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Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Sad Connection To Jonestown Guyana And The Mad-Man Jim Jones

9-12-16 Update:  I was just shocked to discover Wesley's name on a list of suspected airport runway shooters reportedly compiled by the FBI.

This only makes my post about this once vibrant, outgoing, and friendly kid even more incomprehensibleand I am truly saddened to think that this his involvement with Jim Jones might have led him to murder.


In Memoriam - 4-17-14

Around the time I was in the 8th or 9th grade, I met a fellow classmate named Wesley Breidenbach.
Photo: Wesley Breidenbach

I didn't know him well, but each time I spoke to him I remember thinking that he was very easy going and always had a ready smile.
I'll never forget the day I saw him ride up to our school on a unicycle, and I went over to him and we spoke for a while.
After that year, I didn't see Wesley around anymore...and I wondered from time to time what had happened to him.

One day several years later, when I was in college, I was speaking to a sister who asked me if I remembered Wesley Breidenbach...and of course...I told her I did.

She went on to say that she'd kept in touch with his sister who said she was living in fear of her life and hiding from The People's Temple "Security Teams" who were searching for church members who'd not taken their lives as part of the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.
That sounded so surreal...I must admit at first it was hard to believe it...but what she said next floored me:
Wesley Breidenbach and his mom and a sister had all taken their lives there.
All these years later I still cannot comprehend how the happy go lucky young man I knew, could be led to such a place.

Wesley (left) in Jonestown page 3
Children of Peoples Temple - San
Francisco to Jonestown

 by Judy Bebelaar and Ron Cabral reports that Wesley "entered Jonestown, Guyana on April 24, 1977 and lived in Cottage 33.

He was employed there as a mechanic, worked in the radio room, was a tractor driver and boat operator, and worked for security.

Wesley was the son of Lois Fontaine Breidenbach (aka Rocky), the brother of Melanie Lee Breidenbach, and had a "partner" Avis Garcia, who all died with him in Jonestown."


If you aren't familiar with the horrifying story of Jonestown, here's a brief rundown:

(The following paragraphs are based on my recollection of events at that time...along with a more recent PBS Documentary...and information found here: )
A charismatic leader named Jim Jones had begun small churches, first in Indiana and then in California.

Jim Jones on left - Photo:  Jonestown Institute

From all reports, the church was a happy place in the beginning, but slowly members were expected to make larger and larger sacrifices for it, and give up their possessions and lives in order to serve it.

Then Jim Jones, who was initially highly regarded by people both inside and outside the church, became increasingly volatile.

A PBS documentary I saw about Jones and the church, showed him becoming slowly unhinged...and yet it seemed, members of the church continued to adore and serve him.

At the same time media scrutiny started to build against him and so he decided to move the most faithful members of his church to Guyana.

Calling their outpost, Jonestown, some 900 plus souls...including children...soon lived in a promised Utopia...but what eventually became a place of utter madness.

The people of Jonestown where expected to work long hours, as they ate and slept little...and Jim Jones would continually make long rambling speeches over loudspeakers installed through-out the camp.

Reportedly, Jones health began to fail and long term drug use (injectable valium, quaaludes, stimulants, barbiturates, and amphetamines) became evident.

He complained of sleeplessness for days in a row, and his speech became increasingly incoherent and slurred.

And then...he began to practice the mass suicides of all the members.


Troolie Cottages in Jonestown - Photo
Jonestown Institute
Apparently, Jones had created such an environment of fear and intimidation, that loyal members had begun to spy on other members and report any dissension back to Jones, who had enforcers to keep tight control over them.

Punishments and reprisals grew, and so did the fear. And though there was some resistance...apparently many of the church members...perhaps out of despair, confusion, or lack of sleep and food...continued to be loyal to Jones.

In a day before cell phones their only contact with the outside world was extremely limited, although enough negative information reached the outside world that US Congressman Leo Ryan eventually flew down to Jonestown with a small delegation to investigate.

Initially, they were well received in the camp and enough of a show was put on by Jones that Ryan made plans to leave.

But that's when things spun out of control.

Ryan and several in his party, five in all, were gunned down by Jonestown members as they boarded their plane and five others were seriously wounded.

While at the camp Jones had begun at last to carry out his plan for a mass suicide of everyone including himself.

In all, 909 Temple members, including my friend Wesley, died that day by drinking a beverage mixed with cyanide.

A very small number escaped into the jungle around the camp...but it appeared later to investigators that most accepted their fate that day by drinking the mixture and laying down beside each other to die.

Jones took his own life with a self inflicted gun shot.

Fall of 1978:  Photograph of military personnel carrying bodies of the victims of the Jonestown massacre out of a helicopter
Photo:  Jonestown Institute


It's hard not to look at so many smiling faces shown on the following site...and not wonder what happened!??

JONESTOWN MEMORIAL - The Official Memorial and Wall Founded May 1979


I wish nothing but the best for the Breidenbach family and all their loved ones!!


  1. I certainly remember the Jonestown incident and it was a momumental tragedy. So many innocent lives were lost all because of the potent influence of a madman. It's incredible that you actually knew someone who later became a victim of Jim Jones. It's also chilling and sad to think that so many normal, decent people were vulnerable enough to get caught up in such a toxic cult.

    1. I meant to say "monumental". Sorry for the typo.

    2. Hello Jon,

      It was indeed (still is) chilling to think about someone like Wesley...a kid so full of life and promise...having his life cut short in such a terrible way!

      Your choice of wording..."decent (vulnerable) people" getting caught up in that "toxic cult"...puts in a few words exactly what I feel!

      Thanks so much for commenting Jon...hope all is well for you!