Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death In The People’s Temple -Deborah Layton

poisonThe mass suicide and murder of more than 900 people that occurred on November 18, 1978,  in Jonestown, Guyana is still the largest in history.  Their deaths and the murder of Congressmen Leo Ryan are regrettable moments in what could have been a movement that changed the way people view society.  Jim Jones had high hopes for his People’s Temple and their mission to reform social conditions and give way to freedom, equality and happiness.  Jones himself died of a gunshot wound to the head and did not drink the poisonous concoction.  Prior to Jones’ final meltdown, several members of the People’s Temple had expressed desire to leave the organization disillusioned with promises of grandeur.   The reality that Jonestown was a nearly impossible task began to set in causing many to question their decision to leave the United States. As a result of the final action by the maniacal Jones, families were permanently separated and several generations died at the same time. Those who were lucky enough to escape that day or beforehand were spared the agonizing final moments of the People’s Temple.

Deborah Layton, her brother Larry and mother had joined the People’s Temple attracted to Jones’ rhetoric and vision for the church.  She becomes a personal secretary of Jones and in the process becomes one of many victims of Jones’ inappropriate conduct.  Following Jones to Guyana, they quickly become absorbed into the alternate reality that became the backbone of the commune’s existence.  As time progresses, she becomes dissatisfied with what is clearly a dictatorship run by Jones.  Leaving her brother and mother behind, she makes her escape from the People’s Temple and this is her story of why and how she made the decision to leave behind the people that she loved the most to save herself from a fate destined to nearly 1,000 people, many of whom she knew on a first name basis.

Larry had served as one of the gunmen who fired upon Congressman Ryan’s plane, killing him and several news reporters in the process. He was the only person convicted for the massacre and was subsequently convicted and incarcerated. He served 18 years in prison before he was paroled in 2002. He lives a quiet life Northern California and to my knowledge, has not made any public statements regarding the tragedy at Jonestown.  Among those wounded was a young reporter named Tim Reiterman who later wrote the definitive account of Jones’ reign of terror.  The book was published under the title Raven: The Untold Story of Jim Jones and His People.

More than thirty years have passed since the Jonestown tragedy.  Layton has her own Twitter page devoted to her career as an author and a survivor of Jonestown.  She carries with her the memories of her time with Jones compounded with the conviction of her brother and the loss of her mother. Her story is tragic and bittersweet but key to understanding why Jones and his words were seductive poison.

ISBN-10: 0385489846
ISBN-13: 978-0385489843

Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People- Tim Reiterman

ravenOn November 18, 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple were found dead in Jonestown, Guyana. To this day it is the largest mass suicide-murder in history.  Among the dead is leader Jim Jones, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head.    Jones had been the pastor of the People’s Temple since its beginning in California and remained in control, overseeing the move to Guyana and the subsequent downward spiral.  Tim Reiterman was a journalist with the Associated Press and his career has spanned more than three decades. He is also a survivor of Jonestown and presents to us the full story of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.   On that fateful day, Reiterman had been covering Congressman Leo Ryan’s visit to Jonestown to meet with Jones. He was shot and wounded as Jones’ henchmen opened fired on the congressman’s place as it waited to take off.   He was seriously wounded but escaped into the jungle eventually finding refuge among the local residents.  He eventually returned to United States but carries the memories of Jonestown with him everyday.

The true mystery of Jonestown remains Jones’ motives for its tragic end.  His ability to proselytize and then exploit his followers earned him a following that grew exponentially.  His subsequent actions including the move to Guyana and the tragedy that followed have caused his name to be mentioned among the likes of Charles Manson, Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh.   Through his actions, Jones became the poster boy for cults across the nation and he is considered by some to be the most evil cult leader that has ever lived.   Survivors of Jonestown have come forward to tell their stories about the People’s Temple and their encounters with Jones.  Many years have passed but the scars and pain from Jonestown remain with them.  Anger, confusion and survivor’s guilt are just some of the range of emotions that engulf survivors that still struggle to make sense of a senseless act. But as we see in Reiterman’s investigative report, many of Jones’ action did not make sense and no one knew for certain what he was truly thinking.  The man who once led a progressive church that had the ability to effect social reform, descended into a realm of paranoia and fear, encourage by drug use. His downward spiral into darkness had deadly results.

Larry Layton was the only person ever convicted in the massacre and was paroled in 2002. His sister Deborah, a survivor of Jonestown and escapee, wrote her own memoir, ‘Seductive Person‘, about her time in the People’s Temple.   What she reveals in her book shows an even darker side to Jones, a man consumed by a thirst for power and unrestrained sexual urges. Layton remains active and even has her own Twitter page showcasing her work.  She has come a long way since Jonestown, but her time with Jones remains with her in memories of the mother she left behind in Guyana and a brother enticed to commit murder.  She is just one of many whose lives will never be the same.  Jones is longer here to explain his actions or thoughts.  By all accounts it is clear that by the time of his death he was completely unhinged and delusional or as Reiterman shows us, completely out of his mind.  What started out as a noble project to change society ended in unspeakable horror and today Jonestown is case study in the power of cult leaders.

There are many stories about Jonestown told from different viewpoints.  But in the end, this is the completely story of the rise and fall of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.

ISBN-10: 1585426784
ISBN-13: 978-1585426782