Catherine “Hyacinth” Thrash

Catherine “Hyacinth” Thrash
(3/25/1902 – 11/18/1995)

“When I got outside, it was like a ghost town. I didn’t see or hear anybody … I said, ‘Oh, God, they came and they killed them all, and I’s the onliest one alive!” – Catherine “Hyacinth” Thrash

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Catherine “Hyacinth” Thrash was a follower of cult leader Rev. Jim Jones, who led over 900 followers into the jungle and established Jonestown, Guyana. Almost all died in a mass suicide or were murdered during the Jonestown Massacre on Nov. 18, 1978. By hiding under her bed, Ms. Thrash was one of four people to survive, and the only survivor remaining in the camp, the rest having fled into the jungle. Tragically, 913 of the followers of Rev. Jim Jones did die, along with five others who had come to investigate the compound’s conditions.

Born in Alabama, Thrash came to Indianapolis in her teens. She met the Rev. Jim Jones when he had a church called Peoples Temple at 1502 North New Jersey. Her sister, Zipporah, had seen him on TV, and the sisters joined his church after visiting. Jones, a white man, was proclaiming a gospel of racial equality and integration, plus encouraging the congregation to do good works for those in need, ideas which drew her in. Thrash told a reporter in 1988 that she was “willing to go along with him, because at that time, he was really doing good.”

Peoples Temple and Jonestown Cult Leader Rev. Jim Jones / Photo credit: Wikipedia

When Jones moved his ministry to California in 1965, she sold her house, giving the money to Jones, and she and her sister followed him to San Francisco, then followed again when the ministry moved to the country of Guyana on South America’s North Atlantic coast. By then, the church was clearly a cult and Thrash became disillusioned with Jones who was “mad, paranoid, and drug-addicted,” but she didn’t leave because she couldn’t leave her sister or community behind. Other sources state that Jones’ treatment of his followers was often less than humane. They were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed, and many were coerced or brainwashed.

On the day of the massacre, tensions grew after U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and four others in his party, who had come to investigate charges of abuse, were shot and killed. Jones then concluded that the U.S. military would attack the compound, so he called upon the residents to carry out a planned mass suicide by consuming a cyanide-laced beverage. Catherine managed to hide under her bed where she either fell asleep or passed out, not waking until the next morning, when she believed herself to be alone with 913 dead bodies, including her sister’s. It wasn’t until the next day that rescuers arrived and found the few survivors, including Thrash.

Thrash returned to Indianapolis in 1982 where she spent her last years at Mount Zion Geriatric Center, 3500 North Graceland, just two blocks from Crown Hill’s Gothic gates. Somehow Thrash managed to forgive Jones, stating, “I just don’t feel nothing towards him now, no bitterness towards him. I was at times, but I prayed to the Lord, because you can’t hate nobody. So I was healed of that.” Thrash died on November 18, 1995, exactly 17 years after the Jonestown Massacre.

Thrash’s book, The Onliest One Alive, Surviving Jonestown, Guyana, is available online.

Location: Section 100, Lot 40; GPS (39.8141188,-86.1692030). Her grave is unmarked.