Nearly 7 months after an attacker set him on fire, Joseph ‘Walking Man’ Kromelis has died

Chicago — Joseph Kromelis, lovingly known as Chicago’s “Walking Man,” died Sunday afternoon, nearly seven months after an attacker set him on fire as he slept near Trump Tower. Kromelis was 75.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office said Kromelis died at 4:08 p.m. at a care facility in the 2400 block of West Touhy. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

Joseph Kromelis, known affectionately as Chicago’s “Walking Man” and “Walking Dude,” is seen in July 2018. | The1stMikeC via YouTube

Prosecutors said in May that doctors did not expect Kromelis to survive the injuries he suffered when a man doused him with gasoline and set him on fire just before 3 a.m. on May 25.

Kromelis was on fire for about three minutes before security guards extinguished the flames, Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak said during a May 30 bail hearing for the man authorities said is responsible for the attack, 27-year-old Joseph Guardia.

Hanichak, a prosecutor for 16 years, told Judge Charles Beach he had never seen video footage as horrific as the attack on Kromelis. 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 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. Guardia is detained in the Cook County jail without bail.

In 2016, Kromelis was severely 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.

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Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. He can be reached at