Brooklyn woman burned alive in apartment elevator by her former employee, police say

The victim and the crime scene
CBS New York

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - A 73-year-old woman was killed Saturday after she was set on fire in her apartment building elevator by an employee she owed money to, police say.

CBS New York reports that handyman Jermone Isaac, 47, was dressed as an exterminator and waiting with a canister of flammable liquid for Deloris Gillespie as she got off the elevator at her Brooklyn apartment with her grocery bags.

According to surveillance tapes, the suspect was wearing white gloves and a dust mask on his head. Once the elevator doors opened "methodically" sprayed Gillespie all over her body while she crouched down and tried to protect herself. Then, using a grill lighter, he ignited a Molotov cocktail, threw into the elevator and backed out of the blaze, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.

The New York Times says that within minutes, Gillespie was burned to death in the small elevator. The entire episode was captured by surveillance, and the sheer brutality of it even stunned the seasoned homicide detectives.

Neighbors in the apartment building had no idea a woman was being burned alive when they hurriedly reported the elevator fire.

"Sad, I really started 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?'"

The victim's family and neighbors had worried about her business with Isaac, nicknamed "Can Man," by some in the neighborhood because he collected bottles and cans for recycling.

Her friends say she hired Isaac to do odd jobs around her apartment, and that she fired him after the two had fights about over money and she caught him stealing from her, said Rickey Causey, Gillespie's nephew.

Investigators say Isaac, still smelling of gasoline, turned himself him at a police station and implicated himself in Gillespie's death.

Before he murdered Gillespie, police say he set small fires at the front of his own apartment.

He told law enforcement officials that he was angry at the 73-year-old, saying she owed him $2,000 for doing some work for her.

Isaac was arrested Sunday on murder and arson charges.