“Tony K-I-R-I-T-S-I-S” the man screams over the phone, making sure the police get his name right. It’s February 8, 1977 in Indianapolis, and Tony has just walked into an office building to take mortgage broker Richard O. Hall hostage. He’s wielding a double-barred shotgun with a wire connecting the gun to his neck, ensuring that if he dies, the gun goes off, taking his hostage with him.
What does he want? $5 million and guaranteed immunity from prosecution. Tony has worked his whole life, he says; he just wants to live a little. Before disconnecting his first call, he issues a warning to the police: “You tell those guys to play it cool ’cause this is the real fucking McCoy.”
Dead Man’s Line is the first feature-length, true-crime examination of the Kiritsis incident. Written and directed by Alan Berry and Mark Enochs, the film takes advantage of primary sources (footage of the incident, police recordings, radio recordings, TV coverage) and interviews with people who experienced the crime to put the audience into the story. It creates an experience that is a lot like watching the events unfold as they happen, breathlessly glued to the television. And of course it goes further — into Kiritsis’s court case, his eventual exoneration based on a plea of insanity and how that changed the precedent expected in future insanity pleas (shifting the burden of proof from prosecutors to defense attorneys in proving their clients’ claims of insanity).
Lifelong Indy-area residents may find interesting this envelopment into the story of a hometown crime, particularly one so abnormal. No murder, no robbery, just a man whose life circumstances led him to take extreme measures in response to his circumstances. And those circumstances are speculated on at length in Dead Man’s Line, although, of course, no real conclusion is reached. Familial troubles? Monetary woes? Maybe a little bit of everything, all mixed into one.
Kiritsis’s inexplicable behavior throughout the three days he held Hall hostage, as well as the disappearance of this story into local generational memory, lends itself to a tension that some documentaries don’t have. Will Kiritsis kill Hall? What does he really want? What could prosecutors give him? Will he come out of that room and be shot? And what justice awaits him, if nobody dies?
While the film is intensely focused on the incident from start to finish, it also provides little context in the way of the world beyond Kiritsis, Hall and those reporting on / responding to the crime. It’s intently straightforward and, watching the film, I wished for a little bit more. A little more on Indianapolis at the time, the environment that might have precipitated this kind of crime, this level of media coverage. The film is the document of a moment, but I wish there was a little more time spent on capturing everything around it, rooting that moment in the continuum of Indianapolis criminal history.
There’s a lot of fantastic information on the film’s website – www.deadmansline.com – much of it expanding on the events of the film. I admit I don’t know how Berry and Enochs could have fit much more into the movie without sacrificing their focus on primary documents and interviews. I also don’t know if it would’ve been worth losing that focus, compelling and unique as it is. Nonetheless, keep the website in mind: The movie even ends with a call to action directing curious viewers to go there.
Dead Man’s Line is a cool feature about an Indianapolis incident that is quickly fading into memory. It’s always fun to see the city I’ve grown up in through new eyes, and to see bits and pieces of local history documented with such care and interest.
You can find links to buy or rent the movie, as well as an abundance of trivia and true-crime writing about the incident, at www.deadmansline.com.