Richard Leonard Kuklinski, aka ‘The Iceman,’ was a convicted murderer and notorious contract killer. He worked for several Italian-American crime families and claimed to have murdered over 200 people over a career that lasted better than thirty years. He was the older brother of the convicted rapist and murderer Joseph Kuklinski.
The Early Life of Richard Leonard Kuklinski
Richard Leonard Kuklinski was the second of four children born to Stanley and Anna Kuklinski of Polish origin. Richard was born on April 11, 1935 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Stanley Kuklinski worked at a railroad as a brakeman. He was an alcoholic who regularly beat his wife and children. Anna Kuklinski, meanwhile, worked at a meat processing plant. She was extremely strict and a devout Catholic. She too however, would often beat Richard.
When Richard Leonard Kuklinski was five years old, his older brother, Florian, was killed by their father during one of his many beatings. On discovering he had killed his son, Stanley ordered Anna to call the hospital and report that Florian had fallen down the stairs and hit his head. Soon after, Stanley abandoned his family, and Richard was left to fend for himself. By age 16, he was already known for his explosive temper and his willingness to kill.
The First Murder For Richard Leonard Kuklinski
Richard Leonard Kuklinski first killed his number one enemy. In 1948, Richard, just 13 at the time, ambushed and beat Charley Lane, the leader of a small gang of teenagers known as “The Project Boys,” who had bullied him for some time. Following a particularly bad beating Richard sought revenge, attacking Charley Lane with a thick wooden dowel eventually beating him to death. Although he denied wanting to kill Lane, the bully did not wake up. Richard Leonard Kuklinski then dumped Lane’s body off a bridge in South Jersey after removing his teeth and chopping off his finger tips with a hatchet in an effort to prevent identification of the body. But it wouldn’t matter. The boy’s body was never found.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski then went in search of the other boys in the gang. He seized a metal pole from a trash can and beat all of them nearly to death. He said in the HBO documentary “Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Hit Man” (1992) that it was the day he killed Charley Lane that he learned it was “better to give than to receive.”
According to his own statements, Richard Leonard Kuklinski would hurt someone just for making him feel bad about something. His number one pet peeve was “loudmouthed people” because they reminded him of his father. He also stated that he had abused animals as a young child, such as killing cats and dogs by torturing them.
Association with the Gambinos and DeMeo
Association with the Gambino crime family came through his relationship with the mobster Roy DeMeo. Richard Leonard Kuklinski stated that he started doing robberies and other assignments for the family, one of which was pirating pornographic tapes. But soon his talent for killing was realized and he stood out amongst his associates, standing 6 feet and 5 inches and weighing 300 lb. DeMeo decided to put Richard Leonard Kuklinski to the test.
One day, he took Richard out in his car and they parked on a city street. DeMeo then selected an apparently random target, a man out walking his dog. He then told Kuklinski to kill him. Without questioning the order, Kuklinski got out and walked towards the man. As he passed him, he turned and shot the man in the back of the head. From then on, Richard Leonard Kuklinski was Roy DeMeo’s favorite enforcer.
Over the next thirty years, according to Kuklinski, he killed numerous people, either by gun, strangulation, knife, or poison. The exact number has never been settled upon by authorities, and Richard Leonard Kuklinski himself at various times claimed to have killed between 33 and 200 individuals.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski Preferred Means Of Disposal
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 on more than one occasion.
Despite Kuklinski’s claims that he was a frequent killer for DeMeo, none of DeMeo’s crew members, that later became witnesses for the government, claimed that Richard Leonard Kuklinski was involved in the murders they committed. Only photographed on one occasion at the Gemini Lounge, he reportedly visited the club to purchase a handgun from the Brooklyn crew.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski once claimed to have been responsible for the 1983 murder of Boss Roy DeMeo, 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 family, Anthony Gaggi.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski Was A Family Man
According to Kuklinski, at the same time he was allegedly a career hit man, he met and married Barbara Pedrici, and later fathered 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.
Initially nicknamed “The Polack” by his Italian associates because of his Polish heritage, Richard Leonard 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. Kuklinski himself claims that he used a Mister Softee ice cream truck for this purpose, although the FBI doubts the veracity of this claim.
Later, he told author Philip Carlo that he got the idea from a hitman nicknamed “Mister Softee”, who drove a Mister Softee truck to appear inconspicuous. Kuklinski’s method was uncovered by the authorities when Kuklinski once failed to let one of his victims properly thaw before disposing of the body on a warm summer’s night, and the coroner found chunks of ice in the corpse’s heart.
Kuklinski became friendly with a man named Robert Pronge, the man nicknamed Mister Softee. Pronge supposedly was a military-trained demolitions technician. It was from him that Kuklinski learned of the different methods of using cyanide to kill his victims. Kuklinski also stated that Mister Softee was “extremely crazy”.
In 1984, Robert Pronge was found shot to death in his truck. Most believe Richard Leonard Kuklinski was the perpetrator, but the killer was never found.
The Manhunt for Richard Leonard Kuklinski
When the authorities finally caught up with Richard Leonard Kuklinski, in 1986, they based their case almost entirely on the testimony of an undercover agent. New Jersey State Police detective Pat Kane started the case 6 years prior to the arrest and the investigation involved a joint operation with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Special Agent Dominick Polifrone had undercover experience specializing in Mafia cases. The New Jersey State Police and the Bureau began a joint operation. Detective Kane recruited Phil Solimene, a close friend of Kuklinski, who introduced undercover agent Polifrone to the killer.
Hiring A Hit Man
The Bureau agent had acted like he wanted to hire Richard Leonard Kuklinski for a hit and recorded him speaking in detail about how he would do it. When state police and federal agents went to arrest Kuklinski they blocked off his street, and it took multiple officers to bring him down.
In the process of doing so Mrs. Kuklinski was also arrested and charged with gun possession because the car was in fact registered under her name. When Mrs. Kuklinski was arrested a police officer put his boot on her back while detaining her. This enraged Richard Leonard Kuklinski and that is one the reasons why they needed multiple officers to bring him down.
The Incarceration of Richard Leonard Kuklinski
In 1988, a New Jersey court convicted Richard Leonard Kuklinski of five murders and sentenced him to consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole until age 110. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to the 1980 murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro and drew another 30 years.
In the Calabro murder, in which 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.
During his incarceration, Richard Leonard Kuklinski granted interviews to prosecutors, psychiatrists, criminologists, writers, and television producers about his criminal career, upbringing, and personal life. Two documentaries, featuring interviews of Kuklinski by Dr. Park Dietz (best-known for his interviews with and analysis of Jeffrey Dahmer) aired on HBO after interviews in 1991 and 2001. Philip Carlo also wrote a book in 2006, entitled The Ice Man.
In one interview, Richard Leonard 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.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski 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.”
He also claimed that on multiple occasions, he would kidnap his victims, and rather than conventionally murdering them, he bound their hands and feet with tape. He then left the victims in a cave in the wilderness where they were eaten alive by rats attracted by the victim’s cries. Kuklinski claimed he filmed these deaths as proof to the buyer that the people did suffer before death.
In one interview, Richard Leonard Kuklinski confessed that he only regretted one murder, which he deemed particularly cruel. As he was about to kill a man, the man began praying to God for his life. Kuklinski told him that he would give God 30 minutes to save him, but once the time was up, he would be killed. Forcing the man to wait 30 minutes for his demise struck Kuklinski as his most sadistic murder.
Richard Leonard Kuklinski died at the age of 70 at 1:15 a.m. on March 5, 2006. He was in a secure wing at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey, at the time, although the timing of his death has been labeled suspicious. Richard was scheduled to testify that former Gambino crime family underboss, Sammy Gravano, had ordered him to murder New York Police Department Detective Peter Calabro. Kuklinski had admitted to murdering Calabro with a shotgun on the night of March 14, 1980. He denied knowing that Calabro was a police officer, but said he would have murdered him regardless.
At the time Kuklinski was scheduled to testify, Gravano was already incarcerated for an unrelated charge, serving a 19-year prison sentence for running an ecstasy ring in Arizona. Kuklinski also stated to family members that he thought “they” were poisoning him. A few days after Kuklinski’s death, prosecutors dropped all charges against Gravano, saying that without Kuklinski’s testimony there was insufficient evidence to continue. At the request of Kuklinski’s family, forensic pathologist Michael Baden examined the results of Kuklinski’s autopsy to determine if there was evidence of poisoning.
Baden concluded Richard Leonard Kuklinski died of natural causes
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