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Morbid find opens up old wounds from Jonestown Massacre after 35 years

Guyana site of the Jonestown Massacre in 1978.
Guyana site of the Jonestown Massacre in 1978.
Wikkicommons 3.0

Police in Dover, DE have recovered the remains of 9 victims of the Jonestown massacre in a former funeral parlor, along with ashes of 27 other cremated people after being alerted by a bank now in possession of the property. Although clearly marked, according to Kimberly Chandler, spokeswoman for the Delaware Division of Forensic Sciences, no names have been released to the public pending notification of family members. The Jonestown remains had apparently been there for more than 35 years. Chandler said the containers spanned a period from about 1970 to the 1990s.

While rather gruesome, there was nothing sinister about the find however. “It's simply a case of unclaimed cremains at a closed funeral home," she said, noting that the director of the funeral home, Edward G. Minus Sr., 74, of Dover had died in 2012, and the building, was taken over by Sunningdale Ventures, Inc., a subsidiary of Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley.

“Jonestown" (officially known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project) was originally founded by Jim Jones in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, but was later relocated to northwestern Guyana after running afoul of the law. It became internationally notorious gunmen from the group ambushed and murdered California Congressman Leo Ryan and three news reporters at a remote airstrip in Port Kaituma on November 18, 1978. Ryan had come to investigate reported abuses of the group’s members.
A short time afterward Jones orchestrated a the mass murder and suicide of 911 Temple members by ordering them to dink grape punch laced with cyanide poisoning. All but two of the Jonestown congregation died.* Bodies of the dead were .later flown to Dover Air Force Base, the largest US military mortuary. A number of the bodies, however, were reportedly so badly decomposed that they 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.

*One of the survivors, Yulanda Williams, now 58-years old, had left the commune
A spokeswoman for Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at the military base didn't immediately return calls seeking comment. Dover Police Cpl. Mark Hoffman said police assume the military contracted with the funeral home to handle the remains.
Survivor Yulanda Williams, 58, now a sergeant with the San Francisco Police had spent 10 years with the temple, including 3 months in Jonestown before leaving with her infant daughter. She called the discovery of the remains “another bizarre turn of events.

"It's just so sad, for me as a survivor," said Williams, now a sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. "You consistently wind up finding yourself trying to heal but having your wounds opened up again when new information is given."