Released on February on iTunes and Amazon, the Indianapolis made feature doc Dead Man's Line: The True Story of Tony Kiritsis" recounts the riveting case of Anthony "Tony" Kiritsis, whose name rings almost instantly familiar for anyone who has lived in the Indy area since the mid-70's after the wannabe real estate developer showed up early in the morning on February 8, 1977 under the guise of asking Hall Hottel/Meridian Mortgage executive Richard O. Hall a question and kicked off what would become an almost unimaginable 63-hour hostage situation that, at times, played out within public view and live on television.
Co-written and directed by Alan Berry and Mark Enochs, Dead Man's Line is, without question, the definitive documentary on the Kiritsis case even for those of us old enough to remember what we'd have believed to be every stinkin' detail of the case before watching this remarkably thorough and painstakingly detailed doc.
It's hard to watch Dead Man's Line without reflecting upon the contrasting lives of Kiritsis and Hall. Both men were in their 40's when these events unfolded at 129 East Market Street in downtown Indianapolis. Kiritsis had experienced his share of legal troubles, mostly owing to an acknowledged volatility that rarely surfaced but usually caused problems when it did. Several years earlier, Kiritsis had a similar incident with a sister after he became convinced the family had cheated him out of revenues from a family-owned trailer park. To resolve the conflicts, the family would eventually pay Tony half the value of the trailer park. It was that income that provided the seed money for Kiritsis's big dream - a retail center at the corner of Rockville Road and Lynhurst Drive on the city's Westside. Kiritsis financed $130,000 with the Hall-Hottel Company and set his sights on a major windfall. As the due date came closer for substantial payment, Kiritsis began to claim that buyers who were lined up for the land were being pulled away by Hall, a claim grounded in the fact that the land had significantly increased in value.
Hall, on the other hand, was a quiet and unassuming man. The son of Meridian Mortgage president M.L. Hall, Richard O. Hall worked in the family business along with his brother and was a quiet man of faith who even after the kidnapping ended never really talked publicly about the 63-hour ordeal until he wrote a book about it long after public interest outside of Indiana had disappeared.
Berry and Enochs do a marvelous job of capturing both the harrowing nature of the ordeal and the practical absurdity of it all, Kiritsis himself contacting the police from the Meridian Mortgage office before exiting the building with a sawed-off shotgun pressed against Hall's skull and a wire wrapped around Hall's neck, down the barrel of the gun, and around both his own finger and the trigger. To this day, photographs and videos of the incident are almost unbelievable as Kiritsis walked several blocks through downtown Indianapolis surrounded by police who, despite having plenty of snjipers present, were mostly helpless as Kiritsis had successfully rigged the entire set-up in such a way that any attempt to shoot Kiritsis would have almost assuredly led to the death of Hall as well. Commandeering a police cruiser, Kiritsis would take his hostage to his own apartment inside the Crestwood Village - West complex on Indy's far Westside where he would announce the entire building rigged to explode if anyone attempted to intervene before Kiritsis was ready for intervention.
Dead Man's Line contains a wealth of insightful interviews ranging from Indianapolis Star/News reporters Skip Hess and Jim Young to then Marion County Deputy Prosecutor George Martz to hostage negotiator John Michael Grable and a host of others. Berry and Enochs have also included an extensive collection of photos/videos, some of it never seen before, with particularly extensive coverage of esteemed Indy newsman Fred Heckman, whose presence helped build a bridge between Kiritsis and law enforcement as Kiritsis seemed to resonate with Heckman's straight forward nature and relatively calm demeanor.
While the case of Tony Kiritsis largely, and somewhat surprisingly, disappeared from public memory, its impact on the justice system did not. Despite having nearly the entire 63-hour incident captured live, Kiritsis's defense attorney, noted criminal defense attorney Nile Stanton, would successfully argue that Kiritsis was insane at the time and Kiritsis was found "not guilty by reason of insanity," the only finding at the time in Indiana and throughout much of the country in cases where mental health was a factor and where the burden of proof rested on the State to determine that Kiritsis was actually sane. Even Stanton himself has acknowledged it was an extraordinarily high burden of proof, yet it was the law in 1977 and within a year Indiana had switched the burden to the defendant and developed findings of "guilty but mentally ill" and other options for jurors. In 1988, with the State unable to continue to prove that Kiritsis was a danger to society, Kiritsis was released from his forensic institutionalization and lived out a quiet life in an Indy apartment until he passed away in 2005. It was only years after Kiritsis's death that Hall would finally speak publicly about the incident and would publish a book about his experience.
Dead Man's Line: The True Story of Tony Kiritsis is a compelling, expertly directed feature documentary about a slice of Indy history that seems familiar yet reveals new details and new aspects of the story that has continued to rest in the psyche' of most Indy residents who were alive at the time. For every city, there are a few criminal cases that seem to linger in the communal fabric and anytime someone mentions the case people seem to instantly go "I still remember that case." For some in the 1960's, it was the Sylvia Likens murder. The Anthony Kiritsis case was yet another, a case so larger than life and so unbelievable that you sit there watching the police and you sit there watching the media and you can't help but be mesmerized by it all.
Currently available on iTunes and Amazon, with additional outlets to follow, Dead Man's Line is one of the better feature docs to come out of Indy recently and is a must watch for anyone who was glued to the radio, television and newspaper for those 63 hours just wondering how it could all possibly turn out. You have to see it to believe it - and even then you won't likely believe it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic