Cult leader Jim Jones built a church that spread from Indiana to California and down to Guyana, in South America, but he didn’t do it alone. His wife Marceline was with him to the bitter end. According to the World Religions and Spirituality Project, Marceline Jones not only helped Jim financially — working as a nurse, she supported him through his university years, and later would put her entire salary towards her husband’s legal defense fund — but also guided him spiritually. Born Marceline Mae Baldwin in Indiana in 1927, Marceline was raised in a liberal Methodist family that emphasized helping others. Their first meeting in 1948 was a chilling portent of the fate they and almost a thousand others would meet 30 years later. She was training to be a nurse in an Indiana hospital, he was working as an orderly. They met after she asked for his help dressing a corpse destined for the funeral home.
It may seem easy to judge her for breaking the Hippocratic oath when she aided in the development of the cult that went on to take 918 lives, but in addition to a nurse and wife of a megalomaniacal lunatic, Marceline Jones was also a mother. And the memory her one surviving child has of her is naturally quite different from those who judge from the outside.
Jim Jones made his wife's life a living nightmare
Jim and Marceline were married in 1949, and over the next three decades, they went on to have one child together and adopt six others. In 1961, they became the first white couple in Indiana to adopt a Black child. Their biological son Stephan was the only one of their children who survived Jim Jones’ doomsday religion. He wrote a heartfelt memoir of his mother for San Diego State University’s Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple project in 2013. Stephan remembered his mother as “the most loving, gentle, and giving person” he has ever known. He also described her as a person who realized tragically too late the terrible nature of the thing in which she had ensnared herself, calling her situation a “nightmare.”
That’s why she had to help Stephan get out. She imagined a completely different life for her biological son. “While Dad pushed a path of self-sacrifice and doom,” wrote Stephan, “Mom spoke to me of universities and family and future … ESCAPE.” She gave Stephan a passport and a passbook to a bank account containing $100,000, but his adopted brothers discovered the plan and told their father before he could leave. Still, Marceline was able to convince Jim to let Stephan go to Georgetown, Guyana, before the Jonestown massacre, ultimately saving his life. It appears that like the other unfortunate members of the Peoples Temple, Marceline Jones only figured out what she’d gotten herself into far too late to get out of it.
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