The Family A.K.A. The Children Of God


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
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A tricky on to search for but I can't find another thread on them so......

Last Update: Saturday, July 17, 2004. 7:05am (AEST)

Cult leader accused of abuse

A former member of a well-known Victorian cult has launched a lawsuit alleging she was subjected to daily emotional and physical abuse during her childhood.

Victorian-based religious cult 'The Family' received widespread publicity in the 1980s after police raided a property at Lake Eildon and removed a number of bleached-blonde haired children.

Anouree Crawford, now 34, lived with the cult until she was 17.

Ms Crawford says she has very unhappy memories of her childhood.

"We were abused all day every day and we were not really aware that we were being abused of course," she said.

"It takes quite a bit of back memory to really understand what was happening but we were never happy. We were never happy kids. You can't be happy under those conditions."

She is suing cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne, alleging she was physically abused, denied food and isolated.

In a statement of claim lodged in the Victorian Supreme Court, she alleges the cruel and inhumane treatment has had ongoing severe psychological effects, including depression and an eating disorder.

Ms Crawford's lawyer, Michael McGarvie, says it is one of the saddest cases he has dealt with.

"It's the classic case involving someone in an unreal upbringing and the world suddenly discovering it very late," he said.

The statement of claim alleges Ms Crawford was subjected to severe punishment and assaults, including having her head held in a bucket of water.

"The abuse was emotional, physical, sexual and psychological. I'm not discounting any of them," she said.

Mrs Hamilton-Byrne is yet to file her defence.


Aug 7, 2002
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Is this the same "The Family" as the "Children of God" cult?


I might be misinturpiting whats been writen on but the following quote has me confused;

Currently they claim that they have only 3,000 adult members and 6,000 children living in communities in over 500 countries ("The Family, an Introduction and an Invitation"). Ex-members claim that there are far more members and children
How does the cult have communities in over 500 countries? Last time I checked there were only 192 or so...

Pete Younger

Venerable and Missed
Jul 31, 2001
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Did you mean 500 communities, or 500 countries?


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
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I suspect its a typo and they meant 50 countries.

Pete Younger

Venerable and Missed
Jul 31, 2001
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Emperor said:
I suspect its a typo and they meant 50 countries.
Yes quite, there are apparently only 193 countries in the world.


Aug 7, 2002
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This is a INFORMATIVE SITE on the Children of God that has some of the original pamplets that they would give out to promote sex...

The founder Berg's writings were collected in a corpus of printed letters (called Mo Letters [after his adopted name, Moses David]) to his followers and supporters. By his death in 1994, he had produced at least 3000 of these Mo Letters. Most of them were collected and reprinted in Hong Kong, in several leather bound volumes.

Please see "Main Index and Lists" for a complete Mo Letter List.

The Girl Who Wouldn't
IRFers Beware
The Christmas Monster
Old Church New Church
Mountain Men
Flirty Little Fishy ..... coming soon ...

Many of these writings were designated DO (Disciples Only) status and intended for internal use only, in keeping with the group's "deceivers yet true" philosophy. The majority were only available to public view in the 1990s, through police raids, court subpoenas, and journalistic investigations.

When authorities in a number of countries were able to take legal action against the group using their own writings, the group decided to "recall" and sanitize Berg's more controversial writings. As a condition for winning a landmark court case, The Family quietly acknowledged wrong-doing on Berg's part for literature which endorsed adult-child sex. In the opinions of many who have been hurt by the group, the Mo Letters could be credited for promoting much more - child pornography, prostitution, adultery, libel, abandonment, kidnapping (re: unresolved custody disputes), larceny, obstruction of justice and political meddling ...

The extent of control Berg continues to wield on his followers from beyond the grave, and the thought control mechanisms employed in his writings continue to be of interest to pyschologists and researchers.

Also, i believe Charmed actress Rose McGowan was born into the Children of God church, but escaped pretty early...


Justified & Ancient
Aug 6, 2003
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Death in the Family


rather a long story this. but very interesting.


Originally published by SF Weekly Oct 13, 2004
©2004 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.


Death in the Family
Once you learn the full story of the mom-and-pop cult known as "The Family,"
you'll understand an unsettling reality: Any of us might have joined in.

During the 12 years that Dr. Thomas Meyer had worked in the Kaiser Permanente emergency room in San Rafael, not a single child in his care had died. Much of his work involved treating tykes whose overprotective parents had unnecessarily summoned ambulances in response to minor injury.

Nothing, certainly, had prepared Meyer for Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright's arrival
on Nov. 13, 2001. At around 10:30 p.m., four women walked through the ER doors as casually as if they were entering a Safeway. One of them -- a middle-aged woman wearing a head scarf -- was cradling a baby in her arms. Meyer observed that the boy was limp and looked dead. "Our child isn't breathing," the woman calmly told an emergency medical technician. The women's facial expressions were weirdly "flat," remembers Meyer. They didn't, in any case, seem especially

Though the doctor learned the boy was 19 months old, he looked half that age. He had a pretty face and curly dark hair, but his belly was bloated, his limbs
oddly bow-shaped, like frog legs. As Meyer had expected, attempts to revive
Ndigo (pronounced IN-di-go) were unsuccessful. Later, doctors determined that the baby had died of severe malnutrition. Meyer entered the trauma room where the women were seated.

It turned out the person who'd carried the boy into the hospital wasn't the
mother. Once Meyer found the mother, Mary Campbell, an attractive
thirtysomething with deep-set hazel eyes and a wide mouth, he delivered the bad news by first asking a few questions. No, nothing had been wrong with Ndigo, Campbell responded meekly and politely, except for a cold he'd had for about a week. That evening, she said, he'd just stopped breathing. She and the other
women had tried to revive him with a warm bath and CPR. When that failed, they drove him to the hospital.

"It seemed very bizarre to walk up with an obviously very dead child, and before that not realize that something very, very bad was going on, and not call an ambulance," says Meyer. When he told the women Ndigo was dead, there was no crying, no screaming.

"Their reaction was, 'Uh, OK,'" says Meyer.

The woman with the head scarf who had carried the boy into the hospital -- and who, Meyer noticed, appeared to be in charge of the group -- asked if the
coroner had arrived yet. He had, she was informed.

"Good," she said, as if bored, "because we're ready to go home."


That November evening marked the beginning of what would become one of the most sensational child abuse cases the Bay Area has seen. In the investigation that followed, it was revealed that the four women -- Carol Bremner, then 43; Deirdre Wilson, 37; Mary Campbell, 37; and Kali Polk-Matthews, 19 -- were part of a
mom-and-pop cult led by a dreadlocked, self-styled mystic named Winnfred Wright. Together, the women had borne him 13 children, who, investigators found, had been living in almost total seclusion in the family's rented house in Marinwood, north of San Francisco. The children didn't go to school, or to the doctor or dentist; they ate a strict, nearly vegan diet. Many of them were suffering from rickets, a disease caused by a vitamin D deficiency. A few of the children were
in advanced stages of the illness and had noticeable bone deformities.

The national news media seized on the case of "The Family," as they collectively became known, even though they'd never referred to themselves that way. Three of Wright's four "wives," none of whom he'd legally married, were white. (Polk-Matthews is half black, half white.) They were said to have been serving Wright, who is black, to atone for the sins of their racist ancestors. Besides working to support him, it was reported, they lured women back to their apartment for him to have sex with.

There were other creepy details: As punishment, the children were strapped to a weight bench and whipped with a belt; they were forced to fast, to wear tape over their mouths, to eat hot chili peppers. There was a baby who had died earlier -- mysteriously.

The family's story was made more shocking by the seemingly odd fact that the four women involved in the case were not weak, shiftless individuals from tough-luck backgrounds. Rather, they were "classy," as Wright liked to joke. Before meeting Wright, Bremner had gone to UC Berkeley and Wilson to Wesleyan College. Wilson, moreover, was the trust-funded granddaughter of the founder of the Xerox Corp. Campbell was from a Mass-on-Sunday, middle-class Italian-American family from Brooklyn. Polk-Matthews had been a track star at the private Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco.

The Marin County district attorney responded to the death of Ndigo
Campisi-Nyah-Wright with a vengeance. Wright and the three oldest women were charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, and felony child endangerment.
(Lesser charges against olk-Matthews, who was pregnant with her first child by Wright at the time of her arrest, were ultimately dropped. She is now living with her mother in San Francisco, raising her baby.) Before her arrest, Bremner had been diagnosed with leukemia; she died in custody. The other defendants, facing the possibility of life in prison, pleaded guilty to the child endangerment charges. Wright was sentenced to 16 years in state prison, Campbell to 10, Wilson to seven. All their parental rights were terminated. To date they have each served nearly two years of their sentences.

From the prosecuting attorneys to the media to Dr. Thomas Meyer to a titillated public, it appeared that justice had been done. A bunch of crazy child-killers had been locked up, put where they belonged. But it wasn't as simple as that. Beneath the lurid story of "The Family" was a human drama left largely unexplored.

SF Weekly spent more than a year researching the family's case, poring over public records and talking to friends and family members of the defendants. Both Campbell and Wright were interviewed in prison, and Wright wrote some 50 jailhouse letters detailing his philosophy, personal history, and feelings about his case.

What the research revealed is more shocking than the story originally told in
the press, but in a strange way. Far from being monsters, Wright's wives were actually smart, gutsy, warmhearted people. Bremner and Wilson had been popular student leaders at the center of their respective college-activist communities. They had been, those who knew them said over and over again, critical thinkers
and independent women, the last people you'd imagine getting suckered into a cult. Campbell had been a vivacious Manhattan secretary; her family had always believed she would become a teacher because of her love for children. There was no sign she could become the kind of mother who'd let her baby die of malnutrition.

But by the time Ndigo died, Campbell and the other women of this strange family were no longer what they had once been.

An intelligent, handsome law-school dropout, Wright enticed young women to serve him by presenting himself as a guru who could lead them to some form of spiritual enlightenment, individually and as a group. Once the women were
romantically involved with him, Wright used what psychologists recognize as
classic tactics of psychological coercion -- often colloquially called mind
control or brainwashing -- to break down their critical thinking skills. He
abused them sexually, physically, and psychologically; he kept them up late at
night, isolated them from family and friends, controlled virtually every aspect
of their lives when they were not at work. He justified his bizarre behavior by telling them it was all part of a grand lesson.

The women in the family did not appear, from the outside, to be brainwashed zombies; two of them held demanding full-time jobs, where co-workers knew little about their personal lives. But the women weren't whole people, either. Isolation, exhaustion, and mind games had broken their sense of self. When some of their children began to show bone deformities, Wright insisted that the problems were genetic defects, not signs of illness, and these previously
independent women simply took his word for it. They'd lived on a steady diet of similarly nonsensical, "alternative" beliefs for more than a decade, and Wright's explanations for their children's maladies didn't even seem odd to them.

Just as most people believe themselves impervious to television dvertisements,
few understand how a reasonable person could allow himself to be lured into a cult. Barry Borden, the Marin County deputy district attorney who at court hearings asked over and over again why the women didn't "just leave," couldn't understand. That Wright was allowed to plead guilty to child endangerment charges, exactly as his wives had done, and thus avoid a lengthier prison sentence, showed how little the justice system understood.

But such lack of understanding is hardly surprising. In the writings of late
Berkeley psychologist Margaret Singer, widely considered one of the foremost
experts on cults, "People like to think that their opinions, values and ideas
are inviolate and totally self-regulated." Psychologists who study coercion know
that that's simply not true. Even the smartest, most well-meaning person can be controlled, if he encounters the wrong person, at just the wrong emotional moment. For the women in the family, that person was Winnfred Wright. Their story is one of good intentions and human frailty and an unsettling reality: It could, indeed, happen to any of us.


We never were able to figure out how [Wright] went from the fun-loving
student-athlete to what he became. Did he have a mental breakdown? Did he fry his brain on drugs? We just don't know.

-- Sgt. Fred Marziano, Marin County Sheriff's Department

Winnfred Wright walks into the visitors' room at the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran dressed in the prison uniform of white T-shirt and bluejeans. A slender man with delicate bone structure, neat shoulder-length dreadlocks, and wire-rim glasses, he looks like he should be doing postgrad work, not hard time. Our introduction is telling: He immediately tries to establish an intimate connection. Smiling shyly, he remembers the sole
personal detail I'd included in a letter to him. "I was interested that you've
traveled in India," he says in a soft, warm voice. "Are you familiar with the

Wright begins to paint a gorgeous verbal portrait of his alternative family,
mentioning, among other things, its focus on Hindu spiritual beliefs. Then he
waxes nostalgic for the 1960s, when people's minds were open "just for a second" to a way of life different from the rat race. He seems a slightly spacey but eminently harmless New Age kind of guy.

The 50 or so letters Wright sent to SF Weekly after the interview, on the other hand, are the work of an angry, mentally troubled man. In scrawled sentences that only end in ellipses, never periods, Wright returns again and again to the same themes:

"WHITE RACISM in a County as (1947 Mississippi) RACIST as Marin County is, is a CONSPIRACY already against any black man & anything or anybody connected with him...especially if it's white women too closely connected with that black man...they were WHITE RACIST/HOSTILE E.T. possessed to stop the INTERRACIAL SEX & baby punish i-Nigger for being too 'uppity & smart' & not
deferential enough to white folks."

But Wright wasn't always this angry. Born in 1956, he was a child who seemed destined for success. The youngest son of Leonard and Elinora Wright, a trucker and a homemaker, respectively, from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., he was attractive and athletic, perpetually on the honor roll, a self-described mama's

The Wrights were one of the few black families in their neighborhood, and their
three children were some of the only black students at the schools they attended during the turbulent civil rights era. The situation mixed possibility and rejection, upward mobility and racism.

"We had high hopes for Winnie," says his mother, who now lives in North

"Prejudice was always the underlying thing," says his older sister, Gayle

All the same, neither high expectations nor racial tension seemed to weigh
heavily on Wright. Lithe and fast, with an incredible will to push beyond his
limits, he became a track star, the football team quarterback, and a straight-A student at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. His senior year, he nabbed a partial scholarship to the University of Arizona, where his sister had previously enrolled.

In 1976, after two years at UofA, Wright moved to San Francisco, graduating cum laude from Golden Gate University with a degree in administration of justice. He enrolled in night school, hoping to earn a law degree from the University of San
Francisco, investigating Medicare and Medicaid claims at the San Francisco
office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a day job. At some point during the late 1970s, Wright "wed" a young black professional woman named
Genne Jackson in a non-legally binding ceremony beneath a flower-covered gazebo, with both of their families present.

But as Wright walked the walk of the aspiring young lawyer, he talked a
different game.

"He used to write me 12-, 13-page letters, and he would do his own
sociopolitical analysis," says his brother, Greg. "He didn't think the economic or social system was fair to black people. ... It was: 'Down with America, overthrow the system.'"

Wright became involved in the Bay Area reggae scene, writing songs about the
oppression of blacks and occasionally performing them as a "chanter" with local bands. He tried his hand at reggae-themed painting, began experimenting with cocaine, and grew convinced that working a 9-to-5 job was not his destiny. In 1980, a court-ordered psychological evaluation conducted during the prosecution
of the family says, Wright quit his job, left school, split with his wife, and
went to New York City, where he "lived on the streets with just a sleeping bag,
his herbs, and his Bible." The report quotes Wright as saying that his
biological family thought he had "lost his mind."

Wright returned to San Francisco in 1982, moving in with Carol Bremner, a
sweet-voiced woman with wavy, long, blond hair and a passion for Native American flute music; he'd met her in the elevator while still working for the federal government. Bremner had a father who was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and, though she looked like a hippie chick, she was a tough political activist. She led the anti-apartheid movement on the UC Berkeley campus and had strong opinions about most everything, friends say.

Bremner died in 2002 of leukemia. Her parents refused to comment for this story. There are no court records that make it clear exactly how and why she got involved with Wright. A court-ordered psychological evaluation of Bremner says simply that she was "hip to the Reggae-Rastafarian music scene," a political and religious movement originating among Christian Jamaicans and holding that marijuana is a sacrament, blacks will be repatriated back to Africa, and Haile Selassi, the former emperor of Ethiopia, is the second coming of Christ. Bremner
was, the report said, willing to both support Wright and live communally with the "many other White women" he met through the "Rasta movement."

Though he continued to paint pictures and write reggae songs, Wright decided his primary role in life would be that of spiritual leader. He read constantly from, among other books, the Tao Te Ching and Black Elk Speaks, and over time developed a hodgepodge spirituality that incorporated black radical politics and
New Age beliefs.

Over the course of the next 19 years, he encouraged a string of girlfriends and "wives" to think of themselves and him as a new tribe that was separating itself from the "Babylon system" of mainstream America. He referred to his group as "seers," a term taken from the popular series of books written by Carlos Castaneda, of whom Wright was a huge fan. In the books, an Indian sorcerer named Don Juan teaches the author to "see" in new, magical ways, often by ingesting hallucinogenic plants. Though the adventures Don Juan leads him on are often
terrifying and bizarre, Castaneda is warned that if he resists or questions what is happening to him, he'll miss the point of the spiritual exercise.

So it went with Wright. There were terrifying and bizarre things in store for
his "circle of seers." And it was against the rules to question.


A soccer player with mannish features and a strong, athletic build, Deirdre
Wilson wasn't your stereotypical heiress. Though she'd gone to the best private schools, had her own trust fund, and could claim the founder of Xerox as her grandfather, she steered clear of anything that overtly smacked of wealth and privilege. None of the Wilsons would comment on the record for this story, but a psychological report conducted prior to Wilson's sentencing, additional court documents, and interviews with her former classmates do tell something of her pre-Wright existence.

Almost every child has a defining interest that sets him on a particular
destiny. The boy who collects baseball cards might grow up to win a baseball
scholarship. The debater becomes a hotshot attorney. For Wilson, the obsession was Africa. It led her into the hands of Winnfred Wright.

After her father showed her slides of a trip he'd taken to Kenya when she was a child, Wilson fell in love with what she saw as a culture more vibrant and
spiritual than America's. At Wesleyan College, she listened to reggae, majored in African studies, and, like Bremner, took on a leadership role in her campus anti-apartheid movement. When Wilson visited east Africa during her junior year and fell in love with a young Tanzanian journalist named
Nechi Lyomo. After college, the two planned to marry. Wilson attempted to help Lyomo gain authorization to enter the United States, but the efforts were
fruitless, and Wilson came back to the States alone.

On her return, Wilson was heartbroken and extremely emotionally vulnerable,"
says her friend Zahara Heckscher. She missed Lyomo, was frustrated with the
immigration authorities, and to top it off, had aborted a child she'd conceived
with Lyomo.

With the idea of establishing California residency so she could afford to get a
degree in agriculture from UC Davis and rejoin Lyomo in Tanzania, Wilson moved to San Francisco. It was 1987, and at age 23, she was going through "a dark and difficult time," as she would later tell her psychologist.

Soon after arriving in town, Wilson went to a reggae show on Haight Street. A man with dreadlocks and, Wilson remembered, "bright huge eyes" introduced himself to her as Rasheen Nyah. He asked her if she wanted to smoke a little ganja outside the club; she agreed. Nyah -- the name Wright called himself -- struck Wilson as "a gentle person," a good listener who seemed to share many of her interests. He wanted to hear all about her travels in Africa. He, too, was interested in African culture and seemed to know a little bit about it. "His God was very Afrocentric," Wilson said, and they agreed that "a white-dominated and materialistic society exploited people of color." Wright told her he was an artist and impressed her with his knowledge of astrology, in which she'd always
had an interest. After sharing the joint, she agreed to come back with him to
his apartment.

His Sunset pad was filled with his paintings: images of lions, serpents, and ancient Egyptian symbols in red, gold, black, and green. An attorney who later worked on Wilson's case described them as "bad hippie art," but to Wilson, they created an overall effect that was like "a temple." She and Wright talked all night, and in the morning, he introduced Wilson to his "wife," Carol Bremner. Bremner was wearing a kind of nun's habit, her long blond hair covered by a head scarf. The get-up, as well as Bremner's "purity" and "wise and gentle air," impressed Wilson. The couple had two toddler daughters and presented themselves as an alternative, Rastafarian family that had rejected the materialistic, racist attitudes of mainstream America. They were, they said, living a spiritual
life dedicated to the "pursuit of knowledge" and racial harmony.

Wilson would later say that her meeting with the unusual couple was the most "intense, favorable experience" of her entire life. Like many idealistic young people, Wilson was worried about selling out, now that she was in the real world, post-college. These were people who appeared to be practicing what they preached, living precisely according to their moral convictions.

In following days, Wright talked to Wilson for hours on end about his
philosophies and way of life. He and Bremner didn't subscribe to the traditional male-female roles of Western society. Bremner worked to support him and took care of the children, as in "African tribal cultures," while Wright acted as the spiritual head of the household. Like a yogi, he spent his days meditating, fasting, exercising, writing, painting, and reading spiritual books.

He told Wilson that people were born with a "karmic destiny" it was their duty
to live out. All the bad things in the world were just manifestations of how
people were thinking, both consciously and subconsciously. "What was happening in the world was what was happening in the soul," Wright told her.

During the conversations, Wright sometimes gave Wilson massages; initially she rejected his sexual advances.

In April of 1987, Wilson's best friend from Wesleyan, Katherine Forrest, got a strange call from Wilson.

"She said she'd been raped by this guy she met at a bar," says Forrest. Wilson
sounded odd to Forrest, as if she were stoned, or as if her voice was "coming
through a different person." Alarmed, Forrest started taking notes. "She used
the word 'rape,'" Forrest says, "but she talked about how she was now living
with this guy, and being awakened to a wonderful life."

Fourteen years later, Wilson didn't recall in court documents what happened that night when Wright supposedly raped her. She did talk about a subsequent evening,
when she told Wright that their relationship couldn't be sexual, because she was engaged. Wright picked up a candle and held it between their faces. His eyes grew huge, as if possessed.

"If you go over and be with that African nigger," Wilson remembered him saying, "you will ruin him because you are an ignorant white woman. If you leave you are avoiding your responsibility ... you will miss your destiny and never attain knowledge. You will be another robot going through the motions [living a] stupid, meaningless life."

He traced the arcs of Wilson's astrological chart, showing her that what he said was reflected in the stars.

"I was totally petrified," she told her psychologist.

After that, the psychologist, Dr. Paul Martin, wrote, Wilson "gave herself 100%" to Wright.


The ruse typically went like this: "Would you like to be part of a women's mural
project we're doing?" Bremner would ask. They were taking pictures of many
women, she would explain, and eventually would paint the mural from a collage of the women's faces. If the woman assented, Bremner would get her phone number, then invite her over to the apartment. If the woman came, Wright's wives would greet her warmly.

"Would you mind slipping into a robe?" they'd ask. "It'll make a better picture."

After that, as the woman sat on a futon, wearing no clothing save the robe given her, Wright's wives would play it by ear. Bremner might ask the woman if she'd like a massage while Wilson did her astrological chart. The point was to loosen the woman up, so Wright could come in to have sex with her and take kinky photos.

Wright called these strange seductions "the actions" and presented them as
magical ritual. They took place after he'd smoked crack, which happened with increasing frequency -- sometimes as often as three times a week -- after Wilson joined the household and contributed her Xerox trust-fund money to its budget.

Wright explained to his wives that during the actions he was like a medium in a trance, that he was in a vulnerable state. If they used their "material judgment" on him and acted negatively about procuring women, it would mess up the magic -- or worse. He might go into what Wilson called "possessed mode" and start yelling at them, calling them "cracker-assed bitches."

Bremner usually took the lead, because she was head mother (as Wright called
her) and served as a model to the other wives. "He's such a good husband, he should have many followers," Ndigo's mother, Mary Campbell, remembers Bremner

Wright's advances were all but indiscriminate. Judy Pan, a co-worker of Wilson, remembers coming over to the house and being offered a massage by Bremner, then feeling somebody else touching her. "I said, 'Oh that's interesting, I feel another pair of hands on my legs.' And he just chuckled. But then he left," says Pan.

Others had less fleeting experiences. In 1991, a woman filed a complaint with
San Francisco police, alleging that Wright had drugged her, then tried to rape her. In that same year, another woman told police that she'd gone to the house and Wright had smoked a "crackling substance," then pointed to an ax hanging on the wall. "Have you ever seen a woman wearing an ax?" he reportedly said. "It is a sign of femininity." Both women ultimately declined to press charges.

After Wilson joined the family in 1987, a woman named Susan Weber was recruited via an action and stayed for four years. She told Marin County investigators that during her first visit to the house to get her picture taken for the mural project, Wright gave her LSD. "We went downstairs, and he handed me a mint candy and said, 'This is your sacrament,'" Weber said. "I started to hallucinate ... thinking this is where I was supposed to be."

Most of the time, the women the family picked up during the actions were
hard-luck cases, crack addicts looking for a fix. They'd be gone by morning. But every so often, the family's scattershot approach to recruitment would hit an idealist at loose ends. Somebody who, like Wilson, was between commitments in life. Somebody who was lonely, looking for something. When Wright found somebody like that, he grabbed -- and held on tightly.


Mary was more like a high school girl. ... She was crazy-in-love with me, like
no woman can fake.

-- Winnfred Wright

Growing up in Brooklyn, Mary Campbell was a tomboy. Then came the day in high school when she realized she was too busty to play on the volleyball team. Campbell had been blessed or cursed, depending on how you looked at it, with a body and face that turned men's heads. Besides the breasts, she had long legs, ash-brown hair she wore in a tumbling cascade of curls, a model's high cheekbones, and a full mouth that was almost always smiling.

Born in 1964, Campbell was brought up in a conventional Italian-American family. The daughter of a psychiatric hospital orderly and a stay-at-home mom, she went to Catholic Mass every Sunday. As a child, she was accident-prone, bumping into
chairs and tables in an attempt to get the attention of her emotionally distant
father. But in high school, she threw herself into her role as teen queen, a
bubbly sex symbol of sorts, focusing less on studies than on disco dancing.
Though intelligent, she wasn't interested in college. At the urging of her mother, she went to what was then considered a tony secretarial school in Manhattan, the Katherine Gibbs School, to "have something to fall back on."

Still, Campbell was a romantic. She wore miniskirts and garter belts to catch men's eyes and dreamed of "getting married, having kids, and being all domestic." When she was 23, her boyfriend of five years suggested they move to San Francisco; she agreed. But the relationship fizzled, and she was left lonely in a new city, farther than she'd ever lived from her close-knit family.

One day in 1988, Carol Bremner struck up a conversation with Campbell at the
Ashbury Market, where Campbell was working at the deli counter. The younger woman was more than happy to chat.

"Would you like to be part of a women's mural project?" Bremner asked.

In the year that had passed since Wilson had moved in with Wright, their little family had grown. Susan Weber had joined, and both she and Wilson had had babies. When Campbell arrived at Wright's apartment on Noriega Street, an intoxicating scene was spread before her. Wright's three wives -- Bremner, Wilson, and Weber -- sat on the floor, tending to their children. The whole setup of the family seemed "very politically correct," Campbell said in one of several interviews. They seemed like "nice, smart, and good mothers."

Later that evening, Campbell met Wright. "He was the whole package," she said. Attractive, artistic, and best of all, romantic. On Campbell's second visit, he fixed her with a very intense look and said something that, in the back of her mind, she'd always longed to hear.

"Baby," he told her, "you're going to be with me forever." They would, he went
on, raise a family together. To prove his point, he refused to use birth control
when they made love. Campbell interpreted this to mean "he was really serious about me and really meant what he said about wanting to have babies with me."

Ten weeks after meeting Wright, Campbell discovered she was pregnant. Bremner made her an offer she couldn't refuse: If she moved in with the family, she could quit her job, and the rest of them would financially support her for two years. She could stay home with both her baby and her lover.

"Wow -- I could really do this," Campbell remembered thinking. It was, she felt at the time, a wonderful environment in which to raise her baby.


Life in the family wasn't exactly what it had seemed from the outside. Once they moved in, the women were told that there were certain expectations. For starters, so they would evolve spiritually, things were to be "Spartan" and "pure," as Wilson would later describe it. In the beginning, Wright insisted that the women wear head scarves and even at times nunlike habits.

"Mary, you're going to have to stop dressing so sexy," Wright said when Campbell moved into the apartment. "I don't want other men to see what's mine."

Wright elaborated his philosophy in a letter to SF Weekly: "Matriarchal
family/circles like ours naturally promote the empowerment of women to their
traditional greatness over that candy-ass, air-headed, Barbie doll, slutted out, sell out, selfish, disempowered Patriarchal female paper doll (that the designs of social conditioning promote)."

Wright saw the world in black and white; people were either with you or against you. Family and friends represented potential obstacles to the women's spiritual evolution and should be used only when needed. Wright told Campbell she was "too good now to mix with others" and stressed over and over again that the women should trust nobody outside the family. They were encouraged to drop all their old friendships and keep new relationships at the surface level only.

When Campbell's childhood friend Dawn Kakimoto came to visit, "members of the household followed at a close distance," never losing sight of the two women as they strolled to a nearby park, according to public records. Campbell remembers
her ex-boyfriend coming to the house to try to rescue her; Campbell and the
other women cowered in the corner while Wright screamed at him, "Go away, she wants to be here!"

Although Campbell kept up a superficial telephone relationship with her family
(a sister once got a letter proudly stating that Wright had "levitated
someone"), Wilson, Bremner, and Weber were on rockier terms with theirs. All three families tried on numerous occasions to talk to their daughters reasonably and, when that failed, contacted individuals with experience in rescuing people
from cults. The Wilsons tried on at least two occasions to extricate their
daughter through a third party, with no success. Wright told the women their
parents were selfish "haters" trying to hamper their daughters' personal growth. He insisted that they were racists who wouldn't admit that their objection to him was his black skin.

When Wilson's parents threatened to cut off access to her trust fund, Wright
directed her to hire attorney Melvin Belli to sue them. She complied. (The
Wilsons backed down and reinstated her money before a suit was filed.)

Though billed as a matriarchy, the family had a distinct hierarchy. At the top, of course, was Wright, after whom came Bremner, or "Mama." She acted as Wright's general, in Wilson's words, overseeing the day-to-day activities in the household and freeing Wright for his spiritual pursuits.

Bremner told the women that they should "act like we're at war," according to a source close to the family, and be militant and perfect in every single thing they did. Bremner kept track of other house rules in a notebook. "We don't listen to music such as Lorena McKinnit, because it is tragic and stupid," wrote Bremner. "We don't buy cut flowers ... any we buy are alive ... we don't support an industry that caters to glamour, and undermines food-sustaining nutritional
agriculture and wise use of farmland!"

They followed a strict vegetarian diet that included no alcohol and few dairy
products (except for Wright, who went through cases of Henry Weinhardt's beer and ate ice cream regularly). Showing any emotion other than "joy" and "love" was viewed as a sign of weakness. Competition was outwardly discouraged, but secretly egged on. Campbell, who saw Wright first and foremost as a lover, often was jealous of his attentions to other women. She was punished by being "blasted" -- that is, humiliated -- by Wright in front of the others and told to be "selfless" like Mama. In turn, Bremner was blasted for not showing Wright
"true love," as did Campbell.

Wilson was the family breadwinner. Besides having a trust fund, she was a
talented businesswoman. By the time the family was arrested in 2001, Wilson was making $80,000 a year running the day-to-day operations of Modamas, a San Francisco painting company. She and Bremner, employed at a glass case
manufacturing firm and then at a nutritional supplements company, worked grueling hours to support the ever-growing family. They left before 7 each morning and didn't return home until after 9 o'clock at night.

Home was no place to relax. After chores and child care, there might be actions or late-night "discourses." If the women nodded off during one of the latter philosophical/spiritual lectures, Wright would squirt them with a water gun. The women slept, on average, just four hours a night. Campbell was fired from several jobs for dozing off. Wilson's boss turned one of Modamas' offices into a "nap room" for her, after noticing how sleepy she always was.

Added to the stress and physical exhaustion was the toll of constant pregnancy. Wright believed that using birth control was meddling with destiny. Though Bremner had just two daughters, Wilson bore Wright a total of five kids, and Campbell six, including Ndigo. With each new child, the women's bond to Wright grew deeper.

"We couldn't think straight," Susan Weber told investigators.


On a June morning in 1990, an anxious Bremner shook Campbell awake. In the
living room, Weber was screaming and crying. Her infant daughter, She, lay in a little hammock the family had hung from the ceiling. The baby was dead.

The family didn't notify authorities of She's death for three days, because,
Wright told them, "It takes that long for the soul to leave the body." Then-San
Francisco Medical Examiner Dr. Boyd Stephens ruled She's death "Sudden Death in Infancy" -- not to be confused with sudden infant death syndrome.

"We'll sometimes use that distinction when there's something about the case we don't feel comfortable about," says Stephens. He was unable to find any signs of trauma, and the baby appeared to be well-nourished. But her body was "already decomposing" he says, by the time he arrived. Stephens still considers the death an "open case."

She's death was the first scene in a nightmare. The women had been fearful of Wright when he yelled at them. Now he made them afraid for their lives. Soon after She's death, Wright began going on multiday crack binges that sparked psychotic rages. According to public records, he hit and kicked the women, raped them while watching the Home Shopping Network on TV, held guns to their heads.
He told his wives that they had to work off the bad karma of their white
ancestors, who enslaved and abused black people.

Wright maintains he never physically abused his wives. "Dark, hostile to human forces would enter me as a 'possession' via the vortex of religion and wage spiritual combats against the light forces that I've always been a servant of," Wright wrote of the incidents in letters sent to SF Weekly. But, he added, "I may have accidentally kicked Carol during the SPIRITUAL COMBATS."

Indeed he did kick Bremner, and more, according to public records. As head
mother, she received the bulk of Wright's blows. According to Weber, Bremner's nose was broken "at least three or four times," and once Wright "tied her hands behind her back with duct tape and beat her until she started to cough up blood."

Wilson, too, had her nose broken. During a drug-inspired hallucination, the women said in court records, Wright also hit her on the back of the neck with the blunt end of a hatchet, leaving her bleeding. The next morning, accompanied by a cowed Bremner, Wright took Wilson at gunpoint to the dunes of Fort Funston and told her she was going to die. A moment later, he changed his mind, and they drove home.

According to public records, Wilson said she felt "strangely detached" during
these incidents. She "had completely bought the notion of the 'karmic life,' so
that whatever befell her was as it was supposed to be," the report says.

The women wore sunglasses to cover black eyes and avoided the probing questions of co-workers. Their Sunset District apartment, usually neat as a pin, now had boards over the windows; the walls were splattered with blood.

"We were terrified of him," says Campbell.

Unable to take it anymore, Weber left with her remaining child under cover of
night. None of the other women followed. Wright told them Susan was "weak" and praised them for being "strong." A dire fate awaited Weber as a result of her bad karma, he warned, and because she had "nigger kids," nobody would help her. Deathly afraid that Wright might track her down, Weber changed her name and moved out of state. She could not be reached for comment for this article.

"This brief period ... seemed to test and/or strengthen the white mothers' love and commitment to our family/circle somehow," wrote Wright in a recent letter to SF Weekly. "This was indicated by the fact that Susan could not hang with us, and the other mothers could."

He told the women to wait and be patient, that the phase he was going through would end. After a year and a half, the physical violence stopped, just as he'd promised.

Douglas Horngrad, Wilson's attorney, would later posit a theory as to why:
"[You] don't have to get your nose broken every morning to understand who's running things in that household."


When Ndigo died in 2001, the family had 12 other children, ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years. Following the example of "tribal cultures," all the children had been delivered at home by Bremner, and few had ever seen a doctor. They were home schooled.

In Marinwood, where the family last lived, the children slept on bedrolls spread out across the floor, making the house by night look like a slumber party. The neighbors had no idea there were so many children living there; the kids spent most of their lives indoors. Wright believed that if they spent much time outside, the children would, Campbell remembers him saying, "soak up the corruption of the world, because they are like sponges."

A San Francisco public health nurse visited the family's apartment once in 1991, following the death of Weber's baby, but at that time found no evidence of child abuse or neglect. No city agency, either in San Francisco or Marin County, checked up on the children after that.

The older kids spent most of their day taking care of the little children and
doing housework. They washed and hung laundry, cooked, changed diapers, and acted as disciplinarians. Their daily outing consisted of Wright taking them to play basketball. On the weekends they visited the farmers' market. They never went to movies and had no friends. The youngest children, who were, in Wright's opinion, "most vulnerable to negative vibrations," were allowed outside most
infrequently. The windows of the house were often covered in dark curtains.

Like the adults, the children were taught to strive for perfection as if they
were military cadets. The family attempted to resolve disputes by having sit-down "processing" discussions, during which each child would get to speak his piece. But immaturity was not tolerated. If processing and warnings failed,
the children were subject to a Byzantine system of punishments, often meted out by the older children when adults were unavailable. One of the punishments was "the board," a weight bench to which an offending child would be strapped and then hit with a belt by other members of the family.

If a child made too much noise, he had his mouth covered with athletic tape. The inspiration for this popular family punishment came from Native Americans, who supposedly put their hands over their children's mouths to keep them silent from enemies. Other punishments included short fasts, or restricted diets that included only raw foods or juices. "When delegating work, make sure the person does it whether or not you have to threaten them with punishment, and if they
don't do what you tell them to, you give them punishment," read one entry in the family's "Book of Rules" notebook.

Campbell's 8-year-old daughter was high-spirited, so Bremner wrote an entire page of rules, mapping out her "Route to Ascension." The little girl must fast for a week, wear a cap made from the wrappers of energy bars she had stolen from the kitchen because she was hungry, and "get tape" at all times. Household chores would be timed, and at night, she was to be tied to a playpen with soft twine. If she had to pee, she'd be forced to do it in a portable potty next to the playpen.

The children had workbooks that Bremner's parents had sent; occasionally Wright corrected their work.

Other methods of instruction were less conventional. Wright wrote philosophical sayings on little pieces of paper and taped them to the walls at a child's eye level. To teach the toddlers how to be calm in the face of evil, Wright bought ugly reptile masks and instructed the older children to put them on and scare the younger ones. He'd watch television with the two oldest girls and point out all the lascivious male behavior. "Men are dogs," Campbell remembers him telling

Though Bremner's oldest daughter was 15 at the time of the family's arrest,
there had been no talk of her going to college, getting a job, or dating boys.
When asked what the family had envisioned their children would do when they turned 18, Wright responded with a blank look and said, "They'd live with us!"

The family's members took great pains to provide what they thought was the
healthiest possible diet for their children. It was vegetarian, low-fat, and organic, substituting soy milk for cow's. But like everything else in the kids' lives, how much they ate was tightly controlled. X-rays of the children after the family's arrest showed growth disturbance lines in two of the children's bones, indicating periods of insufficient caloric intake.

The most severe problem with the diet, however, was its lack of vitamin D.
Usually absorbed through the intestine from foods, particularly cow's milk, or
produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D helps regulate people's calcium and phosphate levels. A deficiency can result in a softening or weakening of the bones, a condition known as rickets that can be prevented or reversed by a lifestyle that includes plenty of cow's milk and sunshine -- both of which were in short supply in the family's household.

In the wake of Ndigo's death from malnutrition, nearly all the remaining 12
children were found to be suffering from rickets. Wilson had a 5-year-old son whose legs were so badly knock-kneed they had to be broken and then reset in surgery. Her 2-year-old son was unable to sit, stand, or bear weight. To move, he pushed his head along the ground like a wheelbarrow. Campbell's 4-year-old son's arms and legs were bowed, and when he was asked by doctors to hop on one foot, he appeared to be in pain.

The family didn't see the deformities as reason to subject the children to the
"MediCult," their name for evil Western doctors.

"He told us that it was just cosmetic," says Campbell. The children were
genetically programmed to look that way and would probably grow out of it,
Wright said. If they didn't, what did it matter? There was too much attention in Western culture paid to physical appearance anyway. The important thing was who you were on the inside. When any of the children showed signs of illness, the family would treat them with natural remedies and try to think positive thoughts.

Because, Wright said, bad things happened in the world as a result of people's karma.


"Here's Deirdre, graduated from one of the best universities in the country,
intelligent, aware," says Robin Kliger, a UC Berkeley professor of anthropology
and a protégé of Margaret Singer hired by the Wilsons to talk to their daughter
in the early 1990s. "How did she end up way over here?"

The same could have been asked of any of the women in Wright's family. Bremner had graduated as class salutatorian from her Pasadena high school and had attended UC Berkeley as a regents scholar. Campbell had always been "very bright academically," according to her sister.

The question of how such intelligent women fell under the control of a maniacal crack addict goes to the heart of how cults work. "ntelligence can be more of a liability," says Ford Greene, a San Anselmo attorney who specializes in cases involving cults. "It makes one more open."

Psychologists who study coercion believe that anyone can be taken advantage of, if approached during a low period of his life. "[Cults] go for ... people who are looking for answers, lonely, what you'd call 'normal people,'" wrote cult expert Margaret Singer.

According to psychologists who study mind control, many people are vulnerable to cult recruitment when they leave home for the first time. (This explains why many cults recruit on college campuses.) Older people may feel lonely and confused when going through a divorce, or suffering from the death of a loved one.

Wilson and Campbell met Wright when they were both 23 years old, just after
parting ways with lovers, in a new city where they didn't have stable jobs or
many friends. "A life transition makes people more vulnerable not just to cults, but getting involved in a shaky business deal or with a bad group of people," says Patrick O'Reilly, a clinical psychologist at UCSF and president of the San Francisco Psychological Association. "That's where the con men come in."

The con man intuits a target's dreams and concerns and presents an apparent solution.

"If [Wright] had gone up to [the women] and said, 'Hey, want to join my family, and I'll abuse you, and we'll have children and starve them to death,' they would have run the other direction," O'Reilly says. "He tailored his message to what they wanted to hear. That's very typical of cults."

For both Bremner and Wilson, who had been passionate anti-apartheid activists and scholars, Wright framed the idea of serving him as an intellectual form of social protest. By "marrying" a black man and being part of a "matriarchal" family, they would be forging an alternative lifestyle. He backed his arguments by citing writers such as Malcolm X and Maya Angelou, encouraging the women to read and study books on Eastern religion and New Age philosophies.

"[Bremner] came out of this very radical left and bought into the whole concept
that he represented underclass liberation," says Bremner's former boss, Robert Hanfling. "It was a fervent thing for her. It was a mission she was on. It was how she lived out her political, social passion."

Campbell, a romantic former teen queen, was looking for Mr. Right, but instead got Mr. Wright. He offered her what she'd dreamed of -- a husband and babies -- and focused his affections on her, often at the expense of his other wives, so that she believed she was, as Campbell says, "his favorite."

After seducing a person, a skilled manipulator can employ -- without necessarily viewing the process as manipulation -- a variety of methods to break down that person's critical thinking skills. He erodes the person's individuality by encouraging him to abandon old habits, friends, and even musical and fashion tastes. Alienating people from their support networks is also common practice. Other tactics of mind control used by Wright included exhaustion, abuse, and humiliation.

The process of manipulation is a gradual one, and that gradual nature helps explain why the women felt they couldn't leave Wright. Campbell's psychological report describes how her relationship with Wright began unconventionally, and then slowly progressed toward deviant sexual practices she wouldn't have
initially accepted. As is often the case with spousal abuse, Wright made the
women feel that they had brought about their own batterings and humiliations, then encouraged their loyalty by rewarding them with tenderness and praise. To stimulate the all-too-human dread of the unknown, Wright stressed that if the women left, there would be nowhere for them to go. The racist world would not accept their "nigger kids."

He adopted a system of circular reasoning and opaque language that defied rationality, labeling sex hunts as "actions" and the family as a "circle of

"[In cults] the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed," writes Robert J. Lifton, a psychologist and a leading expert on coercion. "These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis."

Though the women weren't locked up in a prison camp, these methods of control were as effective as if they had been. They went to work every day and
interacted with people who might have helped them, but they remained loyal to Wright, separating their public and private lives. This separation, too, is not atypical of cults.

"It's OK for people in cults to work, because they're only away for the day,"
says Patrick O'Reilly. "The Heaven's Gate people did computer consulting outside the home and had superficial relationships with their clients, too."

Perhaps most important, Wright made the women feel that, far from living a
pitiful existence of scarcity and conformity, they were truly doing something to better society. From the communal, spiritual way they were raising their children, to their organic diet, to their interracial relationships, they were on the vanguard of something wonderful and radical. This altruistic belief was what sustained the women through hard moments and motivated them to ignore the ugliness and evil.

"People pick up causes all the time," muses Bremner's former co-worker Arianna Husband. "It was a good cause, but somehow this distortion happened. ... She created her own sort of little world to sustain that belief system."

But the little world was, ultimately, uninhabitable.


By the fall of 2001, the family was in a state of chaos. Bremner had been sick
for months with a mysterious illness that had left bruises on her pale face. At first she'd tried to heal herself with herbal remedies, but when her vision
became blurry and her gums began to bleed, she finally asked Wright if she could go see a doctor. He refused until one evening when she couldn't catch her breath. Wilson took Bremner to the hospital; the diagnosis was bad. Bremner had advanced leukemia. Back home, Wright told her she'd "brought it on herself." When she was in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, he visited only once.

"He said that the doctors would give her less good care because he was black," says Campbell.

Meanwhile, Wright grew paranoid. He required the children to wear earplugs and sunglasses when they went to the farmers' market. He'd become a devotee of conspiracy theorists Anna Hayes and David Icke, who believed that the fate of the universe lay in the hands of warring tribes of aliens. Wright philosophized that his family was battling the evil "Draco/Zeta Alliance," composed of reptilian aliens, and awaited the dawning of a new age in which they would become leaders. He referred to this coming time as "Millennium Shift/Earth Changes" and theorized it might happen in 2012.

Earlier in 2001, the family had also welcomed its first new recruit in years, a 19-year-old named Kali Polk-Matthews, whom they'd picked up at a bus stop during an action. A rosy-cheeked Spelman College dropout with bobbed brown hair, Polk-Matthews had been living with her mother in San Francisco. Polk-Matthews (who refused comment for this story) was, according to former members of the family, an intelligent young woman going through a confused time. Wright told her she had an "old soul" and that they had been together in past lives.

Campbell, who until Polk-Matthews' arrival had been Wright's youngest and
prettiest wife, was painfully jealous. Her misery made the atmosphere in the
house even more tense. When she complained, Wright grabbed her by her neck and throttled her breathless.

"I applied pressure to Mary's neck that incapacitated her so that she could have that little 'deep breath/timeout' and choose the correct response of peace and relaxation," Wright wrote in a letter sent to SF Weekly.

During this bleak autumn, Campbell could tell her young son, Ndigo, wasn't
feeling well. He was congested and wouldn't take his bottle. He fussed when she tried to move him.

"Please -- can't I take him to see a doctor?" Campbell asked Wright for a third time.

"No. You're making him sick with your negative energy," he responded.

One evening, Campbell was lying on the living room floor with the little boy
when his breathing became labored. She picked him up to hold him, and he began to turn blue.

Campbell ran to Wright and told him Ndigo wasn't breathing. Bremner screamed for someone to start giving the baby CPR, and Polk-Matthews tried to revive Ndigo. Wilson and the oldest girls prayed and chanted, rubbing the baby's arms and legs while Campbell paced back and forth.

At Wright's suggestion they moved the baby into his father's bedroom and put him in front of the television, which Wright said would provide "stimulation for his brain." Meanwhile, one of the women drew a hot bath, and when it was full they moved the baby into the water.

"It's Ndigo's time to pass," a scared Wright told his family, according to one
of Campbell's daughters interviewed later by the police. "He doesn't want to
live the human life anymore."

All of this frenzied activity took place in 15 minutes, during which Ndigo
failed to breathe. Finally Wright told them to take the baby to the hospital.
The women piled into one of the household's two SUVs and sped off.

It was the last time they'd be together as a family.

When the women returned from the hospital at 4 in the morning, they were
escorted by a sheriff's sergeant who stationed himself inside the house until a search warrant could be obtained. Wright gathered the family around him and prayed.

At about 10 a.m., detectives arrived and began combing the family's house.
First, though, they removed the remaining children from their parents' custody for police interviews.

"Remember to surround yourself in white light!" cried Bremner, according to public records. The children, who, a deputy noted, were "pale and clammy," went silently, without tears.


In her cell at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, Campbell thinks about Ndigo's death and feels indescribable pain and guilt. She has a friend at the prison who will sometimes role-play that she is Ndigo, and Campbell will weep and apologize to him, over and over again. It's an exercise Campbell read about in a book on grieving in the prison library, where she works as a librarian.

The game helps, but only a little. "The very first thing I'm going to do when I
get out of here is join a rieving-mothers support group," she says.

After they were first separated from Wright in the Marin County Jail, Campbell and Wilson maintained their allegiance to him. Campbell asked one of her children, with whom she was visiting, to tell Wright she "loved him." But after Bremner died, loyal to Wright until the end, the other two slowly began to regain their former personalities.

"When I visited her in jail she looked better than she'd ever looked during the time I'd known her," says Wilson's former co-worker Andres Burgueño. "She had color in her cheeks, she looked rested."

Both women began working with psychologists to understand the experience they'd been through. They renounced Wright and reconnected with their families and former friends.

"I was living as a psychological amputee," said Wilson at her sentencing hearing, as her tearful mother and father sat in the back of the courtroom. "I'm glad I've seen the day when I could apologize to my parents."

But "coming out of the fog," as Wilson described her release from Wright, also
meant taking responsibility for what they had done to their children. It was a crime they are to pay dearly for.

When Wright, Wilson, and Campbell pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment, thus avoiding a trial in which the children would surely have had to testify against them, their parental rights were terminated.

They know where a few of the older kids are; they were adopted by family members of Wright and his wives. The women receive reports that these children are excelling academically despite their nontraditional early education, and, thanks to Wright's daily pickup games, are "basketball prodigies," as Campbell jokes. But under the terms of their sentences, the women are not allowed to communicate with any of the children or each other. And the younger kids, including the infant Wilson gave birth to while in custody, have completely vanished from their lives, perhaps forever.

"I had a blessing of being given children on this Earth," Wilson told her
psychologist. "I aligned with a warped worldview. I gave up my maternal
instincts. I squandered my responsibilities. ... I will cry daily."

The situation seems tragic to those who know the women.

"Once you've severed the head, you don't need to sever the body," says Fabian Skibinski, Wilson's former boss. "In a way, they're punishing them more after the fact. These people who have been through all this shit are now not able to come together and share the grief. They're so afraid this thing is like a Hydra -- that it'll come back together and ignite."

Despite his role as abuser and leader, Wright will be eligible for parole in
approximately five years. He thinks the family was guilty only of failing to
give its children enough vitamin D -- which he calls an "innocent mistake."

In Wright's view, the prosecution proves the family was right to be secretive,
that a black man "fucking classy white women" and "making so many nigger babies" was just too mortifying for white "Amerikkka" to stomach. The family was just too irritatingly evolved for the rest of the world to allow it to exist.

"The 'Marinquisition' in their 'normal'/ suburban-Marin lifestyle appropriate/
(white RACIST) SOCIAL CONDITIONING saw a family of our RACIAL/SEXUAL composition and instinctively HATED us," Wright wrote to SF Weekly, "and they sublimated their ... HATRED of us by criminalizing our NEW ENERGY differences in outlook, living perspectives, DIETARY/ HEALTHCARE regimen, etc. behind the smokescreen of criminalizing the INNOCENT events surrounding NDIGO'S death."

It's no mystery to Wright why his wives turned on him. He knew all along that
their "white social conditioning" made them weak and susceptible to the designs of "the Babylon system."

He'd been trying to teach them otherwise, but apparently they hadn't evolved. Now, he wrote, "They are brainwashed."



Mal F


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
Reaction score
Stabber's friends blame decades of abuse in sex cult

By Becky Pallack

A man who police say committed a murder-suicide last weekend was acting in anger against a woman he claimed sexually abused him for decades as part of a sex cult, his friends said Tuesday.

Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, told family members he killed his former nanny, Angela M. Smith, 51, in Tucson before shooting himself in Blythe, Calif. Police said Rodriguez stabbed Smith to death.

The Tucson Police Department was not investigating Smith for any crime, said Officer Michelle Pickrom. But Rodriguez lived all over the world with a religious sect called The Family, and it wasn't known Tuesday whether the alleged abuse was ever reported in any of those locations.

"When he called me that night to tell me he was going to kill himself, he told me that he just wanted to be loved," said a tearful Elixcia Munumel, Rodriguez's wife. The couple was separated.

Rodriguez's mother, Maria David, whose real name is Karen Zerby, is the current head of The Family, which has also been known as the Children of God and the Family of Love.

The group, which has roots in hippie communes of the 1960s, engaged in a communal lifestyle and encouraged sex between all people regardless of age, calling it "free love," former members said. Members of The Family did not return messages left at a toll-free number found on the group's Web site.

Rodriguez's mother joined the group when it passed through Tucson in the 1970s and became the wife of the group's founder, David Berg. Berg became Rodriguez's father figure.

"Berg wanted her (Rodriguez's mother) to have an heir to his kingdom," Munumel said. Smith, a member of The Family for more than 30 years, was one of Rodriguez's nannies, she said.

"Berg encouraged sex between people in his organization and he thought it wasn't wrong to bring the children into it - and Angela introduced Rick to his beliefs," said Munumel, who also was a member of the sect.

She said Rodriguez was angry at his mother for allowing him and other children in the group to be abused. Rodriguez's mother, still with The Family, could not be reached Tuesday. Former members said she lives in seclusion and moves frequently.

As a toddler, Rodriguez was photographed with Smith for a self-published book, called "Davidito" after Rodriguez's nickname. The book contained explicit photographs and advised other parents how to raise children in the "free love" lifestyle, said Daniel Roselle, a law student and former group member who grew up with Rodriguez. He now lives in Los Angeles, but his father is still a leader in The Family, he said.

"Not only were many of us abused because of that book, but he's the archetype for all that we suffered," Roselle said, referring to Rodriguez.

As the heir apparent to The Family, Rodriguez was held up as an example of what children in the group should be, Roselle and Munumel said.

Rodriguez left The Family in 2000 and had been trying to move on, Munumel and Roselle said. However, a statement on an Internet bulletin board where members and former members post messages says he left to pursue his education.

Rodriguez began to speak out against the group's leaders and told much of his story in letters online to former members. Rodriguez compared The Family's leaders to mass murderers, saying they traumatized children.

"There's no moral book that can explain or justify what he did, but his whole life was one of abuse and then rejection," Roselle said.

Rodriguez had an interest in bringing The Family to legal justice, Roselle said. "He told me he wanted to be part of something that would really have an effect," he said. Rodriguez had moved to San Diego four or five months ago, Roselle said.

On the Internet bulletin board frequented by The Family's members a statement that claims to be from the group called the deaths Sunday a tragedy that has "brought much grief and heartbreak" to the families of Rodriguez and Smith.

"In these moments of tragedy, Ricky's family draws comfort from the timeless promises of the Bible, knowing that he and Angela have passed into the realm of eternal justice and peace," the statement says..

Rodriguez had moved to Tucson to be closer to a supportive aunt, Munumel said. But when he arrived here, he found unwanted connections to his past - including Smith.

In Tucson, his grandparents and another aunt and uncle operate and live at a home for the elderly. They declined to speak with a reporter Tuesday. A federal tax form for the nonprofit home - available on, a database of nonprofit organizations - shows Smith was a board member.

Smith also is listed as a director of Family Care Foundation, an arm of The Family responsible for humanitarian missions and fund raising.

A violent ending is not an unusual part of a cult story, experts say.

"Every one of these groups are potential Manson families," said Michael Trauscht, a cult expert and a former Pima County prosecutor who has investigated The Children of God - now called The Family - and other cults.

While Trauscht didn't have information about this specific case, he said he is not surprised about the violent act and called The Family a vicious group. He said suicides are common among cult members.

Rodriguez still felt anger and guilt about his childhood abuse, and worse, he felt burdened by what he believed was the abuse of other children in The Family, Munumel said.

"He was angry that the children they had abused had grown up and there was no justice done," she said. "Whatever happened was all the anger and all the pain and all the hurt piled up that just came out all at once."

Another former member recognized Rodriguez's abuse as being some of the worst in the organization. "I get chills when I talk about this," Roselle said. "Ricky was the sacrificial lamb for all of us."


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
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January 18, 2005
Lupita Murillo Reports

Former cult member speaks from grave

Ten days ago, Ricky Rodriguez murdered 51-year old Angela Smith in a Tucson apartment.

Within hours, he killed himself.

His wife blames his actions on his childhood.

Rodriguez claimed he was raised as a sex slave in a religious cult run by his own mother.

"Anger does not begin to describe how I feel about these people and what they done. Rage, I get livid," words Rodriguez says on a video tape he recorded the day before police say he killed Smith.

In the video, Ricky Rodriguez sits in his apartment, and from his kitchen table, documents his plan -- to hunt down and kill several members of a religous sect he claims sexually abused him and other children.

Rodriguez says, "There is this need... I have a need. It's not a (explitive) want. It's a need and I wish it wasn't, but this need for revenge, it's a need for justice."

Loading bullets into magazines, the 29-year-old talks about the abuse."Thousands of us, some worse than others, I had it good in many ways"

As a toddler, it been reported that Rodriguez was being groomed to lead the group, but he managed to break away several years ago.

Leaders of the sect have admitted publicly that as of 1986 the rules were changed to ban sex with minors.

The tape is almost an hour long.

Rodriguez shows weapons he intends to use to torture those he felt tortured him, including a drill, a kitchen fork and a stun gun.

He says, "I have this nice Glock and all this (explitive) ammo, but the truth, this is my weapon of choice." He shows a sharpened knife.

By far the most chilling part of the tape is when Rodriguez vows revenge on the group's leader,his own mother.

"My mom is going to pay for that. She is going to pay dearly one way or another. If I don't get to if I don't get to her and life goes on, I'm going to keep haunting her in the next life."

Angela Smith's body was discovered in Rodriguez's apartment on Sunday, two days after the videotape was recorded.

Her throat had been slashed.

Rodriguez shot himself in a parked car in Blythe, California that same day.

Claire Borowick, a spokeswoman for the group told CNN that's not true. "To set the record straight, Angela Smith was never Ricky Rodriguez' 'nanny," said Borowick.

Borowick maintains that Rodriguez was never abused by Smith, althought he was raised in a sexually-permissive envioronment which was encouraged by parents who were leaders of the "The Family".


Justified & Ancient
Aug 6, 2003
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Sex cult's messiah turns killer


Sex cult's messiah turns killer*

The 'gentle' heir to a Sixties sect killed his former nanny and then himself on an Arizona desert highway

*Paul Harris
Sunday January 23, 2005
The Observer <>*

Ricky Rodriguez grew up being hailed as a messiah. Born into the notorious sex cult The Children of God, Rodriguez was raised amid a bizarre blend of free love and apocalyptic Christianity. Its founder, David Berg, prophesied that one day Rodriguez would lead it.

Yet now he is dead. Two weeks ago 'gentle, caring' Rodriguez brutally murdered a cult member, and then shot himself in the head on a lonely stretch of desert road in Arizona. The deaths have shocked America and highlighted the dark history of the cult, which has branches in Britain and across the world.

It has revealed graphic allegations of sexual abuse, surreal beliefs and countless shattered lives in a group that sprang from the counter-culture of Sixties California. It is also a tale of 29-year-old Rodriguez's doomed struggle to come to terms with his past after leaving the cult and the terrible revenge he plotted against members he claimed had sexually abused him as a child.

Gradually a picture of his last days is being pieced together. Friends of Rodriguez said he had struggled to cope with entering the world outside after his exit from the Children of God in 2000.

For Sarah Martin, another former member, the first sign something had finally gone dreadfully wrong was when Rodriguez phoned her in the middle of the night just before the murder.

'He just said he had been up late doing a lot of thinking,' Martin said. Rodriguez told her he had sent her a video. Martin was pleased as she had often urged him to record his experiences of abuse. But by the time the it arrived in the post Rodriguez was already dead.

Martin watched the tape in horror to see the usually well-mannered Rodriguez swearing frequently as he displays an array of guns. He methodically loads bullets into a Glock pistol and vows revenge on his own mother, Karen Zerby, known as Mama Maria, who now leads the cult.

He also shows off a large knife, a drill and a soldering iron. He would use these as torture tools, he says in a commentary, to extract information from people about his mother's whereabouts. 'I was shocked. When I lived with him this man never swore. He was a very gentle person, very caring,' Martin said.

Exactly what happened is not clear. What is known is that Rodriguez met cult member Angela Smith, his former nanny, whom he had accused of sexually assaulting him as a child. Smith, 51, was later found dead with her throat cut in Rodriguez's apartment in the city of Tucson, Arizona.

Rodriguez then drove his Chevrolet Cavalier into the desert, rang his former wife to confess to the killing and fired a bullet into his own brain.

Former cult members said Smith was close to Mama Maria and privy to her secrets. 'He was after information. He knew that this woman was his mother's eyes and ears,' said Martin.

Certainly Rodriguez left no doubts in the video as to his intentions, vowing: 'We're in a war here. I'll get one person, that's for sure - the source of my information [Smith].' He would continue to hunt down his mother, even in the afterlife, he promised.

The cult that Rodriguez was born into was one of the strangest to emerge from Sixties America. Its founder, David Berg, was a former preacher who had been sexually abused as a child. He started the cult with a potent blend of free love and prophesies of the end of the world.

Women members became 'hookers for Jesus' to raise money for the cult, and went 'flirty fishing' to draw in potential converts by having sex with them.

The cult attracted a few celebrities, notably the parents of the late actor River Phoenix and former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer. However, underage sex, incest and paedophilia occurred, and were even encouraged, by the cult leadership and their literature.

When Berg married Rodriguez's mother the young child - hailed as 'The Prince' - found himself proclaimed as the future leader of the cult. Dubbed 'Davidito', he was held up as an icon of the group.

A tome called The Davidito Book was distributed to members, chronicling his upbringing, and showed the baby Rodriguez watching orgies and having his genitals fondled. Smith is pictured on a bed with the young Rodriguez. A caption reads 'Undressing... for Sue!', the name Smith used in the cult.

However, the group was eventually hit by a series of scandals and underwent a radical image change. It apologised for any former abuse in 1994 and abandoned many of its previous sexual tenets, especially those involving children. It renamed itself The Family International, and now has about 4,000 adult and 4,000 child members spread over about 100 countries.

When Berg died in 1994, Mama Maria was elevated to leader. Her whereabouts is now kept a close secret. Rodriguez was heir apparent, but he shocked the cult by leaving. 'Davidito was central to our lives,' said former member Jonathan Thompson 'He was a Christ-like figure.'

Rodriguez befriended a network of disillusioned former members. Many, like him, saddled with the legacy of sexual abuse, were not equipped for a world outside the cult. They had little education and few relatives or friends.

Rodriguez struggled. He moved to Seattle with his wife but the couple separated. He became a vocal critic of those he said had sexually abused him. Thompson met him last summer. 'He seemed very, very sad and bitter about life in general.'

Many unhappy former followers of the Children of God have committed suicide. Martin's own brother has killed himself and her sister once slit her wrists.

Eventually Rodriguez's obsession with tracking down Mama Maria began to take over his life. He began posting threats on internet websites set up by former members of the cult.

'Something has to be done about these child molesters,' he once wrote.

The cult's spokeswoman, Claire Borowik, said claims of sexual abuse by Rodriguez and other former members had been exaggerated, and the murder of Smith was being used to unfairly tarnish the organisation. 'This has been the pattern in the past,' Borowik said.

She denied that Smith had abused Rodriguez. 'The blatant lack of respect for the loss of Angela's life is appalling. One would think she had committed the crime rather then been the victim.'

Internal memos sent by Mama Maria after her son's death have urged members not to believe what they read about it in the press or on the internet. They say bitter ex-followers are waging a campaign against the cult.

'They're trying to make Ricky look like a hero and role model, ignoring the fact that he actually murdered someone,' one missive from Mama Maria said.

'The media is being contacted and fed extensively by some of our most hostile apostates.'

But the now former members hope something will be done to reinvestigate their claims. It would not be easy. Many of the alleged incidents happened abroad many years ago and involved cult members who were not using their real names.

'An entire generation of adults who left the family have been trying to get justice for years, but they have been frustrated in their efforts,' said Dr Stephen Kent, an expert on the cult, at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Former members now hope the deaths of Rodriguez and Smith will finally lead to a full investigation of the cult's activities in the Seventies and Eighties.

'This is a tremendous tragedy for Ricky and Angela,' said ex-member Daniel Roselle. 'But we need justice now. Something good has to come out of all this.',,1396501,00.html



The unspeakable mass
Jul 16, 2004
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Wasn't this the cult that had "Hookers for Christ" and "Flirty Fishing" where female members of the sect were encouraged to sleep with young men in order to recruit them?


Gone But Not Forgotten
Oct 29, 2003
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January 23, 2005

Revenge of a son on cult of free love

Sarah Baxter, New York

WHEN Ricky Rodriguez was a boy he was revered as a prince and future prophet of the free-love cult the Children of God. He was also sexually abused by cult members with the encouragement of his mother and stepfather.

Earlier this month, in a gruesome act of revenge, Rodriguez stabbed to death his mother’s former secretary, Angela Smith, then shot himself.

In a video he made just before the killings, he fondled a knife and vowed to “bring down those sick f******”, including his mother, the cult’s leader Karen “Mama” Zerby, also known as Queen Maria.

The murder and suicide in Tucson, Arizona, has convulsed the Christian missionary sect, now known as The Family International, and revived allegations of rape and sexual abuse by former members.

Rodriguez, 29, was known to all members of the Children of God as Davidito. His late stepfather, David Berg, founded the cult in the 1960s and sent female members “flirty fishing” for new members as “sacred prostitutes”.

Berg was an advocate of free love who sanctioned child abuse and incest. Former members describe him as a paedophile who devised a religious philosophy to justify his longings.

In 'The Story of Davidito', a manual for cult members, Rodriguez’s sexual abuse as a toddler is described explicitly and enthusiastically. There are pictures of him lying in bed with naked teenage girls and attending orgies. One photograph portrays him undressing in front of “Sue” (Smith). Another shows Smith naked with one of his nannies.

In the video he made the night before Smith’s murder on January 8, Rodriguez blames his mother for the abuse he suffered: “It happened to thousands of us . . . some worse than others. My mother is going to pay for that. If I don’t get her and life goes on, I will keep hunting her in the next life. There is this need I have . . . It’s a need for justice because I can’t go on like this.”

From the videotape it appears that Rodriguez intended to torture Smith, 51, into revealing the whereabouts of his mother. Although Smith had been living outside the cult in recent years, she remained a valued member of 30 years’ standing.

“We’re in a war here,” Rodriguez vowed on film. “I’ll get one person, that’s for sure — the source of my information.”

Rodriguez invited Smith to his apartment in Tucson and stabbed her several times before slitting her throat.

The sect claims to have communes in 100 countries, including Britain, Japan, India, Greece, Portugal, Thailand and the Philippines but does not disclose where its leaders are.

Zerba’s present husband, Peter Amsterdam — known as King Peter — circulated a memo to members last week, saying: “There are some people who are exploiting this tragedy and trying to use it to their own ends to hurt Mama and me and the Family and tear down our work for the Lord.” He said Rodriguez had been “overcome by forces of darkness”.

Rodriguez left the “Family” in 2000. He married another cult member, Elixcia Munumel, who became as disillusioned as he was, but they had recently separated. After killing Smith he rang his wife in distress. “He said the hardest thing for him had been that as (Smith) was dying, she didn’t understand what she had done wrong.”

Disaffected people born into the cult had formed a group called to share their experiences. Celeste Jones, 29, who lives in the Midlands, is compiling a dossier in the hope of bringing charges of sexual abuse against members of the “Family”.

Jones spoke to Rodriguez on the telephone the day before he killed Smith. “He sounded very depressed and upset,” she said. “He had felt all his life that he was just a pawn in the game, a political commodity.”
Jones was raised in the cult and attended orgies from the age of five. “They would show you what to do and put you with adults and children. By the age of 11, I was sick of sex because I had seen it all and done it all.”

The Family International presents itself as a Christian fellowship. In 1986 it publicly renounced sex with children.

Abi Freeman, 47, a spokeswoman at its commune in Luton, said that in the early days of the Children of God “nobody thought to say the sexual freedom we can enjoy as consenting adults does not extend to children”.

The group claims a “small core of apostates” is fomenting trouble, but the term infuriates Jones. “I didn’t choose to join,” she said. “I was a child.”

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Original article


Gone But Not Forgotten
Oct 29, 2003
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I think Mal's post would be better appreciated if it was merged with those in 'The Family' thread, mods.


Heckler said:
Wasn't this the cult that had "Hookers for Christ" and "Flirty Fishing" where female members of the sect were encouraged to sleep with young men in order to recruit them?
Yes. Strange how that particuliar aspect of the cult tends to stick in the minds of young men... :lol:


Justified & Ancient
Aug 6, 2003
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had forgotten that "The Family" and "The Children of God" are the same lot.



Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
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IRS documents show ties between charity, sex cult

Tax-exempt foundation that raises money for projects around world denies links to sect

Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Dulzura, San Diego County -- Internal Revenue Service documents filed by the Family Care Foundation, a not-for-profit charity in Southern California, show deep, ongoing ties between the organization and the Family, the evangelical sex cult rocked by a recent murder-suicide.

But officials with the Family Care Foundation deny any connection to the controversial cult.

The religious sect, formerly known as the Children of God, was started in the late 1960s by Oakland native David "Moses" Berg, who attracted tens of thousands of devotees in the 1970s with his strange brew of evangelical Christianity and sexual license.

But J. Gordon Melton, an authority on new religions who has studied the Family for years, said the sect established the charitable foundation to help raise money for church projects.

"The Family Care Foundation is the Family," said Melton, who directs the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara.

According to federal tax documents and annual reports, from 1997 to 2003, the foundation raised more than $9.9 million in donations including cash and other types of gifts for projects around the world -- ranging from assisting orphans and street children to medical and education programs to disaster relief.

James Penn, who spent more than a decade in the inner circle of the globe- trotting cult, said the Family Care Foundation is a "public front" that enables the Family to attract tax-deductible donations and fund missionaries around the world who endorse the cult's "bizarre beliefs and practices."

"People wouldn't give to a charitable foundation if they knew that its leaders endorsed the sexual abuse of minors and religious prostitution," said Penn, who helped start the foundation before leaving the Family in 1998.

Larry Corley, executive director of the foundation, said his organization funds many "independent projects around the world."

"There is no relationship, period," he said. "It is not a front for the Family. It is not tied to the Family."

Former members say the vast majority of projects funded by the foundation are run by the Family. Two children's programs, including one which was based in San Francisco, were run by one-time cult members who had faced separate allegations of child sexual abuse.

All six officers listed on Internal Revenue Service documents filed by the foundation last year have ties to the cult, according to those who have left the sect.

One of them, Angela Smith, who is listed as a member of the foundation's board of directors, was killed on Jan. 8 in Tucson, apparently by Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez. Rodriguez was the son of Karen "Maria" Zerby, who was married to Berg until he died in 1994 and is now the Family's chief prophetess and spiritual leader.

Rodriguez, who defected from the cult in 2000, was born into the sect in 1975 and raised to join his mother as one of the "two witnesses" to usher in the apocalyptic "end time" battles foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelation.

In a chilling videotape shot the night before Smith's murder, Rodriguez said he planned to torture Smith, his former nanny, to get information about the whereabouts of his mother and her current husband, Peter "King Peter" Amsterdam.

The whereabouts of Zerby, Amsterdam and other top cult leaders have been unknown for years. Rodriguez blamed them and other sect leaders for years of sexual and spiritual abuse he and other children suffered while they were growing up in the sect.

But after driving all night through the Arizona desert toward Southern California, Rodriguez stopped in the Riverside County town of Blythe, just across the California border, and shot himself in the head.

Just before leaving the cult, Rodriguez lived at the Family Care Foundation headquarters at Brookside Farm, a four-acre spread along Marron Valley Road in Dulzura, a small town east of San Diego.

"Ricky was never part of Family Care Foundation," Corley said. "He passed through briefly."

In addition to Smith and Corley, who is identified by Penn and other defectors as a longtime member of the Family, the four other officers listed on the foundation's IRS forms are:

-- Grant Montgomery, the program director and highest paid official with the Family Care Foundation. He is the former "prime minister" and third- ranking leader of the Family International, according to Penn and other former members.

-- Dr. Chris Mlot, the foundation treasurer and board member. She is a longtime member of the sect, and shown on property records as the owner of one of the Family's properties in Escondido.

-- Cheryl Brown, a member of the foundation board. Penn said Brown, whose birth name is Kathleen Fowler, is another longtime member of the cult and is a registered domain owner of the sect's Web site,

-- Kenneth L. Kelly, the brother of Amsterdam, whose birth name is Steven Douglas Kelly. Kelly co-owns Family property with Mlot, and according to Penn, is closely tied to the sect and has several children with Mlot.

Despite those deep connections, Family spokesman Claire Borowik said the sect "has no say or vote on the activities of the Family Care Foundation board. "

"There is no legal relationship between the Family and the Family Care Foundation," Borowik said.

Borowik conceded, however, that the foundation "has under its umbrella many projects run by Family members."

Jonathan Thompson, a former Family member who said he worked as an accountant for the Family Care Foundation, said the San Diego-based charity "refuses to say they have any link to the Family."

At the same time, Thompson said the foundation does get legitimate donations from outside sources for rank-and-file members doing good work.

"They are people who are just part of a messed-up system," Thompson said. "They've helped a lot of people."

Leaders of the Family International acknowledge that sexual activity between adults and children was condoned in the group during the 1970s and 1980s, and that it was encouraged by the writings and prophecies of the sect's founder, including one famous tract titled "The Devil Hates Sex."

Berg said the "law of love" encouraged sexual "sharing" among group members and sanctioned "flirty fishing" by female devotees who would attract male recruits with sexual favors.

Family International spokeswoman Borowik said the Family "enacted stringent policies to ensure the safety and protection of our children" in 1986. Other members insist the cult has long abandoned past practices and has since enacted new policies.

Yet at least two members of the Family accused of sexual molestation in child custody cases in England and California in the 1990s went on to start charities funded by the Family Care Foundation.

One of those cases is described in sealed court documents filed in San Diego in connection with a 1998 custody case and obtained last week by The Chronicle.

They tell the story of a girl born into the Family International in 1981 and sexually abused from ages 5 to 16.

Her alleged abusers included a stepfather, Phillip Slown, who she says repeatedly molested her in Thailand, where her mother was serving as a missionary for the Family International.

According to an investigative report by the San Diego County Department of Social Services, the girl "experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse with numerous men."

"This group has advocated sexual activity with minors as a pathway to God, " the report found. "Her mother continues to interact with this religious group and she encouraged sexual behavior between her daughter and three men as recently as March 1997."

After investigating the case, county welfare workers removed the teenager from her parents' custody and made her a ward of the court.

Slown went on to start a charity called From the Heart to help "at-risk youth." It was based in San Francisco's Mission District between 1997 and 1999 -- during which time the organization received more than $70,000 in donations collected by the Family Care Foundation.

"They did a really good job with drug addicts and street kids, but I haven't heard from them in a long time," Corley said.

Slown could not be reached for comment, and his San Francisco phone number had been recently disconnected.

The two others cases are mentioned in a lengthy child custody decision rendered in England in 1995 by Lord Justice Alan Ward.

The decision names "Paul P. -- Josiah" as a member of the sect's Music with Meaning team in Europe.

"He corrupted and abused the young girls who were part of the singing and dancing troupe," Ward writes.

Penn and other former members say that is a reference to Family member Paul Pelequin, known in the cult as "Josiah."

Pelequin was later funded by the Family Care Foundation for a project in Africa called "Focus on Kidz." He could not be reached for comment.

Corley said he was not aware of the abuse allegations against Slown and Pelequin.

As for the Family ties of the other Family Care Foundation leaders, Corley said, "I know nothing about their personal lives."

Penn and other former members say Corley himself has been a leading member of the Family International for about two decades.

Asked about that, he replied, "It's irrelevant."


Gone But Not Forgotten
May 1, 2003
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Rolling Stone Article

There is a great article in the new issue of Rolling Stone about this cult and the suicide of their 'messiah'. Very compelling reading. The writer states that when they got wind that there was going to be an article, Rolling Stone got bombarded with emails from around the world from 'Family' members, testifying that the cult was the best thing that ever happened to them. It's got some interesting pictures in it also. I wish I could find a link to an online version but I was unsuccessful.


Jul 13, 2011
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Hobbs End
This thread has morphed into The Children of God but here's an article concerning the original post re a cult called The Family, located near Melbourne, in operation 60s to 80s.

What's unusual is that it was formed & run by a woman. They took in children then treated them appallingly. Bleached their hair to make them look alike & dressed them the same.

One of the few female cult leaders in history – and apparently one of the cruellest – Hamilton-Byrne operated in almost total secrecy over two decades. Hidden away in the countryside outside Melbourne, The Family’s motto was “Unseen, unknown, unheard”. The police, acting on information from two child escapees, raided the cult in 1987. It emerged that over the years Hamilton-Byrne had collected 28 children through bogus adoptions and “gifts” from followers, dressing them in identical clothes and bleaching their hair platinum. To keep her eerie brood under her control, they say she subjected them to vicious beatings, starvation and emotional torture.

Preaching a mishmash of Christianity, eastern mysticism and apocalyptic prophecy, she allegedly forced followers, including children, to take dangerous amounts of LSD and other hallucinogenics as part of prolonged initiation rites. Once they had submitted, she’d dictate every aspect of their lives. “There was only one rule: do absolutely everything she said,” says David Whitaker, a former child survivor. “That included what to think, what to wear, what to eat, who to marry, who not to marry. Total obedience.”
They're looking a bit Midwich Cuckoos here:



Piffle Prospector
Aug 2, 2001
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Amazing this thread was bumped today, after two and a half years. I was reading about the cult last night!

I had been watching the 1988 film "Running on Empty," which starred the doomed River Phoenix.

To some extent, the messed-up childhood of the kids in the film - on the run from the law, as underground terrorist lefties - reflected the unsettled and rootless cult-life of the Bottoms - his original name. He claimed to have been abused at the age of four by cult-members. :(
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May 30, 2010
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Lydon Park
There's a somewhat interesting doco here about River's life. He did have a very unusual upbringing, but I'm not sure his parents were long-term cultists. Maybe garden-variety eccentrics but certainly rejectors of mainstream social conformity.

Yes his Da was a high priest of the CoG in 'Latin' America. Lived in abject poverty and after 3 years in the cult they chucked it in. River used to supplement the family income by busking. From minute 13:00 his early life. Some dodgy sex practices. Ugh.


King-Sized Canary
Aug 25, 2001
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There's a documentary about The Family on BBC Four this week... Tuesday, I think (without checking).


Parish Watch
Staff member
Oct 29, 2002
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East of Suez
Rolling Stone Article

There is a great article in the new issue of Rolling Stone about this cult and the suicide of their 'messiah'. Very compelling reading. The writer states that when they got wind that there was going to be an article, Rolling Stone got bombarded with emails from around the world from 'Family' members, testifying that the cult was the best thing that ever happened to them. It's got some interesting pictures in it also. I wish I could find a link to an online version but I was unsuccessful.
I think I have it here:

The Life and Death of the Chosen One
Rolling Stone – Summer Double Issue 977/978, June 30-July 14, 2005
By Peter Wilkinson

Born into the deviant religious cult Children of God, Ricky Rodriguez was raised as the Messiah who would lead believers against the Antichrist. But after a lifetime struggling to fill a role he never wanted, Ricky struck back

THAT FINAL FRIDAY NIGHT IN TUCSON, Arizona, January 7th, 2005, the Messiah sat at his kitchen table wearing a maroon muscle shirt, sipping a beer. Sum 41's new album, Chuck, played in the background. It's a dark record and it set the mood Ricky Rodriguez wanted. As midnight approached in the one-bedroom dump on the south side of town he had a good buzz working.

Crowded on the table in front of Ricky was everything he needed: a Glock .40-caliber handgun, several high-capacity thirteen-round magazines, Golden Sabre hollow-point bullets, a K-Bar Marine Corps knife, an electric drill, a soldering iron, a 775,000-volt stun gun, a large fork, a thick roll of duct tape and a couple of gags. Duct tape wrapped around the drill's handle would muffle its mechanical whine.

Ricky's dark hair was cut military short. The muscles in his arms bulged as he snapped bullets into magazines. "This is my weapon of choice," Ricky said, picking up the K-Bar knife and looking into the new video camera he'd set up to record the last night of his life. "I only want it for one purpose. That is for taking out the scum." For more efficient cutting, he'd filed the K-bar's blade to a seventeen-degree angle.

Angry as Ricky was, he also seemed relieved. Finally he'd get some peace, some revenge and expose his mother, Karen Zerby, leader of one of the most secretive and destructive religious cults of the past forty years, the Children of God, known today as the Family International. For decades, the group has operated in the shadows around the world, bombarded with allegations that its members practiced sexual and physical abuse in the name of god and engaged in organized pedophilia and incest. Zerby played a central and enthusiastic role in the abuse of young members, Ricky chief among them, even going so far as to have sex with her own son when he was twelve.

"My own mother!" Ricky, 29, said into the camera. "That evil cunt. Goddamn! How can you do that to kids and sleep at night?"

By Sunday, two people would be dead.

Continued Here:


Public Service is my Motto.
Nov 2, 2017
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There's a somewhat interesting doco here about River's life. He did have a very unusual upbringing, but I'm not sure his parents were long-term cultists. Maybe garden-variety eccentrics but certainly rejectors of mainstream social conformity. Yes his Da was a high priest of the CoG in 'Latin' America. Lived in abject poverty and after 3 years in the cult they chucked it in. River used to supplement the family income by busking. From minute 13:00 his early life. Some dodgy sex practices. Ugh.
My cult had this to say on the subject:

Too soon?