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Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners by Alan Emmin

By Mrs. Smith | Books | January 13, 2010 |

By Mrs. Smith | Books | January 13, 2010 |

Christmas Day and I’m on a plane flying cross-country, coming back from an awesome family vacation in California. What do I pick up to read for the long flight home? Why a book about a company that cleans up the aftermath of violent crime, suicide and meth lab explosions. I enjoyed the heck out of it.

This was a fast and enjoyable read. Alan Emmins spent several weeks following Neal Smither, founder and owner of Crime Scene Cleaners to get this fascinating expose. He got to see everything, up close and personal and he even started pitching in with the clean-ups after a while. Smither is a character with a big personality and an even bigger truck, brightly emblazoned with the Crime Scene Cleaners logo. Gawkers, rubberneckers and bystanders are left with no doubt about what Neal and his crew are there for when they show up at a hotel, home or other crime scene location.

Emmins does a masterful job of describing how these unique personalities go about their work. It takes a certain type of person to scrape brain and skull fragments off a bedroom wall, pick teeth out of the carpet then meticulously scrub and seal the walls, floors and baseboards; checking carefully that no drop, splatter or shard is left behind for family or friends to find later. It becomes clear very early on that these guys take pride in their work and have each found their own ways to separate what they do from what happened to created the mess.

Emmins spends a good bit of the book investigating more deeply one of the more gruesome incidents, aka “The Man in the Bathtub.” Emmins meets and interviews Shawn, the Crime Scene Cleaner who had the great pleasure of cleaning said bathtub. The victim, Gary Lee Ober, was killed by a mentally disturbed homeless man who then lived in his apartment while Ober slowly decomposed. By the time the body was discovered, it was skeletonized, sitting in a soup of putrefaction in a room filled with three generations of flies and maggots. There was not enough physical evidence to determine how Ober was killed, only some vague scratch marks (possibly from a knife) on his exposed ribs. Emmins followed up on the story by interviewing the investigating officers, reviewing trial transcripts and forensic evidence and finding out all he could about the supposed murderer who insisted he killed Ober in self-defense.

Emmins also delves more deeply into the particulars of suicide, citing statistics about success rates for various methods and then makes some personal observations about what different methods say about those who choose them. Be forewarned, he is not kind to those who chose a coward’s way out of life.

For such a macabre subject, Emmins does a great job of keeping things light and engaging. If you can handle the gory details, you’ll definitely enjoy Mop Men.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Mrs. Smith’s reviews, check out her blog, Mrs. Smith Reads.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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