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Lift death accused 'was owed money'

A man accused of killing a woman by setting her on fire in a lift has told police he did it because she owed him 2,000 dollars (£1,290) for some work he had done for her, police officials said.

Deloris Gillespie was riding in the lift to her fifth-floor apartment in Brooklyn, New York, when the attack happened on Saturday afternoon.

Surveillance video from inside the small lift shows that the attacker looked something like an exterminator, with a canister sprayer, white gloves and a dust mask, which was perched on his head like a pair of sunglasses. The sprayer was full of flammable liquid.

When the lift doors opened, the man sprayed the 73-year-old woman, who turned around and crouched down to try to protect herself, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said. The attacker sprayed Ms Gillespie in the face and continued to spray her "sort of methodically" over her head and parts of her body as her bags of groceries draped off her arms, Mr Browne said.

Then the attacker pulled out a barbecue-style lighter and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle. He waited a few seconds as Ms Gillespie huddled on the floor. Then he backed out of the lift and tossed the flaming bottle in.

Neighbours in the Prospect Heights building quickly reported a fire, but had no idea that a woman was being burned alive.

A 47-year-old man stinking of petrol went into a police station and implicated himself in Ms Gillespie's death, Mr Browne said. The suspect, Jerome Isaac, told police he set her on fire because she owed him money, Mr Browne said.

Ms Gillespie's arrangement with Isaac appeared to have ended by early 2011, but months later neighbours said they started seeing the man nearby on the street, looking "a lot more dishevelled" and pushing a cart full of aluminium cans.

Mr Browne said that after setting Gillespie on fire, Isaac set another fire at his own apartment building nearby, then hid on a roof before turning himself in to police.

Isaac, of Brooklyn, was arrested on Sunday on murder and arson charges.

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