Don Weir tells us what it's like to scrape brain matter off the walls.
All photos via the author
Don Weir is in the bedroom sweating in a HazMat suit, metal scraper in hand, chiselling away at dried hunks of brain and skull plastered to the ceiling and walls.
"It's like concrete when it dries," he says while inside a Toronto apartment littered with kids' toys, recording equipment, drugs, and gun paraphernalia. "But if you start when it's too fresh, you'll just smear it everywhere."
The professional crime scene cleaner is on the site of a shotgun suicide where he gives me the rundown of his process. "I'll scrape, clean, disinfect, then paint," Weir says. All of the guy's possessions will be placed in a storage locker for his family to sort through. "When I'm done, nobody will ever know what happened here."
Mouldy grow-ops, vicious murder scenes, liquefied corpses—Weir has cleaned them all. He's lean and wiry with cigarette-stained teeth, needle-short hair, and a distant, muddy stare. And you can tell that he's seen things that would shatter a sensitive soul. You can also tell that he's just fine with that.
"That's someone's existence that you're wiping off the wall," he says as he works away at blood splatters with an S.O.S pad once all the big chunks are gone. For this job, the guy's insurance company is footing the bill, but Weir also does private gigs and police contracts.
"Somebody's got to do it."
Ontario Crime Scene Services currently has a staff of four and works all across the province. Weir founded the company eight years ago after spending a year working for his now-rivals at Crime & Trauma Scene Cleaners Inc.—a company that pioneered the industry in Canada. Prior to his apprenticeship, Weir got certificates in handling hazardous materials from the Ontario Fire College and the Canadian Emergency Management College.
The fascination started when Weir saw a YouTube video about the business in the US. Though he warns the job itself isn't just simply cleaning—there are also potentially dangerous situations that come with this gruesome work.
"People think that you don't need any training to do this, and that's just not true," Weir says. "We come across guns, we come across knives, animals. You know, someone's got hepatitis and they've got a cat and that scratches you? Well, you need to know how to protect yourself. People just think that we clean up the bathroom."
You also need to be able to deal with people, he explains. "You have to show compassion for the family," he says. "Whatever the family wants, we'll make sure that they get it—we'll make sure that they're happy with our service in the most difficult time of their life"
Every day, Weir gets emails from people wanting jobs. Most are gore freaks, according to him. He wants nothing to do with them.
"The first thing I look for in an employee is their attitude," Weir says. "How well do they get along with others? What kind of life experience do you have? If somebody's already uptight, then this is not going to be for them. We're kind of like a big happy family—a dysfunctional family, but a happy family."
Before he got started, Weir worked in home renovations—skills he brings with him on this job. It helps to know how to paint, build and fix things, Weir says. Imagine the kind of work that goes into fixing up a maggot-infested apartment where a guy died months ago and was only discovered after his liquefied corpse began dripping into the light fixtures of the apartment below him.
"You see so many different things, you thought you'd seen it all," Weir says, taking a cigarette break on the dead guy's balcony. "But it's never the same thing twice. You learn a lot about human psychology, that's for sure."
Throughout the day, he messages his 21-year-old daughter.
"People shouldn't play with guns," he texts, along with a photo of a brain-splattered wall.
"Gross," she replies.
Weir says that he wishes she'd get into the family business.
"She likes the stories," he laughs. "My wife doesn't."
Weir says he never pukes; that he never gets nightmares. None of his jobs haunt him.
He spins yarns about his most memorable cleanups, always calm and blasé. Like the time a heavy guy jumped off the 18th floor of a Hamilton high-rise, hitting multiple balconies on the way down, bending a metal railing, then exploding on impact, sending a wave of back splatter across the building's façade. The neighbourhood cats started eating the gore as Weir picked body parts out of a foot of snow, throwing salt down to get to the bigger hunks. Those cats went home to lick their families and Weir had to go into the building, door to door, to clean up all the bloodied balconies.
"One guy's like, 'Oh the guy splattered all over my windows,'" he says. "I go out to his balcony and it's just filled with dog shit. And I was like, 'I think that's the least of your worries, man.'"
In the US, similar companies go around in trucks emblazoned with company logos. To Weir, discretion is key. He drives around in an aging unmarked minivan, keeps his gear in a black duffel bag, and only suits up once he's inside a property.
"I've had jobs where the only thing the kids knew was that we were a cleaning company, but they didn't know who we were or why we were there—but we were in the basement cleaning up their father," Weir says. "At the end of the day, when the family says, 'Thank you so much for everything you've done for us, for taking care of this, I don't know what I'd have done without you.' You know? That's what the job is all about. No family member should have to come in here and spend two weeks scraping their loved one's brain off the wall."
Weir finishes another cigarette and flicks it off the balcony, watching the butt tumble.
"It's pretty awesome," he says finally with a grin. "I love my job."
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