A Particularly Cruel Crime in Brooklyn Leaves Neighbors Cringing

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New York Police Department / AP

A day after the arraignment of a man in Brooklyn deliberately set a fire that killed a 73-year-old woman who he said owed him money, people are asking who would do something this heinous, particularly to a woman who never harmed anyone.

Police say Jerome Isaac, 47, was caught on surveillance video waiting for Deloris Gillespie to step off of the elevator to her apartment in the borough’s Prospect Heights neighborhood. Disguised as an exterminator, he doused her with flammable liquid, used a barbecue lighter to set her aflame, then threw a Molotov cocktail at her. Finally, he sprayed more of the liquid on the suffering woman to complete his barbarous crime.

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Running from the scene, having charred his own face in the process, he tried to burn a nearby apartment where he once lived with his brother, but only managed to set the doorway aflame. Eventually, after hiding out, he went to the local police precinct and turned himself in, telling them he killed the woman because she owed him $2,000 for work he had done for her.

The crime horrified Gillespie’s neighbors, two of whom work for the local media, and wrote of their shock and dismay at what happened to the woman who was popular among the people in the building. “The suspect, Jerome Isaac, is someone I’ve seen many times. He did work for Delores. She was petite and needed help moving furniture. We talked about the weather. He didn’t seem like a psycho who would later murder her in our elevator,” said Lauren Johnston, a deputy editor for the New York Daily News.

“…When I was permitted to re-enter my Prospect Heights building, I was overwhelmed by the weight and horror of the events and I sobbed in the vestibule.”

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Jaime Holguin, a news development manager at the Associated Press, after seeing photos of Isaac after his arrest, said he looked like a man who had lived with Gillespie for a period of time, doing odd jobs for her. They had exchanged pleasantries in the past, but he had begun seeing Isaac looking “a lot more disheveled.”

But Isaac does not necessarily fit the profile of a murderer. He has no jail record and no prior arrests. Despite his clean background, prosecutors are making it clear that this crime is unique in its cruelty. “I know this is the defendant’s first offense, but the depravity of this one single act is beyond my description,” Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub said as Issac was being charged.

Isaac was charged with murder and arson and is being held without bail. His lawyer has not requested psychiatric evaluation.

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