The cremated remains of nine people who died in the 1978 American cult mass suicide and murder in a South American town have turned up in a defunct Delaware funeral home.
The Delaware Division of Forensic Science visited the former Minus Funeral Home along the 200 block of Queen Street in Dover last week after receiving a request to check out the site, officials said Thursday.
Once inside, officials say they found 38 containers filled with cremated remains from 1970 through the 1990s. Nine of those remains were identified as victims of the Jonestown, Guyana, massacre.
The massacre on Nov. 18, 1978, claimed the lives of 918 people — mostly through cyanide poisoning. The cult, the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, began in the United States in the 1950s. Its members migrated to Guyana, the only English-speaking country on the continent, in 1976 after its then leader, Jim Jones, came under media scrutiny.
Jones had opened a free health clinic and drug rehab program in San Francisco before becoming the city's Housing Authority chairman in 1976. But as allegations mounted about improprieties, Jones and the cult moved out of the country.
Two years later, after a number of incidents and a mysterious death of a Californian native, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited the cult's South American commune on Nov. 14, 1978. While trying to evacuate defectors at a remote jungle airstrip on Nov. 18, he was shot more than 20 times and killed. Four others, including an NBC photojournalist, were also murdered.
Jackie Speier was a 28-year-old legal aide to Ryan, a San Francisco Bay Area Democrat. She was sprayed with bullets during the fact-finding mission that ended in bloodshed. Speier now holds Ryan’s seat in Congress and is very vocal about her memories of the evils of the cult.
Hours later, the mass killing was carried out after grape-flavored punch was spiked with drugs and poison. Survivors reported that many were reported to have consumed the punch willingly, but said some who resisted were either forced to drink, shot or injected with the poison.
Following the deaths, 911 of the remains were flown from South America to Dover Air Force Base, which houses the U.S. military's largest mortuary. Several cemeteries refused to take the remains. The Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, Calif. eventually allowed 409 bodies to be buried there in 1979. The remaining victims were either cremated or buried in family cemeteries.
It is still unclear how the remains wound up at the white-walled, one-story funeral home, which remains padlocked and surrounded by overgrown grass and dead vines.
Of the 38 containers, 33 were clearly marked and identified. These included the Jonestown remains. Officials are working to identify the other five remains and notify family members.
Investigators also excavated several areas of the property where loose soil was seen. There was concern some additional remains may have been buried on the property. No remains were found, but officials say they uncovered an arrowhead, animal bones, oyster shells and charcoals.
A number of bronze grave markers for veterans killed in World War I and the Vietnam War were also found inside the funeral home. Officials are working to give them to family members or return them to the Veteran's Administration.