OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A woman who lost 27 family members in the 1978 Jonestown Massacre has sued an Oakland cemetery association and its top officers, claiming that after she spent 18 years raising money to build a monument to the victims, the cemetery pulled a switch and decided to erect a different monument, based on a design from Jones’ People’s Church, which “proposes to include the name of Jim Jones himself as a victim of the Jonestown Massacre-Suicides.”
Jynona Norwood and her nonprofit, the Guyana Tribute Foundation, sued The Evergreen Cemetery Association, its president Buck Kamphausen, and its executive director Ron Haulman, in Alameda County Court.
Norwood says she lost 27 members of her family in the Jonestown Massacre of November 1978. Norwood’s relatives were among the 918 people who died in the Guyana-based utopian community known as Jonestown, led by Jim Jones, the leader of the People’s Temple cult.
Norwood says that “on or about November 21, 1978, more than 900 bodies were returned to the United States, and 406 of the bodies, most of whom were children, were buried in a mass grave at Evergreen Cemetery.”
Norwood says most of her family members who died at Jonestown are buried at the Evergreen mass grave site.
Since 1980, Norwood has been holding annual public memorials at Evergreen to honor the victims of the massacre. She says that for decades she has been trying to erect a memorial wall with the names of the 918 victims at the Evergreen Cemetery, and that she planned to exclude Jim Jones’ name from the memorial.
“In or around November 1992, defendants orally agreed that they would be agreeable to, and willing to assist in, the building of a memorial wall honoring the victims of the Jonestown Massacre-Suicides,” the complaint states.
“Based upon this agreement, in or about 1993, plaintiff Norwood, by and through other local nonprofits, began raising funds for the construction of the memorial wall,” the complaint states. Norwood says she created Guyana Tribute Foundation in 1998 to support her fundraising efforts.
She says the defendants promised to provide the base and setting for the memorial at the mass grave site, and reaffirmed their commitment in a September 2002 letter.
Norwood says that after she received a proposal from a monument company, the “defendants notified plaintiff that they would permit the construction of the memorial wall only if plaintiff used their preferred vendor, called Marin Monument Company Inc., working through Amador Memorial Company. Defendants further advised Norwood that Marin Monument Company and Amador Memorial Company would be best suited to construct the memorial wall, as the companies were familiar with the grounds at the cemetery and would best know the specifications of the size of granite that would properly fit at the mass grave site.”
Norwood says she accepted Amador’s proposal, to build a memorial consisting of “seven granite ledgers” for a total price of $97,800. She says she made the first payment of more than $30,000 by January 2008.
Amador provided Evergreen with a sketch of the memorial, the weight of the foundation, and the size and weight of the granite panels for the memorial wall. Evergreen did not object to the size of the panels, Norwood says.
“On or about November 18, 2008, at the thirty-year anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre-Suicides, plaintiffs unveiled two of the panels of the memorial wall, upon which some of the victims’ names were inscribed, by having the panels delivered to Evergreen for an annual public memorial held by plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
Evergreen representatives were there and did not express any concerns about the size or design of the memorial wall, Norwood says.
Nevertheless, she says, “On or about December 15, 2009, defendants wrote a letter to Norwood wherein they alleged, among other things, that the memorial wall had never been approved and that it was too large.”
Norwood says, “This was the first time that any objection was made by defendants to the size and general specifications of the memorial wall, despite having actually seen the written plans and size of the granite panels at Marin Monument Company in April 2008 and again at Evergreen in November 2008.”
She says that in March this year, “Plaintiffs discovered by reading a news article that defendants had approved plans for another monument to be erected on the base and setting originally approved for plaintiffs’ memorial wall. This monument is proposed by the surviving People’s Church, led by [Jim Jones’ adopted son] Jim Jones, Jr., and proposes to include the name of Jim Jones himself as a victim of the Jonestown Massacre-Suicides.” (Emphasis in complaint.)
Norwood says the defendants misappropriated the money she raised for the memorial and “defrauded plaintiffs of the use of a sacred site which plaintiffs have used for years to honor the victims of the Jonestown Massacre-Suicides.”
Norwood seeks compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract, misrepresentation and fraud. And she wants the defendants enjoined from building a memorial that honors Jim Jones “upon the mass grave site where most of the 305 children that Jim Jones ordered to be murdered are buried.”
Norwood and her foundation are represented by Vernon Goins II.