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BLOOMINGTON, Ind.–Forty years ago Thomas Beikman, formerly of Indianapolis, was in South America. He was there as part of the Peoples Temple when 918 people committed mass suicide by ingesting poison. Beikman only escaped the mass suicide, which some people call a murder, by being away from Jonestown.

RELATED: The WIBC News Special “From Indiana to Jonestown: Journey Through Hell”

He was in Georgetown, where another branch of the Temple was located. While there, he saw a woman kill her children on the orders of Jim Jones.

“That lady killed her kids. I heard that little girl say, ‘Oh mama’. And, I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” said Beikman. “She forced it on her kids.”


The horrors of that day have stayed with Beikman for all of his adult life. He was in his early 20s on the day of the massacre, Nov. 18, 1978. Beikman had been with the Temple since its start in Indianapolis, in 1950s, thanks to the involvement of his mother.

His mother and brother both died that day.

Beikman carries even more baggage because of some of the work he did at the Jonestown machine shop.

“I hate to say it, but I cut the 55 drums in half and welded the handles on them. That’s what they cooked the rice and stuff in and it’s the same thing they put the poison in,” he said.

Once the mass suicide was over, Beikman was able to come back to the states, thanks to a loan from the State Dept. He said he was thin then, because the food at Jonestown for the rank-and-file was mostly rice and flour water. Beikman said most Temple members were made to work all day and into the night.

His advice to people who might be influenced by a man rather than the word of God is simple.

“Anytime someone takes anything out of the Bible and tries to twist it and turn it to themselves, you better find a door.”


PHOTO: Chris Davis/Emmis