Murder Houses: What Happens To A Home After The Crime?
Could you live in a house where a violent crime has occurred?
WARNING: This piece contains graphic content.
It might surprise you to learn that police aren't the ones who clean up a crime scene.
That often grisly job is left to the private sector. After the body has been taken away and detectives have finished with their crime scene, professional cleaners will come and scrub the pieces of a life -- blood, flesh and bone fragments -- until whatever trauma that took place is merely a memory.
Josh Marsden, managing director of Australian Forensic Cleaning, told ten daily that the goal is for the family to be able to re-enter the property and not be able to see or smell anything.
It can take up to two weeks to get the job done. The largest jobs are usually for unattended deaths -- people who have died alone and unnoticed.
"You don't know they've died until neighbours notice flies all over the windows, or they can smell them," he said.
The thing about human bodies is -- they're biodegradable. We're largely made up of fluid, and after death, the skin that holds our fluids inside starts to break down.
"Your body is made up of water and oil and blood and fluid, and that leaks out as your body splits and dries," said Marsden.
"If you're a large person with a lot of fat, it's just like leaving butter out in summer on the bench.
"It turns into that clear, yellow liquid. It just melts."
Sometimes fluid will seep across tiles and along grout lines, essentially flooding the house. It's like a two-inch high tide mark of a liquefied person.
Marsden's company covers all situations -- murders, suicides, unattended deaths, hoarder's houses, meth labs, the lot -- but occasionally, there's a job they don't want to do.
"It was really horrific. There was a 160kg guy, and he'd been there for two weeks, and it had gotten to the point where it looked like something out of a horror movie," he said.
"The tiles were flooded with blood and fluid from where he'd just leaked all over the floor. All the walls were soaked. The insects and bugs... it was just like something out of a horror movie. We didn't even know where to start."
They quoted the job quite high, and the unlucky task went to another company.
Once the job is done, the cleaners hand the house back to the family and it's time to move on. Often, this means selling.
In property law, there's a little something called caveat emptor, or "buyer beware". Essentially, that means that a prospective owner needs to do their due diligence and research the house. Didn't notice that crack in the wall prior to purchase? Too bad. It's your problem now.
That falls down when the house has a history, said Al-Karim Madhavji and Alex Sapounas of CM Law.
"The legislation creates a duty to disclose, or not to conceal a material fact," said Sapounas.
"The question then becomes what is a material fact. That is open to a bit of interpretation."
He said that "anything that could be perceived to affect the material value of the property" could count -- such as being the scene of a violent crime.
Failing to disclose carries a maximum penalty of $22,000.
The most famous case of such an issue was the Gonzales murder house. Sef Gonzales murdered his sister and parents at their North Ryde home in 2001. Three years later, two real estate agents tried to sell it to a Taiwanese Buddhist couple without disclosing the house's gruesome history. The case went to court, and the agents were fined $20,500.
The house sold a year later to a family who didn't mind its history -- or its significant $80,000 price drop.
Most people can understand old age or an illness, said Malcolm Gunning, president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, but violent crimes are another barrel of fish.
"There's many people who are superstitious, who wouldn't buy a property where there's a murder, particularly with the Chinese community," he said.
"[A murder] takes people out of the market, so you may diminish the number of prospective buyers. So it does have an effect on price."
Outside of the Chinese community, he said it's about a 50/50 split between people who would overlook a history for a home.
"Superstition is alive and well in our community," he said.
"Everyone says they're not superstitious, but I reckon half the population is.
"The underlying thing is: how good's the house and how good's the price?"