According to a classy Tumblr account, That's The Way It Was, this image, attributed to a U.S. photographer, SSGT Jose L. Sanchez, dates to Monday, November 20, 1978, and if that proves accurate, it would become an interesting piece of evidence in rebutting American authorities' claim that it took nearly seven days for the Guyanese who led the response to realize their helper was spraying 900 bodies instead of the approximately 400 in the official figures publicly released up until then.
November 20, 1978: Jonestown, Guyana - A member of the US Army sprays disinfectant over the bodies of Jonestown victims before placing them into plastic body bags for removal to Georgetown.
Photo: SSGT Jose L. Sanchez
That's The Way It Was did misdate a second image however, in an error carried over from the original source at the Getty archive. It is a David Hume Kennerly photograph taken of a boardwalk scene outside Jim Jones' pole-built, tin-roofed, Guyanese temp-temple; a version of the much circulated shots where someone has placed a tin washtub of cyanide poisoning directly in the way of foot traffic. While this works as a visual witches-of-Macbeth kind of focal point for pictures, it's illogical for a dispenser to have to bend over to scoop out 900 Dixie-cup sized portions. I'd guess the blue plastic Igloo container found on the table, or even the spackle bucket next to it, were meant to serve in the original script, and I say this as a caterer for 20 years who knows how long it takes to work 900 people through a buffet line--the single choice being offered offset somewhat by a certain "last call" finality.
The date November 18, 1978, was given at Getty, whose editorial captions oftentimes are treated as
propaganda abstractions and not news, although the mass undertaking didn't get started until 4:20 that afternoon, and we are told no outsiders made it into Jonestown until late the next day:
State Department Briefing Sunday, 4 p.m. Nov. 19, 1978,
A: The Guyanese security forces and police forces which I was talking with you about this morning, have not yet reached Jonestown. They are not there yet. They are presently on that dirt road which runs from the air strip to the settlement at Jonestown. They are proceeding up the road. I do not have an estimated time of arrival for you.]In Kennerly's image, absent in other shots, Jim Jones cadaver has been repositioned after his field autopsy, placed meaningfully at the threshold to his community's multi-purpose gathering place.
NOVEMBER 18, 1978: Bodies lie behind a tub of cyanide-laced punch in Jonestown, Guyana after over 900 members of the People's Temple Cult led by Reverend Jim Jones drank the punch to commit mass suicide. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty
Jones is even given a nearby Dixie cup as a totem of death, (a detail much missing from the rest of the imagery) although what he needs is evidence of a self-inflicted head wound---but I guess photographers, or PhotoShop, can't get everything right.
The first sentence in James Warren Jones' American autopsy report states his body "was one of a large number of bodies discovered at Jonestown, Guyana on or about 19 November 1978 by members of the Guyanese Defense Force." That is technically accurate, but only if you add that an even greater number of bodies remained undiscovered for many days. Did they use time-released cyanide?
A point could be made where his American examiners say, "The body is clothed in a red shirt with the label 'Fruit of Loom, Extra Large,'" since it looks to me as if he's only wearing cut off half-sleeves like gauntlets, while the brand name 'Fruit of the Loom," is a hard mistake to make if actually looking at a label.
The whole issue of autopsies is fraught and suspect in any case. See the Department of State, Transcript of Daily Briefing, Monday, November 27, 1978:
Q: Hodding, this may be a question that you will have to take, too, but I wonder if you could clarify for us the whole subject of the autopsy on Jones. Apparently, the Justice Department says the United States has no plans to call for an autopsy. On the other hand, officials in Delaware have indicated that before he could be cremated, they would have to have one. In view of the intense interest in this, doesn't it seem logical that they would want to know what was the cause of death, especially since he is the only one who had been shot?
A: Barry, on that one, I think you'll get a faster answer from Justice than me.
Q: We have an answer from Justice which says there are no plans for autopsy.
A: Yes, but that, frankly speaking, is a legal question. I mean the State Department's responsibility doesn't run to that end.The Hodding of such suave diplomatic relations is Hodding Carter the III, who lost his State Dept. job after Jimmy Carter's one term, but since 1998 has been president of the Knight Foundation, of newspaper-chain fortune, which annually gives out over $100,000,000 in grants toward "transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts." Hint, hint.
As in the federal response in New Orleans during Katrina, after first dilly-dallying around until decomposition was well underway, the remains were then "embalmed," a process which ruined any chance for forensic investigation or factual findings. The capitalists in Washington D.C. apparently had something to hide since their first plan to bury the evidence in situ fell through:
Tuesday, Nov. 21,But oops...the very next day:
A: We have on the basis of the reports which we have received from our people on the ground -- we have an obviously rather appalling situation. Remembering that this is a tropical climate, we have bodies which have now been out in the open in the sun and the rain. There have continued to be very strong rain showers every day for over 72 hours. There are major problems with insects and the bodies are already becoming very hard to identify.
Because of this we have reviewed this situation and have authorized our Ambassador in connection with the Guyanese authorities that if the Guyanese authorities recommend on the basis of the health conditions in Jonestown -- and I would say that it looks as though they may be doing that -- they may, in fact, as of this moment already have done it -- that they may begin to inter these bodies locally.
Prior to burial every effort is and will be made to positively identify all the dead and to arrange for a proper, decent burial and grave site with individual markers.
As I said, about half the victims have so far been identified.
This would not have been, if we had had our choice, the route that I think we would have followed, but at this point the course of events and the fact that we have very limited transportation forces us into it.
So that, on the one hand, we have decided that the course of events forces us to give that priority and the health situation leaves us no choice but to go along with a decision of the Guyanese authorities to begin interring these people in the site.
We will make every effort to identify them. We do have airborne at this moment a DOD, Department of Defense team, called a Graves Identification Unit, people who are experienced with identification and the handling of bodies, who will be moved into Jonestown as quickly as possible to assist the Guyanese with this task.
Wednesday, Nov. 22It's not as if the socialist Guyanese politicians weren't willing to "play ball," given their 150-year history of British Imperial rule had familiarized those so elevated as to how the world really turned:
Q: What prompted Guyana to change its mind about burial in-place?
A: As I said yesterday, it was our estimate from our pathologist here that that would be the only alternative, given the health situation on the ground; and we had authorized our Ambassador to proceed with that alternative if that was the view of the Guyanese Government. The Guyanese Government, after consulting with their health and police officials who were on site, felt that they did not yet have a health hazard, and given the early arrival of the potential to remove these bodies, they asked us to please proceed in that way. That did not run against our desires, necessarily. The reason we were moving to the internment option was because of the growing health hazard, not because we didn't wish to bring the bodies back. So their assessment on the ground led them to that decision, and we are proceeding in that way.
Sunday, November 19, 1978, 4:00 P.M.But the Prime Minister of Guyana waved this minor technicality by fiat, which only set the stage for the similarly awkward laws of Delaware to be likewise disregarded.
A: No, sir. It is my understanding, or it would seem logical to me that pursuant to the laws of Guyana, there would have to be an investigation, which would mean that there would have to be an autopsy to establish the cause of death of these people. And I believe that that would probably have to be carried out within the territorial jurisdiction of Guyana.
After first telling us that his "brain is severely decomposed and is in a semi-liquid state," the pathologists go on to report that Jones had "tissue levels of pentobarbital" within the toxic range, although the "drug level within the brain is not within the generally accepted lethal range." They go on to find that, "The cause of death is not thought to be pentobarbital intoxication because: (1) the brain level is low, as stated above (2) tolerance can be developed to barbiturates over a period of time and (3) the lethal level of a drug varies from individual to individual." This hazarding seems wildly extraneous given number (4) his skull fractured by a bullet's entering and exiting course. Pentobarbital doesn't sound like much of a 70's party drug either, but it is the drug of choice for euthanasia, suicide, and the lethal injection of death row inmates, so thematically it fits.
The Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Navy Captain who signed the autopsy report added that "Examination of the external genitalia reveals the penis to be circumcised," which I sure hope is a code, because otherwise it's just weird.