L.A. Freelance Journalist, Now in Hiding,
Tried to Inform the World About Jonestown
Monterey Peninsula Herald - Nov. 28, 1978, p. 4
Los Angeles Times Service
LOS ANGELES -- When Congressman Leo Ryan and his entourage arrived at Jonestown, Guyana, 10 days ago, only one person -- a freelance journalist -- was forbidden to enter by cult leader Jim Jones.
That journalist, Gordon Lindsay of Los Angeles, already knew about the horror of Jonestown, the Peoples Temple and Jim Jones, and had been trying to tell the world for months.
In June, Lindsay wrote a 62-page, hauntingly prophetic account of slave labor conditions at Jonestown, the madness of Jones, mass suicide drills, armed guards and the alleged sexual blackmail of a high-ranking Guyana official by a temple member.
His account charged that U.S. consular officials in Guyana had intimate knowledge of the accusations made against Jonestown, and even were involved in the escape of one temple member.
Couldn't Get Published
But nobody would publish the story. Not even the National Inquirer, which Lindsay said paid him and photographer Cyril Maitland some $10,000 to investigate Jonestown.
Now Lindsay, his wife and eight-year-old daughter are in hiding in Los Angeles.
Lindsay said he was warned in Guyana by attorney Mark Lane, who represented the Peoples Temple, that he was "Number Two" on the "enemies hit list."
When Lindsay arrived in Los Angeles from Guyana last Thursday, he was met by five Los Angeles policemen and whisked away.
Authorities have advised him to leave California, and probably the United States.
Lindsay said he is taking seriously a threatening call his wife received on their unlisted phone in June when he first started his investigation.
"First there was heavy breathing. Then a man said, 'You'll never get out of this alive,'" recalled Cynthia Lindsay.
At the time, her husband and photographer Maitland were in Guyana trying to gain access to Jonestown and Jim Jones.
"To stay in Guyana, if you were a reporter investigation Jonestown, was impossible," Lindsay said.
After being badgered and frisked at the airport, Lindsay said he was given the brush-off by U.S. and local officials and was told to get on the next plane "or be taken under armed guard to catch a flight."
"We headed for Trinidad hoping to find a pilot to take us into Jonestown through the back door -- from Trinidad over Venezuela into Port Kaituma, about five miles from the jungle encampment," he said.
Lindsay said it took five days to find a pilot who would circle Jonestown so that he could take some aerial photographs.
Back in the states, Lindsay wrapped up his story and sent it in to the National Inquirer by the end of June.
"They (editors) asked for more and more backup. I sent them 14 hours of interviews on tape," Lindsay said.
Lindsay and the Inquirer also were being threatened with massive lawsuits.
One telegram from a Peoples Temple attorney accused Lindsay and the Inquirer of causing a heart attack at Jonestown when Lindsay buzzed the commune.
As the summer wore on, Lindsay said he realized that the Inquirer was backing off the story. An Inquirer spokesman declined comment.
But Lindsay said he refused to give up.
"For the first time in 25 years of journalism, I allowed myself to become personally involved in a story," he said.
Response from Ryan
Lindsay said he began contacting California politicians to stir up interest in a federal probe into Jonestown. Then in August he got a sympathetic response from Congressman Leo Ryan.
Lindsay said he dashed off a letter to an editor at the Inquirer. It read in part: "As I told you on the telephone today, Congressman Leo Ryan has agreed to go to Jonestown and find out exactly what is going on down there. He has asked me...to coordinate the trip for him."
As Ryan prepared for the trip, Lindsay worked behind the scenes.
When the Ryan party arrived at Port Kaituma, a few miles from Jonestown, Lindsay was along as a special consultant to NBC newsman Don Harris, who was later killed with Ryan and three others in an ambush by members of the Peoples Temple.
Excluded from Camp
A tractor pulling a cart drove up to take the newsmen to Jonestown, but Lindsay recalled that the woman driving the tractor announced, "Everyone is invited to Jonestown except Gordon Lindsay." She would give no further explanation.
"I was seething inside. I had worked this story for five months," Lindsay recalled. "At long last I was at the doorstep."
But Lindsay said he had no choice but to hop into the plane that was leaving for Georgetown.
The unpublished story he had written five months earlier made it clear that Jonestown was ready to explode.
Lindsay told of:
--"Jones involving his 1,100 followers in a threat of mass suicide.
--"People being beaten until blood flowed from their faces and other parts of their bodies.
--"A guard pressing on people's temples until they collapsed in pain.
--"People being placed in a small, underground box from one to seven days.
--"Children at night being thrown into a well for misbehaving.
--"People being placed on a learning crew and forced to work through the night."
In his story Lindsay described a mass suicide drill through the eyes of a Jonestown woman who escaped.
"All the guns were gotten out and everyone met in the pavilion for hours....Finally Jim told us there was no hope, that we were going to have to die...they brought in this big jug and everyone got into this long, long line. Everyone drank except Jim, who sat in his elevated chair and watched.
"Various people cried out in happiness that they were all going to die. Hell, I was happy, I said, 'Wow, man, it's all over.'...Death was better than life in Jonestown.