Grace Stoen: Where is the Ex-Peoples Temple Member Now?

With National Geographic/Hulu’s ‘Cult Massacre: One Day in Jonestown’ living up to its title, we get a comprehensive examination into the largest mass murder-suicide in American History. It was actually on November 18, 1978, that a total of 918 individuals died around this titular settlement in Guanya by the order of none other than Peoples Temple leader James “Jim” Jones. Though what many tend to forget is that former member Grace Lucy Grech Stoen had been trying to raise awareness about the dangers of this man and his cult for nearly a year prior.

Grace Stoen Was at Peoples Temple for Six Years

Since Grace was reportedly born into a relatively stable household in San Francisco, California, in 1950, she believed in pure ideals and was a bit naive even by the time she’d turned 20. In fact, she’d first come across Tim Stoen during a march against local overpopulation as well as pollution in the late 1960s, just to quickly fall head over heels despite their 12-year age gap. This couple thus tied the knot in 1970, the same year she attended her first Peoples Temple meeting — her husband was the one to get her involved under the belief the sect would build a utopia.

Grace then honestly, gradually became immersed in the Temple’s socialist ideologies too, only for her and her loving beau to end up moving into its resident headquarters by the end of the year. Their son John Victor Stoen was hence born into the cult on January 25, 1972, yet little did they know he’d be taken from them as a mere toddler to be raised communally in remote Guyana. That’s where Jim Jones had established the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (aka Jonestown) in the hopes of evolving it into a utopian “sanctuary” and a “socialist paradise” for all followers.

Grace was admittedly so devoted at one point that she would’ve laid her life down for Jim if he had asked, yet things began changing once she noticed the innate abuse being exercised by him. Not only did he ultimately claim to be John’s biological father so as to ensure his real parents never got hold of him, but he also issued severe beatings/threats to anyone who denied his words. The former herself had apparently been victimized by the leader, plus she’d even seen a 40-year-old woman being battered for claiming he was turning members into robots with his strict order.

Therefore, by the time the summer of 1976 rolled around, then-respected internal head counselor Grace had decided she needed to escape, but she had to leave behind Tim as well as John. “Jim [used to say], ‘If anybody ever leaves, they’ll be killed,'” she once recalled in an interview. “I really believed that. But I thought, at least if I go I’ll die, and I won’t have to live like this anymore.” So, following some careful planning and with her marriage already falling apart, she fled to Lake Tahoe in July alongside fellow member Walter Judson “Smitty” Jones (no relation to their leader).

Grace Stoen’s Fight For Her Child Was Sadly Unsuccessful

Since John had already been shipped off to Jonestown, Grace did not want to put his life in jeopardy by dragging him along too, but she did almost immediately begin fighting for legal custody. Thankfully, her husband Tim defected within a year and also joined her battle against Jim Jones, leading to them eventually getting the attention of US Congressman Leo Ryan in late 1977. One of their court filings had illustrated all the alleged human rights violations happening in the Guanyan area, including followers being held against their will, and that’s what officials focused on.

However, before delving into this aspect, we should mention it was Grace who’d managed to change Tim’s mind about People’s Temple by admitting Jim was lying to their son about her. He once candidly revealed, “She said, ‘They’re turning John against me. Jim Jones is telling John I never loved him.’ Immediately when she said that, it was like the skies opened. I decided that no matter how pure and wonderful this philosophy is, nothing can justify violating a child’s love for his mother… The reason he kept John was not because of… [love] but because of his hatred for Grace and me.”

Coming back to the congressman’s involvement, he was so baffled upon hearing all the details he decided to head over to Jonestown and investigate the matter himself in mid-November 1978. But alas, no one could have ever imagined this would rub the cult leader in such a wrong way — especially since 14 followers chose to leave — he’d order two mass casualty events on the 18th. One was a shooting at the nearby airstrip targeting the visitors plus defectors, and the other was at a settlement-wide cyanide poisoning murder-suicide — it was in the latter that John lost his life. Grace had tried to warn everyone this would be a dangerous mission, but no one paid her much heed until this heartbreaking chaos had unfolded.

Grace Stoen is a Family Woman Still Settled in California

Although Grace and Tim had been separated for a while, the loss of their son John purportedly became the last straw, resulting in their divorce on November 20, 1979 — it wasn’t lengthy or bitter. So, a little less than a year later, on September 11, 1989, she happily tied the knot with fellow defector Walter Judson “Smitty” Jones in a cozy ceremony surrounded by most of their loved ones. The couple then settled in Concord, California, where they soon welcomed a son named Alexander as well as a daughter called Jennifer into their lives before spending a total of 32 years utterly devoted to their little family, that is, until he sadly passed from cancer in 2013.

It’s imperative to note that Grace and Walter had actually remained in contact with Tim as friends, and it was to such an extent he even spoke of the latter’s shining character during his memorial service. Since then, from what we can tell, the former has preferred to remain well away from the limelight, yet it does appear as if she’s still based in Concord, California, and doing her best to move on in life. She’s seemingly keeping her lost loved ones — son John as well as late husband Walter — alive in her heart, all the while also being surrounded by her remaining children plus grandchildren.

Read More: Tim Carter: Where is the Jonestown Survivor Now?