280. Telegram From the Embassy in Guyana to the Department of State1

2175. Dept. pass ARA/CAR/Tumminia. Subject: W/W: John Victor Stoen. Ref: (A) State 206679 (B) Georgetown 2087.2

1. Reftel B reported Consul confirmed presence of John Stoen in Guyana.

2. Post has been in frequent contact with U.S. attorney, Jeff Haas. Embassy arranged meetings for Haas with high level GOG officials including Foreign and Justice Minister and Solicitor General. While GOG appears sympathetic and favorable to Haas snag has developed.

3. Haas accompanied by local court marshal traveled to Jonestown on September 6, to serve process on Jones to appear with Stoen boy in court in Georgetown on Friday, September 9. Haas informed Consul today, September 7, that Jones evaded process by having representative of People’s Temple explain to marshal that Jones had not been in Jonestown for several days. However, Haas claimed he talked with two GOG immigration officers shortly after leaving Jonestown who indicated they had seen Jones earlier in the day in his town. Haas is convinced Jones is deliberately evading process and is concerned that his client will lose custody of her son by default because she does not have the financial resources for a lengthy court dispute. Haas indicated Jones apparently cannot be held in contempt of local court if he is not personally served papers.

[Page 679]

4. Embassy position on this case has been to provide sympathetic assistance where possible to attorney. Consul declined to accompany Haas to interior on September 6. He believed that this was a matter primarily involving GOG judicial and official presence. He did coordinate Haas’ trip with GOG Commissioner of Police to provide Haas and court marshal with appropriate authority and official support. Consul has informed Haas of requirements of consular service of process as outlined in 7 FAM.

5. Consul consulted with local attorney retained by Haas on September 7 who will now request that court authorize local police official in Northwest District serve court summons. Consul had, earlier on September 7, discussed this procedure with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who stated it was frequently used by court in view of the distance and difficulty in traveling to the interior.

6. Consul also contacted representative of People’s Temple in Georgetown on September 7 and strongly recommended that Bishop Jones respond to service in order to prevent situation from escalating further. Consul advised representative that if Jones did not respond to summons or appeared to evade same this could legally jeopardize his position in Guyana as well as any attempts to retain custody of John Stoen.

7. Haas believes that Jones will not appear in court and has urged Consul to accompany him to Jonestown to insure papers are served in the event police are unsuccessful. Haas’ position is that an American mother has been awarded custody of an American child, by competent American judicial authority and he wants an American official of the Embassy (i.e. Consul) to personally assist him to insure Jones’ court appearance. Consul, while recognizing merits of Haas’ case, is still reluctant to place himself in quasi-legal position unless all other judicial avenues are exhausted.

8. Action requested: Post would appreciate Department guidance and/or comments regarding our role in this case.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770325–0838. Limited Office Use; Immediate.
  2. In telegram 206679 to Georgetown, August 30, the Department summarized the history of the Stoen custody case. Stoen’s parents, Grace and Tim, were former People’s Temple members who did not take their child with them when they left the Temple. Once in Guyana, Jones claimed paternity and refused to return John Victor Stoen to the United States. A California court awarded custody of the child to the Stoens. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770312–0874) In telegram 2087 from Georgetown, September 1, the Embassy described Consul McCoy’s trip to Jonestown to check on the welfare of John Victor Stoen. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770318–0342)
  3. In telegram 216553 to Georgetown, September 9, the Department instructed the Embassy not to provide an officer to accompany Haas to serve the custody papers. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770312–0874) In telegram 2269 from Georgetown, September 19, the Embassy reported that on September 12, government interference was delaying the outcome of the case. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770340–0536) In telegram 2206 from Georgetown, September 12, the Embassy noted that a Guyanese Supreme Court Justice, after being told that a People’s Temple representative refused to accept the court summons, ordered that John Victor Stoen be taken into the custody of the court and directed that Jones be summoned to appear in court or be held in contempt. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770329–0821) In telegram 2236 from Georgetown, September 14, the Embassy stated that an emergency passport for Stoen had been prepared. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770334–0100)