Tim Stoen’s New Book About His Role In The People’s Temple

One of the men who helped make Jim Jones and The People’s Temple a powerhouse in the 1970s and then turned against him just before Jones killed more than 900 people in Jonestown, Guyana, has now written his version of the story.

“Marked for Death” is the title of the new book out this week by Tim Stoen, Jones’ former attorney, right hand man and People’s Temple chairman of the board.

Stoen lived in Redwood Valley and San Francisco on and off during the heyday of the People’s Temple, but was just a few miles away in Georgetown, Guyana when the Jonestown massacre happened, a tragedy that also took the life of Stoen’s 6-year-old son, John.

Jim Jones stands next to Tim Stoen with Grace Stoen and an unknown man holding John Victor Stoen, whom Jones claimed was his own son.
Jim Jones stands next to Tim Stoen with Grace Stoen and an unknown man holding John Victor Stoen, whom Jones claimed was his own son.

Stoen now lives on the coast in Mendocino County and has been a prosecutor in the DA’s Office since 2000, hired by former DA Norm Vroman. It’s Stoen’s second go-round as an assistant DA, a job he had in the 1960s when he worked both for Jim Jones and as county counsel when that office was part of the county DA’s Office.

Stoen had a middle class upbringing, was a Republican and a recent Stanford law school grad driving a Porsche when he took a job in Ukiah in 1965 with the DA’s Office.

But his views had begun to change a couple years earlier when he was startled by the poverty among the homeless during a college era trip to Paris. By 1967, he was still in the DA’s Office but reading more about economic and racial equality and decided to jump to a new job in Ukiah with the Legal Services Foundation. This organization was helping the poor and doing work Stoen thought important.

At a meeting of the directors of the legal services organization, he met board member Jim Jones.

Much of “Marked for Death” is Stoen’s ruminations on the dichotomy between his attachment to the ideals of communal living, equality and racial harmony and the incessant pull of what he calls “culture,” particularly women and jazz. He swings from lawyering for the Black Panthers to jetting off to London, and seeing John Guilgud in “Julius Caesar.”

Stoen goes into great detail about his years with The People’s Temple, especially once he has met and married the love of his life, Grace, another on and off Temple enthusiast.

At the heart of the book and one of the prime mysteries in the Stoen-Jones relationship was the fate of the child borne in 1972 by Grace and named John Victor Stoen.

The boy is claimed as Jones’ own son before he is even born, and Stoen, admitting to having an open marriage, does not dispute it. In fact, it is a promise to Jones that he would always provide Jones access to John that leads Stoen to some of his worst decisions.

This is among the harder parts of Stoen’s story to grasp. It is the legal attempt, in 1978 to get 6-year-old John back from Jones — who has taken him, with his parents’ permission, to Guyana — that appears (to Stoen anyway) to finally send Jones over the edge to the mass suicide-murder in Jonestown.

Yet the Stoens willingly allowed John to be fostered in the home of other People’s Temple members as a toddler, and allowed him to move around with Jones and the People’s Temple during his young life.

The book also raises lots of questions about Stoen’s ability to come and go from the church, at one moment a devoted servant, at the next telling Jones he never promised to be a lifetime member.

Stoen was involved in setting up offshore bank accounts, keeping Jones just inside the legal line in his activities, yet acknowledging the severity of Jones’ methods.

Jones forced tithing by Temple members, collecting millions; he had his inner sanctum spying on members, including Stoen; he encouraged members to rat out each other over who was more devoted.

Jones also, in essence, took control over the Ukiah community by having Temple members in lots of areas of government. He even sent members out in force to courtrooms to, in essence, try to intimidate judges on behalf of defendants.

Besides Ukiah, Jones had offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, a publishing business, a fleet of 11 Greyhound-sized buses which he would dispatch full of Temple members to carry out whatever political mission he gave them.

Stoen relates all of this, clear-eyed even at the time, but never walks away, telling himself Jones is “doing far more good than bad.” Stoen does point out that if he was foolish and naive about Jones, so were many others.

Jones was a darling of the San Francisco political crowd. Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was among his admirers, as was columnist Herb Caen. He dined with many powerful men and women, including First Lady Rosalyn Carter, none of whom saw the dark side, the side that increasingly, Stoen says, he began to notice.

In an interview in Ukiah before the book’s publication, Stoen said he’s been trying to write this book for many years but it wasn’t until more recently that he felt he had the perspective and distance to do it.

“It’s not a tell-all, but it’s truthful,” he said of the book.

Stoen said much of the book’s purpose is to assure people who have made serious mistakes in their lives, that they can survive it and move on. He also hopes the book will help warn people against a future Jim Jones, a man suffering from what Stoen calls “malignant narcissism” (using a term coined by German psychologist Erich Fromm).

Someone who gains power and influence through charm and mental coercion must be met with power, not negotiation, Stoen believes. He says it wasn’t until he had threatened Jones’ empire with multi-million dollar lawsuits on behalf of former Temple members and their families that Jones actually considered him an opponent worth paying attention to.

While Stoen was in a high position in the Temple, he says he was not a constant member, he didn’t go to the meetings, or the services, always had a separate job and that while Jones trusted him, he never invited him into the inner circle of staff — all women.

Stoen gave Jones general legal advice and advice on political and financial matters.

When asked about John’s upbringing, he said he and Grace believed in the communal ideal, but he saw John all the time.

“I was an extremist,” he said. “I wanted a sociocentric child. I didn’t want to be a selfish person, owning a child.”

If you don’t know very much about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple this book will certainly provide a good basic history, albeit from one man’s point of view.

If you already have read widely on the subject, there is little news here. Stoen does not add to the record on his relationship with Grace, who he believes saved his life by giving him the information he needed to realize it was time to oppose Jones.

But he does tell, for the first time, of the moment he realized Jones had crossed the line into darkness. During the interview, he also explained that the millions in offshore accounts was retrieved after the massacre and much of it went to the US government for the costs of bringing all the bodies back from Guyana and some went to survivors and their families.

Mostly the book encompasses Stoen’s determination to explain himself — which many have been waiting years for him to do — and counter stories that have followed him about his role in the Temple and of alleged election tampering in San Francisco, which he denies and of which he was cleared.

Stoen has been accepted back into the Mendocino County community by most, although there are certainly those who will never forgive or forget his role in making Jim Jones the powerhouse he was and helping him to establish an organization that in the end was devastatingly lethal.

StoenCoverStoen calls Jones a devil – a term more in keeping with his new Christian beliefs than the old communal ones. Although he still tears up when he speaks of John, Stoen says he has managed finally to get past the guilt over his son, over being part of the Temple, over not doing more to stop Jones earlier. And he hopes anyone who reads the book will put it down and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

“Marked for Death,” by Mendocino County resident Tim Stoen, will be available in Ukiah at The Mendocino Book Company later this week.

(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

6 Responses to "Tim Stoen’s New Book About His Role In The People’s Temple"

  1. neverforget   December 20, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Christian? So from one murder cult to another, eh?

    Reply
    • LouisBedrock   December 20, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      Next to Pope Innocent III, Jim Jones was a cub-scout.
      Innocent III killed half of France during the Albigensian Crusade.
      Later, he sent 7,000 children to death by starvation and slavey through his Children’s Crusade.

      Eugenio Pacelli, aka Pius XII, signed treaties with Mussolini and Hitler to regain land for the Vatican and retain control over schools in Italy and Germany. He later proved passports and visas to Nazi Big-wigs to help them flee persecution and escape to South America or the United States.

      I could name many more Popes whose crimes dwarfed those of Jim Jones.
      And the Church sponsored slavery as well as genocide and ethnocide in Europe,South America, and Africa.

      Luckily, it didn’t seek to save the souls of penguins, or i would have to add Antarctica.

      “One murder cult to another” is the correct call.

      Reply
  2. George Hollister   December 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Tim Stoen needs to be forgiven, as we all do. We all do things that we should not do, and that is the point. But forgiving is not forgetting. Only fools chose to forget because, people’s tendencies seldom change, and there is always something hopefully learned. “There for the grace of God go I”? Speaking for myself, not me. I certainly am capable of doing things I should not do, but Stoen’s sin is not mine.

    Stoen’s sin is the sin of those who embrace the enslavement of those who are not taking responsibility for themselves, in order to save them. The only difference between Stoen and the broader “save the poor” crowd is Stoen had his face rubbed in the results. His son, his marriage, his life. He immersed himself in a version of the liberal let’s end poverty fantasy, and paid the price. I can not imagine the tortured conflicts that Stoen will take to his grave. But let’s look at the results of enslaving the poor, that none of the rest of us have to account for.

    We pay financially dependent drug addicts and drunks to raise children. We pay the “homeless” to live in the streets. We pay for lifestyles that support gun violence in our inner cities, and other self destructive behaviors. This is the short list of the perversion, that the “save the poor crowd” promotes. And the pay is what keeps the poor on the plantation, and almost guarantees children of the poor will fail.

    But, unlike Tim Stoen, we are all separated from it. So the perversion goes unseen, unfelt, and unaddressed. That is until it hits our own family, makes the front page of our newspapers in a mass killing, shows up in statistics of failed schools, or when we pay the cost for incarcerating the criminal products of the a “save the poor” plantation.

    For slaves there is always a slave master. In America, the slave master is the state. It did not used to be that way, and the poor did much better. The state is currently a benign slave master, that demands nothing more than a vote in exchange for a check. But Jim Jones was a demonstration of what slave masters can do. And a shell shocked Tim Stone, is willing to share with us a part what he knows about it. The balance I imagine he has trouble sharing with himself. The rest of the “save the poor” crowd are left with the on going question of why is this not working, and why are matters getting worse?

    Reply
  3. Joe Hansem   December 23, 2015 at 5:35 am

    I’m not sure what the history of the Jim Jones cult has to do with the liberal welfare state. Seems like just another misguided, obssesive attempt to turn every story that comes along as some kind of allegory, no matter how far fetched, about the failings of “liberals” and Onama. Coupled with this apparently is an Ayn Randian disdain for charity.

    Like all such paens for the good old days of laissez faire capitalism, it ignores the harsh realities of mass destitution and class warfare that were its principal features. In order to prevent a further slide back into this, the working class and the broader public of the 99% need to rely on themselves, not on cult leaders-messianic, drug addicted or otherwise-the supposed spectre of which is a bogey and a red herring.

    Reply
  4. MARICRUZ Y ALVAREZ   June 27, 2018 at 7:24 am

    He prosecuted me after having 15 people bash windows on my 2 yr oldbaby .and did not care i reacted in self defense to protect my child.and he send me away the only one of color that day..he ripped me away from my child wen i tried protecting him and did wat jim jones did to him to me..my name is maricruz alvarez carrillo.i also have a story.a story where i struggle today because of this mans corruption. You mentally screwed me tim..u use jim tactics till day to harm others..u knew my baby had glass all over him and u did not care..u turned it into a gang thing to score points..not knowing the hurt u caused to this child.my baby who was 2 months old but u sent me to prison.to screw my record up..the only thing as an adult on my record is wat u did to me..i work 10 times as hard today to be able to live a normal life.i started college where i started reading books on jim jones just to find out the prosecutor to my case was jim jones side attorney. Sick

    Reply
  5. Gwen Stoddard   October 6, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Tim,
    I don’t know if you remember me from Berkeley Presbyterian Church?!? We were both very in involved with Corinthians.
    So often I think of you and just came across the book you have written.
    I always remember your big heart and love for people. Also your little red card.
    I prayed for you over the years in this long journey you have had. I know the Lord is Faithful and never leaves us as we journey our way through life. Your journey was unlike any one I know but on the other side you have come out to share Christ to others.
    Thank you
    Gwen Stoddard Turner

    Reply

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