On 18th November of 1978, more than nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple cult met a tragic end in Jonestown, Guyana, in a mass murder-suicide orchestrated by their leader, Jim Jones. Among the victims was Edith Roller. Born in Colorado in 1915, she had worked at San Francisco State College before joining Jones’ cult, and in January of 1978, after months of preparation, she made the move to Guyana to commit fully to the ideals and promises of a utopian community that would ultimately prove to be a deadly illusion. From 1975 she kept a detailed journal in which to record her time with the Peoples Temple; it ended in August, a few months before the community’s catastrophic end. The following entry was one of her last.
The Diary Entry
24 August 1978 – Thursday
Heavy rains have fallen in the last few days and continued today.
I had noticed that an old suitcase left out by Ira Johnson at my former cottage was still hanging on the line there. I asked her if I could have it to use to make book bindings of it and she agreed. When I got it home I found that only the zipper was missing and I decided to use it for storage in place of a cardboard box.
Isabel Davis moved suddenly. She told Edith someone had stole from her. She told me there were too many bosses, I got the idea she found Edith too dominating.
Edith was given custody of a broom, which she was to make available to several other cottages. It disappeared a few days ago. She had inquired in the neighborhood but had not located it. She enlisted the area’s children in the search promising the finder her week’s treat. Today 2 of the local children reported it was in cottage No.12, which turned out to be that of Willie Malone. Both Marthea and Edith went to No. 12. They denied it was there but the children told us they had rubbed out the cottage number. Edith recognized her broom. Willie should have been charged with theft and fraud but Edith did not follow through with this.
Meals have been extraordinarily good while Freed has been here, although his table was served even better food, we have had new recipes. One was eggplant fried in butter. At another meal we had cassava French fries with chicken giblets in gravy, okra, greens and an orange.
In conversation with Lillian Taylor who is in the berth beneath me, I learned that she had worked as an extra in Hollywood for several years. Among her pictures were “Gone with the Wind” and Clark Gables’ “Too Hot to Handle.”
In the adult class Lois Ponts taught the news while the quilters and I made some corrections in some of the problems and pinned the patterns on the sheet supporting our scraps of material and discussed how we would do the quilting.
During Freed’s visit there have been several acts of violence between members. The worst was another attack by Barbara Walker on Stephen. She had attacked him. She fought like an animal and scratched his face, damaged a fence. Several people were required to subdue her. She had to be tranquilized with injections and two security men were posted at her bed in medical quarters. Joyce Lund described the event to me. Another fight took place at dinner tonight between two young men. One knocked the other over; the other had to be taken in a stretcher, in spite of Freed’s presence. Jim on the loudspeaker this afternoon denounced these fighters.
I sewed on my shirt too.
Edith Roller’s journal has since been released by the FBI and can now be found on the impressively comprehensive website, Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, which is a project of the University Library at San Diego State University.
- Storyville: Jonestown is a documentary broadcast on BBC2 in 2007, and it can be watched on YouTube
- Thousands of photos relating to Peoples Temple can be found in this Flickr gallery
- Edith Roller’s page at Find a Grave
- Tread very carefully, but there exists audio of the final hour at Jonestown and it can be listened to on YouTube. It is as chilling and sad as you could imagine.