The Monkey of Jonestown

Jim Jones had a history with monkeys. In the early days of Peoples Temple, he raised money by importing spider monkeys from South America to Indiana and sold them door-to-door as pets for $29 each. During these sales, he invited potential buyers to his new church (see video below) and gained many followers along the way. Peoples Temple eventually made enough money that it was no longer necessary to sell monkeys, but the animal remained a significant part in Jones’ life.

In 1973, Jones found an 18-month-old chimpanzee and named him Mr. Muggs, after the famous television chimp J. Fred Muggs. The church leader claimed to have rescued Mr. Muggs from scientific testing, but Jeff Guinn’s book The Road to Jonestown produced evidence that Jones actually bought him from a pet store. Later that year, Mr. Muggs was eventually transferred down down to Guyana and Joyce Touchette, a temple member, took care of him.

Mr. Muggs lived in a large cage near Jim Jones’ cottage in Guyana and quickly became the Jonestown mascot. Various reports state that Peoples Temples members admired the monkey; however, there are also rumors that Jones would order adult followers to place small children in Mr. Muggs’ cage as a form of punishment. Chimpanzees can be violent primates who may go as far as murdering others for territory and resources. Such a punishment seems unthinkable but, because Jones was repeatedly abusive before and during his reign of Peoples Temple, putting anyone, even young children, in such a dangerous situation would not be beyond him.

Despite any harm Mr. Muggs may have caused, he remained a beloved mascot of Jonestown from beginning to end. On November 18, 1978, he was shot. (Records are unclear about who killed him, but it was most likely Jones or a Peoples Temple guard.) According to The Road to Jonestown, Mr. Muggs was the first to die in Jim Jones’ mass murder of 900+ people and several animals. His remains are among many of the other deceased victims at the Dover Air Force Base.

Guinn, Jeff. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.