Antioch Man: Wife's Remains Found 35 Years After Jonestown

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    NEWSLETTERS

    More than 35 years after the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, nine remains have been uncovered and identified--and at least one belongs to a Bay Area family. NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd reports from Oakland with details, and she spoke with two family members who still want answers. (Published Saturday, Aug 9, 2014)

    An Antioch, 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 an Oakland, 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."

    Then 7-year-old Irvin Ray Perkins, Jr., son of Maud Ester Perkins, died in 1978 at the Temple settlement led by Jim Jones. CA Historical Society 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. State officials have refused to publicly identify those whose remains were found because relatives were still being notified. However, an email from state officials indicated that the remains of Maud Perkins and two others had been claimed by relatives.

    Dr. Jynona Norwood lost 27 loved ones in the Jonestown massacre, including her mother.

    She said finding out that nine more cremated bodies were out there and unaccounted for is painful.

    "So many things went through my mind," Norwood said. "Who are they? Are they alive? Is it our family? Is it our friends? Can they shed light on this massacre?"

    Dr. Norwood said after 36 years, she is hoping families can get closure. Ever year, she holds a ceremony in November and is hoping the nine cremated bodies found in Delaware will be added to the grave.

    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.