And you thought your job stunk
And you thought your job stunk
Cleaning crime scenes can be a very lucrative trade, but it can be pretty creepy
By NATALIE PONA
I shake hands with the Caretaker of Death.
"We're employed by the Grim Reaper," says Christian Cadieux, waiting on the porch outside the Riverdale home.
"Can you smell anything?" he asks, once behind the heavy hardwood doors of the 120-year-old house.
"I don't smell anything bad," I say with a shrug. I smell chemicals, old lady, sickly sweetness.
"No decomposing flesh? Nothing offensive? Just old house?"
Once his job is done, this place could go for $1 million, he says, adding it won't smell like anything but old house by then.
Cadieux asked one question after leaving university with a business degree: "What am I going to do that will allow me to retire before the age of 40?"
After working with a crime scene cleaner in the U.S., "I found it so intriguing that I decided to pursue it," said Cadieux, 31, over an iced tea at a Timothy's on the Danforth.
That was five years ago. Now, $40,000 in equipment later, Cadieux is trained in neutralizing biohazards, like anthrax, and decontaminating drug labs, accident scenes and stolen cars for his company, Crime & Trauma Scene Cleaners. It's one of those dirty jobs that someone's got to do -- but no kid grows up dreaming about.
"There will always be a demand for this. Toronto has become the OK Corral," said Cadieux, a bachelor with a strong Greek Orthodox faith.
"It's a little difficult, sometimes, meeting somebody when you tell them what you do," he said, blushing. "I make my living off unfortunate circumstances. I am no different than a funeral director. It's nothing personal."
- - -
"Do I have a story for you," the Caretaker whispers, as we make our way up the stairs.
The sun spills in through the picture windows but the light is dim, bouncing off the starkly white walls of this sealed building.
"This house is haunted."
It had been owned by a reclusive Canadian painter who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Last January, she just disappeared.
"She was an introvert. She isolated herself from the world," he says, as we climb to the attic. "She lost it towards the end."
Six months later, "the neighbours had picked up a really foul odour."
She froze to death when her boiler broke. Police found her body rotting in a mountain of pizza boxes, maggots and unopened mail.
We pass Cadieux's crew on the way up. They're stripping sticky carpet adhesive off the hardwood floor.
"Did you guys turn on the lights? Tell me you turned on the lights," Cadieux says, as he flicks off the light switch in an attic room. "I'll just pretend nothing happened."
Strange things -- like that -- began happening soon after Crime & Trauma started the job June 18, he says.
"I'm a very realistic person. I've seen a lot of things in my life and not a lot of things bother me. But there are things I've seen on this job and that members of my crew have seen ..." he trails off. "A lot of cold air, goose bumps. We don't talk about it. We try to ignore it and just do our job."
But he couldn't ignore what caused him to lose two workers.
The female employees had been tidying the former computer room -- the very room we're standing in.
He was working downstairs when he heard screaming and pounding on the stairs.
"The two ladies were in absolute hysterics."
One woman, a grandmother, claimed she was shoved into the wall by an invisible assailant, Cadieux says. Now he insists his crew work in teams of two.
There have been other unexplained things, Cadieux says: Doors opening, equipment moving, "orbs" appearing in insurance pictures, dusty footprints on clean stairs.
He's so convinced it's haunted that he left a voice-activated tape recorder in the home one night.
What it seemingly captured guarantees he'll never lose the $1,000 he's offered to any employee willing to spend a night there alone.
"No way, only if my dog can come," says employee Ron Bridgelal, after bringing up the player from the van, along with some fresh batteries.
Sitting on the stairs, Ron hits ON. We huddle in, listening to static. After a few minutes, Ron and I jump when we hear a voice -- we think.
"Please help me," it says.
- - -
"I never have nightmares. I just say three Hail Marys before I go to bed," Cadieux said, taking another sip from his iced tea.
Nothing truly bothers him in cleaning up after rage, despair and loneliness.
"At one point in my life, evil was just a theory. Now it's a reality."
He does it because, like any businessman, he's found a niche.
Emergency crews take away the big pieces. Without Cadieux's services, grieving family members would be left to clean up the rest. Blood and guts are like "Frisbees," splattering up stairs and under beds.
Though most of his 100 jobs blur together, one stands out.
"It involved very similar circumstances to the Amityville Horror massacre," he said, referring to the 1974 incident in Amityville, N.Y., where six members of a family were slaughtered.
In this case, a man murdered three relatives after his sister didn't split her lottery winnings. Then he killed himself. The bodies went undiscovered for two months, sealed in a home in the Southern U.S.
"That was the worst thing I ever smelled. And I did vomit," he said.
He decompresses with humour: "The key question, and I know this is going to sound bad, but I want to know who gets the lottery ticket."
One of his most troubling jobs was for an elderly bachelor living alone in Toronto.
"He had a fatal heart attack in the shower. He broke his teeth, he was bleeding everywhere."
The man left a blood trail that traced his dying moments.
"He was within arms reach of the phone. He didn't make it."
- - -
This job will cost $25,000, Cadieux says, as we pass through the living room into the dank basement. An average scene runs $2,500 to $5,000.
When his crew arrived, the house was piled high with garbage.
"Most (victims) on decomp jobs suffer from packrat syndrome. We used 10 dumpster bins for contents removal. The house was beyond dirty."
He found a 1948 Superman comic in the filth -- too destroyed to salvage. They also found a couple of Ouija boards and candles, maybe explaining the haunting, Cadieux guesses.
But he's more than Molly Maid. Typical scenes are rife with biohazards -- blood, brains, urine.
An employee spent several hours "chiselling" feces out of a toilet that hadn't been flushed in years, Cadieux says.
"It's equivalent to the waste that is generated from a surgical room, if not more."
"A basic janitorial company won't go there" -- and shouldn't try, says Cadieux, who wants his business regulated, as it is in some U.S. cities.
"That's what separates the butcher from the artist. A true artist knows his solvents, knows his equipment, knows his personal protective gear, and knows the law."
Cadieux points to a section of the basement ceiling he's stripped of its drywall.
"These are body fluid stains," he says. "They trickled down from the tile flooring," then dripped onto a cardboard box and futon.
Back up the creaky stairs and we're in the kitchen -- ground zero.
"This is where they found her body."
He had scraped the floor to the wood. Workers stacked orange china on one corner counter, waiting to be collected by the woman's ex-husband. They divorced after her diagnosis but she never changed her will.
Snaking stains on the bare floor mark where the fluid leached from the woman and through the linoleum.
"You could eat off this floor," he says, explaining it's been thoroughly decontaminated.
Average cleaners can't handle crime scenes, Cadieux says. Viruses, such as hepatitis, are spread by crawling insects that had made a meal of the victim's flesh.
This entire house has been scoured, done to make it appear as if the Caretaker has never been here, as if his services were never needed.
Cadieux putters around the kitchen, readying his atomizer for another round of decontaminant.
"You'd be surprised how many people came here and dropped off letters wanting to buy this house."