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By Jessica Cuthbert 
 
 
No one should have to endure the traumatic, vile and unimaginable scenes that police officers are confronted with.
 
Yet they do on a daily basis.
 
From dreadful car accidents to horrific assaults and tragedies, police officers are exposed to graphic and gruesome scenes, some that never leave their minds.
 
When Senior Constable Ben Geissler was called to a job in July 2012, he grabbed his uniform, loaded his forensic gear into the car and left to attend the scene.
 
He was working as a regional forensic investigation officer in Bunbury.
 
A part of being a police officer is never knowing where the day might lead you and what you might be confronted with, something Ben knew very well.
 
He had attended thousands of forensic tasks over the years and worked on hundreds of death incidents including homicides, infant deaths, fatal crashes, sudden deaths, suicides and human remains recovery.
 
What Ben didn’t know, was that this job he was called into was going to be the worst job of his policing career.
 
Ben told Police News that since leaving the Forensic Division, he realised how unhealthy and unnatural that level of exposure to violence and graphic death can be, especially on a person’s mental health.
 
He had become accustomed to fatigue, sleeplessness, nightmares, anxiety and hypervigilance and he still suffers from these things to this day.
 
Ben knows many other officers have been through their own traumas and hopes his story can encourage them to get help and speak about their experiences.
 
*This is the story of a day that has imprinted in Ben’s mind. Please be aware this story contains graphic description.
 
 
The worst job in ben’s career
 
In July 2012, Ben had just completed his eight-hour day shift with the usual crime attendance of burglaries, stolen motor vehicles and laboratory work.
 
He was called in by his colleague, Senior Constable Tony Guest, who informed him that there was a 338 (Sudden Death) just outside of Bunbury and Detectives had requested them on the scene.
 
“It was only a brief conversation on the phone but I remember Tony dropped the line that apparently it was a pretty bad one, so like always in this job, we had no idea what we were in for,” Ben said.
 
“I told him I was good to go, I finished what I was doing at home, kissed the family goodbye, told my wife I will see her tomorrow and headed back to work.”
 
Together they packed the polilight, video camera, cameras, portable lights, body bag, torches, extra consumables, booties, paper overalls and jumpers into the car and left.
 
They had also decided to pack their breathing masks with canisters as Ben said they had taken into account it was going to a “bad one”.
 
He told Police News it was lucky they had listened to their gut instincts. In 14 years of being a forensic investigation officer, he can recall only three times where he has used a full protective face mask and canister.
 
When they arrived on the scene, they met with two local uniformed officers and two detectives. 
 
“I was made aware some months later that one of the two uniform officers was a probationary constable on his second day on the job. Fresh out of the academy he got one of the most shocking introductions to police work I have ever seen,” he said.
 
“On arrival the first thing that hit me was the freezing cold and the second thing was the smell. It’s a smell I have experienced many times over and one that I certainly don’t like,” he said.
 
“The smell of death is one you never really forget, but what really took me by surprise was that I was standing about 20 metres away on the street and I could smell it like I was already standing in the house.”
 
Ben said that was the first bad sign of what would soon confront them in the house.
 
“Death smell varies from job-to-job, but it is always disgusting. The average person should count their lucky stars they never have to smell a decomposing body,” he said.
 
During a briefing with the officers and detectives, they were told local police were called to the property to conduct a welfare check as the occupant of the house hadn’t been in contact with anyone for a few weeks.
 
“The house was all locked up and they couldn’t get access so to save on smashing a window they got one of the local glaziers to come and help open a window with little to no damage,” Ben explained.
 
“Apparently the glazier went to the front master bedroom window, managed to get the window open and pulled the blinds across. I was told he let out a high-pitched death scream, grabbed whatever tools he had, and ran straight past the two local
coppers without saying a word, getting in his car and speeding off down the street.”
 
The workers reaction would soon make sense to Ben and Tony after they entered the property. 
 
 
 
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The Scene
 
Once the potential crime scene was accessible, the officers kitted up and entered the house. 
 
A quick survey of the home eliminated a forced entry situation, a tick in the box towards a non-suspicious death. 
 
“We cleared all of the living areas and bedrooms one-byone looking for areas of interest. No signs of what we call a clean-up, no obvious signs of a struggle anywhere, no damage to furniture, walls, doors, no weapons, no blood pools or projected blood stains.
 
“That’s when we went to master bedroom where the deceased was located.”
 
What confronted those officers was nothing short of a horror but is the reality police officers face daily.
 
“What we saw in that bedroom was a real-life horror film,” Ben said.
 
“This is something I can never un-see. Eight years later and I can still recall the minor details and see the images in my head, I don’t want too but I can.”
 
In the centre of the room, two poles had been constructed to stand above the bed. Suspended between the frame was a curtain rod with a metal chain.
 
Facing away from the door, a naked man was kneeling on the bed with his neck through a chain noose with wrist restraints attaching his arms to his ankles.
 
Although the man was Caucasian, Ben said the body had now discoloured due to the heat and decomposition.
 
His skin was stretched, his body was distended and there was a significant amount of bodily fluid seeping through the bedding below him.
 
Ben said his skin had separated away from the muscle and fat but had not yet spilt.
 
“He was blown up like a balloon and his bloated skin was transparent. Underneath the skin, I could see clear bodily fluids pooling,” Ben said.
 
“The chain around his neck was not visible at the front as the decomposing skin had surrounded it and his face appeared as though it had been melted with a blow torch.
 
“His eyes were swollen and black and you couldn’t make out the eyeballs. His nose was almost non-existent and had fallen off and his lips were sagging about five centimetres below where they should be. There was fluid and blood dribbling from
the top of his head.
“I have seen a lot of dead people in my career in all different forms and different stages of decomposition, but I had never seen anything like this before,” he said.
 
This was the sight that the glazier had seen and run from.
 
Ben said it made sense as to why the worker could not comprehend what he has seen two metres in front of him.
 
“It would have looked like a rotting zombie corpse in one of those gore films peering at him as he opened the window,” he said.
 
“Glaziers are not meant to see these sorts of things, in fact no one is really meant to see these sorts of things, are they?”
 
The positioning and state of the body led the officers to question if someone had done this to the man or if it had been self-inflicted.
 
In the room, they found countless sex toys and devices and behind the man at end of the bed was a homemade mechanical device unlike anything they had seen before.
 
“There were no blood patterns around the room so it was safe to say he died doing whatever it was he was attempting to achieve with the whole set up.”
 
After investigating the scene, it was deemed to be a non-suspicious death and that progressed the investigation to the next problem.
 
 
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 The Plan
 
After a debrief about what they had just witnessed, the officers deliberated on a plan.
 
“The plan was disturbing but very simple, we had to pop the bloated man so the skin wouldn’t split or explode when we moved it, then we had to somehow get it off the frame and into a body bag,” he said.
 
Ben had to give verbal instructions to Tony to pop the body using an aluminium spear while Tony hid behind a portable white board as protection.
 
“I specifically remember saying to Tony, ‘This is by far the most fucked up thing I have ever seen in my life man, this is so fucking wrong.’
 
After a failed first attempt the second attempt of piercing the body was successful, the air rushed out of the skin and the stench in the room was described as instantaneous and overpowering.
 
Ben said everything to that point didn’t even compare to the process of getting the body down and into the body bag, saying it was by far the most challenging and disgusting thing he has ever had to do in his entire life.
 
“A description of what actually happened cannot be printed or published in this magazine, that’s how bad it actually was that night. It is one of a hundred memories I will probably never be able to get rid of,” he said.
 
After nearly nine hours at the scene, Ben and Tony returned to the office.
 
“I threw my overalls and jumper in the rubbish bin at the office, no amount of cleaning was going to get that smell out and I didn’t need any reminders later on,” he said.
 
“I went home exhausted but I remember didn’t sleep well at all.”
 
  
 
The Aftermath
 
Ben said it was at this point in his career when he started to assess how the job was impacting him physically, emotionally and mentally.
 
“I started to think about what the job was taking away from me as a person and thinking about why people do these horrific things to themselves,” he said.
 
“Do they even care that someone like me has to find them and deal with them? Most people will never see what I have seen, most people don’t have any idea what I actually do and should never have to do the things I’ve done.”
 
Ben said it was difficult to pinpoint how this particular job impacted him.
 
“It’s hard to know if it was this job or a cumulative effect from literally hundreds of dead people I have seen in all forms. This was undoubtably up there with the worst of the worst,” he said.
 
“The entire experience of that job has stayed with me above all the others. No matter how I try I will never forget what I saw and what Tony and I had to do.
 
“When I compare it to all of the murder victims, sudden deaths, suicides, fatal crashes, drug overdoses, workplace fatalities and all of the other horrific shit I’ve seen in 21 years, this trumps everything by far.”
 
Ben said one of the worst parts was coming home to his family after dealing with the heinous scenes he encounters. 
 
“My family knew that I couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to them about specifics of what I had been doing after a long shift but I would sometimes speak to my wife about it as a form of counselling, probably information she didn’t need to know or hear either,” he said.
 
He said the mental and physical repercussions from this job varied. 
“I changed within and the best way I could describe it is to feel completely emotionally numb, like I had switched off and nothing really mattered, I had little to no emotion because I felt I didn’t need it,” he said.
 
“I wanted to be alone more often, I was distancing myself from my wife, family and friends and I seemed disinterested in other people altogether. I was displaying all the tell-tale signs of hypervigilance, I couldn’t relax in public places and I hated places with a lot of people and still do to this day. 
 
“Very reluctantly, I sought professional help and spoke to someone about my problems.”
 
Ben said he felt as though he was getting very few benefits from speaking to a psychologist, but he did follow through with a few sessions.
 
“I soon lost interest in the sessions and didn’t want to talk about my feelings or experiences to someone who had never seen what I’ve had to see,” he said.
 
“I felt as though they couldn’t possibly understand. They have never stood in a hospital mortuary looking into a body bag full of smashed up human parts from a car crash, trying to find a thumb to photograph so a body could be identified.
 
 
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“Since leaving the role, one major stress I now know fuelled the problem was the 24 /7 response expectation, despite not receiving an on-call allowance. My team and I always made ourselves available and took ownership of our responsibilities.
 
This had a massive impact on all of our personal lives and it was frequently associated with criticism from above if you weren’t available.”
 
Ben said he soon found that the best method for stress relief and achieving mental wellbeing came in the form of physical activity. 
He continued weight training, Muay Thai and mountain biking which gave him a release from the stresses of work. 
 
“The more I did these activities, the better I felt so I occupied my spare time with activities I liked and in doing so I started thinking less and less about work and spending more time with family,” he said.
 
He said the physical activity, less devotion to the job and doing fewer recalls was a personal fix to his mental state, but unknown to him at the time, the best thing was reaching maximum tenure at his specialist role and being served a letter to leave his position.
 
“I wanted to stay in the South West so I walked away from 14 years as a Forensic Investigator and changed my pathway. I’m now at the South West Traffic Office enjoying a new experience,” he said.
 
“Being forensic investigator is very rewarding and challenging, I enjoyed my time in the position but I knew it was time to move on.”
 
Ben told Police News that his situation was not unique with many other officers battling their own struggles. 
 
“Every day around this State, police officers attend jobs and experience sensations that will have a lasting effect on them.
 
Whether it be minor or major, it all counts and it can be devastating if not addressed or at least acknowledged,” he said.
 
“What developed within me took years to surface and I am in no way free of it now. I admit that I probably did it wrong and put my family through some very trying times, so I urge people to seek professional help and look at the current situations you are in. If you are struggling speak to someone, consider a career change within this career, it is stressful to do so but can also be highly rewarding.
 
“If I have learned anything, it’s not to keep these things to yourself. It will consume you.”