True Crime Podcast
Teenage angst and drugs make for a bad combo. In this episode of The Cleaning of John Doe, you will hear the story of a young man driven to a deadly rage against his family as they attempt to help him. This is a true crime story with Hollywood-esque details that will leave you shaken.
True Crime Podcast The Writing on the Walls Epi. 7
When people hear about crime scene cleaners, they tend to think it’s kind of a glamorous job. It’s certainly unique and, many would say, interesting. Crime and death are typically taboo subjects – at least most don’t like to think about it – so, it’s easy to see the appeal in making a living in people dying. But one thing nobody considers is that it’s still a business. You have expenses and bills to pay, marketing, hiring, stocking materials and everything that comes with running a business. It’s not always easy.
This particular week was one of the good ones. Well, sort of. We had a lot of business, however every job was being covered by insurance. For those of you who have never dealt with an insurance company, that means we had to wait for the claim to be processed and paid out before we could collect a check. This can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a year! So, we were working but we weren’t bringing in any money. It’s just something you deal with and, as long as you can keep a steady stream of business, you’ll maintain a fairly steady flow of income.
It was a Friday and we hadn’t worked that day so we thought we were going to end our week on a quiet note. But of course – much like life – death happens. Or in this case, murder happened.
It’s always a mixture of emotions when calls like these come in. On the one hand, it’s sad hearing that a fellow human being has been brutally slain, but on the other hand…if, I’m being honest – it means money. You can judge if you want, but few can do what I do and, as unpleasant as it may be, it needs to be done. So I’m not going to pretend to feel guilty about compensation. We offer a much needed service and we pride ourselves on making these supremely difficult times at least a little easier on the people left behind.
In any event, the caller was actually the investigating detective. This is very rare that we’re contacted directly by the police – usually it’s a family member or a family friend. We took down the information and told him we were on our way. We loaded up our truck and headed out.
We were greeted by the detective who had called us. He told us the CSI team was still inside and they’d need another hour to finish their investigation. While we were waiting, he filled us in on the heartbreaking details.
The father of the family had run out on them a few years back which left her alone to raise her 13-year-old son. Apparently, it had been a long time coming so when it finally happened, it wasn’t a big surprise but that didn’t make it any less difficult.
It’s an unfortunately common story – one where the family left behind is forced to deal with the heartbreak of abandonment and, at times, struggling to continue on. I happen to have a wonderful partner who contributes to our household in so many ways but I still find myself overwhelmed at times – we both do. I don’t know how I would do it alone. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for her. And it was only about to get worse.
One of the after effects of situations like these is that the children caught in the crossfire are more likely to act out. My own parents divorced when I was about halfway through my teens. It was mostly amicable and both parents still remained a constant in my life. So, I may not have had it quite as bad but I do remember the gamut of initial emotions – the grief, the confusion, the anger – it sucked.
As the detective was talking, I quickly found myself sympathizing with this kid and was – not for the first time – amazed at how the things that happen to one in their lifetime makes it feel like they’re only happening to you. You know that you’re not the only one, but you know that it feels like you are. When they happen to you, they’re the worst that it could possibly be. Then you hear a story like this and realize that it could have much worse. You’re not the only one who went through whatever it is you went through and you came out much better than you could have.
So, when then this kid started failing in school and lashing out at his mother and teachers, it was assumed that he was just expressing his anger at his dad bailing. But it got progressively worse and it didn’t let up. It got so bad that his mother couldn’t cope any longer and so sought the help of her father. He had always had a good and close relationship with his grandson. From a young age, they had gone hunting and fishing together – all the things you would want from a grandpa. He had looked up to his grandfather, I mean, he was father figure that was missing from this kid’s life.
However good a substitute this guy may have been, it seemed he wasn’t good enough and they were too late to save this kid. Nothing changed and it only seemed to grow worse as impossible as that may seem.
For the last week or so, he had been behaving beyond the already extreme rebellious manner. He was observed many times muttering angrily to himself – some might say he was talking to the “voices”. He’d stay locked in his room for hours at a time and very rapidly withdrew from all contact.
Mere hours before we arrived on scene, his mom had been at work when he made a rare appearance outside of his room and was greeted by his grandfather. Rather than returning the friendly greeting, this kid chose to start cussing at his grandpa. This was more of the same and nothing the old man wasn’t used to by this point. However, it wasn’t the same. His grandfather didn’t know it, but his long life was about to be cut short.
This kid followed up his tirade of 4-letter words with accusations. These weren’t the “you drank the last of the milk” –type claims. Rather, he claimed the kindly old man was in fact the Devil himself and he wasn’t about to let this demon harm him or his family. He would stop him.
This wasn’t some on-the-spot accusation. He must have suspected his grandpa for some time now. For as his grandfather sat on the couch, he was quickly introduced to the business end of the very shotgun he had taught his grandson to hunt with. How’s that for a “Hollywood Ending?”
I can’t imagine what went through this poor guy’s mind as he stared Death in the eyes in the form of twin barrels aimed at his face. I can only assume that shock and disbelief were pretty high on the list. Could this young man whom he had bounced on his knee as a boy really follow through on such a brutal threat? The sad answer is, yes. That’s exactly what he did.
Most people would say that two lives ended at that moment. The obvious first being the poor grandfather whose brains were now splattered throughout the living room, and the second being the deranged teenager who would undoubtedly spend the rest of his life either in prison or a mental health facility. But there was a third although that life wasn’t quite over, it certainly would never be the same. The mother. This poor lady lost her husband, then her father and son at the same time. If there was anyone who has ever felt Death’s oft cruel sting, it was her. Although she wasn’t there, my heart went out to her. It was difficult not to put myself in her shoes and it broke my heart.
The detective told us that they suspect drugs were involved. Now, the hardest drug I’ve ever done is Tylenol, so my personal experience with mind-altering drugs is non-existent. However, we live in a drug-fueled society and you can’t help at least learning about drugs, even if you never take them. The only drug I had ever heard of that twists and warps your mind to the point of murder or suicide are anti-depressants – which seems to be quite the misnomer, if you ask me.
However, there was another drug that did just that. At this point in time, reports of zombies crowded the news feeds and there was a new drug that was apparently responsible – bath salts. It’s basically synthetic cocaine and its effects include paranoia, hallucinations and violence. Well, check, check and big friggin’ check. This all compounded with the kid’s pre-existing emotional stimuli, it was very plausible that taking such a mind-altering substance could have driven him to such a heinous act.
As hard as it was to hear this story, I have learned that stories like this are all too common. Not long before this job, we had done another homicide where a man’s son had shot him in the face. It wasn’t a shotgun, but still. Quick sidetrack here…
This kid was labeled schizophrenic or some such and required special attention to maintain any semblance of sanity. One evening, the voices got too loud and he had been mumbling to himself and grabbing his head. His father – an old-schooler – thought he just needed some “tough love” and told his son to knock it off and act straight. Well, apparently he didn’t understand the finer points of mental illness in its extremes and his son in turn went to his room and came back with a pistol. The dad still thought the kid was bluffing and told him to go ahead and pull the trigger. For the first and last time, the kid obeyed his father.
I could give you more examples but the truth is, no matter your race, color, creed or sexual orientation, we’re all human beings and we should feel an inherent drive to support each other and see to the continuation of our species. Any life lost in such a manner is tragic. But, when you see it day after day, you get a bit desensitized to it. But, this – this was a whole new level for me.
Getting back to main story here, the CSI team finally completed their investigation and as they started packing up their equipment, we started setting ours up. We entered the home and it was immediately obvious this was definitely once a hunting family. The walls were lined with stuffed and mounted animals – deer, elk, a pheasant, and even a mountain lion. As I looked over the trophies, I found myself wondering how many this kid and his grandfather had scored together. I shook my head away from such thoughts and focused on the task at hand.
The living room was in disarray but it was difficult to say if this was the result of the crime itself, the investigation or simply the everyday condition of the home. What was not difficult to see was the blood and brain matter fanned out from the back of the couch and onto the sliding glass door. I could almost vividly replay the event in front of me. I could see the young boy standing there with his gun aimed at his grandpa’s face. I could see the look of terror on the old man’s face as he tried to calm his grandson and get him to put the gun down. It all played out in an instant in my head and I was painfully aware of how quickly a life can be taken.
With the living room in such disarray and the fact that a shotgun blast will propel blood, skull and brains for quite a distance in every direction, the cleanup was very slow going. I had to check every item, every inch of every piece of furniture… like I said, very slow going.
It was at this job that I learned that blood, brains and skull fragments can ricochet. As we made our way through the worst of it and into the kitchen, which was located around a slight corner from the living room where the victim had been shot, we continued to find such matter throughout. There’s no direct line from the living room into the kitchen and so there was no way for anything to have ended up in there other than it bouncing off of the wall and into the kitchen. It’s really not so hard to imagine considering the momentum these bits can pick up when powered by the force of a shotgun blast.
We made our way back through the living room to ensure we hadn’t missed anything on the first pass – we didn’t. I then found myself in the hallway off of the living room. I noticed what appeared to be a trail of blood drops leading further into the house. At this point, it seemed like all the aftermath was contained in the living room area and, based on the circumstances of the crime, there was no reason to believe there would be blood anywhere else. But, truth is stranger than fiction, as they say, and I was going to make sure there wasn’t more that needed our attention. So, I followed the trail and it was apparent that the state of disarray was the general condition of the house. Clothes, boxes and other various items were strewn about the hallway and each of the rooms that we passed was no better.
The trail ended at the closed door of one of the rooms. I slowly opened the door and saw what most people only see in movies.
There was a mattress standing on end and leaning against the wall, forming a makeshift lean-to. Clothes, magazines and other things thickly littered the floor. This wasn’t really a big deal since it looked just like a hoarder’s room and it’s what we deal with on the daily. What was a big deal were the walls. Every inch was covered in words, strange writing and poems like a huge canvas. Most of the rantings were Satanic in content. For example, apparently Satan loved Mary and they were doing some devilish things up in the tree. Most of it could only make sense to the insane or possessed. It seemed to me that, if anything, bath salts only served as a catalyst in the psycho killer concoction that was this kid’s mind.
It took me a few minutes to take this all in. It didn’t seem real. This wasn’t a kid’s bedroom. This was a set from a serial killer movie. But it wasn’t that. It was someone’s bedroom. I began to wonder how this kid got to where he was. Could this happen to my son? Could it be me some day staring down the barrel of a gun with my kid at the trigger?
Of course, I would say no. But wouldn’t this kid’s mom had said the same thing 5 years ago? It was heartbreaking and scary to think about and so I stopped myself from doing so. Whatever substance had created the trail that led me to this room wasn’t blood – we have tests that proved it – and so we weren’t obliged to clean it. I closed the door and returned to the living room to begin cleaning our tools and packing up.
After we had everything packed up and loaded onto the truck and I was closing the door to this house that was now clean but would forever be tainted to what was left of this family, I silently shook my head in sadness and disbelief. It was then that it became very real for me how we arrive on these scenes of murder and death, knowing the victims as nothing but a blood stain, but often leave the scene knowing that the brain matter on the walls isn’t just brain matter – it’s someone’s brain matter.
I’ve said before that the only way to stay in this business is to remain detached from the scene and the gore you’re cleaning up, but sometimes it’s hard. You can’t help but learn who these people were after cleaning their blood off of their possessions and memories – the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelf and even the style of furniture, all tell a story of who these people were. Some may be able to shut off their emotions in order to do this job, but, as much as I love what I do, it’s not something I’m willing to give up my humanity for. The day that I enter a scene and leave without feeling at least something is the day that I hang up my bio-suit for good.
If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you should know that, at times, I can’t help but be curious about some of the scenes we clean up. This one was one of those.
When I got home, I got onto the computer and did a little bit of cyber-sleuthing. It didn’t take too long to find the story covered on the local news. The reporters told essentially the same story the detective told us, save for a lot of details.
I was so shocked about the circumstances of this case that I followed the case for a couple of weeks. I was curious to see what the court was going to decide to do with him. Would he be tried as a minor? Would he be found to be competent to even stand trial? I thought I knew the answers but the system can surprise you sometimes. I’m looking at you, Casey Anthony…
Well, a couple of weeks later, I came across a follow up story on the news. He had agreed to an on-camera interview. Naturally, I clicked play. Most of the video was simply a recap of the crime itself but then they played a portion of the interview where he maintained that he did and still believes that his grandfather was the Devil and he had saved his whole family from certain doom. He held to this story 2 weeks after the crime.
Apparently, even those who seem the craziest can still have some sense of right and wrong, because one week after this interview, he confessed to truth.
Initially, he had claimed that the “voices” told him that he had family members that were suffering in Hell and the only way to free them was to kill his grandfather, who was the Devil. Turns out that was a load of bull.
What really happened is that this guy had been doing bath salts – for some time, actually – and, although they weren’t to blame for the homicide, they were, to some degree, responsible for the horrible behavior previous to. One of the ways the grandfather was trying to help was by trying to get his grandson off of the bath salts. Evidently he resented these efforts and had no intentions of ever stopping. One thing he was intent to stop was anyone getting in the way of him and his bath salts. So, he pulled the gun on his grandfather and stopped him for good.
He openly admitted to fabricating the voices story – which he said he copied from the plot of a movie he had seen – and concocted the story so he would get off with an insanity plea.
Luckily, the system worked in this case and he was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison. I can’t really vouch for the efficacy of the prison system in terms of reform and rehabilitation. I can say it’s seems effective in keeping people like this guy off of the streets. At least, I hope it is.
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 8