Jonestown massacre remains found at former funeral home in Delaware, US

Ashes of nine who died in Jonestown mass suicide are found in former funeral home

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 3:38am


More than 35 years after the infamous suicide-murder of some 900 people - many forced to drink a cyanide-laced grape drink - in Jonestown, Guyana, the long-lost remains of nine cremated victims have been found in a dilapidated former funeral home in the US.

The grisly discovery on Thursday brought back memories of a tragedy that killed hundreds of children and a US congressman, and horrified Americans.

Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones in the 1970s moved his San Francisco-based group to Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America, as allegations of wrongdoing mounted. Hundreds of followers moved there.

On November 18, 1978, on a remote jungle airstrip, gunmen from the group ambushed and killed US congressman 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 orchestrated a ritual of mass murder and suicide, ordering followers to drink cyanide-laced grape drink. Most complied, although survivors described some people being shot, injected with poison, or forced to drink the deadly beverage when they tried to resist.

After the deaths, bodies of 911 massacre victims were brought to Dover Air Force Base, home to the US military's largest mortuary. Many of the bodies were decomposed and could not be identified. Several cemeteries refused to take them until the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California stepped forward in 1979 and accepted 409 bodies. The remaining victims were cremated or buried in family cemeteries.

The newly discovered remains were clearly marked, with the names of the deceased included on death certificates, authorities said.

Kimberly Chandler, spokeswoman for the Delaware Division of Forensic Science, said the agency found the remains last week after a call from the property's owner - a bank, according to police. Officials found 38 containers of remains, 33 of which were marked and identified. Chandler said the containers included remains from Jonestown.

"It's simply a case of unclaimed cremains at a closed funeral home," Chandler said, adding that there was no reason to believe that five unmarked containers held remains of more Jonestown victims.

It was not unusual for families to authorise cremation and then leave the ashes unclaimed at funeral homes, Delaware funeral directors said.

Survivor Yulanda Williams, 58, called the discovery of the remains another bizarre turn.

Williams spent a decade with the temple, including three months in Jonestown. She left with her eight-month-old daughter before the massacre.

"This is just another example of how these victims were further victimised," she said.