Reginald Hester told detectives he was angry that a woman who agreed to perform sex acts on him in exchange for $10 took his money and never returned.
So he decided to “scare the b—-” and set her South Chicago building on fire, Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday.
The woman escaped and called 911, giving police a description of “Church,” the man she knew as selling loose cigarettes in the neighborhood.
But before it was over, Hester’s fiery handiwork claimed the lives of four others, including three children, Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Walters said.
Hester, 51, was ordered held without bail on charges of murder and aggravated arson.
Madison Watson, 4, and Shaniyah Staples, 7, burned to death that morning in a third-floor apartment of the three-story, courtyard building in the 8100 block of South Essex.
Madison’s sister, 4-month-old Melanie Watson, died from the injuries she suffered when their father jumped out of the building holding onto Melanie to escape the flames Aug. 23, Walters said.
The 33-year-old man survived but suffered a broken pelvis and foot and burns to his back, left arm and face, Walters said. His wife was at work at the time of the fire.
Firefighters were called at 1:34 a.m. and found the building engulfed in flames.
Kirk Johnson, 56, who lived in another third-floor apartment in the building, also died from the fire.
A 49-year-old resident who lived below Johnson jumped from a window and ended up with a broken ankle and wrist, Walters said.
Hester, who lives in the 8000 block of South Essex with his brother, was questioned immediately after the fire. Officers recovered a lighter from Hester and noticed that he smelled of smoke, Walters said.
Still, Hester was released “pending further investigation.”
Hester was arrested Tuesday in the first block of South Waller.
The woman who had called the authorities said she saw Hester at 79th and Essex sometime after midnight the day of the deadly fire.
She said she agreed to perform the sex act with Hester but believed he already owed her $10, Walters said.
The woman said she directed Hester to the back door of her apartment building where there were several large cardboard boxes, an old couch, a barbecue grill and a container of lighter fluid, Walters said.
She then took Hester’s $10, told him she’d be back with condoms and closed her back door, Walters said.
The woman never came back out and Hester started banging on the woman’s door.
Soon, the woman noticed smoke coming from her back door and was able to flee through the front door.
She told police that Hester was wearing a red sweater and black pants and told them where his mother lived, Walters said.
One of the surviving victims also said he heard banging coming from the building shortly after 1 a.m. and noticed a person wearing a red shirt walking away from the building, Walters said.
That day, the lock to front door of the building was inoperable, allowing access to the building without a key, Walters said.
Chicago Fire Department investigators noted that the fire originated on the rear porch and interior stairway and spread upward, causing extensive damage through the roof and third-floor apartments, Walters said.
Authorities believe an unknown flammable liquid was used to start the fire.
Hester has five previous convictions for a weapons arrest and several drug cases.
He is also the subject of two orders of protection and has previously violated one, Walters told Judge Peggy Chiampas.
Hester is a 1982 graduate of Von Steuben High School, has five children and is self-employed as a landscaper, an assistant public defender said.