The Jonestown “Day After” Tape

Lots of people know about Jonestown, the settlement in Guyana led by “Rev.” Jim Jones, and its tragic mass murder/suicide* on 18 November 1978.

Many of those people know about the so-called “death tape” (transcription here), which is a cassette tape recording of Jim Jones and a few other people talking as the murder/suicides begin: Jones explains why he thinks it’s a good idea; he argues with one notable dissenter for a while about it; then the process is underway.

But not a lot of people know there’s a “day after” tape.

When the Guyanese Defense Force and others combed through the remains of the settlement, they found many tapes, including the one which went down in the FBI archives as Q 042, the death tape.  But they also found Q 875.  This tape is a recording of someone(s) listening to news stories about the events going down in Jonestown … on November 19th, the day after the suicides. (Transcription here.) The “listener(s)” make occasional comments, including an expletive when the newscaster says that autopsies will be done on the bodies before they’re returned to the States.

This led to a lot of conspiracy theories: Who was still alive in Jonestown to record it?  And who had the intestinal fortitude to do so while surrounded by 900+ bodies decomposing in the jungle?

The survivors (there were a few) have listened to it and some have said they thought they recognized one person or another among the “listeners” on the tape.  But no one can make sense of it.

However, in recent years, a couple of researchers, Marlon Linek and Joel Thomas, believe they’ve solved the mystery: Sounds on Q 875 sound like a screen door slamming and a soda can dispenser — the distinctive “clunk/flop” of a can dropping and the door flapping.

And Jonestown survivors say there was no soda machine or screen door in Jonestown, certainly not near the radio room.  But those things did exist in Port Kaituma, a few miles away, where Guyanese Defense Forces personnel were based.  (Details of the analysis here.)

So someone from the GDF probably was taping the stories and dropped the tape in Jonestown.  Intentionally or by mistake?  Unknown.  But it almost certainly wasn’t some ghoulish stragglers who hadn’t yet either killed themselves or made an escape.

*— murder/suicide: Usually Jonestown is referred to as a “mass suicide”.  A lot of those who died were children, some very very young indeed.  They didn’t commit suicide; they were murdered by their families.  There has been some debate as to how many adults were outright murdered by Jones loyalists as opposed to committing “revolutionary suicide” (Jones’s term, certainly not mine), but there can be no debate about little children: they were murdered.