918 Died No One Yet Convicted
San Francisco Chronicle - November 16, 1979
by Ron Javers
A year after 918 Americans died at Jonestown in the largest mass murder-suicide in history, no one has been convicted of any crime.
Nor have a host of government investigators been able to determine whether the killings of San Mateo Representative Leo Ryan, San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson and three others at the Port Kaituma airstrip on Guyana were planned.
Here in the Bay Area, where Jim Jones manipulated, praised, punished and awed his more that 1000 followers before taking many of them to the South American jungle and their deaths, the Peoples Temple story is still being played out.
Survivors remain in hiding, some of them still expressing allegiance for their dead "father."
Despite the enormity of the events in Guyana, only two people have been charged with crimes, possibly millions of dollars remain unaccounted for, bodies remain unclaimed and government agencies show little interest in investigating what happened or why it happened.
"It's ridiculous," said Robert Bockelman, a San Francisco attorney representing five former cultists who escaped Jonestown before the killings.
"All of my clients who were in the camp were sure the morning before Ryan visited that he wouldn't be allowed out alive. That's why they wanted to escape so desperately. They were certain something big was going to happen."
The late congressman's aide, Jackie Speier, herself severely wounded at the airstrip, has joined with another former Ryan aide, Joseph Holsinger, and Ryan's successor in Congress, Bill Royer, in calling for further investigation of the events at Jonestown.
"Based upon the facts as I know them, it is inconceivable to me that no one else who was affiliated with the Peoples Temple has been charged with criminal behavior," Royer wrote in requesting that congressional committees conduct hearings into the stalled investigation.
Just two men, Larry Layton, 33, and Charles Beikman, 45, both former members of the Peoples Temple, are being held by Guyanese authorities in connection with the murders.
Layton is charged with the murder of Ryan and the attempted murders of two defecting cult members. Beikman is accused of slashing the throats of another woman cultist and her three children at the temple's Georgetown house just hours after hearing by short-wave radio that the murder-suicide ritual had begun in Jonestown.
"The Justice Department and the State Department have indicated that their investigations are closed," Royer told The Chronicle yesterday. "But no one has been arrested in the United States. I leave it to your judgment just how thorough those investigations must have been."
A spokesman for the State Department defended his agency's investigation of the Jonestown slayings. Spokesman David Nall yesterday said the State Department stood by its earlier statements saying the department had conducted a complete probe of the killings.
Royer said he was seeking full reports from both the State and Justice Departments on how they conducted their inquiries.
Still unanswered, for example, is the question of exactly how much money Jim Jones had accumulated in various bank accounts and other financial instruments in several countries.
Whatever the assets eventually amount to, they won't go unclaimed as so many of the bodies have. There are nearly 700 legal claims, amounting to nearly $1.8 billion, filed against the temple.
In addition to the State Department's probe, a host of other government investigations have produced little or nothing.
The House of Representatives has completed a costly, months-long inquiry and issued a lengthy, unsurprising report.
A Guyanese government probe of the killings, announced with much panopoly last January, has not yet begun.
In San Francisco, a federal grand jury investigation is still under way, although sources predict only a slim chance that any indictments of the more than 80 individuals who survived the massacre or of other ex-temple members in California will be handed down.
The FBI is seeking to establish whether there was any conspiracy to kill Leo Ryan. The murder of a congressman is a federal crime.