Man is charged with setting Chicago’s beloved “Walking Man” on fire

A Melrose Park man was charged Sunday with setting a well-known homeless man on fire in River North.

Joseph Guardia, 27, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and arson causing bodily harm. He is due in bond court on Monday afternoon. Exactly what prosecutors believe happened and what Guardia’s motive may have been might be revealed during the hearing.

Joseph Guardia (left) a CTA surveillance image of the suspect, and Joseph “Walking Man” Kromelis | CPD; The1stMikeC via YouTube

Joseph Kromelis, 75, commonly known downtown as the “Walking Man” and “Walking Dude,” was sleeping near the Trump Tower loading dock at Lower Wabash and Kinzie Street when the offender poured a flammable liquid on him and set it ablaze around 2:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Police said the offender fled into a CTA Blue Line station after the horrific attack, which CPD said left Kromelis critically injured with burns over half of his body. Detectives released surveillance images of the attacker later the same day as they tried to identify the offender.

Kromelis remains in grave condition and may not survive, according to a source.

Chicago police arrested Guardia 13 times between 2014 and 2018 for minor crimes like retail theft, trespassing, trespassing on the CTA, and simple battery. Most of the arrests were made in Lakeview, Uptown, and the downtown area. He has not been arrested by CPD since 2018. However, records show he has been charged with multiple suburban burglaries since then.

Almost exactly six years before the week’s attack, Kromelis was badly injured when someone beat him with their fists and a baseball bat on Lower Wacker Drive. He eventually recovered and once again began his regular walks through the streets of downtown. Crowdsource funding raised more than $30,000 to offset his medical costs at the time.

“He has been walking and peddling on the streets of Chicago for at least the last 40 years,” Vytas Vaitkus, whose mother was Kromelis’s sister, told Loop North News in 2016. “The streets are his home; the place he has always felt at home until [the 2016 attack].”

His sister-in-law told the outlet that Kromelis moved to Chicago from Lithuania and grew up above a bar on Halsted Street

“When Joseph was 19 years old, his parents sold the bar and moved to Michigan. Joseph stayed in Chicago and sold jewelry and other items on the streets in the Loop,” Steven Dahlman reported.

CWBChicago will post an update after Guardia’s bail hearing on Monday.

Would you please support CWBChicago’s reporting efforts with a contribution or subscription?

About CWBChicago 6567 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