LALI VAN ZUYDAM
EVER wondered how the blood, guts and gore is cleaned up at crime scenes after the police and the investigating officers have left? Ever wondered who restores order to the home of a deceased’s family?
Eileen de Jager and her sister Roelien Schutte do.
The pair have been cleaning crime scenes for the past 15 years and have made a successful business of it.
On every crime scene they say they relive a person’s last moments and clean every nook and cranny.
They feel their services fulfil a vital role in people’s lives, especially those who lost a loved one. “We were meant for this job,” Schutte said.
The sisters started their business, Crime Scene Clean Up, four years ago in the city.
“We had an opportunity to start cleaning crime scenes in the UK when we were much younger. We are happy to have found our passion and our calling in life,” she said.
Their business has since grown to include 16 branches across the country.
Even though there are more hands now, De Jager and Schutte still get down and dirty themselves.
“Sometimes we do not have a choice but to go ourselves. We even have to go separately when there is more than one scene to attend to,” De Jager said.
De Jager’s husband, Francois, left his family business two years ago to help the sisters with theirs.
Within the next three years, they plan to expand their business to include spill response. This involves cleaning oil spills on the freeway as well as in the ocean.
When scenes require cleaning in the more isolated areas in the country, the sisters travel there themselves. “We do not have branches in those areas so we do all the travelling jobs ourselves,” Schutte said.
“We knew our business would be big – South Africa has a need for our services and expertise,” she said.
In South Africa, unlike in the US and the UK, it is not a legal requirement to have crime scenes cleaned professionally. “People do not know how important it is to clean every centimetre of a scene. If it is not done properly, they can get very sick,” Schutte said.
The sisters both agree their calling is not shared by many.
According to De Jager, there are other businesses that offer crime scene cleaning in the country. “People usually start these businesses and they do not know what they are in for, so other businesses do not last long,” she said.
The sisters test their franchisees mentally and in the field before they are approved to start a new branch. “It has to be their passion, otherwise they also will not last,” De Jager said.
When the business started, the sisters used to work together very closely and almost always went to a scene together. These days, they work separately more often. “After the adrenaline wears off and we drive back to the office, we debrief each other and talk about our experiences,” De Jager said.
They do not see psychologists to keep them sane.
They balance all their negative adrenaline with positive adrenaline rushes like white water rafting and other extreme activities.
“Even now when I know I have a scene in the morning, I cannot sleep. We never know what to expect and every scene is different,” De Jager said.
The sisters agree their services include more than just intensive cleaning. “Our social lives do suffer and we do not keep office hours, but what would happen to people if we do not clean the scenes?” Schutte said.
Schutte said they often discover additional evidence the police did not find, such as murder weapons.
“We stop immediately and call them back. We do not get involved in investigations and court cases,” she said.
They have also disproved causes of death. “Once, the police determined the cause death to have been suicide when, in fact, it was murder. We told the police and the perpetrator was eventually caught,” De Jager said.
“The fact that we can help people in their most desperate time is what keeps me doing my job,” Schutte said. They often help people through their trauma and offer their ears to grieving family members. “People need to talk about it,” she said.
When asked what the worst part of their job is, both agreed on children.
“Cleaning scenes where children were involved, is the worst thing. It is not supposed to happen,” De Jager said, a mother of two herself.
De Jager and Schutte published a book about their experiences last year, called Bloedsusters. They are working on a second book, to be released in the next year.
“The second book will be a more personal account of our experiences and anecdotes about what we see on the job,” Schutte said.
Bloedsusters, originally written in Afrikaans, is now available in English (Bloodsisters) and will soon be released in Flemish. It is already in its third print. “We are so grateful for our book. Many more people have become aware of what we do because of it,” she said.
They said people should not be fooled by the book. “Our job is not as glamorous as it is made out to be. It is nothing like CSI. We work on our knees in warm suits with respirators and chemicals,” De Jager said.
They work with specialised tools, gear and equipment. “What we do is high risk, you can get very sick and even die from what we are exposed to,” she said.
“But we still love it,” Schutte said.