Police mug shot of Richard Kuklinski in 1982 at the age of 47, four years before his final arrest
|Born||Richard Leonard Kuklinski
April 11, 1935
Jersey City, New Jersey, US
|Died||March 5, 2006
Trenton, New Jersey, US
|Cause of death||Murder*|
|Other names||The Iceman|
|Criminal charge||Murder (5 counts)|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
|Spouse(s)||Barbara Kuklinski (divorced)|
|Children||2 daughters, 1 son|
Richard Leonard "The Iceman" Kuklinski (April 11, 1935 – March 5, 2006) was an American mass murderer who was convicted for three murders. Kuklinski was given the nickname "Iceman" for his method of freezing a victim to confuse the time of death. The 6'5" (196 cm), 300 pound (135 kg; 21.5 stone) Kuklinski lived with his wife and children in the suburb of Dumont, New Jersey prior to his arrest. His family was apparently unaware of Kuklinski's double life and crimes. A New Jersey Police task force was formed after Kuklinski was suspected of two murders. A year-long undercover investigation led to his arrest.
Kuklinski claimed to be a contract killer for Newark's DeCavalcante crime family and New York City's Five Families of the American Mafia. After his murder convictions, Kuklinski was interviewed on television where he revealed his claims to interviewers. Three documentaries, two biographies and a feature film have been produced on Kuklinski based on the content of his interviews and the task force to bring Kuklinski to justice. In interviews, Kuklinski claimed to have murdered over 100 or possibly 250 men (his recollections varied) between 1948 and 1986. His claims have not been substantiated and crime family members dispute his role in any contract killings.
Kuklinski was born in a rented apartment on Third Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Stanley Kuklinski, a Polish immigrant from Warsaw and a brakeman on the railroad, and Anna McNally, a daughter of Catholic Irish immigrants from Dublin and later an orphan, who worked in a meat-packing plant during Richard's childhood.
Richard was constantly abused by both of his parents, especially by his father, who used to heavily beat him.
His mother abused Richard, beating him with broom handles and other household objects. She believed that stern discipline should be accompanied by a strict religious upbringing, and raised her son in the Catholic Church, where he became an altar boy.
Richard had three siblings. His older brother Florian died of injuries suffered due to abuse from his father. The Kuklinski family lied to the police, saying that he had fallen down a flight of steps. He had a younger sister, Roberta, and a younger brother, Joseph (1944–2003), who was convicted of raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl. When asked about his brother Joseph's crimes, Richard replied: "We come from the same father."
By the mid-1950s, Kuklinski had earned a reputation as an explosive pool shark who would beat or kill those who annoyed him. Eventually, his criminal acumen brought him to the attention of Newark's DeCavalcante crime family, who employed him in his first gangland slayings.
He came to Manhattan numerous times over the ensuing weeks and months and killed people, always men, never a female, he says, always someone who rubbed him the wrong way, for some imagined or extremely slight reason. He shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned men to death. He left some where they dropped. He dumped some into the nearby Hudson River. Murder, for Richard, became sport. The New York police came to believe that the bums were attacking and killing one another, never suspecting that a full fledged serial killer from Jersey City was coming over to Manhattan's West Side for the purpose of killing people, to practice and perfect murder. Richard made the West Side of Manhattan a kind of lab for murder, a school, he says.
Kuklinski later recalled,
By now you know what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary. I got no rise as such out of it…for the most part. But the figuring it out, the challenge—the stalking and doing it right, successfully—that excited me a lot. The greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it.
According to Carlo,
Richard was bipolar and should have been taking medication to stabilise his behavior, his sudden highs and lows, but going to see a psychiatrist was out of the question. He'd be admitting something was wrong with him, and he'd never do that.
In contrast to Carlo's opinion, however, Kuklinski was interviewed by psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz in 2002 at Trenton State Prison. Kuklinski and Dietz spoke at length, in a videotaped interview, about Kuklinski's upbringing, family life, crimes, and other events in his past. Kuklinski told the doctor that he wanted to know what events or mental irregularities made him able to perform the acts of which he was accused. After a lengthy discussion, the doctor cited nature vs. nurture, stating that his professional opinion was that both played a part in Kuklinski's development into a hitman who could be functional in other aspects of life. The doctor elaborated that Kuklinski likely inherited antisocial personality disorder from his abusive parents and that the abuse he claims to have suffered from his father reinforced violence, activities requiring a lack of conscience, and a lack of love. Dietz also stated that Kuklinski suffered from paranoid personality disorder, which caused him to kill people for minor slights or criticisms, often long after they occurred.
Gambinos and Roy DeMeo
Kuklinski became associated with the Gambino crime family through his relationship with the soldato Roy DeMeo, which started due to a debt Kuklinski owed to a DeMeo crew member. DeMeo was sent to "talk" with Kuklinski and proceeded to beat and pistol whip him. Although Kuklinski was carrying a pistol at the time, he decided against using it; this earned him DeMeo's respect.
After Kuklinski paid back the money he owed, he began staging robberies and other assignments for DeMeo and the Gambino family, one of which was pirating pornographic tapes. In 2011, former Gambino associate Greg Bucceroni alleged that Kuklinski often traveled between Philadelphia, New Jersey and NYC handling a variety of concerns involving the Gambino crime family's pornography establishments including trafficking illegal pornography, debt collection and murder for hire on behalf of Robert "DB" DiBernardo and Roy DeMeo.
According to Kuklinski, DeMeo took him out in his car one day and they parked on a city street. DeMeo then selected a random target, a man walking his dog. He then ordered Kuklinski to kill him. Without hesitating, Kuklinski got out, walked towards the man and shot him in the back of the head as he passed by. From then on, Kuklinski was DeMeo's favorite enforcer.
According to Kuklinski, he killed numerous people over the next 30 years. Lack of attention from law enforcement was partly due to Kuklinski's ever-changing methods; he used guns, knives, explosives, tire irons, fire, poison, asphyxiation, and even bare handed beatings, "just for the exercise". The exact number has never been settled upon by authorities, and Kuklinski himself at various times claimed to have killed more than 200 people. He favored the use of cyanide since it killed quickly and was hard to detect in a toxicology test. He would variously administer it by injection, putting it on a person's food, by aerosol spray, or by simply spilling it on the victim's skin. One of his favorite methods of disposing of a body was to place it in a 55-gallon oil drum. His other disposal methods included dismemberment, burial, or placing the body in the trunk of a car and having it crushed in a junkyard. He also claimed to have left bodies sitting on park benches.
Despite Kuklinski's claims that he was a frequent killer for DeMeo, none of DeMeo's crew members who later became witnesses for the government admitted that Kuklinski was involved in the murders they committed. He was only photographed on one occasion at the Gemini Lounge, having reportedly visited the club to purchase a handgun from the Brooklyn crew. Kuklinski claimed to have been responsible for DeMeo's murder, although the available evidence and testimony points to the murderers being fellow DeMeo crew associates Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter, as well as DeMeo's supervisor in the Gambino crime family, Anthony Gaggi.
Before beginning his career as a contract killer while working a warehouse job in New Jersey, Kuklinski met and married Barbara Pedrici; his wife claimed on the The Biography Channel show Mobsters that once, during an argument in a car, she told Richard she did not want to stay in the car, felt a pain in her neck and when she touched it with her hand she felt and saw blood. Kuklinski told her, "that is an object lesson, never leave me". She claimed he stabbed her. Kuklinski and his wife had two daughters and a son. His family and neighbors were never aware of his activities, instead believing that he was a successful businessman. Sometimes he would get up and leave the house at any time of the day or night to do a job, even if it was in the middle of dinner.
Kuklinski earned the nickname "Iceman" following his experiments with disguising the time of death of his victims by freezing their corpses in an industrial freezer. Later, he told author Philip Carlo that he got the idea from fellow hitman Robert Pronge, nicknamed "Mister Softee", who drove a Mister Softee truck to appear inconspicuous. Pronge taught Kuklinski the different methods of using cyanide to kill his victims. Kuklinski also claimed to have purchased remotely detonated hand grenades from Pronge. Pronge allegedly asked him to carry out a hit on Pronge's own wife and child. In 1984, Pronge was found shot to death in his truck. Kuklinski worked for a period of time in the film industry (motion picture laboratory) in New York City; people who worked with him recalled he was a quiet man, a family man.
In the book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, Kuklinski claims to have been responsible for the murder of Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa. After Kuklinski murdered him with a hunting knife, his body was placed in a 55 gal drum and set on fire. He was allowed to burn for "a half hour or so" and then the drum was welded shut and buried in a junkyard. Later, when an accomplice started to talk to federal authorities, there was a fear that he would use the information to try to get out of trouble. The drum was dug up, placed in the trunk of a car and compacted to a 4 × 2 foot cube. It was sold, along with hundreds of other compacted cars, as scrap metal. It was shipped off to Japan to be used in making new cars.
Independent experimentation and decline
By the 1980s, after 25 years of working as a hitman for the mafia, Kuklinski became head of his own crime ring, and devised new ways to profit from killing people. One case typical of Kuklinski's methodology was that of Paul Hoffman, a pharmacist who hoped to make a considerable profit by purchasing large quantites of Tagamet, which at the time was a wonder drug for peptic ulcers, at a low cost. In the afternoon of April 29, 1982, Hoffman arrived at a warehouse leased by Kuklinski, who had arranged to sell him the Tagamet for $25,000 USD. After Hoffman gave him the money, Kuklinski revealed that the business deal was a ruse, place the barrel of his gun under Hoffman's chin, and shot him. Kuklinski's gun jammed, however, and the wound did not kill Hoffman, who lay bleeding and in pain. Kuklinski killed Hoffman by beating him with a tire iron. Kuklinski then placed Hoffman's corpse inside a 50-gallon drum, and left the drum on the sidewalk outside a motel behind a luncheonette named Harry's Corner. Kuklinski monitored the drum for some time, sitting in Harry's Corner every day to listen for talk amongst the patrons that would indicate the corpse's discovery. After the corpse remained there for what Kuklinski related as a long time, he noticed one day that the drum no longer there, but could not discern any details about its fate from listening to Harry's patrons.
By the early to mid-1980s, Kuklinski was involved in narcotics, pornography, arms dealing, money laundering, hijacking and contract killing on a global basis. Despite his ambitious range of criminal endeavors, however, he was no longer in his prime, and began to make mistakes, that allowed law enforcement officers that had suspected him over the years to gather evidence. Though Kuklinski killed anyone who could testify against him as to his crimes, he was becoming less circumspect in his disposal of such persons.
The first major mistake Kuklinski made was discovered on December 27, 1982, when the decomposing body of 37-year-old Gary Smith was discovered under the bed in Room 31 at the York Motel in North Bergen, New Jersey. Smith had been a frequent collaborator of Kuklinski's who often ran auto theft scams with him and another man, Daniel Deppner. Kuklinski and Deppner decided to kill Smith, which they did on December 23 by feeding him a cyanide-laced hamburger in their room at the York Motel. When Smith took longer to die from the cyanide than Kuklinski foresaw, Kuklinski grew impatient and had Deppner strangle Smith with a lamp cord. When Deppner's ex-wife, Barbara, failed to return with a car to remove the body, they placed Smith's body in between the mattress and box springs. Over the next four days, a number of patrons rented the room, and although they thought the smell in the room odd, most of them did not think to look under the bed. According to forensic pathologist Michael Baden, Smith's death would likely have been attributed to something non-homicidal in nature had Kuklinksi relied solely on the cyanide; the ligature mark around Smith's neck created by his strangulation alerted authorities that he was murdered. Daniel Deppner's body would itself be found being eaten by a turkey buzzard by a bicyclist riding down a secluded road in a wooded area of West Milford, New Jersey on May 14, 1983. It had been dumped there after having been placed inside green garbage bags. Investigators noted that the site of the body's discovery was just over three miles from a ranch where the Kuklinski family often went riding. Deppner's cause of death was listed as "undetermined", although medical examiners noted pinkish spots on his skin. He was the third business associate of Kuklinski's to have been found dead.
The second significant mistake by Kuklinski came to light on September 25, 1983, when the body of Louis Masgay was found with a bullet hole in his head near a town park off Clausland Mountain Road in Orangetown, New York. As he had numerous times before to obfuscate the victim's time of death, Kuklinski had frozen Masgay in an industrial freezer for two years. However, Kuklinski had neglected to allow the body to thaw completely before dumping it in public, leading the Rockland County medical examiner to discover ice crystals inside Magay's body, and during a warm September. This was the victim with which authorities discovered Kuklinski's use of a freezer in his modus operandi, and with which Kuklinski earned the nickname "Iceman".
Eventually a total of five unsolved homicides, which included those of Hoffman, Smith, Deppner, Masgay and George Malliband, whose body had been found in Jersey City on February 5, 1980, were linked by virtue of the fact that Kuklinski had been the last to see each of them alive.
State and federal manhunt
In 1986 a division of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Department created a task force composed of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including New Jersey Attorney General's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, dedicated to arresting and convicting Richard Kuklinski. The task force, nicknamed "Operation Iceman", based its case almost entirely on the testimony of undercover agent Dominick Polifrone and the evidence built by New Jersey State Police detective Pat Kane, who began the case against Kuklinski six years earlier.
Starting in 1985, Detective Kane and ATF Special Agent Dominick Polifrone worked with Phil Solimene, a close friend of Kuklinski, to get Polifrone close to Kuklinski. Polifrone posed as a fellow hitman, Dominic Michael Provenzano, to Kuklinski. Polifrone acted as if he wanted to hire Kuklinski for a hit, and recorded Kuklinski speaking in detail about how he would do it. Kuklinski claims in the HBO interview that Solimene was the only friend he did not kill.
On December 17, 1986, it was arranged for Kuklinski to meet Polifrone to get cyanide for a planned murder, which was to be an attempt on a police detective working undercover. After being recorded by Polifrone, Kuklinski went for a walk by himself. He tested Polifrone's "cyanide" on a stray dog and found it was not poison. Kuklinski decided not to go through with the planned murder and went home instead. He was arrested at a roadblock two hours later. A gun was found in the car, and his wife was charged with trying to prevent his arrest. He was charged with five counts of murder and six weapons violations, as well as attempted murder, robbery and attempted robbery. Officials said Kuklinski had large sums of money in Swiss bank accounts and a reservation on a flight to that country. Kuklinski was held on a $2 million bail bond and made to surrender his passport. In March 1988, a jury found Kuklinski guilty of two murders, but found that the deaths were not proven to be by Kuklinski's own conduct, meaning he would not face the death penalty. In all, Kuklinski was convicted of five murders and sentenced to consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole until age 110.
Incarceration and death
During his incarceration, Kuklinski granted interviews to prosecutors, psychiatrists, criminologists, writers, and television producers about his criminal career, upbringing, and personal life. Three documentaries, the last featuring interviews of Kuklinski by forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, aired on HBO in 1992, 2001 and 2003. Writers Anthony Bruno, Michael Wells Jr. and Philip Carlo each wrote a biography of Kuklinski.
In one interview, Kuklinski claimed that he would never kill a child and "most likely wouldn't kill a woman". However, according to one of his daughters he once told her that he would have to kill her and her two siblings should he happen to beat her mother to death in a fit of rage. At the same time, his wife Barbara has stated that he never actually did hurt the children. However, she says that he frequently beat her up, breaking her nose several times. According to the New York Times, Kuklinski tried to smother her with a pillow, pointed a gun at her and tried to run her over with a car.
He also confessed that he once wanted to use a crossbow to carry out a hit but not without "testing" it first. While driving his car, he asked a random man for directions, shot him in the forehead with the crossbow, and stated that the arrow "went half-way into his head".
In a 1991 interview, Kuklinski recalled one murder that he committed in a manner that he later regretted:
It was a man and he was begging, and pleading, and praying, I guess. And he was, "Please, God, no," all over the place. So I told him he could have a half an hour to pray to God and if God could come down and change the circumstances, He'd have that time. But God never showed up and he never changed the circumstances and that was that. It wasn't too nice. That's one thing, I shouldn't have done that one. I shouldn't have done it that way.
In 2003, Kuklinski pleaded guilty to the 1980 murder of New York Police Department Detective Peter Calabro and drew another 30 years. In the Calabro murder, in which Gambino crime family underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was also charged, Kuklinski said he parked his van on the side of a narrow road, forcing other drivers to slow down to pass. He lay in a snowbank until Calabro came by at 2 a.m., then stepped out and shot him with a shotgun. He denied knowing that Calabro was a police officer, but said he more than likely would have murdered him anyway.
Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski in the 2012 film The Iceman based on Anthony Bruno's book The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer. The film also stars Winona Ryder as Kuklinski's wife (renamed Deborah), Ray Liotta as Roy DeMeo, Stephen Dorff as Richard's younger brother Joey, and Chris Evans as Robert "Mr. Softee" (renamed "Captain Freezy") Pronge.
- Bruno, Anthony (1993). The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer. New York, New York: Delacorte.
- Carlo, Philip (2006). The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-34928-8.
- HBO documentary (1992), The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer.
- Carlo 2006, p. 373.
- Martin, Douglas (March 9, 2006). "Richard Kuklinski, 70, a Killer of Many People and Many Ways, Dies". The New York Times.
- Zugibe, Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe; Costello, James T. (November 1993). "The Iceman Murder - One of a Series of Contract Murders". Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 38, No. 6. pp. 1404–1408. PDF file: 333.6 KB; retrieved June 3, 2012.
- Carlo 2006, pp. 14-15.
- "The Iceman Confessions of a Mafia Hitman". America Undercover. Home Box Office. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
- "The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer". America Undercover. Home Box Office, Rock Solid Productions. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Carlo 2006, p. 16.
- Carlo 2006, pp. 132-134.
- "Jersey City Man Arrested In Death of 12-Year-Old Girl". The New York Times. September 16, 1970. Retrieved 2011-03-16. "... of a 12-year-old girl who apparently was thrown from the roof of a building. Joseph Kuklinski was taken into custody at his home at 434 Central Avenue"
- The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman, HBO, 2001. [specify]
- Carlo 2006, p. 45.
- Carlo 2006, p. 251.
- Hoff, Andrew. "The Iceman – An In-depth Look at Anti-social and Paranoid Personality Disorder". AndrewHoff.com. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Carlo 2006, pp. 188-190.
- The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer. 1992. America Undercover. HBO.
- Mikkelson, Barbara (October 20, 2013). "The Bawdy Under the Bed". Snopes.com.
- Blanco, Juan Iganacio. "Richard Leonard KUKLINSKI". Murderpedia. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- Associated Press (December 18, 1986). "Iceman: suspect in 5 deaths arrested". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- Carlo 2006, p. 299.
- Carlo 2006, pp. 363-364.
- Carlo 2006, pp. 363-365.
- Associated Press (December 18, 1986). "Man charged with killing partners in crime". Washington Observer-Reporter. p. B-5.
- United Press International (March 16, 1988). "Jury convicts 'Iceman' killer". The Bulletin (Bend, Deschutes County, Oregon). p. A-2.
- Bruno 1993.
- Jacobs, Andrew (February 21, 2003). "Reality TV Confession Leads to Real-Life Conviction". The New York Times. "During the hearing, he said he did not know that his intended target was a police officer."
- Carlo 2006, p. 257.
- Zakarin, Jordan (26 March 2012). "'Iceman' Poster Stars Michael Shannon as a Menacing Killer". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 23 June 2012.