Seductive Poison

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Seductive Poison
Paperback Edition
Author Deborah Layton
Country United States, Italy, France, Australia, Germany, Thailand, UK
Language English
Subject Destructive cults,
mass suicide
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
2014 Random House Audio; 1998 Anchor~Doubleday
Media type Print
Pages 368
ISBN 0-385-48984-6
OCLC 43461666

Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple is a first-hand account of the incidents surrounding Peoples Temple, written by survivor Deborah Layton, a high-level member of the Peoples Temple until her escape from the encampment. The first edition of the book was published by Anchor~Doubleday in hardcover on November 3, 1998, and the second edition was published in paperback on November 9, 1999. In 2014, Random House Audio made Seductive Poison into an audio-book read by the author and narrator, Kathe Mazur. Charles Krause, the young Washington Post journalist who accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan into Jonestown and was injured at the airstrip, reads his Foreword.


After a rebellious two years in the Berkeley school system, Deborah was sent by her parents to Ackworth, a Quaker boarding school in the north of England to finish high school.[1] Upon her return from England, at just eighteen years old, she joined the Peoples Temple and moved into their campus dormitory in Northern California. It was at this point that her life dramatically changed. As a trusted aide to Jim Jones, she became embroiled in the upper-level workings of the Peoples Temple, both in California and Guyana. Four weeks after a harrowing narrow escape, Layton submitted an affidavit about the compound in Guyana, which helped convince United States Congressman Leo Ryan to make his journey there.[2] Deborah’s affidavit became front page news across the country. Six months later and just four days before the tragedy, Deborah was in Washington D.C. giving testimony before State Department officials requesting help for the 900 people held against their will in Jim Jones' encampment in Guyana. Her older brother was the only one ever prosecuted for the murders of the congressional team by Temple members.[3] After over twenty years in prison, Larry Layton was released on parole in 2002, largely due to the testimony of Vernon Gosney, one of the few survivors of the massacre and the Federal Chief Judge, the Honorable Robert F. Peckham.[4]

The book is published in Italy, France, Australia, Germany, Thailand and United Kingdom.

University text[edit]

Dr. Philip Zimbardo stated of the book: "Deborah Layton takes us behind the scenes in her chillingly brilliant memoir of her adolescent descent into his hell and her ascent years later as the woman courageous enough to expose this evil to the world. Her privileged status as a trusted inner circle member - responsible for depositing millions of dollars in foreign banks - gives her story an untold perspective on this charismatic leader and the transformations of human nature that took place among so many followers under his domination. Layton's is a remarkable narrative that reads like a novel, but sadly is all too true."[5]

Dr. Anthony Storr Professor of Psychiatry, Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, and Emeritus Fellow at Green College at Oxford, and a former Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at Oxford University wrote: "Deborah Layton vividly describes her initial intense involvement with Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and her eventual risky escape from a promised utopia which had turned into a concentration camp. This book is both gripping and revealing."

Has been required reading at major universities including: University of California at Davis, Stanford University, Gonzaga University, Rutgers University, Stony Brook University NY, California State University Fresno,

Media coverage[edit]

  • The Chicago Tribune "A suspenseful tale of escape that reads like a satisfying thriller, Layton's account is the most important personal testimony to emerge from the Jonestown tragedy."
  • The Boston Globe “In her shattering memoir…Layton unveils in riveting detail the sorrowful story of a family nearly destroyed. Layton does not cheapen her ordeal or the lives of those lost with throw away analysis”
  • The Scotsman, UK “It was the rebel in Debbie that saved her… She has taken a crowbar to those secrets and pried them open. The book’s honesty is its abiding strength. Her story is a reminder of how vulnerable the psyche is to suggestion and charm… If power corrupts, Jim Jones’ killed, which is too horrible to contemplate. Except Layton does. With eyes wide open.”
  • “For Layton to recount tales this personal... must have been tremendously difficult. For her to lift those recollections above the bargain-basement freak-show reputation and depict them with the power of great tragedy is nothing but extraordinary.”
  • The Sunday Times, UK “...a mesmerizing account, honest, thoughtful, beautifully written. Reads like a thriller… May be the nearest anyone will come to understanding why.”
  • Tucson Weekly “Executed with precision and emotion… a riveting, haunting and all-too-real glimpse at the tragic events that chilling November night.”
  • The Evening Standard, UK “…Layton is scrupulous and honest…a terrific read. As a sociological study it is fascinating. And as a work of suspense, it’s a page turner to rival the best spy thriller.”
  • The Mirror, UK “This is an important, brave account of one of the most terrible tragedies of modern time.”

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jonestown-an American family's 2d holocaust, Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1978
  3. ^ Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom, Bettina Drew, February 1, 1999., The Nation.
  4. ^ “Larry Layton and Peoples Temple: Twenty-Five Years Later” by Frank Bell, “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple,” sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University
  5. ^ Review, Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Stanford University.

External links[edit]