NEW YORK (AP) — As Deloris Gillespie went up the elevator to her fifth-floor Brooklyn apartment, carrying groceries, a man was waiting. Surveillance video shows him looking like an exterminator, with a canister sprayer, white gloves and a dust mask perched atop his head.
When the elevator opened Saturday afternoon, the man sprayed the 73-year-old woman as she crouched to try to protect herself, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.
Then, Browne said, the attacker pulled out a barbecue-style lighter and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle. He waited a few seconds as Gillespie huddled on the floor. Then he backed out of the elevator and tossed in the flaming bottle.
Neighbors had no idea a woman was being burned alive when they reported the fire.
Overnight, a 47-year-old man smelling of gasoline went into a police station and implicated himself in Gillespie’s death, Browne said. The suspect, Jerome Isaac, told police he set her on fire because she owed him $2,000 for some work he had done for her, Browne said.
Isaac was arrested Sunday on murder and arson charges. He appeared in court Monday, with visible burns on his face. He said nothing. He was held without bail. His lawyer requested solitary confinement and medical attention and did not speak outside court
When Jaime Holguin, who lives on the same floor as Gillespie, saw surveillance pictures of the attacker he said, “Oh, my God!”
Holguin, the manager of news development for The Associated Press, said the man in the surveillance pictures looked like a man who had lived with Gillespie for about six months last year and appeared to have been helping her out.
Gillespie’s arrangement with Isaac appeared to have ended by early 2011, but months later Holguin started seeing the man nearby on the street, looking “a lot more disheveled” and pushing a cart full of aluminum cans.
Browne said that after setting Gillespie ablaze, Isaac set another fire at his own apartment building nearby, then hid on a roof before turning himself in to police.
On Sunday, Holguin said, the fifth floor was a mess, with a melted elevator door and a layer of water on the floor.
Holguin said he and his girlfriend had taken the elevator on their way out of the building shortly before the attack. They didn’t see anyone on the floor with them but did notice an odd smell, as if someone was painting, he said.
He remembered Gillespie as nice but sometimes a little off. “At least with me, some days she’d be very, very pleasant, and then the next time, she would almost ignore me,” he said.
Gillespie also went through a period this year where she would place duct tape over her apartment door whenever she left, Holguin said.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report from New York.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.