5 Jonestown victims among names released
DOVER, Delaware (AP) — Five victims of the 1978 Peoples Temple mass suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana, were among the names released Monday by Delaware officials of people whose cremated remains were recently discovered inside an abandoned funeral home.
Thirty-eight sets of remains, 31 of which were clearly labeled, were discovered last month inside a shuttered building near downtown Dover that formerly housed the Minus Funeral Home. The remains spanned a period from approximately 1970 through the 1990s and included nine victims of the massacre.
Jim Jones led hundreds of followers in the Peoples Temple settlement to Guyana. On Nov. 18, 1978, on a remote jungle airstrip, gunmen from the group ambushed and killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California, three newsmen and a defector from the group. All were visiting Jonestown on a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abuses of members.
Jones then ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced grape punch. Most complied, although survivors described some people being shot, injected with poison, or forced to drink the poison.
All 911 bodies were taken to Dover Air Force Base, home to the U.S. military’s largest mortuary. Several local funeral homes helped prepare the bodies and returned them to relatives, though many remains were never claimed. More than 400 were buried in a mass grave at a California cemetery, while the rest were either cremated or buried in family cemeteries.
Within days of last month’s discovery, authorities were able to contact the families of five of the deceased, including Jonestown victims Irra Johnson, Wanda King, Maud Perkins and Mary Rodgers.
But further efforts by the state Division of Forensic Science to contact family members of the other 26 deceased whose remains were labeled have been unsuccessful.
“In the past month, DFS staff have unsuccessfully culled through Delaware death certificates and cremation permits, searched online obituaries and other state databases in an attempt to identify family contacts,” officials said in a statement. “They have also reached out to the Jonestown Institute at San Diego State University, the California Historical Society and other Jonestown survivors but have been unable to locate any additional family members.”
Officials said they were releasing the names of the identified remains not yet claimed in hopes that it will lead to other family members. Among the names released Monday were those of Jonestown victims Ottie Mese Guy, Katherine M. Domineck, Tony Walker, Irene Mason and Ruth Atkins.
Seven sets of remains are still unidentified.