The BoDeans are an accomplished band with hit songs such as Closer to Free, Good Things and Fadeaway. But there are now accusations of a dark secret within the roots-rock group.
Tessa Neumann — the 26-year-old stepdaughter of BoDeans' frontman Kurt Neumann — says that BoDeans' co-founder and former band member Sam Llanas repeatedly molested her and had sexual conversations with her when she was a child.
She said in interviews with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (a part of the USA TODAY Network) that Llanas first made sexual contact with her when she was 9, and that he forced her to perform hand and oral sex on him when she was 13 or 14.
Llanas denies the allegations. He has not been charged with a crime, and Tessa Neumann has not filed a complaint with police or pursued a civil lawsuit.
Tessa Neumann says Llanas' inappropriate contact occurred from 2001 until 2006 or 2007.
"Someone came into my life and took my childhood and my innocence, and it really messes with your head," Tessa Neumann told the Journal Sentinel.
She is publicly detailing her accusations against Llanas for the first time. Tessa Neumann spoke with the Journal Sentinel over a series of interviews, totaling nearly 10 hours, joined by her stepfather, Kurt, for most of them, and her mother, Barbra, for all of them.
Earlier this year, Kurt Neumann accused Llanas of molesting his stepdaughter on the BoDeans' Facebook page. In his Feb. 20 post, Neumann did not name Tessa.
The Journal Sentinel sent Llanas multiple emails and Facebook messages and left him voicemails and a note at his home, requesting an interview.
Llanas declined to conduct an interview, but he issued a statement. "I am shocked and sickened to read about the tremendously terrible, untrue allegations of misconduct against me by the Neumanns," Llanas wrote. "God help them."
Llanas also made a comment on Facebook related to Kurt Neumann's post, implying the allegations are tied to "a long-running claim against Kurt for my share of (songwriting) royalties."
Llanas would not discuss his alleged royalties claim further.
'A huge, incredible weight'
In late 2011, while Tessa Neumann was undergoing therapy, she told her mother and stepfather for the first time that Llanas had molested her. Throughout the years, Llanas had told her not to tell her parents, because it would break up the band and Kurt Neumann wouldn't have a job, she said. Llanas left the band in August 2011.
"That is a huge, incredible weight to put on a kid," Kurt Neumann said.
Tessa Neumann was 9 when she said she had her first friendly conversation with Llanas in the green room at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, on June 30, 2001, before the band's Summerfest performance that night. Her mother, Barbra, had been married to Kurt for about nine months.
"For a long time, I just thought he was one of my best friends, like an uncle," Tessa Neumann said of Llanas. "It was like what a relationship would be like because we were inseparable, honestly."
They bonded as outcasts, Tessa Neumann said, with Llanas calling her "the 'bad seed' ... because I was misunderstood and my parents had been divorced and all of that stuff." Llanas, in turn, would "share probably the deepest things about his life," she said, including troubling stories from his childhood with an uninvolved father.
Llanas gave Tessa Neumann gifts over the years, she said, including a vintage concert handbill for the Velvet Underground, one of her favorite bands. Llanas told Tessa Neumann he'd buy her a Cadillac CTS for her 16th birthday, she said.
Sexual communication and contact began early in the relationship, Tessa Neumann said.
One of the first inappropriate things she remembers happened in 2001 or 2002, when Llanas asked her if she shaved her private area, a topic that came up during a Sex and the City episode they were watching in his hotel room. She was 9 or 10 at the time.
"I said, 'No, I'm just a kid,' " Tessa Neumann said.
She said the first physical contact occurred when she was 9 — a peck on the lips, escalating from there during future encounters.
She said there were about 10 inappropriate incidents each year with Llanas from when she was 9 until approximately 11 — largely brief, isolated moments backstage at shows.
When the BoDeans appeared at Summerfest on July 1, 2002, Tessa Neumann, then 11, said Llanas had her in a corner at the Marcus Amphitheater green room: "He came up behind me and ... (was) kissing up and down my neck, and reaching down and touching me."
In the green room at the Pabst Theater during a BoDeans' New Year's Eve show in 2003 or 2004, Tessa Neumann said Llanas throughout the night kept putting his hand under her velvet skirt and caressing her butt.
On July 23, 2004, when Tessa Neumann was with Llanas in his hotel room in Reno, Nev., he used the bathroom with the door open, turning around and exposing himself to her, she said.
In December 2004 or December 2005 — when the BoDeans were in Minneapolis for year-end concerts — Tessa Neumann and Llanas were together in his hotel room at the Kimpton Grand Hotel.
"At that point in time, I would go to his hotel room. We would lay in bed, watch TV and talk a lot," she said.
That night, as she got up to leave, "he started kissing me, and put my hand down his pants," Tessa Neumann said.
She said Llanas also had her briefly perform oral sex on him.
"I'm ashamed of that, honestly," she told the Journal Sentinel, as she began to cry. "I don't like to think about that or talk about that."
Tessa Neumann says multiple incidents took place in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and in Texas, where she and her parents live.
There were incidents in at least 10 states, she said, including Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii.
The abuse played a large role in her troubled childhood, Tessa Neumann said.
She said she became addicted to heroin when she was 12, after befriending older girls, including one who was dating a drug dealer. At one point she stole $14,000 from her mother, who was working as the band's manager, to buy drugs. Barbra Neumann, distraught, thought she had lost the cash, finding out the truth in 2011.
Llanas did not supply any drugs or know of her addiction, Tessa Neumann said.
Barbra Neumann said she and her husband discovered the drug problem after Tessa became violently ill when she was 13. They pulled her out of school and kept her at home, where Tessa Neumann said she detoxed, using a couple pills of methadone a friend had supplied her to help overcome the withdrawal. She was homeschooled after that.
Tessa Neumann said the abuse "drove me to making choices that made me feel bad about myself." She said she had a "few benders" again after she turned 14, but stopped using drugs for good when she was 15.
That's also around the time when the incidents with Llanas ended, Tessa Neumann said.
"In general I was more grown up, more mature," she said. In 2006, when Llanas was at her parent's Texas home working on the "Still" album," "it became clear to me (he) was playing a game."
"I remember saying something (to Llanas) along the lines of, 'I can't do this anymore. Quite frankly, I don't like you. I don't want to be your friend. I don't want anything to do with you,' " Tessa Neumann said. "I was really angry at him, and I don't remember why. And he cried, and he said that it was the most terrible thing to happen to him since his brother died."
Llanas' 1998 album A Good Day to Die, released through a side project called Absinthe, was a eulogy to his older brother, Tom, who committed suicide when Llanas was a teenager.
There was one more incident with Llanas after that, in late 2006 or early 2007, at her parents' home.
When Llanas was alone with her, Tessa Neumann said, he pulled out a wad of cash from his pocket and offered money for sex. She rejected him.
Within a few days, Barbra Neumann said that her daughter's behavior changed. She recalls that Llanas also came to her "upset because Tessa wouldn't talk to him."
Barbra Neumann said she then talked to Tessa, who disclosed the conversation with Llanas about trading money for sex.
"That was the first time that anything had ever been said that made me question what I believed was just a loving uncle relationship," Barbra Neumann said. "The part that was hard about that, and I hate myself for, is … I couldn't believe it, I couldn't comprehend it.
"Sam had such a dry sense of humor."
Barbra Neumann said she told Llanas' girlfriend at the time, who assured her "he had to be joking."
"It's kind of that thing where it got passed off as a joke," Barbra Neumann said. "We did put protections in place. We changed how we behaved and didn't give him access to our children, but we had absolutely no understanding of what had happened."
The Journal Sentinel spoke with the ex-girlfriend in an attempt to verify Barbra Neumann's account. The ex-girlfriend declined to comment.
Barbra Neumann said she pushed at that time to get more information from her daughter, but Tessa was reluctant to elaborate, and their relationship was already strained.
"If things started to feel uncomfortable, I backed off," Barbra Neumann said. "I realize now how stupid I was."
Barbra Neumann said she didn't tell her husband. Kurt Neumann wouldn't hear of any allegations until 2011, she said, after Llanas had left the band, "and Tessa had felt totally comfortable to talk in detail about what happened."
Barbra Neumann said her daughter told her about Llanas' proposition in confidence. "I wanted her to be able to talk to me about anything and confide in me," she said. "There was no way in hell I could have told Kurt. He would have lost his mind."
Barbra Neumann said she also never directly confronted Llanas.
"I can be so vocal right now in 2018," she said. But at the time, as the band's manager, Neumann worked in part for Llanas. "I was in a very submissive role," she said.
Tessa Neumann said she never told anyone about the incidents until confiding to her mother and stepfather in 2011.
Multiple sources who know Llanas and spoke with the Journal Sentinel said he made comments about young girls in the past.
One source who has worked with BoDeans for years said that in the late 1990s Llanas met with a family backstage, and after they left, Llanas talked about how attractive the daughter was. The girl was around 12 or 13 years old.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he still works in the music industry, said that Llanas also made a vulgar comment — that if a girl is old enough to have her period, she is old enough to have sex.
Marilyn Mee, a veteran local rock radio personality and weekday DJ for WKLH-FM (96.5) who once dated Llanas, said the singer made a similar comment to her once.
Mee said she first met Llanas in 1983, and they were roommates for a few years in the late '80s. They dated on and off from 2011 until 2016; she called their relationship "really dysfunctional."
Sought lawyers' input
Tessa Neumann told the Journal Sentinel that she contacted an attorney, Daniel Horowitz, about a possible case in 2012 or 2013, when she was in her early 20s.
Horowitz declined to pursue a civil lawsuit due to its complexity, related to the multiple states Tessa Neumann said Llanas abused her. Horowitz corroborated her account of the discussions with the Journal Sentinel.
About three years ago, Barbra Neumann met with Greg Gibson, an assistant Hennepin County attorney in Minnesota who works in child protection.
Gibson is an acquaintance of the band who moonlights as a photographer and has taken pictures of BoDeans shows in Minneapolis. Gibson confirmed to the Journal Sentinel that he met and discussed a potential case with Barbra Neumann multiple times.
"I found her reports credible," Gibson said. "The nature of the information she provided is consistent with the kind of cases police investigate where kids are abused."
Gibson said no police investigation would begin until Tessa Neumann was willing to speak to officers.
That is the standard protocol for cases where an adult suspects he or she was sexually abused as a child, said Sharain Horn, director of Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services, which oversees the Healing Center in Milwaukee, a support center for sexual abuse survivors.
Miriam Falk, an assistant attorney general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and a veteran sex crimes prosecutor, said it is very common for children not to report sexual abuse right away — and some abuse may not be reported at all.
"In my own experience picking juries for child sexual abuse cases, people in their 70s and 80s who are asked if they knew or were the victim of child sexual abuse, the first time they ever told anybody was there in court," Falk said.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only about 31% of sexual assaults are reported to the police.
There are a variety of reasons for a victim's reluctance, Falk said, from reliving the trauma through testimony, to concerns about being called a liar, to fears of being looked at differently by family and friends.
"It would be the height of arrogance to tell any victim you should do this or not do this," Falk said. "That is such a personal, individual decision you have to make. That is never an easy decision."
Tessa Neumann has the ability to pursue legal action in multiple states.
Sexual assault cases of a minor in Wisconsin can be prosecuted until the victim is 45 years old, although there is no statute of limitations for first-degree assault.
In Minnesota, prosecutors would have up to three years to pursue a case after Tessa Neumann first reports to police, should she choose to do so.
There are no statute of limitations for child sexual assault cases in Texas.
Tessa Neumann said she's hesitant to start the process now because she is near the end of a difficult pregnancy. She is also taking care of her 2-year-old son.
"It's complicated because you feel an obligation to other people," Tessa Neumann said. "And yet for me, I've had 10 years of my life completely destroyed by all these things that happened. I was barely a functional person. … It's really hard to think about dredging it up again and again and again."
She agreed to talk to the Journal Sentinel, she said, because "hopefully it can help people understand how this goes on, because it is going on a lot. And unfortunately people want to deny it, and blame the victim, and all these things, and this is the first time where people have started to feel OK talking about these things, which is a really huge step for women and for people."
"This is what happened to me," Tessa Neumann said. "This is not something I want to talk about, but it's also my truth. ... Sam hurt me for a really long time, and I don't want him to continue to hurt me anymore."
Neumann and Llanas first bonded over music in study hall at Waukesha South High School in 1977, and BoDeans started playing Milwaukee clubs in 1983. In 1985, the band signed a deal with Slash Records and Warner Bros. Its debut album, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, was released the following May.
In 1987, BoDeans was declared "Best New American Band" in a Rolling Stone readers poll, and the group opened for U2 on its blockbuster "Joshua Tree" tour. BoDeans had a top 20 single in 1996 with Closer to Free, made popular as the theme song for Fox TV drama Party of Five.
Llanas left the band in 2011 via text message, Neumann has said.
Neumann, who since the '90s has been based in the Austin, Texas, area, continues to perform with BoDeans. The band released its 13th studio album last year.
Llanas released his fourth solo album, Return of the Goya, Pt. 1, in January, which will be distributed through streaming services June 15.
The intense animosity between Neumann and Llanas has been well documented for years.
In a Facebook post the weekend of Feb. 17 that has since been taken down, Llanas accused Neumann of having one of his shows canceled.
Neumann replied with a post on the BoDeans' Facebook page Feb. 19.
"To be clear: We have never had anyone’s show canceled anywhere. What would be the point," Neumann wrote. "Sam quit the band in 2011 with no notice and went out with a campaign to destroy the band. It’s never stopped."
The following night, Neumann accused Llanas of molesting his stepdaughter on the BoDeans' Facebook page.
"I'm sorry I ever trusted that person," he wrote. "I will be forever sorry to have let her down like that."