Amazon reclaims site of U.S. cult tragedy

Tue Nov 22, 2011 3:48pm EST
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By Girish Gupta

JONESTOWN, Guyana (Reuters) - Wilfred Jupiter clears foliage from an oversized gravestone on a site deep in the Guyanese rainforest where more than 900 Americans died.

The 80-year-old is one of few locals in the remote Amazonian nation who recalls the commune set up here by Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple cult in 1974.

Four years later, the cult ended in a mass murder-suicide that was one of the largest ever losses of civilian U.S. life.

"I was shocked," said Jupiter, who had helped clear the thick jungle so Jones and his followers could set up their self-styled Utopia.

"I worked with these people every day ... then they all killed themselves."

Jones took his followers to this remote corner of Latin America, sandwiched between Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil, as U.S. authorities and the media began to scrutinize his activities, threatening the organization's existence.

Just a few rusty remnants remain at the site, which Jones billed as a socialist idyll complete with hospital, workshops and dormitories for the roughly 1,000 followers.

It was left to decay after Jones persuaded almost all his members to kill themselves in the tragedy that also took the life of a U.S. congressman in November 1978.   Continued...

<p>A sign marks the entrance of a former temple at a site deep in the Guyanese rainforest in Jonestown November 18, 2011. REUTERS/Girish Gupta</p>