Murder is messy. There’s blood, bone fragments, brain detail—and somebody needs to clean it up.
That’s where Neal Smither—the founder and president of Crime Scene Cleaners—comes in. Smither, with the help of more than a dozen employees, has cleaned up “thousands” of crime scenes. He’s documented the work too, posting the gory images to an Instagram page that’s attracted hundreds of thousands of followers.
Smither spoke with A&E Real Crime about his peculiar brand of janitorial work and why some people are interested in crime-scene photos.
The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence. Discretion is advised.
Let’s discuss your social media stardom. Why do you think there’s such a huge appetite for the crime-scene pictures you’re putting out?
Because it’s death. It’s the big unknown. People want to know about it, and they don’t know about it—it’s this mystery they’re not going to solve.
We’re exposed to things the average person won’t see. We’re behind crime-scene tape. It’s like with a car wreck—if you drive by, you slow down to stare. It’s not appropriate, but you do.
How’d you first get involved with it?
I was 27, and basically a loser. I wanted to become self-employed, but I had no skills or money. I was sitting on the couch watching Pulp Fiction and they brought the Winston Wolfe character in. They cleaned the car and I thought, That’s for me. It was an epiphany. I researched for six months and started a company.
What’s the hardest thing, physically, to clean?
As far as manual labor, the most difficult substance to clean is dried brain. Dried brain splatter from a shotgun or something. It dries like marble—it’s very difficult to scrub off.
But the most severe kind of cleanup is a decomposed body. Those are challenging.
It’s a huge putrid mess covered with maggots and every kind of funk you can imagine. There are obnoxious odors, insulting visuals—anything you can picture, it has.
A lot of people would find your work too disturbing to stomach. Have you ever had a moment where the graphic nature of your job was difficult for you?
No. It’s always been a business. It’s never bothered me. It never has, it never does. I just don’t get personally involved with it. It’s not my problem. I’m there to clean the mess and get out of your way.
What about the people who work for you, those with less experience than you? Do they get rattled? And do you teach them best practices to avoid on-the-job problems, like not eating big meals beforehand?
Our people go through extensive training. We teach them everything. They don’t just get put in a truck and sent out to clean blood off the street. But if they’re that kind of a person, they’re not even going to get hired.
How can you tell what ‘kind of person’ they are before they’ve even started?
Someone who wants to work for us isn’t even going to apply unless they’re not squeamish.
But really, our training consists of trying to make you quit. I put them in the truck and they are literally swimming in gore and manual labor and sweat and discomfort for weeks.
Because once they’re in a truck by themselves, it’s relentless. They’ll work three hours here, and then 15 minutes later, they’re back in the truck going to something else.
What’s your turnover rate?
Ninety-five percent don’t make it past a month. It’s not the gore that freaks them out. It’s the amount of labor involved. People see this crap on TV and they think it’s romantic and exciting; it’s not. It’s a manual labor janitorial job, and we are very busy.
You must occasionally get calls from people who’ve committed crimes and want you to clean up their mess. How do you sniff that out and avoid criminal liability?
It’s happened twice in 23 years of business, and we caught it both times.
For the first one, I was present. The guy had locked himself out of the house and had a locksmith letting us—and him—in. There were no pictures of him on the wall, but there’s blood everywhere. We went down to the manager’s office…they called the police.
Law enforcement is on top of their [stuff]. Generally, it’s going to be very clear if there’s been an investigation, and the property’s released [meaning: legally cleared for us to access].
On your website, you state that you tend the phones 24 hours per day. Are crime scene clean-ups time sensitive?
Sometimes. If there’s blood in the street, a major thoroughfare, they have to shut it down. They don’t want to [have to] shut it down, so they want it cleaned. We go to them and clean it. We arrive within 60 to 90 minutes of every call.
But certainly, most crime scenes aren’t on major thoroughfares or even in public places. Why the expedited work on those scenes?
For me, it’s a form of customer control. I want to be able to get there quickly, get it done quickly and get paid before mom and dad decide, It’s not so bad, I’ll do it myself.
And if you’re going to compete with me, you need to accomplish the same thing or I’ll crush your soul. My competitors are my enemies and I want to destroy them. I enjoy that part of it. I enjoy bringing the business in, and I enjoy crushing anyone who comes against us. That’s the fun.
That sounds a little sadistic. Some people might look at someone in your line of work and assume you’re a sociopath whose found an entrepreneurial outlet to express those feelings.
I get that a lot.
Is it an unfair assumption?
They may be right. But I have kids and a family, and we all live a normal happy life… but if I see a car wreck and someone else is also seeing it, I’m not going to be the one who stops to help. I don’t hate my fellow man, but I’m surely more cynical regarding my fellow man. People are… vicious animals, and if they can bonk you on the head and take your money without getting caught, they’re gonna.
My business is to get in there, clean it up and get out of your life. McDonald’s knows they’re selling [bad-for-you] food, but they’re not here to counsel you on your diet. My product is just a product [most] people don’t have any exposure to.
The situation I have, people are expected to have empathy. But I’m just a janitor.