True Crime Podcast
This episode of the Cleaning of John Doe sounds like a Hollywood movie, but be assured that every detail is as it happened or was relayed to us. When one woman does what needs to be done to protect her grandchildren, she had no idea that would lead her down a path of betrayal and bring her to the very threshold of death. Listen as our host takes on you on the most surprising job of her career. And how she almost became a victim herself…
True Crime Podcast The Bludgeoning Episode 10
Most people are interested in my job. Very rare is the person who isn’t surprised or amazed at hearing what we do. But, having been in the business for so long – I don’t want to say it’s lost its appeal because I love what I do, but it has become – for the most part – a bit mundane. It’s certainly not a boring job but after a while, everything – the blood, the tears, the smells – all tend to run together.
That being said, this particular day was anything but mundane. Sometimes, we’ll get a huge chunk of work where the phone hardly seems to stop ringing and we’re spending day after day up to our elbows in blood, death and filth. This was one of those days and not only would it be a long one, it would be one we would never forget.
Early one morning, in the fall of 2010, we were in bed when a call came in. An elderly man had passed away in his home of natural causes and went undiscovered for about 4-7 days, according to the Coroner. The caller said she would give us a call back shortly to schedule after speaking with her husband.
An hour or so had passed and we hadn’t heard back, so I went about my plans and headed out to get my hair done. I got a bit worried that she would call right in the middle of my appointment and I’d have to make her wait, so I decided to call her back to see if they wanted someone out there that day or if they were looking to schedule for another day.
She thanked me for calling back and said that her husband had spoken to some other company and they were already on the way, but they couldn’t be there until noon. She said, she really liked me and asked if I could get there before noon? I told her I could be there at 11am, but assured her that she was in good hands with the other company. She told me that she really liked me and wanted us to do the work and then gave me the address.
I was already half way to the job site so I continued on (I keep a spare uniform in my car for times like these). I called Ethan, asked him to load up and meet me out there. As I was on my way to the job, my phone rang. It was another lady who needed our services. She informed me that her friend and neighbor had been violently beaten within an inch of her life and she needed to get it cleaned up.
Now, at this point in time, we were well beyond having gotten our feet wet in the industry and we had certainly made a name for ourselves, but still hadn’t done it all. One of those things we hadn’t done was a bludgeoning. I was so concerned with the decomp and I didn’t think there could be enough blood to make this beating worth attempting to reschedule the job we were headed to. (See? That’s another example of the business mindset side of crime scene cleaning). But, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to help people – even when we can’t help them directly.
So when the lady called about the beating, I regretfully informed her that I was deeply sorry but we were en route to a job that would take a good portion of the day (if not all of it) and we wouldn’t be able to get to her job until later that evening. I secretly hoped she wanted to wait for us but I didn’t really expect her to wait all day. As expected, she wasn’t so keen on the idea of waiting for us, she really wanted it done quickly. I felt bad for accidentally taking this decomp from the other company so, I decided I would give back to them and I gave her their number, they are a reputable company after all. So now, I didn’t feel as bad about taking this job from them. I will say, I don’t usually make habit of sending business to the competition, but this lady needed help and I couldn’t let her sit in that all day. She thanked me for the referral and I continued on to the decomp.
About 20 minutes later, my phone rang again. It was the lady I had just spoken to about the beating. She informed me that she had spoken to the other company and – although she didn’t exactly say why – she said she would rather wait for us to get to it when we could. In my head, I was ecstatic! I don’t know if it’s just me, but when you own your own company and business is flooding in to the point you have to turn some of it away – and it still comes back to you – it’s a wonderful feeling.
I know I’m getting off on a tangent here, but I feel this needs to be clarified. I want to make sure you understand that I hate that there is a need for my industry. It saddens me that people can be so brutal to fellow humans and even themselves. I will say that being in demand is a great feeling. Sure, it’s a bit of an ego boost, but more than that, I truly feel like I am fulfilling a purpose in life. I can’t tell you how many times we hear how grateful our clients are to have found us. How safe, calm and cared for they felt working with us. This is the very thing that keeps me doing what I do. It’s what makes it all worth it. We take pride in what we do, but even more than that – we go above and beyond and do our best to make an awful situation a little less awful.
Anyway, I told her that we would attempt to wrap up this job as quickly as possible and we’d give her an eta as soon as we were done, but were about to be over 3 hours away and it probably wouldn’t be until 7 or 8 that evening. She understood and was grateful for us being willing to help her out. I remember it being a bit strange that she would rather wait all day than have someone else come and clean it up sooner. Although we strive to be the best, we were still technically noobs in the industry and it was odd to think that we should be known well enough to be in demand. I chalked it up to us actually caring about our clients and the other guys didn’t seem caring enough to get the business. Maybe the client sensed they were angry or bitter about this other one cancelling? Whatever the case, it was totally fine with me if they wanted to cut their own throats and give us the business.
One thing I always attempt to do is make the client in front of me feel like they’re the only client – or at least the most important one. With that said, when we arrived to the decomp, we weren’t trying to rush through it so we could get on to the next job. We worked quickly, but not rushed. As far as that client was concerned, there was no next job.
The biohazard portion of the job was on a clear area of carpet. It was simply cutting out the carpet and padding, bio-washing the subfloor etc. What wasn’t quite as easy was trashing out the house. Everything was going – the furniture, the clothes, the curtains, drapes and carpet was all getting trashed.
By the time the biohazard was cleaned up and the house empty, it was about 6:00. I notified the babysitter that she would be getting some overtime. I told her we were almost done but we got another call. It was a small and easy cleanup to do and then we’d be home. Fortunately our sitters are all awesome and it’s usually never a problem! We have a few of them on call just in case though.
The victim’s home was located on the peninsula in Long Beach, CA. It was well after the Long Beach Grand Prix, but there was some event that was being set-up and entire streets were closed and re-routed so traffic in the area was anything but speedy. By the time we actually met with the customer, it was about 10:30pm. Luckily, this shouldn’t be a long cleanup and we can still get home at a somewhat decent hour.
We met at her house and then she took us next door to where our services were needed. As she opened the door and started to lead us through the scene, I could tell that I was incredibly mistaken – this was not going to be a quick cleanup at all!
There was a small amount of blood drops immediately outside the front door. As we walked into the home, the blood drops became more and more and until they became a puddle at the bottom of the stairs. Sitting amidst the gore were gloves and other discarded packaging materials from disinfectant pads, gauze and an array of other items used by the EMTs as they attempted to keep her amongst the living.
The stairwell seemed to catch the bulk of the blood both cast off from the weapon and that which was ejected from the victim’s skull as it was battered over and over. Blood liberally coated the walls, ceiling, the steps themselves and even the stair lift used to get the elderly woman up and down the steps. There was not one square inch that was not splattered with blood. I couldn’t believe the lady when she told us the victim had survived.
As we surveyed the scene, our contact told us the story – almost with eagerness. She knew the story was intriguing and she was just itching to tell someone. It wasn’t disgraceful eagerness, it was more from the stance of disbelief and shock. Despite the circumstances, I can’t really say I blame her. This story was something you would only see on TV.
The victim had been involved in a custody battle. Old story, I know, but don’t jump the gun here. This wasn’t a battle with an ex-husband – this lady was attempting to get custody of her grandchildren from her daughter.
The daughter lived up north and had, at some point, gotten involved in the drug scene to such an extent that her two young children were taken into custody by CPS. Upon discovering this, the grandmother (our hapless victim) immediately sued for custody. At the same time, her daughter was “getting clean” and was trying to get her children back. So, imagine her surprise when she was told her own mother was trying to take her kids away.
This started a vicious custody battle. Due to her daughter’s lengthy and recent drug history, the courts were leaning – quite heavily and understandably – towards the grandmother. Although it hadn’t been finalized, all signs indicated she would win custody.
So, when a man in a suit and with a briefcase showed up on her doorstep saying he was with Child Protective Services and congratulated her on her success of obtaining custody, she was ecstatic. He informed her that he was there to discus and finalize the terms of the custody and inspect the premises to ensure it was fit for the rearing of two young children. “Of course!” she said and let him right on in.
They sat in the living room and went over the final terms of the case. She served him coffee while they talked. After an hour or so, he told her that was all the info he needed and asked if she be would so kind as to show him through the house.
She lead the way upstairs as he followed behind her. As soon as she reached the top landing, she stood and headed towards the bedrooms. What she failed to see was the pipe or bat that had been withdrawn from the briefcase and pulled back in preparation for what would be her ultimate struggle for survival.
As the instrument met her skull, she fell to the floor of the landing and he continued his ferocious assault. In her attempt to evade the relentless onslaught, she ended up tumbling down the wooden steps. All the while he continued the pummeling. He got on top of her when she finally hit the bottom floor and he educated her as to what his true purpose there was: He was there to kill her. This may seem an obvious intention but realize she had no reason to anticipate an attack of any kind, let alone one like this. As far as she knew, she would very soon be united with her grandchildren and starting their new life in safety and love – not clinging to life by a thread.
When you walk into this house and see the nick-knacks scattered taking up every spare inch of room, the crocheted blankets draped over the couches, the stair lift – it all paints a picture of your stereotypical grandmother: Kind and loving, but also fragile. This lady may have been kind and loving but she was as tough as nails. Despite the blows to her head and a tumble down the steps, she clung to life. Not only that, but she knew that he wouldn’t let up until she was dead. So, she played possum. Somehow, she managed to stop the crying, the screaming, the progressively weakening attempts at defense – she stopped it all and feigned her death.
With all of the screaming and yelling, the would-be assassin figured the neighbors had been alerted and had called the police. He replaced the now bloodied club back into his briefcase and calmly walked out the door and closed it behind him.
Maintaining his calm demeanor despite being soaked in blood, he walked up the street and turned the corner. Once he was off the street, he began to run. He ran towards the bay that was nearby and began removing his bloodied clothes and hurled the briefcase – weapon and all – as far as he could into the water. He then jumped in and swam across the harbor.
It seemed like this had all been well-planned out. He must have known about the increased traffic because of the public event being prepared and parked outside the traffic zone so as not to be slowed down and risk being caught.
One of the poor commuters who got stuck in the traffic happened to see this guy stripping off his clothes as he was running towards the bay and then chuck his briefcase out into the water. Shortly thereafter, she heard the sirens. She put two and two together and called the police and let them know what she saw and gave the description of the guy as best she could.
Almost immediately, the area was swarming with police, K-9s and forensics teams and they began recovering the clothing and, after a brief search by divers, had even managed to recover the weapon.
The EMTs found the victim barely conscious but alive. She had been quickly transported to the hospital and put into surgery.
At some point, she regained enough consciousness to speak to detectives. She immediately fingered her daughter as the prime suspect. She told them enough of the story to share her suspicion and they started tracking down their conspirator.
We could only stand there in shock as she told this story. So many aspects of it were unthinkable. How could someone put out a hit on their own mother? How could she have survived after losing so much blood? It seemed like a movie but this was all too real.
Before she left us to our work, Ethan asked if they had caught the guy and she said “No.” That was not what we wanted to hear. Homicides – especially an assassination like this one – can be a bit scary when the killer (or even attempted killer) is still on the loose. It’s a common belief that the killer returns to the scene of the crime. We had just heard that he had swam across the bay to flee the scene but who’s to say he wouldn’t come back? What if he caught wind of his victim’s survival and returned to finish the job?
We told her that we would be locking the door so if she was going to come over at any time for any reason, could she just give us a heads up and announce herself before trying to come into the house? She said she would and then told us that if the cat got in our way, we could just let it out. She opened the door to leave and there was a tabby blur that ran out right on her heels. Guess we didn’t have to worry about letting the cat out. I locked the door behind her and then checked all the other doors and windows to make sure they were locked. I didn’t care if this guy had one target – I wasn’t about to go through a similar ordeal and wasn’t going to take any chances.
So it was at 11 o’clock at night, with the attempted murderer still on the run, when we began to clean up this ghastly scene. We started at the entrance of the home – working our way into the scene. As I began to remove the blood drops coming from the puddle at the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t help but think these were drops that fell from the weapon as he headed toward the door. The more I cleaned, the more on-edge I was about this guy being on the loose.
At some point during the clean-up, there was a loud meowing coming from outside the back door. It was cold outside and I couldn’t leave it out there, so I let it in, hoping it would mind its own business and not get in the way. It turned out to be quite a friendly little tabby cat. He strutted in, meowing and purring. We continued cleaning and he jumped up on the couch and quietly watched us do our work.
Once we had removed all traces of blood from the ground floor and rechecked everywhere, we started on the stairs. The stairwell was very narrow with the stair lift so I left Ethan at the bottom to clean his way up while I went to the top and would clean my way down. As I passed the banister at the top of the steps, I noticed an indentation where the implement had missed its target.
Although I couldn’t tell, from the blood spatter, how far off her stair lift she had gotten before the beating started, I could see that the blood had not spared the bathroom at the top of the steps. Crimson cast off speckled the floor, vanity and mirror. I went into the bathroom and started cleaning in there.
As is often the case, the scene continued to play out in my head. I could see her reach the top of the stairs, pointing out the bedrooms and which was to be the kids’ room. I could see him pull out his club and take that first skull-cracking strike. I could see her throw herself down the stairs to avoid as much of the attack as she could. I saw his pipe just missing her head and leaving a dent in the banister…It was a savage scene I couldn’t help but think about as I wiped away the blood.
I was lost in my gruesome playback when I heard a scream followed by a thumping from downstairs and I knew my worst fear had become a reality. The killer had returned to the scene and somehow managed to get in and attacked Ethan! I was next. A figure quickly made its way to the top of the stairs and my blood ran cold. I was frozen and all I could get out was a light moan of terror. It all happened in seconds and it was only after the figure bolted passed me into one of the bedrooms and under the bed that I realized it wasn’t the killer come back to finish what he started. It was the stupid. Fucking. Cat.
The relief was so intense that all I could do – once I managed to take a breath -was laugh. There I was, in full bio-suit, mask, goggles, and bloody gloves, literally surrounded by blood and I was laughing. It may seem a strange contrast but when you think your life is about to come to an end, all else takes a backseat to your own mortality. When you find out it’s a goddamn cat…I don’t know. I was happy and relieved that I was still alive so, I laughed.
I quickly checked on Ethan and made sure he was ok. I looked down the stairs and saw that he was laughing, too. After we both calmed down, I asked him what happened. He said he was scrubbing one of the steps when he felt something grab his leg. He thought like I did and figured his head was about to be beaten in and yelled out. Well, that terrified the cat who was only playfully grabbing his leg and it bolted up the stairs which had caused what I had thought was the thumping of the killer’s footsteps. It was a good laugh and it helped to pull us out of the grisly scene – at least mentally.
We got back to work and, a couple of hours later, we met on the steps. We had each cleaned our respective areas and all that was left was this one last section and then a final sweep through to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.
When we finally finished our job and began packing up, I heard more meowing coming from outside. The neighbor hadn’t mentioned another cat but I didn’t think anything of it when I opened the kitchen door. It was another tabby. So, I let it in and it, too was a friendly cat. As I closed the door, the other cat came into the kitchen and they both froze. They were like statues except for their tails, twitching in silent warning. Then the guttural growls began and no small amount of hissing. I was confused. I told them to knock it off (‘cause you know how cats speak English and listen to humans so well). Of course, I had no effect on their beef and I didn’t have time to referee these two so I opened the door and the newest cat took off into the night.
The first cat remained in the house and stayed close as we packed up our equipment and started loading up. When we were making our final trip out the door, the cat made his way out and took off somewhere.
We closed up the house and went next door to inform the neighbor that we were done. She thanked us profusely and before we left, I told her that both of the cats were outside. She asked, “What do you mean ‘both?’” I told her there were two cats and they were both out. She said there was only one cat. I stood there in confusion. There had clearly been two cats. One scared the shit out me and my husband and then had a standoff with the other cat in the kitchen. She then asked if one of them had a collar. I told her yes. He had been the first cat I had let in. The one who had grabbed Ethan’s leg and made me think I was about to die. She then said, “Oh, yeah. Nobody knows where that cat came from. He just showed up today and nobody has ever seen him before.”
I told her about the cat coming and hanging out like it had lived there all its life. I didn’t tell her about the cat scaring the living daylights out us. She thought it was as strange as I did but we just left it at that and she thanked us again and wished us a good night. As we walked back to the truck, I couldn’t help but think about that cat. Of all the days for this cat to show up out of the blue, it had to be a day when someone almost literally gets the life beat out of them.
There are many testaments of cats and dogs being able to sense when someone is about die and they attend them in their final moments of life. The victim had survived but, with how much blood there was, she must have been close to the bright light. Could this cat have somehow picked up on that from wherever he came from and was only trying to attend her passing? That was one question that would have to go unanswered and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time.
Recommended True Crime Podcast in this episode: Southern Fried True Crime
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