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Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Jerome Isaac Arson-Murder Case

     Arson-murder cases fall into three categories. It becomes arson-murder when the victim, for example, is shot to death and the killer sets a fire to cover the crime. A fire-setter who burns down a building for the insurance money and in the process kills an occupant no one knew was in the structure has also committed  arson-murder. And finally, using fire as the agent of death comprises arson-murder. The latter form of arson is the most unusual of the three.

     On Saturday December 17, 2011 in Brooklyn New York a crime took place that fell into the third arson-murder category. It involved the cruel, cold-blooded and sadistic murder of 73-year-old Doris Gillespie.

     Shortly after four in the afternoon, as the victim returned from grocery shopping and was about to exit the elevator that stopped at her apartment floor, Gillespie encountered a man dressed like an exterminator who wore surgical gloves and a white dust mask perched atop his head the way Jackie Kennedy used to wear her sunglasses. The thin middle-aged man held a canister with a nozzle, a Molotov cocktail and a barbecue-style lighter. He methodically sprayed the victim and her grocery bags with a fine mist of gasoline then ignited the rag sticking out of the flammable liquid filled bottle. As he backed out of the elevator he tossed in the fuse-lit Molotov cocktail. The compartment filled with smoke and the victim, engulfed in flames, burned to death as she crouched against the rear wall of the elevator. Two video cameras recorded the murder.

     The following morning 47-year-old Jerome Isaac, with burns on the left side of his face, turned himself in to the New York City Police. He said he had been hired by the victim to clean out clutter from her apartment. He said she had fired him after accusing him of theft. After Mr. Isaac harassed this woman for the $2,000 he thought she owed him he set fire to her in the elevator.

     At Isaac's arraignment, the magistrate denied him bail. The police, other than the fact Isaac didn't have a criminal record and had been seen around the neighborhood collecting bottles and cans, didn't know much about him except he'd been treated for mental illness.

     On January 11, 2013 Brooklyn Judge Del Giduice sentenced Jerome Issac to fifty years in prison. The judge called the crime the most brutal he had seen in his judicial career. "That is not something one can take from one's mind," he said.

     What makes this case so disturbing, beyond the nature of the crime itself, is that everywhere we go we are surrounded by people like Mr. Isaac who look and act harmless until something sets them off. There is nothing the police can do to protect us from people like this. All they can do is react, and by then it's too late.

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