Pushing Up Lilies

Buried in Clutter: Hoarding and Social Breakdown Syndrome

Episode Summary

Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies, I'm your host Julie Mattson. In this episode, we're delving into the challenging world of death investigations amidst extreme hoarding and social breakdown syndrome. Join me as we explore the complexities faced by investigators tasked with navigating through overwhelming clutter to uncover the truth behind these tragic cases. We'll delve into the psychological and societal dynamics that contribute to hoarding behaviors and their impact on life and death.

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True Crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready?

0:30 Hey, y'all hope that everyone's having a great week.

0:34 I know I'm struggling with my allergies this week.

0:37 I think a lot of people in Texas are, there's so much floating around in the air.

0:42 I have been out most of the week already with just congestion and all the junk.

0:48 I apologize for my voice.

0:51 Hopefully it will get better and no worse.

0:54 I can see it working its way out of my system.

0:57 That's a good thing.

0:58 We have had beautiful weather though, but the weeds and pollen are crazy.

1:04 This past week, though, one thing I've learned and, and just in general in my career as a death investigator is that I'm a dang good housekeeper.

1:15 Now, my husband might argue this because, you know, when we first met, he was a bachelor and very neat and everything had its place and I you know, single mom kind of two jobs flying by the seat of my pants, take one outfit off, barely enough time to put another one on before I'm back out the door.

1:38 A little bit scattered just because I'm so, so busy.

1:42 I'm trying to get better.

1:45 But when I went into some houses this past week or really, this past month, I realized that I'm not really that bad now, you know, every year, that's my New Year's resolution.

1:58 I always say I'm going to get more organized or I'm going to be neater.

2:01 I'm going to start getting better by picking up after myself.

2:05 I think I improve a little bit every year, but I'm definitely nowhere near where I should be.

2:12 We've had a lot of hoarders and we've talked about hoarders before we face our challenges as death investigators going into hoarder’s homes.

2:23 But there's a difference between people who have just a shopping addiction and then people who are just plain, like their houses are just gross.

2:35 I mean, I'm just going to say it, they're gross.

2:37 Now, I'm talking about boxes of things cluttering up a house is what we see with hoarders.

2:45 You know, they'll order stuff and it'll just kind of sit there and sometimes go unopened or they'll just have all these belongings and just keep piling stuff on top of stuff.

2:57 But I'm talking about, like empty pizza boxes, open cans of food, drinking cups with liquid sitting in them that contain who knows what that's been there for?

3:11 Who knows how long that has bugs and little floaties floating in it and takeout food containers.

3:20 And I mean, one of the houses that I went into literally, you would think that the toilet wouldn't flush because it hadn't been flushed in a very, very, very long time.

3:36 Now, sometimes as death investigators, when we go on a scene, we notice these things, we look in trash cans occasionally for, you know, empty pill bottles or drug paraphernalia.

3:49 We also look in toilets because it can give us a key as to what's going on with the person.

3:56 You know, do they have an issue with their bowels?

3:59 Is there blood in the toilet?

4:01 Have they been coughing up blood?

4:03 Have they been pooping blood?

4:04 I mean, what's going on?

4:06 It gives us sometimes a clue as to what happened, especially if we suspect a natural death.

4:14 Those are things that we do many times take photos of, what's in the trash can, what's in the toilet.

4:20 I mean, so again, you know, here's a part of my job that not many people know about, but those things are important to us as investigators because we're looking, we're looking everywhere for clues as to what was going on with this person before they passed away.

4:37 And many times we do get clues from the trash cans and from the toilets.

4:44 This house that I was in last week was really bad.

4:49 There was an animal that had been in there and mind you, the animal had plenty of food and plenty of water, but no one there to kind of take care of it and let it out because the man was deceased in the house.

5:07 There's feces and urine, you know, everywhere scattered throughout the house and the dog had no choice but to go in there.

5:15 And he did again have plenty of food.

5:18 I mean, he was not without food.

5:20 Thank goodness because we all know when that happens, sometimes they start kind of nibbling on the deceased person.

5:27 That did not happen in this case, which is good.

5:30 I can't see where that would be appetizing but survival of the fittest and so did not happen in this case.

5:38 However, animal control did come and take the animal just to make sure that he was taken care of because the house was obviously a mess.

5:48 And then this is when they found the deceased homeowner.

5:53 The difference, I guess between this and hoarders is that hoarders have like a strong emotional attachment to objects, but many times have poor personal hygiene and they're unkempt and their living conditions are unkempt and because they suffer from some form of mental illness and this is a lot of people, I mean, it's just that maybe they get some sort of joy out of buying things and they just continue to accumulate with no place to put them.

6:29 They start getting stacked and before too long it takes over the person's house hoarding, you know, can be seen in the young, but it's more commonly seen in the elderly, and they can get help.

6:44 But they always have this squalor syndrome, which is kind of messy house syndrome.

6:52 It's a behavioral disorder that affects adults who are many times socially withdrawn and this squalor or this mess when I'm talking about the food containers, and all this is completely self-imposed.

7:07 It's not because this person does not have money and it's not because they have physical limitations.

7:16 It can be, but it's not always most often though.

7:21 Again, not always.

7:23 They are isolated from their friends and their family because they don't want anybody coming over.

7:30 I mean, if your house is full of number one trash, your floor is covered in trash, and you've been sitting in one place and eating and putting your trash in the floor and it's gathered all around you and your animal is running crazy in the house and there's feces and urine.

7:49 You're not going to want anybody to come over, especially on the spur of the moment.

7:53 Suddenly they're going to want to come in.

7:55 And so many times these people don't even tell people where they live.

8:01 We, a lot of times we have to notify next of kin about the death of someone who lives in these conditions and a lot of times they are estranged, they haven't seen them in a long time, and they don't know why they haven't seen them in a long time.

8:16 They just say things to us like, well, you know, he just kind of estranged himself from the family and we really don't know why, and we haven't heard from him.

8:25 And this is because there's probably a mental disorder of some sort and they don't want anybody to come over, they don't want anybody to know about their living conditions and sometimes they don't want help when we call families to tell them, hey, your loved one passed away.

8:44 And, you know, of course, you know, you're their legal next of kin.

8:48 At that point, it's their responsibility to go collect their belongings from their home or their apartment complex or wherever they were living, and we have to somewhat prepare them for what they're walking into.

9:01 Now, apartment complexes and even homeowners that you rip from will pay to have someone come in and do like replace the carpet and repaint the walls and those types of things.

9:16 But getting the bed out and getting all the trash out could very well be the responsibility of the family.

9:23 And if they haven't seen him in a long time, we like to prepare them.

9:26 Hey, when you come to Texas, this is what your brother's house looks like.

9:30 You know, he was kind of a hermit, you know, living on his own, didn't leave the house much, had kind of quit going to the doctor wasn't taking really good care of himself.

9:42 He had been there for several days and, you know, we kind of have to, gently kind of, prepare them for what the property is going to look like when they get there.

9:52 Sometimes these people don't have a history of mental disorders and I'm not a psychologist and I don't even pretend to be.

10:00 I would love to be the one that goes in there and cleans all this up because it would give me so much satisfaction.

10:06 Now, as far as the carpet, I don't want to clean the carpet or rip the carpet up, but just getting all the trash out, it would give me so much satisfaction.

10:15 Again, you do have to wear masks because not, and this is not my job.

10:19 I'm just saying it would kind of be cool to do, but you do have to wear a mask because there is a lot of flies and there's a lot of nets and when you start moving stuff around, they start moving around and if you inhale too deeply or even just take a normal breath, sometimes you'll suck one or two down your throat or into your nose and it's not pleasant.

10:38 I've done it many, many, many times, but sometimes this is a secondary disorder where the person may have dementia, extreme grief, schizophrenia, or even a mental disability and those with secondary characteristics kind of need intervention and they're not normally really receptive to help.

11:01 They really don't want anybody to come in and help them clean up their mess.

11:04 They'll refuse assistance, they don't want anyone to interfere.

11:09 They isolate themselves.

11:12 The situation prevents social calls again.

11:15 Like we said, nobody's going to come over and visit and they're definitely not going to invite anybody over.

11:20 People are kept at bay by their hostile uncooperative behavior and also lack of hygiene.

11:27 I mean, many times they're not taking care of their home, but they're also not taking care of themselves.

11:32 They don't shower and, you know, not only is the toilet full of crap, you know, and hasn't been flushed in forever.

11:41 But it's obvious that the bathtub hasn't been used sometimes because there are like heaps of laundry in it or it's extremely dirty.

11:50 You can tell that the person has just completely quit taking care of themselves like they just aren't showering, they aren't washing themselves.

11:59 Many times they're not changing clothes.

12:02 And again, it can be because of a mental disorder, but it could also be dementia and just grief over something that's going on in their life.

12:10 Loss of a job, loss of a spouse.

12:13 Many times the clothes are dirty, nails are overgrown.

12:17 They have body odor and again, they're not bathing, they're not working.

12:21 They don't have a reason to bathe.

12:23 They're not going anywhere because they don't want to leave.

12:27 They keep getting food delivered to their home or groceries delivered to their home and the trash from those items just continues to pile up in their home.

12:36 They stopped going to the doctor because number one, it would require a shower.

12:42 Number two, chances are your doctor is going to say something like, hey, you're obviously not taking care of yourself.

12:48 You've gained weight, you're not showering.

12:51 But there's a point when their refills are going to run out and the doctor is not going to renew them unless they come into the office.

12:58 And when it gets to that point, that's usually when they stop taking their medications.

13:02 And that's why we see a lot of people that die of natural deaths in situations like this because they've stopped medicating themselves when their medications are running low.

13:13 Eventually when they don't go to the doctor, the doctor is not going to refill their medications and they just simply quit going and they run out of their meds and their blood pressure goes up and they're not taking their insulin for their diabetes and their health condition continues to decline.

13:31 The home is sometimes full of bugs or even rodents.

13:36 And those smells travel especially in apartments and to close neighbors and bed bugs, fleas, roaches, rats, all those things can migrate and kind of wreak havoc on your neighbors.

13:50 And I feel like it's more obvious in an apartment complex because you're closer together.

13:55 People smell these smells, and it sometimes is brought to management's attention sooner than it would be in a home, especially if this person never goes anywhere and no one has seen him.

14:08 If something goes wrong in the home, they're not going to call a repair man.

14:12 They don't want anybody again to come in the house.

14:15 They don't want a repair man to tell the apartment manager or the homeowner what their home looks like.

14:23 Money is sometimes hoarded again.

14:26 It's not because they don't have money.

14:28 It's just, they're hoarding it.

14:30 They're not spending it because they're not going anywhere.

14:33 They're probably spending the majority of it on food, but they're not buying self-care items and they're not filling their prescriptions many times.

14:42 Like in this case where I went last week, the windows are kept covered to prevent people from seeing inside or, you know, from even glancing for a look, see when they walk by the window, they alienate their neighbors and just become very uncooperative, and they have hoarding tendencies.

15:03 Like I've noticed that some people will, their house will be a complete mess, but they'll have two brand new vacuum cleaners in the box, like sitting in the middle of the living room and two that are out of the box plugged in that have obviously not been used in quite some time and maybe even bottles upon bottles of things like Clorox and things that they're just not using and probably in their mind they're like, ok, I need to do this.

15:32 This is something I need to do but to just develop the desire to get it done is hard for people.

15:40 10% of hoarders present with squalor syndrome.

15:44 And that's with all this trash and stuff that I saw last week one can sometimes lead to the other hoarders don't always live in squalor, but they live among clutter, but they somewhat take care of themselves.

16:00 Like I know that y'all seen the hoarders show on TV.

16:03 Many of them go out in public, they seem pretty well put together.

16:07 They're going to the doctor.

16:08 They just have this hoarding problem, and no one knows when they go home that they have to climb over a bunch of stuff to get through their house.

16:17 But ill health is sometimes a contributing factor to losing control of the stockpiles.

16:25 I know that, you know, elderly people, sometimes you get something new, you can't get it out of the box.

16:31 You don't know how to put it together.

16:33 So it sits there and it just kind of causes its own group of problems.

16:40 Oh, you know, hoarders will look presentable in public many times.

16:43 But people who live with squalor syndrome, they don't try to look presentable.

16:48 They're not going to leave their home like a hoarder might.

16:51 They're not going to be social at all.

16:54 That's going to be difficult for them.

16:56 And animal hoarders seem to have squalor syndrome most likely due to feces.

17:02 They don't take their animals out for walks, they're depressed, they're not going to go outside, they don't want to expose themselves to a neighbor, impossible conversation.

17:13 And so it really complicates their lives.

17:17 If someone shows early signs of squalor syndrome, then this is the best time to help them.

17:24 Social breakdown syndrome is also another term for those living in squalor, antisocial personality, unkempt, appearance, untidy, housekeeping.

17:35 Again, I'm a great housekeeper.

17:37 I know this now last week after seeing some of the homes that I was in, I'm pretty proud of myself, you know, I mean, because these people are not really close again to any family members and they don't have significant relationships.

17:52 A majority of them live alone and are fiercely independent.

17:56 As was this decedent sometimes if they're married or have a roommate or Children, those people are also condemned to live that way, which is considered pretty much an abusive situation you've seen on the show hoarders, you know, where kids are forced to live in squalor or hoarding situations that their parents have caused and, you know, they're not allowed to throw anything away and they're just kind of forced to climb over stuff and not clean up.

18:25 Now, if you offer support to these people, you can expect some improvements, but they'll probably never reach normal standards.

18:36 What a lot of us would call normal standards.

18:39 Again, my recent scene was very, very dirty.

18:43 He took better care of his animal than himself.

18:46 He was deceased in the residence between the bed and the wall in the bedroom and had been there probably for approximately eight days.

18:56 I think it had been eight days since he was last heard from again, you know, out of medication, obviously not taking the medications that he needed for the multiple health problems that he had and just genuinely not taking care of himself.

19:10 You know, eating junk food.

19:13 A lot of pizza boxes, a lot of soda cans, a lot of cups with soda in them, again, with bugs floating and those types of things.

19:22 And these just all contribute to the smells that we have to deal with.

19:26 But again, if you inhale, you're going to get maybe a mouthful of net.

19:30 You have to be careful.

19:32 And then there are typically maggots on the body, you know, in these situations and there was in this situation we go in with shoe covers which really typically don't cut it.

19:44 I mean, I prefer to wear my rubber boots, although I drive my private vehicle and I really don't want to put them back in my car after I've worn them, you know, trouncing through dog poop and feces and trash.

19:58 I'll typically put them in a plastic bag and just really seal it up and then hose them off when I get home and let them kind of dry outside.

20:07 Yeah, the shoe covers don't, I mean, even if you put on two or three pair their paper and when they get wet, they tear and they slip off your feet.

20:17 They're just not really cohesive for what we need them for.

20:22 I double, usually triple gloves.

20:26 If I get to the point where my hands get too bad, I can just take off a pair of gloves and still have one or two more on that way.

20:37 You know, I'm not having to go back and forth to my scene bag and get out more gloves and go in and out of the house.

20:46 Now we set our bags outside of the residence in places like this.

20:51 We don't go in and send our bag on the floor or send it on the bed.

20:55 One reason is because, you know, it is a crime scene and it's a homicide until we prove it's not.

21:00 And so you don't want to go in there and start laying your stuff around and just, you know, acting like you own the place.

21:05 But also, it's nasty, there's really no clean place to put your bag.

21:10 And for that purpose, we leave them outside and I usually put the necessities, gloves, my thermometer, those types of things just in my pocket and then I'll carry them in with me.

21:24 And so I'll have, you know, my three sets of gloves already on and my thermometer in my pocket and I don't carry in my pin or anything like that.

21:34 A lot of investigators will take notes as to everything they see.

21:38 I do not do that.

21:39 I have over the years started just going back at my photos and looking at things, making sure to take pictures of things that I want to mention in my report.

21:49 That when I'm going through my photos, I don't forget little things like, you know, if there's cold medicine on their nightstand, maybe they were sick, you know, if there's bloody poop in the commode, then maybe they had some G I issues little things like that.

22:05 I do take photos of them so that I don't have to make notes.

22:08 I can just go back through my pictures and remind myself what needs to be mentioned in my report and what I think might be pertinent according to the scene itself.

22:19 I mean, I walked up the stairs the other day in an apartment that's gone to a scene, and it was relatively clean.

22:25 It wasn't really that dirty, but you know, on the way up the stairs there's a pair of underwear with feces on them.

22:30 Like somebody just like took their nasty dirty underwear off and left them on the staircase outside the apartment complex and it wasn't even the person that was deceased or any of their family members.

22:41 It's just gross.

22:42 Some of the things you know that we come up against.

22:45 Isn't it crazy that I still love it?

22:47 I know that most of y'all are, a lot of y'all listening are probably like, oh, I want to see that but I mean it is gross, but I still love it.

22:55 And it's so hard to describe.

22:56 I feel like you're either made for the job or you're not.

23:00 If smells get to you, you're definitely not.

23:02 And as nurses, we're usually used to smells, we're used to the smells in the hospital.

23:08 We're used to busted colostomy bags.

23:10 And honestly, I can handle it as long as no one's throwing it at me.

23:14 You know, if no one's spitting or throwing poop at me or nothing's coming directly at me as a projectile.

23:21 I'm usually ok.

23:22 If it's on the ground or on a body, I'm fine.

23:26 And that's the difference between the emergency room and being on a death scene where people aren't alive.

23:32 These are just other issues.

23:33 And again, I've just noticed it a lot lately.

23:36 I thought I'd bring it up because I know y'all like to hear actually what we deal with as well as you know, other crime stories.

23:42 I kind of try to include a little bit of everything.

23:45 PPE again, super, super important.

23:49 I mean, you definitely don't know sometimes when you walk into someone's house, what communicable diseases they may have.

23:56 And so you definitely want to always protect yourself.

24:00 That's something that we are constantly watching.

24:03 You know, when we, I think I mentioned y'all with my heroin overdose.

24:08 We are very careful when we turn the body.

24:12 We don't know what's under it.

24:13 You know, there could be a gun that's caught, there could be syringes, there could be all kinds of things under the body.

24:22 And so the transport staff have a very important and dangerous job as well.

24:30 And many times they do end up getting, you know, juices on their clothes and we always hear about it when they do and they're always like, oh, these were my favorite shoes.

24:39 But, you know, it happens and that's a risky run.

24:42 You know, when you're not wearing your rubber boots again, shoe covers don't even cover your shoes.

24:47 I know they have boot covers, but we don't typically carry those, and I don't know, I just rubber boots.

24:53 Really?

24:53 Y'all are the way to go when you're walking through stuff like that.

24:56 I mean, I use mine for mud.

24:58 I use mine for feces.

25:01 I use it for, you know, to walk through blood.

25:04 I mean, those shoes have seen way more than they ever thought they were going to.

25:08 But I just think, you know, it's a better way to keep stuff off my clothes because we do usually wear business casual at our office.

25:16 I wear scrubs many times since I am a nurse, they're comfortable.

25:19 They're easy to move around in but not always.

25:23 Sometimes I dress decent, like a normal person because I feel like I wear scrubs all the time.

25:27 I like to kind of wear regular clothes, regular people clothes.

25:31 I call them.

25:32 We just always have to protect our clothing and again, just for health purposes have to utilize all those PPS.

25:41 You know, the police are in the same risks.

25:43 I mean, they're not touching the body, but with our transport moving them again, they're checking pockets, and you don't want to just blindly stick your hand in someone's pocket because you don't know what's in.

25:54 There could be a razor blade, there could be drugs, there could be syringes or needles.

26:01 Normally we'll kind of pat them down at first and then we'll turn the pockets wrong side out just to make sure that there's nothing in there because one reason of course is because it's important to our scene information and needs to be mentioned in our report if we find anything.

26:19 But we also don't want to get anyone at the medical examiner's office injured when we send the body down there and they're stuck by a needle that we left in someone's pocket.

26:30 Not good.

26:32 Many things can happen.

26:33 Many things can go wrong.

26:35 It's very important to kind of stay on your game and stay focused as far as getting your job done doing it correctly.

26:43 And so we run across obstacles in situations like this where we have hoarders and there's a lot of stuff in the way or we have a lot of trash that we have to go through.

26:52 And I mean, many times we'll have to just practically clean the house and move furniture out of the way to get the body out because there's so much clutter just, you know, another thing that we dealt with another day in the life.

27:08 I thought y'all might find that interesting again because it's been an obstacle that I've come up against a lot in the past couple of weeks again.

27:16 You know, if you know somebody that does this, you can try to help them.

27:20 Many people don't need help.

27:22 Some people again, they're just estranged, and they don't want anybody to know how they live.

27:27 And eventually we find out and eventually the family finds out when they end up deceased and the family has to go over there and clean it all up.

27:36 That's just kind of something to think about.

27:38 But anyway, I am getting ready for graduation.

27:44 I think I told you I'm getting my BS N, I'm graduating May 10th and I'm super excited about that and then I can start taking more grad classes towards my nurse practitioner license working on maybe getting a YouTube channel up and going, working on my Patreon, working on subscription boxes.

28:06 There's a lot of cool and exciting things coming up.

28:11 My murder Merch store is open, feel free to go online at www dot Pushing up lilies.com and shop My murder Merch.

28:20 It ships out very quickly.

28:21 It is all in stock and there is an option there to be a guest.

28:27 I did reach out to someone who was imprisoned for 13 years mis mistakenly for a crime he didn't commit and working with him to try to get an interview.

28:40 That'll be kind of exciting.

28:42 Some people get angry when I reach out to them and ask for an interview, they are trying to put whatever it was that happened behind them, and they really don't want to discuss it.

28:51 Some people are open to it.

28:52 They just want to make sure that you are, who you say you are and that you have credentials that kind of match up to what they expect anyway.

29:00 I hope you'll have a great rest of your week.

29:04 I hope that these allergies clear up for me.

29:06 I tell you what, I'm Overblowing my nose but have a wonderful week and I look forward to talking to y'all next week.

29:13 Bye.

29:15 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

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29:29 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.