A ‘Halloween obsessed’ former embalmer who married a hearse-driving junkyard owner is already planning how to decorate their home on October 31 – and her spooky plans include a 12-foot high skeleton and four real funeral caskets.
Mum-of-three, Louise Pachella, 38, first became fascinated by death aged 10, when her mother, Jill Hall, 60, was training to be a nurse and brought her along to an anatomy class to watch a cat being dissected.
Going on to study mortuary science before becoming an embalmer and funeral director, Louise knew her now husband, Dan Pachella, 47, was the man for her when he invited her to watch him drive in a demolition derby and his racing car turned out to be a hearse.
Three daughters, Ashley, eight, Rachel, six, and Dani, four, have since been added to their ‘His and Hearse Racing’ team, and the quirky Los Angeles family revel in Halloween every year, decorating their three-bed home with decorations worth $5,000 (£4,240), including a nine-foot plastic spider and half a dozen plastic skeletons.
Louise, who is also now an author on embalming, said: “Why be boring when you can choose excitement and creativity?
“I have always had an affinity for unusual and darker things and I love being able to share that with people.”
Louise added: “Death doesn’t have to be this scary thing – it can be fascinating and interesting.”
Growing up in California, Louise had an early education in death.
She said: “I remember being 10 years old and my mother was training to be a nurse and took me with her to one of her anatomy classes.”
Louise added: “They were dissecting cats to understand the anatomy and one student ran out to be sick because they found kittens inside one of the cats.
“My mum gave me one of the kittens and a scalpel and encouraged me to learn from it.”
From that point, Louise said she was fascinated by the science of death.
She said: “Our own cat at home would often bring ‘treasures’ back for us, like mice and rats, and I would watch their bodies rot away and study how they decayed in nature.”
At 13, Louise saw a human body for the first time when she accompanied her mum to a cadaver lab.
“I was never scared – I knew the person wasn’t there, it was just their shell, which we could learn from,” she remembered.
Leaving school at 17, Louise was unsure of her future until she stumbled on a newspaper article advertising a college programme in mortuary science.
“It ticked every box. I realised I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.
And Louise loved the year she spent studying at Cypress College in California.
“We covered everything – I would practise embalming on the cadavers, learn to remake facial features after trauma or learn about the ceremonies and customs associated with different religions and their funeral arrangements.”
Starting out as a part-time receptionist at her local mortuary, Louise became an apprentice and worked her way up the funereal career ladder over the next 11 years, working as a funeral director and embalmer.
She said: “I connected with so many families in that time.”
Louise added: “The gratification that comes from helping leave people with a positive last memory of their loved one is astounding and very special.
“I knew that I would be impacting a family for the rest of their lives.”
While Louise understands the gravity of her work, she has been able to find moments of humour.
She said: “There was one funeral for a gentleman who always wore horrendous Hawaiian shirts and they brought a rack of shirts to the funeral service for guests to wear.
“At the end of the service, when it was time for me to put the casket into the crypt, I went and picked the most horrible shirt I could find, put it on over the top of my suit and went about the solemn procedure as normal.
“I could hear a few giggles all the way through and it really made a difference for those people.”
In 2008, when she was working at the mortuary, Louise met her husband.
“I first met Dan when he towed a car for my friend and he was telling me about his junkyard – which is basically a graveyard for cars – and it really piqued my interest,” she said.
“He told me that he competed in demolition derbies, where you crash derby cars into one another, and invited me to watch.”
She added: “I was actually terrified of driving at the time, but I went along, and what was he driving? A hearse.”
Dan, who still drives his funeral car on track, turned out to have another hearse too which he keeps safely parked at home.
Louise explained: “He also has another hearse at home, which he has had since he was 18 so it’s really sentimental, which he keeps in our backyard.”
As their relationship evolved, Louise started to learn about the manufacture of the derby cars with Dan before eventually, joining in with the racing.
And Dan was quick to embrace Louise’s unusual interests too.
“Dan is always supportive of my wild ideas,” she said.
“I come up with the strangest things, and he’s always right there helping to make them a reality.”
Tying-the-knot in a ceremony in Las Vegas in 2013, Louise and Dan went on to welcome their three daughters.
Louise said: “I don’t think it’s a surprise that the girls are very much into Halloween and have a very healthy perspective of death.”
She add: “They have never been afraid of what we do, they’re just very curious, like I was.”
And it’s become a right of passage for them to join in the derby racing.
“Once the girls turn five, they get their first race car,” she said.
“By the time we got to 2020, when my eldest started racing, we decided to make it official and named ourselves the His and Hearse Racing team.”
The family’s eccentricities do not end there, however, with even more excitement at home.
“We live in a regular, three-bed residential home, but we do stand out slightly,” she said.
“When I was pregnant with our first daughter, my husband was supposed to be disposing of this old helicopter, but I told him to bring it home.
“I had this vivid image of this amazing playground we could make from the helicopter, which eventually we did.
“It has a swing and slides and cage attached to the cockpit so the kids can sit on the higher level.”
She added: “The kids and their friends love it – but I think the parents like it more!”
And there’s another unusual addition to the family home.
“We also have an 8ft metal dinosaur in our front garden that we got from a metal sculptor in the desert and is chained to the tree,” she said.
“We called him Krona Rex after the coronavirus pandemic as we got him in 2020, and decided to dress him up for every occasion – with bunny ears for Easter, a wig and dress for Mother’s Day or with a nappy and wings for Valentine’s Day.”
But nothing compares to Louise’s Halloween displays.
“Halloween has always been my favourite time of year because it’s when we embrace the spooky things and what people normally shy away from and you can have fun with it,” she said.
“We have probably spent well over $5,000 on Halloween decorations over the years and every year is bigger and better.
“I have at least six five-foot skeletons, one 12ft skeleton, a 9ft spider and four real caskets we use, that I keep in a truck in the backyard.
“We usually start by putting the hearse in the front yard with a casket hanging out of it and we often do a walk-through haunted house in our backyard or a spooky circus theme.”
Louise added: “In lockdown, we did the scariest thing I could think of – home-schooling – and created a terrifying mock classroom.”
This year Louise is planning a new scary scene.
She said: “I’m going to do some sort of medical thing – but I can’t say, or I’ll spoil it!”
And while Louise is planning her next Halloween extravaganza, she is also busy writing books.
“I’m writing multiple books now about embalming but I’m also helping other authors know how to portray funerals and dead bodies and decomposition accurately,” she said.
“But my biggest focus right now is my adult activity and colouring book which explains the funeral process in a fun way with puzzles and word searches.”
Louise added: “The book will include a number of paper dolls which illustrate the stages of decomposition, including the layers of autopsy, as well clothes and accessories to dress the dolls in and paper casket that you can cut out and decorate.
“The aim is to illustrate what happens to bodies after death in a way that isn’t gruesome and create a hands-on approach to pre-planning your funeral wishes.”
Louise wants people to approach death with curiosity and hopes she will “facilitate conversations about death without taboo or fear.”
Link to Louise’s website here – https://www.louisepachella.com/fun/kronarexthedinosaur