‘When someone has been decomposing for five months, there is little left for the police to withdraw. At that point, the body has become a soup’.
I meet Tugrul Cirakoglu in Wehl, a city in the eastern Netherlands. We have stayed at the house of a lady who has been dead for a month, lying at the foot of the stairs after tripping and falling down them. The police have removed her body, and now it’s Tugrul’s turn to clean it up.
Arriving, I find Cirakoglu outside, putting on his disposable coveralls. We walked to the door together and rang the bell. The niece of the deceased opens the door for us and she invites us in. The stench inside is overwhelming and makes me nauseous. Unmoved, Cirakoglu mops up the enormous amount of bodily fluids spilling out into the hall. I look at the hundreds of worms she drags along and ask her why they are so dark in color. “They are meat worms,” she tells me. “They are different from the ones found in compost.”
We spent the next two hours getting rid of flies, ripping up blood-stained carpet, and installing air purifiers. During that time, Cirakoglu, 29, tells me how he ended up in this business, the only one in the Netherlands specializing in “traumatic or crime scene cleaning.”
VICE: How did you end up cleaning crime scenes?
Tugrul Cirakoglu: After finishing my BA in Management and International Relations and a Master’s degree, I couldn’t find a job and decided to start my own business. With only 300 euros in the account, in 2014 I created the company Frisse Kater [Fresh Hangover]. At first we dedicated ourselves to cleaning houses after parties were held. But when I realized that the rule “the more extreme, the more lucrative” applies in this sector, I decided to specialize in extraordinary cleaning jobs. I spent four months researching online how to clean blood and body fluids.
Mainly, that the cleaning material is expensive. In four years, I have invested €150,000 in products such as disinfectants, degreasers, brushes, window cleaners, gloves, disposable overalls, oxygen masks and special vacuum cleaners. Each of these vacuum cleaners costs 1,500 euros and has a special filter that traps bacteria and prevents them from being released back into the environment. They are used, for example, to remove corpse dust.
When a corpse spends a long time decomposing, it begins to turn to dust. If you clean it with a broom or a normal vacuum cleaner, part of that dust is suspended in the air and it is very likely that you will end up breathing it, which is a source of diseases of all kinds.
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And can you afford all that stuff?
Of course. Last year we had a profit of 250,000 euros. I don’t worry so much about money anymore, but my goal is to make a million a year. Right now, I keep more or less half of the profits; with the other half I cover salaries, office rent, cleaning supplies, vehicles and taxes.
How do you determine the rates?
I work with several categories. I have a spreadsheet with supply costs and profit margins. For example, if you want to remove 150 kilos of feces from a bathroom, you would fall into the highest category and would have to shell out about 3,600 euros for a day’s work. In the lowest category, a day’s work costs about 1,700 euros.
Did you say 150 kilos of feces? Has that really happened?
Yes! In May we received a call from a building maintenance company asking us to remove that amount of fecal matter from a bathroom. People in nearby flats had complained about the smell. The toilet of the person who lived in the apartment in question had become clogged and the owner, instead of doing something to fix it, continued to shit in the clogged toilet. He first he filled the whole cup and then the shit spread out on the floor. In the end, the guy would stand at the bathroom door and shit there. He filled the entire room. And his room was next door. The day we went to clean, the man was at home, quietly reading the newspaper while we cleaned everything, as if nothing had happened.
Has this been your most brutal work to date?
No, there have been worse. Two years ago, we had to clean the house of a morbidly obese man who had been rotting for five months, until his family realized that he was not answering the phone and went to his house with the police. When someone has been decomposing for so long, there is little left for the police to withdraw. By now, the body has become a soup. The agents warned me that the smell was so strong that they vomited as soon as they entered the house. When they opened the windows to ventilate the room, half the guests in the hotel across the street left because they said the stench was unbearable.
What did you find when you arrived?
The guy was very fat and he had been there a long time, so there were worms and bodily fluids spread over ten square meters. All the soil and the layer below it had to be removed because the fluids had seeped through the concrete. The landlord had hired us because he wanted to rent the flat to someone else. This job fell into the most extreme category.
We do all kinds of cleanup: stabbing sites, shooting sites… We once went to the house of someone who had been attacked with an axe. The gun had been stuck in his head and there was brain tissue strewn across the wall. Or that woman who had stabbed herself dozens of times in an episode of psychosis. There was a lot of blood.
But the most intense work is cleaning the remains of people who have suffered a gastrointestinal hemorrhage, because there is a lot of blood and feces mixed together.