Man Feared Dead In Jonestown Ran Hoax, Police Say

An Alabama mother died seven years ago believing that her son, Jerry Balisok, died in the infamous Jonestown Massacre in 1978 in Guyana.

Marjorie Balisok of Huntsville was convinced she recognized her son and his wife, Deborah, from a news photo of the mass suicide of a religious cult in a Guyana jungle settlement in November 1978.

But King County Detective Randy Mullinax yesterday revealed the hoax of Jerry Balisok. He said Balisok was not among the more than 900 people who died in the suicides and slayings led by Jim Jones.

Balisok has been posing as Ricky Wetta, a Renton man convicted last month of attempted first-degree murder, authorities said. Balisok also faces a federal indictment in Yakima for allegedly having a Wenatchee hotel burned down for insurance money.

Mullinax said that, after talking with FBI authorities in Huntsville, he thinks Marjorie Balisok was sincere in her belief and was not a part of the scam.

Armed with new documentation, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Hogan filed amended charges yesterday in King County Superior Court naming the defendant as Jerry Bibb Balisok, 34, a Huntsville native.

Balisok, who has no prior convictions, will be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Lloyd Bever on April 2 for attempted murder.

Balisok had gone through the trial as John Doe or Wetta, refusing to reveal his background and several times resorting to Fifth Amendment guarantees against self-incrimination.

Mullinax had learned last September, when ``Wetta'' was accused of shooting Emmett Thompson Jr., that the gunman was not Ricky Wetta. The true Ricky A. Wetta lives in Florida.

In 1978, Balisok was operating a motorcycle business in Huntsville. He was indicted on 13 counts of forgery in connection with the business, Hogan said in court papers.

The Balisok family fled Alabama, going first to Miami and then to the Bahamas. Federal authorities issued a fugitive warrant for Balisok.

His mother commissioned a tombstone for Balisok in the family plot in Huntsville.

But Balisok moved to Renton in the late 1970s under the alias.

Balisok worked for The Boeing Co. and was involved in various business transactions as Wetta. While living here, Balisok was fired from one company when the firm learned he had not attended Cambridge University in England, as he had claimed.

In 1983, federal authorities quashed the fugitive warrant and dismissed the Huntsville forgery indictment. Hogan said the Balisoks, who have four children, have been living under the Wetta identity ever since, unaware that those charges had been dropped.

Mullinax said that last September it was determined that in the late 1970s the birth certificate of the real Ricky Wetta was mailed to Renton.

In September, the FBI said it had no fingerprints matching those of the man here believed to be Wetta. But after the conviction last month, Mullinax asked again, and agents hit paydirt.

There is a certain irony in the Balisok case, Mullinax said.

If Balisok had returned for court appearances and settled his debts, his punishment probably would have been only probation, Mullinax said.

When his mother died in 1983, FBI agents put a surveillance on her funeral, ``hoping that he would show up. He did not.''