Karen Zerby

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CAUTION: This article contains explicit text and images, and contains graphic descriptions of child abuse that may be disturbing for some viewers.

Karen Zerby during a birthday party for Steven Kelly (2001)

Karen Elva Zerby
Aliases Maria David, Maria Berg,
Maria Fontaine, Mama
Maria, Queen Maria
Born 1946-07-31, Camden,
New Jersey, USA
Rank First-in-command
Present location unknown
Spouse(s) David Berg, Steven Kelly
Children Ricky Rodriguez,
Christina Zerby

Karen Elva Zerby is the current leader of The Family International cult. Zerby is a U.S. citizen and was born in Camden, New Jersey on July 31, 1946. She legally changed her name to Katherine Rianna Smith in 1997 and uses the pseudonyms Maria David, Maria Berg, Maria Fontaine, Mama Maria, and Queen Maria. Zerby is the mother of Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez and Christina "Techi" Zerby.

Zerby joined the group, then called Teens for Christ, in 1969. After becoming a private secretary to the group's founder David Berg, a sexual relationship developed between them. In a prophecy titled "A Prophecy of God on the Old Church and the New Church", Berg explained that he had been told by God to leave his first wife, Jane Miller, who represented the "old church", for Zerby who became his common-law second wife and who represented the "new church".

With David Berg's health declining in later years, Zerby began to take a leadership role within the group. Upon his death in October 1994, she assumed full leadership of the cult and married her long-time partner Steven Douglas Kelly (commonly known to members as Peter Amsterdam or King Peter).

Her whereabouts since the early 1970s have always been a closely guarded secret. Many members of The Family International had never seen pictures of her until recent photos were posted on this website for the first time in 2005. Since the Family's "Reboot", she has become somewhat more public. Her last known location was in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico in around 2010.

Pre-incarnation and the fulfillment of destiny

Drawing of Zerby from The Humble Prophetess! (ML 1429)
Zerby and Arthur Lindfield on the cover of King Arthur's Nights!, chapter 8

Zerby has claimed that she preexisted and was among Jesus' favorite lovers in heaven before she came to earth. In prophecies published for her followers, Jesus tells her, "You are Maria of the End, the prophetess, the unlocker of the mysteries of heaven." (Heavenly Birthdays!, ML 3193, Para.87) She is told that her birth was a turning point in the history of life on Earth and that she was sent to Earth so Family members could partake of her beauty, purity, strength, fragrance, and love. She also claimed to have the power to heal by supernatural means. (Para.72)

David Berg's spiritual mantle

In the later years of his life Berg made it clear that Zerby would lead the group when he died. Following are excerpts of an internal publication compiled from Berg's writings on Zerby, which she had published immediately following his death.

50. My mantle & His Spirit will fall on Maria then. She's a Prophetess of God, she has been since the beginning. It was her messages in tongues that I first interpreted that got us started.

58. (Prophecy:) "The anointing of the Lord will fall upon you, & the mantle of David shall drape about thy shoulders, & thou shalt speak the Words of the Lord to My people, & they shall listen unto thee & heed thee & know that thou art the Word of the Lord. "

72. Maria is already my manager & tells me what to do. Of course, I get the inspiration & the anointing & I get the Words because I happen to be the channel right now. But when I'm gone, she will inherit that power & that mantle & she will be the channel.

83. (Prophecy:) "When thy David is taken from thee, thou shalt be known as a Prophetess, & thou shalt be heeded as the oracles of God, for thou shalt speak that which I shall speak unto thee in that day when he shall be gone from thee, & they shall listen to thy Words. They shall heed My Spirit, & thou shalt become as another one--as the Prophetess of God! "

Alleged child sexual abuse

There have been a number of allegations of child sexual abuse made against Karen Zerby.

Abuse documented in the Story of Davidito

In photographs and written accounts published by The Family in the Story of Davidito, Sara Kelley documented the sexual abuse of Ricky Rodriguez and other children by a number of adults, including Karen Zerby. The Story of Davidito indicates that Zerby intentionally had sexual intercourse in her son's presence, permitted others to photograph his sexual abuse, permitted these photographs and written accounts of the abuse to be published in Family publications distributed to thousands of Family members, and allowed Kelley and other adults to sexually abuse him, including allowing and encouraging adult women to fondle his genitals and perform fellatio on him.

In chapter 61, “Return to Madrid!”, Sara described a number of acts of child sexual abuse that occurred one night in the David Berg household in 1978, when Ricky Rodriguez was 3 years and 2 months old. Among other things, Kelley described how Karen Zerby had sexual intercourse with Michael Sweeney (Timothy Concerned) on the floor as her son watched. Kelley also noted that while she was sexually molesting Zerby's son later that night, Zerby, Sweeney and Alfred Strickland Kelley stood outside the door listening.

1 One night after a real good dinner talk by Dad on the importance of sharing & how timidity is really just pride, Dad suggested we have a “come-union”. He set up a place for Maria & Timothy on the floor, we had the couch, & a sister took care of sweet Alfred upstairs.

2 So Davidito just wandered around from one group to the other for a long while. While watching all four of us in the living-room, he said aloud to try to get our attention, “Ah-hum! I would like to play with my cars now”, as if someone should stop the fun & join him.

3 He did a few favours for Daddy such as turn off the lights, bring us more wine, then he went upstairs to watch Alf in action. When Dito had ever seen me with Daddy before he’d always act very jealous & sometime naughty, so hoping not to offend him, Daddy suggested a while later that I’d better go find Dito & pay him a little special attention now!—And guess where I found him? —sitting on the stairs peeking down at us!

5 So next he wanted his turn, & as soon as I got into bed he jumped on me & said, “Sara, love me!” He specifically asked for several swigs of wine, & got “happy” real quick, so we really had a good time! Alf, Tim & Mommy were outside the door listening to him. “Sara, now kiss it!”, & then he began to laugh & laugh. “Ohh, it flopped in your nose!...Oh, all this hair!—So much hair!”—& was pushing my hair out of his face, but kept asking for more & more love.

6 I asked him if he was “in the mood”, as Daddy says, to which he asked, “What’s in the mood?” I said, “That means when you feel like it.” So he answered, “Oh yes, my mood feels it!” Ha! We were all really surprised that he took everything so well, since he at first didn’t have a “playmate” too & is usually very jealous about “sharing”, but he waited his turn & was a real good boy!

7 Soon afterwards, in our next location, he made up for lost time with his favourite playmate Davida. He told me, “Sara, we’re gonna have to teach Davida to like to fuck & not to push me away!” Well, I’m glad she doesn’t push him away all the time, because the very next night I couldn’t find them after dinner, but then spotted them right at the top of the stairs!—Banging away on each other! Imagine! It’s a good thing she liked it that time!

In “Grandpa Stories, Typing & Discos”, chapter 79, when Davidito was 4 yrs. old, Kelley noted that Zerby's son did not like watching his mother have sexual intercourse:

40 After a good dinner & fellowship, Dad would put on his cologne, comb his beautiful hair, then graciously leave the table & offer his hand to lovely Maria or one of the girls, starting off the evening with a slow number to the instrumental music that was playing during dinner. It didn’t take long before everyone would join in, the girls usually dressed in pretty nighties that’d soon be shed once we all got hoppin’!

41 David usually wanted to stay & “watch”, but he never liked what he saw—having to share his pretty Mommy or me or even Alfred with others! So even if other sweet helpers would take the children to the kitchen awhile for snack, etc, I’d eventually just take them to bed & a private “love-in” upstairs.

Alleged incest with her son in 1987

In a number of interviews, Davida Kelley, the daughter of Story of Davidito primary author Sara Kelley, has alleged that Karen Zerby had sexual intercourse with her son in 1987 when he was 12 years old and that she witnessed this at age 11.

Noah Thomson's 2004 interview with Davida Kelley and Rick Rodriguez

In a late 2004 interview with Noah Thomson for the 2007 HBO documentary Children of God: Lost and Found, Davida Kelley described how it was "perfectly normal" at the time for Karen Zerby to have sex with her own son. In a telephone interview conducted at the same time, Rodriguez declined to talk about this in any detail but noted that "twenty something years" of "abusing and raping little children" was more than just a "mistake" they could apologize for and expect to go away:

Davida: I still think of him as my brother even though he's not. What we've been through together is nothing like anyone else that I know of has ever been through. He would be encouraged to have sexual interaction with the adult women, even his own mother... We were the only children that were involved and yes it was absolutely normal for him to come in and have sex with myself and.. Davidito to have sex with his own mother and it was just.. it was just like a big orgy. And the fact that we both survived and come through this and I know exactly... and I love him so much and I know exactly what he's been through and he knows exactly what I've been through...[looking at photographs] No wonder we got abused, look how cute we were...

Ricky Rodriguez (on the phone with Noah Thomson): I'm sorry. I can't get into it.

Noah Thomson: Why? Do you feel that those are just mistakes and you've forgiven those people?

Rodriguez: Uh, they're not... There was no mistake about it, dude, you don't spend like what, you know, twenty something years, you know, abusing and raping little children, and it be a mistake. You know, it's just...That's not something you say "I'm sorry" about, not that they have even actually apologized.

Thomson: What do you think of your mom, dude?

Rodriguez: Dude, I can't get it into it. I'm telling you. I'm moving on.

Thomson: Does she feel like you're untruthful and do you feel like you're truthful and is there some sort of animosity about that with you, that they've never actually come forth and admit to any of these wrongdoings?

Rodriguez: Dude, I really got to go now.

Thomson: I just wish you the best, dude. It would be a shame if something stupid happened, you know what I'm saying.

Rodriguez: Well, I don't do stupid things, dude. I always think about what I do.

Excerpt from June 2005 Rolling Stone article

Peter Wilkinson interviewed Davida Kelley for a June 2005 Rolling Stone article in which the following text appeared:

In a home on the outskirts of Manila, another sexual hurdle fell, one that, more than any other, would stoke Ricky's fury at Karen Zerby. It was there, around 1987, when Ricky was about twelve, that he had sexual intercourse with his mother. Davida Kelley, then eleven, lay on the bed next to them that day, having sexual contact with David Berg. Kelley, who is the daughter of Sara Davidito, recalls, "It shocked me, because as far as I knew [Zerby] wasn't having any sexual interaction with any of the children in the home up until that time." (The story is "a total lie," says Family spokeswoman Claire Borowik.)[1]

Excerpt from "Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge" by Don Lattin

In 2005, journalist Don Lattin also interviewed Davida Kelley for his October 2007 book, Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. On page 90 of the first edition of his book, the following text appears:

Davida and the Unit were in Manila when the Prophet Prince celebrated his twelfth birthday. Ricky was now old enough to have sexual intercourse with teenage girls and adult women. And, according to Davida, one of those adult women, was Karen Zerby, his own mother. "I saw his mother having sexual intercourse with him while I was getting molested by Grandpa in the same bed," Davida said. "That was disturbing. I'd never seen her [Zerby] have sexual contact with the children." (Karen Zerby declined to be interviewed for this book but Family spokesperson Claire Borowik, called the incest allegation "an absolute lie.")[2]

Excerpt from Cult Killer documentary

In 2005, Davida Kelley was also interviewed for the August 2006 television documentary Cult Killer: The Rick Rodriguez Story. In the interview, she again described how Karen Zerby had sexual intercourse with her son:


Narrator: Now aged 12 and sequestered in The Family's secret HQ, Rick's degradation reached new extremes. In his father's eyes, incest was virtuous and he encouraged Rick's mother, Karen Zerby, to join in their sexual games.

Davida: I specifically remember a couple of accounts where we were all in the same bed. I was required to be having sexual interaction with the guru at the time, David Berg, and I would be on his right side masturbating him while Rick would be having full sexual intercourse with his mother... the same... on the other side of the bed. But it would be like a big happy family time... between the four of us... [...] 45:21 [...]

Interviewer: It's pretty extraordinary to want to kill your own mother, isn't it?

Davida: Well, when your mother fucks you as a child, instead of being your mother, loving and endearing and teaching you in the right ways... instead when you fuck your little boy, that'll do that to you. That might make you want to kill your mother when you grow up. It really does fuck your head up.

Excerpt from December 2007 interview on CNN

In November 2007, CNN reporter Randi Kaye interviewed Davida Kelley for a story first broadcast on the Anderson Cooper show on December 4, 2007. In the interview, Davida again recounted how when she was 11 years old, she witnessed Karen Zerby having sexual intercourse with her 12-year-old son:

KAYE: This woman, Davida Kelley, grew up with Ricky in the cult.

(on camera) What was David Berg like?

DAVIDA KELLEY, FORMER MEMBER, THE FAMILY INTERNATIONAL: He was a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pedophile. He was just a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pervert. He interpreted, like, the law of love and the Bible and religion into a sick, perverted way, and that meant being able to violate and abuse anyone and everyone.

KAYE (voice-over): Including her, she says, when she was just 5.

KELLEY: You were only required to have actual intimate intercourse with David Berg once you were, like, the mature age of, like, 12.

KAYE: Davida says Ricky was forced to have sex with dozens of adult women, including his own mother.

KELLEY: I actually witnessed Karen Zerby having intercourse with her own son, Rick Rodriguez, at age 11.

Excerpt from Ricky Rodriguez video

In a video recorded on January 7, 2005, Ricky Rodriguez described his opinion of his mother and her abuse of him and other children:

Rick Rodriguez: ...the goal is to bring down those sick fuckers Mom and Peter. My own mother! What an evil little cunt. Goddamn! How can you do that to kids? How can you do that to kids and sleep at night? I don't fucking know. Anyway...

Response by The Family International to allegations of child sexual abuse against Karen Zerby

In public statements, Family spokespersons have steadfastly denied that Karen Zerby has ever sexually abused a child. Despite the existence of irrefutable evidence such as the Story of Davidito, they deny that Ricky Rodriguez was ever sexually abused. They also claim that Ricky Rodriguez "never accused his mother of abusive actions."

Statements regarding incest allegations

The Family International denies that Karen Zerby ever had sexual contact with her son Ricky Rodriguez and, despite evidence to the contrary, claims that he never made this allegation to anyone and that no one else made this allegation until "eight months after Ricky's death."

Excerpt from 'Jesus Freaks' by Don Lattin

In Don Lattin's October 2007 book, he noted the response of The Family International to allegations of incest against Karen Zerby:

As for the incest allegations against her, Zerby issued a separate statement through her spokeswoman, Claire Borowik, in which she vigorously denied that she ever had sexual relations with her son. Borowik said the "recently hatched apostate tales of Maria engaging in incestuous relations with Ricky" were "absolutely false."

"This is an absolute lie! Even Ricky himself never accused Maria of such things in his video or his Internet rants about The Family," she said. "Not only did her son never accuse her of this, neither did any for­mer member until just recently, eight months after Ricky's death, when this absurd story surfaced. Of course, given that Ricky is dead and never alleged that this happened, there is no evidence to support this story."[3]

Excerpt from Family International Statement in response to CNN

In December 2007, a Family spokesperson stated the following in response to a story broadcast on CNN on December 4, 2007.

It is clear that the intent of this program was to discredit Karen Zerby, current co-administrative and spiritual overseer of The Family International. Ricky Rodriguez never accused his mother of abusive actions whether in his video, or in his multitudinous internet rants, and the tale told by alleged "witnesses," specifically Davida Kelley, is absolutely false.[4]



Senior Family leadership including Zerby have long attempted to keep their photographs and legal names from common circulation (see Category:Secrecy). Although by now most of the group's members have seen photographs or video footage of Karen Zerby and Steven Kelly, their identities and location are still heavily guarded by members working closest to them. Prior to being released here on xFamily.org, recent photographs of Karen Zerby, Steven Kelly and most World Services (WS) members were not readily available even to fulltime members of The Family. This long-standing policy was changed to a limited extent in March 2005, a few days after The Family's discovery of photos of Zerby and other top leaders on this website. This marked the first time that recent photographs of Zerby were made available to the public in nearly 30 years.

Family publications for children


The Maria Monologues

On a typical workday, Karen Zerby (known as Maria to group members) spends hours attending to Family-related affairs. Because of her position of spiritual authority within the group, her staff records her comments on a variety of issues. The Maria Monologues contain excerpts from the transcripts of these tapes, and provide insight into the inner workings of The Family as well as Zerby's character and leadership.

DISCLAIMER: The Maria Monologues are archived here for educational purposes. They are listed to document their existence and wording but we do not condone the points of view or activities.
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #1
    “… having sex. It's pure to us, there's nothing wrong with it, so we let our kids be in on it, we let them get in on it if they want, we even play it with them because it's nice, it makes them feel good & they enjoy it.” —Maria. 1990-12-12
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #2
    “I have a feeling that a lot of our Family are getting the idea, maybe only subtly or covertly, that what we have printed & what we have preached is wrong.” —Maria. 1990-12-10
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #3
    Mene is trying to make Dad's sexiness look like the most evil thing in the world, when it's very normal & natural and common amongst many others in similar situations…” —Maria. 1994-01-11
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #4
    “I guess it pretty much shocks us to see that we talked so openly about a child of under 11 having had regular dates with the men in the Home where she had been.” —Maria talking about Merry Berg (Mene). 1992-08-01
  • PDFThe Maria Monologues #5
    “If the Law of Love is right, then it applies clear across the board no matter what age it is.” —Maria. 1992-08-15

Public appearances

News from Mama and Peter

[…] 10. Last year was an especially eventful year for Mama and me. The Lord led us to do some new things that we've never done before—in particular, that Mama has never done before! In July 2002‚ the Lord told us to make a set of videos for the CM Family, explaining about our apostates' increased activity and plans‚ the warning of coming persecution‚ the need to prepare and fortify the borders of our tents, etc. While I've made some videos which Family members have seen before, the new twist this time was that our very own dear Mama appeared on the videos! Aside from one other time when Mama talked on video for a short time to the COs (September 2000), this was truly a first! And she did wonderfully, didn't she?

11. […] This was a milestone event, and the reactions from you to these videos‚ and specifically to meeting Mama on video, are still coming in! God bless all the VSs‚ COs, and others who traveled long and far to bring the videos to you, those who set up meeting spots, and everyone who played a part in making it happen.

12. Another first was that the Lord led Mama and me to make a trip to the States in late October to meet several academics who have studied the Family extensively. While I had met a number of these academics before, they'd certainly never dreamed that they'd be meeting Mama one day! It came as a surprise to all—including us! What would we do without prophecy and the Lord's surprises?

13. We spent three hours with each academic in personal meetings, allowing them to ask whatever questions they had, and of course‚ also getting in a hefty witness in most cases. Mama really shone! She was bold and full of faith as she answered their questions and filled the academics in on the new moves of the Spirit, the Lord's latest instruction to the Family, and personal tidbits about her spirit helpers, relationship with the Lord, etc.

Legal documents


  • House, H. Wayne (2000). Charts of Cults, Sects, and Religious Movements. Zondervan Publishing Company. ISBN 0310385512.
  • Lewis, James R. (2004). Controversial New Religions Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195156838.


  1. Wilkinson, Peter. "The Life and Death of the Chosen One." Rolling Stone 30 June 2007: 114-164.
  2. Lattin, Don. Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. New York: Harperone, 2007, 90.
  3. Ibid, 186.
  4. Icon pdf.gifThe Family International: In response to CNN's "Young man's suicide blamed on mother's cult By Randi Kaye CNN" (airing December 4th on CNN) (3 pages, 29k) – 2007-12-04 — Response by Family spokesperson Claire Borowik

External links