DOVER, Del. (AP) — A California man said Friday he was shocked to learn that his wife’s cremated remains had been found inside a decrepit former funeral home, 35 years after she and more than 900 others died in a suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana.
Maud Ester Perkins was 28 when she and her then-7-year-old son died in 1978 at the Peoples Temple settlement led by Jim Jones. Her husband, Irvin Ray Perkins of Antioch, California, told The Associated Press on Friday that at the time he had tried to determine what happened to his wife’s remains without success.
All 911 bodies had been taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, home to the U.S. military’s largest mortuary. About a half dozen local funeral homes helped prepare the bodies and return them to relatives over the course of several months, though many remains were never claimed. More than 400 were buried in a mass grave at a California cemetery, while the rest were either cremated or buried in family cemeteries.
“There was so much chaos. … I never got a chance to get hold of anybody who knew anything exactly, so I just sort of backed off,” said Perkins, who recalled being told that somebody would get back with him.
“Somebody just got back to me 37 years later,” said Perkins, now 64, who described his late wife as a “wonderful wife and a beautiful person.”
Perkins said he had planned to join his wife and son at Jonestown but never got chance.
“Twenty days later, I would have been there,” he said.
Perkins still doesn’t know what happened to the remains of his son but suspects they may have been among the unidentified remains buried at the California cemetery in 1979.
Perkins is planning to make arrangements with Delaware authorities to have his wife’s remains shipped to him. He plans to place her remains on his mantle.
“I don’t have the money to come out there,” said Perkins, who spoke Thursday with James Patton, an investigator with Delaware’s Division of Forensic Science.
Patton did not respond to an email message Friday.
Late Friday, the Division of Forensic Science released the names of five people whose remains were found, after notifying relatives.
Officials say Maud Perkins, Wanda Bonita King, Mary Rodgers and Irra Jean Johnson were Jonestown victims. A fifth person, Bryan Glass, was also identified.
State officials say additional names will be released following family notifications.
Officials said Thursday that 38 containers of cremated remains were discovered inside the funeral home building, and that 33, including those of the Jonestown victims, were clearly marked.
Jim Jones led the Peoples Temple in San Francisco in the early 1970s. As allegations of wrongdoing mounted, he moved the settlement to Guyana, with hundreds of followers.
On Nov. 18, 1978, on a remote jungle airstrip, gunmen from the group ambushed and killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California, three newsmen and a defector from the group. All were visiting Jonestown on a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abuses of members.
Jones then ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced grape punch. Most complied, although survivors described some people being shot, injected with poison, or forced to drink the poison.