Haunted by Memories of Hell
Kevin Fagan
Chronicle Staff Writer

November 12, 1998

On November 18, 1978, gunmen from the Peoples Temple opened fire at a jungle airstrip in Guyana. Five people, including Rep. Leo Ryan, were killed. Within hours, another 914 people had been murdered or committed suicide at Jonestown, including temple founder Jim Jones.

Jones had built his ministry into a force in San Francisco with a program of helping the young, elderly and destitute. Supporters, including powerful officials, defended him against allegations that he was abusing followers.

The probes drove Jones to Guyana. When a visiting delegation led by Ryan tried to leave with defectors, Jones turned to murder and "revolutionary suicide."

There are no pictures of Fred Lewis' wife or seven children on the walls of his tidy San Francisco duplex. He wants no such reminders of the horror.

Twenty years ago next Wednesday, Lewis' entire immediate family and 19 other relatives died in the mass murder-suicide at the Rev. Jim Jones' cult compound in Guyana. He lost more family than anyone else in Jonestown that day.

The bitterness and grief, the memories of the poisonings and shootings that left him so totally alone, are never more than the blink of an eye away.

"It is always with me, always," said Lewis, 69, sitting at his kitchen table and leafing through clippings he usually pulls out only on the Jonestown anniversary day.

"That . . ." he struggled with his words, "that . . . man Jones took my family."

Lewis does have photos -- hundreds of them in two white vinyl albums, showing smiling sons, daughters, cousins and more, at birthdays, in school group shots or playing around the house. The albums stay in a cupboard downstairs with the news clippings.

He got the entire pile out recently and began to smile through the sadness writ deep in his eyes.

"These are my two oldest sons. They could kick a football almost goal to goal," he said, jabbing a finger on an album page at two strapping teenagers grinning widely. He flipped to a portrait of a little girl, around 10, beaming under billowing black curls tied back with a pink ribbon.

"This was Lisia, as cute as anything in this world, so full of fun," Lewis said. Others flicked by as the pages turned: "This was a birthday cake I made for them one year. . . . This is the whole bunch at Halloween -- look at them laughing. . . . This was us hanging around."

The memories of the cousins and uncles and nieces come slower, layered over by pain and decades. "The names are hard to bring to mind after all these years, and there were so many," Lewis said, the smile leaving his lips. He snapped the album shut.

"Anyway, most everyone in these albums is gone, all gone," he said, voice dropping to a whisper.

There is a separate stone marker for Lewis' family at the mass grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, where 406 of the 913 Jonestown victims are buried. The names of the secondary relatives may be fuzzy for Lewis, but he can call off the eight in his immediate circle: wife, Doris, 46 when she died; and children Lisia, 16; Karen, 15; Freddie Jr., 13; Barry, 11; Adrian, 9; Cassandra, 8; and Alisa, 7.

"I miss them," he said quietly. "I have a fine life now. But I miss them."

A big man with smile crinkles on his cheeks, Lewis does not come off as a sad fellow. He is quiet, polite, and the house he keeps with his girlfriend is pin-neat down to the shiny plastic on the living room furniture.

If the subject of Jonestown does not come up, he is fine. That's why he usually doesn't mention it.

Except at anniversary times.

The long nightmare began one Saturday night in August 1978, when Lewis came home from his job as a butcher at Petrini's grocery to find the family apartment in the Fillmore District cleaned out and everyone gone.

Lewis learned much later that Doris had taken the kids and, with the help of Peoples Temple members, carried off all the furniture, bound for Guyana. But at the time, all he knew was they had vanished. "She left me one mattress and no note," he said. "I thought they'd been kidnapped."

The family had been doing just fine until then, Lewis said -- except for Doris' two-year association with Jones' temple.

The two had been married 17 years and were devout Baptists when Doris learned of the temple from friends. Once Jones' siren call took hold of her, she ditched mainstream religion for good.

The temple had taken their kids on swimming and horse-riding field trips, a rare treat for the inner-city youngsters. The temple made Doris feel strong and welcome. It promised her a racism-free spiritual Utopia.

To this day, Lewis said, "I don't know why she got so involved," but it became quickly clear that "she thought it was better than what we already had."

She initially tried to get him to join, too. 'But I never did believe in this man (Jones)," said Lewis. "Any time a man starts talking about where he is God, and where you should throw away the Bible . . . I don't want anything to do with him."

Still, the cult didn't spring straight to mind as an explanation for the family's disappearance. "Our marriage was good and that temple stuff didn't really get in our way," he said. "Doris was working at the post office, I had a good job and the kids were going to school. What more could you ask for?"

The police sent him to the district attorney's office, which sent him a letter saying it would keep a report file open. He checked at the Peoples Temple on Geary Boulevard, but nobody would let him in the door or answer his questions.

"I went to work and told them my family was gone and they all said, 'Fred, you're kidding,'" Lewis said. "I was crying, but everybody told me it's not true, they'll be back."

Lewis opened the photo album and stared at a photo of Doris, lying on their bed just before that summer and grinning under her huge Afro. "But it was true," he said, chuckling ruefully.

Months went by before rumors filtered in that the family had gone somewhere with temple members. Then he got the first of six letters from Lisia.

"She said she missed me, and then she talked about what they were doing there," Lewis said. "The other kids would put little notes on the letters, but they didn't really say much. I tried to call Jonestown, but they wouldn't let any of my family come to the phone."

He remembers only fragmented details of what they wrote, and has not read the letters since the massacre. He said he still can't.

Then on November 18 came the hammer blow.

"I was at work when a man came running in and said Congressman Leo Ryan was killed," Lewis remembered. "I dropped my tools, ran home, and there on the TV they were showing those awful pictures of the people lying on the ground, and rolling those names of the dead. My family was on it. I knew that was it then."

The next few years are a blur of memory: fury, court dates as survivors sought reparations and return of the bodies of loved ones. Sorrow. Interviews with police.

"I had too many times with the bottle, and it was like that off and on for years until my girlfriend made me give up smoking and drinking," Lewis said. "I went to their grave every day for eight years, but she made me stop that, too."

"She told me I was going to wreck myself, and she was right. So now I just go once a year and sometimes on one of the kids' birthdays," Lewis said. "I take them flowers."

Lewis has managed, in the past two decades, to carry on with a second life after so many deaths.

He got an undisclosed settlement as part of a class-action claim against the temple of more than $8 million, and retired from his butcher job in 1982.

"We are just fine now and try not to think of those days," said Francis Revere, his loving partner for the past 15 years. She doesn't talk about Jonestown much, anytime, anywhere.

As the years wore by, Lewis learned to channel his displaced love and became a sort of grandfather figure to those around him -- his Bayview district house is the one the neighborhood kids all come to after school to play with the bicycles, skates and games he keeps for them in the garage.

"He's a real nice man, lets the kids all play with his stuff," said Marquise Bishop, 8, bouncing a ball on the sidewalk outside one day. "He smiles a lot."

The ugly memories only really crop up once a year. Lewis organizes an anniversary service at Evergreen, and he and his niece Jynona Norwood talk each time of wanting a memorial erected to all the victims. But it's hard to push the idea when what you really want to do is leave the past behind.

Lewis does not keep in touch with other survivors or family. "Everyone from this city is dead, and the other survivors don't want to be reminded," he said. "I don't either."

The only picture he displays from those happy days before the end is a shot of himself at Petrini's, trim and jaunty in his white apron and a red carnation.

"Those were the days before everything happened," he said, holding the frame for a moment and smiling distantly. He put it back on the dresser carefully. "That's all I need to see," he said.

Graphic Rule

They were late to discover
how cunningly he curried favor

Jones Captivated
S.F.'s Liberal Elite
Michael Taylor
Chronicle Staff Writer

November 12, 1998

On November 18, 1978, gunmen from the Peoples Temple opened fire at a jungle airstrip in Guyana. Five people, including Rep. Leo Ryan, were killed. Within hours, another 914 people had been murdered or committed suicide at Jonestown, including temple founder Jim Jones.

Jones had built his ministry into a force in San Francisco with a program of helping the young, elderly and destitute. Supporters, including powerful officials, defended him against allegations that he was abusing followers.

The probes drove Jones to Guyana. When a visiting delegation led by Ryan tried to leave with defectors, Jones turned to murder and "revolutionary suicide."

Before he became infamous for leading 913 people to their deaths in the Guyanese jungle, the Rev. Jim Jones was the darling of San Francisco's liberal establishment -- a man who could spread the wealth to all the fashionable charities and, at a moment's notice, marshal thousands of followers for a good cause.

Jones was a minister of the Disciples of Christ, but in San Francisco he was best known as the suave if slightly sinister leader of Peoples Temple, a flock of perhaps 8,000 people, mostly poor and mostly black, who appeared to do everything Jones told them to do.

With these willing workers, Jones made himself the perfect gift for the liberal machine of U.S. Representatives Phillip and John Burton, Assemblyman Willie Brown and Mayor George Moscone, which was trying to consolidate its hold on San Francisco politics.

After Jonestown, the politicians were left to explain how they had become so taken by Jones -- some of them pedaling away from their close relationship to the sect leader, while others simply admitted that they had been led astray.

"There wasn't anything magical about Jim's power," Timothy Stoen, who spent nearly seven years in Peoples Temple as Jones' attorney, said the other day.

"It was raw politics. He was able to deliver what politicians want, which is power. And how do you get power? By votes. And how do you get votes? With people. Jim Jones could produce 3,000 people at a political event."

Jones first came to notice in San Francisco in September 1970, when he started a fund to help the families of slain police officers. It was the kind of generous and, at the same time, politically astute gesture Jones would make. In the beginning, he seemed almost to abjure any attention -- he would make a contribution, then melt into the background.

But Stoen and other Peoples Temple observers said spreading the money around was part of a plan Jones had to curry favor.

"They worked at it day and night," said the Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and, at the time, a friend of Jones'. "They sat around talking about ways to get things done. They had all kinds of schemes that they had worked out."

In 1972, the first warning signals about Jones went up when the San Francisco Examiner profiled him in unflattering terms as an influential rural preacher who called himself the Prophet and claimed to be raising the dead. But ensuing official investigations of Jones went nowhere.

A year later, Jones handed out grants to 12 newspapers, saying, "We feel a responsibility to defend the free speech clause of the First Amendment." He also bused members of his church to Fresno to demonstrate on behalf of four Fresno Bee reporters who had been jailed for refusing to reveal the names of their confidential sources. It was about the last time Jones would be so friendly with the press.

The turning point in Jones' drive for power came in 1975, according to Tim Reiterman's and John Jacobs' exhaustive study, "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and his People." Jones' army of volunteers saturated San Francisco neighborhoods, distributing slate cards for Moscone (running for mayor), Joseph Freitas (district attorney) and Richard Hongisto (sheriff). All three won.

"What you had here was a ready-made volunteer workforce," said Agar Jaicks, who was chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party in San Francisco. "And you also had in Jones a man who touched a component of the consensus power forces in the city, such as labor and ethnicity groups, and he was very strong in the Western Addition. So here was a guy who could provide workers for causes progressives cared about."

By March 1976, Herb Caen was writing items about tete-a-tetes between Jones and then-Assemblyman Brown in political watering holes like the old Bardelli's.

"Many a San Franciscan and many a project have received sizable checks from Peoples Temple, accompanied by only a short note from Jim Jones, saying, 'We appreciate what you are doing,'" Caen wrote.

Jones spread his largesse widely. He gave money to the NAACP, the Ecumenical Peace Institute and a senior citizens escort service. Willie Brown and then-Governor Jerry Brown were seen at temple services.

In September 1976, the Burtons, Willie Brown, Williams, Moscone, radical academic Angela Davis, lawyer Vincent Hallinan, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally and publisher Carlton Goodlett toasted Jones at a big testimonial dinner. A month later, Moscone named him to a seat on the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.

"And it wasn't just the politicians," said Corey Busch, who was Moscone's press secretary in 1975 and 1976. "It was also the media. He had books of positive press clippings."

In fact, the San Francisco media appeared cowed. Aside from a short, innocuous profile that ran in The Chronicle in April 1976, little had been written about Jones' operation.

In late 1976, things began to change. Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff (now a Chronicle editorial writer) decided to do his own profile of Jones -- more a profile of a colorful San Francisco character than anything else.

When he visited the temple during a service in January 1977, Kilduff said in an interview the other day, he found his boss, then-city editor Steve Gavin, sitting in the row reserved for visitors.

Kilduff said that when he later proposed a story on Jones, Gavin "said we had done a profile and that was sufficient. I went at him several times, and said I thought we should do more. He didn't see it that way."

Kilduff, however, persevered and soon won the confidence of 10 temple defectors, who poured out their story to him. He eventually collaborated with writer Phil Tracy, and they sold their story to New West magazine, which published the piece in August 1977.

The article detailed beatings and fake "cancer healings" and reported that the temple had forced members to turn over millions from savings accounts and the sale of their homes. The piece became the catalyst for Jones' flight to Guyana.

Other publications began to join the fray, notably the San Francisco Examiner, which assigned Reiterman, Jacobs, Nancy Dooley and other reporters to investigate Jones' operations.

Tough-minded reporting dogged Jones during the winter. In June 1978, one month after escaping from Jonestown, temple defector Deborah Layton went public in a Chronicle interview with Kilduff and gave a stark description of life at the temple's Guyana stronghold.

After the mass murder-suicide, Gavin, who by then had left The Chronicle, said in an interview, "I was always wary of being manipulated by them and conscious of the possibility, but I don't think I was. I think all my decisions about Peoples Temple stories were made on a professional basis."

Reached earlier this week, Gavin said, "That was a long time ago," and declined to talk about it.

In the wake of Jonestown, Willie Brown said, "If we knew then he was mad, clearly we wouldn't have appeared with him. But it's not fair to say what you would have done if you knew the kind of madness that would take place years later."

The mayor released a statement two weeks ago through his press spokeswoman, Kandace Bender, that said, "Jonestown was a tragedy of the first order, and it remains a painful and sorrowful event in our history. Not a year has gone by that I have not stopped to remember San Francisco's terrible loss."

Moscone was assassinated nine days after the Jonestown deaths. After the deaths were revealed, he said, "It's clear that if there was a sinister plan, then we were taken in. But I'm not taking any responsibility. It's not mine to shoulder."

Chronology of Peoples Temple

Graphic Rule

The End To Innocent
Acceptance Of Sects

Sharper Scrutiny
is Jonestown Legacy
Don Lattin
Chronicle Religion Writer

November 13, 1998

When 50 members of a doomsday cult vanished last month in Colorado, Hal Mansfield knew exactly how to get the world's attention. "This is Jonestown waiting to happen," said Mansfield, director of the Religious Movement Resource Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

Twenty years after the murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, of 914 members of the Peoples Temple, the Rev. Jim Jones remains the personification of cultic evil.

Two words are all it takes to demonize a new religious movement -- whether it deserves the label or not:

"Another Jonestown."

Those who study cults, sects and new religious movements are bitterly divided into two camps -- factions of experts branding their adversaries as "apologists" or "alarmists."

J. Gordon Melton, founder of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, said "professional cult hunters" like Mansfield are too quick to see the potential for mass suicide in the latest Christian sect or new religious movement.

"They believe that all these groups are bad and brainwash their members," he said.

In Melton's view, "brainwashing doesn't exist."

"Jonestown became the stereotype of a cult," Melton said. "But Jones was actually a member of a mainline Protestant denomination, the Disciples of Christ, and was very involved in the ecumenical movement in California. It's the story of a mainline church gone bad, not a new religion.

"Around 2,500 people kill themselves every year in California," Melton added. "It's not beyond reason to see that people in religion can find something to die for. You don't need a brainwashing model to explain that.

"Jim Jones and the members of Peoples Temple performed an act of revolutionary suicide."

Those in the Melton camp point out that most religions start off in an intense "cultic" manner, clashing with the values of mainstream culture.

Attacking 'Cult Apologists'

Anti-cult leaders such as Margaret Singer, adjunct professor emerita of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, said "cult apologists" like Melton "blindly defend" dangerous sect leaders like Jones.

"Anything that calls itself a religion is, by definition, good," she said. "People like Melton are not really scholars of group pressure or group process. We really study these groups and analyze how influence is put upon people by clever and conniving people who want power."

According to Singer and others on her side of the cult wars, a destructive sect is easily distinguished from a legitimate religion.

They say cults are marked by charismatic leaders who claim special powers, promote an "us vs. them" philosophy, practice brainwashing and use deceptive recruitment and fund-raising techniques. Followers undergo dramatic changes in diet, sleep patterns and privacy; become alienated from friends and family; and are exploited financially, physically and sexually.

"Venal people see how easy it is to pick up the lonely and the depressed and sell them a bill of goods," Singer said. "There are so many people out there looking for easy answers to life's complicated problems."

Those who know Monte Kim Miller, the Colorado doomsday prophet, say the Jonestown comparisons are no exaggeration.

Colorado Group On The Run

Last month, Miller and about 50 members of his Concerned Christians sect disappeared from their homes in the Denver area, leaving behind hundreds of worried relatives.

They vanished in the days leading up to October 10, when Miller prophesied that an apocalyptic disaster would wipe Denver off the map.

Those who have watched the group think it may eventually resurface in Israel. Miller, the self-proclaimed last prophet on earth, predicts he will die in the streets of Jerusalem in December 1999 and reappear three days later.

Bill Honsberger, a Colorado evangelical missionary who has monitored the group, notes that both Miller and Jones began their ministries as respected religious leaders.

Miller even began as a speaker on the anti-cult circuit. "Twelve or 13 years ago, he was appearing in some of the biggest churches in Denver, speaking out against the New Age movement," Honsberger said.

In recent years, however, Miller said he could channel the voice of God and began comparing himself to the two witnesses in the apocalyptic pages of the Book of Revelation, the last chapter of the Bible.

"We sat at his house with him for two hours," Honsberger recalled. "We started out talking about how he became a Christian, and pretty soon he showed how he could speak for God. He'd shift his position, contort his face, and say things like, 'God will kill you for opposing his true prophet.'"

According to Honsberger, Miller preaches that his followers "must take up the cross and be willing to die for God. But you stand up for God by being loyal to him. It's the same mentality as Jones, but the manipulation is even more glaring. He has incredible control."

Mansfield said some of Miller's followers have called their families since they disappeared last month to say they are all right. But they would not reveal their location.

Mansfield also concurs with Honsberger about the Jim Jones similarities.

"What's going on inside this guy's head now is anybody's guess," he said, "but I think some sort of suicide is possible."

Rash Of Apocalyptic Sects

Singer noted that there has been no shortage of violent religious sects in the 1990s, many of them with apocalyptic overtones.

Seventy-two members of the Branch Davidian Christian sect died when a hellish inferno engulfed their compound in Waco, Texas. In Japan, the Aum Shrini Kyo cult unleashed a nerve-gas attack on subway riders. In Canada and Europe, 75 members of the Order of the Solar Temple killed themselves in search of new life in a place called Sirius.

And in the spring of 1997, 39 members of Heaven's Gate, a Southern California cult blending Bible prophesy, spiritualism and UFO lore, killed themselves in the belief that they would rendezvous with a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.

Janja Lolich, who runs the Cult Recovery and Information Center in Alameda, said Jonestown remains the landmark event of the anti-cult movement.

Lolich said he hoped the 20th anniversary of Jonestown will serve as a warning for "young people who don't have Jonestown in their memory bank."

"Often the public comes away with the idea that only wacky people get involved in these groups," she said. "But they are often wonderful people with a real sense of idealism."

New Light On The Temple

Focusing on the members of Peoples Temple -- and not just on Jim Jones -- is the central concern of Mary McCormick Maaga in her new book, "Hearing the Voices of Jonestown."

"Passion for social justice blinded them to their own cause," Maaga said. "They increasingly focused on their detractors and defectors and concerned relatives. They were importing food and losing the battle against jungle diseases. Jones was addicted to drugs.

"Their Christian communal socialist experiment wasn't working, and they were very concerned about proving their enemies wrong."

Reducing the complexity of Jonestown to a madman brainwashing his vulnerable flock, Maaga said, is too simple an explanation.

"There were other people in leadership, and if they hadn't agreed to the suicide, it couldn't have gone off," she said. "But we like to just focus on Jim Jones because it's easier to pinpoint evil in a single human being."

Graphic Rule

Most Peoples Temple
Documents Still Sealed
Michael Taylor and Don Lattin
Chronicle Staff Writers

November 13, 1998

For nearly 20 years there have been rumors that the Rev. Jim Jones was either under surveillance by the CIA and the FBI or that he was working for the CIA.

There was even a rumor that he had taken his followers to Jonestown as part of the MK-ULTRA mind control program -- a CIA effort that tried, among other things, to duplicate Soviet and Chinese brainwashing techniques to force recalcitrant spies to reveal sensitive secrets. The government said MK-ULTRA was ended in 1973.

Congressional investigations into Jones' Peoples Temple never substantiated such rumors. But Congress has never declassified some 5,000 pages of documents that scholars and conspiracy buffs would love to go through.

J. Gordon Melton, founder and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, said he does not know what the documents might reveal. But he said they need to be made public "so we can finally figure out what role the U.S. government had down there."

"Jonestown was closely monitored by the government," Melton said. "The CIA and the State Department were regularly checking in on Jonestown."

In 1980, the House Select Committee on Intelligence determined that the CIA had no involvement with Peoples Temple and had no advance warning of the mass murder-suicide.

A year earlier, the House Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that Jones "suffered extreme paranoia." The 782-page report also recommended that more studies be done of cults, but the committee kept more than 5,000 pages secret.

George Berdes, the chief consultant to the committee at the time, said recently that the papers were classified because "we had to give assurances of confidentiality to sources."

"This way, we were able to get better and more information," he said.

But Berdes said that now, "after 20 years, I think it should be declassified." A committee staff aide said the question of declassifying the papers is being studied.

Mary McCormick Maaga, author of a new book, "Hearing the Voices of Jonestown," said the government's refusal to release the papers "feeds this conspiracy theory mentality" around Jonestown.

"I don't need a conspiracy theory to understand all this, but there are some loose ends," she said. "The government has never come clean about the ways they were harassing Peoples Temple."

Trying to discover the truth about this and other Peoples Temple-related rumors, Fielding McGehee, a North Dakota writer, filed more than 200 Freedom of Information Act requests from 1978 to 1982 against six federal agencies, including the CIA and FBI. McGehee's interest stems from the fact that two sisters of McGehee's wife, Rebecca Moore, died at Jonestown.

Moore, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Dakota, is the author of "A Sympathetic History of Jonestown."

"Lots of boxes of material went into the House committee files," McGehee said. "It's like the supporting material on the Kenneth Starr report, but it was never released. We asked Congress to release it, but got no reply."

There are, however, a few places where voluminous government information about Peoples Temple is available.

In January, amateur historian Brian Csuk asked the State Department what it had on Jonestown. To his surprise, the department sent him nearly 6,100 pages of material. He has put a lot of this information on a Web site at www.icehouse.net/zodiac.

The site contains copies of letters praising Jones from such luminaries as former Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally and the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. It also has copies of State Department cables about the mass murder-suicides sent from the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, as well as a series of riveting "situation reports" describing the drama at Jonestown as U.S. diplomats began to learn of the deaths.

Moore, the North Dakota professor, has created a Web site of temple history and "alternative considerations" of the sect. That site is at http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/philrel/jonestown/index.html.

Graphic Rule

Twenty years later,
Jackie Speier remembers
how her companions and rum
helped her endure the night
of the Jonestown massacre

Surviving the Heart of Darkness
Maitland Zane
Chronicle Staff Writer

November 13, 1998

On Wednesday it will be 20 years since Jackie Speier was badly wounded in the Port Kaituma airstrip ambush that preceded the Jonestown massacre.

"I was very lucky," she said. "I was shot five times and still have two bullets in my body. I could easily have been shot dead."

The newly elected state senator from San Mateo's Eighth District spent more than an hour detailing her feelings about the Guyana tragedy, in which five people were murdered in an ambush and Jim Jones and 912 followers died in a mass suicide.

Speier, 48, was then the legal aide to Rep. Leo J. Ryan, D-San Mateo, who had won congressional authorization to investigate charges that the Jonestown colony had become a jungle concentration camp ruled by a madman, and that the lives of nearly a thousand Americans were in danger.

In Georgetown, the humid, ramshackle capital of the former British colony, the craggy-faced congressman and his fact-finding party of concerned relatives and reporters got a curt brushoff from emissaries of the faith healer Jones.

"None of you are welcome," said a statement issued from the villa where some 50 Peoples Temple members were living communally.

Ryan was told he might visit the settlement 150 miles north, near the Venezuelan border, but only if he came alone. That was a cruel blow to the 17 Bay Area relatives who had flown 5,000 miles to visit their kinfolk, for they were barred, as were several newspaper reporters and an NBC TV team.

On Wednesday, November 15, the relatives got into a tearful shouting match at the American Embassy with the U.S. Ambassador, John R. Burke, and Richard C. Dwyer, the deputy chief of mission, threatening not to budge until they were allowed to see their families.

The relatives were not placated by the slide show Burke and Dwyer showed.

"It was a dog-and-pony show that Ambassador Burke put on to make it seem he had been doing his job," Speier said. "But the fact is the U.S. Embassy abandoned its responsibility to protect American citizens abroad."

When she defected in May 1978, Debbie Layton Blakey warned Richard Dwyer that a mass suicide had been rehearsed and that Jones was a megalomaniac who likened himself to Christ and Lenin. But it wasn't until November 7 that Dwyer dispatched two deputies to Jonestown.

Ryan, 52, became involved because he represented a district in northern San Mateo County, and many of his constituents were Peoples Temple members.

Ryan said a settlement deep in the bush might be reasonably run on authoritarian lines -- but residents must be able to come and go freely. If it had become a gulag, he said, he would do everything he could to free the captives.

Lawyers Mark Lane and Charles Garry, both strident defenders of Jones, negotiated with Jones and Ryan to arrange a meeting. Lane had written to Ryan the month before attacking the planned visit as "religious persecution."

The lawyers persuaded Jones to allow a visit on Friday, the 17th. Speier said Ryan was not warned that it might be a death trap. Burke and Dwyer insisted all was benign.

A Warm Welcome

Much to their surprise, the Ryan party found the welcome mat out at the settlement of cottages for families, long dormitories for seniors, a school for the hundreds of children, and a medical clinic.

A large pavilion had a tin roof and open sides, and on the stage was Jones's throne, an armchair with microphone close at hand. Placed above was a large sign saying "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

A spellbinding preacher since his boyhood in Indiana, Jim Jones was then 47 and addicted to "uppers." On a tape found after the slaughter he can be heard ranting, "You've seen me raise the dead, seen those who were blind open their eyes, seen the crippled suddenly made whole, seen them pass cancer after cancer. . . . I'm incarnate. I'm a liberator. I'm a savior. I am that which they call God." That evening Jonestown inhabitants dined and then danced to the sounds of the camp's rock group, the Jonestown Express, and Ryan was clearly puzzled by all the happy faces and apparently healthy people. Taking the microphone, he said, "I'm very glad to be here. Despite the charges I have heard, I am sure there are some people here this evening who believe this is the best thing that ever happened in their whole lives."

Pandemonium. Reporters said the whoops and applause went on five or 10 minutes. Ryan laughed, saying he wished he could register every Jonestown resident as a San Mateo voter. But then he turned serious: "I won't pull any punches. This is a congressional inquiry."

Jones consented to an interview after dinner. Reporters found him puffy-faced and ill. His black hair and sideburns appeared to be dyed. He wore makeup as if for a stage performance. He claimed to have a temperature of 103 degrees and was slurring his words. Popping pill after pill, Jones called the 3,000-acre farm a "sharing community, like living in a big happy family."

Dwyer and Jones were seen to embrace cordially. To Speier it appeared they were "in cahoots." Reporters sensed that something was staged about the reception. First to get an inkling of the reality of Jonestown was NBC correspondent Don Harris, when later that evening a young man passed him a note. Two names were on it, Vernon Gosney and Monika Bagby, with this message: "Please help me get out of Jonestown."

"By then we knew we were on to something," said Speier. "It was apparent there was fear and intimidation, that the reception was a charade, that people were being held against their will." The following morning Ryan and Speier began interviewing residents, and Edith Parks, an elderly woman in a baseball cap, was first to step forward. "I want to go with you. I want to leave Jonestown."

Her spunkiness encouraged her family, and by early afternoon word had gotten around and other people said they wanted to leave, too.

"My most vivid memory -- it's one that haunts me still -- is of a couple pulling on the arms of their child, who was 3 or 4," Speier said. "One parent wanted to leave; the other wanted to stay, and the child was caught between."

The defections infuriated Jones. He gave Harris an icy glare when the NBC correspondent showed him Gosney's note. "People play games, friend. They lie. Are you people going to leave us? I just beg you, please leave us."

Suspicious Of Layton

Enter Larry Layton, who worked at the Jonestown hospital as an X-ray technician. Layton had denounced his sister Debbie for defecting, telling Speier that Jonestown was "an extraordinarily good place to live."

So she was instantly suspicious when Layton announced that he "wanted to be repatriated too."

When the time came for the visitors and defectors to depart, Layton was seen hugging Jones, but he did not have so much as a farewell kiss for his wife Karen, who became hysterical. The genuine defectors shrank away when Layton climbed aboard a big yellow dump truck without baggage.

Ryan volunteered to say behind to protect other would-be defectors. But an ultraloyalist, Don Sly, put a knife to his throat, snarling, "Congressman Ryan, you are a motherfucker."

Garry and Lane intervened. Lane grabbed the knife, and, in the scuffle, Sly cut his own hand, spraying blood on Ryan's shirt. Dwyer, the official escort, insisted that Ryan leave for his own protection, and the pale and shaken lawmaker agreed. Back at the Port Kaituma airport, Speier recalled, Layton was intense. He had a mission and he was going to fulfill that mission. I was fearful about being on the same aircraft as Larry Layton. I told Leo Ryan I thought he was a fraud."

The Twin Otter had 19 seats, so a second plane was chartered for the defectors, and the six-passenger Cessna was the one that Layton whined to be put aboard. He evaded the body search other passengers were subjected to, but Tim Reiterman of the San Francisco Examiner alerted Dwyer, who insisted Layton be frisked, too.

Perhaps Layton hid his revolver under the seat, for when he climbed out to be searched he was clean. Reboarding the small white plane, Layton picked the seat behind the pilot's and buckled up, still stonily silent.

The Cessna was at the far end of a rough sloping airstrip revving for takeoff when Jones's "Red Brigade" arrived, several men in a flatbed trailer drawn by a farm tractor.

Seconds later NBC cameraman Bob Brown was killed by a shotgun blast at short range. He might have survived if he had run for cover, but he continued filming the advancing gunmen until cut down himself, the last frames tilted crazily. "Bob's brain was blown out of his head," said Ron Javers of The Chronicle, who took a slug in the shoulder. "It splattered the blue NBC minicam. I'll never forget that sight as long as I live."

Ryan's face was blown off. Patricia Parks and Don Harris were shotgunned to death at the steps of the Twin Otter, and the fifth fatality was San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson.

Seeing the assault on the Ryan party, the Cessna pilot aborted the takeoff. Layton began firing wildly, first wounding the defectors Bagby and Gosney. Then the fanatic turned his .38 on Dale Parks, but the gun misfired and Parks was able to wrestle it away. Caught literally red-handed, Layton first lied, saying Parks had tried to shoot him, then boasted he had shot the defectors.

"I was lying on the ground by one of the plane's wheels, pretending to be dead," Speier said.

"I had my head on my arm, but I was one of the people they targeted, and was shot five times in the shoulder and right side by guys with rifles and shotguns.

"I went into shock. My mind rejected what had happened. Once I comprehended it I thought, 'I never expected to die at such an early age -- I was 28 at the time. Would my parents ever know?' And then I waited for the lights to go out."

Found Strength

Incredibly, Speier recovered her nerve. She decided she didn't want her 86-year-old grandmother to have to attend her funeral.

Charles Krause gave her his shirt to stanch the bleeding. And at her request, Javers tape recorded an "oral will" for her parents.

The pilots fled, taking the wounded Bagby and others to Georgetown.

"We all thought we were goners," said Speier, who took shelter in a tent, Javers and others wrapping her in a tarpaulin. "We thought the hit squad would come back and finish us off."

There was no doctor in Port Kaituma, no medicine of any kind. But one of the survivors fetched a bottle of liquor from the village disco.

Speier suddenly smiled, her hazel eyes sparkled when she said, "I survived that night on Guyanese rum. One hundred and fifty proof, really potent stuff. We took turns taking swigs."

The defectors said the White Night ritual they had rehearsed 42 times was probably now under way. "Revolutionary suicide" was what Jones called it. So it turned out. Speier said that sometime after midnight word filtered back from Jonestown that there had been a massacre, that everybody was dead.

"I bristle when people say Jonestown was a 'mass suicide,'" she said with heat. "Hundreds of people, including the children, were murdered!"

Speier said it was not until about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon that a rescue plane arrived from Georgetown, and by Monday she was in surgery at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington. One of the souvenirs she saved was a bullet extracted from her side, neatly encased in plastic and carrying an FBI tag.

Could another Jonestown happen again? "Cults are here to stay. The menace still lingers," she said. "It's arrogant to believe something like this couldn't happen again."

"Many of the Peoples Temple members came from dysfunctional families, with low self-esteem. They were searching for love. They were fragile people whose lives were incomplete. Cults attract people who are searching for some meaning in their life."

A Career In Politics

Since her days as an undergraduate at University of California at Davis, when she interned in the California Legislature, Speier had always aspired to a career in politics. After several years as a county supervisor, she won the Assembly seat once held by Leo Ryan, and by dazzling coincidence was sworn in the same day in 1986 that Larry Layton was convicted of aiding and abetting the assassination of Ryan. Layton is now serving a life term at Lompoc.

In January 1994, Speier suffered another devastating blow. Her physician husband, Dr. Steven Sierra, was killed in San Mateo by a red-light runner driving with defective brakes. She was pregnant with a second child.

As a single mother raising her son Jackson, 10, and daughter Stephanie, 4, she spent the past two years as vice president of a software company. Elected with a smashing 3-to-1 majority, she succeeds outgoing state Senator Quentin Kopp in a district that covers the northern part of San Mateo County and the western half of San Francisco.

Wednesday will be the 20th anniversary of her Jonestown ordeal. As in years past, Speier will take the day off. She plans to visit Leo Ryan's grave at Golden Gate National Cemetery with her friend Pat Ryan, one of the slain congressman's children. "It will be a day of reflection," she said.

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