Richard Leonard Kuklinski (//; April 11, 1935 – March 5, 2006) was an American murderer. In 1988, he was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of killing two members of his burglary gang and three other associates. In 2003, he received an additional 30-year sentence after confessing to the murder of a mob-connected police officer. He was given the nickname The Iceman by authorities after they discovered that he had frozen the body of one of his victims in an attempt to disguise the time of death. Among his associates, Kuklinski was known as "the one-man army" or "the devil himself" due to his fearsome reputation and imposing physique of 6 ft 5 in (196 cm) and 270 pounds (120 kg).
Kuklinski's 1982 mugshot
April 11, 1935
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||March 5, 2006 70) (aged|
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
|Other names||The Polack|
The Devil Himself
Barbara Kuklinski (m. 1961; divorced)
|Children||2 sons from first wife; 2 daughters & 1 son from second wife|
|Criminal charge||Murder (6 counts)|
|Penalty||2 consecutive life sentences|
Kuklinski was engaged in criminal activities for most of his adult life. He bought and sold stolen goods, ran a burglary and car theft ring, and was also linked to narcotics dealing, pornography, arms dealing and money laundering. Prosecutors described him as someone who killed for profit. Eventually he came to the attention of law enforcement when an investigation into his burglary gang linked him to several murders. An eighteen-month long undercover operation led to his arrest in December 1986. Kuklinski lived with his wife and children in the New Jersey suburb of Dumont. They knew him as a loving father and husband who provided for his family, but one who also had a violent temper and was physically abusive to his wife. His family stated that they were unaware of his crimes.
After his murder convictions, Kuklinski gave interviews to writers, prosecutors, criminologists and psychiatrists. He claimed to have murdered anywhere from 100 to 250 men, often in gruesome fashion. Most of these additional murders have not been corroborated. He also alleged that he worked as a hitman for the Mafia, and that he was a participant in several famous Mafia killings, including the murders of mob bosses Paul Castellano and Carmine Galante, and Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa; these claims are considered dubious by law enforcement and mob experts. He was the subject of three HBO documentaries aired in 1992, 2001 and 2003; two biographies, a 2012 feature film starring Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder, and a play.
Richard Kuklinski was born in his family's apartment on 4th Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Stanisław "Stanley" Kukliński (1906–1977), a Polish immigrant from Karwacz, Masovian Voivodeship who worked as a brakeman on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and Anna McNally (1911–1972) from Harsimus, a daughter of Catholic Irish immigrants from Dublin, who worked in a meat-packing plant during Richard's childhood.
Kuklinski grew up in an abusive household and his alcoholic father repeatedly beat him throughout his childhood. Kuklinski claimed his mother beat him with broom handles (sometimes breaking the handle on his body during the assaults) and other household objects. During an interview with Dr. Park Dietz, Kuklinski recalled an incident during his pre-teen years when his mother attempted to kill her husband by stabbing him with a kitchen knife. Anna was a zealous Christian and believed that stern discipline should be accompanied by a strict religious upbringing. She raised her son in the Roman Catholic Church, where he became an altar boy. Kuklinski later rejected Catholicism, however. He exhibited cruelty to animals as a young boy, killing neighborhood cats by tying their tails together with rope and throwing them over clothing lines to watch them tear each other apart. Other times he would throw living cats into basement incinerators, watching through the thick glass oven doors as the terrified feline ran around until consumed by the fire. Kuklinski would sometimes fantasize about murdering his father when he was torturing stray dogs he captured around his hometown neighborhood.
Kuklinski had three siblings. His older brother Florian (1933–1941) died at the age of eight from injuries inflicted by his father during a violent beating. The family lied to the police, saying that Florian had fallen down a flight of steps. Stanley abandoned the family shortly after he murdered his first son. Kuklinski, who was the second son, had a younger sister, Roberta (1942–2010), and a younger brother, Joseph (1944–2003), who in 1970 was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl and murdering her by throwing her off the top of a five-story building (along with her pet dog). When asked about his brother's crimes, Kuklinski replied: "We come from the same father."
Marriage and children
Kuklinski's first marriage was to a woman nine years his senior named Linda, with whom he had two sons (Richard Jr. and David). While Richard was working for a trucking company he met Barbara Pedrici, who was a secretary at the same firm. Kuklinski and Barbara married in 1961 and had two daughters, Merrick and Christin, and a son, Dwayne. Barbara described his behavior as alternating between "good Richie" and "bad Richie." "Good Richie" was a hard-working provider and an affectionate father and loving husband, who enjoyed time with his family. Barbara remembered that when Merrick became seriously ill soon after she was born, Richard stayed up night after night to care for her. Richard lavished his family with gifts; he bought Christian Dior clothes for Barbara and diamonds and jewellery for his daughters. He took the family out to expensive restaurants and on regular vacations, including trips to Disney World. The Kuklinskis bought a new car every six months.
In contrast, "Bad Richie" – who would appear at irregular intervals: sometimes one day after another, other times not appearing for months – was prone to unpredictable fits of rage, smashing furniture and domestic violence. During these periods, he was physically abusive to his wife (one time breaking her nose and giving her a black eye) and emotionally abusive towards his children. Merrick later recalled that he once killed her dog right in front of her to punish her for coming home late. Barbara claimed in an interview that once, during an argument in a car, she told Richard she wanted to see other people. He responded by silently jabbing her from behind with a hunting knife so sharp she didn't even feel the blade go in. He told her that she belonged to him, and that if she tried to leave he would kill her entire family; when Barbara began screaming at him in anger, he throttled her into unconsciousness. Merrick also remembered a number of road rage incidents involving her father.
Kuklinski's family and Dumont, New Jersey neighbors were never aware of his activities, and instead believed he was a successful businessman. Barbara suspected that at least some of his income was from illegal activities, due to their lifestyle and the large amounts of cash he often possessed, but she never expressed these worries to him. She had a "don't ask questions" philosophy when it came to his business life; she didn't ask about his business partners or how he made his money. If he suddenly got up and left the house in the middle of the night, she never asked where he was going. The Kuklinskis divorced in 1993, when Richard was in prison. Barbara said the divorce was for "money reasons". She continued to visit him in prison, but only about once a year.
Authorities described Kuklinski as unusual amongst both mobsters and killers. Apart from his violent temper, he had none of the vices common among criminals: he was not an abuser of alcohol or other drugs and was not a womanizer, though he did have a serious weakness for high-stakes gambling and lost a great deal of his earnings from contract killing in these regards. His motives for murder were also unusual, not fitting neatly into standard serial killer categories of lust murder, revenge murder, or "angels of mercy", for example.
Kuklinski claimed that he committed his first murder in 1949 at the age of 13 or 14, using a closet clothes-hanging rod to bludgeon a neighborhood boy who had bullied and teased him. He said he immediately ran back to his apartment and though the boy's body was discovered soon afterwards, the police never connected the murder to him. Kuklinski later told Philip Carlo a more dramatic version of the story, in which after killing the boy, he stole a car, drove the body to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, removed the teeth and fingertips to make identification more difficult, and then dumped the body in a frozen pond. By the mid-1950s, he had earned a reputation as an explosive pool shark who would beat or kill those who annoyed him.
In the mid-1960s, Kuklinski began working at a Manhattan film lab. Through the lab he had access to master copies of popular films, and he began making bootleg copies of Disney cartoons which he could then sell on. Kuklinski discovered there was a lucrative market for tapes of pornographic movies too; copying and distributing pornography became a regular source of income for him. Several of his known murder victims were men he had met through trafficking pornography and drugs. He also headed a gang which specialised in stealing brand new Corvettes, and carrying out burglaries. He was once arrested for passing a bad check, the only crime he was charged with prior to his arrest for murder. He was photographed and fingerprinted, but the charges were dropped when he agreed to pay back the money owed. Kuklinski said he supplemented his income by working as a freelance contract killer.
Kuklinski encountered Roy DeMeo, an aspiring associate (and later soldier) of the Gambino family when he borrowed money from a loanshark with mob connections. When Kuklinski missed a payment, he was visited by DeMeo and two other men, who beat and pistol whipped him. The beating left Kuklinski with a prominent scar on his forehead. According to Kuklinski, thereafter DeMeo regularly employed him as a debt collector, enforcer and hit man, although Kuklinski's claim to have been a close associate of DeMeo is not corroborated by Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain's book about the DeMeo crew, Murder Machine, or Albert DeMeo's account of his father's life in the mob, For the Sins of My Father: neither book mentions him. Kuklinski would later claim that he killed DeMeo, who was found dead in the trunk of his car in January 1983. However, most sources indicate that DeMeo was killed by members of his own crew, with no suggestion that Kuklinski was involved. In the postscript to a later edition of The Ice Man, Philip Carlo acknowledged that Kuklinski probably didn't kill DeMeo.
In the early 1980s Kuklinski became acquainted with another killer, named Robert Pronge (sometimes spelled Prongay). Pronge was referred to by Kuklinski as "Mister Softee", as he used to drive a Mister Softee ice cream truck to appear inconspicuous while surveilling potential victims. Pronge claimed to be a Special Forces veteran and an explosives expert. He knew much about poisons and taught Kuklinski how to use cyanide as a murder weapon; one of his favored methods was to put the cyanide into a nasal spray bottle and squirt an unsuspecting target. Kuklinski said they carried out a number of murders together and that it was Pronge's suggestion to freeze the body of Louis Masgay, to see if the time of death could be disguised.
The two men fell out when Pronge allegedly asked Kuklinski to murder his ex-wife and son; Kuklinski refused. Kuklinski also took exception when he learned of Pronge's plans to poison an entire reservoir with ricin just to kill one family. During an argument that followed, Pronge told Kuklinski that he knew where he lived and threatened his family. On August 10, 1984, Pronge was found dead in his Mister Softee truck with two bullet wounds in his chest. At the time of his death, Pronge was due to appear in court on aggravated assault charges against his ex-wife and son. Investigators later stated that they regarded Kuklinski as the "prime suspect" for Pronge's murder, but decided not to file charges as by then he had already been convicted of other murders.
Murder of George Malliband
On February 1, 1980, Kuklinski and a business associate named George Malliband were driving to New Jersey. After an argument, during which Malliband threatened Kuklinski's family, Kuklinski suddenly brought the van to a stop. Without warning, he pulled a .38 revolver from his pocket and shot Malliband in the chest five times, killing him. Kuklinski later said that killing Malliband was "due to business". Malliband was reportedly carrying $27,000 at the time. Malliband's body was found a few days later near the Chemitex chemical plant in Jersey City. It had been stuffed into a 55 gallon barrel and rolled to the bottom of a palisade. Kuklinski had cut the tendons of Malliband's leg in order to force it into the barrel. This was the first murder to be directly linked to Kuklinski, as Malliband's brother told police that he had been on his way to meet Kuklinski the day he disappeared.
Murder of Paul Hoffman
In 1982, Kuklinski met Paul Hoffman, a 51-year-old pharmacist who occasionally frequented "the store" in Paterson, New Jersey, a storefront with a large backroom where a wide variety of stolen items could be bought and sold. Hoffman hoped to make a big profit by purchasing, at a low cost, large quantities of stolen Tagamet, a popular drug used to treat peptic ulcers, which he could then resell through his pharmacy. He believed that Kuklinski could supply the drug and badgered him to make a deal.
On the afternoon of April 29, 1982, Hoffman and Kuklinski met at a warehouse leased by Kuklinski. Hoffman brought $25,000 in cash with him to purchase the Tagamet. After Hoffman gave him the money, Kuklinski told him that the deal was a ruse. Kuklinski placed the barrel of his pistol under Hoffman's chin and pulled the trigger. The shot only wounded Hoffman, so Kuklinski tried to shoot him again, only for the gun to jam. Kuklinski then resorted to killing Hoffman by beating him to death with a tire iron.
Kuklinski placed Hoffman's corpse inside a fifty-gallon drum, filled the drum with instant cement, and brazenly left it on the sidewalk outside a motel behind a luncheonette called Harry's Corner in South Hackensack, New Jersey. 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 body's discovery. After what Kuklinski related as a long time, he noticed one day that the drum was no longer there, but could not discern any details about its fate from listening to the patrons. Hoffman's body was never recovered.
Murder of Gary Smith
By the early 1980s, Kuklinski's burglary gang was coming under more scrutiny from law enforcement. In December 1982, Percy House, a member of the gang, was arrested. House would later agree to testify against Kuklinski and was placed in protective custody. Warrants were also issued for the arrest of two more gang members, Gary Smith and Daniel Deppner. Kuklinski urged them to lie low and rented them a room at the York Motel in North Bergen, New Jersey. Kuklinski was angered when he learned that Smith had left the motel to visit his daughter and also feared that Smith, who had recently spoken of giving up crime and going straight, might become an informant against him.
Kuklinski, Deppner and House (who was still in jail at the time) decided that Smith had to be killed. Kuklinski and Deppner therefore fed Smith a hamburger laced with cyanide. When Smith took longer to die from the cyanide than Kuklinski expected, he grew impatient and ordered Deppner to strangle Smith with a lamp cord. According to forensic pathologist Michael Baden, Smith's death would probably have been attributed to something non-homicidal in nature (like drug overdose for instance) had Kuklinski relied solely on the cyanide; however, the ligature mark around Smith's neck (and, presumably, the fact that the body had been deliberately hidden) proved to investigators that he was murdered.
When Deppner's ex-wife, Barbara, failed to return with a car to remove the body, they placed it in between the mattress and box spring. Over the next four days, a number of patrons rented the room, and although they thought the smell in the room was odd, most of them did not think to look under the bed. Finally, on December 27, 1982, after more complaints from guests about the smell, the motel manager investigated and found Smith's decomposing body.
Daniel Deppner's murder
After Smith's murder, Kuklinski moved Deppner to an apartment in Bergenfield, New Jersey, belonging to Rich Patterson, then-fiance of Kuklinski's daughter Merrick. Patterson was away at the time, but Kuklinski had access to the apartment. Investigators later deduced that Deppner was murdered in the apartment after finding a bloodstain on the carpet. Kuklinski enlisted Patterson's help to dispose of Deppner's body, telling Patterson that the victim was a friend who had been in trouble with the law, and that someone must have broken in and killed him over the weekend. He added that it was best to dump the body to avoid trouble with the police. Afterwards Kuklinski urged Patterson to just forget about the incident. Kuklinski made another mistake when he told an associate that he had killed Deppner.
Deppner's body was found on May 14, 1983, when it was preyed on by a turkey vulture. A cyclist riding down Clinton Road in a wooded area of West Milford, New Jersey, spotted the bird and found the corpse. Kuklinski had wrapped the body inside green garbage bags before dumping it. Investigators noted that the site of the body's discovery was just over three miles (5 km) from a ranch where Kuklinski's family often went horseback riding.
Medical examiners listed Deppner's cause of death as "undetermined", although they noted pinkish spots on his skin, a possible sign of cyanide poisoning. Deppner had also been strangled. Law enforcement theorized that Deppner must have already been incapacitated, such as by poison, as he had no defensive wounds and healthy adult men are rarely killed by strangulation. The medical examiner found that Deppner's stomach was full of undigested food, meaning he had died shortly after (or during) a meal. The beans that Deppner had eaten were burned, so they reasoned that it must have been a home-cooked meal, as a restaurant would probably not get away with serving burned food to a customer. He was the third business associate of Kuklinski's to have been found dead.
Louis Masgay discovered
On September 25, 1983, the body of Louis Masgay was found near a town park off Clausland Mountain Road in Orangetown, New York, with a bullet hole in the back of his head. Masgay had disappeared over two years earlier, on July 1, 1981, the day he was due to meet Kuklinski to purchase a large quantity of blank VCR tapes for $100,000. Kuklinski attempted to disguise Masgay's time of death by storing his corpse in an industrial freezer for the next two years. He later said this was on the advice of Robert Pronge. Pronge may also have supplied the freezer Kuklinski used to store Masgay's body.
However, Kuklinski did not allow the body to thaw completely before he dumped it and he also wrapped it in plastic garbage bags, which kept it insulated and partially frozen. The Rockland County medical examiner found ice crystals inside the body on a warm September day. Had the body thawed completely before discovery, the medical examiner stated that he probably would have never noticed Kuklinski's trickery. Detectives also realised that Masgay was wearing the same clothes his wife and son had said he was wearing the day he disappeared. The discovery that Kuklinski had frozen Masgay's body is what led authorities to nickname him "The Iceman".
State and federal manhunt
Kuklinski first came to the attention of Pat Kane, a detective in the New Jersey State Police when, with help from an informant, Kane connected him to a gang who were carrying out burglaries in northern New Jersey and began building a file on him. Eventually, five unsolved homicides, namely the deaths of Hoffman, Smith, Deppner, Masgay and Malliband, were linked to Kuklinski because he had been the last known person to see each of them alive. In 1985, a division of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Department created a task force composed of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the 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 Kane.
Starting in 1985, Detective Kane and ATF Special Agent Dominick Polifrone worked with Phil Solimene, a close long-time friend of Kuklinski, to get Polifrone close to Kuklinski. Polifrone posed to Kuklinski as a fellow hitman named Dominic Michael Provenzano. Polifrone told Kuklinski he wanted to hire him for a hit against a wealthy Jewish associate in a cocaine deal robbery, and recorded Kuklinski speaking in detail about how he would do it. Kuklinski was also recorded boasting that he had once killed a man by putting cyanide on his hamburger, and of his plans to kill "a couple of rats" [Barbara Deppner and Percy House]. Kuklinski claimed 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 (purported) cyanide on a stray dog, using a hamburger as bait, and saw it was not poison. Suspicious, 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. She was also charged with possession of an illegal firearm, as she had been in the car where it was found.
Prosecutors charged Kuklinski with five murder counts 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. At his trial, a number of Kuklinski's former associates gave evidence against him, as did Rich Patterson and Polifrone. The recorded conversations with Polifrone were the most damaging evidence. Kuklinski's defense argued that his admissions on the tapes were merely him "blowing smoke" in an attempt to impress someone he believed to be a major criminal. In March 1988, a jury found Kuklinski guilty of murdering Smith and Deppner, but found that the deaths were not proven to be by Kuklinski's own conduct, meaning he would not face the death penalty.
To avoid a second trial for the murders of Malliband and Masgay, Kuklinski agreed to plead guilty to both. The state deemed there to be insufficient evidence to convict Kuklinski for Hoffman's murder, as his body had not been recovered. In return for a confession and Kuklinski's assistance in recovering Hoffman's remains, the charges for that murder were dropped. As part of the deal, the gun charge against his wife and an unrelated marijuana possession charge against his son were also dropped. Kuklinski received two sixty-year sentences, one for killing Smith and Deppner, the other for Malliband and Masgay, which would run concurrently. He was to be ineligible for parole until he was 111 years old (the year 2046). He was incarcerated at Trenton State Prison.
Statements made during interviews
During his incarceration, Kuklinski granted interviews to prosecutors, psychiatrists, criminologists and writers. Several television producers also spoke to Kuklinski about his criminal career, upbringing and personal life. These talks culminated in three televised documentaries known as The Iceman Tapes which were aired on HBO in 1992, 2001 and 2003. According to Merrick Kuklinski, it was her mother who convinced Richard to do the interviews and she was paid "handsomely" for them. In the last installment, The Iceman and the Psychiatrist, Kuklinski was interviewed by renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz. Writers Anthony Bruno and Philip Carlo wrote biographies of Kuklinski. He turned down interviews by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera.
Interview with Dr Park Dietz
Kuklinski was interviewed by renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz in 2002 at Trenton State Prison. The two spoke at length, in a videotaped interview, about Kuklinski's upbringing, family life, crimes, and other events in his past. In one of the video taped segments, where Dietz questioned whether a prior incident of murder over a trivial slight was justified, Kuklinski experienced a flushed moment of subdued homicidal rage. He 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, Dietz 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. Dietz elaborated that Kuklinski likely inherited antisocial personality disorder from his 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.
Murder of a police officer
In his 2001 HBO interview, Kuklinski confessed to killing Peter Calabro, an NYPD detective who had been ambushed and shot dead by an unknown gunman on 14 March 1980. Calabro was rumored to have mob connections and had been investigated for selling confidential information to the Gambino family. His wife Carmella had drowned in mysterious circumstances three years earlier and members of her family believed that Calabro himself was responsible for her death. At the time, his murder was thought by law enforcement to have been a revenge killing either carried out or arranged by his deceased wife's relatives. Her brothers were regarded as "key suspects" but the crime remained unsolved.
The Bergen County prosecutor believed Kuklinski's confession to be a fabrication, but his successor decided to proceed with the case. In February 2003 Kuklinski was formally charged with Calabro's murder and received another sentence of 30 years. This was considered moot, as he was already serving multiple life sentences and ineligible for parole until he was over the age of 100. Describing the murder, Kuklinski said that he parked his van on the side of a narrow road, forcing other drivers to slow down to pass. He lay in a snowbank behind his van until Calabro came by at 2 a.m., then stepped out and shot him in the head with a sawed-off shotgun, decapitating Calabro. He stated that he was unaware that Calabro was a police officer at the time, but said he probably would have murdered him anyway had he known.
Kuklinski claimed he had been paid to kill Calabro by Gambino crime family soldier (later underboss) Sammy "The Bull" Gravano and that Gravano had provided him with the murder weapon. Gravano, who was then serving a 20 year sentence in Arizona for drug trafficking, was also indicted for the murder and Kuklinski was set to testify against him. Gravano denied any involvement in Calabro's death and rejected a plea deal, under which he would have received no additional jail time if he confessed to the crime and implicated all his accomplices. Gravano reportedly told detectives that if he had wanted to kill Calabro, he would have "whacked him myself". Gravano's lawyer claimed that Kuklinski had tried to use the allegation to extort $200,000 from Gravano, which was later confirmed by the FBI. The charges against Gravano were dropped after Kuklinski's death in 2006.
The exact number of people killed by Kuklinski is not known. When questioned, he alluded to other murders he had committed, but rarely gave specific details like the victim's full name, the location or the date. In his 1992 HBO interview, Coversations with a Killer, Kuklinski said he had murdered more than 100 people. In his 2003 interview with Dr Park Dietz, he claimed the number was well over 200. He said he used a variety of methods, so as not to establish a modus operandi that would enable law enforcement to connect all these murders to one person: he used guns, knives, explosives, tire irons, fire, poison, asphyxiation, feeding people to cave rats, and even bare-handed beatings "just for the exercise". He favored the use of cyanide, since it killed quickly, wasn't messy and was hard to detect in a toxicology test. He would variously administer it by injection, by putting it on a person's food, by aerosol spray, or by simply spilling it on the victim's skin.
Kuklinski said he killed numerous random motorists whose behavior had annoyed him. He also claimed to have shot a hitchhiker who had given him the finger, taken revenge on a Jersey City policeman who crossed him by burning him to death in his car, beaten a man to death with a pool cue after a bar argument, shot a bouncer in a club, thrown a man off a Honolulu hotel balcony, poisoned a stranger at a disco by spilling a cocktail laced with cyanide over him, shot a passer-by in the head with a crossbow to test out the effectiveness of the weapon, blown up a man who owed him money with a hand grenade, killed two drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro, poisoned an Arab blackmailer in Zurich, bludgeoned to death a pushy homosexual man who propositioned him, and castrated and tortured a rapist in Miami before throwing him into the sea to be eaten by sharks. In a 1991 interview, Kuklinski recalled one of the few murders he later regretted committing:
It was a man and he was begging, and pleading, and praying, I guess. And he was 'Please, God' and 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.
He said 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 fed living human beings to cave rats in Pennsylvania and recorded footage in order to collect contracts for torture and safe disposal of a body. Upon viewing one of these tapes, DeMeo reportedly could not finish watching and said Kuklinski "had no soul". Kuklinski described that the rats would dispose of a human body in about two days, including the bones.
Kuklinski also alleged that he was a Mafia contract killer who worked for all of the Five Families of New York City, as well as the DeCavalcante family of New Jersey. He claimed to have carried out dozens of hits on behalf of Gambino solider Roy DeMeo, and said that he was one of the hitmen who assassinated Bonanno family boss Carmine Galante in July 1979 and Gambino family boss Paul Castellano in December 1985. For the latter hit, Kuklinski said he was personally recruited by Sammy Gravano and told his job was to kill Castellano's driver Thomas Bilotti. He told Philip Carlo he was hired by John Gotti to kidnap, torture and murder John Favara, the man who accidentally killed Gotti's 12-year-old son Frank after hitting him with his car.
In his 2001 HBO interview, Secrets of a Mafia Hitman, Kuklinski said he knew who killed former Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa. He didn't name the culprit, but said it wasn't him. However, he later told Philip Carlo that he actually killed Hoffa. He said Hoffa's body was placed in a drum and set on fire, then the drum was welded shut. Kuklinski then drove the body from Detroit back to New Jersey, where it was buried in a junkyard. Later, fearing an accomplice might become an informant, the drum was dug up, placed in the trunk of a car, and compacted to a 4 × 2-foot rectangular prism. 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.
Reliability of Kuklinski's claims
Many of Kuklinski's admissions about his criminal life have not been corroborated and have long been met with scepticism. His claim to have committed hundreds of murders has been described as "many times more than could ever be substantiated". Paul Smith, a member of the task force which arrested Kuklinski and later a supervisor of the organized crime division of the New Jersey Attorney General's office, said "I checked every one of the murders that Kuklinski said he committed, and not one was true." Kuklinski biographer Anthony Bruno described him as a "part-time liar" and acknowledged that “many of his stories didn't pass the smell test”. During one of their conversations, Bruno joked: "Richard, I have a feeling if I listen to you long enough, you'll tell me you shot President Lincoln." Kuklinski laughed and said "Yeah. You're probably right."
Mafia writer and journalist Jerry Capeci dismissed Kuklinski's claims that he killed Jimmy Hoffa and Mafia family bosses Carmine Galante and Paul Castellano as "mostly demented ramblings". Capeci commented on the improbability of a "heretofore unknown mob assassin" who "has never been linked to any of the slayings or any of the many well-known suspects" being present at three of the most famous Mafia killings of the past few decades. He also noted that Kuklinski omitted the Castellano hit from his HBO interview. Sammy Gravano, who allegedly hired Kuklinski to carry out at least two murders, including that of Castellano's driver, never mentioned Kuklinski in his testimony when he became a Government witness in 1990. Anthony Bruno felt that Kuklinski's participation in the killing of Castellano was “highly unlikely”. He also pointed out that in 1986 Anthony Indelicato was convicted of Galante's murder and Kuklinski's name was not brought up during the trial.
Regarding Kuklinski's claim to have kidnapped and murdered Hoffa and then transported his body across several states, Deputy Chief Bob Buccino, who worked on the Kuklinski case, said "They took a body from Detroit, where they have one of the biggest lakes in the world, and drove it all the way back to New Jersey? Come on." Buccino added: "We didn't believe a lot of things he said." Former FBI agent Robert Garrity called Kuklinski's admission to killing Hoffa “a hoax” and said Kuklinski was never a suspect in Hoffa's disappearance, adding "I've never heard of him." Anthony Bruno looked into Kuklinski's alleged involvement in Hoffa's disappearance and concluded that “[his] story didn't check out”. He opined that the confession had been made to “add extra value to his brand” and so omitted the story from his biography of Kuklinski. Numerous other accounts of Hoffa's disappearance do not mention Kuklinski as a possible accomplice.
Kuklinski's claims that he dumped bodies in caves in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and fed a victim to flesh-eating rats in the caves have also been questioned. In 2013 the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that the caves have had a lot of visitors since Kuklinski's time, and no human remains have been found. Local cave enthusiast Richard Kranzel also queried the idea of flesh-eating rats, saying "The only rats I have encountered in caves are 'cave rats,' and they are reclusive and shy creatures, and definitely not fierce as Kuklinski claims." The videos Kuklinski said he made of victims being eaten alive by cave rats have never been discovered.
In October 2005, after nearly 18 years in prison, Kuklinski was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease (an inflammation of the blood vessels). He was transferred to a secure wing at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey. Although he had asked doctors to make sure they revived him if he developed cardiopulmonary arrest (or risk of heart attack), his then-former wife Barbara had signed a "do not resuscitate" order. A week before his death, the hospital called Barbara to ask if she wished to rescind the instruction, but she declined. Kuklinski died at age 70 on March 5, 2006. At the request of Kuklinski's family, noted forensic pathologist Michael Baden reviewed his autopsy report. Baden confirmed that Kuklinski died of cardiac arrest and had been suffering with heart disease and phlebitis. His body was cremated.
Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski in the 2012 film The Iceman loosely 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 "Mr. Freezy"). Another film which would have starred Mickey Rourke as Kuklinski was reportedly in production around the same time but was never made.
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“I checked every one of the murders that Kuklinski said he committed,” said Smith, who was a member of the task force that ultimately arrested Kuklinski, “and not one was true." “Authorities throughout the country could not corroborate one case based on the tidbits that Kuklinski gave,” Smith said.
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... of a 12-year-old girl who apparently was thrown from the roof of a building. Joseph Kuklinski was taken into custody from his home at 434 Central Avenue
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During the hearing, he said he did not know that his intended target was a police officer.
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Molinelli's predecessor, William Schmidt, was still in office when Kuklinski first appeared on television and confessed to Calabro's murder. Schmidt did not return repeated phone calls, but had said in an interview he believed Kuklinski was fabricating the story. Molinelli came into office in 2002, vowing to crack cold cases. Gravano was charged soon after.
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