A 63-year-old man charged with felony murder and first-degree arson was booked into the Cobb County Jail Wednesday evening, jail records show.
Richard Elsner is accused of intentionally setting a fire at a condominium in the 2000 block of Drennon Avenue in Austell on Oct. 23 that killed Sharon Croft, 62, and a small dog.
However, his next-door neighbor, Rodney Greenfield, told Channel 2 Action News Elsner has dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and he isn’t capable of committing the crimes he’s accused of.
“The judge is gonna say, ‘C’mon man, seriously? If he's in this state now, he had to be in this state when it happened,’” Greenfield said.
Elsner lived in the apartment with his wife, Diane, and Croft. Around 7:20 a.m., Cobb firefighters arrived at the condo after a fire started in an upstairs bedroom.
Elsner and his wife evacuated the burning building, but Croft was rescued by firefighters and taken to WellStar Cobb Medical Center, where she later died. The fire was initially ruled an accident by authorities.
On the day of the fire, Diane Elsner spoke to Channel 2 about how Croft was one of her best friends.
“I loved her to death, and she was like a sister to me,” she said. “My husband is disabled, so I tried to get him out because he was in the room where the flames were, so I had to try to get him down the stairs, and once I did that and tried to go back up, it was just too hot ... I couldn’t breathe.”
Cobb County Fire Investigator Brian Beaty previously told AJC.com that witness statements and text messages that showed there were previous fires at that condo were factors in charges being filed against Richard Elsner.
Elsner underwent surgery at WellStar Cobb Medical Center after the fire, and he now remains in jail without bond, according to jail records.
An investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to call fire investigators at 770-499-3869.
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