Friday, 8 August 2014

The Jonestown Dead: Trail of Cthulhu, Night's Black Agents, Delta Green

This post is part inspired by the recent revelation that several cremated bodies from the Jonestown massacre have turned up, 35 years after the fact, in an abandoned Delaware funeral home.

Jonestown, for those not familiar with the event, refers to the 1978 mass suicide of more than 900 members of the religious group Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, run by James Warren 'Jim' Jones. The People's Temple had gone to Guyana to find utopia, only to be subjected to full-time agricultural labor and incessant Soviet propaganda. Meanwhile Jones was raking off the American welfare checks that were being sent to his devoted followers; he's supposed to have collected almost $26 million before the end.

That end came when California congressman Leo Ryan decided to fly to the the Guyana camp, prompted by calls from his constituents to find out what had happened to their family members.  He arrived with a delegation of eighteen people, including representatives of the press as well as a Guyanese politician and concerned relatives. Though initially things went well, the situation soon deteriorated, and a violent shoot-out on the airstrip left Ryan and several other delegation members dead. Jones and his followers committed suicide soon afterward, leaving behind several high-ranking members tasked with delivering the Jonestown treasury to the Soviets, as well as a handful of other survivors who, by luck, managed to avoid poisoning. Everyone else died.

When the bodies were returned to the United States the military asked local funeral homes to help relatives deal with the interments, but there were several hundreds - including many children - and it seems that the funeral homes, and probably also the relatives, were completely overwhelmed. The particular funeral home mentioned in the AP report kept the cremated remains of nine people, presumably because the relatives didn't claim the ashes. Time passed, and the home fell into receivership when its owner died, so the bank took it over. Someone from the bank had to go to the home and take stock of what was left, and that was when the remains were discovered.

Many funeral directors admitted, after the fact, that it was not uncommon for a home to have several unclaimed dead on its hands; relatives often lack the money to reclaim their loved ones. "I'm going to say most all funeral establishments have cremains in storage that people have not come to collect," says Harvey Smith, secretary of the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association.

Sad though this is, it does provide some interesting possibilities for roleplay. Given the nature of the universe posited in Trail of Cthulhu, Call of Cthulhu, and modern games like Night's Black Agents or Pagan Publishing's Delta Green, there are plenty of other reasons why cremains might go unclaimed. A funeral home that has fallen into disuse because the owner has died is a very nice touch, and could happen in any of the game's eras. Cremation as a means of disposing of the dead has been around for donkey's years, but in London the concept was never really popular until the 1870s, when the Cremation Society of Great Britain was founded. Take all that into consideration, and we have the following possibilities:

J.S. Salt, Mortician: Established London, 1873, operating one of the country's early crematoriums in 1908, recently abandoned after the death of its owner and proprietor, Jonas Salt, at an advanced age. Mr Salt's immediate family predeceased him; his only son and daughter-in-law, along with his grandchild, perished in the Lusitania disaster. In recent years Mr Salt conducted a reduced business, only accepting commissions from established clients, among them the members of a London psychical society, the Fulham Theosophical Order. The Order has refused to seek new members since 1901, and the three remaining members are in their declining years. Each are very keen to have their arrangements made by Jonas Salt, death be damned; and as for what's in Salt's mortuary, not even the bank that owns the property knows for certain.

Hoffman, Bestattungs-Meister: Established Berlin, 1980, known to have been an asset that at times worked for the CIA as well as the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND). In its day, Hoffman's was an excellent cobbler with a sideline in cleaning; it specialized in dealing with unorthodox death scenes, and was known to provide excellent quality false identity documents. However in the 1990s it became less useful; unable to keep up with advances in technology, its documentation was no longer considered superior. The end came in 2001 when a scandal involving two misplaced corpses, both of which were later found, naked, in a garbage dump, was traced to Hoffman's. Though the funeral home's owners escaped prosecution, largely thanks to favors owed it over the years, its usefulness as an intelligence asset was finished. Except, according to rumor, perhaps it isn't as dead as previously thought; allegedly it has become active again recently, its work apparently having improved markedly. However nobody has seen Mr and Mrs Hoffman in some time, and the financial institution that holds the funeral home's mortgage is becoming concerned at the lack of contact. Several important papers need to be signed, and even though payments are coming in every month on schedule there are enough irregularities that the bank is beginning to wonder if it isn't participating in an illegal enterprise.

Heavenly Rest Funeral Home: Established 1974 by Horace and Wanda Miller, this business has come into contact with Delta Green's Cell T on four separate occasions, and is considered a Friendly. The Millers are not aware of the conspiracy as a conspiracy; they believe they have assisted agents of the Federal Government, in arranging for the quiet disposal of several decedents, both human and non-human. However recent events within Cell T have resulted in the temporary disbanding of that cell; group leader Tricia is under close psychiatric observation, agent Thomas' whereabouts are unknown, and only agent Tina remains on the active duty list. As a result several things have been overlooked, including half a dozen urgent phone messages sent to Tricia by the Millers concerning a recent consignment. There have been no further messages in the last six months, and Heavenly Rest is now the property of Delaware State Bank, after the disappearance of the Millers. It's believed that Horace and Wanda skipped town when the mortgage payments got too much for them; Delaware State has yet to conduct a survey of its new acquisition.

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