Best Job Done of a Job No One Wants - 2001
Maria Frenkel, crime-scene cleanup
In the spring of 1996, Frenkel, then 37 years old, was pregnant with her first child. One morning, as she sat on her bed, putting on makeup, she felt something peculiar. "It was like an electric shock that was moving up toward my navel," she says. "And then I started feeling back pains. And I thought, 'What the heck is wrong?' I didn't know what was happening until I started bleeding.
"When I came home from the hospital, I was the one who had to do the cleanup. So I spent a lot of time praying about what to do to help other people who were in similar situations."
Thus from the umber stains of that stillbirth years ago sprang Frenkel's new business. She incorporated Crime Scene Clean-Up Services that same year. She says she went door to door, offering her services to people in whose homes and apartments and places of business had occurred all manner of messy, unspeakable tragedies. Teeth embedded in walls. Puddles of blood on Berber carpet. A bathroom shower raining on a dead man's face for two weeks.
She can now talk about her own reasons for getting into the business back then, but Frenkel closely guards the details of her work today. She has cleaned up the physical aftermath of some of the most publicized deaths in the area, but the emotional mess left by these incidents, some of them recent, can't be carted off in red bags for incineration. She'd prefer the families involved not have to read about any of it here.
One case she will discuss, though. About a year ago Frenkel got a call about a situation in an Oak Cliff apartment (she and her regular team of five assistants are always on call). So she drove there in her unmarked car with her tools and solvents. She pulled on a disposable white body suit and strapped on a particulate respirator. Plastic visor to protect the eyes. All mucus membranes covered. And Frenkel went in to deal with someone else's mess.
Seems a woman had decided to go out of town for an extended period, and she had decided, in the interest of convenience presumably, to leave five dogs in her two-bedroom apartment. "And these were not small dogs," Frenkel says. "We're talking big dogs. She left huge tubs of water and food for them. Long story short, the dogs ganged up and killed one of the dogs. Another dog died, I don't know how. The other three got trapped in the bathroom, very small bathroom, and chewed through the hot water line. The hot water was running the entire time. One of the dogs was actually boiled to death. It was a horrible, horrible situation."
Space prevents a full recounting of how difficult the entry was because of water pressure against the bathroom door or how hazardous the flea infestation had grown or even how quickly the dog owner, upon returning to town, found herself behind bars. But two animals did survive. What was left of the other three went into the red bags and the incinerator. Such material is handled like medical waste, and its disposal is regulated by the state. Frenkel contracts with another outfit to haul it off.
Frenkel handles about 70 cases every year. Unfortunately, she regularly turns away work because she's too busy. Since she started Crime Scene Clean-Up services, other cleanup concerns have entered the industry. Some have endured, but most have moved on because, according to Frenkel, they didn't understand "it's not a pleasant thing to do." This is called an understatement.
"The only thing that keeps me going, that keeps me from burning out, is that I do a lot of praying," she says. "We pray, and we fast. You have to pray. You can't do it without God. You just can't do it. You see things that people do to each other that are just horrendous. I can't do it apart from the Lord. I really can't."