Western Morning News: Killer's diary lifts lid on bizarre cult

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Killer's diary lifts lid on bizarre cult

Western Morning News/2006-08-22

Rick Rodriguez's highly-charged suicide video was a chilling introduction to this incredibly powerful documentary. As he played with his .45 gun and drank bottles of beer, the 29-year-old detailed his reasons for killing himself and outlined how he planned to take the lives of his mother and her partner, Pete. The language was brutal and concise as he swore vengeance. A caption told us that, within 24 hours of recording his video, two people were dead.

As this documentary unfolded, you came to realise that Rick Rodriguez was a victim, the result of prolonged child abuse at the hands of his mother and her extended family. Rick grew up at the heart of a religious cult, founded in California in 1968 and called The Children of God, now known as The Family. His mother, Karen Zerby, had become pregnant while using sex to recruit new members. The founder, David Berg, adopted Rick as his own son and groomed him to succeed as leader after his death.

The Children of God practised free love. Female members were Hookers for Jesus who were sent out to "flirty fish" new recruits with sex. Inside the cult, children were the victims of paedophilia, incest and sexual abuse.

Rick, or Davidito as he was known, and Davida Kelley, whom he regarded as a sister, were forced to share a bed with Karen and Berg and were abused from a young age.

Davida was one of those involved in telling Rick's story. She turned to drugs to try and cope with her childhood. Along with other former members of The Family, she talked about systematic sexual abuse, the absence of any moral code and the institutionalised paedophilia.

As more witnesses came forward, including Rick's wife Elixcia, we were shown more extracts from Rick's video diary and his rage and hopelessness became clear.

Separated from Elixcia, Rick moved to Tucson, Arizona, where his mother sometimes visited. He prepared to confront her and then kill himself.

On January 7, 2005, when Rick's body was found in his car on a lonely desert highway, police were led to his apartment. But it wasn't his mother's body they found with her throat cut, but Angela Smith, a former cult member and a long-term friend of Karen's.

Despite the savagery of the crime, what emerged from this film was a gentle and caring man who had been driven to violence by his dark past and was on a mission of vengeance for the sake of all the victims of the cult.