Talk to anyone within blocks of Adelphi Street in Brooklyn who knew, or knew of, L. Antonio Litman — sexagenarian neighbors; Airpod-wearing high schoolers; regulars at the neighborhood bar — and certain adjectives inevitably come up in conversation: words like generous and caring.
A few blocks away, near Willoughby Street, a landscaper heading to manicure a lawn said that Mr. Litman would often set up an impromptu buffet style lunch in his backyard when workers were contracted to do work for him — just because.
“It was nothing for Antonio to make a Costco run, call me and say ‘I’ve got too much, come get some food,’” said Jesse James, 66, who lived next door to Mr. Litman in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn. “That’s just who Tony was,” he said.
It’s been more than two weeks since Mr. Litman, 55, was found slain, in the lobby of his home.
Early on Jan. 20, prosecutors said, the businessman, charity leader and philanthropist was stabbed 22 times before his apartment was set on fire.
One week later, on Jan. 28, the police arrested Dondre Richardson, 33, a homeless man whom authorities say had been living in a shelter on Wards Island and who may have had a sexual relationship with Mr. Litman. Mr. Richardson was subsequently charged with murder and arson in connection with the killing.
“This is the Gianni Versace case of Fort Greene,” said Felisa Geddis, a cousin of Mr. Litman’s, referring to the Italian fashion designer who was killed outside his home in 1997, with no clear motive.
The charity also offered college scholarships and donated to students, young families and to the homeless, like Mr. Richardson.
Mr. Richardson was released from prison last January after serving 12 years for sexually assaulting a woman in 2006, state records show. He had pulled a gun on the woman, robbed her and forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to court documents, and was convicted of burglary and criminal sexual account in the first degree.
Associates, family members, business partners and members of the community said they had never seen or met Mr. Richardson.
Ms. Geddis, who said she knew nearly all of her cousin’s friends, said she had never seen Mr. Richardson before. “Anyone that was of any substance, I knew. But our personal lives, are our personal lives.”
Russell Bullock, who lives in the neighborhood, said he had seen Mr. Richardson before, hanging around the neighborhood — in a park nearby and a few times at a local bar — but said he never seemed suspicious. “I even said ‘Hi’ to him a few times,” he said.
Mr. Bullock said he had been friends with Mr. Litman for nearly 30 years. “He was the funniest guy ever, I mean hilarious,” Mr. Bullock said. “And the greatest neighbor or friend you could ask for.”
The reality of Mr. Litman’s killing hangs over the neighborhood. Days after his death, patrons at Imani Caribbean Kitchen & Bar on Adelphi Street somberly raised a glass to his memory. One woman, walking past his car still parked in front of his home, paused, shook her head and placed her hand over her chest.
Mr. James can barely rise from his bed before his senses remind him of the grisly, confounding crime that snatched away his friend and neighbor.
“I still have the smoke smell in my house,” Mr. James said. “It brings an instant sadness. An instant reminder.”
He feels another pang of grief when he opens the door to his rowhouse and steps onto his porch. To his right, the front facade of Mr. Litman’s building is now covered in flowers, candles and memorial posters. A “vacant property” notice hangs across its doors. Swaths of the normally red brickwork are a charred black.
As Mr. Richardson was escorted out of Brooklyn’s 88th precinct the night of Jan. 30, he told media that Mr. Litman was his “friend.”
“I won’t negate they knew each other,” Ms. Geddis said, “but I won’t say that man was a friend.”
She added that she was doubtful Mr. Litman could have known about Mr. Richardson’s criminal history. “He would have had to have gained some sort of trust because one thing Antonio would not do is allow someone around who he knew was a bad person.”
Others, though, still question how Mr. Litman could have become entangled with someone like Mr. Richardson.
“I feel like my brother let his guard down,” said George Litman, Antonio’s younger brother. “My brother, he’s getting money, he looks good, he’s single. Sometimes people take advantage of that.”
An openly gay man, Mr. Litman was known for his style and flair. Neighbors remarked on his immaculate home, bespoke suits and exuberance.
“You would hear Antonio before you would see him,” Ms. Geddis said, with a laugh.
His voice, Ms. Geddis said, roared loudest when speaking for those in need.
“Who’s going to continue the work now?” she asked.