News Americas

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Man arrested on murder and arson charges as woman dies after being set alight in lift

New York police released CCTV footage of the suspect, who has been labelled by US press 'the exterminator'. Photo: AP
New York police released CCTV footage of the suspect, who has been labelled by US press 'the exterminator'. Photo: AP

Amy Willis

A MAN has been arrested on murder and arson changes after handing himself into New York police.

Jerome Isaac (47), had worked for the victim Deloris Gillespie, who was killed inside the lift of her New York apartment building when he allegedly doused here with a flammable liquid and set her alight.

Isaac worked as a handyman for Ms Gillespie (73) at the apartment building, New York City police sources confirmed.

Police said Isaac set the woman on fire over a dispute involving an unpaid bill.

Reports in the US suggested the bill was for $2,000.

Isaac had been doing odd jobs for Ms Gillespie, but she sacked him when she discovered he had been stealing, the victim's nephew Rickey Causey, 52, said.

"He was doing more stealing than cleaning," he said.

When the elevator doors opened, the man allegedly sprayed petrol in the elderly woman's face and set her on fire with a Molotov cocktail.

Neighbours heard Ms Gillespie's screams as she cowered in the corner of the lift, attempting to shield herself from the flames. Ms Gillespie was pronounced dead at the scene following the one-minute attack.

Isaac had written a note to Ms Gillespie demanding payment for the jobs he had done but the woman refused to pay due to the theft of her items, he added.

"It was apparent he knew she was on the elevator," Paul Browne, a spokesman for New York Police Department, said.

"He confessed to the crime, claiming that the woman owed him money for work he had done in the last year," he added.

A surveillance camera captured the attacker waiting for Ms Gillespie on the fifth floor.

Two video cameras – one in the hall and the other inside the lift – recorded the attack. Isaac was wearing a black jacket and what appeared to be white surgical gloves and a white dust mask perched on his head.

He was holding what looked like a canister with a nozzle and stepped into the elevator to reach the elderly woman.

Ms Gillespie, who had grocery bags in her arms, turned about 180 degrees and then crouched in an attempt to protect herself, he said.

But the man sprayed her directly in the face and continued to spray her "sort of methodically" over her head and parts of her body. She turned and retreated to the back of the elevator.

Then, Mr Browne said, the suspect pulled out a barbecue-style lighter, used it to ignite a rag in a bottle and then waited for a few seconds before using the flames to set her afire, causing smoke to fill the elevator.

The man backed out as she fell to the floor of the elevator, Mr Browne said, and seemed to pause before tossing the bottle inside the elevator and onto her.

Neighbours said Ms Gillespie, who is believed to have grown up in Louisiana, had been living in the building for years and suffered mental health problems.

She often complained that upstairs tenants were stealing from her, neighbours said.

Residents reported the fire in the lift. “She was screaming at the top of her lungs,” one man said according to reports.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News