Nation: Messiah from the Midwest

The sad story of a boy and his Bible

The most vivid memories that childhood companions have of James Warren Jones—or "Jonesie," as they called him—are of his funeral sermons for dead animals in the Indiana town of Lynn, where he was born 47 years ago. Once, when he was 13, Jones invited a group of boys to his family's barn, recalls Harlan Swift, now a Chicago insurance executive. Amid burning candles, the aspiring preacher carefully opened a matchbox, revealing a dead mouse. "He had a service all organized," recalls Swift, "a very, very...