Jim DeRogatis’s new book, Soulless, is a comprehensive document of the many allegations of statutory rape, sexual assault, and physical and psychological abuse levied against R. Kelly dating back to 1991. The veteran music critic has reported on Kelly since 2000, when he received an anonymous fax at his office at the Chicago Sun-Times telling him that it was an open secret that the singer preyed on “young girls.” In horrifying detail, DeRogatis lays out the claims of 48 women against Kelly, often corroborated by court documents and members of the singer’s inner circle, painting the picture of a sadistic manipulator whose problems go far beyond just preferring younger women. The book is packed start to finish with harrowing tales of Kelly’s exploits and history, including the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, the infamous tape of him urinating on an underage girl, and his alleged abuse of Jerhonda Pace, for which he’s currently facing multiple charges in Chicago. To give you a sense of what you’ll find in Soulless, Vulture compiled these eye-opening revelations and disturbing moments from the book.
(Note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse.)
Kelly Was Repeatedly Abused as a Child
Much of Soulless is spent trying to explain why Kelly is allegedly the way he is. An early section is devoted to his childhood in Chicago, where he encountered sexuality in many traumatic forms. There was a time, at 8 years old, when he came home early from school to find a couple having sex in his apartment and was told to take Polaroids while they continued. Another story is of a male neighbor who exposed himself to Kelly. The most horrific allegations are that, beginning at age 8, Kelly was coerced into a sexual relationship with his older half-sister Theresa. While Kelly has discussed this in the past without naming her, his half-brother Carey said that she abused both of them. “Theresa is the cause of everything happening the way that it did,” Carey told DeRogatis. Carey and several women Kelly has slept with also claim that the singer, in DeRogatis’s words, “is bisexual and has sex with other cis males. They say he keeps these encounters ‘on the down low,’ either because of shame or because it conflicts with the image he projects as the consummate ladies’ man on R&B and hip-hop scenes that still are often deeply homophobic.”
The Annulment Agreement Between Aaliyah and Kelly Mentions Physical Abuse
Unsurprisingly, Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah is discussed throughout the book, with multiple stories about their working and alleged sexual relationship, often described by friends and professional associates of both artists. There’s a lot of space devoted to their wedding in 1994, when Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15, in which fake identification was used for her to get a marriage license.
One of the most shocking parts of this saga comes from a document that a source provided to DeRogatis that details the artists’ annulment and separation agreement. In the document, signed by both of them and her parents, Michael and Diane Haughton, Aaliyah agreed to never legally pursue Kelly for a “decline” in her career, emotional distress, and “physical injury or emotional pain and suffering from any assault or battery perpetrated by Robert against her person.” DeRogatis notes that he and his frequent Sun-Times co-writer, journalist Abdon Pallasch, did not include that detail in their story about the agreement but, “only years later did the possible significance strike me, after other women began telling me Kelly allegedly physically assaulted them if they broke ‘his rules.’”
Kelly Carried a Bag of Video Tapes of His Sexual Encounters
To this day, DeRogatis isn’t sure where the multiple tapes he received of Kelly in various sexual acts came from, but the most likely assumption is that they were stolen, either for blackmail against or disgust with Kelly, from a gym bag. “Two of [my sources] said he documented his sexual encounters and carried the tapes in a gym bag he kept with him at all times,” DeRogatis writes, “only leaving it briefly in his tour bus or on the sidelines of the basketball courts in the high-end health clubs where he played with his crew.” The tapes were a source of amusement for many in Kelly’s entourage, with two of them ending up sold on the streets, including the one from 2000 where he’s allegedly seen urinating on then-14-year-old Reshona Landfair that would land him in court in 2008 for child pornography, among other charges. The other, called R. Kelly: Bump & Grind “You Be the Judge,” was available to purchase at Tower Records for $14.99.
The “Pee Tape” Is More Horrific Than You Might Remember
“It wasn’t the pee tape, it was the rape tape, but urination as a sexual fetish became the focus,” DeRogatis writes of the video of Kelly with Landfair. DeRogatis received the tape in his mailbox from an anonymous source and describes its 26-minute-39-second contents in graphic detail. In addition to various sexual acts and Kelly making her call him “Daddy,” it ends with “the girl lying on the bench next to the hot tub, performing fellatio again, then opening her mouth as Kelly urinated in it and over her breasts and stomach before fondling himself and ejaculating.” As DeRogatis recently told Vulture, it’s “the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” DeRogatis blames Kelly’s eventual acquittal on numerous factors, including the judge barring any mention of Kelly’s previous accusations and settlements, Landfair not testifying because she would risk being charged with perjury after swearing before a grand jury that she didn’t have sex with Kelly, and Kelly’s lawyers sewing the seeds of reasonable doubt by claiming the tape was fake and questioning the credibility of the dozen-plus witnesses who said it was Landfair on the tape.
Kelly Has a Literal “Sex Demon” Inside Him, According to a Former Friend
Much of Soulless examines Kelly’s relationship with Christianity and the church, trying to figure out how the man and his supporters square the teachings of Jesus Christ with his blatant hypersexuality. The weirdest story about this comes from Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former friend and road manager, the one who’s heard in Surviving R. Kelly talking about falsifying the Aaliyah marriage certificate and all the ways he picked up young girls for the singer. In 1996, when Smith was helping Kelly after the singer settled financially with Tiffany Hawkins, the first girl to accuse Kelly of statutory rape, the pair were dining at a Chicago sports club with a group of women. Kelly summoned Smith into a bathroom for a prayer session. “‘We started talking in tongues, and then that beast came, and I heard that demon,” he told DeRogatis, who describes Smith’s impression of the scene as the screams from The Exorcist. “It’s a spiritual beast in that man, and he need to be set down with that beast, so he can battle with him. That beast, it’s a sex demon. It’s a sex demon! Robert was molested and he survived it. He survived his molestation, you see, and now they trying to put him in jail, DeRo,” Smith says. So, yes, the man who so matter-of-factly told Dream Hampton and her documentary crew about procuring underage girls for Kelly also says this happened.
Kelly Sleeps in Closets and Eschews Personal Hygiene
Some of the more innocuous-seeming details in Soulless offer glimpses into Kelly’s psyche. He loves McDonald’s more than any other food. Whether it’s related to the food or not, DeRogatis mentions several times about how Kelly often looked for underage girls at the former Rock N Roll McDonald’s in Chicago, a music-themed flagship franchise of the chain.
In his former Olympia Fields, Illinois, mansion, where he filmed the tape that would lead to the child-pornography charges, he had a shark tank and a basketball court decorated with a mural inspired by Space Jam, the soundtrack to which includes his hit “I Believe I Can Fly.” “It depicted Kelly shooting hoops with the Tasmanian Devil, Michael Jordan refereeing, and Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd sitting in the stands,” DeRogatis, whose reporting partner Pallasch visited the home after Kelly put it on the market, writes. “Foghorn Leghorn also appeared, holding a sign reading, ‘Go R. Kelly!’” (In another odd note related to the child-pornography case, Kelly paid his $750,000 bond in $100 bills.)
Then there’s the constant references to closets, which are not just a metaphor that led to “Trapped in the Closet.” After his breakup with Aaliyah, Kelly finished a tour, then returned to Chicago, where he checked into a hotel and spent over a month sleeping in his room’s closet. He also slept in a closet for a month after her death. Kelly previously said in an interview that he often sleeps in his bedroom closet for “peace of mind.”
And then there’s his hygiene. “Despite his wealth, Kelly was a crude man, many sources told me, often going for days without showering, and sometimes wearing the same sweatpants for a week,” DeRogatis writes. “‘I could never understand the women. I’d be like, ‘How could you be with him when he stinks like that?’ I mean, this boy just left the basketball game and he ain’t took a shower,’ Demetrius Smith said.”
One Lawyer Made Millions Settling Underage-Sex Cases With Kelly
DeRogatis puts a large amount of blame for Kelly’s ability to avoid criminal charges and conviction on many people and institutions, including his former record label Jive, law enforcement, the church, the press, etc. One Chicago lawyer, Susan E. Loggans, gets a fair share of criticism owing to the fact that she became the go-to attorney for Kelly accusers after she successfully settled the Tiffany Hawkins case against him for $250,000 and a nondisclosure agreement. “Loggans turned pursuing cases brought by underage girls against R. Kelly into a specialty for the next two decades,” DeRogatis writes. “‘Word on the street got out after Tiffany that if you want to get money from Kelly, you hire Loggans,’ one of Kelly’s former associates told me.” DeRogatis knows of six women Loggans represented against Kelly and hears the number is around 12, though Loggans would only say she’s done “numerous” cases involving the singer. She also did not reveal what fees she received for her work, though it’s estimated that she took a standard one-third of the settlement.
DeRogatis lays out the case that, had there not been a high-powered attorney who could almost guarantee a settlement for the victims, some of them would have gone to the police. Hawkins tried that route initially, but law enforcement didn’t go forward with the case. Others told DeRogatis that they just wanted some justice, not a payout, and thought a civil case would be a form of punishment. The girls Loggans represented were “closer to being children than they were to legal drinking age, and they came from black neighborhoods with a long history of good reasons to distrust law enforcement,” he writes. “[Loggans] was a star like Kelly, and teenage clients may have been taken with that and quicker to trust her than the police.”
The Current Chicago Case Sounds Incredibly Shaky
Kelly is now facing multiple felony charges in Chicago, including four counts of aggravated sexual assault, in cases relating to Rashona Landfair and Jerhonda Pace, who met Kelly when she was a teenager, supporting him outside his child-pornography trial. DeRogatis talks about feeling a sense of “déjà vu” after that failed trial, as this case is not starting out on a promising front. The district attorney charging Kelly is Kim Foxx, who also oversaw the Jussie Smollett mess. A lot of the charges stem from video evidence provided by Michael Avenatti, the now-disgraced lawyer most famous for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her hush-money case against Donald Trump. What’s more troubling about the case, according to DeRogatis, is that Kelly is also being investigated on the federal level by the FBI, the IRS, and, for potential sex-trafficking crimes, the Department of Homeland Security.
“Two investigators in New York told me they were frustrated that Foxx had ‘rushed’ her charges, and that her office was not cooperating with them,” DeRogatis writes. “They had hoped to issue joint state and federal indictments. ‘She was eager for the headlines,’ one said.” Though not optimistic about the Chicago case — it’s hard to blame him, after he’s dedicated a third of his life to investigating Kelly to no legal avail — DeRogatis told Vulture that he hears the federal charges are coming very soon, so there’s some reason to be optimistic that Kelly will finally be brought to justice, even if it doesn’t come from the Chicago DA. Toward the end of Soulless, he adds, “Everyone I talked to at the law enforcement agencies involved agreed, this was just the beginning of the end for R. Kelly.”