Sisters with blood on their hands

08 April 2012 - 02:16 By MONICA LAGANPARSAD
GOOD AND CLEAN AND FRESH: Sisters Roelien Schutte and Eileen de Jager run a business specialising in crime-scene clean-ups Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND
GOOD AND CLEAN AND FRESH: Sisters Roelien Schutte and Eileen de Jager run a business specialising in crime-scene clean-ups Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

Cleaning blood-soaked floors at a murder scene is not everyone's dream job - but, for two sisters, it's part of their daily routine.

Roelien Schutte and Eileen de Jager regard their business as more than a job, saying it's a "calling".

They have even brought out a book, written by Ilse Salzwedel, about their work. It was first published in Afrikaans last year and has now been translated into English asBlood Sisters.

It carries a warning label because of its grisly content.

Schutte said : ''Some people can't handle it. Your mindset has to be right. You can't go in there and go home and talk about it. "

Their story is similar to that of the 2008 Hollywood film Sunshine Cleaning, about two sisters, played by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, who start a crime-scene clean-up business.

But, for the two Pretoria sisters, their job is a reality.

De Jager worked as a forex trader and Schutte as an interior designer before going to the UK on a working holiday 10 years ago. They were employed by a company that cleaned up crime scenes.

After returning home, they decided to start their own company, Crime Scene Clean-Up. It also undertakes industrial accident clean-ups.

Schutte, 34, said the grim job of disinfecting crime scenes and ensuring that all traces of blood, body fluids and, in some cases, brain matter were removed was not for the fainthearted.

As a result, she and her sister often sought "release" in adrenaline-fuelled sports such as river-rafting and skydiving.

D e Jager, 35, said: ''It balances out the adrenaline, and we love being in nature."

But it remains tough, with both sisters on call 24/7, even over weekends and on public holidays.

''We can be called out at any time, so we never plan anything any more. But we do it because we love it, and it's our calling," said Schutte.

De Jager - a married mother of two young children aged six and 10 - said the worst scenes they had had to clean up were those that involved children.

Her husband, Francois, has now also joined the business, which has 11 franchises countrywide.

Schutte said of the most gruesome scenes: ''It's not something you're supposed to see. Farm murders, children and suicides go hand in hand as the worst scenes".

De Jager said they are mostly called out to suicides, which made up 80% of their business.

Their busiest time of the year for suicides is between January and March.

''It goes hand in hand with depression, because a lot of people are coming back from holiday. This month it is usually family murders because of the Easter holidays. It's very sad, and often we act as trauma counsellors, because quite often we are the first people families talk to," said De Jager.

The women are not shy to get down on their hands and knees to scrub traces of blood that sometimes seep through concrete.

''We get it out, though. When we're done, there won't be any trace of blood or brain matter left,'' said De Jager.

The two have even trademarked their secret formula of chemicals used to clean scenes. They are experts at removing any kinds of stains.

Said De Jager: ''We have people e-mailing us about the best ways to remove blood from sheets and carpets. We actually had a woman drive all the way from Bloemfontein with her carpet to remove blood."

While they have cleaned up some high-profile scenes, they are tight-lipped about revealing details and would not even comment on how much they charge per case, just saying that fees were calculated per square metre.

For the most part, they have strong stomachs - but they say the stench of decomposing bodies and maggots is something no one ever quite gets used to.

Schutte said: ''You never forget that smell and Eileen can smell a decomp a mile away."

As part of their service, the sisters also clean up hoarding.

De Jager explained that often when a family lost a love one it was often painful to clean up years of hoarding.

''You won't believe what people hoard for years, '' she said.

The drug dealer and the little toe

The following extract from Blood Sisters describes the scene of a drug dealer's murder in a flat in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal:

"The druglord had been tortured and almost completely ripped apart, his body parts spread out over the length and breadth of all four rooms.

"They first walked through the suite to decide what had to be done first, and Roelien picked up one of his little toes and showed Eileen. "'This little piggy went to market,' Eileen replied, showing the big toe she had spotted nearby.

"'We know that might not sound funny to you at all, but we have no sympathy for drug dealers,' Roelien says."