere principles that were supposed to keep the girls from blowing away in those windy times.

“I believed you should do what you should do when you should do it,” Helen Evans said. There was a 10 p.m. curfew on weekdays, 1 a.m. on Saturday nights. They were never late. “I was conservative, very conservative,” Helen Evans said. “But I wanted them to have everything they needed, without too many of the fancies.” Christine Shannon went to Europe with her classmates her sophomore year, came back glowing, the way young girls do when the wonder of the world first smiles at them.

“I tried,” said Helen Evans. “I put 11 years into trying.”

Marlene was the first to go. She had married the year she graduated from high school and was married for four or five years; it didn’t work out. She had two young sons, she had no job, and she had very little money. She had always been very religious.

She was living in San Francisco in 1970, near the Peoples Temple. She told her aunt about the people there, and it may have been that they helped her with the food and support that living alone with two young children demanded. At the Temple they told her about the ranch in Ukiah, Calif., and she told her aunt how it seemed as if it might be a nice place to raise two young sons. She visited the ranch in the fall. In the spring, she moved there, working as a housekeeper in the compound there where retarded adults were cared for.

One by one, the others followed her, as quietly as leaves falling in a forest. Ron was next; he brought his ex-wife with him. And then Maureen and her former husband. Maureen went to work as a nurse in Ukiah, and Ron went to work for a large company there. Broken marriages and the hard scratch for money were buried, it seemed, among new dreams and duties in northern California.

Michaeleen had worked as a beautician after her own marriage broke up, until she fell ill and could no longer care for her two daughters. Her sisters came and took the children away. Michaeleen could not get them back. She too went to Ukiah.

“I was nervous all the time,” Helen Evans said. “But back then, you remember those times, all the young ones were doing their own thing, they were joining all sorts of groups and religions, it seemed to be in the air.”

Now there were eight of them together — three of the sisters, their brother, the four children. They were united now, except for Christine, and every other week they would come to Los Angeles on the big crowded buses filled with the faithful.

The family would visit their aunt. They said little about the cult, using only the brightest of paints and the broadest of brushes to describe their new lives. And they would call, to urge their aunt to let Christine come to Ukiah, calling often from the time Christine was 14 until the time she was 17.

Sometimes, some of the other members of the Temple would get on the line as well and urge Evans to let Christine come to Ukiah.

“I didn’t want her to go,” Helen Evans said. “I wanted her to wait until she was old enough to make up her own mind.” Besides, there were other considerations. The children had been raised on their dead father’s pension. As they grew up and left Evans’ home, the money reverted to Christine. By the time she was 18, there was $57,000 saved.

When Christine came close to reaching her majority, Helen Evans consulted with the school psychologist, the counselors. “I wanted to do the right thing,” she said, and so she sought their advice. They told her, and she agreed, that it would be useless to keep Christine from the Temple if she wanted to go, that the harvest would be bitterness and resentment. Christine went.

“I don’t think it was ever political with her,” Evans said. “I think she just wanted to be with her brothers and sisters.” Christine spent her senior year at the high school in Ukiah. Her aunt asked that her report cards be sent to her, to make sure she stayed in school. The report cards said she was doing well.

Christine turned 18, old enough to assume control of the $57,000. She wrote her aunt, asking her to have the lawyer transfer the money to the cult’s lawyer in Ukiah. “I don’t think she ever saw that money,” Helen Evans said. “She didn’t even buy a new car for herself.”

Michaeleen was not very happy. “She didn’t believe everything she was told,” said her aunt. Michaeleen would leave the Temple and take her two daughters. At first, she would come to her aunt’s house. After a while, she went elsewhere. “She knew,” said Helen Evans, “that I would be the first one they’d call. They always found her.” And brought her back.

Every year, on her birthday, Evans would receive a beautifully made card from Christine. She said she was well. She gave her aunt her love.

The nine didn’t tell their aunt they were moving to Guyana. The first letter was from Michaeleen in August of 1977. “I’m doing well,” it said. “We’re growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables. I’m going to stay. I’m free and happy now and the girls are also with me and you know how important that is to me.”

A few other letters followed, dry as the paper they were written on, sounding, Helen Evans later discovered, just like all the other letters that the relatives from other families received.

Last summer, there was a letter from Christine. “I’m the happiest I have ever been in my life,” it said. “My family’s close to me and I’m in a beautiful country where it’s warm and green all the time. . . . I have wonderful opportunities here . . . enough to keep a blossoming veterinarian busy. . . . Our senior citizens seem to do so well. The sun gives them a healthy look. . . . I wish you could picture the beautiful jungle.”

It will cost $15,000 to bury the nine. Helen Evans does not think it fair. Now they have all been “officially” identified and the plans have been made to bring them back, to bury them in Long Beach.

Helen Evans remembered the day Maureen and Marlene came to the house in Compton — for Christine. The old aunt took her niece into the bedroom. “I told her it was up to her to make the decision,” she said. “I asked her if she wanted to go. She said, ‘I guess I’ll go.’” Just then, just as the question had been asked and answered, the two sisters walked into the bedroom. The conversation was over.

“Now that I look back,” said Helen Evans, “there was no excitement in Christine’s voice, no enthusiasm. I often wonder what she would have done, if only the others hadn’t walked in, at that moment.” — L.D.

The Heaths

The Peoples Temple is a broad beige brick building in a poor-looking part of the Fillmore district, in effect San Francisco’s black ghetto. A fast-food place stands on one side and an auditorium on the other. At night, police cars park outside the Temple, and a floodlight turns the adjacent alley dead white.

Behind, in the big parking lot, stand several large buses and many cars. It looks like the backyard of any busy church that goes in for trips and picnics and outings.

The only thing wrong is that many of the cars are so thick with dust you can hardly tell what color they are.

“I believe this happened for a reason. They were chosen for this. It was meant as a warning to the whole world.”

Nathaniel Alexander is 33. He and his brothers Steven and Robert own a plumbing business in Oakland. But Bobby isn’t here at the moment because he has gone east to try and identify the bodies. There are six.

There is the grandmother, Mary Cottingham, 83. Their mother, Florence Heath, 53. Their uncle Grover Washington, 50. Their sister Mary Morton, 37, and her daughter Vicki, 10. And their 14-year-old brother Michael Heath.

Nate Alexander used to argue with his mother about the Temple. He went a couple of times himself, “to see what she was getting into”; but it didn’t seem like a church to him. The first time he went, people wanted to know his address and other things about him. That wasn’t so bad, but the second time there were red-hatted guards and Jim Jones, the man his mother thought so much of, was “preaching evil things, scaring people.”

“At first the changes in her were good,” he said. “She was active and happy, and I was glad to see her getting out and around. It gave her something to do. She was getting through a divorce at the time. It was ’72.”

Even though it meant commuting nearly 50 miles from Pittsburg, far on the other side of Oakland, Florence Heath still made the Peoples Temple the center of her life.

She was one of those who cooked for the others there; she drove people who needed rides; she visited the sick; she went on the Temple’s famously uncomfortable bus trips to Los Angeles and other cities. Things were done for her too: medical attention, instructions about diet and healthy living.

“Nate,” she would say, “I’ve been in churches all my days, and nobody’s done anything like this man has done.”

She said Jim Jones was her God. “At least I have a God I can see,” she would say, and when her son brought out the Bible to dispute her, she would say the Bible was just a white man’s tool.

“We talked about it every time she came over,” Alexander said. “I told her Jones was a devil, and even though he was white he was telling them all this stuff about black genocide, things he thought they wanted to hear. Finally we agreed to stop arguing because she was afraid Jones would retaliate.”

Florence Heath believed Jones could literally hear what they said there in Alexander’s downtown Oakland apartment. And his sister Mary claimed Jones had cured her of cancer.

(Alexander’s aunt Essie Mae Flynn had no such luck. Her sister brought her down from Pittsburg, where she still lives in a country housing project, to be treated by Jones for her bad heart, epilepsy, asthma and a nervous condition. She got so sick that she had to be put to bed upstairs at the Temple. Later she went on a trip to Los Angeles with the group and was taken desperately ill, spending three weeks in a hospital. Essie Flynn, 49, never went back to the Temple. It wasn’t a church, she said, wasn’t truly ordained, so she and her sister and mother drew apart, though they remained on friendly terms.)

Florence Heath was born in Florence County, but soon moved to Queens, N.Y., to a house behind Kennedy Airport. Her husband was a construction worker.

She divorced him and married Alexander’s father, a master sergeant in the Army, and for some years the family moved around the country: Takoma, Wash.; Seaside, Calif.; Georgia; South Carolina. Twenty years ago they moved to Pittsburg.

Her brother, Timothy Washington, told reporters he believed she had sold the Pittsburg house for $25,000, giving half to her husband and half to Jim Jones, along with her car; but Nate Alexander says he knows nothing of all this and doesn’t care to speculate about it.

In any case, she did sell the house and came to San Francisco. Alexander thought she would buy a place here, but instead she simply lived at the Temple, and then suddenly was off for Guyana.

“She was a very helpful person,” he said. “She was always concerned for her relatives and family and involved in other people. She was a housewife most of her life, but she did start some kind of nursing program to learn to take care of patients. She made some income from that, and then there was the alimony.”

He got his last letter from her in March. Like all the others and like the letters from his sister, it was full of happiness. She wrote about the good fresh food they had at Jonestown, and how they had doctors and dentists and no crime.

Even Grover, whom she had brought along because he needed someone to care for him, had learned to work and for the first time in his life to do something for himself, she wrote to another family member.

Nate Alexander didn’t want his mother’s last letter quoted. “I’d like to keep that private,” he said. Most of the family snapshots have been taken to the State Department to help with identification, but he did have one small picture of Vicki Morton when she was even younger than her 10 years. He didn’t want to part with that, either.

“It was a sign of the times, this thing. People are confused and perplexed, and the morality, the economic system, are deteriorating. The monetary system is breaking down. Everything is corrupt.”

“You can’t get wrapped up in an individual like Jones. You have to listen to what’s being said. I can see his appeal — they’ve been hearing stuff all their lives and nothing happens, and then he comes along and he produces, he gets action. That town wasn’t just some dream, it was really there. But you’ve got to be aware of what’s happening, and not put your faith in a man. Those you thought might do something for you turn out to be just as corrupt as the rest. You’re on your own, and you have to realize that.” — M.K.

The Rozynkos

Ten years ago, when Michael Rozynko was 11, his parents divorced. He had liked both his parents and had adjusted easily to the moves they made up and down the West Coast as their medical jobs changed. Then when the marriage disintegrated, he withdrew.

“The breakup had a shattering effect on him. Mike was really a genius, but he fell apart,” said his younger sister, Sandy. The three Rozynko children, Chris, Mike and Sandy, stayed with their mother Annie, a registered nurse, in Ukiah, Calif.

At school Rozynko was teased because he was short and fat. He seemed to find companionship only in food and books. His mother, a native of New Jersey who had moved out west at an early age and married a psychologist, shared his loneliness. She didn’t have many friends, but she found Marceline Jones, wife of local minister Jim Jones, very sympathetic.

Out of curiosity, and loneliness, she attended a meeting at Jones’ church at Redwood Valley. “My mother dragged us, forced us to go. I was scared because everyone was singing these religious church songs,” recalled Sandy Rozynko Mills, who joined the Peoples Temple with the rest of her family but left in 1975.

Mike Rozynko, who had been raised a nominal Presbyterian like his brother and sister, seemed to find himself. His scholastic record shot up to straight A’s, he took up photography as a hobby and began to talk of medical school.

His mother found the emotional support she needed, though she questioned every statement of Jim Jones. “My mother was a very intelligent woman who lacked confidence. With the church she found support, just the feeling someone she knew was there,” said Mills. At the church meetings, said her daughter, she would probe Jones’ possessive philosophy. Her outspokenness embarrassed her children. “She wasn’t a person to join the crowd, but she was afraid to be alone.” Mills left home when she was 13 because of what she described as her mother’s strictness, but she didn’t immediately leave the church. Chris Rozynko stayed home until he finished high school. Mike moved to a commune before he finished high school.

The two Rozynko boys had their own dreams. But, then, as Jim Jones began to think more and more of his followers as possessions, he dictated his own dreams for his young followers. Chris was forbidden to go to a law school where had been accepted. Mike was told the Temple was more important than medical school.

“Mike had really looked forward to college, he really wanted to be a doctor. But Jones said that professional schools for the younger people kept them from being involved in the cause. The cause turned out to be him.”

Sandy Mills, now 19, her ruddy complexion pale from her personal loss of her brothers and mother in Guyana, bent her long, blond, frizzed hair over her coffee cup. For awhile she turned the white cup round and round and didn’t speak.

In his own way, while retaining his loyalty to the Temple, Mike Rozynko fulfilled his goal. He became a registered ambulance driver. At the Temple he became the photographer for the publishing center and would spend hours discussing different methods of photography.

Once, before her family moved to Guyana, Mills tried to talk to Mike. “I told him that I loved him and that he would always have a place to come to if he left the Temple. His responses were very mechanical, unreal.”

Just last summer Mills talked to Mike on a ham radio. “I said the people are not being hung from the Golden Gate Bridge, like you are being told. The Ku Klux Klan is not marching through the streets.” Mills said she tried to keep her voice matter of fact, but her hope that her brother was really listening plummeted when he replied: “We know what you are doing. Why are you hurting my friend?” Mills answered, “What am I doing?” And the last thing she ever heard her brother say was: “You know what you are doing.” — J.T.

Leon Perry

Leon Perry, 61, never went in for frills. He loved his family, his church and his machines. Around the Protestant church he had supported for many years and around his low-income San Francisco neighborhood he was known as Brother Perry. And that’s what his family called him, with firm admiration for a man who never drank, gambled, cussed or danced. That’s what they called him at the Peoples Temple.

“No one is saying he was a saint because he did move up to Ukiah with a woman when he got involved with Jim Jones,” said the oldest of Perry’s two daughters, Veronica, 30. “But he was a good man, a man with his own means. He wasn’t a lazy person who hid behind welfare.”

It seems Brother Perry did work his own way. When World War II broke out, Perry left his childhood home of Beaumont, Tex., joined the Army and settled in San Francisco. An eighth-grade graduate, he drove a bus for the city, worked as a mechanic for the city and 12 years ago bought two Peter-Built trucks and did independent long-distance hauling.

When he wasn’t working on his trucks, he doted on his two daughters and his wife, Ruby, a cosmetologist. When Ruby, a practicing Roman Catholic, went to a dance, Perry stayed at home, waited for her call and then picked her up. Once he gave his daughters a red table, two red chairs and a pile of transfers from the bus company. They played bus.

Seven years ago, right after a mild heart attack, Perry seemed to change. “I think it was because no one from his church ever came by with any food or good wishes,” said Veronica Perry. Sitting in a soul-food luncheonette in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, she angrily pushed aside a plate of fried chicken, and flipped through a family photo album. Brother Perry was a well-built man, appearing taller than his 5 feet 9 inches, with close-cropped hair, a thumbnail mustache and bright, friendly eyes. “There’s not much that’s negative about him. He did have a temper and once stopped the bus he was driving and yelled at some people fooling around in the back.”

His daughter said this quickly, even though she does admit their differences, over her alliance with black nationalist organizations in the 1960s and over Jim Jones’s purposes. He told her “all white people aren’t bad,” she said, laughing a laugh of distress and bitterness. “Now what can I say? He had a strong belief in brotherhood.”

In 1972 Perry moved to Ukiah, shared a house with a woman and operated his trucks for the Peoples Temple. “The trucks kept his name on them, but I am sure he gave Jones the money,” said his daughter. “But he would be happy anywhere as long as he thought he would be doing something with his trucks.”

In the summer of 1977, he came by his former home to tell his family he was going to Guyana. By this time his wife had divorced him. His daughters overheard him say he was going to haul dirt and lumber so Jim Jones could build a village in the jungle. Three months after his departure, his former wife had a massive stroke and remained in a coma for two months. Veronica Perry’s $8 telegram went unanswered and, she said, her request to use the ham radio at the Peoples Temple headquarters was denied. Once she was told by Temple members, she recalled emotionally, “What do you want with him?” When her father finally wrote, all he said was, “How is everything?” and spoke of how the climate was helping his hypertension and his weight control.

The last time Veronica saw him, Leon Perry seemed to get extreme pleasure from the cup of tea he was drinking at her mother’s kitchen table. “And all it was was Lipton’s, but I have been thinking about how he really enjoyed it.” — J.T.

Laurence E. Schacht

The other doctors at San Francisco General Hospital, especially the experienced ones, liked Laurence E. Schacht. He was quiet, intent, slightly more dedicated and anxious to please than the other interns who joined the staff in the summer of 1977.

Schacht, a soft-spoken man of medium build with thinning light-brown hair, wore a tie and didn’t espouse the nontraditional forms of medicine, like a natural food diet and acupuncture, that some of his young co-workers did. “He was plain, not very vocal. It was your effort to get to know him,” remembered Brent Blue, the chief resident of family practice at the hospital. Schacht was assigned to the pediatrics out-patient clinic.

Schacht, who grew up in Houston and left no legacy there except a restless annoyance with those who criticized his family’s anti-Vietnam war views, arrived at the hospital with the highest recommendations. He had left Houston after finishing high school in 1967, joined the antiwar effort in California and then went to Guadalajara University. At some point he joined the Peoples Temple and they paid for his tuition. He finished medical school at the University of California at Irvine, 16th in his class.

Back home in Houston, Schacht is remembered as a quiet youngster. His father, Ezra, is a self-employed electrical worker and his brother Danny, 33, works with the family firm. “Right now all I can remember is that he was interested in art. He liked to draw. Ambitious? I can’t recall. He was a typical teen-ager,” said his father. Recalled Duke Lane, one of his high school teachers, “Evidently he was just an ordinary student. I really can’t recall him.” In the Lamar High School Annual for 1966, Schacht’s junior year, he is pictured with a group of fellow students who judged the bulletin board contest. In his graduating year, 1967, he is listed with the students who didn’t have their pictures taken.

Wherever he worked, Schacht is remembered for his unobtrusive, steady presence. One former member of the Peoples Temple recalled, “He hardly ever said anything. I never saw him smile or crack a joke.”

At the hospital one child-health worker spoke of his reliability and reticence. “He was very conscientious and particularly interested in nutrition, asking how to prepare diet and mix formulas,” said Doris Wong, 24.

A few weeks into his internship, Schacht took a vacation, unexplained and hurried. Then, one of his professors received a call from a woman claiming to be Shacht’s sister. “His father,” she explained, was in South America suffering from meningitis. “He wanted you to know that only something of that magnitude would take him away,” the woman told the professor.

In the Guyana complex Schacht trained paramedics, had his own medical cabin and delivered twins by ham radio. The last person who saw Schacht, a Jonestown teacher who escaped, reported that he was brewing cyanide and Kool-Aid and spooning the liquid into the mouths of babies. — J.T.

Karen Tow Layton

She could have skipped through life, just being beautiful, gifted and comfortable in the affluent surroundings of her home, Paradise, Calif. But Karen Tow Layton, 31, was not cut from the conservative mold of her community and friends. She wanted to walk through the trenches.

So Karen Tow, the petite blond Miss Paradise of 1965, went to a nearby migrant labor camp and fought the bosses until they tore down the tar-paper shacks. It was a lonely battle. “But she was vocal about injustices, more outspoken than her friends,” said her mother, Lea Tow. An old boyfriend, Carl Stackey, now a rice farmer, concurred: “She was concerned about the underprivileged and minorities. She was the most politically oriented person in our class.” Besides her own efforts, Tow was an ally of Virginia Franklin, who was the focus of a celebrated case in which she was accused of teaching communism in the classroom.

That case put Paradise on the national map. Paradise is a small community with pine trees and clear air in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. It was not too slow for Karen Tow but too stodgy politically. “She was affected greatly by the terrible times of the 1960s, by the racism, by the killing of the children in Alabama,” recalled her mother, Lea Layton. “She accused her father of being a racist. There was a rift and I was torn between the two. But she was the radiance in our lives and she stayed at home until her second year in college.”

After two years at Chico State College, where she studied social work, Tow went to Hawaii to live with a man. The romance soured very quickly and she returned to take a job as a secretary in Ukiah. It was 1968. She was disillusioned about society at large, remembered her mother, but content with her own life. No one thought of her as a joiner. “She had a very positive attitude about life. You never had the feeling she could be swayed,” said Thomas Dimas, a former teacher.

Suddenly, however, Tow joined the Peoples Temple and became uncommunicative. “When I asked to go, she said I wouldn’t understand. It was eight years before I got into the church,” said her mother. Tow married Larry Layton, now accused of murder by the Guyanese, but she told her mother and her older sister that it was “a friendship, not a marriage.”

One of Karen Tow Layton’s stories about those years stands out. She went to an orthopedic surgeon to check a pain in her arm, and he diagnosed cancer. He told her she might have to have the arm amputated. The minute Karen got home, her mother recalled, the phone rang and the Rev. Jim Jones told Karen she had been to the doctor and that she had cancer. He suggested she ride to San Francisco with him. Along the way he occasionally touched her arm, Karen’s mother recalled her saying, and when she got to San Francisco she realized the pain was gone. “You’ve cured me,” she told Jones.

“Now when you hear a story like this from your own daughter, you begin to take a second look,” Lea Tow said. Eventually she attended a healing session herself and “received a message from Jones during the service that she would suffer.” Six months later she had a massive heart attack. “I was taken in for a year. Then I began to see that his message was socialism. I couldn’t buy that,”said Lea Tow.

At the Temple, Karen did secretarial work, always appeared attentive to Jones’ sermons and lived in the San Francisco headquarters in a small, neat but sparse bedroom. One former member remembered Karen being chastised for being vain, but said she was steadfast in her loyalty.

When Lea Tow told her daughter Jones was “psychotic,” she didn’t listen. Then in July 1977 Karen wrote her mother and asked her to take care of her dog. Again and again Lea Tow wrote her letters saying Jones’ teachings and justice were frauds. Now, sitting by the phone in her home in Paradise, with the dog barking in the background, Lea Tow says, “I tried and I didn’t make it.” — J.T.

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