A man suspected of spraying a 73-year-old woman with gasoline and setting her on fire in an elevator has been charged with murder and arson.
Jerome Isaac, from New York, said nothing as he appeared in court yesterday with the left side of his face badly burned and peeling. He is being held without bail.
His lawyer requested the 47-year-old be placed in solitary confinement and receive medical attention for his burns.
Police say Isaac is a disgruntled handyman who was so angry that Delores Gillespie, a former employer, had failed to pay a $2,000 bill that he killed her on Saturday.
He was yesterday charged with first-degree murder and arson, hours after he turned himself in to police reeking of gasoline with the entire left-side of his face clearly singed by flames.
Isaac waited for Ms Gillespie to return to her Brooklyn home from shopping. When the elevator door opened, he sprayed gasoline across her face and body before setting her on fire with a Molotov cocktail, according to police.
The elderly woman cowered in the corner of the elevator and tried to shield herself, but neighbours said they heard her screams of agony as she burned to death while her alleged killer fled the scene.
Isaac had lived with Ms Gillespie while he worked for her doing odd jobs, according to reports.
When Ms Gillespie found out Isaac was stealing from her, she fired him, Rickey Causey, the victim’s 52-year-old nephew, told the New York Post.
‘He was doing more stealing than cleaning,’ he said.
Isaac left a note on Ms Gillespie’s door demanding payment for chores he had done, but the elderly woman didn’t want to pay him after she caught him taking things from her, Mr Causey said.
The horrifying attack lasted one minute and was caught on two surveillance cameras at the apartment block.
Ms Gillespie, who had just returned from grocery shopping, turned and crouched in an attempt to protect herself, according to police.
But Isaac, who was wearing a protective mask on top of his head, sprayed her directly in the face and over her head and body as she retreated to the back of the elevator, it is claimed.
He then pulled out a long, barbecue-style lighter and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle.
Isaac waited for a few seconds before using the flames to set her alight and throwing the bottle inside the lift, according to police.
The attacker ran away, using the apartment block’s staircase, leaving the woman to die in agony.
Ms Gillespie, who neighbours believe grew up in Louisiana and suffered a mental illness, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said they believe Isaac had been waiting for Ms Gillespie to return home.
‘It was apparent he knew she was on the elevator,’ New York City police spokesman Paul Browne said.
Firefighters and the police arrived at the apartment block at 4pm after residents reported fire and smoke–but remained unaware of the elevator horror.
‘I’ve never seen any s*** like this, and I’ve been doing this a long time,’ an unnamed detective added.
Neighbours described their shock at the terrifying incident, which occurred on the building’s fifth floor, where Ms Gillespie had lived ‘for years’.
‘I’m in shock,’ neighbour Chris Martinez, 38, told the Daily News. ‘We didn’t know she had any enemies.’
She had often complained other tenants were stealing from her–yet neighbours believed she was simply paranoid.
Her son had been staying with her in recent months. Another neighbour said the woman was a postal worker.
One neighbour, who identified himself to the Daily News as ‘John’, said he heard loud screams before smoke started filling the hallways.
‘It was high-pitched yelling,’ he said. He then ran downstairs and heard ‘popping sounds’ from the elevator shaft.
‘The elevator sounded like it was boiling paint,’ he said.
‘You could see the flames in the elevator shaft and hear crackling,’ he added.
Five other people were hurt in the fire, but none were seriously injured.