TAGGED FOR MURDER

Only Keller, of the gamy Argus-Observer, thought to write that the man found dead on top of the railcar, the end of that February, had died in a leap year. Chicago's more responsible newspapers were more circumspect and more precise. Likely, the murdered man spotted from a traffic helicopter hadn't leapt at all. He'd been dropped, thrown or pushed, found splayed spread-eagled on the roof of a blue boxcar, legs out, face down, victim of blunt trauma to the head and torso. Dead as a June bug, come July.

Corpses found lying about the Windy City haven't been a rarity since well before Capone. Chicagoans expect news of fresh ones to come with their granolas, chilaquiles and kielbasas every morning. This victim, though, wasn't the usual greased-up gangbanger dead from a drive-by shooting or worse, some innocent kid caught by a stray bullet while hopscotching or bouncing a ball in a park. The man found at the abandoned Central Works was somewhere between thirty and forty, dressed expensively in a two-thousand-dollar suit and a finely woven white shirt. Fine attire, and confusing. The duds didn't match his mouth. Half his teeth were rotted down to nubs. And his skin was bad, marked by the bites and nicks of someone homeless, though that could have come from lying too long neglected on top of a boxcar.

Nobody knew who he was. He had no wallet and he fit no report of a missing person. Nor could anyone be sure how he'd ended up on the top of the railcar. There was no ladder mounted to its side, and the car was at the end of a rusted rail spur, a hundred yards from the only building from where he might have been dropped. The cops had to wonder if he'd even died there. The railcar had been on that spur for days, but the corpse could have perished elsewhere and been carried, frozen to the top of the boxcar by the snow and the rain of a frigid February, to the derelict old Central Works.

It was a muddle. The cops said that their investigation was ongoing, but those were the knee-jerk words cops learn to say in Chicago. New murders demanding new attention would come in multiples the next day and the day after and all the days after that. Even if there were enough cops to deal with them all, there would be few, if any, witnesses willing to risk their lives by coming forward. That February was at the start of what already promised to be a record year for killings, following the previous new record set the year before. That February, in Chicago, folks didn't so much want to talk to cops as scream at them.

For a man found dead on a railcar dressed fine but probably in cast-off clothes and likely homeless, it meant oblivion. He'd be forgotten soon enough.

Or so the thinking went.