Rainbo Roller Rink is the largest slice of Americana in Chicago and possibly America. For those of you lucky enough to go there in your childhood, you know exactly what I mean. It was every kiddo’s dream to hand crudely scrawled birthday invitations to jealous friends reading “Rainbo Roller Skating Party!”. The exterior was seemingly infinite from our tiny vantage point. The roof was Chicago old shingles and Chicago brown brick and mortar. The windows and siding had flamboyant aqua marine and violet clash for dominance. When you entered, the awning embraced you under the glass door’s threshold with a tremendous, yet welcoming rainbow. Rainbo Roller Rink is, and always will be, the soundtrack to the late 90’s and early 2000’s for me. As we looped infinitely around to the left, zooming in and out of geriatrics who dared to come to Rainbo, The Offspring, Barenaked Ladies, Eminem, Meredith Brooks, Hanson, Dave Matthews Band, and Britney skated alongside. And, absolutely, 100%, of course Cher. If it was not for Rainbo, I would not believe in love after love. As an adult cynic, I know it’s life after love, but at my young tender age it seemed like love would follow love. How could it not while we glidingly revolved, seemingly transcending gravity, accented by psychedelic light shows. There was always love at the Rainbo. Awkward first kisses, sweaty cupped palms, helicopter mothers hovering, daddy-daughter skates, and screaming pop lyrics into your friend’s ear as you made him eat your dust. Can I be that happy again? Did I peak at nine?
The storied past of Rainbo ended in 2003. A true tragedy. People in the community pushed to protect the building but the powers of free market capitalism were unrelenting. Now, it’s condos. I know we need places to live, but condos seem to be the main culprits for “progress” and debilitating anything of historical significance. And yet, if they made an Arby’s, the community would be far more pissed. Picket signs would read “We about to roast your beef!” and “Don’t make our history cheesy!” Every time I have this conversation, everyone is upset and says “Ugh, Condos” with that lowered intonation and the knowledge that they’ve said something that will be a real crowd pleaser like “I love bacon” or “It’s freezing out there” or “What’s wrong with these kids?” These universal platitudes evoke a “mmmhhhmmm!” or a “Yeah, right!?”, but the anger is never sustained or acted upon. Condos have almost worldwide condemnation and yet are immediately followed by a “Well, what can ya do?…Are they nice? How many rooms? How much?” in hopes of jumping in on a deal.
The most shocking development though was in the process of demolition and rebuilding. After the lowering of ceiling high mirrors, the smash of wrecking balls, and the sifting through the rubble was the excavation. A construction worker delved into the gray dusty debris of what remained of the Rainbo and cracked into hard bone. After the shock, an alarm was sounded and the police alerted. They brought in cadaver sniffing dogs and found: numerous pieces of bone fragment, multiple full bones, and two unmatched individual tennis shoes. They deposited all of these human remains into evidence bags and the story died out.
The juxtaposition of wholesome childhood fun with multiple murders is more than unsettling and has brought Rainbo into a different light for me. If I was not so committed to self-deception, it would make me cast the place away entirely. I would have to accept that one of my most fondly held childhood memories was literally founded on a murder. We skated on the cool floor while some poor shmuck decomposed in the basement. It’s like we were living in a horror movie and had no idea. The two being bound together is quite the combination: exciting, intriguing, and yet complicated.
Summer in Chicago will always be my other quintessential childhood memory. And in retrospect, I think there are some parallels. Everyone’s childhood summer had the ice cream truck accompanied by “The Entertainer” or whatever imposter song your truck played. Hot grills let loose plumes of meaty smoke sweetening the air for everyone on the baseball diamond. The cool breeze of Lake Michigan flipping the hair off or into your face. The Rainbo murders couple the nostalgic to make it frightening and made me second-guess myself. Was my childhood that idyllic? One time I slurped down a Nestle Drumstick, licking my sticky fingers clean, only to realize a spider in the bottom of the chocolate cone. Or the smoky summer BBQ—pulled pork, fried chicken, ribs, brisket—thoughtlessly gobbled down as an adolescent only to be told by adults that you’ve been murdering cute farm animals your whole life. Even baseball might not have been perfect. I once managed to ricochet my aluminum Easton back into my face and fill my 12 year-old championship Diamondback hat with hot blood. These become fond memories—the good and the bad bound together. They’re just unexpected. Their main issue is that they tap into the adult ability to reflect, identify the bad, and let it poison the well. The insecurity and uncertainty seeps in and your childhood memories are ruined.
For the Rainbo murders, they remain a complete mystery. No logical explanation can be derived and I can’t make sense of these horrible killings. The police have no leads. Nor have people on the internet speculated wildly. It makes me wonder what the internet is for, if not that? I believe the main issue is that very few people know the illustrious history of the Rainbo. After only a few hours of Google searches I have compiled the necessary information.
It has been around since the late 1800’s. It started as a pass through for people going to or coming from the suburbs being in the center of Chicago at the time on Clark and Lawrence. Many people also frequented The Moulin Rouge Gardens before or after funerals. St. Boniface Cemetery was one of the largest cemeteries in Chicago at the time and the dead rested across the street.
Chicago grew, business started to pick up, and the Rainbo Gardens was established. The new owners changed the name from Moulin Rouge Gardens to Rainbo after their military division in WWI. They built a beautiful, large outdoor space, a small casino, and a stadium for dinner entertainment. At the time, over 2,000 people could be at Rainbo watching a vaudeville act, a jazz performer, or jai alai (of all things). Prohibition hit Rainbo hard since they were primarily a cocktail joint. They were raided multiple times by the US government for serving drinks and shut down. They re-opened in the 1930’s as a dining concept attempting to bring Paris (Parí) to the United States. Thousands of dollars were invested to make The French Casino which offered the working class French vaudeville and music. They served cheap drinks and their most popular dish was Jell-O. However, the Nitti Gang soon took over. Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti was Al Capone’s right hand man and ran things after Capone fell out of power. The French Casino became a regular mobster hang out. Even John Dillinger celebrated his 31st birthday on the same day that he was declared public enemy #1 by the F.B.I. After the Nitti Gang took their cut and relentless government raids, the Rainbo was in disrepair and financially drained. Beyond the gang activity there were bright spots. Larry from the Three Stooges was a regular M.C. and was discovered by Columbia at the Rainbo.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the Rainbo converted into a concert venue called the Kinetic Playground. They had shows which attracted acid-addled hippies from across the nation. The venue boasted sound towers, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, light projectors, and even meditation booths–for when you want to meditate during a live performance with international icons. The Kinetic Playground hosted greats such as The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Muddy Waters, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. Beyond that, I think my account of childhood perfectly represents the aura of the Rainbo Roller Rink of modern day.
I have a very active imagination. At least that’s what my mother used to say and those without an appreciation for my creative chops. Connecting the lines between the history and the forensic evidence of today could be the key to these murders. I believe I owe it to my childhood self to find closure. I would truly appreciate your help in indulging my accurate historical fictionalization of the most likely events to cause the murders. You be the judge and maybe we can find justice.
Possibility #1: Wrigley’s Winterfresh
The high white limestone walls loomed ominously on a quiet Tuesday night in 1908. Shadows creeped from the flickering flames cast by the lamplight. Dead trees dwarfed the three men. The first, with shifty sunken eyes, a concave stomach, and brown trench coat looked both ways, and motioned to the other two. The young boy bent his knees and tensed his back against the chilling limestone. He noticed the leaves had fallen off the trees weeks earlier and the bright moon shining through made the trip treacherous. The oldest man stepped roughly on the boy’s knee, grunted heavily, and pushed upward. The long salt and pepper beard scratched the boy’s face on the way up and the scent of whiskey wafted in the air. The black-eyed man went second, jumping over with ease. He dusted off his pants, re-buttoned his coat, and paused before reaching over and pulling boy’s outstretched arm.
“Sirs, erm, no one saw us, right?” The boy said as he looked over his shoulder toward the Moulin Rouge Gardens.
The old man turned for a moment, scoffed, and walked purposefully between the headstones. The boy realized he had fallen behind and jumped forward on uncertain legs.
The old man took a long pull from his flask in one fell gulp. “Whur is it, boy?”
“It’s ah, right, um, well, hold on.”
“I told you he was a liability, didn’t I Ulysses? I surmised it from the moment I put my eyes on him.”
“No, no. I know where it is. See, just up here. Yes!”
“Keep yur voice down, boy!” Ulysses snarled. They arrived at the only fresh headstone in Saint Boniface Cemetery. The limestone was white bone and the dirt a marrow-like clay.
“Gentlemen, we can squabble all evening or we can excavate. Which would be most opportune?” The thinned out medical student reached under his trench coat and brandished a black and silver shovel. The handle was worn down exactly where Charles’s fingers lay. The tip of the instrument was dented on the edges, but was still as sharp as a scalpel. The two men and the boy made quick work from the delicate dirt and soon metal scraped wood. Ulysses’s joints creaked as he lowered himself into the grave and pried the casket open. A chipmunk scurried up a tree in the distance and the boy jumped.
“Boy, you are hearing things. It’s past midnight and we are the only people on the premises. You’re acting like a hysterical housewife. Relax yourself before I give you a sedative.” The seal of the coffin cracked like a fresh egg revealing a young woman. The depth of the grave and the darkness of the night obscured her face, but an overwhelming stench permeated the air.
“Uh, oh god.” The boy wretched behind a headstone. “I gave her a piece of gum in school.” The boy paused. “She blushed. Now, look at her.”
“That’s enough of that. She’s dead and she’ll be part of the grand mission of science. You’ll have your compensation, as will Ulysses, and assuming you have no more useful information, our paths need not cross again.”
All of a sudden, voices rang out, loud and clear, and authoritative. The far glow of lamps bounced like fireflies from the long strides of the constables.
“The coppers.” Ulysses dragged the girl out of the grave, smearing her flowered dress in the wet soil. Both men, agile with expertise, lifted her on their shoulders. “Go ta the wall, boy.”
The boy looked around, confused, heart beating like a little rabbit. He jumped to the wall and prostrated himself. The men dumped the young girl over and then followed suit.
“The Moulin Rouge!”
The men and trailing boy crossed the damp street followed by the scuffling shoes of the police on the high Saint Boniface wall. The men turned the corner of an imposing red-tinged brick structure and pushed through a perfectly manicured topiary. And then stopped dead still. They paused for a moment, stunned. Hundreds of people lay in front of them. A full jazz orchestra played on an ornate white stage. A dense crowd of gin-filled dancers embraced and swayed to the music. Sharply dressed men and women sat and flicked their cigarettes while humming along. But no one noticed the dead body. Or if they did, they only assumed she had had too many Martinis and needed an escort home.
The men haphazardly dashed into the bowels of the Moulin Rouge Gardens. Charles pried on an angled cellar door and it flew open. The three pushed forward, downward, deep into the earth. They lumbered through corridors, turned through the darkness of an underground web of mossy walls, and finally, laid the girl down behind a pile of stones in a forgotten part of the cavernous labyrinth of the Moulin Rouge Gardens.
“Leave the corpse. The constables will discover us if we take it. They would be quite the inconvenience.” Charles nodded to himself.
The boy’s eyes rested on her still pink cheeks and matching rosy dress. He pressed a piece of Wrigley Winterfresh into her palm.
Possibility #2: June 22nd, 1934
“What’ll ya have?”
“A beer. A short one. What for you, my Countess?”
A vivacious woman in her twenties brushed her fiery hair out of her eyes. “Hmmm, it is just sweltering. A Tom Collins would be glorious.”
The server gave a perfunctory nod and swiftly shuffled to another table with pad in hand.
The man donned a conservative black three-piece suit, starched white shirt, and a wide gray tie. He leaned in to whisper into the woman’s pale ear. His mouth curled upward into a lopsided smirk and Polly giggled. Her soft fingers clasped around his rough hand.
“Happy Birthday, Jimmy.”
The couple sat contentedly back in their chairs. Both gazed out at the dancing saxophone, jerking trombone, and serenading colored canary. Beautiful women kicked out their long legs in rhythm, displaying their thigh high garters, and flapped their red dresses effortlessly. The French Casino was the epitome of class in 1934. Glancing out around the vibrant environment, he caught the eye of a stern-faced man with a round brimmed hat. The man looked for a second longer, trying to pierce Jimmy with his glare and then sipped his drink. Jimmy screwed up his face, then winked and laughed playfully. He separated his hand from Polly’s and put both on the surface of the table. His slacks pressed against the wood and Jimmy could feel the cool steel of the Colt .38 Super automatic against his leg. He was about to push himself up and see about this sneering simpleton when Polly interjected,
“Jimmy, I’ve missed you. Where have you been all this time?”
“Polly, my Countess, my honey. I’ve been busy.”
Polly crossed her arms, scrunched up her shoulders, and cooed, “You haven’t visited me at the Bucket of Blood. Not even once. And Miss Ana says you haven’t even called. You should know I get lonely. You think I’m just your gun moll, don’t you?”
“Oh, Pol. Don’t be that way. You know I missed you, dollface.” Jimmy rustled in his suit pocket and pulled out an object tightly held in his fist, “I got you something.”
Polly and Jimmy paused their conversation abruptly. Jimmy’s slicked back widow’s peak remained unruffled as he snapped his neck around. The waiter reached over his shoulder and draped a crisp napkin down before resting each of the glasses on the table. Polly playfully pried at his fingers. He eventually relented and opened to show an amethyst ring.
Polly gasped, “Jimmy! It’s lovely!” And he smirked again, kissing Polly, but keeping his eyes open to scope out the leering man over her shoulder.
“Let me go freshen up.” He nodded. Polly trounced off with delicate, yet hard steps clacking into the ground. The elegance of finishing school didn’t last long in the Windy City. Jimmy reached into his jacket pocket again. He pulled out a coffee stained piece of paper unevenly folded into quarters. He checked on the man again. He was sipping his beer and looking out on the stage. Jimmy opened the paper tilted so only he could see. It showed his own face smirking back him. The paper read “PUBLIC ENEMY #1. JOHN HERBERT DILLINGER. $25,000 REWARD.” He glanced up through the wispy smoke and saw the man get up from his seat. John dropped two dollars on the table and followed.
He pushed through business men and topless cabaret dancers. He saw the man turn into the restroom. He pulled out the Colt and tucked it under his jacket. He slowly pushed open the door, looking around for other pissers. The room was clear. As the door lilted shut, the music built, gathering into a crescendo. He came up right behind the man using the urinal, pressed the gat to his back, and whispered in his ear,
“I shoulda known there’d be a Dick in here.”
“I dunno what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Yeah, Yeah. Save the bologna for the meat wagon, Mack. You got about ten seconds to sing.”
The big band blared, bringing a strong forte, and the emphatic drumming marked the climax of the song. Hundreds of hands clapped emphatically filling the ballroom with an uproarious din.
“I don’t know nothin’. You gave me an eye so I gave it back. I got kids, ya know, I—“
“Abyssinia…Tell the Devil that the Dillinger Gang sent ya.”
John fired two shots into his back, piercing through his front, and splattering the urinal. He reached over and flushed it.
Polly pushed in, “What’s this Jimmy? I heard a bang.”
“C’mon Pol, let’s take care of it. You grab his legs.”
The red blood pooled on their fingers. Polly turned her nose up. John breathed it in. They folded him unevenly into quarters and dumped him unceremoniously in a garbage chute. Tumbling, spinning, neck contorted, arms bent in, knees bent out, the man landed in the belly of The French Casino. And the people applauded.
Possibility #3: Give Peace a Chance
The psychedelic, far out lights pierced the windows of the Kinetic Playground. It was as if they had the power to blast through the clouds and reach other planets—signaling to them that the people of Earth, despite Vietnam, were not so bad. Nancy knew this in her heart. If only people could learn to love one another. They all had it in their hearts. It was just this new world of violence and ego and cruelty that hid that fact. The shrieking guitar of Hendrix almost deafened her thoughts. Dum Dum Da Da Dum Dum Da Da! She opened her eyes and they dilated from the flashing lights. Ethereal blues, fresh greens, sharp reds, and soft yellows danced around the room playfully. She laid back on a soft pillow and brushed her chestnut hair off her sweaty head.
“You OK?” A man wearing a tie dye bandana loomed over her.
She thought she said, “Yeah, man I’m groovy! How’s Jimi’s gig? Is it far out?”
What really came out of her mouth was a few mumbles and a gurgle. Her eyes lazed unfocused over his shoulder off into space.
“What’s your name, foxy lady?” He said, a bit more persistent now.
This time words came to her. “Nancy”. Her eyes closed again and she listened to the Jimmy’s guitar licks. Music sweet music I wish I could caress, Manic depression is a frustrating mess. But she could touch the music. She reached out and grabbed on the notes as they floated through the air. Each one purred in her hand like a tiny kitten then squirmed free to fly off into the rafters. The second part she just didn’t get. Manic and depression? She was a little manic now. A tab each of Daffy and Porky and Wile E. saw to it. And the grass wasn’t bad either. Depression she had felt too. Thinking about the government fire-bombing Asia or Mom ladling out hot cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for the rest of her life or the tall glasses of bourbon her dad tossed back every night and that try as she might, no matter how hard, she could not convince everyone to give peace a chance. Life had different plans. She’d just keep lisping her S’s like Daffy and stutter like Porky and then fall of a cliff like Wile E. Holding a sign saying “Help!” while nobody did a damn thing.
Hendrix infiltrated her ears, Really ain’t no use in me hanging around in your kind of scene.
She opened her eyes again. Men and women swayed side to side in rhythm to Jimi. The room was too full though, claustrophobically so. She found a private room so she could trip by herself. Where had all these invaders come from? She tilted her head back to catch the colors but the lights were hidden by elbows and shoulders and breasts and tie dye and bushy hair. She sucked in a breath, but nothing came in. There wasn’t enough air. Her heart bounced against her rib cage. She pushed herself up and leaned on a glaze-eyed woman. She wobbled out of the packed room stumbling into half the crowd on her way.
I think I’ll go turn myself off and go on down. Nothin’ wrong with that, Jimi. Ok. Nancy swayed through the bodies, musical notes, and even past the long, crooked bathroom line. Nancy kept shoving through until she reached the damp, dark of a corridor. This was the manic depression Jimi meant. She could breathe. But farther was better. She wasn’t all the way down. She turned the corner of the bannister and on a shady step she slipped. Knee hit wall, head hit stair, back slammed into corner, she tumbled for what seemed like an hour and a second. The bottom of the deep forgotten staircase was soft. It was dark. This was manic depression gazing into the abyssal dark. She thought about the world and images flittered through her mind. She could see L.B.J. signing a peace treaty. She saw her mom passionately painting with a Cheshire smile. Her dad putting down the paper to kiss his wife with sober breath as she landed in his easy chair lap. And maybe she did matter, even if only ever so slightly. She saw herself graduate college, being held by a sensitive empowering man, and long haired children chasing chickens on their pastoral farm. She smiled. And closed her eyes.
Possibility #4: Call Me Pogo
Let me tell you about the best day of my life. Dunkin’ Donuts opens at 5 and closes at 10. The morning lines are packed with ardent, yet bleary eyed adults jonesing for a cup. The real show is in the afternoon. That dusky May afternoon, I looked out the window of the L & L through the tinted glass, a one-way mirror. Up close, my breath fogged it and I rubbed it clean. Their adolescent shoulder blades pressed against tight day-camp shirts as they cupped their hands on the donut shop glass. I tasted their mouths watering sizing up the rows and rows of donuts. A group of ten boys stacked on top of each other, leaning over soft-naped necks, clean arm pits in ears, glazing each other in odorless perspiration. They layered themselves on top of each other. They looked in at the donuts heated on wire cages, multi-tiered, and stacked on top ready for service. And I thought How ironic!
Every little boy is like a donut flavor. The whites are frosted, the blacks are chocolate, the ‘spics are caramel. Don’t get me wrong. It goes beyond race. And I’m equal opportunity. Each boy has his own personality and that factors into it, too. Some seem round and squishy, but are stale and cold on the inside. Some the opposite—I call them the Boston crème boys. My favorite are the youngest—they’re obviously the munchkins. So, these boys sit around in the Dunkin’ Donuts and most times I just look. Today is special though. One boy has a green cone on his head with a sparkling streamer and white string pressing into his fleshy throat. I’m a clown ya’ see. What kind of clown doesn’t entertain the birthday boy?
I looked both ways down Clark. Where were his parents? Not even an older brother or sister. This is what’s wrong with America I remember thinking. Fathers drinking and beating their kids, then skipping town once they’d had their fill. Then single mothers trying to raise a family? Impossible. That’s why they were celebrating all by themselves at the Dunkin’ Donuts across from a dive bar. They were just looking for love, affection, understanding. Good thing I came prepared with my materials. I walked across the sticky floor, remembering each delicious step. It was as if the L & L was trying to keep me grounded to indulge each moment before the inevitable entertainment. It wasn’t spilled PBR, it was fate. I went into the shitter and pulled on my red and white striped uniform. I put wide blue triangles over my eyes and evened out my mouth into a red smile. The rest I painted a pure white. Red, White, and Blue. I’ve always been a true American. I was fixing America’s families one kid at a time, but I’m only one man, you see. I can’t do it all. I gently laid my triangle hat on my head and heard the jingle of the bell inside. I was ready. I looked into the mirror.
I spoke only out of the left side of my mouth. I thought it made me look like a Capone or Nitti. I am a Chicago boy, through and through, after all.
Hello, boys! I’m Pogo the Clown! Whose birthday is it?
Wow, I love your hat! Mine kinda has the same shape!
You boys want to see a balloon trick?
I listened and watched. The boys opened the Dunkin’ Donuts door which jingled as they exited and they pranced down Clark heading north. My bells jingled too as I followed. They jostled each other, pretending to be ice skating down the street in anticipation of the rink. My stomach rumbled ever so slightly. I could go for a donut.