Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Horror

What reminded me of this incident was the fact that my homeowners’ insurance company suggested I have a “mold remediation” service look at my kitchen ceiling. I had a roof leak during the hurricane that hit Philadelphia in August, 2011. Water came in, the ceiling got wet, and some mold formed. The ceiling needs to be repaired, and any mold remediated.  The “mold remediation” service that was suggested by my insurance company is called “SERVPRO.” SERVPRO figures prominently in this very real horror story.

As I waited outside my house a few weeks ago for the familiar light green truck to pull up, I started thinking back to that fateful day in 1997. I was a bit surprised when two men got out of an unmarked car and approached me with meters and clipboards. In retrospect, the company may only send out a green vehicle to do an actual job. Why make the neighbors’ curious with a SERVPRO truck in the neighborhood? Now, if you’re anything like I was in 1997, a SERVPRO truck wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. But in the last ten years, I’ve noticed many more of their trucks around, which can only mean that business is booming. What business might that be, you wonder? Let’s just call it ‘biohazard waste clean-up,’ for now. So every time you see a SERVPRO truck waiting in traffic or parked in front of some house, you can guess what they’re up to.

Back in 1997, I had a previous life. Married to the first wife, we owned a duplex in the suburbs. Had three lovely children. Rented the upstairs half of the house. One hot summer day, I was washing the car in the driveway. Everyone was inside their air-conditioned homes, including two of my kids in my house. What with the noise of the hose and the neighborhood AC units humming along, no one heard the gunshot. 

An ambulance pulled in front of my driveway, a bunch of EMTs jumped out and started running toward me up the driveway. Before they got to my car, they turned and ran up the exterior staircase leading up to our second-floor apartment. The story goes that Gary and Gail, boyfriend and girlfriend – our tenants − were lying in bed. Gail was “fooling around” with Gary’s handgun. She supposedly put the barrel in her mouth and said to him, “You don’t think I’d do it?” 

She wasn’t dead when they took her away in the ambulance, but died shortly thereafter. The police questioned Gary, and then left. He came down to tell me his version of what happened and told me he was too shaken up to stay in the apartment. He said he’d be staying with his mother for a while. We didn’t see him for several weeks. Thought it was kind of odd that the police didn’t suspect him of any wrongdoing, but hey, they’re the pros. They must have been satisfied with his story.

Other than the death scene itself, one of the most horrifying things is that the guy had a gun. And he and is girlfriend were in my house playing games with it. What if the bullet had gone through the floor into the living space where my children were? What if it went through a window into a neighbor’s house? For years I concerned myself with enforcing the ”no pets “ clause in the lease – never occurred to me that tenants would have guns!

After everyone left, I went upstairs. Blood and brains splattered on the wall, a blood-soaked mattress. Blood on the wall-to-wall carpeting. It all smelled like blood. NOW what? They never show you THIS part on the cop shows on television. Who cleans this up? I spent the better part of a day on the phone calling all the likely resources – police, fire department, ambulance companies, funeral homes. By their responses, you’d swear nothing like this had EVER HAPPENED BEFORE! NO ONE had a clue what to tell me! Having worked in a hospital, they train you to take precautions when handling any bodily fluid spills, since all sorts of diseases can be living in it. So I knew I couldn’t touch anything without the proper tools. Plus it was gross. I called a friend of mine who used to be a firefighter. He suggested calling SERVPRO, a company I’d never heard of.

SERVPRO is who you call when you have “hazardous waste” to clean up. Crime scenes, accidents, anything involving blood and human tissues.  It’s a national chain. I’m sure other private companies exist, but good luck finding them! 

Ever see the movie “Sunshine Cleaning?” It came out in 2008, and it’s about cleaning up after messy deaths. This is something most people don’t ever have to think about. It’s also something they never address in cop shows on TV or in the movies, at least until “Sunshine Cleaning”  came out. The movie is about two young women with dead-end jobs who start “a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service.” It’s a dark comedy, both funny and revolting at the same time. They clean up all sorts of messy death scenes − gun shots victims, gruesome bodies that had been putrefying for months, and on and on. I was mesmerized by the movie, especially at how the women figured out how to do the job, since I had been through the learning process of clean-up myself. But the movie came out years after my own incident - I would’ve given ANYTHING for such information at the time of the gunshot death in my house.

I was certainly appreciative when the SERVPRO guys came the next day in their white Tyvek zipper suits and space helmets. They bagged up the mattress and tore out the rug. I watched them carry it all down the outside stairs, wondering where they would take it all. They cleaned the walls and disinfected the hardwood floor under the rug (blood had seeped through the rug). They did a great job - as they say in their advertisements, like it never happened. Well, sort of. It was also surprisingly affordable. I remember thinking, “They could have charged me TEN TIMES this amount and I would’ve had to pay it.” 

Gary came back a few weeks later and announced that he would be moving in with his mother. Okay with me. Was wondering how I was going to get him out of there. After he left, I had to go through the process of finding a new tenant. As people came to look at the place, I hoped none of the neighbors would pull them aside and whisper, “Hey, you know somebody died up there?” Killing all my chances of ever renting the place again. But that didn’t happen. Got new people and they never found out, to my knowledge. Time passes. 

Fast forward two years later, when I spot an item in the local paper, showing a photo of Gary! The police had arrested him for murder. Did somebody have second thoughts about the shooting at my house? Did they nail him for killing his girlfriend? Well, no. It seems that at some point, Gary moved in with a couple the next town over, then shot and killed them both. To my knowledge, they never re-opened the case of his “suicide” girlfriend.

Last Words:

"Gary" and "Gail" are not their real names. 
 Link to SERVPRO, in the event, God forbid, you ever need them.
View trailer of the movie,  “Sunshine Cleaning