True Crime Podcast
When modern science fails to find a cure for one man’s debilitating ailment, he is forced to make the ultimate decision with fatal consequences. Another finds herself in a similar boat – dying slowly and painfully or going out on her own terms. What would you do? This episode will test your judgement and show you inside one of life’s most difficult choices and some of the different consequences they can leave in their wake. The Cleaning of John Doe’s True Crime podcast continues.
True Crime Podcast Pain Killer Epi. 6
When you’re a crime scene cleaner, there may be days between jobs. Sometimes it’s many days, sometimes few. It’s hard to predict when tragedy will strike and so you have to be ready for it at any time. But when you start the day with nothing on the books, it’s easy to stress about where the next paycheck is coming from. This particular day was one of those days.
I awoke like any other – poured some coffee, got the kids up, dressed and out the door to school and sat down at my desk and wondered how I was going to get some jobs on the board. Luckily, that problem was about to be solved by the ol’ Grim Reaper himself.
The phone rang and I quickly answered it. The caller was an elderly gentleman and informed me that his wife had committed suicide and he needed our services. I told him not to worry and we were on our way. After I hung up the phone, I told Ethan we had a job and we quickly contacted a babysitter to pick up the kids from school in case we weren’t back in time. We got in the truck and headed to the job.
We were greeted by the man who had called us. He was understandably not very talkative and quietly led us to the back bedroom. There was a trail of blood drops down the length of the hallway – which is not a typical sight on a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Usually, it’s a one-and-done kind of situation. We noted it and continued to the bedroom, where we were introduced to what was left of this poor guy’s better half of over 40 years.
The moderate puddle of blood and lack of spatter on the walls immediately told us that the caliber of gun that was used wasn’t very large.
Lying in the middle of the puddle was an oxygen mask and tube running to a tank sitting next to the bed.
We told him to go have a seat in the living room and we’d take care of everything. He said ok and quietly left us to our work. But he didn’t stay away long. After a few minutes, he stood in the doorway watching for a moment and then began asking us questions about our procedure, how did we get into the business, etc. I’m very aware of how uncommon our industry is to most people, but it never ceases to amaze me how someone who has just suffered such a tragic loss can be so curious at a time like that. I suppose it’s something to take your mind off of the situation.
We answered his questions and tried not to engage too much in conversation. I’ve seen similar times where someone would talk as if nothing had happened and then suddenly burst into tears. This creates a conflict for me because it makes me want to throw an arm around their shoulders and comfort them. But my training has taught me not to. As much as I may be helping them in their time of need, I’m not the right person to console them. We’re just there to do a job and leave them to their grieving and healing.
That being said, if any of our clients wants to talk to us while we work, we’re not going to clam up and ignore them, which turned out to be good because this was one of those guys who wanted to talk.
After we answered his questions, he, like most, told us the story of what happened. It wasn’t a long story so I won’t try to pretty it up for you here. In fact, it was surprisingly short and yet said so much at the same time.
His wife had been diagnosed with cancer some time ago. Despite treatment, she didn’t respond and it developed into Stage 4, which is the “wrap up all of your affairs” stage. At this time, professionally-assisted suicide was still illegal in California. So, when the pain and misery got to be too much to bear, she decided to assist herself.
Now, I’m not one for controversy and drama, so I won’t really get into the rightness or wrongness of her decision. I will say, that I understood her decision and, having learned that, I got why he was not as despondent as one would expect. He went beyond just telling us this story and being nice. He very quickly started joking with us and telling us stories about how she used to get on his case about one thing or another.
Despite my training and best efforts, I found myself laughing along with him at some of his anecdotes. You could tell he had loved her and missed her greatly already, but you could also see that he was happy his wife’s suffering had finally ended. Whatever you may believe about what happens after this life, it has to be better than going through what she had been. At least, I hope it is.
He seemed comforted by our laughter and returned to the living room as we completed our clean-up, which was mostly cutting out and disposing of carpet.
It’s strange to me that sometimes something so typically tragic can be cleaned up so quickly and easily.
We found ourselves on the road home after a fairly short clean-up and cancelled the babysitter as we would be home in time to pick up the kids.
Now, before I go on, I want to tell you a bit of an oddity about our business. I have no idea if anyone else in any other industry experiences this, or even if other crime scene cleaners do, but for us, it is a maxim that all of our jobs come in twos.
For example, we’ll get a decomp where the decedent was an elderly woman who passed away in her sleep and was discovered relatively quickly so there wasn’t a whole lot of body fluids to be cleaned up. Within the next week or so – usually within 3-4 days – we’ll get another decomp where the decedent was an elderly gentleman who passed away in his sleep and was discovered relatively quickly so there wasn’t a whole lot of fluids to be cleaned up. You see? There’s always one significant detail or circumstance that is or is nearly identical to the first. The few exceptions to this rule are usually homicides or rifle suicides – those come in singularly – but for the most part, it has held true for us.
That was a real example. Now, please pardon the tangent here, but when we responded to the second of the two decomps, we met his middle-aged daughter on scene.
According to her, she had not spoken to her father in over 4 years because of some fight they had about something she couldn’t even remember. And now, it was too late for her to make up with him. She would never have the chance to share another laugh with him. She would never again hear him tell a story he had told a hundred times before. She would never get the chance to say she was sorry.
I only bring this up because the first guy I told you about today had the chance to make his peace with his wife. He would always miss her but she had left him without any unanswered questions or unspoken truths. This other lady would never get that and it was over something so stupid she couldn’t even remember what it was. I guess my point is, life is long until it ends and only then do you realize how short it really is. It’s far too short to hold on to senseless disagreements. So, make your peace with those who love you now and live the rest of your life continuing it. Trust me. In this job, you see all kinds of pain and heartache and one of the most tragic is the regret of not having been able to say you’re sorry.
Anyway, to prove what I said earlier, shortly before we got home, I got another call for a suicide. The lady on the phone informed us that her husband had shot himself and they needed our services. I know it seems like a bit of a stretch to connect these two as I described, but stay with me.
We called the babysitter and luckily she was still available and was understanding of our situation and we re-routed to our second job of the day.
We arrived on scene in a familiar area. We were met by the woman who had called us and she led us into the house. We walked past a group of solemn and grieving family members gathered in the living room. As we approached a door, she stepped aside and pointed to it. Taking our queue, we opened the door.
We found ourselves in a bedroom. Nothing was amiss, or seemingly out of place. There were no clothes piled on the floor, no trash overflowing the trash can, the bed was made – it was picture perfect. However, once I stepped into the bedroom and saw the bathroom within, I saw why we were needed.
Immediately inside the bathroom door was a floor vent. Seeping into that floor vent was a large puddle of congealed blood so bright red it almost seemed fake. Darker red spattered the walls and ceiling and, of course, there was the glue-like substance that was his brain sprinkled throughout. The scene was still fresh so the metal scent of blood was heavy in the air.
After we got set-up, I noticed that not all was fine in the bedroom. There was a slight mist of blood on the bed and the carpet outside of the bathroom. We removed the comforter and contaminated section of carpet and then moved into the bathroom. The first step was to spread an absorbent onto the areas of the floor thick with blood. This would allow us to easily remove the blood that hadn’t yet dried.
At some point while we were working, the bedroom door opened and there stood a man. He was curious to see how our job was done. He didn’t ask to stay and watch but did so just the same. I understood the curiosity, but couldn’t see how anyone could watch the last remains of a family member being wiped off of the walls. However, he didn’t seem affected by it. There were no red rimmed eyes, no fistful of tissues or hiccups in his voice.
A funny thing about death is that everybody grieves differently. Often there’s tears and tissues. But I have seen the polar opposite. I’ve seen family gathered in the living room and throwing back beers, laughing and telling jokes as if it’s a Friday night like any other. The first time I saw it, I was taken aback. How could someone be so joyous in the face of death? Then I realized that they weren’t reveling in the person’s death. They were celebrating the person’s life.
It’s not my place to judge, but in a world where we are told sadness is a mental disorder, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to celebrate someone who has passed. Not that that they are now gone, but that we had the chance to know and be with them. Just a thought.
Anyway, I felt it would be rude to tell him to get out and, who knows? If it turned out to be therapeutic for him, it would be the second time today. It’s surprisingly rewarding to help those in need. I didn’t say anything, but he took my silence as consent, I suppose, and he watched us work for a while. He asked a couple of simple questions while we were cleaning and I obliged him with simple answers.
Once his questions were spent, he started to give answers – answers to my questions I hadn’t asked – and told us the story of what happened.
The victim was an older gentleman – on the cusp of his twilight years. From the time he was a teenager, he suffered headaches – mind numbing migraines. They weren’t constant but they were consistent.
As time went on, they got worse. He went to a doctor and was given every prescription under the sun, moon and stars – ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Vicodin, OxyContin – nothing helped. They got so bad that he was eventually prescribed morphine – which just made them even worse. X-rays and CAT scans were done and all found nothing.
At that point, the headaches just became something he lived with. When they came on, he went down and didn’t come up until it was gone. Sometimes, it was months between headaches. Other times it was days.
Towards the end, the headaches became more and more frequent. His family got worried that he would take drastic measures to end these headaches. They took away his two guns and removed them from the house.
Some more time passed with more headaches. Finally, he could stand it no more. One of his sons was home with him and he called his mother to say he was worried about him. This headache seemed different. Dad was pacing back and forth and was deliriously trying to plead with the headache to just go away.
His mother reassured him that the guns were out of the house but that she would be home as soon as she could. Unfortunately, she was wrong. Not all the guns were out of the house. He had one gun nobody knew about hidden somewhere in his bedroom. He closed the bedroom door, went into the bathroom and took the one pill that would finally make the headaches go away for good.
As a kid I’d got headaches often and my parents were completely against drugs, including over the counter pain relief. My only option was to put a cool washcloth on my head and lay down. I remember one year, it was Halloween and I was at a friend’s house with a bunch of other kids and we were passing time until it got dark. My head started to hurt and it progressively got worse. I asked my friends mom for a washcloth and a place to lay down. She told to lie down on the sofa. The pain got so bad, that the noise from the others kids excitement, the light, the smells of my costume, face makeup, and what-not all made me cry. The more I cried the worse my head hurt. I begged the lady to call my mom. My mom didn’t believe that I was going to miss Halloween, since it was my favorite. But she picked me up and brought me home where I slept it off with my head sandwiched between 2 pillows.
Getting back on track, suicide is a subject we encounter often. Until today, I had never seen a situation where it was understandable. Today was two separate incidents that put me on the fence. On one hand, I have had migraines and as mentioned, they’re debilitating. It feels like a thousand white hot nails piercing your brain. I can’t imagine living as long as he did with headaches as bad as they seemed.
On the other hand…I’m not sure I even have an “other hand.” What do you do in that situation? When every marvel of modern medical science fails to yield any answers to excruciating and inexplicable pain, is it really fair for us to tell them that they have to live with it? I’m not here to start a philosophical or ethical debate; I’m only saying that I understand why he did it and that if it were me, I may just have made the same decision. I always try to see every viewpoint involved, not just my own. Sometimes it’s really hard and, in situations like these, I’m thankful that I’m not standing in my client’s shoes. I really don’t know how I would deal with it. I’m sure the family understood that he didn’t do this out of anger or upset; he wasn’t intoxicated; he hadn’t done it to make anyone wrong. He just needed to end his incessant pain – but it doesn’t change the fact they lost someone near and dear to them. I genuinely wish I could say the right thing to make their pain go away. But I’d only be reiterating what they already know, and sometimes just listening is better than anything I could ever say.
So I offered my condolences, for what they’re worth, and after a few more moments, he returned to the living room.
We quietly and quickly continued our job and once the floor was clean, we needed to see how badly the floor vent had been contaminated. It was pretty bad. It was evident that when he fell, his head landed right next to the vent. Due to the newest hole in his head, he bled out almost directly into the vent.
In order to determine how far back the blood went, I removed the cover and reached my double-gloved hand into the vent. More blood than I had expected had made its way into the vent. My hand went almost wrist-deep into a large mass of gelatinous blood. It was like sticking your hand into a bowl of pudding. However, despite the amount in the vent, it hadn’t traveled far in the vent and we were able to extract and clean it without having to cut into the floor or vent.
Apparently our earlier observer’s curiosity was contagious as his departure was soon followed by the entrance of the deceased’s son. He was in his 20s if I had to guess, when he opened the door, he stopped and stared in what appeared to be an angry silence. He had walked in right as I was removing my very blood stained top glove and when I saw the look on his face, I felt like he was going to make a move and attack me. He knew I had nothing to do with his father’s death, but the look on his face said someone was responsible and I was the one in his sights.
Luckily, his mother came in right behind him and tried to gently guide her son out of the room and in doing so, his silence finally broke. He shook his mother’s hands off of him and started sobbing. He yelled through his tears, “Why?! Why did he have to do this?!” His mother hugged him and as she led him out of the room looked at me and mouthed an apology, although no apology was needed.
These are the times that are most challenging for us. It’s not the blood, the brains and skull fragments embedded in the wall. It’s not the rotten odor of a decomposing body or feces smeared on the floor. It’s the raw, uncensored and unscripted human emotion that is invoked in the wake of death. We realized that at this point, we needed to be done and gone. Not for our sake but for the family’s. We closed the door to the bedroom and completed our work.
So, now do you see the similarities between the two jobs? Two completely different people suffering unimaginable and incurable pain who decided they had had enough and do what was necessary to end the pain once and for all.
I won’t tell you what to think. Since you’re doing the listening, I will tell you that I can’t blame either one of them for the choices they made. Sure it’s sad and it’s heartbreaking that there was no known way to help them. But, nobody really knows what they would do until they find themselves in that position.
I don’t tell you this story to make you question your thoughts about suicide. The truth is that the majority of people who commit suicide – or are even considering it – all have one thing in common: they need help. The type of help may differ from person to person but the fact that they are in need remains constant. Unfortunately, as you’ve just heard, that help may be unattainable for some, but that shouldn’t prevent us from doing everything we can to try.
You guys have followed with me for a little while and I hope I have conveyed my experiences in a manner that shows you all aspects of the industry, but there are some who have tried to discredit my entire industry and claim that it’s a scam or some sort of rip-off. I realize that these people haven’t taken one step in my shoes and I quietly laugh them off. They have never had to see their family member’s blood and brains splayed across a wall. They’ve never had to return from a business trip only to be met with the fetid stench of death and their spouse’s lifeless corpse in their marital bed. I don’t wish it on them, but I know that if ever they do need someone like me, they’re quickly going to learn the taste of crow. If my job were easy, it wouldn’t be a job and the turnover in the industry wouldn’t be as high as it is. Many think they can, but few actually can walk in Death’s wake.
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 7
True Crime Podcast: Episode 8