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Remains of 9 Jonestown massacre victims found in Delaware

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 5:55 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Aluminum coffins hold the remains of some the Jonestown massacre victims in Guyana on November 23, 1978.
Aluminum coffins hold the remains of some the Jonestown massacre victims in Guyana on November 23, 1978.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cremated remains of nine victims of the 1978 Guyana massacre have been found in Delaware
  • The remains were discovered at site of the former Minus Funeral Home
  • Authorities were contacted after 38 small containers were left behind
  • Over 900 followers of Jim Jones were ordered or forced to drink cyanide-laced punch

(CNN) -- Nearly four decades after hundreds of people were led to their deaths in a mass murder-suicide pact in a South American jungle, the cremated remains of nine of those victims have been found in a shuttered funeral home in Delaware.

The eerie find was made after the owner of the site of the former Minus Funeral Home in Dover contacted authorities about 38 small containers left behind on the property, authorities said.

The discovery harkens to a sensational case involving more than 900 people who followed the charismatic Rev. Jim Jones from San Francisco to a jungle settlement in Guyana in 1978. They believed they were being delivered to a place of racial harmony and social justice.

Ultimately, they were ordered or forced to drink cyanide-laced punch after Jones' gunmen killed a visiting U.S. congressman and four others at a nearby airstrip.

Of the 38 containers of cremated remains found at the former funeral home, 33 were marked and identified, said Kimberly Chandler, a spokeswoman for the forensic science division of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Nine of the marked containers held the remains of Jonestown massacre victims, Chandler said.

The bodies of some Jonestown victims were transported to Dover Air Force Base, which has the nation's largest military mortuary. Chandler said she did not know the connection between the funeral home and the military base.

The remains in five other containers have not been identified.

Authorities will attempt to track down relatives or make arrangements to dispose of the remains, Chandler said.

There was no evidence of criminality in the remains' disposal, Chandler said. It appears the remains went unclaimed.

The discovery prompted Delaware authorities to conduct an exploratory excavation on the property on Wednesday.

Dover police officers identified areas on the property with loosely compacted soil.

Several bronze grave markers for veterans who served from World War I through the Vietnam War were found, police said in a statement. The markers were to be presented to family members or returned to the Veterans Administration.

More than 900 men, women and children died in what became known as the Jonestown massacre -- the worst mass murder-suicide at the time.

On November 18, 1978, Jones' idealistic dream of creating a socialist paradise turned deadly when his followers were ordered or forced to drink cyanide-laced punch.

Earlier, California Rep. Leo Ryan had arrived on a one-man investigative mission, bringing along a TV camera crew and various reporters. Fifteen church members asked to leave with him.

But Jones sent gunmen to a nearby airstrip, where they killed Ryan, an NBC correspondent and his cameraman, a newspaper photographer and one of the departing family members.

Ryan and his party were ambushed as they were loading the plane with Jones' followers who wanted to leave.

The 227 children in the so called "Peoples Temple" were poisoned first. Syringes were used to squirt the poison in the mouths of babies.

Some adults drank willingly. Most of those who protested were shot by armed guards. A few escaped into the jungle.

Jones was later found with a bullet in his head. It is not known who shot him or whether he shot himself.

CNN's Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.

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