WASTE LINE: Nicholson used to race motorcycles and, because of liver damage, doesn’t have a strong sense of smell. He is “sort of made for this work,” he says.

How to Clean a Crime Scene

A pro shares the tips of his blood-soaked trade.

My partner and son-in-law, Jeremy, and his cousin Johnny were up visiting from Pearland, and we’d heard he was working on crime scenes, cleaning up blood. Johnny had been an accountant, and his neighbor down the street was a cop. They’d seen a crime and trauma remediation episode on Dirty Jobs and decided to get into it. We had a good appraisal business and weren’t interested in anything else. But Johnny asked if we wanted to set up in the Dallas area. I said, “I don’t want to touch the dead bodies.” He said, “No, it’s just the aftermath. It’s what’s left over. The bodies are gone.” That was 14 years ago. 

If there’s a large puddle of blood, it coagulates, turns Jell-O-ish. We try to start around the edges and work toward the center. We use a lot of paper towels. Sometimes kitty litter. 

So, we went to training down in Pearland and worked on a mock-up job. They actually used pig blood. I don’t know where he gets it. Local butcher, maybe. We were right in the middle of cleaning that up, and we got this double homicide call. There was an older woman in her 70s, and her daughter in her 40s or 50s. They’d been having it out with a neighbor. His Rottweiler kept getting in their trash. They confronted him about it. He went and got a knife, knocked on the front door, and as soon as she opened the door, he stabbed and killed her, then ran down the hall and killed the daughter. There were two large puddles of blood. We were pretty nervous. We already knew what to do, but it’s different when you actually go start on a real one. You’re sweating from being nervous before you even start working. But it was nothing hard at all. It wasn’t really a shock. If anything, we were shocked by how little it bothered us. I raced motorcycles growing up and had liver damage, so I don’t have a real strong sense of smell. My son-in-law got in fights in school and has a deviated septum. We’re sort of made for this work.

If there’s a large puddle of blood, it coagulates, turns Jell-O-ish. We try to start around the edges and work toward the center. We use a lot of paper towels. Sometimes kitty litter. If we do a job where it’s on the floor, we’ll cut the carpet and padding out. If it’s on a pier-and-beam house with a wooden floor, we’ve had to cut out the floor. If it’s vinyl, that’s pretty easy. With a decomp, you carry it with you because of the odors in your clothes and hair. We were at a Walmart in Shreveport one time after a decomp job, and my son-in-law forgot to bring a clean shirt. He walked right by this lady, and she stops and turns around and is sniffing, like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s like a zombie walked by.”

The worst job of all, we were down in the south part of Dallas. There was a guy on the front porch when we got there. He was distraught, worn-out looking. Someone had broken into his house, killed his wife, and killed his baby in the crib. With most of the jobs we go to, we’re there by ourselves. We don’t see anybody that’s actually involved. We’ll see pictures on the wall, but as far as we know, it could be anybody. We don’t make that connection. But when you see the guy there and he tells you what happened, it’s tough.

We cut up a little bit. You have to. We’ll find certain things at somebody’s house—adult things—and we’ll joke with them. We have to keep our sanity. We eat a lot at Denny’s, because it’s usually the only place open when we finish. If it’s early enough, we’ll grab a couple of drinks to relax a bit. The first thing we do when we get home is get undressed, take a bath, and throw clothes in the washer. 

—as told to Brantley Hargrove

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