True Crime Podcast
This True Crime Podcast turns hoarding in this episode which explores our very first hoarding job. However, it wasn’t like anything you’ve seen on TV or could even imagine. This was the job that presented every possible phobia one could have and it was pretty early on in our career. Were we in over our heads? Take a listen and find out.
True Crime Podcast: The Cat House – Episode 5
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but most crime scene cleaners don’t just clean crime and death scenes. We clean up feces, urine, meth labs and even hoarding. Essentially, if nobody else wants to do it, you call us.
When we first started this endeavor, we focused on what we call blood jobs – suicides, decomps, etc. We did ok but we weren’t getting the amount of business we needed in order to become and remain solvent – we were getting about 1-2 jobs a month. We were far from grounded in the industry – in fact, Ethan still had a 9-5 that we relied heavily on. It was evident that if we were to make it, we couldn’t zero in on one aspect of the business – we needed to drum up some hoarding jobs.
Still new to the world of crime scene cleaning, I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to do a hoarding job. It certainly wasn’t going to be just the two of us on a job like that! So, we set out to hire on some standby workers who weren’t afraid to get dirty – very dirty – and could be on-call.
Neither Ethan nor I had any real HR experience and knew little to nothing about hiring. It didn’t stop us from interviewing people but it was very impromptu and informal. We narrowed it down to a couple of guys and we met them both at Starbucks. Turns out only one of them was the type of person we were looking for. He had a good-paying job but work was inconsistent and he needed some work to fill in the gaps. We both liked him and pretty much hired him on the spot.
We found another guy who had just moved to the area. His wife had a job but he was looking for some work to supplement their income. He turned out to be a great guy, too and he was hired.
Our 2-man company had just doubled! Now, we just needed to get some work in the door to keep them busy. I made some tweaks to our website and posted some ads and crossed my fingers.
When that first hoarding call came in, I could barely contain my excitement. My hard work and hair-pulling had paid off – well at least it got the phone to ring. All I had to do now was close the job. Little did I know that our first hoarding job was going to be a baptism by fire.
Thanks to recent popularity in the subject, many people think they’re no strangers to hoarding. I can promise you, you have not seen anything like this one on any TV screen and would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely close to it.
The caller said he had a problem with cats and my heart sank. I was 5 months pregnant with my first daughter. Pregnancy plus cats can equal toxoplasmosis. Cats. Why did it have to be cats?
But, I couldn’t let this one just slip away. We’re trained for this type of thing and I decided I would have to content myself with supervising from a distance and in full PPE. So, I went ahead a scheduled an estimate for the weekend so Ethan could be there, too.
When the day came, we pulled up the house at the designated time. It looked just like any other house on the quiet cul-de-sac. Any shades, curtains or blinds this house were closed tight. Other than some peeling paint on the exterior, the house, at first glance didn’t give any clue to the dirty secret held within. We got out of the car and approached the house with a smile on our faces.
Before we even had a chance to get to the doorstep, the customer came out and closed the door behind him. We could tell he had been watching for us. He greeted us without shaking our hand and made sure that we were who we said we were. He wanted to make sure that we weren’t with the Health Department or Animal Control. We assured him we weren’t and we were just there to assess the scope of work and give him an estimate on what it’s going to take to help him out.
He led us up to the house and when he opened the door, we were blasted in the face with the fierce stench of smelled like ammonia – it was actually cat piss. We took a few steps back and, somehow maintaining our composure, as politely as possible, we put on our respirators before following him in.
As we stepped over the threshold, the source of the overpowering odor was immediately evident – every surface was covered in cat urine, cat hair, spider webs and other grime and filth. The ceilings were literally draped with spider webs so thick, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Indiana Jones walk out clutching a golden cat idol he had acquired from the spooky depths of this nightmarish house.
As our customer led us through the house, he explained that he and his girlfriend had broken up a year ago and he had moved out and let her stay.
Apparently she was the perpetrator and he only recently retook the house and found it in this condition, infested with over 70 cats. However, his lack of a respirator and seeming comfort in this chaos, my husband and I shared our doubts about his story but said nothing.
As a result of the deplorable condition of the house, the Health Department was down his throat to get it cleaned up or else they would condemn the house – which explained his hesitation on letting us in. He explained further that he had successfully gotten rid of all of the cats – except for the 4 that were his – and had another company come out give him an estimate and the guy had only poked his head in and told him just get some laborers from a Home Depot parking lot and didn’t even provide a bid. Our heads swelled a bit with the pride that we had the courage to tackle this job when the quote unquote “experienced professionals” didn’t. We should have taken the queue from our predecessor and followed suit. But, no. This was going to be the first job that would set us apart from and above the competition.
Immediately off of the living room was the hallway that led to the home’s two bedrooms. There was no carpet in the hallway – as far as I could tell, there was no floor – it was nothing but cat feces. Although we had shoe covers on, we were still hesitant to walk over it, but we had an estimate to do. Both bedrooms and the one bathroom looked like the living room in that all of the furniture, floor and walls were covered in filth and cobwebs.
The kitchen was the same. The dining room was the same. The den was the same. It all looked the same until we got to the sun room.
The spider webs were still pretty bad – they hung from the ceiling like overdone Halloween decorations. The main difference was that this wasn’t so much as sun room as it was a cat room. I know the entire house was a cat house but this room seemed to have intended to be set aside for the cats. The walls were lined with cat trees and various cat toys were scattered throughout the room. The floor was literally littered with litter boxes (say that 3 times fast).
He explained that he, or rather his “girlfriend,” would put down a litter box, the cats would fill it, and she wouldn’t empty it – she would just put a new box next to it. Then that would get full and she’d put another one next to that one. At some point, there was no more room for litter boxes so she we would start double-stacking the boxes. Then triple-stacking. And even quadruple-stacking! I was starting to wonder if we weren’t in over our heads afterall…
Despite the entire tour, we were only in the house for 2 minutes. I don’t know that I could have lasted in there any longer than that. Even with the respirator, the smell of ammonia was burning my nostrils and my eyes were watering. I later discovered I grabbed the wrong respirator and this one was missing filters – oops!
We stepped outside and told him we would get an estimate put together for him and we’d e-mail it to him. He thanked us and we headed to our car. In my head I was thinking about what a sad situation it was. It didn’t matter if it really was his ex or if it was in fact him who had gotten into this situation – this guy still needed help and it seemed that we really were the only ones willing to help. This, however, did not stop me from losing it when we got in the car.
“Holy SHIT! What the hell was that?! Oh, my GOD!” We were laughing at how insurmountable this job was going to be. Abruptly, our laughing stopped and we looked at each other. We had both realized that in less than 2 minutes of being inside this house, we smelled as if we had been in the house for days.
I think this is a good spot to mention that this house was located over an hour away from our home. There was NO in hell way we could endure that distance smelling the way we did. We weren’t about to drive home naked so we decided to go to a nearby Target and pick up some new clothes. We rolled the windows down, stuck our heads out and floored it.
We screeched into a parking space and power walked into the store and went to our respective clothing departments. In what seemed like seconds, we met back up, each with an entire outfit in hand, and headed to the checkout counters.
I swear that Fate was against us because every lane that had a cashier had a line of about 15-20 people. You’d think it was Black Friday or something! We headed to the express lane hoping it would move faster. After what seemed like an eternity, we moved forward once. I could tell Ethan wasn’t happy and I was sure that was contemplating divorce.
But, he was actually devising a plan which he quickly enacted. He moved within inches of the person in front of him. The poor man turned and scrunched his face in disgust, then frantically turned forward to see what the hold-up was. He then tried to move away from my husband but Ethan didn’t let up. With a shit-eating grin of his face, Ethan clung to him like a barnacle and after a few more seconds, the guy left to stand in another slow moving line and we stepped forward. Success! This was then executed with the same tenacity with the next person. And the next and so on and so on until we very quickly arrived at the front of the line.
Saying little and paying quickly we headed into the bathroom and changed into our new clothes. We didn’t even bother to attempt to save the old ones – we simply canned that shit, and got back into the car. Thankfully, the car hadn’t retained the smell the same way our clothes had.
They say that The Universe won’t give you more than you can handle – but I started to question that idea when the client accepted our bid. I felt like Fate was having quite the laugh at my expense.
Truthfully, although we dreaded going back to this house, we were excited about getting our first hoarding job. We decided to suck it up and tough it out.
We alerted our newly acquired crew – one of which was the first guy who had approached us for work – and gave them the job details. On the day of the job, I gave them their respirators and I sent them into the house. Despite my respirator, I wasn’t unable to stay in the house for very long – as bad as I wanted the job, I wasn’t going to risk my baby.
Our customer wanted everything gone. All the trash, the furniture – basically everything that wasn’t bolted or nailed down. So we started in the living room and worked our way through the kitchen and into the sun room. This last proved to be quite the challenge.
That cruel bitch, Fate, was messing with us again on our first day of the job – it was recorded as the hottest day of the year that day and we felt every sweat-sucking degree. So, that was fun.
Anyway, the poor guys’ respirators were getting clogged from the sweat and they finally gave up and resorted to bandanas. They did little to nothing to keep the smell down but it did keep the dust and debris out of their mouths. I can still hear their gags and coughing and it still makes me laugh.
A major part of the challenge of the sun room was these cat trees. No exaggeration here when I tell you there were about 50 of them!! Oh – yeah, remember the cobwebs I mentioned during the estimate? Well, turns out they weren’t cobwebs at all. They were active spider webs! Spider webs belonging to black widows. Throughout the cleanout process black widows and daddy long legs would hitch a ride on our heads, shoulders and backs. It was not an uncommon sight to see someone flicking a spider off of someone else or themselves. If we got points for the number of spiders flicked, we would have the high score!
Back to the cat-tress! In an effort to fit as many as possible into the dumpster, we had to break them down. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to destroy one of these things, but it’s not easy. Not one of our guys was a wimpy little weakling. They were all in their prime and in great shape. Each of them struggled to break these things down.
They started with hammers, thinking the bases and branches would come apart easily. They had to switch to sledge hammers. This was an improvement but swinging sledgehammers on a blisteringly hot day barely being able to breathe was no easy task. So I went and bough a sawzall with some demolition blades. These things would cut through anything! Anything except a urine-soaked cat tree, that is. Somehow these blades dulled almost instantly.
At this point, we were going to spend an entire day on cat trees and would put us significantly behind schedule. I couldn’t have that because it meant an extra day at this place. So I went and got what I thought would be the final solution – a chainsaw. After the chain kept getting stuck on the carpet and slipping off, everyone was getting miserably frustrated. I decided to just have them chuck them as they were. I would accept the additional cost for another dumpster if it meant we could be done with this job even one hour sooner.
By the time we had the cat trees out and the curtains of web removed, it was lunch. I had the boys stay there while I went and picked up some food. I wanted something quick and easy so I went to a sandwich shop around the corner.
When I returned, I realized that by kicking up all of the dust and debris and putting the contaminated trash and furniture into the dumpster, the odor was no longer contained inside the house. You could smell it from the sidewalk on the other side of the street! Despite the fact that the guys had accepted and embraced the odor, it was still difficult to eat in immediate proximity to the house so we went down the street a bit and ate al fresco on the sidewalk. Regardless of being sweaty, covered in dust, hair and God-knows-what, they somehow managed to eat. I think they were just thankful for the break, honestly.
One of the lucky guys hired to do this job was very sweet. He never said anything derogatory about our client, never complained and never worked without a smile. He was sitting with his legs crossed and happily eating his sandwich when an innocuous piece of lettuce fell out of his sandwich and landed on his pant leg. Without thinking and wasting no time at all, he picked it up and popped it into his mouth. We all froze and stared in horror as we watched what he had just done. It took him only a second to join us in disgust as he realized where that morsel had just been. Amazingly, he managed not to vomit and finished the rest of his sandwich to the sounds of our laughter.
I know I’ve painted quite the gloomy picture, but realize that the only way we could make it through this job was either laugh or cry. Having to deal with grief much too often in our line of work, we chose to take the opportunity to laugh. Yeah, it was disgusting and we prayed he didn’t contract anything but – in the moment, after everything we had been through already and the huge task still before us – it was pretty damn funny.
By the end of day one, we had cleared everything except for the hallway and bedrooms. So, on day two, I had them start in the hallway. Now, if you remember, this is the same hallway that was floored with cat feces. Well, it turns out this bit of fecal matter was literally petrified and, even with heavy-duty floor scrapers, it was very slow going. It was like chipping away at concrete with an ice pick, but we managed to get to the bottom of it in one spot and we found that there actually was carpet underneath all that filth. The guys were able to get one edge of it up and managed to roll it all up like a giant carpet and cat shit burrito. Finally, something on this job started to go our way. Here is where I say fuck Murphy and his stupid law.
At the start of this job, our client informed us that the cats he had kept were locked up in one of the bedrooms and it was vital that we be sure not to let them out. No problem, we thought. It actually was a problem, apparently, because, despite explicit instructions, someone opened the bedroom door at the same time the front door was being opened. One cat saw his chance and bolted. Out the bedroom and out the front door and into the bushes. Well, you would have thought someone had gutted a child over a burning pentagram by the scream that ensued from our client.
I was down the driveway at our car drinking some water when I heard, “VANESAAAAA!” Nearly choking, I waddle-ran back to the house to see what had happened.
“My cat! My cat! He’s gone! They let him OUT! Why would they do that? I told them NOT to do THAT!” He was in a frenzy and seemed very close to a mental breakdown – no exaggeration.
I was able to calm him down a bit and have him explain what had happened while everyone else stood there in shocked silence. As it turns out, that whole bit about a cat getting out had not happened at all. All cats were present and accounted for.
What had actually happened is that one the many doors that was supposed to have remained closed while a series of other doors were open had been left open. That’s all. No cat ran out of the bedroom, let alone the house. All was well and he apologized and they crew got back to work, only much more careful about which doors were open, when.
Lunch time on day 2 came and the boys wanted Mexican food. Before I left, I decided to ask our customer if he would like some. He thanked me and said sure.
When I returned, I handed him his food and figured he would have joined us across the street, but I was wrong. It was at this point I almost lost my appetite and confirmed my initial suspicion that he was the culprit and not his girlfriend.
My 1st clue should have been that he was barefoot. In a house that is literally coated with urine and cockroaches and spider webs and feces, he’s walking around barefoot?
Anyway – With his lunch in hand, he bent down to pick something up. However this something had a piece of cat poop on it. He picked up the poop – and tossed it aside – with no gloves on and no source of soap or even water in the house – and then moved into the bedroom to eat his lunch in solitude. I swear I am not making any of this up.
Silently disgusted but still hungry, I joined the boys across the street. The heat, the smell, the cat skeletons…it was all starting to wear on the team but somehow they managed to hang in there and keep going.
I suspect that the humor we encountered somehow managed to at least balance, if not outweigh, the horrors we were subjected to.
One such instance happened while I stood outside. I looked up the street and saw a cute, bubbly, nicely dressed lady walking in our direction with a big smile on her face. She was leading a happy couple down the street. Remembering that the house next door was for sale I realized this must be the realtor and her prospective buyers. Not a good week to show this house, sweetheart! This house and our client’s house happened to share a driveway and their front doors faced each other. This meant that anyone seeking to get into the front door of this other house, they would have to walk by a giant purple dumpster full of the most foul-smelling materials I have ever dealt with.
As they approached the house next door, the smiles faltered and were replaced by scrunched faces and covered noses. Each step toward the house was followed by the next more and more quickly. With a look of horror on her face, there was an audible “Oh, my god! Come on! Quick!” she started jogging toward the house while physically ushering the confused couple to the front door.
She fumbled for the keys but, in her haste, she couldn’t find the right one. If one were to observe this lady without the context, you may think she had to pee real bad. She urgently hopped from foot to foot and kept looking to make sure her clients hadn’t run off.
She finally located the right key and threw open the door. She quickly ushered the couple into the house and slammed the door. I struggled to contain my laughter at the event unfolding in front of me. But I failed miserably! I was the one who had to pee – literally. I was buckled over on the front lawn of my client’s house grabbing my crotch. I was laughing hysterically. I had tears streaming down my face. Fortunately, the client was inside finishing up his burrito and didn’t see me involuntarily acting the fool.
The end of the trash-out was approaching and the client asked if we would do cleaning. He said he’d pay extra and without thinking, the word “SURE!” came flying out of my mouth. If only life had a “Ctrl-Z.” But, no. It doesn’t and I couldn’t think of a way to back peddle and so committed.
My boys were working very hard and they hid it pretty well but I could tell this job was starting to wear on them. The level of filth throughout this house was more than my team could tackle in any reasonable amount of time. So, I decided to call in the cavalry.
As you know, I had worked as the manager of a janitorial company and in doing so became pretty good friends with some of the cleaning crews. I reached out to one my really good friends and explained my situation to him. He was very happy to hear that my business was doing well and was eager to help out in any way he could.
He just needed to see the job first, get an idea of what he’d be dealing with and figure out how many people he would need. When we arrived, he apparently didn’t fully appreciate the situation I had relayed to him. He was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. He assured me it wasn’t a problem. “Nessi, it’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” he told me. I told him it most certainly was not ok and he needed a mask, which I tried to hand him, but he still refused and was not phased. I conceded and opened up the front door.
When the door closed behind us, he realized that I was not lying nor exaggerating. He immediately scrunched his face and covered his nose with his shirt. He gasped! “Oh my God, Nessi!” I can’t tell you if it was the glee of insanity I was approaching or if it was really as funny as I thought was but once again, couldn’t contain my laughter! I still had to pee and, being pregnant, and laughing, I am amazed that I managed to not pee all over the floor – as if it would have made anything any worse. But I was doubled over in laughter and holding my crotch, crossing my legs with tears streaming down my face, and snot filling up my respirator. I couldn’t pull it together! My buddy, Nacho, didn’t find it funny! He was horrified!!! And to be honest – he looked pretty angry at me!
He didn’t bother walking through the entire house – he quickly glanced around before exiting. When he stepped outside I could tell he stayed in there as long as he could hold his breath. Once outside breathed in deeply and started to gag.
He parked down the street and was in a mad sprint toward his truck, he took a second to clear his lungs and prevent further gagging and then he reached into his truck and began spraying his whole body with Lysol, which only made me laugh harder.
I couldn’t believe it but he was still willing to help me out. He gave me a crew of 5 people and they worked tirelessly for 3 days straight. Scrubbing and wiping walls, ceilings, counters, floors and doors. I realized that we were never going to be done with this job, so I jumped in and spent the next 3 days scrubbing with them.
I still have no idea how we pulled it off but when we were done, it was a completely different house. The walls were white. The counters were clear. The hardwood floors were stained but still shiny. The odor was still detectable but you could walk in and through the house without the need for a respirator. It was quite the transformation.
As we were about to pack up, he asked about the garage. The garage!? We hadn’t even looked in the garage up to this point. I almost started crying. But being the people pleaser that I am! I held it together and had him lead the way. When the door was opened, there wasn’t really a whole lot in there. There were a few stacks of boxes, papers and the like (surprisingly not covered in cat urine), but there was one section of the garage that was free of clutter but the space was occupied. It was occupied by a bed and a variety of other things that indicated someone had a very interesting sex life.
If it were any other day on any other job, I might have been taken aback. I may have gawked or not, it’s hard to say. All I can say is that after everything we had been through on this job, this was nothing. It was all in plain sight, so when I saw it I was expecting some sort of reaction or at least a mention of it from the customer. I mean, I’m not saying he should have been embarrassed or anything – to each his own, in my book – but some sort of “Oh, yeah, that. Don’t worry about those things,” or something, right?
But, no. He glossed over it as we stood there and behaved as though it came standard with every garage. Maybe he was embarrassed but chose to ignore it to avoid further embarrassment. In any event, we cleared out the items he needed gone and I was not sad to see that door close. We drove away from the house with a gamut of emotions. We were relieved to be away from there. Excited that we had done it. Amazed at everything we had seen. Disgusted at how we smelled. But there was an overall sense of accomplishment.
This small ragtag team of noobs had achieved the impossible and if we could do that, we could do anything!
One more thing I want to add here as an epilogue of sorts:
Nate – the guy who had sought us out when we first started and managed to get us in front of the Coroner’s Office – had borrowed his dad’s work truck for the time that he worked for us on this job. It had compartments on both sides of the bed for various tools and whatnot. Nate used one of these compartments to put his work boots in so he didn’t wear them inside of the truck.
After the job, he had put his boots in there like every day and drove home. I guess exhaustion took its toll because when he got home, rather than cleaning or throwing away his boots, he forgot about them and left them in their compartment for a couple of days. He finally remembered them and realized there was no hope and threw them away. One thing he didn’t do is clean that compartment.
A week or so later, after having his work truck returned, Nate’s dad went to retrieve something from said compartment. Boom! Cat smell to the face followed by instant vomit and revoking of any and all rights to the truck forever.
I laughed as he told me this story. It was funny but I also felt like at least someone could appreciate what we went through on that job.
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 6
True Crime Podcast: Episode 7
True Crime Podcast: Episode 8