Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Tony Kiritsis, 72, found dead of natural causes
In '77, he wired a shotgun around the neck of a mortgage company official, paraded him through Downtown, kept him hostage for days.
Anthony G. "Tony" Kiritsis held a shotgun to the head of Richard Hall on Feb. 10, 1977. After a live, profanity-laced television news appearance, Kiritsis released Hall. Kiritsis later spent 11 years in mental wards until his release in January 1988. -- Jim Young / The News
By Rob Schneider
January 29, 2005
Anthony G. "Tony" Kiritsis, who made national headlines when he wired a sawed-off shotgun around the neck of an Indianapolis mortgage company executive in 1977 and paraded him through Downtown streets, was found dead in his home Friday.
Kiritsis, 72, virtually held the city at bay for more than two days before ending the 63-hour hostage ordeal at his apartment. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, Kiritsis spent 11 years in mental wards until his release in January 1988.
On Friday, he was found dead at his Speedway home in the 1500 block of Mickley Avenue by an acquaintance, who notified police. The Marion County coroner's office said Kiritsis died of natural causes.
Efforts to contact family members Friday were unsuccessful. It is unclear what Kiritsis had been doing since his release from custody.
The events of Feb. 8, 1977, elevated Kiritsis to an instantly recognizable household name as he talked repeatedly on the air with veteran radio newsman Fred Heckman of WIBC-AM (1070). Kiritsis also insisted on live television coverage of him reading a statement -- all while his shotgun was still wired around the neck of Richard O. Hall, with whom Kiritsis was angry about a business deal.
The incident would forever change the way broadcast journalists cover such incidents and would lead to what some called "The Kiritsis Law" after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. His acquittal prompted Indiana legislators to amend the law to provide for verdicts of "guilty but mentally ill" and "not responsible by reason of insanity."
Kiritsis confronted Hall in his office at 129 E. Market St., angry about a possible foreclosure on land Kiritsis had hoped to develop. Kiritsis, who described himself as having been angry all his life, attached Hall to a wire noose bolted to the end of his shotgun and put his finger into a metal ring that was wired to the trigger.
He led Hall through Downtown Indianapolis, surrounded by police and horrified office workers, until he reached Washington Street and Senate Avenue. There, he commandeered a police squad car and drove to his apartment at Crestwood Village. Kiritsis contended the apartment was wired with explosives.
After negotiating with authorities, he left his apartment with Hall still wired to the shotgun, walked into the lobby of the complex and demanded that television cameras be turned on. In a profanity-laced proclamation, Kiritsis called himself a national hero.
The incident proved to be a "watershed" story for television, said Mike Ahern, who retired in December as the longtime news anchor at WISH (Channel 8).
Back then, local stations had just acquired the capability of going live with "mini-cams," Ahern explained. "We honestly didn't know what we were doing then; those cameras were so new."
Ahern, who had been out to the apartment complex, was back at the station when the hostage ordeal ended. He remembers looking up at a television screen and watching as the face of John Wayne (on an awards show) was replaced by the ranting and raving face of Kiritsis.
Tom Cochrun, news director at WISH, was a news reporter for WIBC at the time and remembered wondering how Kiritsis' tirade would end.
"Tony's moods would vacillate from anger, rage and frustration, where he was screaming and yelling to where he was crying, and then he would laugh," Cochrun said.
The station's telephone lines were flooded with calls by people angry about Kiritsis' foul language being aired, but Ahern was more worried about viewers seeing an execution in their living rooms.
"We didn't know what to do. Our hands were tied at that point because Kiritsis had demanded live coverage. If we pulled the plug, who knows what would have happened?" Ahern said.
But the larger question is whether the station should have been plugged in to begin with, Ahern said. "Should we have gone out there 'willy-nilly' with our cameras running because we had these new toys in our arsenal?"
In retrospect, Ahern said, the answer is no.
"If that thing taught us anything, it's caution and perspective and responsibility," he said. "It taught us a lot about how vulnerable we can be in a situation like that."
Call Star reporter Rob Schneider at (317) 444-6278.