Let’s immediately dispel some myths about Jonestown:
- It wasn’t Kool-Aid. It was a mixture of poisons including cyanide and they did offer flavor packets as well as soda, tea, and other things to put with it in order to get the incredibly bitter and foul-smelling gunk down.
- Not everyone at Jonestown drank it willingly.
- There were survivors.
- Finally, there were men with guns.
Here’s what happened: Family members of some Jonestown residents were having trouble contacting them in South America. As a result, a public official named Ryan went down to investigate. Ryan was surprised by how well everything was working in Jonestown, however some residents wanted to leave. So he began making plans for their departure as well as his own. At this point, there was some chaos and some irrational thinking and the poison punch was mixed. Jones had Ryan killed (or killed him, not sure) and then encouraged his congregation to begin drinking. Some were more than willing to chug the poison. Others, not so much, and there was another issue, the willing participants weren’t drinking it fast enough. At this point, Jones began shouting for everyone to hurry up. Some people began injecting it to speed the process along. Unfortunately, these are not pleasant deaths and the group of reluctants grew with each new gasping, writhing, foaming at the mouth body that fell to the floor. It was at this point that the unwillings found themselves with a choice to make: drink or be shot. Not a pleasant decision, but the unwillings were given motivators and began to drink (at least one survivor reported that the men trained their guns on the children to encourage the adults to drink… which is quite a motivator). 909 people were found dead, including Jim Jones. This means that Jim Jones was the most prolific American mass murderer, ever.
The 101 California Street Shooting was important because it caused new legislation to be enacted. Gian Ferri walked into the law offices of Pettit & Martin located at 101 California Street in San Francisco. Upon entering the office, he drew two guns and opened fire; killing 8 and injuring 6 others (he himself would die as part of this shooting, bringing the total death toll to 9). No one knows why he targeted that office or what sparked him to go on a shooting spree. He’d done business with the law office, but it had been over a decade earlier. However, it was one of the driving forces behind the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which made room for more police, better training for officers, expansion in funding for federal prisons, new definitions for crime and criminal offenses, an expansion of the federal death penalty, a ban on fully automatic weapons, and a host of other items. Even more surprisingly, it crossed party lines; the bill was written by a Democrat (current VP Joe Biden), but the sponsor was a Republican from Texas, Senator Jack Brooks.
Bath Township, Michigan in 1927 seems like an unlikely place for a mass murderer and even unlikelier time for a school massacre, but it happened. When Andrew Kehoe decided to kill, he wanted to leave an impression and get revenge. It started when he got pissed off by an increase in school taxes (he himself was on the school board) and then was defeated for a position on the town council. His first victim was his wife, whom he killed somewhere between May 16 and May 18. On the morning of May 18, he blew up his farm. At approximately the same time, a bomb ravaged the school, killing 36 children and 2 teachers. Investigators later determined that he’d been planning that bomb for a while as he’d smuggled hundreds of pounds of dynamite and a timer into the school. However, that wasn’t his last bomb. As people were responding to the school bombing, Kehoe drove up in his truck and set off his third bomb, which was in the bed of his truck. It killed him, but shrapnel and the explosion killed a further 5 people. Total, he killed 44 people, plus himself, and injured over 50.
In September 1949, Howard Unruh was a 28 year old army veteran living in Camden, New Jersey. Shell shock (modern day PTSD) might have been a contributing factor to the murders Unruh was about to commit. In the years after his return from the war, he’d become extremely paranoid, even keeping a diary that detailed all the things his neighbors were doing. On the morning of September 6th, he grabbed a handgun and began walking down the street of his neighborhood. The walk took 12 minutes and when it ended, 13 people were dead. He was committed to an institution for the rest of his life after being deemed unfit for trial. The trigger for the killing: someone had stolen his garden gate.
Speaking of World War II, it’s hard to imagine an American soldier being convicted of murder during a time of war, but it might have had something to do with those he killed. Yes, they were Germans, but they were also POWs being held in Utah in a prisoner camp. On July 9, 1945 (Germany surrendered May 8, 1945), Private Bertucci climbed a guard tower and began firing into the camp full of prisoners below him using a machine gun. He killed nine and injured more than 20 others. Aside from the fact that Bertucci was firing on unarmed men, who had no where to run or hide (it was made up of tents), and had been sleeping when the gunfire started; the Germans housed in the camp located in Salina, Utah had been there during the harvest. Locals had used the German POWs to help with harvesting the crops and many people living in the town found the POWs to be friendly and even likeable. After all, these weren’t the Nazis going on trial for war crimes, they were soldiers, most captured when Rommel was defeated in Africa. The townspeople were outraged. The federal government horrified. And Bertucci was court martialed.
On by a stroke of whatever you believe in, the next one on the list isn’t actually a mass murder… but it should have been. In 1995, an Amtrak train derailed outside Palo Verde, Arizona. Four cars plummeted off the trestle bridge into a dry lake bed 30 feet below, both locomotives and four other cars went off the tracks. Nearly 80 people were injured, but only one person died in the incident. There was a strange note left at the scene and several rail spikes had been pulled from the track. There is no doubt that the derailment was done on purpose. However, the case remains unsolved and the group that claimed responsibility has never been heard from since (they had also never been heard of before the incident).
Finally, we have another unsolved case. Sadly, it claimed the lives of 11 people and injured more than 70 other people. Four days after Christmas in 1975, a bomb exploded at LaGuardia Airport. The bomb was placed in a locker and when it detonated, it destroyed the elevators around it creating shrapnel. The 1970s were a heightened time for terrorist activity in the US and most investigators believe it was a terrorist attack. However, in recent years, some historians and investigators have begun to rethink the theory. The device was a crude, but highly charged pipebomb. Also, no one ever came forward to claim responsibility. While Croatian nationalists did detonate bombs on American soil in the following years, some researchers have begun to look at other suspects, especially since it wasn’t claimed. In 1978, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, would officially become the bane of the FBI and remain that way until 1995. Some have speculated that the LaGuardia bombing was his first test run.