Warning: this article contains images you may find disturbing. The article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
I meet Tugrul Cirakoglu in Wehl, a town in the eastern Netherlands, at the home of a woman who has been lying there dead for a month after she fell down the stairs. The police have taken her body away, so now it's our job to clean up her home.
When I arrive, Cirakoglu is outside, busy putting on his disposable overalls. Together, we ring the doorbell. The deceased woman's niece answers the door and lets us in. The stench in the house is so overwhelming, I feel sick. Cirakoglu, on the other hand, calmly mops up the enormous amount of bodily fluid in the hallway. I look at the hundreds of maggots he's sweeping up and ask him why they're so dark in colour. "These are meat maggots," he explains. "They are a different kind from the ones you would find in a compost pile."
We spend about two hours getting rid of flies, ripping blood-stained carpeting off the stairs and installing air purifiers. It's enough time to talk to Cirakoglu about how the 29-year-old came to start his cleaning business – the only service in the Netherlands that specialises in "trauma and crime scene cleanup".
VICE: How did you become a crime scene cleaner?
Tugrul Cirakoglu: After graduating with a masters in Management and International Business Affairs, I struggled to find a job, so I decided to start my own business. With just €300 to my name, I started the cleaning company Frisse Kater [Fresh Hangover] in 2014. Initially, the company focused on cleaning up after house parties. But when I realised that the rule "the more extreme, the more lucrative" applied to the cleaning industry, I decided to start focusing on extraordinary cleaning jobs. I spent four months on the internet reading up on how to clean things like blood and bodily fluids.
What did you learn?
I mainly learned that cleaning equipment is expensive. Over the past four years, I've invested €150,000 on equipment, like special disinfectants, degreasers, brushes, squeegees, gloves, disposable overalls, oxygen masks and specialised vacuum cleaners. The vacuum cleaners, which cost €1,500 a piece, have a special filter that stops bacteria from being pushed out into the air. You need them when you want to vacuum up corpse dust, for instance.
When a dead body is just left to decompose for a long time, it starts to turn to dust. If you clean that up with a broom or regular vacuum, some of that dust is thrown into the air. When you breathe it in, it's like you're breathing in small parts of a dead body, which can lead to all sorts of diseases.
And you can afford to pay for all that equipment?
Definitely – last year, we made €250,000. Though I've stopped worrying so much about money, my goal is to make a million a year. At the moment, I take about half the profit; the other half covering my employees, office space, cleaning supplies, cars and taxes.
How do you determine how much to charge?
I work to different categories. I have a spreadsheet that lays out the cost of my supplies and the profit margins for my work. For example, If you want to have 150 kilo of faeces scooped out of a bathroom, you're in the most serious cleaning category and you might have to shell out €3,600 for a day's work. In the lowest category, a day's work costs about €1700 euros.
One hundred and fifty kilograms of faeces? Has that really happened?
Yeah! In May we got a call from a building management company who needed 150 kilograms of poop scooped out of a bathroom. The people in the neighbouring apartments had been complaining about the smell. The toilet of the person living in the actual apartment had gotten clogged at some point, but instead of doing something about it, he just continued shitting. First he filled the entire toilet bowl, then the floor around it, Ultimately, he would stand on the threshold of the bathroom to shit into it. It filled the entire bathroom, and his bedroom door was right next to it. The building management company was OK with this person remaining in the apartment, so he was there on the day of the cleanup, reading the paper as if nothing was wrong.
Was this your most intense assignment yet?
No, we've had crazier assignments. Two years ago, we had a job to clean a home where a morbidly obese man had been decomposing for five months before his family noticed he wasn't answering his phone, and so they showed up at his house with the police. After someone has been decomposing for that long, there’s not that much for the police to remove. Your remains are just kind of scooped up with a shovel and put into a bag. This man had turned into soup. The cops told me that the smell was so bad they threw up as soon as they walked into the house. And after the opened the balcony doors to get some fresh air in, half the guests at the hotel across the street checked out because the stench was unbearable.
What did you find when you got there?
Because the guy was so heavy and he had been there for so long, his bodily fluids as well as maggots were spread out over about ten square metres. His entire floor and the layer below it had to come out. The fluids had seeped into the concrete and turned it black and his entire kitchen was damaged. His landlord had hired us because he wanted to rent it to someone else. This job fell in the most serious category.
We clean up all sorts of things – stabbings, shootings. We had someone who had been attacked at home with an axe. The axe had landed on his head, and brain tissue was splattered on the wall. Or a woman who had stabbed herself dozens of times while suffering from a psychosis. That was a lot of blood.
But the most intense thing I’ve encountered is cleaning up the remains of people who have had a gastrointestinal haemorrhage. With bleeding in the stomach, there is a lot of blood and faeces.
Has this happened recently?
Six months ago, we had a 32-year-old man who had suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding and stayed alive in his own bed for a month, laying in his own urine, blood and faeces. He was too sick to get up. After that, he suffered another stomach haemorrhage. He died from that a few days later. The worst thing is that this guy had roommates. They didn’t check in on him until a week after he passed away, because they smelled something. Nobody noticed that he was suffering for five weeks straight. These people were all drug addicts. While we were doing our job there, one of the roommates came over and asked if he could have the dead guy’s laptop. They couldn’t wait for us to finish.
How do you clean a bloody surface?
You scrub hard. It also depends on the situation – if the blood is on a non-porous material, we can clean it. But porous surfaces like wood have to be removed. When it comes to a dead body, the question is always: will we get lucky? Has the body started leaking pretty neatly, or are we looking at total chaos?
What effect does the job have on you personally?
Since I started this job, I've begun to recognise the rotten nature of humanity. The fact that people get killed doesn't shock me – that's been going on since the dawn of time. But what surprises me is how rampant loneliness and mental health issues are in the Netherlands. We’re always painted as a beautiful, happy country. But how can someone have 150 kilograms of faeces in their bathroom? How can another person be dead in their home for five months without anyone caring?
These instances make you realise that the Netherlands is one of the most individualistic countries in the world. I also go to the dirty homes of successful lawyers and doctors. They cry to me in their living room about how lonely they are. I don’t have a problem with blood and dirt. But seeing and feeling the intense loneliness and sadness, that really gets to me.