By Max Taves

“The furniture had been tunneled through.” So says Gary James, whose business model for his company Atticbusters is really simple: When the piles of dead rodents following extermination by poisoning are so bad nobody wants to clean them up, he steps in.

For the last seven years, James has visited thousands of Southern California homes and offices, and seen a lot of disgusting stuff. “I’ve been to a lot of homes,” James tells LA Weekly. “I’ve had to drag dead raccoons from basements that were being eaten alive by maggots.”

But of all of his adventures, his trip last November to the Pacific Palisades home of Margaret and Marjorie Barthel ranks as his most memorable—and by that he means unambiguously repulsive.

Here’s why:

“I have a ten-foot long cargo van,” says James. By the time he got done removing hundreds upon hundreds of dead rats from the Barthel home last fall, “Two-thirds of the van was packed with [dead] rodents from top to bottom and side to side.”

This van, which extends several more feet in the front, was solidly packed with dead rats from inside the Barthel home.

But it gets better, or worse. At almost every job site his company mops up, he finds most of the dead mice and rats in the basements or attics—hence his company’s name.

But not on Fiske Avenue in the Palisades. “Most of the rats were inside the home—in the living space,” James says. “The furniture had been tunneled through.”

To the longtime cleanup man, it was obvious that the rats dominated the inside of the house, and had no fear of their human co-inhabitants—the Barthel twins.

“One of my guys—who has been with me for seven years—called me up and was like, ‘Gary, this is fucking gross!’ My guys were miserable.”

It wasn’t easy for James either. At the beginning of the job, James says he walked ten steps into the house wearing a combination of “three masks” but had to retreat immediately. The smell of decaying rats was overwhelming, he says. On top of that, there was feces throughout.

James says he told the sisters that they needed to “chlorinate” the inside of their home to quell the incredibly potent smell of urine, and he offered to do that service. But the sisters rejected the offer. Not a good idea, he says.

“As long as there’s the scent of rats, the rats are going to come back.”

Reach the writer at

LA Weekly