Yesterday, a Brooklyn woman was burned alive in the elevator of her Prospect Heights apartment building in a horrific crime that was captured on surveillance video. Police say that they now have a suspect in custody for the murder of 64-year-old Doris Gillespie. The man came into a transit police station close to the apartment building where the attack took place early Sunday morning—he was "reeking of gasoline," according to cops.
Neighbors told the Daily News that the suspect lived with Gillespie until recently, and was often seen collecting bottles and cans outside. The Post says that the suspect "is believed to be a current or former boyfriend." NYPD spokesman Paul Browne confirmed that the two did know each other.
The incident unfolded around 4:15 p.m. in Gillespie's apartment building at 203 Underhill Ave. in Prospect Heights. She had just returned from grocery shopping when the elevator stopped on the fifth floor—just before that, the News says the suspect had glued shut the locks on the woman’s fifth-floor apartment and doused the elevator door with accelerant. The attacker, who was dressed as an exterminator, confronted her at the elevator, spraying her in the face, then dousing her from head to toe with what a city official said was an accelerant, as she cowered in the corner clutching her groceries.
The attacker then set a Molotov cocktail on fire, and used the wick to set her ablaze. “She goes up in flames and falls to the floor,” said Browne. The man then lobbed the Molotov cocktail inside the elevator. The whole scene was captured on two surveillance tape cameras in the elevator. Gillespie was pronounced dead at the scene, while five other tenants suffered minor injuries.
Neighbors heard the screaming, but couldn't make sense of what they were hearing: “I thought it was kids because the screaming was high-pitched,” fifth-floor resident John told the Times. “I looked out the door and saw smoke coming out of the elevator.” When he rushed to see what was happening, “The elevator sounded like it was boiling paint."
Heidi Matthews told the Post she knew Gillespie for decades, and she worked for the Post Office: “This is devastating. She was a fixture in the neighborhood for years. This is unreal. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for you. She bought me flowers for Mothers’ Day." Neighbor Chris Martinez added that no one could understand why someone would want ot harm her: “I’m in shock. We didn’t know she had any enemies.”
Gillespie's friend Dorinda Thomas described her to the Post as a "wonderful lady" who always cared for the community: “Everybody in the neighborhood would tell you, anything she had in her house she’d give you.” She added that Gillespie was “desperately afraid” of the 47-year-old suspect. She also claimed that Gillespie had complained to the cops about the man before.
Some other neighbors said that Gillespie, who was raised in Louisiana and lived in the building for decades, appeared to be mentally ill and was extremely paranoid—Brooklyn Ink documented a Prospect Heights community meeting in 2009 during which Gillespie complained about an upstairs neighbor who she claimed robbed her and people on the street in the mornings.