|Karen Elva Zerby|
|Aliases||Maria David, Maria Berg,|
Maria Fontaine, Mama
Maria, Queen Maria
New Jersey, USA
|Spouse(s)||David Berg, Steven Kelly|
Karen Elva Zerby is the current leader of The Family International, a new religious movement. 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. Most members of The Family International until around 2005 never even knew what she looked like or ever saw pictures of her. Since the "Reboot", she has become a bit more public. Her last known location was in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico in around 2010.
- 1 Pre-incarnation and the fulfillment of destiny
- 2 Alleged child sexual abuse
- 2.1 Abuse documented in the Story of Davidito
- 2.2 Alleged incest with her son in 1987
- 2.2.1 Noah Thomson's 2004 interview with Davida Kelley and Rick Rodriguez
- 2.2.2 Excerpt from June 2005 Rolling Stone article
- 2.2.3 Excerpt from "Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge" by Don Lattin
- 2.2.4 Excerpt from Cult Killer documentary
- 2.2.5 Excerpt from December 2007 interview on CNN
- 2.2.6 Excerpt from Ricky Rodriguez video
- 2.3 Response by The Family International to allegations of child sexual abuse against Karen Zerby
- 3 Multimedia
- 4 The Maria Monologues
- 5 Public appearances
- 6 Legal documents
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Pre-incarnation and the fulfillment of destiny
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 may partake of her beauty and purity. It is also claimed that she has 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.
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.
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:
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:
Excerpt from June 2005 Rolling Stone article
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Zerby & partner Steven Kelly
Zerby (left) & Barbara Emerson sporting wigs (2001)
Zerby on David Berg's left in Tenerife (1977)
Family publications for children
- Our Queen Maria (MLK 124, March 2001) — Illustrated publication authored by Karen Zerby, explaining to young children why she is "Queen of The Family"
- More about Mama (HTK 95, July 2000) — Zerby speaks about herself to Family children (art by Jeremy Spencer)
- More about Mama – Part 2 (HTK 95b, July 2001)
- Many are the Helpers of Maria! (MLK 82, July 1999) — Zerby speaks about her numerous spirit helpers
- Karen Zerby replaces Jane Miller Berg as David Berg's wife (1.9MB) — From "The Love Prophet" documentary
- Karen Zerby addresses The Family: Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3, Clip 4, Clip 5
- Lady Maria — Live cover of song about Zerby, by Family band Rebellion of David
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.
- The 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
- The 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
- The 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
- The 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
- The 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
- King County Name Change Order — Name change from Karen Elva Zerby to Katherine Rianna Smith (1997-11-04)
- 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.
- Wilkinson, Peter. "The Life and Death of the Chosen One." Rolling Stone 30 June 2007: 114-164.
- Lattin, Don. Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. New York: Harperone, 2007, 90.
- Ibid, 186.
- The 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
- Karen Zerby's official website
- That Time I Unmasked a Cult Leader Who’d Remained Faceless for 30 Years — Article about efforts to release Karen Zerby's photos to the public