Chicago’s ‘Walking Man’ Dies Nearly 7 Months After Being Set on Fire Downtown

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Help Joseph Kromelis /

A Chicago homeless man, known as the ‘Walking Man,’ has died nearly seven months after he was set on fire while sleeping on a downtown street.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that Joseph Kromelis, 75, died Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Kromelis was a recognizable figure among Chicago residents due to his long hair and mustache while wearing a sports coat. He was often referred to as the ‘Walking Man’ due to frequently being seen roaming the city’s streets, according to CBS Chicago.

On May 25 at around 2:50 a.m., Kromelis was sleeping downtown in the 400 block of North Wabash Avenue–near Trump Tower–when a man approached him and poured flammable liquid on him. The man then ignited Kromelis on fire before leaving the area.

A nearby security guard rushed to the scene and used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames, according to police. Kromelis was transported to the hospital in critical condition.

Kromelis suffered third-degree burn injuries on over 65 percent of his body and would spend months in the hospital before being released in September. He was then transferred to a rehab facility where he would undergo additional surgeries, the Sun-Times noted.

It is unknown if Kromelis’ death is related to his burn injuries from the May attack. An autopsy is set for Monday.

Joseph Guardia, 27, was identified as the suspect who set Kromelis on fire after security cameras captured him standing silently for 16 seconds over the 75-year-old man, prosecutors said in a court hearing. Guardia is charged with attempted first-degree murder and arson.

27-year-old Joseph Guardia

Joseph Guardia, 27 (Chicago Police Department)

Kromelis was the victim of another attack in May 2016 when he was viciously beaten with a baseball bat in the 400 block of East Lower Wacker Drive. His nephew, Vytas Vaitkus, told CBS Chicago at the time that his Kromelis’s “eyes were almost gouged out” due to the attack.

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.


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