In the hardscrabble burb of Schiller Park near O'Hare Airport, you'll find a street with a few two-flats and isolated houses, plenty of space between them. The kind of quiet block where everyone minds their business.
And last week — hard gray sky and snow falling — it looked like a set from a David Lynch movie.
One end of the street runs up hard against a wall framing the Tri-State Tollway. The other leads to a stretch of tall railroad grass and freight tracks. You step out on that block, alone, afraid, there's nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.
And no one who knew much about the brown two-flat in the middle of the block until several police agencies came storming in after an eight-month investigation.
It was a house of prostitutes, authorities said, with at least six young women kept in the basement hooked on heroin and crack cocaine. They were imprisoned and beaten and broken by their dungeon master.
The alleged dungeon master's street name? Shampoo.
"I did see some girls that would come out and they were really cute," said Michael Contreras, a student at East Leyden High School and an aspiring chef.
The women had their work clothes on, boots and shorts. High school boys notice such things.
"But about a week later I'd see them again and I'd be like 'Whoa! What happened to them?' I heard on the news that all they would feed them was heroin and stuff," he said.
The old guy across the street didn't hear anything. And the truck driver, Manny Colon, 40, who lived above it all with his wife and two kids, didn't hear anything either.
It seems no one wanted to provoke Shampoo. That's not his real name. It's Keith Williams. He's 52.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez on Feb. 1 hit him with two charges carrying serious prison time: Trafficking of persons and involuntary servitude.
Charged along with Williams, the alleged ring-leader, was Roman Kurek, 49, and Sylvia Topolewski, 37. All three lived there together, in that two-flat on the 9800 block of Linn Avenue.
Involuntary servitude is a Class X felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Trafficking in persons brings between four and 15 years in prison.
Topolewski, neighbors said, stayed inside with the girls and allegedly gave them the drugs, prosecutors said, literally on a silver platter. Kurek allegedly was the driver. According to Alvarez, he'd load up a van, drive the women away, and return early in the morning back to the two-flat.
"Roman comes out here in the summertime and barbecues and stuff," said Colon, the tenant and truck driver. "He's always been cool. He cleans up around here and stuff like that. I don't really know him too well. Just hi and bye."
We were out in snow on the backyard deck, his Volvo truck parked on a slab behind us. He showed me the barbecue equipment Shampoo and Roman would use, a smoker and a gas grill.
"Honestly, this is pretty messed up. If all of this is true, it just goes to show you that you really don't know somebody. He (Shampoo) never showed us that side. Me or my wife," Colon said.
Anita Alvarez spent years prosecuting such cases as an assistant. Now, as chief Cook County prosecutor, even when she thinks she can't be surprised, it turns out she's wrong.
"It seems like with every one of these operations we've been looking at, there's something that comes out and you're like 'Oh dear God!'" Alvarez told us last week.