Cologne After a homeless man was set on fire in his sleep during Friday night, the police are looking for witnesses. The victim is still fighting for his life.
A 44-year-old homeless man was admitted to a clinic early Saturday morning with life-threatening burns. Previously unidentified perpetrators had set fire to the man at his sleeping place – a publicly accessible toilet facility on Severinswall in the Südstadt district of Cologne – while he was sleeping.
The homicide squad of the Cologne police, which was set up at the weekend to investigate the circumstances, is looking for further witnesses to the crime. According to the Cologne police, the victim is currently undergoing further intensive medical treatment. The man is still not fit for questioning two days after the crime, said press spokesman Christoph Gilles on Monday.
According to initial findings, the crime is said to have taken place during the night. At around 9 a.m., the man with apparently severe burns had asked a friend for help on Chlodwigplatz. The witness had thereupon alerted the rescue services. An emergency doctor called in to take the critically injured man to a clinic.
On Saturday morning, a homicide squad of the Cologne Criminal Investigation Department took over the investigation on suspicion of an attempted homicide. Police specialists examined the crime scene on Saturday morning and secured evidence.
Investigations in the millieu of the drinkers’ scene
The police encountered some obstacles in their investigation because the homeless man was one of a loose group of homeless drinkers found around Chlodwigplatz and Severinswall. Gilles explains: "We don't mean it derogatory when we call the victim a heavy drinker. This finding is important for our investigation.
For example, another member of the scene told media representatives that the man had got into an argument with someone at Cologne Central Station. The future fire victim was allegedly threatened in the process. However, the police do not assume that this was a current dispute. According to current investigations, the man from Cologne was seen at Severinswall around midnight and probably had little opportunity to walk the three kilometres to the main station that evening.
The police restricted the time of the crime to the period between midnight and about eight o'clock in the morning. During this period the man was presumably set on fire at his sleeping place on the tiled floor of a public urinal. According to the police's findings, on Saturday morning between eight and nine o'clock he had asked an acquaintance in Clovis Square for help.
The police have secured evidence in the urinal, which the Cologne resident used as a sleeping place. Photos show burn marks on the floor.
Commuters may have observed something during the night
Now the police are hoping for more witnesses who were in the area on Saturday night. It is possible that residents or commuters may have seen something, Gilles said. The homeless man's sleeping place is near the KVB stop Chlodwigplatz.
Repeatedly homeless people are victims of assaults or attacks. In the summer of 2018, two men were victims of an arson attack on a station forecourt in Berlin. In August 2019 two defendants were sentenced to prison, also in Berlin, for setting fire to the clothes of a homeless drinking buddy on a bench. In Hamburg, unknown perpetrators set fire to the hair of a sleeping homeless person in May 2019. A woman put out the flames.
The last time a sleeping homeless man was set on fire in the vestibule of a bank in Berlin was in early 2020. He was taken to hospital with severe burns.
Original text: Michael Wrobel and Anja Wollschlaeger
Translation: Mareike Graepel