When we first started researching our documentary Dead Man's Line back in 2012, we always hoped we could find the man who had been taken hostage, Richard Hall. If we could interview him, we would build the entire film around his point of view.
There were people who told us that Dick Hall was dead. We did find an obituary for a Richard Hall in Indiana, but he wasn't the one we were looking for. Others said they knew a guy who'd seen him recently eating at a Denny's, or that he was still living in the same house on the northeast side of Indy where he’d resided in 1977, or that he had possibly relocated to Florida. One contact said he was a volunteer football coach at his middle school in the 1980s and showed no signs of trauma or depression, while others said he'd become an alcoholic, lost his marriage and retired to some lonely corner of the world.
People have sought out Dick Hall for four decades. In that time, only one courageous high school reporter, Amy Jones, ever even got him on the phone — and then only for a few minutes.
When asked by journalists and reporters for an interview, Dick Hall's answer was always a polite, "It's been my habit never to discuss it publicly." We had tracked down family members, all of whom remained loyal and protective of him, never revealing his whereabouts.
He'd done it. Something seemingly impossible in our age of celebrity and 24-hour paparazzi. He'd escaped the public eye.
That changed on February 8, 2017 when Dick Hall gave a short press conference at WIBC studios on the 40th anniversary of the day he was taken hostage by Tony Kiritsis to announce the April release of his book, Kiritsis and Me: Enduring 63 Hours at Gunpoint, co-written with Lisa Hendrickson and including a foreword by local journalist extraordinaire Tom Cochrun.
After so much time, why has Dick Hall chosen this moment to come back into the spotlight?
The Story 40 Years Later
As Hall, now 82, explained it, "My son said, 'Dad, I don't want people to think you're a wimp. Why can't you tell your story? I can't tell it. You're the only one that can tell it.' And that kinda got to me."
It's a story that many in the Indianapolis area think they already know, but for four decades, Dick Hall kept some details to himself.
"Actually from the very start, I thought that I was a dead man really, from the first few minutes that he leveled the gun at me," Hall said from the WIBC stage.
When asked how he got through those three terrifying days, Hall replied, "Actually God and I had a pretty close personal intimate relationship. I felt like God was with me, and He was aware of what was going on. He had a plan for me. I wasn't exactly sure what that plan was, nor did I think it was a good plan… I just turned it over to God."
Seventeen Acres in Speedway
Tony Kiritsis hadn't intended to take Dick Hall hostage. He'd really been after Dick's father, M.L. Four years before the abduction, Tony had taken out a loan from Hall-owned Meridian Mortgage to develop 17 acres of land in Speedway, hoping to sell it to a chain store like Osco Jewel or develop it into a strip mall.
At the time, Tony's employment history was spotty, consisting of a couple used car sales positions that hadn't lasted more than a few months, yet M.L. Hall still decided to loan Tony $100,000. "The truth of the matter is that my father took a liking to Tony," Hall said. "And that was the only reason that he had the loan in the first place."
Over time as Tony failed to land a buyer, the two men had a more confrontational relationship. On at least one occasion according to Hall's book Kiritsis and Me, M.L. Hall had to physically remove Tony from an office after he became too enraged during a discussion of his finances.
Citing multiple occasions where Kiritsis sought advice from Meridian Mortgage on the loan, Hall said, "We had obviously dealt with Kiritsis for five years previous to the hostage taking, and he'd been in the office many, many times. I guess he finally decided that was the action he was going to take."
However, on that fateful day in 1977, M. L. Hall was in Florida on vacation. Kiritsis decided to take Dick in his place.
One on One with Kiritsis
When asked about what went on in Kiritsis’ apartment during the nights he was held there and whether he argued with Tony or just played it quiet, Dick said, “Actually I was doing a little of both. I had the position that I shouldn't let him run over me if I could help it, and so I kinda stood up to him from time to time and argued with him, but then it got to the point where he became a little unmanageable. He pistol whipped me with the revolver a couple times when I raised objection too much. I raised my fist at him a couple of times, and that really infuriated him.
“Other times, he was just an ordinary guy. We were kind of buddy-buddy. He told me some of his life story. He teared up sometimes talking about his mother… During the whole 63 hours, it was just a little of this and a little of that,” Hall said, so casually it's almost hard to believe he ever had a steel cable around his throat.
While the cuts the cable had made around his neck would heal in the weeks after his release in 1977, the psychological wounds would take much longer and were stalled by unexpected blows at odd times, sharp reminders of those 63 hours and how the media and the public reacted to his abduction.
The Good Guy, the Bad Guy, and Public Opinion
Through the spring of 1977, Hall tried to move on with his life and get back to a normal routine of work, family life, and church. He testified at the trial in October, and on hearing the not guilty by reason of insanity verdict, Dick recalled, “My attorney had called about 10 o'clock at night, and I turned on the news media and heard it announced at the Indiana Pacers game that Tony was found not guilty, and there was a loud cheer. That kinda aggravated me because I realized at that time that we dealt with the public, and I was going to have to do something to try to rectify that.”
His concern was well-founded. Dick’s professional career was about to take a hit because the Kiritsis incident in conjunction with other forces had a tremendous impact on Meridian Mortgage, which eventually closed.
By 1980, both of Hall's brothers had left the company. “It was a very strenuous time after the Kiritsis affair,” Hall said. “My dad died within 24 months. There was kind of a real-estate recession. There was a lot of activity going on in my life other than the Kiritsis affair.”
Yet the Kiritsis affair continued to shadow Hall, popping up at unpredictable and heartbreaking times. Regarding one such incident that took place shortly after his release, Hall recalled, "I had a seven-year-old daughter that came into the room at home, and she said, 'Daddy, one of my friend's mothers said that Kiritsis should have blown your head off.'"
It was a shocking thing to hear, even now in 2017 after all these years. More bewildering, someone in the audience of reporters, photographers, and friends laughed, creating a surreal moment.
Up on the stage, Hall finished his thought, "That was hard to take."
Hall found himself at odds with public opinion more often than he'd expected. After all, he'd been the one with the shotgun barrel up against the base of his skull. That made it difficult to understand why so many people saw Kiritsis as a folk hero, and in time, Hall came to blame the media for shaping the public’s view.
In the weeks after the event, local newspapers and TV and radio stations pursued him for interviews, which was an annoyance, but when they encroached upon his privacy at home, Hall felt violated yet again.
"I did get a little aggravated at it," Hall said calmly. "Here it was my own home, and I was with my family for the first time. I looked on the TV screen, and there I was drinking a beer. The media had a camera through the window from the lot next door, and I kinda felt like it invaded my privacy a little."
Kinda? A little? One can imagine how such an invasion could set a person off. He'd just returned home after a three-day standoff and the final tightrope walk through the Crestwood Village recreation area in front of a wall of cameras, popping flashes, and microphones held out ready to pick up Kiritsis' next rant.
Yet Dick Hall's opinion of the media was remarkably straightforward. "Of course, I am a supporter of a free press," he said. "And I'm a supporter of the media."
Hall's objections concerned how he felt the media angled their coverage at the time. "One of the biggest problems I have is I was kind of the bad guy, and Kiritsis was the good guy," Hall said. "And that hurt. In fact, [that's] one of the reasons I think in my book, [I] kinda emphasized the fact that we did no wrong." Hall seemed restless in his chair on stage, his leg bouncing up and down. "But overall," he continued. "I think the media just was kind of a pest to me." Here Hall cracked a grin that seemed to say he's not interested in name calling and dramatic finger-pointing.
If all he wanted was to be left alone, he got that. Forty years worth, which seems fitting. Forty's a biblical number representing a period of trial.
Time Plus Distance
Now with a book about to be published in April, Hall spoke on the cause he most associates with his whole experience.
"My daughter actually wanted me to stress my feelings on mental health," Hall said. "I think our society is faced with a lot of people who we don't really know their motivations, why they do things."
When asked about how he dealt with his own bout with trauma, Hall said he never broached the subject with his family. "I really wanted to get my life back to normal, and I kinda wanted to get this all behind me. I didn't even discuss it with my wife at the time. I've been told that I should have opened up, that I should've shared the story. So my children have a good reason to make the comment, 'We can't tell the story. We don't know it.' If I had to do it over again, then I would've opened up a lot earlier."
Dick Hall never sought professional psychiatric counseling, instead choosing to heal himself through his faith. "I did counsel with my Assistant Pastor of my church," Hall said. "In fact, I met with him once a week at 6 o'clock in the morning for about six months. One of the main reasons was I wanted to figure out how I was going to honestly answer my thoughts on [whether] Kiritsis [was] insane or not." Despite coming to the conclusion that he would never be in a position to have a definitive answer, the question has remained with him for four decades.
"Why would Kiritsis do such a thing if he was not mentally ill? How could he use an act of terror or an act of violence if he wasn't motivated in some fashion to do it?" Hall wondered. "The question of a person's mental stability, the influences on him, I can't answer that… I think it's a question that might well be an answer to some of our hostilities and disagreements in the world today."
Wimps Tell No Tales
Writing a book that reveals one's private opinions on experiences you'd just as soon erase from your memory requires strength and confidence. And now that it's out there, Dick Hall might finally be done with it.
Hall's son didn't want people to think of him as a wimp. However, anyone with a family or children or good friends who can imagine how being taken away from those people would impact them might have a glimpse into what Dick Hall went through, and weak or cowardly doesn't apply. But haunted might.
"I've slept well. I haven't had any nightmares," Hall said near the end of the press conference. "But I've been kind of blessed by [it] not affecting me too much." Here Hall opened and closed his fist. "Although from time to time, I will think about it, and I will actually see his face."