AP NEWS
Related topics

Violent Crimes Are Heart of Business for Cleanup Companies

November 7, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ The blast from the package bomb killed its victim instantly and blew the hinges off the front door. Blood soaked the wallboards and stained the carpets.

Michael Hosto was paid to clean up the mess.

``It’s a dirty job,″ said Hosto, owner of Crime Scene Cleanup, a Fort Lauderdale company specializing in removing evidence of violent crimes, including blood stains and body parts.

In the past, crime scenes were mopped up by police officers, janitors and even victims’ families.

``The way I look at this business is that we’re providing a service to family members,″ said Hosto, 30. ``Nothing more, nothing less.″

The oddities of the business have been captured in Quentin Tarantino’s new black comedy, ``Curdled.″ The film is about a Florida crime scene cleanup company much like Hosto’s.

He started his company in 1993 as an offshoot of Fireworks Restoration Co., which rebuilds houses damaged by floods, hurricanes or bombs.

``Before we could rebuild a house we would first have to dispose of the biological waste,″ said Hosto. ``The business just kind of evolved.″

The crime cleanup service now averages about six jobs a month, employs four cleaners and covers a region from Orlando in central Florida south to Miami. Prices range from $100 for a basic job to $54,000 for an extensive cleanup, like the damage from the package bomb last April in a home in Plantation, near Fort Lauderdale. That took a month to complete.

Once Hosto gets the go-ahead from insurance companies, his cleanup crew dons sterile suits to avoid contact with blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis. They fasten full-face respirators to filter the air.

Sgt. Bill Garrison, supervisor of the Metro-Dade Police Department’s Health Services, said cleanup companies not only take a load off the victims’ families, but they also provide a safe way of getting rid of blood.

``Families who have moved away from their support systems just don’t have the people to help them clean up after murders or suicides,″ he said. ``These companies also make disposal safer.″

The state licenses Hosto’s company to dispose of biological waste. Workers place blood in special receptacles, replace contaminated drywall and remove and burn soiled rugs and carpets.

But the hard part of the job isn’t the cleanup, it’s being prepared.

Garrison, who works on a 24-hour police counseling service, said seeing crime scenes can upset even the most hardened police officer. He said it’s important people know what to expect.

``It’s difficult to find people to do the job,″ Hosto said. ``Usually they either have a medical or veterinary background.″

Hosto has also hired family members.

``This is one of those jobs that you just have to desensitize yourself to,″ said brother Christopher Hosto, 27. ``But sometimes it’s pretty difficult.″

After medical examiners remove the bodies and detectives bag the evidence, it’s common to find clues left behind. Once workers found a pistol at a murder scene.

``Sometimes the scenes are hard to forget,″ said Lisa Stein, a 23-year-old employee of the company. ``Sometimes I want to read the newspapers to find out more about what happened.″

Even small-town entrepreneurs have become interested in the business.

Hairdresser Donna Massey opened Phoenix Crime Cleaners in the Tallahassee area of northern Florida.

``I just started reading articles about other companies that were doing it and I thought we could use something like it here,″ said Massey.

She plans to ease into the business.

``I think that in the beginning we’ll just do small-town crimes,″ she said. ``You know, tissue, blood and bone fragments _ no bodies.″

Massey employs eight part-timers, including a counselor. ``I think it’s a good idea to have someone that the staff can talk to. Airing your feelings about this is good.″

But for someone like Stein, cleaning up crime scenes has become just another job. ``I know I don’t have a very pleasant job,″ she said. ``But I can see myself doing it for quite awhile.″

AP RADIO
Update hourly