Tressie Lewis – Crime Scene Cleaner
Let’s imagine for a moment….A resident of an apartment building slips on the bathroom floor, hits her head on the counter as she falls, and, sadly, dies. She is on the ground for a week until someone finally discovers her. All kinds of ugly things have happened with her body in the meantime, and the home absolutely reeks.
Who cleans this up?
If I ever stopped to think about it, I suppose I assumed police officers arrange for the removal of blood and gore and nasty stuff after a murder or suicide or accidental death. And they do – on public property.
However, in homes or apartments or businesses, after the bodies are gone and the crime scene is released, Tressie Lewis often gets the call.
Tressie is the sort of woman who is fun to have around. Quick moving and fast talking, she is interested in everyone and everything. You know the type – the busiest woman in the room who always knows how to take charge and get things done. And remain kind and good-natured in the process.
Crime scene clean up is a far cry from her days of working on wine cooler ads in New York City and soliciting donations on-air for a PBS television station in Detroit. Tressie loved – she loves everything, by the way – her series of customer service jobs with an auto manufacturer and a newspaper in Middle Tennessee.
But Tressie always wanted her own company, a job “providing an essential service to people.” Intrigued with a television documentary featuring two women who decontaminated crime scenes in the northwest, she realized, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.”
Diving into classes on pathogens and hepatitis and confined space clean up, Tressie also learned the ropes from a former police officer who, after retirement, specialized in biohazard removal. Think human or animal blood, waste, body fluids, dead things, used drug needles and iv tubing.
Armed with the necessary licenses, industrial cleaning supplies, and vaccinations, Tressie passed out business cards to lawyers, police officers, the city housing department, and medical examiners. And her phone started ringing.
Tressie never knows what she might encounter when answering those calls. She deals with a lot of hoarding situations, and some scenes “have just stuck with her.” Donning her white hazard suit, booties, respirator, and gloves, Tressie once entered the home of a deceased hoarder. Or tried to… With boxes stacked everywhere, she moved a carton to step through the doorway. Met with a shower of cockroaches, Tressie can finally laugh about it now. “I was definitely not amused at the time,” she says.
Any object contaminated with blood – and there was plenty of it in a triple hatchet murder case she handled – must be placed in sealed containers and incinerated. If blood seeps through the sheetrock, the sheetrock has to go. She removes soot after fires and sanitizes homes where pets’ owners have died and not returned. “When I leave, the places are spotless,” she says.
On another occasion, Tressie crawled on her hands and knees, under a house, to reach the site of a suicide. She gathered up the remaining bits of gore and, stretched out on her back, scrubbed the home’s foundation above her.
And you enjoy this, I wonder aloud. Laughing and smiling, Tressie says, “I love it!”
Like any teenager, Tressie longed to sleep in on Saturday mornings in Toledo, Ohio. “But nope, I swept hair and scheduled appointments in the beauty shop my mom owned and managed,” she remembers proudly. Later, earning a degree at the University of Cincinnati, Tressie was grateful her parents taught her to work hard for what she wanted to buy – and achieve.
Admitting she had a weak stomach as a kid, Tressie was not always enamored with blood and guts and horrific situations. Nowadays, she and her husband attack a blood-soaked site, do what they need to do, and then sit down to lunch at the local pancake joint. With that contagious laugh, she says proudly, “I knew this was for me. It is exactly what I am meant to do!”