Jonestown death tape: audio from the last hours of a mass suicide

Lurking in the bowels of the Internet Archive is the Jonestown Death Tape, a recording made by Jim Jones of the final hours of his cult, as he fed them poison and watched them all die, men, women and children. I wasn't able to listen to this -- just reading about the children screaming and Jones berating parents who balked at killing them was enough to give me a serious bout of willies. Still, this is one of those historical documents that I'm glad is out there -- atrocities like Jonestown don't happen every day (thankfully), and getting some insight into those who commit them is a worthwhile endeavor (for someone with a stronger stomach than mine).
An audio recording made on November 18, 1978, at the Peoples Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana immediately preceding and during the mass suicide or murder of over 900 members of the cult.


  1. Cory, have you seen Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”?

    There’s a bit where he listens to a tape of a young man and his girlfriend being mauled to death. Herzog doesn’t play the tape in the film, instead he listens, his face grave, with headphones on. At the end he hands the tape to a friend of the couple and simple says “You should never listen to this.”

    It’s an amazing historical document. I will never listen to it.

  2. Got about two minutes in before I had to stop it. Man oh man, just knowing what happened IS enough to make you bottle it.

  3. I remember listening to tapes from Jim Jones in a psychology lecture in college. It was very distrubing to here someone giving instructions on how to get your kids to drink poison cool aid. I remember people crying.

  4. I’ve heard similar comments from people who’ve watched execution videos online: one can see the historical value of the documents, but I can’t say I’m in any hurry to view/listen to them.

  5. I believe Boingboing should do a mashup of this audio and the fat-guy shooting his pistol video. What fun! Classy too!

  6. this is one of those things that used to turn up in the mailboxes of tape traders, in the pre-internet days of 80’s nihilism. The R. “Bud” Dwyer suicide press conference video was another.

    those were such innocent times.

  7. I’m pretty sure this was included with a bunch of other freaky recordings posted on boingboing a while back.
    Not that its not worth posting again, bloodcurdling.

  8. Is that a slight lisp that Jim Jones has? Listening to the start of the tape, where he talks about impending catastrophe, I couldn’t help but think that he sounded a bit like Rudy Giuliani might sound after gobbling a handful of assorted pills.

    Not sure I want to listen to the whole thing all the way through, though.

  9. I swear I heard it on TV not long after the event. My mom walked in, horrified. It did me good, I think — made me NEVER follow anyone blindly.

  10. Parts of this were used in a History Channel documentary about Jonestown I saw last year. Jim Jones’ son was interviewed, he seems like a fascinating person (not in a scary way, like his father, whom he hated). Absolutely chilling.

  11. I had to listen to these tapes back in college for a Critical Thinking Psychology class. We were required to listen to them as evidence of the power of psychological manipulation gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s still difficult for me to listen to even a short clip of the recording.

  12. Yeah. I heard a bit on the HC documentary. I will never use the phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” ™ ever again with humor in mind.

  13. Didn’t Gen P-Orridge’s TOPY record label release this audio on vinyl in 1984? I’m pretty sure it’s sitting in my record collection right now, where it’s been for at least 15 years, never listened to.

    I agree – I have it because it’s such an important historical record, but I haven’t ever been in a place where actually listening to it seemed like a good idea.

  14. Oh man, why did I listen?

    I thought Boing Boing was a directory of wonderful things. This is the exact opposite of wonderful.

    I know I am going to have audio nightmares tonight.

  15. @ Firepile. Yes Topy did put out this recording on LP, I think it was even longer ago than 15 years. It is also on a CD put out more recently by Grey Matter, which includes the whole of the Gospel LP recorded by the Jonestown Choir, the name of which I can’t exactly recall right now.
    A final bit of oddness – half the gospel songs were re-recorded with titles and lyrics warped by Death In June , on the album “But What Ends When The Symbols Shatter”. They were uncredited. I was very surprised when I recognised them…

  16. I wonder how many people who use the phrase “drink/drank the Kool-Aid” know where it came from. I remember when it happened.

  17. I wonder how many people who use the phrase “drink/drank the Kool-Aid” know where it came from. I remember when it happened.

  18. Actually, TRR, the phrase originates from Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters’ old “Acid Test” experiments as immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. To “drink the kool-aid” was to be willing to go along for the ride on this wild, somewhat scary new experience. It was only after the Jonestown incident that the phrase started to take on a more sinister, “believing-in-the-cult-without-questioning” meaning.

  19. Fun Fact: It was actually Flavor Aid that was used to kill the People’s Temple members, not Kool-Aid. I’ve always felt kind of bad for Kool-Aid that everyone remembers it wrong.

  20. @ Bluekephra: I think I actually enjoy that DIJ album (as opposed to a lot of their other work). Of course, now that I know some of the source material it’s going to be hard to enjoy!

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