It was late afternoon when the call came in that a man had committed suicide just outside a small town about an hour away. The client wanted the job done that night so we gathered our gear and headed out.
An ominous feeling came over both of us as we turned onto the poorly lit street and rolled down the window to look for the address. The air was stagnant; as if the movement of our truck was the first thing to disturb it since the shot rang out. Our eyes seemed to gravitate toward one house in particular that didn’t have cars in the driveway or a porch light on; we knew were at the right place. It was set far back on the lot away from the street. Looking down the dark driveway that ran up the side of the house, we saw just one light flickering from a room by the back door that the client had left open. That eerie feeling we had as we pulled up was about to get worse.
After suiting up, we slowly pushed open the door and discovered that the flickering light we had seen from the road was a old TV that had been left on with no cable signal; just white noisy fuzz on the screen. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, Texas where a man has just taken his life and we’re walking into the set of the movie Poltergeist. All that was missing was Carol Anne saying, “They’re here!” But she didn’t have to because we were both thinking it. The flickering light was just bright enough to see the gun that was lying on the floor by the closet. Was this the gun that was used? Not likely, but it certainly didn’t do anything to ease the tension in the room. Time to find the room where it happened, get it done and get out of here!
We found a light switch in the hallway and made our way toward the dining room. It wasn’t long before we came across a trail of blood spots that led us right where we needed to be. Self-inflicted gunshots are often the hardest to deal with because of how far and spread out the scene can be. In this case, however, most of the contaminated area was contained to one room. But this one room was absolutely covered with blood and tissue. Much of the blood was dried, but there was also blood that was running along the baseboards indicating that we might have contamination on the sub-flooring as well. There were also blood spots and bone fragments on some of the furniture and walls. This definately wasn’t going to be the quick job we had hoped it would be.
We worked away into the evening all the while feeling a bit on edge. Suicide is a common call for us but tonight something was different. Perhaps it was because it was at night on a quiet street far away from our comfort zone. Or maybe it was because the house was dark and cold with nothing but an old tv on. Or maybe, just maybe, the man who took his life in that house hasn’t left yet.
“No one will set foot anywhere near that unit.” That’s the first thing the manager told us regarding the apartment of a recently evicted tenant. Not only did her janitorial staff refuse to complete their duties in the unit after the tenant left, the occupants of the neighboring apartment moved out! What would be bad enough to motivate a neighbor to pack up their entire life just to get away? As we made our way up the sidewalk toward the unit to take a look, we were quickly greeted with the answer; the foul stench of pet urine and feces. The odor came not from one, two or three, but from over twenty cats in a two-bedroom apartment. Today’s job: removal of carpet, carpet strips, padding and odor in the apartment of a cat hoarder.
While the smell that accompanies death can linger a bit, animal urine has incredible staying power. Animals mark their territory with urine, so it is by design that the smell stick around to ward off intruders. The poignant pungence of over twenty cats continually spraying the walls of a confined apartment over time is beyond explanation. And the brutality of stink in this unit wasn’t constrained to urine only. Cat feces was scattered throughout the house, particularly in the closets; which likely served the cats as pseudo-litter boxes. Worse still, many of the cat droppings had been smashed into the carpet after having been either walked on or compressed from the tenants belongings. Though we weren’t dealing with blood, body fluids or tissue in this case, we still had to take full precautions to protect ourselves. Animal urine and feces can carry or attract bacteria, viruses, insects, rodents and disease.
As with every call we take, the longer the scene has been in a hazardous condition the more difficult our job will be. It was quite obvious that the safety of this unit had been compromised for many months. The urine and feces soiled carpet and padding was, for a lack of a better term, fused to the concrete below it. We had to take a large metal scrapper to get underneath and pull it up. Afterward, we carefully rolled up the carpet, taped it off and hauled it out. Next, we removed each and every tack strip in the unit. Tack strips present one of the greatest dangers in any scene we do as they can puncture the skin and deliver bacteria and pathogens into the blood stream. After having removed all the soiled items and tack strips, we disinfected the walls and floors of the unit; making it safe for the janitorial staff to finish their duties.
As we stood outside the unit peeling off our protective suits that were now soaked with sweat, we thought to ourselves the one question that lingers in our heads throughout any hoarding job we do, “How could anyone live like this?”