'Prince' of Former Cult Commits Murder-Suicide

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 18, 2004 -- -- Members of the 1970s cult known as the Children of God believed Ricky Rodriguez would be the man to lead them to the end. But Rodriguez met a very different fate -- one that involved an act of revenge against the people who once saw him as a prince.

Rodriguez, 29, stabbed his former nanny to death before committing suicide last week. His former caretaker, Angela Smith, had been a member of the Children of God, and Rodriguez, the son of the former cult's leaders, said she and other members were guilty of abusing the group's children.

In a chilling videotape -- made just hours before Rodriguez took his own life and obtained exclusively by ABC News' "Primetime Live" -- the young man calmly explained why he felt he had to end it all.

"I just want it to end. I just want it to be over," Rodriguez said on the tape. "How can you do that to kids and sleep at night?"

Police say Rodriguez went to Smith's apartment after making the tape and killed her with the knife he displayed in the video.

"I only want it for one reason. To take out the scum," he had said on the tape.

Rodriguez -- who was once viewed as the "prince" of Children of God -- said the group's alleged practices were too much for him. On a Web site visited by former members of the cult, Rodriguez posted the following statement in 2002: "It gives me hope that one day the family leadership's evil legacy will die with the family, and it will be only a distant or, better yet forgotten bad memory."

Police say Rodriguez ended his life with one shot from a semiautomatic handgun after killing Smith.

Meanwhile, the group lives on -- but under a new name and under different rules, according to Claire Borowik, the group's spokeswoman. The group, now called the Family International, is currently described as a Christian fellowship with 8,000 members -- at least half of them children -- in communal houses in 100 countries.

The organization issued the following statement in response to the murder-suicide. "In hindsight, it became clear that potential problems arising from our liberal stance towards sexuality should have been anticipated and stringent rules established earlier on. This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an ex-communicable offense [full statement].

Rodriguez's mother, Karen Zerby, currently leads the Family International.

While some former Children of God members claim that a large number of the children raised in the cult have since committed suicide, Borowik says the numbers have been exaggerated.

ABC News consultant Don Lattin, author of "Following Your Bliss," which followed the Family International and many other alternative religious movements, says the group can't seem to escape its past.

"I've been covering religious cults in this country for 20 years and I've never seen stories that are continuing to come out of this group," Lattin said.

Lattin says Rodriguez grew up under tremendous pressure. While trying to recover from alleged sexual abuse, he was being touted as the new prophet by the group that he says failed to protect him as a child.

He finally left the group about five years ago. Smith also moved on after being ex-communicated by the Family International.

Watch ABC News' "Primetime Live" next week for more on this story.

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