Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Was the 1959 Car Crash That Killed Five Peoples Temple Members Murder?

Very little has been written about the 1959 death of four-year-old Stephanie Jones, the Korean adopted daughter of Rev. Jim and Marceline Jones. This is not surprising, since strong circumstantial evidence exists in the record that the car crash in which Stephanie died was an early example of an in-house Peoples Temple murder, undertaken to silence a potential defector or whistleblower, with Stephanie's presence in the vehicle, which took four other church-member's lives, designed to serve as a cover deflecting attention away from Jim Jones as the perpetrator.

Three aspects to the case support this conclusion. One are details of the crash itself. Another is the nature of the church work done by several of the adult victims. Most importantly is the use to which Rev. Jones put the crash in supporting his reputation as a seer or prophet. As the first news accounts put it:
Rev. Jones, who had stayed in Cincinnati to preach an exchange sermon Sunday, said he had a premonition of impending tragedy before the group departed Cincinnati Saturday night.

"For some strange reason I told them that some of our people will never be back," said the 27-year-old minister and law student.

"I don't know what made me say it." [5/11/59-Vidette-Messenger]
It doesn't enhance a reputation for prophecy to have warned only the dead of a general discomfit and then announce it as a premonition after-the-fact to the press. It is more likely that Jones adapted what he had actually told other congregants, that "I told some of our people that they will never be back."

This sense is made obliquely by Michael Bellefountaine, in A Lavender Look at the Temple: A Gay Perspective of the Peoples Temple:
Jones, whose unique ministry included a claim to paranormal and psychic powers, had warned the group to be careful, that they traveled the road at their own peril. The fulfillment of his prophecy solidified his claim as protector and seer in the eyes of his congregation.
Jones' warning appears specific to the vehicle involved in the crash, and must have been delivered to church members who were not involved before it took place to have had any impact. The accident occurred in the "pre-dawn hours" of Sunday, May 10, 1959, [5/16/59-Indianapolis Recorder] Why this group, who had traveled out-of-state in support of church work, was returning to Indianapolis only hours before Rev. Jones was to deliver a Sunday sermon in Cincinnati isn't known.

A timeline maintained by the official historians of the Peoples Temple, jonestown.sdsu.edu, wrongly dates the accident as Monday, May 11, when news accounts were first published.

Determining who among the six people traveling in the car was the intended target in an induced auto accident isn't difficult. The driver Mabel Stewart, 46, was the supervisor of the church's nursing home. Pearl Nance, 50, the only Negro in the car, was a nurse there. She had moved to Indianapolis to begin work only five months previously. The mother of 9 children, all of Detroit or in the military except for a minor daughter living with her in a church-run home in Indianapolis, a household which also included Stewart and another of the crash victims, Barbara Payne, 26.

Payne, described as a Sunday school teacher, was employed at Western Electric, and was traveling with her 10-year-old son Mark, who was the only survivor among the six in the car.

The fifth victim was Dallas Johnson, 55, of Louisville. Ky., a social worker at the Indiana Women's prison who was performing church duties while on leave of absence, before a planned trip to Brazil in July to visit her son, who was a missionary there. [5/11/59-Vidette-Messenger] This is an early reference in the record to Temple missionary work in Brazil, predating the Jones' family's relocation to Bello Horizonte, in Feb. 1962, by almost three years. Both the nature of her job and her son's "missionary" work in Brazil would indicate Johnson was an insider to the corrupt practices of the Temple, but she most likely was a collateral casualty in the crash.

Why Stephanie Jones, who had been adopted only seven months previously along with her brother Lew Jones, was separated from him, and their mother who had remained behind in Indianapolis, can only be explained by her sacrificial role in the accident as personalizing the tragedy for Rev. Jones.

The collision occurred "on a clear stretch of U.S. 421 five miles southeast of Shelbyville." [5/11/59-Titusville Herald] According to an ambiguous Associated Press account
"State police said Mrs. Stewart apparently started to pass another car and her auto was struck broadside by an oncoming vehicle driven by Roger Wullenweber, 20, of Adams." [5/11/59-Vidette-Messenger]
This AP account accentuates the unusual dynamic of a passing car being broadsided by an oncoming vehicle, saying the "car was bent into a U-shaped mass of crumpled metal by the force of the crash."

Two other Associated Press accounts describe the car as being struck "almost broadside." [5/11/59-Press-Telegram] and [5/11/59-Titusville Herald]

The driver of the second car, Roger Wullenweber, "was treated for minor cuts and released." His passenger, Robert Zinser, 18, of St. Paul, IN, was alive when police arrived, but died en route to a hospital, [5/11/59-Vidette-Messenger]

With the benefit of several more days in which to report, the black-owned Indianapolis Recorder addressed the anomaly with further supposition:
"According to the state police, the crash came when Mrs. Stewart, the driver, started to pass another car. Her auto was struck broadside by an oncoming car driven by Roger Wullenweber, 20, of Adams.

"She reportedly jammed her brakes in an effort to avoid the crash, but her car was struck on the right side as it swerved sharply to the left." [5/16/59-Indianapolis Recorder]
The only one who could have reported this elaborated explanation was Wullenweber, apparently after the first account failed to pass muster. On a clear stretch of highway in clear weather, anyone who realized their passing maneuver was in jeopardy would have been making every effort to turn their wheel to the right, which would have directed a skid into the car's being struck broadside, or almost broadside, on its left side, and not its right side. The car Mrs. Stewart was attempting to pass apparently didn't stick around to assist in an investigation.

The Vidette-Messenger, of Valparaiso, Indiana published the most skeptical account of the accident, but its editor commits either a very careless mistake, or one designed to minimize comprehension of a key component of the deaths:

This heading should read Four Die Instantly, or in other words, before responders had arrived to witness the moment of death.

The only person to die in hospital "eight hours later" was Mrs. Payne, who was said to have been "thrown 15 feet from the mass of crumpled metal which was her car..."

One of the few inconsistencies I note in the reporting concerns the death of Zinser, who the Titusville Herald said was "[k]illed outright" along with the four Temple victims. This may indicate that whoever was transporting him to the hospital finished the job.

Whether autopsies were performed during this period to determine a true cause of death in a case where it seems self-evident is unknown.

A glaring example of the malevolent purpose of Jim Jones and his church is contained in the spin Jones provided to the black press. The front page article in the Indianapolis Recorder, Can't Find Integrated Burial Place for Child, describes the victims as an "interracial carload of church workers," and begins
The cruelty of man added to the stunning grief of a 6-death highway tragedy this week as a local minister sought in vain for an unsegregated place in which to bury his adopted Korean daughter.

"Oh, they would have taken little Stephanie in the 'white' part, despite her color," Rev. Jones said. "But all the cemetery directors refused to allow a place where all of us at the church --- dark-skinned and Caucasoid --- might be buried in the future.

"Finally I decided to stay with my people, and arranged to bury her in a 'colored' location." (By "my people," the minister meant Negroes, though he is white himself.
Apparently, no one at the Indianapolis Recorder appreciated who among the carload was white, and who black, for they go on to announce segregated funeral services at the Temple itself
Services for Mrs. Nance were held Monday evening at Peoples Temple, and her body shipped back to Detroit for burial.

Joint services were held Wednesday morning for Mesdames Stewart and Payne, and little Stephanie.
I am inferring the racial makeup of the cars' occupants from the reporting in the Vidette-Messenger article, which in the convention of the era, describes Mrs. Nance, but only her, as Negro. Nance is given the fullest treatment in the Recorder, with 12 surviving relatives named. None of the other five victims are provided with any surviving family information, so it's possible the newspaper was misled about their race, and missed the nuance behind Jones' "buried in the future."  Jones described the mother of nine as "in training to be a nurse in Africa."

Mabel Stewart had a daughter, Loretta, who went on to marry Harold Cordell, "and the couple had five bright, blond-haired, blue-eyed children in rapid succession," according to Bellefountaine's book. All of them were to die in Jonestown. Bellefountaine adds that
Loretta had planned to ride with her mother, but instead opted to go home with a group of friends she had met through the church. The young girl was exceptionally close to her mother...

Stewart and daughter Loretta, Payne and son Mark, and Nance and daughter Carolyn, all lived together at 661 E. 24th St.
Dallas Johnson, 55, of Louisville. Ky., Rites were held in Louisville, with burial there.
Stephanie Jones, 4, Korean name Kun Eun Soon,

May 11, 1959, The Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, IN) AP, 6 Persons Die In One Collision; Shelby County Crash Worst Since Late '57,

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Six persons died in one bloody crash as Indiana's weekend traffic toll reached 16 --the deadliest weekend since 21 died last Oct. 10-12.

The six-death crash in Shelby County Sunday was the worst since Dec. 22, 1957.

Killed in the tragic crash five miles southeast of Shelbyville on U. S. 421 were Mrs. Mabel Stewart, 46, Mrs. Pearl Nance, 50, Mrs. Barbara Payne, 26, and Stephanie Jones, 4, all of Indianapolis; Mrs. Dallas Johnson, 55. Louisville. Ky., and Robert Zinser, 18. St. Paul.

All but Zinser were passengers in a car driven by Mrs. Stewart. They were returning home from a church service in Cincinnati when their car was bent into a U-shaped mass of crumpled metal by the force of the crash.

Two Die Instantly

All but Zinser and Mrs. Payne died instantly. Zinser was alive when police arrived, but died en route to a hospital, and Mrs. Payne died eight hours later in W. S. Major Hospital in Shelbyville.

State police said Mrs. Stewart apparently started to pass another car and her auto was struck broadside by an oncoming vehicle driven by Roger Wullenweber, 20, of Adams.

Wullenweber and Mark Payne, 10, son of one of the dead women, were the only survivors.

Wullenweber was treated for minor cuts and released. Young Payne was injured but reported in fairly good condition.

Born in Seoul, Korea, the 4-year- old girl was adopted only last October by the Rev. and Mrs. James Jones of Indianapolis.

Has Premonition

Rev. Jones, who had stayed in Cincinnati to preach an exchange sermon Sunday, said he had a premonition of impending tragedy before the group departed Cincinnati Saturday night.

"For some strange reason I told them that some of our people will never be back." said the 27- year-old minister and law student. "I don't know what made me say it. Rev. Jones said the four adults killed in the crash were devout church workers.

Mrs. Johnson was a social worker at the Indiana Women's prison and was performing church duties while on leave of absence. Mrs. Stewart supervised the church's nursing home. Mrs. Nance, 50, a Negro, was a nurse in the home operated by the interracial community church, and Mrs. Payne taught in the church school.

Going To Brazil

Rev. Jones, who is pastor of the People's Temper in Indianapolis, said Mrs. Johnson was going to Brazil in July to visit her son, who is a missionary there. "We were training Mrs. Nance to be a missionary in Africa, he added. As for little Stephanie Jones. (Continued page 6)

Her Korean name was Yun Eum Soon, Rev. Jones said:

"She was an exceptional child. Already she could speak perfect English."


May 11, 1959, Titusville Herald, page 1, Cars Collide In Indiana; Six Killed,


May 11, 1959, The Long Beach [CA] Press-Telegram - AP, page B8, Six Killed as Autos Collide in Indiana,


May 16, 1959, Indianapolis Recorder, page 1, Can't Find Integrated Burial Place for Child,


May 19, 1959, The Logansport Press - AP, page 6, 16 Deaths In State By Traffic,

The Shelby County collision that killed six persons Sunday was the worst in the state since another six-death crash Dec. 22, 1957.

Combined funeral services were planned at 10 a.m. Wednesday on People's Temple, an inter-denominational and interracial church in Indianapolis, for four of the Shelby County crash victims---Mable A. Stewart, 46 and Pearl Nance, 50, who worked in the temple's nursing home; Barbara Payne, 26, a Sunday school teacher, and Stephanie Jones, 4, the minister's adopted Korean orphan girl.

Social Security number 314-38-2377 was issued to ROGER L WULLENWEBER; who was born on 5 June 1939 and died on 4 September 1994. Aged 55
Search Archives for ROGER WULLENWEBER.

His widow
Joann Jackson Wullenweber (1942 - 2005) - Find A Grave Memorial
May 27, 2010 - Joann Wullenweber, 63, Adams, IN, died Sunday, December 18, 2005 at ... On August 14, 1960 in Greenfield, she married Roger Wullenweber, .

A Lavender Look at the Temple: A Gay Perspective of the Peoples Temple, by Michael Bellefountaine


Cincinnati to Shelbyville, approximately 85 miles

1 comment:

  1. I have learnt various good stuff right here, and I’m sure everyone will get advantage of it.life insurance