Jim Jones was Dying of AIDS.
Press coverage in the wake of the 1978 Jonestown suicides and mass-murders, as well as scholarly research, has left the public with the impression
that Rev. Jim Jones was a stoned madman when he ordered the deaths of over a thousand of his loyal followers, in the wake of the killings of a US
Congressman and his entourage.
While I don't doubt that Jones was addicted to psychoactive drugs, I have found several passages in "Gone From the Promised Land"
considered the authoritative work on the Jonestown tragedy) which, to a contemporary eye, point to the possibility that Jim Jones was dying of
First, there is the widely noted fact of Jones' bisexuality, or more correctly, his omnisexuality. While Jones used sex as a "therapeutic tool,"
ostensibly to help the lives of the Peoples Temple's female members, he also used sex as a weapon for punishing the male church-members who had
displeased him. He would accuse them of being latent homosexuals, and then force them to have sex with him. In addition to unproved charges that
Jones had molested children, Jones had been arrested in San Francisco in 1973, for lewd conduct in a public men's restroom: he exposed himself to a
male undercover police officer, and solicited sex. (Hall, 1989, 103). His sexual behavior definitely indicates that he enjoyed a wide variety of
sexual partners, and resorted to having sex with strangers often enough to run across a vice officer at least once.
Second, and the item which initiated this whole line of inquiry, is author Hall's note that, after living in Jonestown for only a few months, Jones'
personal physician had diagnosed him with "progressive coccidioidomycosis." Tellingly, Hall writes that "Jones felt that he was dying
(Hall, p. 254)
This site, the Merck Online Medical Manual,
relates that coccidioidomycosis is caused by a fungal spore found in central and South American soils, and occurs especially in farm-workers who
breathe lots of dust. So far, this fits in with someone directing the clearing of tropical jungle. But, as the Merck Manual points out, while the
acute form is of short duration and dissipates without treatment,
The progressive form is often a sign that the person has a weakened immune system, usually because of AIDS.
One might expect that out of 1100 Peoples Temple workers, many of whom, unlike Jones, did the actual manual labor of hoeing crops, at least one other
case of coccidioidomycosis would occur. Yet this is not the case, even though there were a large number of elderly church-members, who had lived in
various nursing homes operated by the Peoples Temple in the San Francisco Area before moving to Guyana. Certainly, the heath of these elderly had
been fragile enough for them to be institutionalized in nursing homes. And yet not one of them contracted this unusual disease. This lack of other
cases indicates that there was something about him as a patient that made Jones so uniquely at risk to what was a rare disease in that location.
Further, in the week before Congressman Ryan's fact-finding expedition to Jonestown in 1978 in Guyana, staffers from the American embassy had been
allowed to tour Jonestown and speak with Jim Jones himself. Just a week before Jones' death, this is their impression of the cult-leader's physical
health, as related by author John R. Hall:
source: "Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History." John R. Hall, 1989. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
"Jim Jones seemed in a poor state: he slurred his speech, he could not spell a word that he did not want a child to overhear, and he complained of a
high fever, even though he did not appear to be perspiring. To underscore his fragile health, the leader wore a surgical mask when not eating and had
two aides help him away from the table when he finished dining with his guests." (Hall, p. 264).
Most authorities, including Hall, seem to attribute Jones' poor health to his various addictions to mood-altering medication. Yet the description
above also fits in with the symptoms of a patient in the very last stages of the AIDS virus. The surgical mask may have appeared an oddity in 1978;
but it would soon become one of the hallmarks of a person whose immune system had been suppressed---by AIDS.
Finally, on the audiotape found by investigators in the aftermath of the Jonestown killings, there is heard the following conversation, as a Peoples
Temple member, Christine Miller, tries to talk Jim Jones out of giving the order to drink the purple flavor-aid:
(Jones, referring to the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan and his entourage at the airstrip on the edge of Jonestown: )
Jones, stammering: "You think Russia's gonna want us with all this Stigma?"
Miller: "As long as there's life, there's hope. That's my faith."
Jones: "Well . . . everybody dies. Some place that hope runs out, because everybody dies. I haven't seen anybody yet didn't die."
(Hall, p. 283)
While this theory that Jim Jones was succumbing to AIDS will probably never be conclusively proven, it does accord with all the known facts, and helps
explain anomalous facts not accounted by the "drug addiction" story. If it were true, it might go a long way to explaining Jones' state of mind
when he ordered the mass suicide and murder of his entire congregation.