What follows is a descriptive summary of an actual scene we’ve handled. Remember that we are professionals and equipped to handle this type of situation. As you read, imagine what it would have been like for a family member or other non-trained person to deal with this.
Imagine walking by your neighbor’s studio apartment in the middle of the day in August. You glance at his window and ponder why the glass is black. As you pass by, you realize you haven’t really seen him or heard anything from him for a few weeks. He is a quiet man and a bit of a loner, but you usually see him a few times during the week or at least hear his television late at night. Come to think of it, you haven’t even noticed his lights on at night when you get home from work.
Odd, isn’t it? You pause as you pass and notice movement on the glass – just a shimmer of something that catches your eye. Intrigued, you take a closer look and realize the glass is writhing by itself, almost like its alive. Morbid curiosity hits you and you lean closer. You catch a whiff of a peculiar odor that you can’t quite place just as you realize your hand is moving to the window. You can’t stop yourself as your index finger taps roughly on the glass. The dark covering on the inside of the window erupts inward in a swirl of black flies and you briefly catch a glimpse inside… What you see in that moment will stay with you for life.
It was the summer of 2008. After discovering his neighbor’s tragic fate, the young man immediately called 911. The sequence of events at that point followed the usual script. The police arrived, entered the premises, and discovered the man who occupied the studio apartment, or what was left of him, lying on his bed. The young officer who was first on the scene gagged several times from the overwhelming odor and the mass of insects infesting the room. He had never seen anything like it.
Decomposition had set in and the body had gone from the putrefying bloating stage to the point where the body cavities ruptured and connective tissue fell apart. It’s also at this stage where insect activity becomes most prevalent.
The mass of flies in the air was nothing compared to the slippery carpet of maggots where the cavities had ruptured.
When the coroner arrived, they retrieved the deceased man, searching for and finding the majority of parts that sloughed off during the breakdown of the skin and connective tissue. What was left was the putrefied body fluids and everything they came in contact with…not to mention the odor.
When he passed away in his sleep, the man was on his bed in the main room. His decomposing body had soaked through his mattress, the box spring, and into the carpet below. The carpet was teeming with insects. They were prevalent both on the surface and between the carpet and pad, below the pad, and had worked their way under the linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom. His bodily fluids had made it all the way down to the concrete subfloor, and once reaching there, had pooled and spread throughout the studio apartment. Almost 2 gallons of bodily fluids had escaped the body through fissures, cracks, and ruptures in the skin.
As he slept, he also laid his arm on the wall next to him. The fluids which leaked from there saturated the dry wall, soaked through to the sound board beneath, and affected the wooden framing. It completely soaked the sill plates, affecting the sound board and drywall on the adjoining wall.
All of these physical aspects of the man’s death were almost tolerable. It was the odor which was the most difficult to bear. In such a small space, with no real airflow, in the heat of the summer, it was the odor which caused even the most experienced of the responders to fight back the immediate urge to gag. When they finally removed the body, the staff wore full faced carbon filtered supplied air respirators to combat the smell of death.
The coroner reported the man had been deceased for 12-15 days at the point he was found. With no nearby family, the property manager was left to deal with the situation. They immediately notified there insurance company who reached out to us. Could we handle this job? Could we be there that evening to take a look? How soon could we get an estimated cost and start work? Would we be able to get rid of the odor?
We arrived on scene that evening, immediately started decontamination to combat the odor and insects, and got the work done the next day.