A drive-by shooting kills a passenger in a car and his bloody remains stain the interior of a vehicle. Not far away in another a town, a man puts a 44 mag in his mouth and commits suicide – blood splatters through his head and his scalp covers the walls, furniture and carpet.
This is the job of professional crime scene cleaners. We asked some of these professionals, Roy and James, what a daily clean up of a crime scene looks like, when they would be needed, and what kind of person it takes to have this job.
Reporter: So why did you choose to become a crime scene cleaner and what do you like most about your job?
Roy: “It’s kind of funny how this happened. I had become tired of the rigmarole of doing the same exact thing day after day, year after year. Then I saw an add about a possible new career. I’ll never forget that ad – it said ‘must have a strong stomach, a huge heart and be willing to work crazy hours, including weekends’. When I called the number, I found out it was a crime scene clean-up company. I had never heard of this as I thought it was the police who actually did the clean-ups with the medical examiner. Now, eight years later, here I am, doing something different and important every day, and loving it! The reason why I come to work every single day is to help families at their most vulnerable moment.”
James: “We’re trying to continuously spread the word to as many families as possible that no one needs to go through a crime scene clean up alone. We’re here to provide a service and help comfort families during their time of unbearable loss. That’s my personal mission and our company mission!”
What is the most savage scene you have had to clean?
James and Roy: “That was an interesting case where a quarrel between lovers turned into a double homicide. This guy came home from work early to find his girlfriend with another man. In a fit of rage, he stabbed her 27 times and killed her lover. He stabbed her lover 13 times and then slit his throat to the point of almost decapitating him. He ran down the block screaming and covered in blood and was detained by police. Subsequently they found he had just been involved with a double homicide. Sadly, he took his life in his cell only a couple of days after his arrest.”
So what’s involved in the clean up?
Roy: “I have to be in the field right away with my protective gear. Usually, it’s a full-face respirator, a suit, two pairs of gloves, booties and my hard hat. Then I go inside with another safety officer and determine the strategic and standard operating procedures for this job.
“We need to dispose of many items, among these are needles and pipes and once regulated medical waste is removed we use antimicrobial liquid, which we spray and manually rub into areas to kill any bacteria or pathogens that may still be lingering. Then we place ozone generators in different areas, which neutralise the air. After that we use ultra low volume fog or thermal fog with nice odours, which eliminates the chemical smell. Once the property is brought to a sanitary condition, we allow the family back into the home.”
Why is the scene so dangerous?
Roy: “The regulated medical waste can contain everything from hepatitis C to HIV and other things that you can’t even imagine. Protective equipment is very important in our industry. Since we all have families we go home to, I would never want to bring home anything to my significant other or my daughter. One of the biggest concerns of a crime scene is cutting up flooring or removing carpet. There can be as little as a pin, which can puncture your glove, or the tack strip that holds down the carpet, that can puncture your protective gear and infect you with hepatitis C with just a slip of a hand. Other dangers can occur when we do a clean up after a gang-related incident such a drive-bys. People in our office have also been confronted in retaliation disputes. One of our employees actually had a knife pulled on him by a rival gang looking for vengeance.”
Is this a well-paid job?
Roy: “I have a lot of certificates and licenses so am on a higher spectrum of the pay schedule. Once you get certified, licensed and truly know what you’re doing you can earn between R400 and R1000 an hour. The pay is good but the reward of helping others is amazing!”
What’s your advice for someone wanting to pursue a career as a crime scene cleaner?
James: “It is a wonderful career if you have the stomach and the mindset to handle the scenes every day. I have to be sensitive – you have to remember that this is your clients’ worst day of their lives. You also must keep in mind that not every crime scene is an 80-year-old man who went unattended. We have victims who are children, babies, teenagers and young adults. Those are the ones that may haunt your dreams.
“The average police officer may see only a handful of violent crimes in his entire career. Crime scene cleaners see the worst of the worst every single time. We offer counselling and therapy at no charge for our employees. Before you sign up, remember it’s more than a job or a career. You will potentially jeopardise your health, safety and welfare and possibly that of your family. After knowing that, if you would like to pursue a career we’d love to have you on board.”