True Crime Podcast
A woman’s son dies in her home and her illness prevents her from noticing. What is left behind is too much for one individual and he hangs up his bio-suit for good. Few last long in the crime scene cleaning business and in this episode of The Cleaning of John Doe, you’ll hear just how much this industry can throw at you.
PROMO CODE: JOHN
True Crime Podcast Living with the Dead Episode 9
Like any business, as you start to take on more and more work, you begin to need to take on more and more people to handle the workload. Seems easy enough, but any business owner can tell you that finding the right people for the job isn’t always the easiest activity. I’m also extra particular. I have worked very hard to ensure that every one of my clients receive top notch service and are met with professionalism, kindness and no small amount of empathy. It’s one of the main reasons our clients love us. So when we’re hiring, we’re looking for people who can honestly and sincerely supply that to our clients. I’m not interested in people who want to get into the industry because they think it’s cool. It is, but if that’s as deep as you go, you’re not going to get far.
That being said, I’m sure you can imagine that we don’t hire often. When we do, it’s a lengthy process and usually comes with no small amount of hair-pulling and frustration. It has, however, worked out in the end and we have ended up with some really great people buuuut people come and go in this industry. Even if you can stomach the work itself, you may go days without work and so without a paycheck. But, whatever the reason, few last for more than a couple years max for one reason or another. This story will give you an example as to why.
Normally, we’re contacted by friends or family of deceased people inquiring about our services. The call we got this day was neither – he was an insurance adjuster. He had been the adjuster on our first really big decomp now he had another client who needed our services in the worst way. The client’s brother had passed away in his home and went undiscovered for about a month. According to the county coroner.
This happens more often than you might expect. Before I got into this industry, death wasn’t something I thought about often – usually only when the subject came up or was presented – but when I did think about death, it was never about someone dying alone and going undiscovered. Now, being in the business, at first, it surprised me how often this happens. It doesn’t surprise me anymore. It just makes sense.
But, when I was told that this guy hadn’t lived alone and still managed to be undiscovered for a month, shock would be more of an accurate description of how I felt.
Her son was living with her and she was well into her winter years. One might have thought he was the good son that lived with his mother to care for her in her old age. But this was not the case. It was actually the other way around.
Before he passed away, this lady’s son had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. Our client had been trying to get him into a proper care facility but her mother had maintained enough presence of mind and became upset at the gesture which prevented her from doing so. Unfortunately, she was left with no option but to let her mother care for him.
At some point, the mother began to suffer from dementia and it progressively got worse. Although it was impossible to say for certain, it was easy to imagine this blissfully ignorant old woman walk past her son’s room – his lifeless body lying on the bedroom floor – and make some comment about him being lazy. I could see her calling him out to the table for dinner or wishing him a good night as she made her way to bed completely oblivious to the fact her son was no longer among the living.
In light of these circumstances, the client was able to do for her mother what she was unable to do for her brother – she had her placed in a care facility. And now she was left with the burden of taking care of and selling the house.
When we arrived on scene, we met with the adjuster and were introduced to the client. She was upset, but not overly so. It seemed that, in spite of her attempts to get her family proper care, she had been disconnected from her mother and brother for quite some time.
I’m going to go off on a side tangent here… As horrible as it might be to think and even act on it – I urge you to take all necessary measure to get your ducks lined up now. Get a will drafted up, open estate accounts or whatever you need to do. If you have elderly family living, encourage them to do the same. No one wants to plan for death, but we’ve seen it rip families apart. It’s so sad to watch someone have to bury a family member, deal with all the service arrangements, ward off undeserving vultures, etc. It can suck up years of your life and it’s an overwhelming experience. In some situations it’s so bad that it prevents grieving and healing.
Ok, back on track: Ethan and I went through the property and assessed the extent of the damage and got an idea of what would be needed to fully restore the property to safety. If not for the dead man odor, it would seem like any other hoarding house. Trash was piled on the floor with a makeshift pathway tramped down the center of the hallway. A few pieces of furniture poked through the top of the mound of garbage that was the living room.
Most of the house was trashed but looked like it had been untouched for some time. Spider webs covered everything. The trash, furniture and light fixtures were all coated with a heavy layer of dust, with the exception being a lone easy chair in the corner of the living room. Next to it was a small table with a single lamp. Although the spider webs were present here and it was dirty, I could see that this was where the old woman spent all, or at least most, of her time. The seat of the chair had the telltale depressions in it indicating long-term use. This was also the only lamp that worked in the whole house.
The first thing we wanted to do was isolate where the man had decomposed as that would be our first priority. We had been told that he had died in his room. The first room we came to seemed to be somewhat of an oasis from the hoarding – somewhat. You could see the floor and move around in there with ease, but it was still filthy. Spider webs and thick layers of dust covered everything but the bed, which had a large stain spreading out from the center and running down the side of it onto the floor. At first glance, one would assume this was where he had died. However, nothing in this room indicated it was where a man had slept. The furniture, clothes and bedding all were a bit antiquated. Not only that but it was very feminine – this was the mother’s room. The stain, we later determined, was merely urine and feces but would still need specific attention.
We continued down the hallway and came upon another room that was not spared the hoarding. Once again, trash hid the floor and through the center of it was a stamped down pathway leading to the bathroom. This was his room. Right in the middle of the path was a large pile of body fluid-stained trash. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it reached the floor until we had excavated our way through the garbage. Often times, even when it’s just on carpet, the fluids spread along the sub-floor but don’t get wicked up to the surface so what looks like a moderate spot of blood can actually cover a huge area underneath.
We finished our assessment and went over everything with the adjuster and gave him our estimate. He pretty much approved it on the spot. The client was very happy about it and we set up a start date with her.
At the time this was all happening, we had been approached by an independent producer, Mike, who was very interested in our line of work. He also liked the fact that we were a family-owned and -operated business, to boot. So, he reached out and we discussed putting together some footage and pitching it to networks to get a show going.
One thing I think you should know is, I am extremely camera-shy. I didn’t know how that was going to work since I would be a somewhat major element to the show. But, I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that. So, we agreed and he came up and met with us to go over things in a bit more detail. He came to the house and he sat Ethan and I down – together and separately – and interviewed us on camera. He also got some shots of us doing regular family stuff and playing with the kids to establish the stark contrast between our often-grisly business and family life.
Although he had a lot of good shots, he really wanted to get some job footage. Now, I understood the necessity in order to pitch it but when you show up to someone’s house where their mother/father/son/whatever has just shot themselves in the head, it seems fairly callous to even suggest we be authorized to film it. I don’t know how he planned on working that out because I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask!
However, when this job came in, I thought it was a perfect opportunity. The client had lost her family long before one of them actually died and she had made her peace with that, so I thought she would be open to us filming. It’s hard not to sound insensitive saying that, but death and tragedy are all part of life and, in the industry of death, you really learn to accept it and treat like anything else.
I did have some concerns on bringing in these guys to a job like this. It wasn’t just hoarding. It wasn’t just a decomp. It was just about every job we do all rolled into one: Biohazard, hoarding, urine, feces, dead cats, spider webs and other indeterminable gross filth throughout. I had no idea how, or even if, they would handle it. But, I guess we’d see.
When we presented it to the client, she was, as expected, totally fine with allowing us to film, as long as we kept any identifying or personal information out of it. Great! We were all set and I let Mike know when we were starting the job and he was all set to meet us there.
The day of the job arrived and we met with the client at the house. We had acquired a large roll off for the hoarding and we brought a crew of guys with us, one of which had been with us for just under 2 years at this point and was our longest running employee at that time.
This guy, Westin, was very gung-ho, self-starter, friendly – basically everything you’d want in an employee. And, he almost didn’t get hired. In the initial hiring interview, he was very up front with the fact that he had a heroin problem in the past, but he had gone to rehab and had been clean for a few years. As you know – Ethan and I had had a previous situation with a heroin addict on our job so we certainly had our doubts about him but, we feel people can change and their past mistakes shouldn’t be held over their heads – within reason, of course. We did drug test him and it came up clean and the fact that he was honest about up front, it went far with us. So, we had hired him and we watched him like a hawk! However, once he proved himself he quickly became one of our best guys.
We conferred with Mike and asked what he wanted us to do. Since this was to be an unscripted show, he told us to just do what we do and he would capture it on camera. Seemed easy enough. So, I set the boys to begin work on the trash while Ethan and I addressed the body fluids. The first part was fairly easy – once we had sprayed all the contaminated trash, it was simply a matter of placing it in the bio-hazard bin. What wasn’t easy was that it seeped further and further to the floor and as it went down, it spread out. So, by the time we had removed all the contaminated trash and debris, we had cleared almost half of the small room! But, we finally reached the floor and removed the contaminated carpet. Luckily, the sub-floor wasn’t affected so there wasn’t a need to treat it. So, that was done and now onto the mother’s room.
The mattress was not only contaminated with what appeared to be a mixture of blood, urine and feces, it was a relic. The springs had long ceased to be springs and were merely compressed coils. It was a simple matter to cut the biohazard out and be done with that part of the job. Onto the next stage!
A major part of the approved scope of work was trashing out the entire house as it was necessary in order to remove the odor. So, once the biohazard was handled, it was like any other hoarding job. Spider webs, rancid garbage and even a mummified cat were all just another day in the life.
Day one had yielded decent progress. We were about halfway through the trash out and all the biohazard had been treated and removed. Not a bad start. Mike had gotten a lot of good footage.
As we got to the bottom of the trash, we began to discover syringes all over the place. Again, this is not uncommon, but they were everywhere. We couldn’t throw them in the trash and they had to be collected and placed into sharps containers so they could be disposed of properly. Not only that, but I could see that Westin was having a hard time with it. He had been clean for a while now but a major part of staying clean, for him, was staying away from it. Now, here he was up to his elbows in needles. He didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t his usual jovial self. He didn’t say much and didn’t respond much to conversation. I could see what he was going through and I told him if it got to be too much to let me know and he could sit out on this one. He thanked me and said he was ok and he’d get through it. So, I left him to his work and didn’t bother him.
The next step was to clean the house. We needed to sweep down cobwebs, wash down the walls and floors, disinfect the kitchen and bathrooms and remove all the carpet and padding. It was quite the undertaking and it took all the way into Day Three.
Westin and I were in the laundry room sweeping down cobwebs when he yelled out and started dancing around slapping his ear. I turned to look at him, concerned, and then I started laughing. Ethan was standing there doubled over laughing. Apparently, he had snuck up be
hind Westin and touched his ear or something which is what sent Westin into his frenzy. Westin very soon joined in the mirth and the mood felt lightened after that. I would have killed him if he had done that to me, but it seemed Westin needed that to bring him out of his gloomy mood.
Later that afternoon, my phone rang. I went outside to answer the call. It was someone inquiring about hoarding clean-up. I answered their questions and took down his information and set-up a time to do an estimate. As I hung up the phone, Westin came running out of the house sweating and panting. Through his struggled breathing, he said he felt like he got bit by a black widow. His sight was going in and out of tunnel vision and he was freaking out. He asked if I could take him to the Emergency Room. I wasn’t about to say no, so of course we got in the truck and I left Ethan and the other guys at the job and drove to the hospital.
On the way there, Westin was moaning and groaning in what I assumed was pain. Nobody on our crew had ever been bitten by a black widow but from what I understand, the first time you get bit isn’t deadly but it can make you feel like every bone in your body is being broken at the same time. So, I think I broke every traffic law in trying to get him to the ER before that started happening.
I screeched into a parking space and I rushed him into the ER. I approached the nurse at the desk and explained what happened, or at least what we think happened.
Now, I had never been to an ER – not for me or even for anyone else. The only experience I had was the show “ER” and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. So, when she simply handed me a clipboard and asked that I fill them out and have a seat and someone would be with us shortly, all I could do was take the clipboard. The fact that her face did not stretch in surprise in concern and a team of doctors didn’t come rushing to take Westin on a gurney was shocking, but somehow it was also calming. I sat Westin down and helped him fill out the forms.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long until a nurse called us into the back. I asked him if he wanted me to go with him and he said, “Yes.” So, I followed him into the back and the nurse started doing her nurse stuff – taking his temperature and blood pressure, asking a battery of questions, etc., etc. Once the preliminaries were all done, she began checking him for any indication of a bite mark. After checking his arms, legs, back, neck and chest, there was no indication whatsoever that he had been bit by anything, let alone the red hourglass-marked Latrodectus Hesperus. The nurse suspected he was just having a panic attack. For someone who has one of the most unique jobs and sees everything that almost nobody else sees, there are a lot of common things that I have never had any dealings with. A panic attack was another one on the list. I didn’t even know they were real!
She wanted to get him in for an ECG just to make sure he wasn’t having a literal heart attack or something. After which the results confirmed that he was completely fine and just having a panic attack. There was nothing to worry about and unless he wanted a pill, he would eventually just feel better.
He opted to skip the pill and he was just going to go home and lie down. I understood and we went back to the jobsite and I offered to drive him home. As I believe I’ve mentioned previously, our crew rides with us to jobs. So, I would have had to cut the whole day short – which I would have done – but he said not to worry about it and he would just have a friend come and pick him up.
When he left, I explained what happened to Ethan and I slapped him on the arm. I couldn’t really blame him but at the same time, I blamed him. Westin was already having a hard time and he had to go and scare the shit out of him. It had been funny, but still. Just as a side track here, the client wasn’t on site during all of this. We don’t joke around about people’s living conditions, or death or anything of that nature. We also don’t joke or goof off on site when a client is around. However, there are times when things become too serious so now and again we might sneak up and say boo or hide in the dumpster to jump out and scare someone to lighten the mood, like Ethan did. This job can really get the better of you so we try to create an environment for our employe
es where they don’t dread going to work.
I think it’s needless to say, but that was Westin’s last day. He came to us and apologized but explained that being around those needles just really sent him back to bad times and he couldn’t go through that again. We completely understood, made sure it wasn’t Ethan’s joking around that upset him and he assured us that it wasn’t that at all! He actually loved working for us, but for the sake of his sobriety those needles were a big trigger that he hadn’t anticipated. I gave him a big hug and thanked him for everything, told him I was sorry to see him go – he was a great employee and I’d be happy to be a reference for him. I told him we still keep in touch. A little update on Westin, he’s still clean and sober and now he owns his own business and is doing great.
We continued the job and got the place looking pretty good. It was a hoarding house and so there was a significant amount of damage from neglect that needed to be repaired, but it was at least in a condition where contractors could come in and work without having to deal with filth and biohazards.
I called the client and her come out and take a look at the home just to sign off and make sure there wasn’t anything else she wanted us to do before we left. There wasn’t and she was very thankful for us having helped her with such a burden.
Since insurance was covering the job, she didn’t have a check for us – not until insurance paid the claim. We said our goodbyes and she thanked us for everything. We loaded up all of our equipment and hit the road.
A month went by, which is a typical time for most insurance companies to have paid and so I called up the client to see if she had received the payment. She had but was unable to deposit it. We’ve had these situations arise in the past and so it didn’t seem like a big deal – we knew how to handle it. Or, at least we thought we did.
On a typical blood job, the insured is either living or dead. When the insured is the deceased, it sometimes presents problems with the bank – their client is dead and so until they have legal documents giving someone the right to access their account, there’s not much the bank can do.
In this solitary instance, the insured was still living but was mentally incompetent. I believe she still thought her son was alive. So, getting her to sign over a check or any other document was out of the question. This meant that our client had to first obtain Power of Attorney. In order to do that, she had to a) get written testimony from two separate medical professionals and then b) prove she was next of kin and prove that she had informed every living relative of her mother about the situation and ensure there were no protestations to her having POA. Then, she would have to go to court with said evidence. Once that was obtained, the next step was to obtain Conservatorship. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, let me just say it’s a lengthy process and even more so if the person in question is mentally incompetent. I understand the need for this process, but when you’ve done a huge job and are waiting on an equally huge check, your patience can certainly be tested.
After having explained all this, she asked if we knew any tricks or tips to speed the process along – it could take anywhere from 6 months to a year! She was very regretful for not being able to pay us and was trying to do everything she could to get the money, but her hands were tied. Ugh.
Of course we told the client there was nothing to worry about. We were familiar with the whole process and we’d take it as it came. In my head, I was screaming. I’m used to waiting anywhere from 2 weeks to a month, sometimes a little more for payment. But, six months to a year?!
In the end, it took the full year. Court dates were pushed back. Distant relatives had to be tracked down with the use of a private investigator. Documents had to be drafted and signed. Etc., etc., Goddamn etc. But, we somehow managed to not let it us down and we finally got paid. It was a huge job and it would go down in our books as one of the biggest.
Other True Crime Podcast Episodes
True Crime Podcast: Episode 1
True Crime Podcast: Episode 2
True Crime Podcast: Episode 3
True Crime Podcast: Episode 4
True Crime Podcast: Episode 5
True Crime Podcast: Episode 6
True Crime Podcast: Episode 7
True Crime Podcast: Episode 8