Morton Grove man digs out hoarders’ hidden secrets
Paul Speredes shows the tilting capabilities of his Able Removal work truck, used to gather piled up unwanted junk from clients. | Michelle LaVigne—Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:12AM
Paul Speredes has a hard time deciding what is the weirdest thing his company has ever hauled out of a building overrun with trash.
There have been mummified cats. Then there was a five-foot high mountain of dog feces. And there have been lots of coins, guns, stamps and military memorabilia. He hauled away 2,000 tires for a farmer in Freeport.
But he figures the strangest thing was a World War II tear gas canister. One of his employees took it home to Wilmette.
“He pulled the string and it went off in his house,” Speredes said.
For Speredes, however, those things are all in a day’s work — literally.
Speredes is the owner of Able Removal Service, based in Morton Grove.
His company cleans out houses, apartments and commercial buildings throughout the Chicago area — anywhere trash of all kinds has piled up, often for decades. His motto is, “We can remove 40 years of junk in four hours.”
It wasn’t exactly a career Speredes planned. It started about 25 years ago when Speredes, then 22, inherited a Ford F350 pickup truck. He began hauling away junk (less legal liability than moving, he said) and eventually turned it into a full-time business.
“One thing led to another and I built it up,” Speredes said.
He now operates three 50-cubic-yard trucks of his own design, what he says are the largest junk removal trucks in existence. Two of them can hold the equivalent of a semi-truck trailer, he said.
His career was partly inspired by four of his own relatives, all hoarders.
“My aunt lived in Skokie. She hoarded everything for 35 years. No one had a clue,” he said.
Speredes’ work has landed him on the A&E cable show “Hoarders” twice. He recently finished taping his second episode that will air in April. While he’s glad for the publicity, he said the producers also try and create a bit of conflict for drama’s sake. In the fist episode he said he was told that nothing was being kept from the house. But then the camera caught him smashing some dishes and the owner in tears.
“I broke her dishes and it caused a panic attack,” Speredes said. “The camera showed me smashing her dishes and the camera panning to her crying. They like tears.”
The most recent episode was filmed in Humboldt Park, where Able Removal filled three of the 50-yard containers in one day. After the trash was removed, Speredes said he was told that his workers had thrown out the owner’s cell phone and wallet.
“They called the phone and we could her it ringing under the trash. We had to go through a whole container to find it,” Speredes said.
Though he’s not sure what, if anything, it means, Speredes estimated that about half of the places he cleans out are the homes of retired school teachers like his aunt. But he does have a theory on what drives a person to keep decades of trash and worse piled up in their home.
“I think it’s human instinct gone awry. It goes back to when people had to store food for winter,” he said. “It’s that kind of instinct gone berserk.”
Speredes said he most often hires former movers to work for him.
“Normally I try to hire professional movers with a strong stomach,” he said. “A lot of people can’t last more than a couple of days.”
One perk of the job, though, is that he lets them keep any valuables they find that they want. Other valuable items he collects from the trash he sells at flea markets.
One of his best hauls, he said, came from Mike Ditka’s house in the northern suburbs. When Ditka moved to New Orleans, his wife hired Able to clean out the basement.
That, he said, included many of the coach’s awards and other items from his years with the Bears, including some Superbowl memorabilia.
“That was one of the most valuable jobs we ever had,” he said. “I sold it all to a sports memorabilia dealer.”
He also cleaned out what he is convinced was a haunted house.
“My watch stopped. The phone was ringing and it wasn’t connected,” Speredes said. “There was a cool breeze in the crawl space. One of my men left and said he couldn’t work there.”
Speredes said the record for one building was 15 containers of trash (50 yards each) he removed from a three-flat in Chicago. No one knew the building was full of trash until a mail carrier accidentally discovered it.
“The mailman tried to deliver a package,” Speredes said. “When he knocked on the door, the door fell out because of all of the trash piled against it.”