“The Man, The Myth, The Killer”
By: Taylor Mosby
If you don’t know him already as he floods the current news headlines, you will.
I got the chance to sit with this man in a rural area of Indiana last week to ask him about his life. He requested that I do not reveal most of the interview, but rather, write it as a biography with little to no dialogue of his own. I agreed because I have questions about what happened. On May 13, 1931 James Warren Jones came to this world, in Crete, Indiana, in the arms of Lynetta Jones and James Thurman Jones, a veteran of the Great War. He would be the only child the two ever had.
Growing up, his father was emotionally absent and, since the two divorced, Lynetta was forced to work a lot, so Jones did not get as much attention as he needed as a child. When I asked him about how he felt growing up, he says “I didn’t have any love given to me—I didn’t know what the hell love was” (Jonestown). As a result, Jones did not have much discipline, so he would mainly do his own thing around town. A lot of kids did not like him though, “I was considered the trash of the neighborhood”, he says. Things he found himself doing were rescuing stray animals, helping out the needy, and giving a hand to the underdog.
Figure 1: Lynetta Jones
He first started to explore churches and religion in his early days by going to the local Methodist, Nazarene, Quaker, and the Church of Christ services.
This all sounds to be a normal childhood in America, right? Think again. This man would later be held responsible for the mass suicide that took over 900 lives of women, men, and children, all in the name of God.
Developing a Church to Preach
After finishing school at Indiana University with a Bachelor’s in Education, he went on to marry Marceline Baldwin, a nurse he met at a hospital, in 1949.
With Jones being so interested in religion, even from a young age, it became almost inevitable that he had a desire to start-up his own church. His first experiences as being a leader in the church-world, was when he stepped into playing the role of a faith healer at a Methodist Church. He would bring people to the front that had cancer and would “heal” them. In reality, he would hire people to act-as-if. Along with having a deep interest in the church, he also had a desire to bring the community together, so-to-speak. At this time in America, racism and civil rights were at its peak, and everybody knew it. Jones had a different idea though, he wanted to bring all colors, all types, and all ages together as one. So, in 1955, he founded the “People’s Temple” located in Indianapolis, Indiana. People were drawn to the church because of the racial equality, soup kitchens, nursing homes, but honestly it was more than that that made them stay and bring more with them each week. African Americans, Indians, and other minorities, as well as whites, all felt at home here and were mainly those of the altruistic type. People honestly believed in the church; more and more people were coming every week. I asked him what he told the people in the church as far as having such passion for him and he responded with “If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend; if you see me as your father I’ll be your father; if you see me as your God, I’ll be your God” (Grainger). The people finally found a place they could call home and a place they could be themselves without the restrictions of society trying to dumb them down. If Jim Jones’ goal was to exterminate these people from the beginning, he had the right idea; make the people who felt the least accepted, feel like they had a place to release. He even falsely claimed that he was part Indian. Jim Jones was smart, nonetheless. A member of The People’s Temple once said that it “truly had the potential to be something big and powerful and great. Yet, for whatever reason, Jim took the other road” (Jonestown).
The Beginning of the…