Thursday, December 5, 2019

Crime Scene Cleaning Pt 2 - Writer Questions

Recently on the FightWrite podcast, I interviewed David
Morales of BioTechs Crime and Trauma Cleaning Services. He was kind enough to do two interviews with me. In the first he told me a bit about his job. I've done a summary post about that interview here.

The second part of the interview is featured today. It is not word for word what was said, just a summary. I really suggest you listen to the interview. Especially because of the jugs of urine. Yes, I said "jugs of urine." Keep reading, you'll see what I mean.

How is crime scene clean-up different from CSI?
Crime scene investigation and is a function of the police department. Their job is to gather evidence in order to piece together what happened. Anything they remove from the crime scene is for the purpose of investigation not to clean the area. Crime scene cleaners are private entities and actually clean the crime scene to remove biohazards.

How do you clean up horrible crime scenes and stay emotionally healthy?
It helps to know that we are helping families and loved ones. It keeps the family from experiencing further trauma. I try to keep that in mind.

Is there is a type of crime you are called most often for?
The majority of the jobs are suicides or unattended deaths.

Do you ever have to deal with pieces of human matter?
We have picked up ears, noses, teeth, eyes, fingers, nothing like a leg or arm. The medical examiner takes the large parts of the body for the family for the funeral.

How do you dispose of that?
We put them in our biohazard boxes and, per OSHA guidelines, the boxes are incinerated.

Where are they incinerated?
There are places around that specialize in incinerating this sort of thing. We store the biohazard boxes in a separate location and they are picked up for disposal once a month.

Are there times of the years that you have more activity?
We see more suicides around the holidays. In the summer we see more unattended deaths.

Is there a time of year where you see more car crashes?
No, that's consistent. There's crazy drivers year round.

Do you follow the same procedures for cleaning cars?
Yes, the carpet and anything that can't be sanitized has to come out. We go down to the metal if necessary.

What does human death smell like?
You never forget the smell of human death. It is a bitter, sour milk smell. It's "mushy" and you can smell the metal in the blood. The health of the person can change the smell as can the environment. If it's hot, the smell will be stronger.

Have you ever not been able to get the smell out?
No, but there's been times it's taken longer than expected. We've had to go through sheet rock and studs. Once the smell was caught in the a/c and we had to clean the air ducts. In that particular instance it took a week to get the smell out.

How do you help people who have a shared wall? How do you help them with the smell?
We may have to go to the next apartment. Once we had to take out the cabinets of the neighbor and there was actually more fluid under their cabinets than in the apartment of the one who passed.

Is the smell of a dead animal the same as a human?
The smell of a dead animal seems to stay consistent. Human smell tends to just get worse. I think animals smell worse.

When you enter a hoarder house where there is a death, what's the worst smell?
In a hoarding situation there are a lot of different smells. Sometimes the smell of the hoarded material is so strong you don't even smell a dead body until you are right up on it. 

Are things collected at hoarding situations destroyed as bio-hazardous weight?
It depends if a body is present and how long it has been there. If the body has been there a week or two weeks, the body starts to decompose and it attracts maggots. The maggots turn into flies which fly around the house. You can see little black dots on the windows and walls where the flies have tried to escape. They are so full of contamination that every time they hit the window or wall, they leave spots. Anywhere a fly has been, there is contamination. It all has to come out. We've had to tear out carpet and wipe walls all over.

How do you dispose of big things like carpet?
It all has to be broken down, boxed up and incinerated.

If a writer has a murder scene in their book, how should their character cover up evidence?
I would burn evidence or use oxygen producing detergents or replace the wall, floor etc.

What are writers of books and movies not getting right with violent crime scenes?
It's not that I don't think they are getting it right. I think sometimes it is a little too elaborate, a little too much blood etc. But, that makes for a good movie or book.

Have you ever had to testify in court?
I haven't but I know others who have. By the time the scene gets to us it's pretty well investigated.

What's the craziest thing you've seen in a hoarding situation?
Jugs of urine. Lots of jugs of urine. With details of the filling! (You really need to listen to the podcast for the details on this one! It's crazy!!!) 

If you get blood on the carpet at your house, what do you do to get it out?
If it's my house and it's from a cut on my finger, I will use chemicals. If it's a larger amount, I would cut the carpet out!!! What you see on the surface is only a hint of what is underneath. It might be a small spot on the surface but a huge circle underneath.

That's it fightwriters! Again, I suggest you listen to the podcast. It's an interesting one. On the note of maggots on a body, here's how they help solve crimes!

On the next round of, get blood on your pages!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Crime Scene Cleaners

After the corpse has been collected and all evidence
documented and bagged, what's left at a crime scene is a big ole' mess. And, I don't mean dirty dishes. Human matter doth abound. That is generally the end of the scene in movies and books but the fact is somebody cleans up that mess. And it's not the police or paramedics. Glory, they have enough to do. The job falls to private contractors such at BioTechs Crime and Trauma Cleaning Services here in the greater Houston area.

I interviewed David Morales at BioTechs and asked him a bit about his job for the FightWrite Podcast. The first interview was so good that I asked him to come back for a second and he did.

In this post, I will summarize what David told me about his work in our first interview. I'm giving you bare bones here. You really should listen to the interview. Just sayin'.

First, crime scenes indoors are generally cleaned by private contractors and they should be. Special care should be taken to eliminate bio hazardous material from an area. Blood born pathogens are nasty things and should be treated as, well, bio hazards.  

When David is called for a job, he first visits the site personally. He first walks onto the property or looks in the vehicle to estimate the time and manpower needed for the job. He then provides the property owner with an estimate. Homeowners and often renters insurance covers his services (who knew?). I am not sure if vehicle insurance does or not. I'm waiting to hear back from him on that. Also, some states will give you money to help you pay for the services.  

After David knows what he is in for, he and his crew suit up in hazmat gear and get to work. Anything porous that is soiled with blood or body fluid is taken away. That includes carpet, wood, dry wall, fabric. His crew boxes it up and stores it until it can be picked up by a company who destroy bio hazardous waste. Nonporous surfaces such as glass and metal can be sanitized. 

Although the hazmat suits have filters, the smell of death still permeates. David said that once you smell it, you never forget it. To him is has a sour but also metallic odor. He said that he personally had never gotten sick by the smell of human decay but fecal matter he just couldn't take. He also said that the smell of a dead human is very different than that of a dead animal. For him, the latter is worse.

I asked him how he did his job and stayed mentally healthy. There had been a few cleanings that had gotten to him, he said. He and his crew don't always operate in a vacant residence. Sometimes loved ones are still in the house mourning the loss. That is tough for him and his crew. But, what keeps him going is that not only is he doing something that keeps the family healthy, he is helping them through a traumatic event. And, he does that by doing more than cleaning. If there is anything the family needs from the room or residence where the death occurred, he will retrieve it for them. In fact, that's one of the first things he offers. He treats the people he cleans for with kindness and compassion. After all, his services aren't really something anyone wants to use. But, he said more than one homeowner has hugged him and thanked him for his services. And, I don't doubt that at all.

Ok, sooooo what about the gross stuff? Well, that will be in the next post. OR, you can listen to it in the second part of my interview with him.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Here is an episode of Crime Scene Cleaning. Enjoy. Should I say, "enjoy?" I don't know. Anyway, here ya go!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

WIN IT WEDNESDAY - Tosca Lee's, A Single Light.

We interrupt our crime scene series (podcast) for this
special announcement: IT'S WIN IT WEDNESDAY!

So begins a new series at On win it Wednesday we will examine a fight scene from a book and by commenting on the post, you could win that book and/or a copy of my book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes. The contest runs Oct 16 - 23. Leave a contact email or keep an eye out for the winner announcement Friday, Oct 25.

Our book for this Win It Wednesday is Tosca Lee's, A Single Light, the sequel to The Line Between. We will look at what Tosca writes, a video of what might be taking place and what we as writers can learn from both.

A Single Light: Chapter - 10:25 P.M.

By the time we arrive on the east side of the building, Chase has the second guard pinned on his back ten feet from his rifle, arms locked around his neck and under an arm. The guard kicks like a half-squashed bug, tries to buck and roll. Chase just pivots with him.

For the record, when I said that coach Galvão was trying to get up, I meant as a mere mortal would try not as a now fifth degree black belt would. You could park a truck on his chest and he'd get up. He's magical like that. Like a magical, bald unicorn.

From the video: We see that there's several things that Tosca could be describing. And, what I didn't cover is why all over those pins/holds work. In every case, I have pinned coach Galvão's chest and shoulders with either weight or discomfort. Yes, even though I weigh less than he does, it is enough to limit his movement enough that he can neither turn nor raise up. He can turn his hips but without being able to move his shoulders, it doesn't matter. 

If I am too far down on his chest, none of that works. These pins do work on opponents at least 100lbs heavier. I know from experience. However, my technique has to be spot on and I need to attack as soon as possible. Also, if my legs are too far from my opponent's head, they can reach them with their legs and pull me away. Every part of my body is where it is for a reason. Even in what looks like the most simple moves, technique matters.
Ok, why Lee's scene is a great example of how to write a fight scene:

She keeps it simple. With the video explained a little more, you can see that there are a lot of details that Tosca could have added such as where Chase's legs were and where his weight is distributed. She doesn't because she chose to serve the story instead.

She serves the story. To serve the story is to only use what is necessary to further the story. Tosca could have added in the details I mentioned but she didn't because they didn't matter in the scene, chapter or book. What mattered is that Chase is pinning the guard and he does it in a way that is in keeping with his character who is a former fighter.

She doesn't use technical jargon. Tosca does not tell us the name of pin/hold Chase is using. That would show her knowledge of fighting without consideration of her reader's knowledge of fighting. Requiring a reader to know what they don't can take them out of a moment. A reader should be in the fight, not trying to figure it out. 

Writers, it can take a whole book to win a reader, but just a page to lose them. Don't lose your reader by using jargon they don't understand. Yes, there are times when technical words must be used. If that is the case, show the meaning of that jargon. Don't tell. Show. I cover that a bit more in my book.
She uses description everyone can relate to. Tosca writes that the guard "kicks like a half-squashed bug, tries to buck and roll." That is a description that many people can visualize. It also gives us an idea of how much pressure Chase is putting on the guard's chest. Plus, it's kinda funny to think about. In that hold, I have totally bucked and kicked like a squashed bug.

Make your fight scene simple, relatable and serve your story. I know it is hard to not add in all the technical details especially if you have a specialized knowledge. You have to ask yourself if your reader would still understand the scene if they had never seen a fight, weapon or martial art in their life.

Comment below for a chance to win Tosca Lee's A Single Light swag bag or my book Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes. You might just win both!

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Crime Scene Clean Up - Dead Bodies

We are in the midst of a series of posts on crime scenes.
Today we will look a bit at the biohazards involved.
Get your Dead Write Blend shirt HERE!

On the most recent episode of the FightWrite Podcast we looked at the stages of decomposition chronologically. We also looked at the health hazards of having a corpse around. According to the World Health Organization, the health risk of a corpse is not as bad as you might think. If a person died without an infectious disease, their body isn't so much of a biohazard. If that is the case, then why are human bodily fluids labeled a health hazard? Well, let's see...


Bodily fluids are fluids produced by the body from the cerebrospinal fluid around your brain to the sweat on your feet and everything in between. In and of themselves they are not hazardous. It is the pathogens they could carry that are. 

Bodily fluids, even from the deceased can transmit pathogens. Here are some of those pathogens as well as  how long they can survive outside the body.

Cholera - feces - 50 days, glass - a month, a coin - week, soil and dust - 16 days, fingertips - 1- 2 hours
Ebola - 6 days.
E coli -  1-4 hours
Hepatitis B - a week
Hepatitis C - four days
HIV - 5-6 days in dried blood, longer in air tight container such as a syringe
Lassa Fever (Hemorrhagic Fever) - 1 hour
Mycobacterium Tuberculosis - 6 months
Rotavirus - dry surface - 10 days, wet surface - several weeks
Salmonella - four hours
Staphylococcus Aureus (causes MRSA) - weeks
Shigella - on food for up to 10 days (think hand to food transmission)
Typhoid/Paratyphoid Fever - months 

(All that just makes me want to wash my hands.)


In the podcast on decomposition, we learned that microorganisms inside the body break it down to basically a liquid state. But, those microorganisms aren't dangerous. And, the liquid state of the human body isn't either assuming that the person does not have an infectious disease such as listed above. 

Basically, a decomposing body is more of a stink problem than health problem. And, technically, that stink could kill you, but you'd have to have a lot of it. According to the Washington City Paper:

A dead body gives of a variety of gases as it decays. Two of them, aptly named cadaverine and putrescine, are primarily responsible for "dead body smell," and are produced mainly during the bloat and putrefaction stage of decomposition. The two chemicals are toxic, but only in large amounts; a 200-pound individual could ingest more than a quarter pound of either without getting a lethal dose. 


The view of dead bodies is, like a whole lot of things, a matter of culture. In some cultures, they just aren't that big of a deal. Here is a National Geographic video of an Indonesian culture that lives with dead bodies for weeks - emphasis on GRAPHIC there. You will see very dead bodies as well as an animal sacrifice (1:57 - 2:07). You've been warned. (I'm so sorry about that thumbnail. 😆 )

All right then, that's it for this post. In the next round we will look closer at bio clean up. Until then, get blood on your pages.

Here's a little factoid about me. I used to do Christian missions work in Honduras. Beautiful country, beautiful people. I stayed at El Rancho Paraíso near San Pedro Sula. A woman in a nearby village died and our ranch made a wooden casket for her. Supplies were not in abundance so they didn't want to use more than needed. The deceased was about my size so I was the model for that casket. They drew it around me and I hopped in an out as needed until its assigned inhabitant took her place. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Crime Scenes: Call to Clean-Up, Pt 2 Dispatch, EMS, FD, PD

In our last post in this series we looked at how to dial emergency around the world. Today we will look at dispatch and what happens right after.

When a call is placed to 911, the first thing the dispatcher does is figure out what type of an emergency it is. For this post we are going to assume that we are writing a scene in which a character has found a person who has been shot.  

If your work in progress requires your 911 operator to have any specialized knowledge, you need to know how much that operator knows. Training requirements vary state to state so check out your state of setting here.

As soon as the dispatcher finds out that your character has found a body, the dispatcher may ask the character if there are signs of life. For this, our character will say they don't know. In that case, dispatch will contact the closest EMS to the scene. If the closest is busy, the next closest is dispatched and so on. Police will also be contacted. If the body found has obvious signs of death, the dispatcher may forgo EMS and only dispatch police.

If EMS determines that the person is dead, they will not will not intervene and offer aid. As my paramedic friend said, "we don't help dead people." What are obvious signs of death? There's a light overview is in this post. I will go into greater depth in a coming podcast. (out Oct 3)

If the body is located in an unsafe environment, such as in a house where the smell of gas is strong or is behind a locked door, firefighters may be dispatched. They will enter the habitation and make it as safe as possible. Firefighters will not remove a body from a residence unless there is an assumption of imminent collapse of the house or the area is considered very dangerous. Otherwise, it is policy for firefighters to leave the body as they discover it so as to not disturb evidence.

EMS will document what they observe in the victim. They will not give a cause or time of death. They will also not transport the body. They will stay at the scene until the police get there to secure it. Securing means just making sure the area is safe from passersby, loved ones or media tampering with evidence or any part of the scene.  

We are looking at this scene as a death via gunshot wound. That can leave body matter in the area but likely not large pieces. If there is large body matter at a scene, who cleans it up?

EMS, firefighters and PD are not to tamper with any part of the scene which includes a dead body or parts thereof. PD may be instructed to do so as a part of an investigation to collect evidence. But, they are not to do so until instructed and must follow strict protocol. 

Sometimes, however, they do collect body matter in the interest of public safety/good. For example, let's say C-3PO is crossing the street and an inebriated driver in a Landspeeder hits him at a high rate of speed. That will cause C-3PO to basically explode all over creation.

When EMS, firefighters and PD get to the scene and see that C-3PO's arms, legs and head are lying in the road in view of all the Padawans getting out of school, they will first try to cover the parts of C-3PO's body to keep them out of sight. If that's not possible, these first responders may possibly move some body parts especially if they know what happened to C-3PO. Are they supposed to? No. But in the interest of the public good, they just might.  

After EMS has documented what they have seen and the PD has secured the scene, the forensics crew arrives. Does a hoard of investigators in hazmat suits or regular suits roll up and scour the scene of every single gun death? No. It depends on the circumstances at the scene. There's simply not enough funding, manpower or hours in the day for that.  

So, in your WIP, it may be that your death scene may not have all manner of investigative personal present. If one character is shot dead and another character is caught at the scene and confesses, there may be less evidence collected than if the murder fits the profile of a serial killer. Also, if the scene is especially gruesome, involves a minor or a sexual assault, investigative personnel will more likely be present.  

After the investigators and police are finished with the crime scene, crime scene cleaners come in. They are trained in biohazard clean up and are super interesting folks, let me tell ya. We will talk a little more about them in coming posts. In our next post we will look a little closer at what the crime scene investigators do.  

Before I get to the videos, let me say that I love first responders. I train with many on a regular basis (EMS, FD, PD) and they are great people. Any that I have talked to for help with writing have been very generous. If your WIP has first responders, reach out to a few for some authenticity in your work. I think you'll find they are happy to help.

Here's a short video from Nightwatch showing EMS tending to a gunshot victim who is "very upbeat for a guy with a hole near his junk."

Here's a day in the life of a 911 Dispatcher. I like this one because it shows the screen they look at. 

And last but not least, The Magician Cop.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Crime Scenes: Call to Clean-up, Pt 1: The Call

Well, your character has gone and done it. They went and killed somebody. What is a writer to do? First and foremost, a writer has to get things right.

Over the next few posts we will be looking at how a murder scene is addressed from the moment a 911 call is made until the area is again a healthy habitation. If the words, “healthy habitation” confuse you, well, keep an eye on these posts.

Calling for help – The first step in handling an emergency is to call for emergency services. In the United States the number to call, regardless of your emergency need, is 911. But what if your character isn’t in the good ol’e U. S. of A.? Here is a handy list of emergency management numbers for the countries who boast some of the most populated and/or frequented cities in the world. I will also include a link in case the city your character finds himself in isn’t listed. Some countries, like the U.S. have a universal number. Others have different numbers for different emergencies.

000 (112 cell phone)


9 555 5555
855 551-3



122 (traffic accident)



Hong Kong



100, 103 (traffic accident)


112, 118
112, 115
112, 113





166, 117


Saudia Arabia




998, 999

U.K. / Ireland
112, 999

I was going to post some funny 911 calls, but as I have plenty of
friends that are first responders, ridiculous 911 calls just make me angry. So, I'm attaching the funniest emergency call that was never called in to 911. I have listened to this call at least 100 times over the years and I cry laughing every single time. This is how we handle things here in Texas, y'all. Enjoy.  

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!