Less than 12 hours after the horrific death of a woman who was burned alive in the elevator of her apartment building, a man who the police said was "reeking of gasoline" surrendered and implicated himself in the crime, the police said Sunday.
NEW YORK — By the time Deloris Gillespie saw him, waiting on the other side of an elevator door, it was too late to escape.
With her shopping bags in hand, she pushed open the door. There stood a man she knew, Jerome Isaac. He set upon her immediately, armed with a tank of fuel and a barbecue lighter, wearing white gloves and a surgical mask. He was angry, he would tell the police on Sunday, because he believed she owed him about $2,000 for odd jobs.
But there was no way Gillespie, 73, could have been prepared for what Isaac had planned.
Isaac, 47, methodically set the woman aflame, burning her alive in the elevator of her building in Brooklyn on Saturday, only a few feet from her apartment door, the police said. He sprayed the flammable liquid in the woman’s face and over her cowering body, and then lit a Molotov cocktail to ignite the fire.
Within minutes, Gillespie was burning to death in the narrow cab, and her assailant had fled down the stairs. The attack lasted only a few minutes, all of it captured by surveillance cameras; the sheer, calculated brutality stunned even the most hardened of homicide detectives.
After several hours and “reeking of gasoline,” Isaac turned himself in Sunday morning at a transit police station and by the afternoon, police said, he had confessed to the gruesome attack. He faces charges of first-degree and second-degree murder and arson.
Gillespie and Isaac lived less than two blocks apart. She had a reputation for trying to help people who were down on their luck. She gave food and shelter to the homeless and welcomed strangers into her apartment, sometimes hiring them for small tasks and chores, according to friends and relatives. That was how she came to know Isaac, they said.
Isaac was less of a known quantity to neighbors. Some described him as being intelligent, well-dressed and well-spoken. But Isaac was mostly known for his penchant for collecting cans and bottles in the neighborhood; they called him “the recyclist.”
Rickey Causey, a nephew of Gillespie’s who had been living with her since he arrived in June from Louisiana, where he said his home burned down, said that Isaac had posted a typewritten bill on her door for his work clearing clutter from her apartment months before. Total due: more than $300.
Despite his harassment over the money, Causey said that his aunt had not feared Isaac. “She wasn’t scared of no one,” Causey said.
He said Gillespie, whose apartment was filled with items she had collected over the years, had caught Isaac stealing things, including a VCR and a cake pan. “He was taking the good stuff,” Causey said. So, he said, she dismissed him.
While Gillespie was out buying groceries, he rode the elevator to her floor and, outfitted like an amateur exterminator, waited for her to return. As soon as the elevator delivered her, Isaac was blocking her exit.
He sprayed her face with liquid from the hose that snaked around his torso. As she turned and shrank back into a corner of the narrow cab, he doused her with it. Then he went through with his plan: He lit the fuse on the bottle bomb in his other hand and set Gillespie aflame. She dropped to the floor, engulfed and screaming.
But Isaac was not finished yet, the police said. To ensure that Gillespie did not survive, he tossed the long-necked bottle into the elevator with her. He sprayed more of the fuel on her.
Only then did he run away.