Councilwoman Letitia James: Family of Elderly Woman Burned Alive Have Been Victimized Twice


The family of an elderly Prospect Heights woman who was burned to death by a man she once helped told reporters on Thursday that she was always trying to assist people and that her generosity cost the woman her life.

Accompanied by Councilwoman Letitia James (District 35), the brother, a cousin and two children of Deloris Gillespie, 73, discussed their loved one’s legacy and the financial challenges they have faced since arriving in NYC to plan her funeral.

“Deloris was always aware of the fact that she was her brother’s keeper,” said Tracey Gillespie, a cousin.

Deloris Gillespie’s son, Everett K. Haynes, said his mother was always willing to help somebody. “She was trying to help a homeless man and he ended up killing her,” Haynes said. Later, while choking on tears, he asked, “What is this country coming to?”

Gillespie died on Dec. 17 after Brooklyn resident Jerome Isaac sprayed the woman with gasoline and set her on fire in the elevator of her Underhill Avenue apartment building.

The two once had an friendly relationship: Isaac would perform odd jobs for Gillespie– like plumbing– in exchange for a place to stay. But later, their relationship went awry. Gillespie said Isaac stole from her home, and after a falling out, family members say Isaac began harassing her, leaving notes for her and for her neighbors to deliver to Gillespie.

Isaac, who faces first and second-degree murder charges and a second-degree arson charge, is being held without bail at Brooklyn Criminal Court. Gillespie’s family has requested that prosecutors make no plea arrangements in the case and that Isaac be sentenced to the full extent of the law.

During the conference, cousin Tracey Gillespie also sought to clear up an inaccurate news report that suggested that there was a romantic relationship between her slain loved one and the murderer.

“There was no relationship,” she said. “This was someone who was down on his luck and she helped him. She opened up her heart and her home.”

Gillespie also said she was upset about media reports that suggested that owing Isaac $2,000 was somehow a justification for murder. “That was enraging,” she said.

The family said that to their knowledge, Gillespie did not owe Isaac money.

While earlier news reports stated the family’s lodging and other arrangements had been taken care of by a local banker who did not know the family, financial support from the Manhattan-based hedge fund manager has been nonexistent thus far.

The family and Councilwoman James said the man would donate $10,000 to a fund set up by Councilwoman James’s office, but that has yet to happen.

The family members, which also include Gillespie’s daughter, Sheila Gillespie Hillsman, and her brother, JC Causey, traveled from California, Florida and Indiana, said they were left hanging when they arrived to the city nearly two weeks ago. They currently lack the funds to cover their bill from a local hotel, among other fees like today’s memorial service.

Earlier news reports said the family said had searched Gillespie’s three bedroom apartment to find letters documenting Isaac’s harassment that Councilwoman James said Gillespie had sent to authorities. During the press conference, the family said Gillespie had so many belongings in her home that they have sought professional assistance to clean up the debris. Family members said 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a cleaning service, quoted them $8,000 to clean up the apartment, adding stress to their financial situation. In the meantime, the family said it was working with the city’s sanitation department.

Councilwoman James said that the fund her office set up only contains $800.00 in donations as of yesterday.

“This family has been victimized twice,” said James, alluding to Gillespie’s murder and the alleged yet-to-be fulfilled promise of the banker.

The mother of four and the grandmother of three had been an employee of an East New York United States Postal Service location at the time of her death. Loved ones remember Gillespie as a public servant who helped feed the hungry and volunteered with the local community council.

Lauren Johnston, the deputy managing editor for, is a resident of the building in which Gillespie was murdered. On Dec. 19, the newspaper published an op-ed by Johnston, in which she said Gillespie was a petite woman who loved plants and handed them out to tenants. “I’d often find Delores sweeping or mopping the lobby. She took pride in the place and liked to keep it clean,” Johnston wrote. Johnston also said that Gillespie was highly aware of the crime rates in the Prospect Heights area, once advising her to put a deadbolt on her door.

Today the family will gather with friends and neighborhoods and reminisce on Gillespie’s life during a memorial service at First AME Zion Church, located at 54 MacDonough St. in Brooklyn.

Donations are being accepted via a rehabilitation fund set up by the James office. Money can be sent to Carver Federal Savings Bank, to the Rehabilitation Fund for Disaster Victims. The account number for deposits is: 801281750. Carver Federal Savings Bank is located at 4 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11217.