Blue Skies in Camelot: An Alternate 60's and Beyond

Calling out the Soviets for their douchery is hardly "soft." Many of the right wingers Reagan supported were just as awful but got a pass because they were right wing.

If anything Udall's being quite reasonable.
Calling out the Soviets for their douchery is hardly "soft." Many of the right wingers Reagan supported were just as awful but got a pass because they were right wing.

If anything Udall's being quite reasonable.
Indeed, I’m not exactly expecting him to sell out to the Soviets or something like that.
President Udall sounds like he has a good record to run on, but needs something major to help him in 1980 like a major American space achievement or wining a war.

The Democrats should take note of the more united Republican message and have a strong answering message of their own instead of resting on laurels.

Reagan vs Udall should be an interesting contest, and campaign- wonder how 'clean' it will be?

Welcome back @President_Lincoln
Willem Dafoe as Bruce Wayne/Batman
To keep things moving after Chapter 119, I'm happy to inform you all that I'm currently working on Chapter 120, as well as the Pop Culture update for 1978. I have a few minor retcons to announce for the castings of American Graffiti, Jaws, Star Wars, Superman (1978), and Batman (1989).

After considering past comments from several of you, I've decided to take some of your feedback on the castings of these films in particular into consideration. Namely, I am making the following changes:

Mark Hamill is NOT cast in American Graffiti or Jaws. These parts will instead go to Richard Dreyfuss, as they did IOTL. This allows Luke Skywalker to still be Hamill's big breakthrough role, and keep Dreyfuss' career intact as well.

After much reflection about Star Wars, I realized a much better Darth Vader was staring me in the face all along... Sir Christopher Lee! Given his history with Peter Cushing, imposing physical frame, and experience as a dread villain on screen (not to mention his OTL involvement in Star Wars), I've decided to retcon Lee as my Darth Vader ITTL.

Superman (1978) will still be directed by Steven Spielberg, and will be detailed in the upcoming Pop Culture update. But for now, I've decided to have Stockard Channing be given the role of Lois Lane, rather than Carrie Fisher. Christopher Reeve and Fisher still date and later, marry, ITTL. They do not meet as castmates, however.

Batman (1989), directed by a favorite of mine in Tim Burton, will be detailed more extensively when we get to the late 80s in the TL. For now, I will grant the following sneak peek at the cast list:

Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier/The Joker
Willem Dafoe as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Sean Young as Vicki Vale
Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon
Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
Jack Palance as Rupert Thorne
So what's the reasoning for these retcons? Because it makes a lot of the previous pop-culture posts not make any sense. Hamill being unknown means Mifune is unlikely to be cast as Obi-Wan. Lee is tall and a skilled actor but he's not going to agree to be in an uncomfortable suit for a whole film. Changing Fisher from Lois seems unnecessary and redoing the entire cast of Batman 89 is odd. I just don't get all these changes.
So what's the reasoning for these retcons? Because it makes a lot of the previous pop-culture posts not make any sense. Hamill being unknown means Mifune is unlikely to be cast as Obi-Wan. Lee is tall and a skilled actor but he's not going to agree to be in an uncomfortable suit for a whole film. Changing Fisher from Lois seems unnecessary and redoing the entire cast of Batman 89 is odd. I just don't get all these changes.
This is all completely fair and valid criticism. I just spent my time away from the site considering some of the choices I'd made before and thought these would be more interesting. 🤷‍♂️ I think Hamill being cast in the earlier films (Jaws, American Graffiti) would also increase the likelihood that he isn't cast in Star Wars. George Lucas is famous for not wanting to cast the same actors in many of his projects. I think with Cushing involved and the right financial motivation, Lee could be convinced to take the part of Vader. Maybe a stunt-man could fill in for some non-speaking sequences to limit the amount of time he'd need to spend in the suit?

As for Batman, I did a bit more research on Burton's process for developing the film. I found out he was interested in casting Dafoe as Bruce Wayne early on. I thought that would make for such a compelling choice, that I knew I'd have to include it as part of my timeline. I apologize if these changes are not your cup of tea. But I personally like the changes. :)

If I have the time, I will try to go back and re-write the relevant sections of the previous/changed updates.
As for Batman, I did a bit more research on Burton's process for developing the film. I found out he was interested in casting Dafoe as Bruce Wayne early on. I thought that would make for such a compelling choice, that I knew I'd have to include it as part of my timeline.
I'm just glad I got to make the "something of a scientist, myself" joke.
This is all completely fair and valid criticism. I just spent my time away from the site considering some of the choices I'd made before and thought these would be more interesting. 🤷‍♂️ I think Hamill being cast in the earlier films (Jaws, American Graffiti) would also increase the likelihood that he isn't cast in Star Wars. George Lucas is famous for not wanting to cast the same actors in many of his projects.
Wouldn't it make more sense to retcon his casting as Luke? That at least would create a new series of events.
Wouldn't it make more sense to retcon his casting as Luke? That at least would create a new series of events.
Possibly. But I'm going to pull a page from my Dungeon Master's Guide and pull the author-fiat card. I want Hamill as Luke Skywalker. I like the changes I've made. Overall, I think they're pretty minor to the flow of the TL as a whole.
I've made retcons before on geopolitics and other topics. I hope that this doesn't break your enjoyment too much. :)
Chapter 120
Chapter 120: Psycho Killer - The Dark Side of the Seesaw Seventies
Above: James Warren “Jim” Jones, the leader of the People’s Temple, a religio-political organization that exhibited increasingly cult-like behavior throughout the “Seesaw Seventies” (left); The streets of a Michigan suburb after being struck by the Great Blizzard of 1978 (right).

“I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax
I can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire…”
- “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” - Stephen King

For as much progress occurred in the year 1978, for as many steps were taken to bring America out of the Seesaw Seventies and into a brighter, more hopeful era, the year also saw perhaps more than its fair share of tragedies, murders, and other grizzly happenings. Perhaps a portent of things to come, the year began with two catastrophic blizzards.

The first struck the Ohio Valley, the Great Lakes region, and Southern Ontario, Canada from Wednesday, January 25th through Friday, the 27th. Often cited as one of the most severe blizzards in North American history, the storm was undoubtedly the worst in Ohio history.

More than five-thousand members of the Ohio National Guard were called in to rescue civilians trapped in their homes. Police departments asked citizens with four-wheel-drive vehicles or snowmobiles to transport doctors and nurses to hospitals so they could remain open and tend to medical emergencies. From the 26th to 27th, the entire Ohio Turnpike shut down for the first time. Ever. The total effect on transportation in Ohio was described by Major General James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard as comparable to a nuclear attack. Fifty-one Ohioans died.
In Michigan, Governor William Milliken declared a state of emergency. He too called out the National Guard to aid stranded motorists and road crews. The State Police declared Traverse City, Michigan, "unofficially closed" and warned area residents to remain in their homes. WTCM radio staffer Elliott Cook, who closed the bayfront location station the previous night at 11 pm, was called to reopen it the next day at 6 am as regular staffers could not get there due to impassable roads. Upon arriving after a forty-five minute walk in waist-deep snow from his home ten blocks away, he had to dig down "a foot" to even put his key in the front door.

In Indiana on day two, half an hour after the front passed through the area, a complete whiteout forced Indianapolis International Airport to close. At 3 am, the blizzard produced peak winds of fifty-five miles per hour. Temperatures dropped to zero that morning. Wind chills remained at 40 to 50 below zero nearly all day. Governor Otis Bowen (R) declared a snow emergency for the entire state the morning of the 26th. Snow drifts of ten to twenty feet made travel virtually impossible, stranding an Amtrak train and thousands of travelers in their vehicles. During the afternoon of the 26th, the Indiana State Police considered all Indiana roads closed. Schools throughout the state would remain closed for as much as three weeks. At least an inch or more of snow covered the state for the next several months.

Classes at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana were canceled for the first time in the history of those universities. At Purdue University in West Lafayette, (where 25 inches of snow fell) for the third time in its history; and, at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio for the first time since the assassination of President George Romney.

No sooner had the midwest begun to recover from their winter-weather catastrophe when another historic storm, this one a nor'easter, struck the nation’s most densely populated region, the northeast.

From February 5th to the 7th, “Storm Larry” as it came to be known, struck New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the greater New York Metropolitan area like something out of the Old Testament. In Boston, a record twenty-two inches of snow fell. Similar records were shattered in Providence, Rhode Island, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, PA. “Larry” ground virtually all economic activity in the area to a halt, caused more than $520 Million dollars in damage (~$2.1 Billion, when adjusted for inflation), and left four-thousand injured and approximately a hundred dead.

Similar to what happened in the Midwest, the Governors of the afflicted states declared states of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to perform clean up and rescue operations. In Boston, the parking lot of Fenway Park served as the staging ground for Massachusetts’ operations. In addition to automobile accidents and the like, many homes were permanently damaged or destroyed, with roof collapses being the leading culprit.


A dubious distinction for the 1970s is that the decade is often referred to, morbidly, as the “Golden Age” of serial killers in the United States. While some, such as Washington State’s Ted Bundy, were caught fairly early into their sadistic sprees, others were tragically successful at carrying out their crimes. Contained here is a blessedly concise chronicle of some of these demented figures, who cast long shadows over the American landscape.


Richard Trenton Chase, nicknamed “the Vampire of Sacramento” killed six people in the month between December 1977 and January 1978. His nom de guerre came from his unique, and rather disturbing, habit of drinking his victims’ blood and cannibalizing their remains. A native of the City of Trees, Chase’s killing spree came as the culmination of a life-long struggle with mental illness.

Early in life, Chase exhibited all three portions of the Macdonald Triad, the set of factors that experts say are likely to be predictive of violent tendencies: cruelty to animals; predilection for the starting of fires; and persistent bed-wetting past the age of five. As he matured, Chase became a regular, heavy drug user, especially of psychedelics such as LSD. The effects of these hallucinogens, combined with a growing hypochondria, led Chase to develop bizarre beliefs about himself, particularly his physical body. He believed that “someone stole his pulmonary artery” and that the bones of his skull “separated and moved around”. He would later shave his head so that he could “watch” this latter activity. After moving out of his mother’s house for fear that she would “poison him”, Chase was later kicked out of various apartments by roommates, who were angered by his erratic behavior and constant drug use.

It was around this same period, in his twenties, that Chase began to capture, kill, and disembowel animals. He would then devour them raw, sometimes even mixing their organs with Coca-Cola in a blender and then drinking the horrid results. Chase’s family became aware of this behavior and, rightly concerned for his sanity, checked him into a psychiatric institution in 1973. He was quickly released however, when he showed signs of “marked improvement”, according to the staff of the facility.

A second stay came in ‘76, when he was admitted after injecting rabbit’s blood into his veins. On account of his fixation on blood, the staff nicknamed him “Dracula”. Later during this second institutionalization, he would break the necks of birds and drink their blood, or employ stolen syringes to secretly steal the blood of therapy dogs to drink. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Chase came to believe that he “needed” the blood in order to “stop his heart from shrinking”. The doctors at the institution prescribed psychotropic drugs and released Chase to his mother. This would prove a mistake with fatal consequences.

From December 29th, 1977 to January 27th, 1978, Chase committed six murders, each with a pistol. He attempted to commit a seventh, but the woman he was stalking locked the door to her house behind her before Chase could enter. True to his “vampiric” persona, Chase would later claim that he viewed an unlocked door as an “invitation” to come inside. A locked door, on the other hand, meant the person(s) inside were off-limits to him. In several of the instances, Chase committed grizzly acts of cannibalism and necrophilia before fleeing the premises. Ultimately, he would be caught by a concerned neighbor of his final victim, who heard “strange noises” coming from next door. Upon investigating and successfully escaping Chase, the neighbor called the police. Chase was arrested shortly thereafter. Subsequent inspection of Chase’s apartment found that every plate, cup, and utensil that he owned was completely soaked in blood, both cow and human. Clearly, the man was a danger to both himself and society.

A year following his arrest, Chase stood trial on six counts of murder. In order to avoid the death penalty, Chase’s attorney attempted to have his charges lessened from first to second-degree murder. If found guilty, Chase would likely be handed a sentence of life in prison instead. The defense’s case hinged on Chase's extensive, documented history of mental illness and the notion that his crimes were thus not premeditated. In essence, it was a defense by reason of insanity.

On May 8th, 1979, the jury found Chase guilty of six counts of first degree murder and, rejecting the argument that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, sentenced him to be executed by gas chamber. His fellow inmates, aware of the extremely violent and grisly nature of Chase's crimes, feared him and, according to prison officials, often tried to convince Chase to commit suicide.

Chase spent the first year or so of his prison term slipping further and further into his hallucinations and paranoia. He told reporters who interviewed him that he believed he was being spied on and attacked by “Nazi UFO’s”. He claimed that the prison staff were in league with the “Nazis” and were attempted to poison him with their food. Thus, he would hoard macaroni and cheese in his pants pockets until it began to rot. Unfortunately, Chase would never receive the care he needed. He died the day after Christmas, 1980, of a self-inflicted overdose of his medication.

Above: John Wayne Gacy, in costume as his persona, “Patches the Clown”. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Gacy would build a macabre resume as one of America’s most diabolical serial killers.

John Wayne Gacy was a nightmare made flesh.

An American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered at least thirty-three young men and boys, Gacy often performed his heinous crimes behind the guise of a friendly smile, a good neighbor, a decent guy. He was the American Dream’s darker, seedy underbelly. A boogeyman who preyed on innocent children and teenagers. He was the fear of every suburbanite and parent, the shadow that lurked beneath the veneer of the white picket fence.

Like many future serial killers, Gacy’s early life was fraught and traumatic. The product of a loving, supportive mother, but an abusive, alcoholic father, Gacy was belittled by his father, who called him “dumb, stupid”, often in comparison to his sisters. When Gacy’s mother attempted to shield him from the worst of his father’s wrath, his father called him a “sissy, a pansy, a mama’s boy who’ll probably grow up queer”. Gacy was also molested by a family friend, but dared not tell his parents, for fear that his father would blame him.

Despite this abuse, Gacy survived his childhood. He would grow up, and even wore a variety of public-facing hats in his lifetime. As a young man, he became involved in politics, working as an assistant precinct captain for the Democratic Party in his Chicago neighborhood. Later, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he worked for a time as a mortician’s assistant. Some of Gacy’s other jobs included work as a salesman for the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company, and later, manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. Gacy and his wife, Marilyn, became active members of their community, also participating in “swinging” communities and illicit drug use.

It was during this time in his life that Gacy would begin to experiment with homosexual encounters. Tragically, his views of sexuality were incredibly unhealthy, warped by the rampant abuse he suffered early in life. This, combined with his existing predilections for violence, would lead to tragic ends.

Gacy regularly performed at children's hospitals and charitable events as "Patches the Clown", a persona he created for himself. Later, following the discovery of his crimes, he became known as the “Killer Clown” by the news media and the public at large. The images of Gacy, in full clown makeup, surrounded by children were, in a word, haunting.

Gacy committed his murders inside his ranch-style house near Norridge, a village in Norwood Park Township in suburban Chicago. Like most serial killers, he developed a highly specific, inflexible modus operandi. Typically, he would lure a victim to his home and trick him into donning handcuffs on the pretext of demonstrating a magic trick. He would then rape and torture his captive before killing him by either asphyxiation or strangulation with a garrote wire. Twenty-six victims were buried in the crawl space of his home. Three others were buried elsewhere on his property. Four were discarded in the Des Plaines River.

Gacy was convicted of the sodomy of a teenage boy in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1968. While the nation spent the twilight of President Kennedy’s administration turning their eyes to the joint American-Soviet Moon mission or the year’s highly contentious three-way Presidential race, Gacy bided his time in an Iowa prison. Gacy was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, initially. In the end, however, he served only eighteen months before being released for “good behavior”. His violent tendencies quieted for a time, but it was not to last.

He murdered his first victim in 1972, amidst the onset of the Seesaw Seventies. His once-beloved Democratic Party failed to go “All the Way with LBJ” that November. By 1975, he had murdered twice more. His bloodlust only seemed to grow, even as the nation plunged into the depths of the Great Recession. The Bush Oil Shock. War in Cambodia and Rhodesia. Blood begat blood. One of the final “checks” on Gacy’s impulses vanished in 1976 following his divorce from his second wife. At least thirty more murders followed. The true number of Gacy’s crimes however, will likely never be known with any certainty.

Gacy was finally arrested on December 21st, 1978, following the investigation into the disappearance of Daniel Holmes, a Des Plaines teenager regarded as Gacy’s final “canonical” victim.

His conviction for thirty-three murders then covered the most homicides by a single individual in the history of the United States’ legal system. A guilty verdict was handed down on March 13th, 1980. The sentence? Death. On death row at Menard Correctional Center, Gacy spent much of his time painting and cracking jokes to the guards. He was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.

Above: David Berkowitz, AKA “the Son of Sam”, and “the .44 Caliber Killer”, who pleaded guilty to eight shootings in New York City from 1976 to 1977. (Left); Kenneth Bianchi, AKA “The Alphabet Killer”, who terrorized Rochester, New York beginning in 1971 before being caught in 1978. (Center); Rev. Jim Jones, leader of the Jonestown Commune/Cult (Right).

It was September, 1978.


Congressman Leo Ryan of California sat in the Roosevelt Room, West Wing of the White House. Waiting. Perched upright in his chair, the fifty-three year old Democrat absent-mindedly thumbed the folder in his lap.

The folder had been compiled by Ryan and his staff after repeated contacts, phone calls, and letters from Ryan’s constituents around San Francisco Bay. The good people of the Golden Gate City were terrified. They demanded answers. Contained within the folder were dozens of reports, allegations of abuse and human rights violations committed by one James Warren “Jim” Jones, the Reverend of the People’s Temple, at his agricultural commune in Guyana, the so-called “Jonestown”.
Abuse. Coercion. Exploitation. Unbelievable cruelty and domination. The reports, which began to filter out a few years prior, weren’t pretty. Nor were they entirely unexpected by the Congressman.

Ryan was personal friends with the father of Bob Houston, a former Temple member whose mutilated body was found near train tracks on October 5th, 1976, just three days after a taped telephone conversation with Houston's ex-wife in which they discussed his leaving the Temple and returning to the United States. Ryan's interest was further aroused by the custody battle between the leader of a "Concerned Relatives" group, Timothy Stoen, and Jones following a Congressional "white paper" by Stoen detailing the events in Jonestown. The Congressman knew, as the reports came in, that he would need to do something about this.

Leo Ryan was no stranger to “hands on” investigations. Only a few years before, he and fellow Congressman Jim Jeffords (R - VT) had traveled to Newfoundland, Canada, to investigate the inhumane killing of seals happening there. From his position on the subcommittee on governmental operations, he was a vocal critic of the Central Intelligence Agency, and demanded strict Congressional oversight of their operations, especially in the wake of the findings of the Reagan Commission. Years before, following the Watts riots of 1965, Ryan took a job as a substitute teacher in the area to document the conditions facing inner-city youth. Five years later, while cutting his teeth as a State Assemblyman, Ryan (under a pseudonym) had himself arrested and imprisoned for ten days at Folsom State Penitentiary (made infamous by the Johnny Cash song), to investigate prison conditions personally. In his mind, Jonestown should be no different from any of these previous cases.

After about fifteen minutes, a familiar face entered the Roosevelt Room. Ryan rose to shake his hand. It was Ted Sorensen, White House Chief of Staff.

“Morning Leo, sorry about the delay.”

“No worries. I appreciate you getting me any time with him.” Ryan managed a half-grin.

Though his burden in coming here today was heavy, he was excited to get to work. He’d served for several years in the House of Representatives with Mo Udall. He was confident that the President would see where he was coming from.

“Right this way.” Sorensen gestured.

Ryan stood and followed the Chief of Staff out of the Roosevelt Room and through the halls of the West Wing. Staffers, from the Deputy Communications Director to interns running about for coffee, everyone seemed to be bustling about. The midterms were then only a couple of months away. Though hopes were high, no chances were being taken. Positions had to be ironed out, schedules made and remade. The Executive Branch was, as ever, a well-oiled machine.

Sorensen opened the door to his own office - modest, impeccably organized. Finally, he knocked twice on the big door. “Come in!” A chipper voice called from the other side. Sorensen and Ryan obliged.


By the time they entered the Oval Office, Mo Udall was standing behind the Resolute Desk. His 6’5” frame towered over virtually everyone in Washington, but the gentle smile on his face made him approachable. To the Congressman, who was used to seeing Udall in a work shirt with rolled up sleeves and jeans, the sight of the Arizonan in a suit was still something of a shock. The snakeskin boots and bolo tie did lessen the blow somewhat.

“Leo, how are you? How are the kids?”

“Fine, thanks.” Ryan shook the President’s hand. “Mr. President, I know you’re busy, so I’ll get right to the point. Mind if I sit?”

“Not at all. In fact, I’ll join you.” Udall came around the desk and sat himself on an armchair opposite the plush sofas that occupied the middle part of the Oval. “Unlike you whipper-snappers, my joints could use the rest.” He joked, of course. Ryan was three years the President’s junior. Sorensen six.

From around the room, busts of Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, two of Udall’s heroes, looked in on them. As did portraits of Washington and Jefferson. To Ryan, it felt like all of American History bore down on him. He wondered what it must feel like to be surrounded by that great power, that responsibility at all times. Ryan turned to find Sorensen and Udall both looking at him, waiting. He began.

“Mr. President, I know you’re busy, so I’ll get right to it. I have with me here documentation collected from constituents of mine, as well as my own personal investigation, into alleged human rights abuses by the so-called People’s Temple at their commune in Guyana. Are you familiar with them, sir?”

Udall nodded. The Temple’s leader, Jim Jones, had been introduced to the future President and First Lady by Harvey Milk during Udall’s campaign stops in San Francisco. Udall had admired Jones’ efforts toward integration and advocating for civil rights, but he found the guy’s speeches and personality “a little nuts”.

Ryan opened the folder and began to read off some of the reports.

“Coercion for financial control and sexual favors… Forced abortions… The list goes on and on. I’m not the first to say this, Mr. President. In my estimation, Jones is leading a cult down there. His followers are good people, innocent. Some three-quarters of them are black, about half of the total are black women. He took advantage of their lack of wealth and resources. Made himself out to be their savior. He’s anything but, sir.” Ryan set his jaw and gazed into Udall’s good eye. “Something needs to be done about it.”

Something sparked in that good eye of the President’s as it sifted through the data. Anger. Righteous fury. Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a truly just man. At last, he set the papers down and looked up at the Congressman.

“What would you suggest?”

“I want to go there.” Ryan said, simply. “Consider it a ‘delegation’. Myself, reporters, the rest of the Bay Area reps, and some of the concerned relatives. We’ll document what we find and I’ll make a report to the Committee.” (The Subcommittee on governmental operations, of which Ryan was a member). “If we find that these reports can be substantiated, we can get in touch with the Guayanese government, get them to do something about it. And if they won’t, most of the residents of Jonestown are U.S. Citizens.”

The implication of Ryan’s last comment did not escape Udall and Sorensen. Military action, if necessary. Sorensen frowned.

“George [Ball] won’t like it.” He said, flatly. “State will have to be involved from the get-go. It could create a legal controversy, the American government sending people into another country like this.”

“Hm.” Ryan chuckled without mirth. “So that’s it? The Administration says it wants to focus on human rights, then turns tail as soon as the going gets tough?”

“Easy, Leo.” Sorensen said. He adjusted his large, boxy glasses and sighed. “I’m just advising caution. This… this is quite the load you’ve dropped on us.”

A prolonged silence followed. It felt as though a great weight had just been placed on each of their shoulders. Ryan felt his mouth go dry. He swallowed. At length, the President broke the silence.

“Let’s do it.” He said, softly. “But let’s not mess around.”

Sorensen looked at him, uncertain. “Mr. President?”

Udall turned to Ryan again. “We’re putting a team together. A task force. You’ll have my Administration’s full support. We’ll fund it. You’ll lead it. But I don’t want you going in there empty handed.”

His good eye narrowed.

“I met this Jones fellow. He had this… wild look about him, like he was capable of anything. If even half of what these reports say is true, the man’s a lunatic. The last thing I want is you to lead a TV crew down there only to wind up being taken hostage, or worse.” He nodded to Sorensen. “If the State Department will break into a sweat over a delegation, they’ll keel over in a hostage crisis.” Back to Ryan. “I’ll sign an executive order assigning Secret Service agents to accompany you. Hopefully, the added security won’t be necessary. But as someone who’s had a nut try to take me out,” he patted the scar on his arm. “I can tell you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Ryan nodded. “Thank you, Mr. President.”


By the time the Ryan Delegation left Washington for Guyana on November 14th, the group had ballooned quite a bit. In addition to Ryan and two of his aides, a couple of reporters, an NBC television crew, and the four Secret Service agents assigned to protect them, seventeen concerned Bay-Area relatives of Temple members joined the party. So too did Congressman Dan Quayle (R - IN), a personal friend of Ryan’s, and his colleague on the subcommittee for government operations.


When Jones's legal counsel attempted to impose restrictive conditions on the visit, Congressman Ryan responded that he would go to Jonestown whether Jones permitted it or not. Ryan's stated position was that a "settlement deep in the bush might be reasonably run on authoritarian lines", but that its residents “must be allowed to come and go as they pleased.” He further asserted that if the place had become "a gulag", he would do everything he could to "free the captives".

The delegation arrived in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, about a hundred and fifty miles east of Jonestown later on the 14th. That night, the delegation stayed at a local hotel where, despite confirmed reservations, most of the rooms had been either canceled or reassigned. Most of the delegation were thus forced to sleep in the lobby.

For the next three days, Ryan and Quayle met with Guyanese officials and held short, tense meetings with Jones’ legal counsel. It was quickly decided by the officials that Jones held no legal grounds for keeping the visitors out of Jonestown. Ryan attempted, while at the Temple’s Georgetown Office, to speak with Jones himself via radio. He was told, because the call was unscheduled, he would not be able to do so. Nevertheless, the visit would go ahead.

On November 17th, the delegation departed Georgetown via small planes, for Port Kaituma airport, a few miles from Jonestown. At first, only the Temple’s lawyer was allowed off the plane, but eventually, the entire entourage, including the Congressmen, the armed Secret Service agents, and Gordon Lindsay, reporting for NBC, was allowed in.

Initially, the delegation was warmly welcomed. Jones came out to meet them personally and offered to give Ryan and Quayle a tour of the compound and its surrounding farms and fields. The NBC cameras captured Congressman Quayle’s attempt at an awkward joke about feeling more at home when he could be “surrounded by corn”, a reference to his Indiana roots. During the tour, however, tensions rose when Temple members began slipping members of the delegation notes saying things like “Help us!” and “Please, assist us in getting out of Jonestown”. Somehow, Jones became aware of the notes, and locals began to impress upon both Ryan and Quayle the extreme danger that their delegation was now in.

That night, Jones refused to allow the delegation to spend the night in Jonestown. Thus, the Representatives and their entourage returned to the airfield to seek accommodations. Ryan, his aide Jackie Speier, two of the Secret Service agents, and Dwyer, one of the reporters, remained, however, staying with a local family in their spare room.

The following morning, the delegation returned in full and conducted interviews with local residents. The interviews were recorded by the cameras, much to Jones’ dismay. Though some of the residents expressed their continued support for Jones and the Temple’s message, many harbored secret desires to flee back to America. After some gentle prodding by Ryan and Quayle, many began to break down and admit the truth.

Around 3:00 PM, fourteen temple defectors, and Larry Layton, a Jones loyalist posing as a defector, boarded a truck and were taken to the airstrip. Shortly after this, Ryan was attempting to arbitrate a family dispute around leaving when he was the target of a knife attack. The Secret Service agents defused the situation, but it was only further confirmation of the danger that the delegation was in.

One of the agents, Ed Norris, decided to head back to the airfield and radio the U.S. Ambassador in Georgetown. The Ambassador in turn called Guyanese Prime Minister Burnham, who ordered that a company of the Guyanese military be mobilized and dispatched. They would not arrive until morning, however. For the time being, the delegation were on their own.

Despite the attack, Ryan wished to remain another night, hoping to assist other Temple members who might want to leave. It was only at the insistence of Quayle, Dwyer, and the Agents that Ryan agreed to leave. He did vow, however, that he would return, with the Guyanese army, if necessary.

The entire group left Jonestown and arrived at the Kaituma airstrip by 4:45 p.m. Their exit transport planes, a twin-engine Otter and a Cessna, did not arrive until 5:10 p.m. The smaller six-seat Cessna was taxiing to the end of the runway when one of its occupants, Larry Layton, drew a firearm and attempted to open fire on those inside. He got off a single shot before being grabbed by Secret Service agent Norris. Norris struggled with Layton for his pistol. In the end, Norris overpowered Layton, but not before several more shots rang out, alerting the others.


Concurrently, several other People’s Temple members who had escorted the group out of the jungle began to open fire on the transport plane. The other three Secret Service Agents, Garrett Turner, Kade Morgan, and Jorge Cruz returned fire from inside the plane, ordering the Congressmen and other members of the delegation to get down and take cover.

After about two minutes of shooting, it ended. All eight of the People’s Temple gunmen were killed. So too were one of the NBC reporters and a defecting Temple member. Twelve of the delegation, including Congressman Quayle, Speier, and Agent Norris were injured in the attack. Quayle would suffer permanent nerve damage that necessitated the use of a cane. Both planes managed to take off and escape to Georgetown, though the delegation harbored worry about what would happen back in Jonestown.

The following morning, Congressman Ryan, the NBC crew, and all of the Secret Service agents save Norris returned to Jonestown with the company of Guyanese soldiers. There, they discovered a tragic, grizzly scene.

According to a later investigation by a House of Representatives Select Committee, when Jones’ gunmen failed to return from the airstrip that night, the cult leader panicked. He attempted to order his followers to drink a concoction of cyanide-laced grape-flavored Flavor Aid. If he could not continue to live out his fantasy of worship as a god-like being, then he had no desire to keep living. And if he was going down, his followers were coming with him.

Fortunately, some in Jones’ inner circle, the pillars of the Jonestown Community, had begun to question his leadership in recent months. When Jones and his wife, Marceline, first explained the murder-suicide pact to their inner circle of followers as a “last resort” in the event of government intervention, most had done what they always did, nodded their heads and softly agreed to carry it out. A few, however, silently identified the plan as “utterly insane” and began to lay the groundwork to resist it.

Harriett Tropp, Annie Moore, Stephan Jones, Mike Prokes, and Laura Kohl, as well as a few others, began to meet in secret to undermine Jones’ plan. When word first reached Jonestown that the Congressional Delegation was coming, this “rebel” group acted quickly and decisively to sabotage Jones’ plans. These leaders went around the commune organizing other possible rebels to complete three primary objectives: isolate Jones and prevent him from getting the order out to his loyalists; locate and secure the supply of firearms and other weapons; and locate and destroy the commune’s stockpiles of cyanide. In the late hours of November 17th - 18th, they were able to (mostly) achieve these goals.

Small-scale firefights broke out between rebels and loyalists. Spurred on by the hope promised to them by the delegation, the rebels fought with all their might. Though several were injured and even killed on both sides, the fighting still likely produced far fewer casualties than would have occurred had Jones had his way. As for the cult leader himself, Jones managed to take the coward’s way out. He committed suicide via cyanide alongside his wife and most fervent supporters. All told, nearly a hundred people would be killed and many more injured in the so-called “Jonestown Massacre” before the Guyanese Army could arrive and fully pacify the situation.

In the aftermath of the Massacre, Jones’ organization, the People’s Temple, would be exposed and discredited thanks to the reporting of the brave NBC journalists. Ryan and Quayle led the House Select Committee on Jonestown, which investigated the People’s Temple and recommended criminal charges to the Justice Department. Eventually, many more members of Jones’ “church” would be arrested by the FBI. For their part, both Ryan and Quayle would be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their bravery in confronting Jones and his abuses. The Secret Service agents involved were credited with saving many lives and won commendations for their work. President Udall was relieved to see the survivors brought home and given the help they needed.

For the survivors of Jonestown, the emotional and psychological toll of life after the cult was high. Even outside of the loyalists, many had believed in Jones and his vision, even to the end. They were devastated by the destruction their beloved leader had wrought. Led by Kohl and the other rebels, they formed support groups and did their best to reenter American society.

It was a dark chapter in American history, to be sure. But, Leo Ryan supposed, it could have been so much worse.


Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: Pop Culture in 1978!

With this being 1978, wonder how the World Cup got on here, maybe the expanded 24 team format that was suppose to happen here? :) Weird thing to talk about that is something random compared to the recent update but its great to see you again! :)

With this being 1978, wonder how the World Cup got on here, maybe the expanded 24 team format that was suppose to happen here? :) Weird thing to talk about that is something random compared to the recent update but its great to see you again! :)
Thanks, @QTXAdsy! It's great to be back. :) I will be covering the World Cup in my upcoming Pop Culture update, but I was thinking of instituting the 24 team format ITTL.