- Jones was born on May 13, 1931, in a rural area of Crete, Indiana to James Thurman Jones (1887– 1951), a World War I veteran, and Lynetta Putnam (1902–1977).
- Jones was a voracious reader who studied Stalin, Marx, Mao, Gandhi and Hitler, carefully noting the strengths and weaknesses of each.
- He also developed an intense interest in religion. One writer suggests this was primarily because he found it difficult to make friends.
- In December 1948, he graduated from Richmond High School early with honors.
- Jones married nurse Marceline Baldwin (1927–1978) in 1949, and they moved to Bloomington, Indiana. She died with him in Jonestown.
- In 1951, the couple moved to Indianapolis. Jones attended Indiana University for two years and then took night classes at Butler University, earning a degree in secondary education in 1961—ten years after enrolling.
- In 1951, twenty-year-old Jones began attending gatherings of the Communist Party USA in Indianapolis.
- In 1952, he became a student pastor at the Sommerset Southside Methodist Church.Around this time, Jones witnessed a faith-healing service at a Seventh Day Baptist Church.
- He observed that it attracted people and their money, and he concluded that he could accomplish his social goals with financial resources from such services.
- Jones organized a mammoth religious convention to take place June 11–15, 1956 in Cadle TabernacleThe Peoples Temple was initially an interracial mission.
- During this time, Jones also helped to racially integrate churches, restaurants, the telephone company, the Indianapolis police department, a theater, an amusement park, and the Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.Jones and his wife adopted several nonwhite children; he referred to the household as his “rainbow family“.
BRAZIL AND CALIFORNIA
- Jones traveled with his family to Belo Horizonte, Brazil with the idea of setting up a new Temple location, after preaching at the Temple about the fears of a nuclear holocaust in 1962.
- On his way to Brazil, he made his first trip to Guyana, a British colony at the time.Ultimately, the lack of resources in the locale led them to move to Rio de Janeiro in mid-1963.
- Jones returned from Brazil in December 1963 and told his Indiana congregation the world would be engulfed by nuclear war on July 15, 1967, leading to a new socialist Eden on Earth, and that the Temple had to move to Northern California for safety.
SAN FRANCISCO AND GUYANA
- Within five years of moving to California, the Temple experienced a period of exponential growth and opened branches in cities including San Fernando, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
- Jones was able to gain contact with prominent politicians at the local and national level.
- Jones had started building Jonestown (formally known as the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”).
- The group arrived in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown on November 15 1978.
- On November 18, 1978, a total of 918 people died in the settlement.In total, 909 individuals died in Jonestown, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” by Jones and some Peoples Temple members on an audio tape of the event, and in prior recorded discussions.
- Seventy or more individuals at Jonestown were injected with poison, and a third of the victims (304) were minors.
- Following the mass murder-suicide, Jones was found dead on the floor; he was resting on a pillow near his deck chair, with a gunshot wound to his head which Guyanese coroner Cyrill Mootoo said was consistent with suicide.
- The official autopsy conducted in December 1978 also confirms his death as a suicide. Jones’s son Stephan believes his father may have directed someone else to shoot him, but that is speculation.