Raquel Pallak owns and operates Ulster Biorecovery LLC with her husband Ian. The business specializes in crime and trauma scene cleanup. Originally from Miami, she was a funeral director and forensic supervisor with the county medical examiner before moving to upstate New York ten years ago. She’s been a Saugerties resident since 2008.
How did you get involved in this type of work?
I was always fascinated with what I would call life beyond death. I went to school to get a mortuary degree and became a funeral director and embalmer. At that time in Miami, the AIDS crisis was in full swing and I was doing a lot of services for people with AIDS. That experience prompted me to go on to get another degree in social work with an emphasis on grief and crisis counseling. Eventually, though, I became disenchanted with the business end of being a funeral director. I went on to get a job with the Broward County Medical Examiner as a medical legal death investigator, and later, I became the forensic supervisor of Palm Beach County. When I moved to New York ten years ago I couldn’t find work. I knew about biorecovery because I had a friend in the business. I went on to get my certification as a biorecovery technician, and in 2008 my husband and I started our own business.
You’ve had a lot of training and education in your field. Are there other skills you’ve had to acquire?
I am certified as a medicolegal death investigator through the University of Saint Louis Medical School. I’ve also had additional training in homicide investigation, crime scene investigation, and forensic photography.
What is the most interesting part of the job?
I guess I would have to say people’s responses to traumatic events. Also witnessing the more shadowy or darker aspects of human existence.
What is the most difficult part of your work?
The answer is the same as the previous question. The work is also extremely physically challenging. It takes a lot of strength and stamina; it also takes an iron constitution and a lot of emotional stability to keep from getting depressed sometimes.
What are the most common types of cases in your line of work?
I would say the majority of the work deals with decomposition in the case of delayed discoveries. Suicides are frequent too.
What is your most memorable experience?
Of course I’ve seen some difficult situations like gunshot deaths. Discretion is an extremely important part of the job. That said, I will tell you one of the most memorable and worse jobs we’ve done involved the death of a hoarder of cats: the entire basement had become one huge litter box. We removed 17 contractor bags of cat waste. We found dead cats in drawers. The place was completely destroyed. We had to cut out sheetrock saturated with cat urine. This job is not for the faint of heart. My husband almost left the business after that job.
How is the pay?
We make a comfortable living but, more important to us, it gives us freedom and some downtime to spend with our kids. People who need the discipline of a nine-to-five job couldn’t do this work. I’ve been out to dinner with friends when we’ve received a call at midnight, had to drive an hour home, load up the truck, drive another two hours, and then work until dawn. It’s not always fun but I do charge extra for emergencies.