Welcome to Crime Scene Cleaning School–Enjoy the Maggots!

Can you stomach it? A few months back I attended a crime scene cleaning school in Las Vegas. I learned astute skills, such as cleaning up after grisly murders. The vocation is not a job for everybody, and especially those who have a problem with maggots, decomposing bodies, and that distinct smell of death. Far from a glamorous job, the men and women behind this vocation are like knights in shining armor, assisting the distraught at their absolute worst moment.

The two-day course was held at a suburban house inside a gated community. The locale was found by placing an ad on Craigslist. For a fee, a middle-aged woman allowed the crime scene crew to drench her bedroom walls with animal blood, brains, and live maggots–all to give students a first glimpse (and smell) of what it would be like to encounter an actual crime scene.

Don’t ever mention the movie Sunshine Cleaners within these circles. The cinematic depiction of this vocation is enough to make any professional crime scene cleaner (or “trauma scene cleaner”) foam at the mouth. The movie portrayed these crime scene cleaners in the absolute worst light. For example, any surface splattered with blood is a biohazard. If a mattress is contaminated with red body fluid, it must be cut into tiny squares then dumped into a red, marked container. Once collected, it should be disposed of at a proper biohazard dump site.

To simulate human brains encrusted on walls, our instructor used chicken fat. Brains are very hard to clean; they’re comprised of 12 percent fat which hardens when it dries. The brains I cleaned were only on the wall for a few hours, so I could only imagine the difficulty of the task if the substance had been lingering for weeks.

A light circular motions with a paper towel is the best technique to remove bodily fluids from walls. We were taught this after lunch. (I had a large meatball hoagie.)

If you suffer from scoleciphobia (fear of maggots) this would not be a good job for you. Encountering maggots are a daily occurrence for the modern-day crime scene cleaner. Our instructor coached us to think of maggots as caterpillars. Still, even with a bucket of maggots dumped onto this simulated crime scene, we’re told that nothing can really mentally prepare you for encountering an actual grisly murder setting.

Being a crime scene cleaner is an unheralded profession. It’s a job where the smell of death equals a paycheck. No matter how horrific their workplace might be, someone’s got to do it.

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