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Tony Kiritsis

He wired a shotgun to a banker's neck and held him captive 3 days, but was found not guilty.

By Michael Jesse

On the morning of Feb. 8, 1977, Tony Kiritsis had an appointment about his mortgage. He was angry about it because he didn't think the mortgage company was being fair to him. In fact, he was convinced they were cheating him, and he wasn't going to take it.

Employees at Meridian Mortgage noticed that the burly little man with sideburns was carrying a long box as he stepped into office of mortgage executive Richard O. Hall. They had no reason to suspect the box might contain a sawed-off shotgun until they saw Hall emerge from his office with the barrel wired to the back of his neck. Behind him walked Kiritsis, his hand on the trigger.

The mortgage office was at 129 East Market, so when Kiritsis and Hall came out the front door they were in the middle of Downtown Indianapolis about 9 a.m. on a typical weekday morning. It was a cold day, near zero, but both men were in their shirtsleeves. Pedestrians gaped as Kiritsis marched his captive west on Market to Pennsylvania and then south toward Washington Street.

Police were quickly on the scene -- Kiritsis had called them himself before they left Hall's office. He wanted them there, but he yelled that they'd better not try to shoot him or else Hall would die messily in front of all of those witnesses. When he wired the barrel of the shotgun to Hall's neck, Kiritsis also wired the trigger to a ring on his index finger. If he dropped his grip on the gun it would go off and the blast would take Hall's head off.

When they reached Washington Street, Kiritsis pointed Hall west and they walked four blocks along the busiest street in Downtown Indianapolis. Police went ahead of them to shoo away passers-by and tell shopkeepers to lock up their doors. They tried to talk to Kiritsis, but he was intent on carrying out his plan. When they reached Senate he commandeered a police cruiser, ordering Hall to drive. With its red lights flashing, the cruiser headed north with other police cars following.

The cruiser stopped at Crestwood Village Apartments, where Kiritsis lived near Rockville and Girls School roads on the city's Far-Westside north of the airport. He marched Hall inside and up to the third floor to his corner apartment and when they were inside he locked the door. Kiritsis warned police he'd rigged explosives to the doors and windows, and they took him seriously. They knew he was capable of it and there was evidence that he'd bought dynamite.

For the next three days the two men were barricaded together inside the little apartment. Hall was chained to a bed, and Kiritsis was ranting on the phone. Not just to the police negotiators -- in fact, they kept getting busy signals because Kiritsis was talking to friends and getting calls from strangers because his number was listed in the phone book.

Tony did have people who cared about him -- his brother Jimmie and a couple of old friends were there amid the police and media encampments and tried to talk to him, but he was too angry. His anger was fearsome, quick and heedless of consequence. Although he had never been convicted of a crime, he had been arrested more than once, always when his anger took control. Police dispatch records told stories of Kiritsis shooting at his brother Tom and terrorized his sister with an ax. Another time he used an ax to threaten two repairmen from the gas company when they tried to work on lines at a trailer court he owned.

By the winter of 1977, Kiritsis had another piece of property -- 17 acres on the northwest corner of Lynhurst Drive and Rockville Road -- and was trying to negotiate a big sale to developers. He owed $130,000 in a mortgage held by Meridian Mortgage and a major payment was due in less than a month. He had been close to closing a deal but , he believed, the mortgage company was steering prospective buyers away from his property, telling them he would be a risky investment.

That's why he sawed off the barrel of a shotgun and took Hall hostage. Tony had demands. First, he wanted Meridian Mortgage to apologize to him publicly and in writing, and for them to admit they had cheated him, had tried to take his land. He also wanted his mortgage debt wiped clean and he wanted immunity from arrest or civil liability for the abduction.

That night a representative of Meridian Mortgage, Clifford Chapman, read on a local TV news broadcast an abject apology in which the company admitted everything Kiritsis wanted it to admit. But answering reporters' questions afterwards, Chapman denied the company actually did those things; he was just trying to get Hall out alive.

Meridian Mortgage was a family business. Richard Hall was the son of Meridian's chairman M.L. Hall, and his brother Jack also worked there. In fact, Jack might have been the intended victim. One of Kiritsis' acquaintances later recalled him describing (fantasizing, she assumed) exactly this type of kidnapping but with Jack Hall in Dick's place.

In response to Kirtisis' demands, M.L. Hall ordered Tony's debt erased and sent Chapman to say whatever needed to be said to peacefully end the standoff. That left the demand for immunity from prosecution. On the second day of the standoff, Marion County Prosecutors offered Kiritsis full immunity from prosecution if he would release Hall unharmed.

But Kiritsis wasn't done yet. He wanted everyone to know what he felt he had just proven, that he had been wronged. With Hall still tethered to the gun, Kiritsis came out of the apartment and into crowd of police officers and reporters. He ordered the TV media to turn on all of their cameras because he had written a statement which Richard Hall would read for everyone to hear. Hall had a gash in his neck from the wire and could barely get out a few words before Kiritsis grabbed it back and recited his grievances himself -- using language people had never heard on their televisions before. Thousands of people within the Indianapolis TV viewing market sat transfixed to their televisions as Kiritsis poured out his profanity-laden rage for 23 minutes.

And then there was nothing left but to end it. His demands had been met. Everyone heard what he had to say, and he'd forced the mortgage company to admit its guilt. Surrounded by police, Kiritsis unwired the shotgun and released Hall. Then, just to prove the gun had been loaded all that time, he pointed it out the window and fired a blast into the air. Meanwhile, Hall got himself out of the room as quickly as possible in case Kiritsis changed his mind. An ambulance was waiting outside and Hall was taken to a hospital for observation, though he insisted to everyone that he was fine.

Though they'd told Kiritsis he was being granted immunity, prosecutors later said promises made under the threat of a gun aren't legally binding. Tony was immediately arrested and charged with kidnapping and other crimes.

When he went to trial later that year, Kiritsis' lawyers mounted an insanity defense -- and won. Jurors found him "not guilty by reason of insanity." Whether he would go free was another question. For the next decade, Kirtisis remained in custody pending certification that he would not pose a danger to himself or others if he were free. Kiritsis didn't help his situation by refusing to submit to psychiatric evaluation.

The Kiritsis case prompted Indiana legislators to amend the law to provide for verdicts of "guilty but mentally ill" and "not responsible by reason of insanity."

Richard Hall returned to his job and his life, but has never granted an interview about his experience.

In January 1988, Kiritsis was released and lived quietly in an apartment in Indianapolis for the rest of his life. He died in 2005 at age 72.