Jonestown, 30 years later: From Silver Lake To Suicide


The LA Weekly published an article by Barry Isaacson about the discovery earlier this year of a number of letters sent by a Jonestown resident to her parents, who lived in LA's Silver Lake neighborhood.

Phyllis and her family were dead for more than a decade by the time her elderly parents moved out of their house in Silver Lake in 1992. Architectural real estate agents had to bring the exquisite midcentury modern on Micheltorena Street back from the brink of decrepitude before selling it to my wife, Jenny, and me. Handing over the keys, they told us that, according to neighborhood folklore, the Alexanders might have left behind a concealed suitcase containing correspondence from their long-dead daughter and grandchildren. We looked but found nothing, and having been made aware of the circumstances of this family’s demise, we felt reluctant to intrude on an almost unimaginable grief.

But this past February, 10 years after we started to raise a family of our own where the Alexanders had raised theirs, a handyman working on our house emerged from the basement carrying a dusty vinyl briefcase. Inside was an extensive collection of press clippings, evidence of an almost obsessive attempt by the Alexanders to make sense of their daughter’s fatal acts of bad judgment.

In a separate envelope were letters written by Phyllis from San Francisco and later from Jonestown, Guyana, where she and her husband had moved with their children in 1975. There were fond letters to their grandparents from Gail and David. The most moving document in the cache was a carbon copy of a painful valediction from Dr. Alexander to Phyllis, written on an old manual typewriter on September 21, 1977. Tenderly, but with eloquent firmness, he reprimands her, perplexed and offended by her embrace of Jim Jones, the deviant cuckoo who had flown into the Alexanders’ nest and whom Phyllis and her fellow Peoples Temple members called “Dad.”

From Silver Lake to Suicide (LA Weekly). Here's a related slideshow in the LA Weekly.

See also this related section of the SDSU Jonestown document archives, "The Chaikin/Alexander Letters," with PDFs of the original documents.

Boing Boing posts on Jim Jones, Jonestown and People's Temple:

- Jonestown, 30 years Later: Inside People's Temple, the 1977 exposé.
- Jonestown, 30 years later: original audio recordings from People's Temple and Guyana.
- Jonestown, 30 years later: Life and Death of People's Temple (PBS video).
- Jonestown, 30 years later: interview with a survivor (video)
- Jonestown, 30 years later: From Silver Lake To Suicide
- Jonestown, 30 years later: "Father Cares," NPR documentary from 1981
- Raven: The Untold Story of The Reverend Jim Jones and His People
- Andrew Brandou on his Jonestown paintings