Real Crime: Jonestown – Paradise Lost Wednesday 8 August, 9.30pm
This ‘Real Crime’ documentary, ‘Jonestown – Paradise Lost’, tracks the final build-up to the infamous mass murder and suicides of Jim Jones’ cult followers in the jungles of Guyana, where more than 900 men, women and children died on November 18, 1978.
Framed by the investigative report left by Congressman Leo Ryan and new information recently released by the US government, the docu-drama follows Ryan’s fatal journey to “Jonestown”, a bizarre city carved out of the jungles of Guyana by cult followers of the messianic/charismatic pastor, Jim Jones.
‘Real Crime: Jonestown – Paradise Lost’ (tonight at 9.30pm on TV ONE) uses extensive dramatic re-enactments based on eyewitness accounts, as well as archival footage and interviews to show viewers the inner workings of this cult and its apocalyptic end.
On November 18, 1978, American congressman Leo J Ryan, his assistants, a group of concerned relatives and an NBC news crew arrived in Jonestown to investigate this mysterious cult, and to determine whether or not people were being held there against their will. On the plane, Ryan informed the passengers: “Let me tell you something right now, not as your congressman but as your friend. We are going into Jonestown, and if any of your family members want to come home, well by God, we’re going bring them home.”
For 72 hours, the cult put on a remarkable show. Ryan was very nearly sucked in; but at the eleventh hour, as the team prepared to leave Guyana, 12 cult members accosted them, begging to be taken out.
Their stories clashed starkly with the image of the strange but basically happy and contented kingdom that was presented. They told of a living nightmare where rape, forced labour, fraud, torture and humiliation were common currency – all employed to create a totalitarian world of blind obedience to “Father” Jones.
Congressman Ryan confronted Jones. Tensions quickly escalated until near departure time at the small jungle airstrip, when the congressman’s party, the TV crew and the fleeing dissidents were gunned down by Jones’ bodyguards.
Two hours after these shootings, his cover blown, Jones gave orders for ‘The Grand Departure’ – a collective mass suicide that was rehearsed repeatedly over the previous two years in the jungle. On that day, 913 people, including 200 children, died; by drinking or being force-fed from vats of a grape drink laced with cyanide and tranquilizers. Others were killed by lethal injection or by gunshot, execution-style, to the head.
Part one of this ‘Real Crime’ documentary, ‘Jonestown – Paradise Lost’ sees four survivors of this massacre begin to tell their story; Stephan Jones, the son of the charismatic preacher Jim Jones; Vernon Gosney, a member of the People’s Temple who escaped but whose eight-year-old son died; Sherwin Harris, who went in vain to rescue his 22-year-old daughter Liane; and Tim Reiterman, a San Francisco journalist who went to interview Jim Jones. Part two of ‘Jonestown – Paradise Lost’ will screen as next week’s ‘Real Crime’ documentary.