AN INTERVIEW WITH FORENSIC CLEANER BRETT TARLETON

Folio Weekly: What is that you do?

Brett Tarleton: I clean up crime scenes — homicides, suicides, trauma, home invasions, that kind of thing.

What does crime-scene cleanup mean?

It means if somebody commits suicide with a gun, there’s all the blood and aftermath to deal with themselves, and that’s traumatizing for anybody, especially family members, seeing [blood splatters] and whatever else may be left behind, you know. I go over the whole scene, observe it, see all what needs to be done. It involves sometimes cutting out carpet, taking out furniture, especially if it’s fabric, especially if it’s totally soaked through, I get rid of it 
for them.

You don’t get rid of bodies, right?

No, the body’s already gone by the time I get there.

So if there’s any blood splatter at all on any furniture, you get rid of it?

It depends. If there’s a lot of blood and it went straight through, then of course. I’ll box it up, cut it up, whatever I gotta do. All the blood parts, I’ll cut that out, put it in a biohazard box and send the rest to the trash. Couple drops, especially on a leather chair, you can clean them off. But fabric chairs, that’s pretty much trash.

Other than blood, what do you deal with?

Vomit, I’ve done something as small as that. All the way up to, well, suicides and homicides.

What’s the most gruesome thing you’ve ever seen?

[I can’t be specific] just out of respect for the families. I’ve seen just about everything, especially when it comes to blood and things like that.

This is a service families have to pay for, but it’s also a sensitive time for them, so how do you approach the situation?

Well, a lot of people don’t know 99 percent of the time this is covered under homeowner’s insurance. When you tell somebody that, it usually makes them feel more at ease that almost nothing has to come out of pocket.

Do you come across more suicides or homicides?

The scenes I’ve done are more suicides.

How did you get into this line of work?

I knew I wanted to do something in forensics. I came across some crime-scene cleaning things and called around and got someone to take me on; they sent me to training, I came back and started working for myself.

What kind of training did you get?

In South Carolina they have a school there that’s basically biohazard recovery, and it was a lot of crime-scene cleaning and things of that nature. It was about a weeklong course.

Why did you want to get involved in forensics?

I’ve always been interested in it since I was a kid, but I didn’t necessarily want to be a cop. I liked all the stuff that went with the investigation and things like that. I had a couple people in my life that had suicides, and there was probably nobody around to help them clean it up but them, so I got into this to help do it.

Are you certified?

I am certified, but there’s no licensure because here in Florida it’s not totally regulated yet. I wish it was more regulated because all people gotta do is start their own business, but without the training you’re not going to know what you’re doing, you’re going have trouble not knowing how to deal with [biohazard waste].

Every state is different?

Oh yeah. I’m sure it’s more regulated in some states, but not here in Florida yet.

What kind of regulations do other states have that Florida doesn’t?

More than anything, they want people to be licensed and be more health-conscious.

Can you recognize the smell of a decomposed body?

Oh yes.

It smells like nothing else?

Nothing else to me. That’s why we use respirators and stuff in certain cases. With decomposition, it will leave an odor. You gotta take it out.

Can you tell from the smell how long a body has been decomposing?

I can’t tell you how long from the smell, but usually it’ll take a couple days before it really starts stenching up. You can tell when someone’s been there for a while.

Has blood ever made you squeamish?

No, never at all. I don’t want to put it too lightly or whatever, but when I get there, it’s a scene, it’s basically a mess, and I make it to look like it never happened before.

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