Years in business: One
Tanner Antcliff is surrounded by death.
As owner of Crime and Trauma Scene Cleaners, he shows up when the police, paramedics and firefighters leave. He sees the aftermath of violent murders, bloody suicides and tragic accidents. He catalogues the collateral damage left behind — ruined carpets, destroyed sofas and the lingering stench of death and decay.
And then he cleans it all up.
“It’s the job no one wants, but someone has to do,” he says. “And I know what it’s like for the families.”
Antcliff, who is retired from the Air Force, had other business plans for Colorado Springs; his family wanted to open an entertainment center like iT’Z or the now-defunct Mr. Biggs. But after a financial setback, he and his family turned to a business niche that had become all too familiar to him.
In 2004, Antcliff’s father committed suicide. The aftermath was something he knew he couldn’t handle, so he called a crime-scene cleaner. A few months later, a close friend from the Air Force committed suicide — and Antcliff recommended a cleaner handle the grisly details of getting the house back in order. Then another military friend committed suicide.
“Death and suicide are pretty common in the military,” he says. “I knew something about how difficult it can be to handle what happens afterward. So while I was getting a degree in criminal justice, we decided to open the business.”
The job can be grim, and it can be emotional. Bone and brain fragments, blood-soaked furniture — all are part of the clean-up. But it’s not just gruesome. It can be dangerous, too, so there are several agencies that create guidelines for the industry.
“We have to piece together the regulations,” Antcliff says. “There aren’t just one set — there are rules from the state Department of Health, from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”
“You can’t be too careful,” he says. “Sometimes, it can get really bad — if the body’s been there for more than a couple of days, it can be very dangerous for us.”
Antcliff wears a biohazard suit, a full mask and sometimes even triple-gloves while cleaning. He has gloves made of Kevlar to prevent cuts and contamination.
But there’s little protection from business competition.
Antcliff acknowledges that his year-old business is struggling to succeed. He is competing against the four other crime-scene cleaners in the area, but they don’t advertise.
So, to get a leg up on the competition, he launched a social media and advertising blitz, all in hopes that families will remember him when they face the unthinkable.
He advertises on radio in Denver and on television in Colorado Springs. He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. He even has a billboard at the Sky Sox stadium.
“It’s been tough going,” he says. “We probably average one clean-up a month. They cost around $2,000 for a single room, but it’s barely enough. We’re pouring money into advertising to make a difference down the road.”
The $2,000 is if the body has only been in the room for a day or so. He recently handled a death where the body had been in the house for a month. That clean-up was more costly, but homeowners insurance pays for it, and the federal government even has a victims fund to help families without insurance.
Police and fire departments can’t recommend a specific cleaner, so families only receive a list with the cleaners who service the area. Antcliff said he expanded the service area to 125 miles around Colorado Springs to drum up new business.
Another problem, he says, is that police don’t call cleaners for outdoor homicides or suicides. Instead, they merely hose down the area with water.
“I can’t agree with that. It doesn’t get rid of the biohazard,” he says. “It leaves objects in the gutter for people to pick up — things that could be contaminated by bacteria. It could make people sick.”
But the business isn’t all about death and disease. Antcliff has expanded Crime and Trauma Scene Cleaners to other areas.
His heavy-duty, hospital-grade cleaners can get nearly any smell out of cars — from cigarette smoke to baby vomit. And he’s started picking up used needles and supplies from the area tattoo shops.
“We have to take everything that’s contaminated with blood to a medical disposal company and they incinerate it,” he says. “Since we already have the relationship with the medical waste company, it made sense to start expanding.”
Statistics say that Antcliff could eventually make a six-figure salary in the business. In some big, high-crime cities, cleaners routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Antcliff and his wife aren’t there yet.
Antcliff just finished the criminal justice degree he started when he moved to the Springs. Now, he says, he’ll have more time to focus on the business.
“We’re going to stick with it,” he says. “It’s important to provide this kind of service — even if it’s the kind of thing that people don’t really think of every day. We think we can handle the emotional pain people have — we just try to be professional and objective. And we know what we’re doing with the technical side as well.”