‘A special kind of evil’: No bail for man who allegedly set ‘Walking Man’ on fire

The suburban man who poured gasoline on the head of Joseph “Walking Man” Kromelis and set it afire near a Trump Tower loading dock told police he did it because he is an “angry person,” prosecutors said Monday. Kromelis was on fire for about three minutes before security guards extinguished the flames, Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak said.

Hanichak, a prosecutor for 16 years, told Judge Charles Beach he had never seen video footage as horrific as the attack on Kromelis. Doctors believe Kromelis’ injuries are not survivable, he said.

Beach ordered Joseph Guardia, 27, held without bail on charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated arson causing bodily harm.

“But for a miracle, this will soon be a first-degree murder case,” Hanichak told the judge.

Joseph Guardia (left), the entrance to the lower level of Wabash Avenue at Kinzie Street, and Joseph “Walking Man” Kromelis. | CPD; Google; The1stMikeC

Police pieced together footage from a string of surveillance cameras stretching from Trump Tower to O’Hare to Melrose Park as they tracked Guardia’s movements before and after the attack, Hanichak said. Throughout the footage, Guardia wore the same distinctive black and white Hoodrich-brand outfit the attacker wore. A dollar-sign tattoo on Guardia’s face is also visible in some of the footage, Hanichak said.

He said Trump Tower surveillance video showed Kromelis sleeping on the lower level of Wabash Avenue with his head and other extremities sticking out of blankets just before 3 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25. Guardia, carrying a McDonald’s cup, was seen walking near Rush and Hubbard streets about 10 minutes before the fire.

Other footage shows Guardia walking into the lower level of Wabash and standing over Kromelis for about 16 seconds as the 75-year-old slept, according to Hanichak. There was no apparent interaction between the men before Guardia poured liquid, believed to be gasoline, from the McDonald’s cup,onto Kromelis’ head and lit it on fire, Hanichak continued.

Guardia allegedly ran away as Kromelis, with his head and upper body engulfed in flames, thrashed around. The fire spread to engulf his entire upper body. He eventually collapsed against a wall while still on fire “moving less and less,” Hanichak said.

Nearly three minutes after the fire started, Trump Tower security guards saw the flames and extinguished the fire. They tried to comfort Kromelis while waiting for first responders.

Investigators recovered a McDonald’s cup at the scene. It is being tested at the state crime lab.

After running from the allegedly scene, Guardia took a Blue Line train to O’Hare, then rode an inbound train to Forest Park before continuing to Melrose Park on a Pace bus, according Hanichak.

Detectives shared CTA surveillance images with the public on Wednesday night and a Melrose Park police officer who has known Guardia since childhood immediately identified him, Hanichak said. In fact, the suburban cop also works security at a plasma center and he remembered seeing Guardia at the clinic wearing the same Hoodrich outfit that day and three days earlier. Surveillance footage from the plasma center allegedly confirms the cops’ recollections.

Police arrested Guardia in Melrose Park after someone familiar with CPD’s “wanted” bulletin called 911 upon seeing him in public.

During an interview with police, Guardia said he found the McDonald’s cup filled with gasoline and decided to set something on fire because he’s “an angry person,” according to Hanichak. Guardia claimed he set blankets on fire and didn’t know a person was under them.

Hanichak called that claim a lie.

“It takes a special kind of evil to do what this defendant did,” Hanichak said. “Leaving him to burn alive for three minutes.”

A public defender said Guardia lives with his mother and has been looking for work.

He has two pending felony burglary cases in the suburbs, but he stopped showing up for court in February 2021 and two arrest warrants have been out for him ever since. His previous felony convictions include a 2018 retail theft and a robbery case in DuPage County, according to Hanichak.

Hanichak said doctors tranferred Kromelis from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to Stroger Hospital. He is sedated with severe burns over more than 50% of his body and is not expected to survive.

Guardia is the 22nd person accused of killing or shooting — or trying to shoot or kill — someone in Chicago this year while awaiting trial for a felony. The alleged crimes involve at least 50 victims, 11 of whom died.

Please support CWBChicago’s reporting efforts with a contribution or subscription. Members-only perks await!

About CWBChicago 6548 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com