CHICAGO (CBS) — A 51-year-old man has been charged with setting a fire that killed three children and a man last month, allegedly because a woman who lives in the building refused to have sex with him for $10.
Reginald Hester, of the 8000 block of South Essex Avenue, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson. Police said Hester deliberately set fire to an apartment building at 81st and Essex, a block away from his home, on Aug. 23.
Hester was ordered held without bail Wednesday afternoon. At his bond hearing, Cook County prosecutors said Hester started the fire after he gave a woman who lives there $10 for sex, and she didn’t provide it.
“The witness instructed him to give her the $10 and then she would go into her apartment to get condoms,” prosecutor Becky Walters said. “After receiving the $10, the witness entered her apartment through the back door and didn’t return leaving the defendant standing at the rear of the apartment.”
Hester allegedly admitted during a videotaped police interrogation he set the fire in the back of the building, and in an interior stairway, because he was denied sex.
“Defendant also stated that he was ‘pissed and wanted to scare the bitch,’” Walters said.
Authorities said the fire was set in two locations, and quickly spread, trapping residents on the upper floors.
Three young sisters – 3-month-old Melanie Watson, 4-year-old Madison Watson, and 7-year-old Shaniya Staples – were killed in the blaze, along with 56-year-old Kirk Johnson, who lived in a neighboring apartment.
The girls’ father, 36-year-old Michael Watson, jumped from a third-floor window with Melanie in his arms, in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. He was hospitalized in critical condition. Melanie was pronounced dead at Comer Children’s hospital.
The other two girls and their neighbor who died were not found until hours after the fire was put out.
Autopsies revealed all four victims died of smoke inhalation and burns. Melanie also suffered injuries from the fall.
Detectives questioned Hester the day after the fire, but released him without charges. He was taken in for questioning again on Tuesday, and police announced the charges early Wednesday. The judge denied bail.
After the fire broke out, his family admitted he had been in an argument with someone in the building, but denied he had anything to do with the blaze.
Hester, 51 is a self-employed landscaper, according to prosecutors. They say he had five prior felony convictions on drug and weapons charges.