NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Police say handyman Jerome Isaac, 47, set his employer on fire in her own apartment building elevator as revenge over a financial dispute.
Investigators say he told them he was angry at Deloris Gillespie, saying the 73-year-old owed him $2,000.
Police say he dressed like an exterminator, with white gloves and a dust mask on his head, he had a canister of flammable liquid, used to methodically spray Gillespie head to toe before using a barbeque lighter to ignite a Molotov cocktail he threw it into the small elevator.
Gillespie was getting off the elevator at her Underhill Avenue apartment in Prospect Heights. She died in agony, cowering against the back of the elevator with her shopping bags.
“Sad, I started really crying,” said Evelyn Diaz, Gillespie’s friend. “What this person did to her I said ‘What went through your mind when you did that to this poor lady’?”
Gillespie’s distraught family and neighbors brought flowers and candles to the stoop of the building at 203 Underhill Avenue. Some said they had worried about her business arrangement with Isaac, nicknamed “Can Man” by some people in the neighborhood because he collected bottles, cans and other items for recycling.
Gillespie’s friends say she hired Isaac to do odd jobs around her apartment on the second floor. And they say the two had fights over money and she fired him.
Around the corner from the crime scene at 315 Lincoln Place is the second floor apartment Isaac shares with his brother.
Police say after he murdered Gillespie, he returned home and set small fires at the front of his own own apartment. Later, police say, with his clothes still smelling of gasoline he turned himself in.
Next door neighbor, Eric Charles, 42, said Isaac moved there several years ago.
“It’s really shocking and you recognized that’s the guy next door when they show me the pictures, even more crazy. I never thought something like that would happen,” he told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin.
Gillespie is survived by four adult children, three sons and a daughter, and also a grandchild.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reports
Rickey Causey, Gillespie’s nephew, said that Isaac had worked for Gillespie but was fired after being caught stealing from her.
“Yeah, he was robbing her. So she fired him,” he told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “She got three locks on the door.”
Causey was in the building Saturday but says he heard nothing.
“I should’ve been there. I should’ve been outside. I should’ve been there,” he said.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Terry Sheridan reports
Causey said that Isaac had left a list of chores on Gillespie’s door for which he was demanding payment.
Police charged Isaac with two counts of murder and one count of arson.
How can future acts of extreme violence be averted? You can voice your opinion in our comments section below…