When Jody Knowlton discovered in January her adult daughter had been murdered, she was more than 1,600 miles away at her Virginia home.

Leah Carlene Knowlton, 28, had been shot in the head by her live-in boyfriend Edward Alexander Hayton, 26, in Knowlton’s Central City home in the 900 block of Vernon Drive, according to the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office. Hayton then killed himself. It was January 20.

With the grief of Leah’s murder pressing down on her, Jody Knowlton still had much to plan while trying to get answers. How to get her daughter’s body back to Virginia? Who would help with a proper military burial for the U.S. Army veteran? Where was Leah’s new retriever puppy, Murphy?

And who was going to clean the grisly scene left in Leah Knowlton’s master bedroom?

“The district attorney’s victims advocate was wonderfully helpful,” Knowlton said. “She emailed me a whole pamphlet of information. One of the sections was on cleanup companies, and Bio-One was on there. (Owner) Matt (Gregg) answered the phone and he was amazing. He fully understood what was going on and he was so gentle with me.”

Matt and Krista Gregg own a Bio-One Inc. franchise in Denver, one of five in Colorado. The franchise business, with 117 locations nationwide, was born in Highlands Ranch in 2007. It handles crime and trauma scene cleaning, clearing “hoarder” spaces, decontamination and disinfection – a field called “bio-remediation.”

“It’s truly a ‘Help First, Business Second’ mentality and we’re so glad we could help the Knowlton family,” said Krista Gregg, echoing the company’s motto.

Nick-Anthony Zamucen is the founder and CEO of Bio-One, which he started in Highlands Ranch in 2007.

Zamucen tells the story of his church’s pastor asking the congregation one Sunday if someone would check on the wife of a suicide victim. When Zamucen and a group of men from the church went to the house, the widow just pointed to the master bedroom.

“The poor lady had not left the couch,” he said. “She was so scared of what she’d see.”

The group cleaned the mess best they could – an effort Zamucen describes as “we did everything wrong.” But it gave him an idea for a business model, and a way to help people suffering trauma.

“At the time, no one was doing it,” he said. “I was just a college kid who thought about being a pro athlete. I didn’t think I’d start a franchise of crime scene cleaning businesses.”

Franchise owners have partnered with local authorities, emergency services, victim services groups, communities, hoarding task forces and insurance companies. Now Bio-One is the only cleanup company registered with the FBI, Zamucen said.

The company cleaned up after some of the country’s worst mass shootings, including the 2016 one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that took 49 lives and the October 2017 Las Vegas attack on concert-goers that left 58 dead and almost 1,000 injured. Bio-One also cleaned the King Soopers store in Boulder, the scene of a mass shooting in March that left 10 people dead, including a Boulder Police Officer.

“Las Vegas was 16 acres of bio materials that needed remediated,” said Zamucen. “We only had two franchises in Nevada and they called corporate and said there was no way they could handle it. Six franchises from all over the country had to help. It was, by far, our biggest job.”

Zamucen said the company could likely have more franchise operators, but “we’re extremely selective.”

“The brokerages who sell franchises for us hate us because we turn so many away,” he said. “Our company culture is very strong for a reason. … It’s about finding the right people. You can’t just be a carpet cleaner with a strong stomach.”

It added clearing hoarder space services about seven years ago, and it has quickly become more than 30 percent of most franchises’ business, according to Zamucen.

“Helping people really gets addicting,” Zamucen said. “It’s a great positive feeling that you’ve made someone’s life a little better on the worst day of their life.”

The Greggs got that feeling when one of Leah Kwolton’s possessions they were able to save made it back to her mother, a stuffed animal named Sleepy Bunny.

As Jody Knowlton and her other two daughters, Leah’s sisters, were packing up the Central City house they found Sleepy Bunny.

“All of a sudden, there was Sleepy Bunny – I burst into tears,” Jody Knowlton said.

As a young child, Leah had slept with the stuffed animal for years. She left it behind when she went to the Army. But Jody Knowlton found it and returned it to her daughter in December when she came to Central City to visit, and meet Leah’s live-in boyfriend.

Knowlton said she couldn’t even pay Bio-One’s $6,000 bill from the cleaning until recently when the house sold and she was able settle her daughter’s estate.

“They never even bothered me about it,” Knowlton said. “I can’t speak highly enough about Matt and Krista and Bio-One. They helped ease a horrible situation. They made it so my daughters and I didn’t have to go see that.”

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City Editor

Dennis Huspeni is a 30-year newspaper journalist who is the City Editor and covers metro Denver business.