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Whatever happened to Madison’s chimney man, it was ghastly.

On Sept. 3, 1989, a worker repairing a boiler in the basement of the Good ’n Loud music store in Madison found the bones of an unidentified 20-some-year-old male at the bottom of the old chimney, setting off one of the coldest, most inscrutable cases in state history. The bones were wearing a paisley women’s dress, sweater and low women’s shoes, and the man had been carrying an extra pair of socks, a butter knife and a German Iron Cross military medal. His pelvis had been broken twice, and he could have died two months prior to being found, or two years. Police weren’t sure of much and were only 93 percent certain the person was a man.

Theories argued by police and the public were split between grisly homicide and terrible accident. Some cops suggested the man could have gone to the store to meet another man in the parking lot, and the second man, hoping to meet a woman, could have beaten him for being a cross-dresser, dragged him onto the roof of the store and crammed him into the chimney, which was just under 12 inches in diameter. Capt. Jay Lengfeld, who oversees cold cases at the Madison Police Department, leans in the other direction. “I think it was a burglary,” he says. The man was small — about 5 feet, 5 inches — and may have worn the dress as a disguise. His plan to burgle the store like a reverse Santa Claus, perhaps, only resulted in him getting stuck.

From the beginning, the case went almost nowhere. “It got cold pretty quick,” says Lengfeld. The FBI made a cast of what the man’s face would have looked like (it had a feminine look and a prominent nose), but it drew little response. Injecting some political intrigue, one woman claimed she had known a statehouse page who looked like the cast, but she couldn’t remember his name.

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Lengfeld says there have been no solid new leads and little to go on since the FBI worked on the case in the 1990s. “They pushed it as far as they could have then.” He said he wasn’t aware if any DNA had been recovered from the bones, evidence that might have helped to identify the chimney man. Or it might not have, given the paucity of other evidence.


‘Unsolved Mysteries & Hidden History’ appeared in the May 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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