‘I always considered it a terrorist situation,’ says Kiritsis hostage

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The Indianapolis businessman Tony Kiritsis took hostage at gunpoint and paraded through downtown streets with a sawed-off shotgun wired to the back of his neck has finally written his account of the ordeal.

“Kiritsis and Me: Enduring 63 Hours at Gunpoint” was written by Dick Hall 40 years after his life depended on the cool, steady hand of an unstable man who insisted the mortgage broker had ruined him in a failed land deal.

“He would have me look at his hand on the trigger and he would boast, I suppose, that he was a calm man, he had a steady hand, and I was very fortunate,” recalled Hall,  “and if he didn’t have the nerves of steel that he had then I would be in real trouble.”

It didn’t take Hall long to figure out he was in real trouble as he was walked, with a gun to his head and a so-called “dead man’s wire” looped around Kiritsis’ finger to go off with the slightest tug, down Washington Street toward the statehouse on a frozen winter morning.

“It took about a half block as they crossed Meridian Street as I said, ‘This is just unreal. I can’t believe I see what I’m seeing,’” said Jack Parker, a photographer on assignment for WTTV 4 News on February 8, 1977. “No traffic on the street, just these two guys here, a cluster of people down here, a few cops down this way, and I started rolling.”

Parker filmed the forced march that has become familiar to longtime Indianapolis residents and YouTube viewers for years.

“Tony takes Dick and he whips him around 180 degrees looking back the other way like a dog on the end of the leash,” said Parker, “and they slipped on some ice and they both went down, unfortunately, and if the gun was going to go off, it should’ve gone off then.”

Hall recalls Kiritsis repeating, almost dumfounded, “It didn’t go off, Dick. It didn’t go off.”

Parker remembers Kiritsis ranting at powerless Indianapolis police officers “to do their jobs,” as they stood helplessly by, their Police Chief Eugene Gallagher walking alongside the duo, ready to shoot the hostage-taker in the head at the first opportunity.

“He said he loved police officers and that he had lots of police officers as friends but he was just screaming out of control,” said Parker.

The photographer kept filming as Kiritsis and his hostage climbed into an unattended IPD car near the state capitol and sped off to the gunman’s Crestwood Village Apartment on the city’s westside.

There, for a total of 63 hours, Hall was face-to-face with a shotgun and Tony Kiritsis who insisted that Hall’s company has misled him on development of an empty piece of property not far away.

“When we got to the apartment it all kind of changed,” said Hall. “He came in and had me sit down at a table and he turned the shotgun around where I was facing it and he said ‘Dick, we’re going to have a trial.’

“I certainly was trying to figure out a way to get out of the whole situation. I was also of a mind that I didn’t want him to feel in complete control of me. I would confront him but only to a point and I would confront him until he would be upset with what I was saying.”

What followed were haranguing one-sided diatribes, taped interviews with WIBC News Director Fred Heckman, negotiations supervised by an FBI specialist, phone calls to Hall’s family and finally direct talks with Heckman as a go-between and the only outsider Kiritsis would trust.

“He wanted a platform,” said Hall. “He wanted somebody that could stand the whole episode and he just wanted press coverage I think.

“I can’t say as I got his rationale. I did believe he was out of control for what I was concerned.”

Hall said he didn’t try to negotiate with Kiritsis or offer him a way out of the bad business deal the gunman thought he was in.

“You’re just living second by second. I really wasn’t thinking too much about the future at that point.”

During a phone call to his father in Florida, Hall tried to explain his predicament and solicit acknowledgement from his company’s patriarch to soothe Kiritsis’ sense of victimhood.

“I told dad, I said, ‘We’ve wronged Tony and we’ve got to make it right,’ and he said, ‘We haven’t done anything wrong.’

“Tony exploded at that.”

Friday night, more than two-and-a-half days after the crisis began, Kiritsis held an obscenity-riddled news conference, carried live on local TV, that culminated with his release of Hall under the mistaken impression that immunity had been granted for all the crimes of the last couple days.

Kiritsis’ was tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity, a verdict that outraged the General Assembly which immediately changed state law to include a guilty but mentally ill finding in criminal court.

Kiritsis spent ten years under treatment at state hospitals before being released in 1988 to continue his vocal public outrages, often directed officials and the media, until his death in 2005.

“I think my greatest thought was, ‘I don’t have to listen to him, that his mouth has been silenced,’” said Hall. “I probably think about it more often than not.”

Hall said after 40 years he decided to reclaim the story which is too painful for his daughter to read.

“I know that there’s people in this world that are intent on violence and I’m not so sure that I don’t really know how to deal with their violence. I think its probably a mental issue more than we really recognize.

“I always considered it a terrorist situation.”

Hall will sign copies of his book at Book Momma’s in Irvington Friday night, at Barnes & Noble in Castleton Saturday and at CrimeCom, a convention in downtown Indianapolis, not far from the streets where he was taken hostage, next weekend.