True Crime Podcast
What do you get when you combine a 3-story house in a remote mountain community with a dead body that went undiscovered for 6 months? You get this next episode of The Cleaning of John Doe’s true crime podcast. Listen as Vanessa tells you about arguably the biggest decomp she’s ever cleaned. You’ll also hear of how one guy almost managed to end her career in one fell swoop…
PROMO CODE: JOHN
True Crime Podcast Six Months Dead Episode 8
I was contacted by a County Public Administrator’s office and they wanted us to provide a bid for a cleanup on a property they had recently taken possession of. I’m always happy to provide our services so of course we obliged and scheduled a time to meet up with a representative. He explained that since it was a County job, they needed to get multiple bids and they wanted to meet everyone at once. This meant I would be bidding on a job at the same time as some of our competitors.
Most people might think this situation would be a bit intimidating or uncomfortable. I relish these opportunities. I don’t intimidate easily and I like to see how the other guys present themselves – not to toot my own horn or anything, but they usually end up making us look really good.
Now, this may seem like a sidetrack but bear with me. Some time ago, I was contacted by a restoration company who had subbed out a decomp to a competing crime scene cleaning company. Well, I guess she had some concern as to the quality of work or validity of the invoice this company had submitted because she asked me to come out and take a look at it and tell her what I would have charged. I thought it was a great opportunity to see how the “big guys” do their work and how it compares to ours, so I agreed.
I went out to the home and took a look at what they had done. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was the odor. What is commonly known as “dead man odor” is exactly that – the smell of a dead body – and it was very present throughout this home. It was quiet evident that very little, if any, odor remediation steps were taken. I pointed that out right away and added that, had we done the work, there would not have been an odor by the time we were done.
She took me down the hall and evidence of work being done was obvious. I couldn’t see how bad the situation had been prior to the work being done, but it looked to me like that the work they had done had been done well. They had removed a section of the hardwood flooring and the sub-floor as well as a 4-foot long, 10-inch high section wall. This is not uncommon so nothing really caught my attention.
Now, again, I don’t know the extent of the body fluids that had been present nor how far they had actually reached. Based on the work done, I assumed it had badly affected these areas and didn’t think anything of it.
The only thing I really thought was slightly odd was that they had left the remaining wall free-floating without any brace or anything. That’s when she pointed out that the wall was a load-bearing wall. For those of you who may not know, a load bearing wall is load-bearing because it bears the weight of the portion of house above said wall. Luckily it wasn’t a big section of wall and the roof didn’t come crashing down, but, we would have at least braced it until more complete repairs could have been done.
Other than that, I didn’t notice anything unusual or shoddy, I asked if she minded me asking who it was. When she told me everything suddenly made sense. I was familiar with this particular company and I know their practices and their insane pricing schedule. She then asked me what I would have charged to do what they did. I gave her a rough figure and then asked how much these guys had charged. I could see her try to hide her shock, before she could answer, I asked if it was about $30,000 and now there was no hiding her shock, she confirmed that was exactly what they charged. I felt bad for her because I know the feeling of being taken and it’s so upsetting!
Companies like this one prey on their customers who can be in an extremely fragile state of mind due to the tragedy that has just befallen their family. They charge exorbitant fees and file liens on the property if their bill goes unpaid. It’s sickening to me and leaves a stain on my industry as a whole.
I tell you that story as an example of how the other guys make us look good with minimal effort on our part. That’s not to say every crime scene cleaning company other than mine is a bad company because there are quite a few good companies out there, but, unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good in our industry.
So, now back to our main course here: Luckily, the County rep I had spoken to was also familiar with this aforementioned company and did not include them in the bidding process. However, when I pulled up to the property, I saw two other companies there that were not much better. In my head, I knew I had already won the job.
I joined the small group of bidders and introduced myself, shook hands and made nice. The County rep soon joined us and he explained to us that the owner of the property had passed away and, due to the remoteness of the property and lack of family, he was not discovered for about 6 months. The longest decomp I had done to that point was 2 weeks. 6 months?! This was going to be a bad one, for sure.
After briefing us on the scene, we all walked in and, naturally, we all smelled the familiar scent of death and decay. He pointed us to the bathroom where the decedent had been found. I looked into the bathroom door and saw that the entire floor – wall to wall – was covered in a thick layer of body fluids that had turned black. Trails of these fluids were seen climbing the walls from the maggots that were birthed within the remains of the undiscovered corpse.
The house was a 3-story home built on a hillside. This meant that the entrance was on the top story. The bathroom where he had died was also on this floor.
After a body has died and begins to decay, bacteria already present in the body begin to break it down. As it does, it produces gases. These gases build up in the body and it begins to bloat. Since the elasticity of the skin and tissue can only stretch so much, at some point it ruptures and the fluids within begin to seep out. These, like all liquids, obey the law of gravity and will travel the path of least resistance to the lowest point it can go.
Now, anyone familiar with construction knows that rarely, if ever, is there a complete seal on any wall, floor or fixture. Although they may not be visible or obvious, there are always tiny spaces where fluids can get to and through. Some examples are the seam around the base of the toilet, the tiny gap between the floor and the bottom of the baseboard, seams in vinyl or hardwood flooring, etc., etc.
So as the body fluids leaked and spread they found and penetrated every one of these spaces. Being 3-stories up and looking for the lowest common denominator – the ground floor – it traveled in between walls and dripped down through ceilings and continued like this until it got to its destination. It took 6 months for the fluids to get as far as they did. Oooh, boy was this going to be a fun one.
On top of the obviously needed biohazard work, the County wanted any and all valuable possessions loaded and transported to their warehouse where it would eventually be auctioned off and the money used to pay off the decedent’s debts and bills. Everything else would need to be disposed of, and then odor remediation.
At this point, we had a fairly solid idea of the scope of work needed so we all left and were required to mail in our bids in sealed envelopes. Once all the bids were in, they would be opened together and the lowest bidder would get the job. This process helps to avoid any preferential treatment.
I wasn’t at all worried about someone else getting the job because I knew the other companies would overcharge the hell out of it. Sure enough, a week or so later, we got the call that our bid had been accepted and we scheduled to start.
Since this was such a huge job, we had two of our guys on this job with us. While Ethan and I addressed the biohazard, our guys would be loading up the valuable and sellable property into our trailer. This would then be transported and unloaded at their warehouse and then we’d return to trash-out everything else and do our odor treatment. Seemed like an easy enough plan to me. I should mention that one these guys was fairly new and had been hired on at the recommendation of one of our other guys. He’d only been on a handful of jobs but from what I could tell, he worked hard and did well.
During any job for this County, it was required that two County reps be on-site during all work so as to ensure nothing valuable somehow made its way into someone’s pocket. Another side track here, our crew travels to and from the job in our truck. We arrive onsite as a team, work as a team and leave as a team. When we return to the shop we all unload and restock the truck together. – The significance of this will make more sense in a little bit.
Ok – So, when we showed up to start work, we met with the County reps, made introductions and then we got briefed on any item or type of item that was to be saved and loaded into the trailer for transportation. We always try to go above and beyond in everything we do and so, in an effort to stress how honest we were and completely remove any concerns about stealing, we disconnected the trailer and parked the truck in a manner where it was completely visible. So that they could see that everything was making it into the trailer and not in our truck. Once everyone was clear on what we were doing, we got started. The County guys took their position in their folding chairs at the front door, Ethan and I set up our equipment and got to work in the bathroom and our guys started loading up the valuables.
The fluids were thick and when mixed with our chemicals were not fully dry but rather a viscous and tacky consistency. This requirs a lot of scraping and wiping to get the floor clean. This flooring would then have to be removed along with the toilet, baseboards, vanity and portions of every wall. We would have to remove some of the subfloor, too, and then follow the trail all the way down.
By the time lunch rolled around, Ethan and I had the bathroom almost completely demoed. We were content to work through lunch but, again, it was a County job and the reps are required to take a lunch break which meant we couldn’t be there while they weren’t. So, we all decided to take lunch together.
When we came back we resumed our work and after about 30 minutes, one of the guys poked his head in and asked if we had seen Brad – the new guy. He hadn’t been seen since we got back from lunch. We hadn’t seen him and so I left Ethan to work while I tried to help find Brad. It was a big house but it was hardly the kind where someone could get lost and it was out in the middle of nowhere so there wasn’t a whole lot of options for someone go wandering off. How does Brad just done disappear?
Prior to us starting this job, we were told that the water at the property had been shut off and so the toilets didn’t work. Because it was a remote mountain village and this house overlooked nothing but wilderness, they had dug a hole behind a big tree in the backyard and it was christened the bathroom. I, personally wasn’t going to squat over a hole in the ground – I am a lady after all – and would rather hold it until we got back into civilization, but it was good for the boys. Rather than poking my head around the tree to see this guy with his pants around his ankles, I called out for him and, sure enough, he yelled back and said that he was using the restroom – such as it was.
Mystery solved, although it seemed odd that he had been back there for so long and why hadn’t he told anyone where he was going? I shrugged it off and suited up again and helped Ethan with the task at hand.
By the end of the day, we had completely removed the fluid and contaminated materials and fully decontaminated all surfaces. The bathroom was completely demoed. The toilet, flooring, vanity, sections of walls and some of the subfloor had been removed. The walls and ceilings below had all been cut into and removed. It looked like a renovation project when we were done but it was all necessary.
The trailer had been fully loaded and all designated items had been removed and loaded up and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. One more day to trash out everything left behind and some odor remediation and we’d be all set.
As the equipment was being packed and loaded, I was pulled aside by one of the County representatives. He asked me if I had any A/V equipment in my truck like a camera or something. I thought he was asking so that I could take some video or pictures of the job or something. I told him no, but I had a camera on my phone, if that helped. He said that’s fine and then asked if I had any camping gear in my truck. I told him no and started to get very confused as to why he was asking me this. He inquired about a few other items all of which were also negative. I was about to find out why he was asking.
He asked if we could go to the back of my truck and verify that I truly had none of these items in my truck. I began freaking out internally because deep down I knew we were going to find what he had been asking about but didn’t want to believe it. We got to the bed of the truck and I opened the tailgate and saw what I didn’t want to see. There were a couple of bags that had been stuffed with various items all of which contained the very things he had asked me about.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. It was so unexpected that it didn’t even register. I had no idea where it had come from and all I could do was stutter and stammer. He assured me he knew I had nothing to do with it and he wanted to ask just to make sure it really wasn’t our equipment that we had brought to the job before he jumped to conclusions and started making accusations.
He told me he had seen Brad, every now and then throughout the day, come out of the house with something in his hands and, rather than going to the trailer to load it up, he would go to the back of the truck and then back into the house with empty hands.
I want to stress one thing here just to illustrate how stupid this guy was. You have two ex-cops and current County employees sitting directly outside the front door which is the only path to the trailer and truck. Literally every item that came out of the house went by these guys and was observed and noted. Yet, he still thought he could slip some by them and into the truck. Remember my teamwork side track? This is where it comes into play. Even if I hadn’t seen him put it in there, I would have seen it in there or, at the very least, it would have been noticed back at the shop while we were unloading! Don’t you think I would have said something? I can assure you I would have.
I was certainly upset but, mostly, I was disappointed. I liked Brad and he was a hard worker but this was not something that I could forgive and forget. I have zero tolerance for this type of behavior. We had just started working closely with the Public Admin and it was a solid line of work for us. This is company is our blood sweat and tears, we worked so hard on establishing and building a name for ourselves and this punk kid just completely jeopardized it all!
Not only that, but here we are thinking we’re untouchable and making ourselves out to be the best and then one of our guys gets caught stealing on a job. I was so sick to my stomach! My imagination went into overdrive and I saw the smear campaign play out, it was going to make its way through the County offices, eventually onto the internet and we’d be done for good!
I filled Ethan in on what had happened and after I did, we confronted Brad with the County reps and fired him on the spot. He seemed surprised and shocked. He tried to plead and explain it was an honest mistake – he didn’t know these things could be sold or would be wanted. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what the items were at that point, but it didn’t matter. Nobody steals from our customers no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. I told him there was no excuse and it had been made very clear – multiple times – that everything that had any perceived value was to be loaded into the trailer. There was no dibs and nothing was up for grabs. He was sad but he at least understood. I handed the items over to one of the reps and apologized again. I thought that was the end of it. Turns out it wasn’t. It was about to get way worse.
One of the reps then said to Brad, “Tell you what, you can empty your pockets out right here and now or I can get the local police to come up and search you.” Brad was wearing cargo pants and so had lots of pockets to stash small stuff. He made one right decision and unloaded his pockets onto the still open tailgate in front of everyone. Sure enough, he began to pull out more items that he was trying to filch. A gold-plated pen, a small bundle of socks, a flashlight and a few other various items were splayed out before us and my disappointment continued.
He was asked if any of those items were his and all but the socks had been pocketed from the house. He put the socks back in his pocket and then I was asked to search the truck and make sure nothing else had been placed in there. I tore the truck apart and only found another flashlight which I gave back to the rep.
Well, that’s the end of it. I had a thief on staff and I started thinking about how I was going to recover from this – if I could recover at all. Turns out it was not the end of it and we still hadn’t seen the worst of it.
One of the reps asked Brad to put his hands on his head, which he did. After donning a pair of gloves, he held Brad’s hands in place and began searching his pockets just to make sure there really wasn’t any more. Luckily, the only thing he pulled out was the socks he had brought from home.
It’s funny, but I was so flabbergasted that the fact that he had brought a pair of socks to work never struck me as odd.
I rationalized in my own head that he had stinky feet and so brought them so he could change into them if his feet got too bad.
Well, this 30-year police veteran didn’t think the same way I did. As he un wrapped the socks, he asked if there was anything in there that was going to poke or stab him.
“Pssh. No. It’s just an extra pair of socks for his stinky feet” I thought to myself. Luckily, I kept my mouth shut because I would have looked like even more of a fool when Brad answered, “Yes.” As he answered, County rep uncovered a pair of syringes.
Brad was then asked what was in there. “Well, he’s just a diabetic. Right?” I again said to myself. Imagine my shock, horror and surprise when the answer wasn’t “Insulin” but “Heroine.”
If I had been punched in the gut earlier, I was knocked in the head with a 2×4 now. “WHAT?!” Ethan and I said in stereo. “Are you fucking kidding me?” At this point, all thoughts of decorum or professionalism were out the goddamn window. I didn’t care if anyone saw me lose it on this guy because, as far as I was concerned, he had just slit our throats and was unremorsefully watching us bleed out. At this point my company was ruined and Brad got an uncensored earful!
I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said to him at that point but I know that I made it very clear that he had just destroyed us. All of our hard work to not only portray ourselves as the best but also to actually be the best company with the highest standards had just been dashed to pieces in one fell swoop. I was literally shaking with fury and it took everything in me not to strangle him.
Everyone just stood there watching as I unloaded on him. Nobody stepped in to stop me and had I actually made a move to swing at him, I don’t think anyone would have lifted a finger to stop me. Once my piece was said, I immediately turned and confronted our other guy. He had been the one to refer and vouch for this guy. I asked if he knew anything about the drugs or the stealing and he assured me he had no idea. If he had, he wouldn’t have suggested him in a million years.
I turned back around with my arms folded to keep from lunging at Brad and watched as the former cops photographed all the evidence.
As I’ve mentioned, I have never done drugs but from what I know of heroine, it makes you very sleepy. So, why the hell would this guy bring heroine on the jobsite? I thought it would be pretty obvious if you shot up. And don’t you need a spoon and a rubber hose?
I was pondering this as he was made to put his arms out in front of him, palms up. It was very difficult not to see the bright red areas on both of his arms where he had shot up. It made sense what he had actually been doing for almost an hour when he done disappeared earlier. That’s why he didn’t tell anyone he was going to the “bathroom.”
The local police were called and when they showed up, they were informed of the situation and Brad was pulled aside to have his rights read and information taken down.
Luckily, the County reps still seemed friendly enough towards us. I guess my animated invective was sufficient to show that there is no tolerance for that crap and is in no way reflective of my company.
Brad was still being confronted by the local police officer and I asked one of the ex-cops about the heroine. I was told that it wasn’t just heroine, it was also meth. This is how I learned about speed-balling. I guess the combo of the two illegal substances provides the euphoria of heroine with the high of meth all in one.
The local cop finished and I guess, rather than being arrested, Brad was given a citation and a court date. The cop left and Brad trudged back over to my truck. One of the reps told him that he had messed up because it was a long walk home. As pissed as I was and as much as I wanted to throw him off a cliff, I couldn’t do that. I can sound mean and I can puff up quite a bit but really, I’m a softy. I couldn’t let him walk home despite everything I had just seen. It was an hour and a half drive and it was getting dark. He certainly deserved it, but I just couldn’t.
It was a long and quiet drive home. When I dropped him off at his house, I demanded my uniforms back and once he had retrieved them and handed them over, I just took off without saying a word.
The next day, we were able to finish the job and we got everything fully cleaned up and we took care of the odor. The reps were happy with everything and, despite the fact that this had all happened the day before, it was as if Brad had never existed. It seemed our reputation was miraculously still untarnished.
I’m still upset at Brad for what he did, even to this day. Because he was referred by a good employee, he was given the fast-track to working for us. The only thing in the way of a drug test he had received was “Do you take drugs?” His answer was no but once a few years back, he had taken some old sleeping meds and drove and got a DUI one time. Not great, but I overlooked it because we needed the help and he came with a high recommendation.
After this all went down, I was speaking to a friend of mine who happened to know Brad’s father. She told me what actually had happened with his “sleeping med” incident. It wasn’t sleeping meds – it was heroine. He was passed out in his car, engine running, at a stop sign and the responding officer had to break his window in order to get to him. He had overdosed and almost died. Needless to say, that was the last time I hired someone without a drug test and a background check!
One final thing I will say is that as horrible of a situation as this was, it actually taught me two things. One, it taught me not inflate my cranium too much. No matter how good you think you are, things can happen to bring you crashing down to the earth.
The second thing is that even if you’re not perfect, as long as you strive to be the best, you’ll always be improving. I don’t think I’m untouchable anymore. I’ve had some bumps along the way but I have learned from every one of them and I can only hope that my continued attempts at perfection will serve as an example for the entire industry.
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