He cleaned crime scenes, then wrote a book
In a new memoir, "The Dead Janitor's Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King," out this month, Jeff Klima unspools disturbing, vile and horrific tales of mopping up more than 100 death scenes. The book also is filled with dark humor.
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA, Calif. — Jeff Klima missed a spot.
Wrapping up his first day on the job as a crime-scene cleaner, his only qualification being a stomach for blood and guts and access to certain cleaning equipment, Klima, of Whittier, Calif., raised his brush above the recliner where a woman had killed herself with a shotgun blast to the head.
He began scrubbing the ceiling.
Something fell into his right eye; something he didn't want to think about.
He examined whatever it was on the back of his latex glove before casually tossing it into a trash bag. When he pointed this out to his boss, a guy who, like Klima, was new to the business with absolutely zero formal training, his boss offered this bit of wisdom:
"I guess we should wear goggles."
Klima doesn't seem crazy.
You would think that only an unbalanced or obsessive man could spend two years mopping up messes left behind by the dead. For Klima, however, the motivation was simple.
In a new memoir, "The Dead Janitor's Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King," out this month, Klima unspools disturbing, vile and horrific tales of mopping up more than 100 scenes of suicides, murders and accidental deaths.
"It's a pretty dark book," says Klima, 28, laughing.
The book also is filled with dark humor.
Beyond the gore, "Dead Janitors Club" also is a cautionary tale about a little-known cottage industry that, in many ways, still operates like the Wild West, under the radar of most cops, medical examiners and other professionals connected to the death industry.
"We had no idea what we were doing," Klima says.
Klima's short but memorable stint in the crime scene cleanup business isn't entirely out of character.
When he was 12, he stumbled across a book on serial killers in a library — and was fascinated by the gruesome content. In his view, mopping up morbid scenes that would give most people nightmares wasn't a huge stretch.
"Part of me wanted to see if I could handle it," he writes.
Klima's father was a stage magician and his mother a school psychologist. "So it was no surprise," he writes, "that I wound up a bit odd."
Raised a Mormon, Klima and his three siblings lived in a suburb of Los Angeles. He also spent a decade in Eureka, Calif., before moving back to Southern California at age 19.
With dreams of getting into the advertising business, Klima initially found work in another industry:
He toiled in a porn shop in the San Fernando Valley for two years, working for a man he calls "Dirty Pete," before moving south to Orange County, Calif. There, he got a job at an upscale wine store and enrolled at Cal State Fullerton to pursue a degree in advertising.
Tired of retail, and needing to make more money, Klima stumbled into the crime scene cleanup business when a friend of a friend introduced him to a law-enforcement official who was launching Orange County Crime Scene Cleaners.
Klima was promised big bucks from what his future boss claimed would be a sure thing, based on his contacts in a referral-based business. Living with his brother in a frat house, and often having to hit up his girlfriend for money, Klima signed up.
In March, 2007, a spotty partnership was born.
Klima and his partner, whom he calls "Dirk" in the book, were the Two Stooges of the cleanup business, making things up as they went along.
"We had no set rates, no business plan, no ideas," Klima says.
What the two had, however, was the necessary equipment, including white, full-body Tyvek suits for keeping biohazardous materials off their skin, bleach, industrial-strength deodorizers, and assorted brushes, wipes, towels and face masks.
Dirk and Klima also had iron stomachs.
And, eventually, they had skills.
They became known for answering calls any time, and handling virtually any scene. Once, Klima and his partner responded after Klima had spent a night drinking. It didn't stop them from cleaning the horrific scene of a family slaughter in Los Angeles County.
A child molester tossed out of the fifth-floor window of a prison.
A family of five in San Clemente that died in a bizarre murder-suicide.
A sheriff's deputy who shot himself in his car when he caught wind of his pending arrest on suspicion of child molestation.
Klima cleaned up these and many other grisly scenes — make that very grisly. He spares no graphic details in his book, which definitely is not for the faint of heart.
Klima says most jobs were "pretty brutal" but that by focusing on the cleaning process itself he was able to attack with a sense of detachment.
Sadly for Klima, he never did make big bucks cleaning up crime scenes. The work was too infrequent and the duo's marketing efforts too halfhearted. Eventually, Klima writes, the growth of Orange County Crime Scene Cleaners was too tripped up by lackadaisical business decisions.
Also, Klima was troubled by having to finagle with grieving relatives of the dead over the cost of jobs. He says he felt, at times, like a vulture preying on people at their most vulnerable.
Klima wrote the book, in part, to expose the inner workings of a little-known industry. He says he hopes consumers who find themselves with an awful mess on their hands take time to hire only professional crews who are licensed and bonded.
Of his former profession, Klima says:
"It can be treacherous and expensive."
Klima, who lives in Whittier, Calif., with his longtime girlfriend, left the crime-scene cleanup business early last year.
Inspired by repeated suggestions that he turn his experiences into a book, Klima banged out a manuscript, found an agent, and sold the book for a modest advance.
As he waits to see if "Dead Janitors Club" does well, and possibly spins him toward a new career, Klima continues to get by on a low-paying job as a courier for a medical diagnostics company.
That's right — he's still dealing with bodily fluids and tissue. He says, smiling:
"I can't seem to escape biohazards."
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