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Hours before the Jonestown Massacre, Leslie Wagner-Wilson grabbed her baby and ran.

Content Warning: This article discusses mass murder and suicide and will be deeply disturbing for many readers. 

Jim Jones referred to his cult as a church.

The Peoples Temple was founded in the 1950s in Indiana in the United States. In order to coax new members into the cult, Jones would tell people his secretary was paralysed and then “heal” her before their eyes.

He would tell her to stand up from her wheelchair and walk, leaving an impressionable crowd in shock.

Of course, since she was never paralysed, standing up and walking was no miracle.

Following media allegations of abuse in the United States, the cult leader moved his thousand or so followers to a self-made village in Guyana, South America, deep in the dense, animal-infested jungle.

He preached a life free from consumerism and racism, where a happy socialist existence could be enjoyed.

Jonestown, as he named it, was surrounded by snakes and jaguars, so it’s therefore unsurprising that fleeing was a risky move which required meticulous planning.

However, 10 brave members of the ‘utopia’ of The Peoples Temple became disillusioned. On November 18, 1978, they decided to escape.

Mother-of-one, Leslie Wagner-Wilson, was among them.

But when Wagner-Wilson ran into the jungle with her three-year-old son strapped to her back using a bed sheet, she was not only escaping a cult, but an imminent massacre.

“We were running for our lives, for if we got caught we would wish we were dead, because the discipline would be intense,” Wagner-Wilson later told CNN.

Rolling Stone once reported that those who were caught escaping were brought back to the commune and drugged for weeks on end.

Learn more about Jonestown in the video below. Post continues after video… 


Wagner-Wilson had no idea the mass suicide, which was so often discussed by Jones, would occur later that day.

The cult leader mixed cyanide with grape cordial, and encouraged the congregation to consume it.

“Please get the medication before it’s too late… Don’t be afraid to die,” he told the followers, encouraging them to drink the cordial.

That day, 918 people died, 300 of whom were just children.

The day before fleeing, a investigation team led by Californian congressman Leo Ryan entered Jonestown, and gathered secret indications that many members of the cult wanted to leave.

Only 36 people who started the day in Jonestown on November 18, 1978, would live to tell their story.

It was later discovered that it was not a mass suicide, but a mass murder, whereby ‘health professionals’ held down members of the cult and injected them with the deadly mixture.

The photos from that day are deeply disturbing, depicting piles of bodies on the ground.

Many survivors continue to grapple with survivor’s guilt. Wagner-Wilson battled a drug addiction for many years after her escape into the treacherous jungle.

On tonight’s episode of Sunday Night, Melissa Doyle returns to Jonestown to learn the truth behind the mass murder.