- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

Louise Burkhardt is dressed in black. Her dark clothes make her look like someone in mourning. She’s not. Miss Burkhardt is cheerful and chatty. In a minute, she will step into a macabre scene worthy of every dark thread she’s wearing.

It does not bother her that she is about enter a north Baltimore public housing complex to erase all the disturbing signs that someone died in apartment 612. That’s the job.

Miss Burkhardt cleans up after the dead.

“I think you develop” a resistance. “You learn to do that. You just have to deal with it,” she says.

The people who run the seven-story apartment building called Miss Burkhardt, who started Crime Scene Clean-Up Inc. 10 years ago, after they discovered the body.

This time the cleanup isn’t occasioned by crime. A tenant simply died in his room, and the event went unnoticed for several days until the smell sent a warning to neighbors that there was a problem.

Now, the body is gone, but the smell remains.

And the detritus of unattended death has turned a bedroom wall into a billboard that advertises something went wrong here. Fecal matter is spread all over.

The six persons at Maryland-based Crime Scene Clean-Up remove all biohazardous material because others won’t.

Miss Burkhardt’s preliminary assessment of the apartment death scene takes just seconds and she concludes this job won’t take her long.

“This one isn’t too bad. There’s some odor, but it’s not too massive,” she says.

In the hallway outside the apartment, Miss Burkhardt and co-worker Chris Elliott prepare by pulling thick, paper jumpsuits over their clothes. Surgical gloves cover their hands.

The protective layers give Miss Burkhardt all the defense she needs. And she doesn’t need much. While others might cringe at the grisly signs of death she sees, it’s just no big deal to Miss Burkhardt.

She has cleaned up after hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies from New York to Virginia since she started Crime Scene Clean-Up, which she runs with John Tyler. She cleans up after people who die in their sleep, homicide victims and suicide victims. She has removed DNA from homes, planes, hotel rooms, car interiors and industrial work sites.

Apartment 612 is stuffy. The windows are closed.

Miss Burkhardt begins by ripping up a section of carpet that is deeply soiled. She cuts it into sections and tosses them into a garbage bag. She will take everything, including the blue paper jumpsuit, to an incinerator.

“Anything we use in here gets disposed of. You don’t go to the laundromat and wash these rags,” she says.

She scours the walls with a powerful cleaning solution, and the evidence that death visited this place begins to disappear.

“They’ve got a decent semigloss on the walls. That makes it easier. It’s always nice when you’ve got good paint” to work with, she says.

When she’s done cleaning, she will fumigate the apartment overnight to eliminate lingering smells.

The company charges $200 an hour for its services.

There is nothing about Louise Burkhardt to indicate that she wades in gruesome waters.

“People don’t generally look at me and guess what I do for a living,” she says.

It’s surprising she decided to do this work in the first place. She was attracted to a job in the medical field when she was younger, but she heard she would have to witness an autopsy during her education and changed her mind. She says she was too squeamish then to see a body.

Viewing bodies and the remains of traumatic death are mundane obligations now.

“We do a lot of homicides and suicides,” she says. That typically means cleaning up blood and gore caused by a gunshot. “I’ve never gotten sick.”

Maybe an early professional choice provides a clue of what was to come. Ironically, Miss Burkhardt, 39, started a standard cleaning service two years before she started Crime Scene Clean-Up. She called it Maid For You and she dabbled in dust and dirt, not DNA.

The native of Baltimore County ran the business for two years before joining with a former business partner to begin Crime Scene Clean-Up.

Now she has up to three appointments a day.

“I didn’t realize the volume of business we’d have,” she says.

But there are few others who will dive into the fresh remains of a crime scene. Police don’t do the cleaning. Maid services won’t either. And families shouldn’t have to, she says.

Miss Burkhardt suffered her own trauma when her father was murdered in 1974 during a robbery in Baltimore. She says her anger and sadness haven’t lifted, and she feels she is helping others cope with trauma by swooping in to remove the signs of a tragedy when a loved one dies.

“This definitely has some rewarding aspects to it. People are grateful. A lot of people don’t know this industry exists. But you don’t want families doing the cleanup because it just adds to the trauma,” she says.

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