Yesterday's Crimes: The Strange Death of the Crooked PI Who Took on Jim Jones

Editor's Note: This is the third installment in a multi-part series exploring post-Jonestown life for former Peoples Temple members in the Bay Area. You can read parts one, two, and three here. 

Joseph Mazor was like a character out of film noir. He was a con man who’d served time for passing bad checks before somehow getting a private investigator's license and opening his own San Francisco detective agency. He sometimes wore an eye patch and was prone to fits of violence.

However, this grizzled anti-hero spent nearly two years working to free children from Reverend Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana before the mass murder/suicide there on Nov. 18, 1978.

Although he failed to rescue many children before the deadly Kool-Aid knockoff was served, Mazor’s life took an even more tragic turn after Guyana.

[jump] Mazor first locked horns with Jim Jones in August 1977. That’s when he reached out to Jeannie Mills, an early Peoples Temple whistleblower and the subject of two previous installments of “Yesterday's Crimes.” Mills had left Peoples Temple in 1974, but she was still concerned for the well-being of Candy and Carl, two children being held at foster homes run by Temple members. Mazor promised that he could deliver Candy and Carl to Mills, and only charged a $1 retainer for the service.

When Mills asked why he would do this for her, Mazor replied that “getting children back to their rightful guardians” was his specialty.

Although Mills later wrote that “a warning bell should have rung” in her head after that initial meeting, the private dick made good on his promise and brought the children to Mills only days later. Mazor even had the kids’ biological mother on hand to sign temporary custody over to Jeannie and Al Mills.

“We had to admit that he was fast,” Mills wrote in Six Years With God: Life Inside Rev. Jim Jones's Peoples Temple, a memoir she published just months before being murdered in her Berkeley home.

While Mazor was effective, his criminal background was used to discredit Mills and the Concerned Relatives organization she had founded to expose abuses going on at the Peoples Temple. A now barf-inducing Sept. 23-29, 1977, Berkeley Barb piece by Art Silverman pilloried Mazor for “at least eight arrests in three states,” as well as his having hired “one of San Francisco's largest public relations firms” to “coordinate a publicity campaign against the (Peoples) Temple and its minister (Jones).” (That bastard!)

The Barb piece was so favorable to Jones that Peoples Temple included it in a Peoples Temple flyer accusing Mazor of being “a special agent for Interpol — the Nazi-infested international criminal police organization begun in Hitler's Germany.”

While some sources speculate that Mazor may have double-crossed his own clients by passing sensitive information about them to Jones, it appears that the detective spent the months before the Guyana tragedy working to get children out of the jungle compound.

“For a year, I wrote letters to the district attorney and probation office, but I was basically told to drop dead,” Mazor told the Associated Press just days after the Jonestown massacre. “It wasn't a big enough issue.”

On Nov. 15, 1985, nearly seven years to the day after the Jonestown tragedy, Mazor was shot to death by his wife, Nancy Lou Mazor, in the couple’s apartment near Ocean Beach. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Nancy Lou Mazor called the Taraval Police Station at 3:30 a.m.

“I just shot my husband,” she said. “If you you don't get here in a hurry, I'll do it again.”

By the time officers arrived at their apartment on La Playa Street, Nancy Lou met them at the door with a pistol in her hand. Joseph Mazor was found dead on the bed with a bullet in his chest. Nancy Mazor insisted on being booked under birth name, Nancy Lou Thompson, and claimed she shot her husband in self-defense. The Mazors had been married for just over a year at the time of the murder.

According to the Chronicle, Mazor née Thompson had retained Charles Garry, the former attorney of Rev. Jim Jones, to defend her in court. 

Special thanks to the “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple” website maintained by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University for making so much information on the Peoples Temple freely available. 

“Yesterday's Crimes” revisits strange, lurid, eerie, and often forgotten crimes from San Francisco's past. 

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