When a thousand people vowed to follow cult leader Reverend James Warren “Jim” Jones down to Guyana to form what they believed would be the perfect society, they quickly discovered they had walked into hell on earth.
“A lot of people went down there believing, ‘Let’s check it out, if we don’t like it, we’ll go home'” author of A Thousand Lives, Julia Scheers, said in a new series by Reelz called Murder Made Me Famous: Jim Jones.
“But what happened? As soon as they got to Jonestown, Jim Jones confiscated their passports and their money and told them if they wanted to go home they could swim because he wasn’t paying their fare home.”
“You have to realize that back in 1978, there wasn’t any internet. There was no cell phone service. They were cut off,” Scheers said. “They were truly trapped!”
As reported, Jones first gained notoriety in San Francisco in the 1960s and ’70s where he voiced his “Apostolic Socialism” concept. However, when his followers arrived to Jonestown, they were put to work — clocking up to 16 hours a day building facilities and planting crops.
“The thing with Jonestown, it was never a viable farm,” Scheers went on. “It never worked. The soil was too thin to grow crops, and especially enough food to feed 1,000 people in Jonestown. It was a failure.”
Jones became infamous for the mass murder-suicide involving 900 of his followers — including 303 of them being children — in 1978 after he convinced them to drink a deadly concocation of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid during a New Year’s Eve service.
Tune into Murder Made Me Famous: Jim Jones, which airs on May 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Reelz.