Man held hostage by Tony Kiritsis in 1977 shares his story

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Dick Hall didn’t know Bob Flack, Jack Simpson or Mike Zunk at the end of February in 1977, but the three Indianapolis police officers played crucial roles in helping to rescue the mortgage company owner from the clutches of a madman who had wired a shotgun to his neck and marched him through the frozen streets of downtown Indianapolis in front of TV cameras.

“Kiritsis and Me: Enduring 63 Hours at Gunpoint” is Hall’s book on the hostage incident that tested the new IPD SWAT Team, wrote rules on the fly for the early days of live TV remote coverage and left some Hoosiers cheering for the gunman’s not guilty verdict.

Dick Hall shared the story of his two-and-a-half day long nightmare and recovery from its trauma with dozens of IMPD officers, detectives and commanders, many of them whom were hearing the version of the man in the middle of the madness for the first time.

“Well, it kind of put a face on the whole picture,” said Hall after meeting Flack and Simpson, former SWAT team officers, and Zunk, a former IPD Chief who was a sergeant on the bomb squad in 1977. “I was talking to one of the fellas and he said, ‘We didn’t know what was going on in the apartment.’ I said, ‘Well, I didn’t know what was going on on the outside of the apartment.’

“You’re looking for a friend if you’re in my position and I had a strong feeling that I had friends out there. The police were all trying to help. Trying to get me free. I never doubted it.”

The ordeal began on a frigid Tuesday morning when Kiritsis entered the offices of Hall’s family-owned Meridian Mortgage company, convinced he had been shorted in a land development deal.

Kiritsis’ loan had been extended a couple times as he missed development opportunities arranged by his brokers.

Once inside the offices, Kiritsis pulled out a shotgun, wired it to Hall’s neck and walked him through the streets of the city with armed officers and IPD Chief Eugene Gallagher close behind, until he commandeered a patrol car and drove to an apartment on the west side.

Hall said he didn’t know what Kiritsis’ plans were.

“I didn’t have any idea and I’ve commented that it was almost moment-by-moment for me. I didn’t have much time to sit around and think about anything else than saving my neck.”

What followed for Hall was two days manacled at gunpoint inside an apartment Kiritsis claimed was booby-trapped to explode if police stormed in.

“This was at the start when I was underneath the door and he was looking through the peephole,” said Simpson who recalled he could have fired his shotgun through the door and disabled Kiritsis but didn’t know if the gunman still had his shotgun wired to Hall’s neck, “and he was just a raving maniac then and (IPD commanders) said, ‘Well, let’s just sit back and wait.’ We had time on our side.”

In 1977 Patrolman Bob Flack had been on the SWAT Team for a year and had a clear view of Kiritsis from alongside an IPD sniper.

“I was stationed in the apartment directly across from Kiritsis’ apartment,” said Flack. “We were just dealing with a very unknown situation.”

Kiritsis’ false claims about potential explosives and the proximity of the shotgun to Hall’s head kept rescuers at bay.

Throughout the crisis, WIBC Radio News Director Fred Heckman was a conversational conduit between Kirtisis, the authorities, the media and public as he recorded and aired several telephone interviews with the gunman.

Zunk was by the side of Police Chief Eugene Gallagher and said his boss was prepared to end the stalemate if given the chance.

“We had to make the decision whether to take life and death decisions, what we were going to do to him when we got up to his apartment?” recalled Zunk who said Kiritsis met the chief and himself at the top of the steps outside his upper floor apartment and was in control as he walked with Hall to the community room at the complex where a live press conference was conducted.

What followed was a profanity-filled rambling half-hour tirade which included Hall reading a list of Kiritsis demands and speculation by officers whether they could rush the gunman, jam his shotgun trigger and save the hostage’s life.

“I always believed he wanted a platform,” Hall told officers at the IMPD Academy ostensibly gathered to discuss the role of trauma and counseling for both victims and first responders.

At the end of the press conference, Kiritsis allowed police to snip the wire connecting the gun barrel with Hall’s neck and then, for good measure, the aggrieved gunman discharged his weapon outside just to let everyone know that it was indeed loaded and that his hostage had good reason to fear for his life.

“Mr. Hall is a hero to endure what he endured for 63 hours and to come out as well as it looks like he’s come out,” said Flack. “It’s amazing.”

“I’ve never felt like a hero really,” said Hall. “I just felt like a part of the big picture.”

After the discussion of his ordeal and observations on surviving trauma, Hall posed for photographs with and signed autographs for the police officers who worked tirelessly to end the crisis peacefully.

“We learned a little bit about what happened inside the apartment that we didn’t know but we knew everything that was going on outside and we were going to do everything we could to save Hall’s life,” said Simpson. “Afterwards we sat back and we tried every possible way if we could jump him and move that gun without harming hall and there really was not.”

Hall said he immediately tried to move on with his life but the notoriety of those three days 40 years ago never went away.

Kiritsis was found not guilty by reason of insanity, a ruling that so outraged state legislators that Indiana law was changed to provide a guilty but mentally ill verdict that also forced the burden of proof of insanity on the defense.

After 11 years of psychiatric treatment, Kiritsis was released from custody.

He returned to Indianapolis to haunt the halls of the City-County Building, berating public officials and reporters, and lived in Speedway where he feuded with neighbors, garnered the attention of police and died of natural causes in 2005.

“I thought, ‘Now I won’t have to listen to his voice anymore,’” said Hall of his relief when Kiritsis died.

Hall emerged from the incident with a mixed view of the press that covered his incident and invaded his privacy, a drinking problem and a nagging doubt that his side of the story had been fully told.

When Kiritsis’ not guilty verdict was announced at an Indiana Pacers game at Market Square Arena, a cheer went up from the crowd.

“He was able to walk through, even though it was forty years later, his mindset and how he got through things and the things that he thought and it rang true with me, at least, for situations I’ve been through and I’m sure it rang true for some of the officers sitting here,” said IMPD Chief Bryan Roach. “That’s part of the job. Trauma is going to happen and you have to be able to realize that and deal with it and there are people that you need to associate with so you can share that information.”

“We tell these young officers all the time, ‘Sometimes you have to put yourself in the place of the victims and try to imagine what they’re going through and be a little more compassionate to the victims and the families of the victims,’” said Flack, a longtime homicide detective.

Mike Zunk retired as Chief of the Indianapolis Police Department more than 20 years after Tony Kiritsis set Dick Hall free. He was also among the first U.S. Marines to go ashore at Danang in South Vietnam in 1965.

Zunk said he’s seen a lot of trauma in his life.

“It’s very important that you go to Victim’s Assistance when you go through a trauma like this and get the help you need,” he said.

Hall said he leaned on a 12-step program to ease his problems with alcohol.

He also wrote a book and regrets not remembering more of the hours he spent literally staring at death in the form of Tony Kiritsis’ shotgun.

“I think everyone ought to realize what they can do when they have to,” he said. “Don’t give up and just continue your hope and let that be your guide.”

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