“Human Litter Boxes?

There is one aspect of this line of work that no amount of formal schooling or training can prepare a person to experience. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with traumatic injuries. There are plenty of photos and textbooks for that, and anyone interested in this field is expecting to see trauma. What surprised me about this job was the constant exposure to poor housekeeping.

Crime scenes on television are so clean. Every once in a while there is a body in a wooded area or a dumpster, but for the most part people never die in a filthy house in “Hollywood.? I’ve worked deaths at several houses that were immaculate. The rest of them however range anywhere from “my house after a week without the wife? to “someone needs to call the health department.?

There is nothing more disheartening than arriving at a scene and seeing a filthy yard. If creative landscaping isn’t the only reason it is impossible to navigate a direct path from the curb to the front door, then I generally assume the interior is worse. Unfortunately I have yet to be proven wrong. In my experience, if someone doesn’t care about the part of the house that people see when driving by, they typically care even less about the part hidden from public view.

Sometimes when I drive down a street I try and guess how many houses on a block are filthy inside. I try not to judge based on the socioeconomic dynamics of a given neighborhood. Interestingly enough, the level of cleanliness has nothing to do with the part of town that someone lives in. I’ve been in upper class neighborhoods that were absolute pits inside. Still, I have to admit that I’ve seen more filthy houses in upper class neighborhoods than clean ones in lower class neighborhoods.

I groan a little each time an officer tells me, “You may want to wear shoe covers on this one.? This statement is usually followed by a detailed description of the condition of the floors in the house. During one scene investigation, I took my first two steps onto the linoleum of a kitchen floor that was so sticky I walked completely out of my shoe covers. There must have been a previous spill of construction grade adhesive. Or maybe it was Mountain Dew.

Sometimes there are piles of dog feces all over the house. I recall one time when an officer noticed I was having trouble seeing the body I was examining. The wall switch was already on, so he pulled the chain at the light fixture. The first chain he pulled was actually the ceiling fan chain, which generated a snowstorm of dog hair and other mysterious particles from the fan blades that drifted down onto everything in the room.

Even more disgusting is when there is fecal matter scattered throughout the house and the person didn’t own a pet. It makes it easy to track the movements of the homeowner (no pun intended)—sort of like footprints in the snow. Fortunately, most fecal matter is contained in the bathroom. Unfortunately, it is not always contained in the toilet. Sometimes I get the impression that the person must have been standing over the toilet with a case of projectile diarrhea in order to make that kind of a mess.

I suppose from now on I should take time to photograph the various elements of filthy houses. Things like skillets of half-eaten Hamburger Helper infested with maggots and roaches crawling inside of baby bottles in the sink. Then I could publish a textbook of those photos to help prepare others to experience this unexpected aspect of death investigation.


10 Responses to “”

  1. February 21, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    I have to say, your blog is really interesting. I always was fascinated with forensics and crime scene investigations – I guess it’s the morbid creature in me – but could never really pursue it as a career because Death freaks me out and I wouldn’t be able to deal with it day in and day out. But I enjoy reading your stories. Keep up the good work.

  2. February 21, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    Not exactly where you were going with this post, but when you mentioned the ceiling fan with dog hairs all I could think of was, “Oooo oooo! Fibers! Now they can solve the crime.”

    If CSI has taught me nothing, it has taught me at least that all Hollywood crime boils down to fibers. No wonder those vinyl fetishists never get caught.

  3. 3 Terri Poposky
    February 23, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    Maybe you should take pictures. It would be interesting at least. I’m not really surprised about how gross some people’s homes are. I think that if I left my teenage son’s room alone for a few months it would have rotting food and maggots everywhere.

  4. February 24, 2005 at 10:21 pm

    I will NEVER be able to leave my house with a dish in the sink anymore. lol Something else to obsess on. If someone should die, not me O lord, in my house, the investigators will be dissing the kitchen. lol Nice post.

  5. February 25, 2005 at 11:34 pm

    Well at least I don’t feel so bad about my house. It isn’t that bad! Phew, now I can go ahead and “pass on” in peace. Thanks!

  6. March 1, 2005 at 7:09 am

    LOL…now I know I should make sure my house is “coroner presentable” at all times. 😉 Love reading your blog.

  7. 7 Meg
    March 3, 2005 at 11:27 am

    *sigh* That’s the type of house my step-children came out of when we got custody, finally.

  8. 8 Jerry
    January 27, 2006 at 6:11 am

    As a fellow Coroner Investigator, I have to say that I enjoy your stories and reports. After reading this letter on “Human Litter Boxes” I can really relate but I must say you almost made the descriptions too clean. There is nothing like working your way through a pack rat house to get to the body. Or throwing the clutter out of the way to create a path to drag the body out of the residence. I remember one scene where walking though the house involved traversing three foot deep junk. We actually walked out on top of a desk and dresser while removing the decedent, because they provided the surest footing.

    Keep up the wonderful letters

  9. 9 Brandon
    February 22, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    I am in college studying to become a crime scene investigator and was just wondering how I can obtain pictures of what you consider “human litter boxes.”


    Maybe an internet search for filthy houses. I can’t post any of “mine” as they are the property of the state.

    A Douglas

  10. 10 Cyndi
    March 8, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    Speaking of litter boxes…I have heard that fecal matter has been collected to tie a particular suspect to a crime scene on several ocassions, but how does one collect fecal evidence? Like what collection procedures are used?


    I’ve never seen it collected myself, but it seems like I’ve heard of it happening before. Something to do with fecal matter being left at a scene by a suspect and being collected for the purposes of extrating genetic material that could be traced back to a particular person. I have no idea what collection procedures are used. I would guess a plastic specimen cup, but a crime scene technician would be able to give you a more accurate answer. I’ve never had cause to collect feces. From a medicolegal standpoint, fecal matter at a scene wouldn’t serve much purpose in determining cause of death. The body itself and the specimens collected from it should be all that’s needed. On the other hand, I have collected masticated pills from vomitous before.

    A Douglas

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