Man set deadly South Chicago fire after he was refused sex, police say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A 51-year-old man is accused of intentionally setting a fire in the city's South Chicago neighborhood that killed four people, including three children, and injured two others.

Reginald Hester appeared in court Wednesday. The 51-year-old self-employed landscaper was denied bail. Investigators said they have Hester's videotaped confession where he admits to intentionally setting the fatal apartment fire.

Authorities said Hester, who goes by the nickname "Church," set the fire after he got mad with a female resident of the building who he believed owed him money.

Authorities said he set her back porch and a stairwell ablaze after he says she took $10 from him and promised him sex, but didn't deliver.

A memorial worn by weeks of weather still stands outside the gates of the apartment complex, which was half destroyed by fire three weeks ago. The damage is a daily, haunting reminder to the people still living on the other side.

"It's scary. Every time you hear something, you're jumping up and down. It's real scary," said Valerie West, a resident.

Hester was arrested Monday after he was identified as the person who allegedly started a fire in an apartment building in the 8100-block of South Essex Avenue, about one block south of where he lives.

He was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson causing bodily harm, all felonies.

"I feel he deserves everything he had coming for him because he hurt innocent people and they didn't deserve that," said Domanique Dobine, who lives nearby.

Police said Hester set the fire just after 1:35 a.m. on Aug. 23. The 32-unit complex quickly went up in flames, causing a father to jump from the top floor of the three-story building while cradling his three-month-old daughter, Melanie Watson. She later died of smoke inhalation.

Firefighters later found her two sisters, 4-year-old Madison Watson and 7-year-old Shaniya Staples, dead in their apartment, where they were trapped by the flames.

Kirk Johnson, 56, was also found dead in his third-floor apartment after the fire was extinguished.

Police initially questioned Hester days after the fire, but released him. He was picked up again after authorities say he was seen leaving the apartment building that day by two witnesses just minutes before the smoke and flame broke out.

"Officers recovered a lighter from the defendant and noticed that the defendant smelled like smoke," Becky Walter, Assistant Cook County State's Attorney, said.

Police said Hester is the father of five children and was living with his brother at the time that the fire broke out.

West said she and her neighbors aren't sleeping any easier.

"Who's to say they got the right person?" West said.

Hester is due back in court in October.
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