03/10/2020

Neal Smither has been cleaning up crime scenes for almost 25 years

WARNING: There’s some pretty disturbing images of actual crime scenes in this article – so if you’d rather not see that click away now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Death can be a pretty messy business, and no one knows this more than Neal Smither from Crime Scene Cleaners Inc.
“I’ve been to jobs where people have been locked up and tortured, someone else jumped into a wood-chipper. I’ve seen suicides, homicides, death with shot guns, poison… you name it,” he tells me.
Neal, who lives in San Francisco with his wife and kids, has been in the job for almost 25 years and in that time, as you can probably imagine, he’s seen a lot – hoarders, meth labs, even a dead whale.
He’s seen things that would have most of us spewing up on the spot, but to Neal it’s just another day in the job.
Neal Smither and his wife Lindy, who also works for Crime Scene Cleaners Inc. Credit: Instagram/Neal Smither
He tells LADbible: “I think, luckily for me, I’m just not bothered by it. I see messes and I might go ‘ew’ but they don’t bother me to the extent where I can’t do it. It’s a mess; it’s there. I get it done.
“It’s never been traumatic for me, ever, and it still isn’t. For me, I get there and it’s a service. It’s just like McDonald’s – the guy making the burgers, he doesn’t see that burger anymore because he’s done it 10,000 times. He’s just making it and not thinking about it and it’s the same thing for me.”
Like so many good ideas before it, Neal’s began sat on the couch at home.
“I was watching Pulp Fiction,” he tells me. “And it was the scene where Wolf (played by Harvey Keitel) comes in and cleans up Jimmie Dimmick’s house. It was kind of an epiphany for me. I thought: ‘does that exist? I can do that’.
“I started to research and look into the service itself, and I found it didn’t exist. So, I decided to get a business licence and start up a company.”
Although Neal and his team of a dozen or so cleaners now deal with thousands of jobs each year, that wasn’t always the case.
“It was a year before I got my first job,” Neal says. “I remember putting up adverts and waiting and waiting. Eventually, I got a call.”
And that first job for the rookie crime scene cleaner? Well, it was pretty dark.
“It was a lady who had beaten cancer once and then came out of remission – so she killed herself with a gun to the head,” Neal bluntly tells me.
As traumatic as that sounds to have to clean, Neal said all he felt was excitement because it was at this moment that he knew his business could be a success.
He explains: “I can’t tell you…it was so exciting. It wasn’t the mess; it was the fact that my idea was finally coming to fruition.
“The customer – the deceased’s sister – was happy with my work; she couldn’t sign the cheque fast enough and I left the job with $400 or so, in a very short amount of time. That was a huge amount of money to me back then.
“I was just very excited. It wasn’t the money – it was the fact that my idea was working.”
After years of cleaning up similar jobs – and worse – Neal tells me it all sort of blends into one big bloody mess in his mind.
“I don’t remember them as each distinct job,” he says. “It’s almost just like one big job. I will remember something here and there, but I couldn’t give specific particulars, because I would mix it up with another job and think they were the same.
“I’ve done too many. I’ve done thousands.”
Covering an area of around 100 miles, Crime Scene Cleaners Inc handles between two and 25 jobs per day – receiving calls around the clock, and always arriving on the scene within an hour.
He tells me: “Right now we’re in about a week’s slow spell, because it’s raining, but as soon as that’s over we’re going to pick up because people are going to getting out and about; people are going to visit grandma who died a week ago…you know, things catch up. It’s relentless.
“The area we cover, it’s very densely populated and there’s a lot of diversity in nationalities, beliefs and ways of living. And because they’re densely packed in there it comes to a boil quite frequently.”
And that boiling over leads to plenty of work for Neal and his team.
“Police call us out to homicides regularly,” he says. “We get that call; we get in the truck and go. We arrive, flash the lights and the cop will lift the tape and we’ll drive right into the crime scene. We’ll hop out and get scrubbing.”
But while he spends a lot of time at crime scenes, Neal is quick to point out to people that his job isn’t police work, it’s just cleaning.
He explains to me: “It’s not romantic. It’s not investigation. The blood and the crime, that’s the least of it. It’s very physically demanding. It’s manual labour. We’re janitors. There’s no difference in our service than the guy who is at the train station mopping the floors. We’re just mopping up something that is quite unique and happens in a certain situation.
“Sure, at times it can be exciting, but for the most part it’s like any other job – you don’t want to go but you have to make money to live and that’s what we do.”
As the world’s fascination with true crime shows no sign of stopping, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the Crime Scene Inc social media accounts have gathered thousands of followers.
Neal shares before and after shots of places he’s cleaned up on Instagram and it seems as though the public can’t get enough; the grimmer the better.
“It’s a pretty big following for what we do – I’m surprised by it,” he says. “I did it just to show people what I do and just keep it kind of vague, because not many people know about the job. It really just caught on and got much bigger than I anticipated.”
Over on Facebook, Neal has a group where people can ask him questions about his job or crime scene cleaning. He even sells merch, with the Crime Scene Cleaners Inc logo or oft used hashtag ‘#P4D’ (pray for death).
So, what does Neal think gets people clicking, commenting and even buying?
“I think death is kind of the last frontier, so to speak. Nobody knows anything about it,” he explains. “Very few people are exposed to any kind of a ‘scene’ – like the kind I see – and everyone kind of wants to know how it happens and why it happens and what’s next. And we’re able to give them a little picture into each one.
“I think part of the attraction to the Instagram page is that I don’t tell people much, so their imaginations take over and really drives it.”
If any of you ghouls want to see more of what Crime Scene Cleaners Inc do on a daily basis, you can check out the Instagram page here.