A songwriter for the influential 1970s punk group the Runaways has filed a lawsuit against the estate of deceased Runaways manager Kim Fowley and the former KROQ disc jockey and famed nightclub owner Rodney Bingenheimer, accusing them both of sexually assaulting her in the 1970s when she was a teenager. In the suit — filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by Rolling Stone — Kari Krome alleges that both Fowley and Bingenheimer groomed her before sexually abusing her.
The suit isn’t the first time Fowley has been accused of sexual assault. Six months after his death in 2015, Runaways bassist Jackie Fox alleged in a Huffington Post article that Fowley raped her. In that same article, Krome, whose legal name is Carrie Mitchell, corroborated Fox’s claim and first detailed her own allegations against him. The suit marks the first time Mitchell has publicly accused Bingenheimer of sexual assault. (Attempts to reach Bingenheimer and the estate of Fowley were not immediately successful.)
Speaking with Rolling Stone about the suit, Mitchell says the allegations have weighed on her for years. In the past, she says, she felt she’d never been taken seriously when she brought up the allegations to confidants.
“You can come to a conclusion or think that something isn’t right, but if you’re speaking on something too soon, a lot of times you’ll get nothing but blowback and you have to wait until the time is right,” Mitchell says. “I never shut up about it. Just nobody wanted to hear it. Nobody seemed to care. We’re still looking at these characters through a lens of glamorization of that era and that scene instead of looking at them through a lens of doing things that are criminal.”
Mitchell claimed that she first met Bingenheimer at age 13 at his club in the early 1970s. Bingenheimer himself gained significant clout in the glam rock scene as the owner of Rodney Binghenheimer’s English Disco on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. The club was a popular haunt among rock stars including the Runaways’ own Joan Jett along with Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, Keith Moon and many others. But it was arguably as notable as a hub for the teenage girls who also frequented the establishment, including Mitchell. The suit alleges that the club was “notorious for allowing underage kids to come inside.”
Mitchell says her love of music and her desire to break into the industry as a songwriter played a key role in her Disco visits, and that she quickly fell enamored with the scene because of how close to the music it was.
“Especially when you’re young and you may not be happy at home, you’re rebelling against your parents, you have a rich fantasy world. I know I did,” she says. “You go to Rodney’s, it was like walking into Oz. I was looking at the posters, the marquee, the people. It was so overwhelming for me, I couldn’t take it all in fast enough. The real side of that was dealing with grown men who had really rampant sexual energy. But I was wearing Wallabees and denim jackets. I was out of place. My motivation was purely creative. I wasn’t interested in men, I was too young.”
The suit alleges that Bingenheimer, who was 28 at the time, started grooming Mitchell “immediately” “to believe they were becoming friends and that she could trust him,” and that at the time she felt “reassured because Bingenheimer often had numerous young girls around him, especially at the nightclub, and she had stayed at his apartment numerous times without any attempts at physical contact with her.”
Bingenheimer allegedly sexually assaulted Mitchell in his bedroom at his home one evening after telling her to come into his room to watch television, the suit claims. Bingenheimer, according to the suit, introduced Mitchell to Fowley, with Fowley signing her to a publishing deal on her 14th birthday. While the complaint doesn’t specifically mention the Runaways, Mitchel claims she brought him the idea of the girl group and found a young Joan Jett and introduced her to Fowley. In the suit, Mitchell also accused Fowley of taking credit for numerous songs she’d written for the group, most notably “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways’ biggest hit and their debut single. Mitchell — listed as Krome — is credited as a songwriter for three songs on the group’s first three albums: “Secrets,” “California Paradise” and “Waitin’ For the Night.”
As the young Runaways were getting started, they’d often sleep in Fowley’s living room, the suit said. One of those nights, the suit alleges, Fowley dragged Mitchell from his living room by her ankle, took her to his room and “instructed plaintiff not to say anything or make any sound.” Fowley then sexually assaulted her and forced her to sleep in his bed with him afterward, she alleged. Fowley abused her six more times over the course of the year, the suit claims. Mitchell was 14 or 15 at the time, while Fowley was 35 or 36.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Mitchell’s attorney Karen Menzies described Bingenheimer’s English Disco as “a clearinghouse for grooming underaged girls and serving them to rockstars,” adding that “he assaulted the girls themselves.”
“Kim Fowley’s death did not undo all the trauma he has caused. Fowley’s legacy includes the rape of underaged girls, and the law finally allows survivors to seek justice,” Menzies adds. “We’re going to show that neither time nor old age – not even death – will allow rich powerful men in the music industry to escape the sins of their past. Rodney has enjoyed the false reputation of a sweet, innocent friend to rock stars, when in reality he was the source for the exploitation and sexual assault of underage girls.”
In the years after the alleged assaults, Mitchell says she turned to drugs and alcohol to cope and didn’t realize the full extent of what happened and its impact on her until decades later.
“When I was so young, I didn’t even know what I was doing. I didn’t have any self-reflection skills.” she says. “And I just began trying to self-medicate. And it took me years to come out from under that. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties when I got clean and sober [that] I realized the damage that did to me. It wasn’t just the sexual abuse, it was also the humiliation. Kim was good and shaming people and he shamed the shit out of me. He badrapped me to everybody that I had a drinking problem [and] was unstable. They put these labels on you, no one will work with you anymore.”
Mitchell’s suit lists sexual assault and battery as causes of action, with the suit bringing an alternative look into the legendarily decadent, debauched scene that came with the golden age of rock & roll.
She first filed her suit at the end of last year just before the deadline for California’s Child Victims Act, a legislation which waived statutes of limitations on allegations from alleged survivors of childhood sexual abuse, allowing them to come forward with their claims in civil suits. The original complaint kept all parties anonymous, but Mitchell named Fowley and Bingenheimer as defendants in an amended complaint on Thursday.
Mitchell isn’t the first woman to sue music industry fixtures over laws that expanded the statutes of limitations. Last year, multiple women sued the estate of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun on sexual assault claims dating back to the 1980s and nineties. Julia Misley, previously known as Julia Holcomb, recently sued Steven Tyler for sexual assault of a minor. Tyler responded to that complaint in March, arguing that Misley consented and that her claims were barred because he had immunity as her guardian, a defense one attorney told Rolling Stone was “fucking insane.” The case remains ongoing.
For years, advocates have questioned if and when the music business would face the MeToo reckoning that hit Hollywood following multiple sexual assaults levied against Harvey Weinstein. Mitchell herself says she hopes filing the suit will cause fans to have more critical conversations about the rock and roll scene and its handling of sexual misconduct.
“What I personally want to do for my future with this is to mentor young people and work with upcoming artists, and I want to open up discussion so youngsters can know what the signs [of grooming are],” Mitchell says. “And if something has already happened, learn how to have techniques to bring people back into their bodies and [heal].”
Still, as Mitchell says, the biggest challenge lies with changing that normality that still accompanies how people view rock stars and their alleged actions with young girls, even if it was wrong.
“When the average joe next door is accused, people may not always be as quick [to defend them]. Rock stars are still looked upon like gods, literally. When people go to rock concerts, it’s like, everyone’s bowing down. People will literally defend their sacred cows until the last dying day [and] people are always willing to overlook that,” she says. “I think it’s an unfair fight for the people that are getting abused because you can’t fight against the whole culture. There needs to be dialogue about this. People need to be educated.”
Kari Krome vs. Rodney Bingenheimer and the Estate of Kim Fowley