Man arrested in N.Y. elevator torching says victim owed him money

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A man arrested in the burning death of a woman who was sprayed with flammable liquid and then torched in an elevator may have been motivated by an unpaid debt, New York police said as the gruesome crime continued to dominate the city’s headlines.

News reports Monday quoted police spokesman Paul Browne as saying that Jerome Isaac, 47, told officers that the victim, Deloris Gillespie, 73, owed him $2,000 for work he had done for her. Earlier reports gave her name as Doris.

Isaac faces murder and arson charges in the attack Saturday night and was expected to be arraigned Monday. According to Browne, he reeked of gasoline when he turned himself in a few hours after the attack, which was captured on surveillance cameras. ‘This was a methodical attack on a defenseless 73-year-old woman. It’s as bad as it gets,’ Browne said.

The video shows Gillespie, slowed by grocery bags, in the elevator as its doors open on the fifth floor of the building where she lived in Brooklyn. When the door opens, a man holding a device similar to sprayers that exterminators use is standing in the hallway waiting. He sprays her with an unidentified liquid. As Gillespie crouches and attempts to protect herself, the man ‘sort of methodically’ continues to spray her head and body, Browne said.


The attacker tossed a Molotov cocktail at Gillespie to ignite the flames before backing out, leaving the woman to die as the doors closed. Neighbors who heard screams and smelled smoke alerted the fire department and fled the building.

Gillespie’s nephew, Rickey Causey, denied his aunt owed Isaac any money and told the New York Post that Gillespie had fired him because he stole from her. ‘He was doing more stealing than cleaning,’ Causey said of Isaac, who neighbors said had been hired to do odd jobs for Gillespie.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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