Richard Kuklinski 1935 - 2006

Richard The Iceman Kuklinski was probably the Mafia's single most prolific and notorious killer in his role as a hitman.  He worked for several Mafia crime families and over a period of some thirty years claimed to have killed over one hundred and fifty men, maybe even two hundred.  Kuklinski wasn't really sure, in fact he had lost count.

In 1949  at the age of fourteen Kuklinski committed his first murder when he clubbed a neighborhood gang leader by the name of Charlie Lane to death because he bullied him. For some time after this, Kuklinski was troubled, worried that he would be arrested for the crime but said the killing of Lane illustrated that... "It was better to give than to receive" and that after the murder, he had felt empowered for the first time in his life.

Kuklinski, who was a natural born killer, killed his second man by incinerating him in his car after an altercation in a bar.  He found the man sleeping off the drink in his car later that night and he said to himself  "I'm really gonna light your fire, you little sucker  " and emptied a can of gasoline into the car and ignited it.

His younger brother Joseph Kuklinski (1944-2003) was a convicted child murderer and rapist and served life imprisonment.  Murder was obviously in the family gene pool!

Kuklinski owed money to various mobsters and to pay back he approached Mafia Capo Roy DeMeo and said he was up for hire in that he would kill on contract.  DeMeo was intrigued and wanted Kuklinski to prove his claim, so DeMeo and some other hoods took him out in their car and they drove to an inner city area where DeMeo told Kuklinski to "Get out the car, go over and shoot that guy...yeah him who's walking his dog "  Kuklinski said that he didn't question who it was, what the man had done or anything but simply got out walked up to the man, turned on his heel and shot him in the back of the head as he passed by, killing him instantly.

From  that  second on, Kuklinski  was employed as an "enforcer" for the mobsters,
initially operating from the infamous Gemini Lounge located on a corner lot at 4021 Flatlands Ave, in Brooklyn, New York where those that owed money either paid up or were killed.  In the basement of the Gemini Lounge bodies of those Kuklinski and other mobsters killed were dismembered and carried out wrapped in plastic liners to be disposed of.  Kuklinski instilled fear and most people repaid their debts plus interest to the family upon his request.

Kuklinski didn't just hire himself out to one single Mafia family but instead he worked freelance, available for hire to anyone who could afford it. Generally he worked for the Gambino crime family, he worked alone, deciding where to make the hit and how is should best be done.

Kuklinski  was an active contract killer for the Mafiosi for well over thirty years, during which time he claimed to have successfully carried out every assignment that came his way.  Kuklinski used various methods of despatching his victims depending how the circumstance dictated, be it a from a shotgun blast, silenced pistol, a knife thrust, crossbow, strangulation, poison or a blow  from a 2½lb lump hammer.

Kuklinski did not always use a pistol with a silencer as pictured above and he later remarked that the sound of a pistol or shotgun being fired inside a car when he was eliminating someone was very loud and disorientating, but he still got on with it.

Kuklinski favored the use of cyanide as it was quick kill poison, quicker than either strychnine or arsenic and he would administer it in various ways, he may spray it out of an atomiser type aerosol, or he would accidentally spill it over someone where it would eventually absorb through the skin.  Another simple method was just put the cyanide straight onto his victims food, he once took one of his victims out to lunch and put cyanide on his burger.

Once Kuklinski went to kill a gay man in a gay club, so he dressed up in a canary yellow sweater and brightly colored trousers and fancy shoes and pretended to be drunk and stumbled into the man at the same time he injected cyanide into him.  He later explained " The guy had a heart attack and was taken away  "

Cyanide is very hard to detect once it has been absorbed into the system and the dead person would resemble someone who died from a heart attack or massive stroke.  Getting rid of bodies was a specialty for Kuklinski and he would dismember and dispose of body parts in trash can liners or he would put the body in  the trunk of a car and have it crushed at a junk yard or he would drop bodies over canyon edges.  His favorite method of disposal was to place the body in a fifty-five gallon oil drum and then just leave it somewhere.

Initially Kuklinski was nicknamed The Polack  by his Mafiosi associates because of his Polish surname and family heritage.   He was a good and trusted enforcer possibly the best they had, this is indicated as usually Italian crime families only had amongst their ranks true blood Italians.

Kuklinski was however nicknamed  The Iceman by the F.B.I as he disguised the time of death of his victims by freezing their corpses in an industrial freezer.  Kuklinski later stated that he got the idea from fellow hitman Robert Pronge, a military trained demolitions expert turned hit man,  nicknamed Mister Softee  who drove a Mister Softee ice cream van  to help hide his auspicious activities.

It was Pronge who actually taught Kuklinski how to use cyanide to kill his victims. Kuklinski also claimed to have purchased remotely detonating hand grenades from Pronge. 

It is thought that maybe Pronge knew too much about Kuklinski and that he may have made some threats towards him, this would have been enough reason for Kuklinski to kill him.  In 1984 Pronge was targeted for the hit and  was found slumped over in his ice cream van with multiple gunshot wounds to the head. The image below shows Pronge dead in his van.

 

Kuklinski's method of freezing corpses as trained by Pronge was uncovered by the authorities when he failed to let one of his victims thaw our properly before dumping the body in a local park.   On a warm summer's night the body was discovered and the coroner upon examination found ice in the center of  the corpse which suggested the body had been frozen...in this case over two years previously.

Kuklinski claimed that he was hitting or whacking guys on a regular basis for DeMeo, but none of DeMeo's mobsters ever admitted to these numbers when later they became witnesses for the government.  In all probability the number of people killed by Kuklinski was true and the mobsters lied about it.

Kuklinski claimed that on January 10th 1983, he killed DeMeo, apparently he shot him in the body three times and twice in the head, leaving him in the trunk of his car to be found.  However, evidence later suggested that mobsters Joseph Testa, Tony Senter and Tony Gaggi of the Gambino family were actually the perpetrators.  But as Kuklinski admitted killing DeMeo (pictured below) whilst incarcerated in maximum security,  he had nothing to gain by fabricating it?

In 1980 Kuklinski also killed his one time friend George Malliband from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania who owed money to DeMeo.  Kuklinski was driving a van with Malliband as passenger to go and see DeMeo.  En route Malliband started to threaten to harm Kuklinskis family, so Kuklinski (who later stated he got pretty worried about the guy) pulled over to the side of the road and said " I'm going to stop you, permanently..." and he pulled out his snub nosed .38 special revolver and shot him five times, killing him instantly.  He later stuffed his body into a fifty-five gallon oil drum and dumped it in an alley, he later said that he had to chop his legs up a bit as he would not fit into the oil drum properly.

Below is the type of revolver Kuklinski used to kill Malliband. Its a Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special snub nosed revolver, favored by hitmen as an easy concealable back-up gun that they allegedly carry with them all the time.  Usually they also allegedly carry a switchblade or lock knife as added insurance.

During the 1960's when Kuklinski was an active enforcer for the Mafiosi he met and married a woman by the name of Barbara Pedrica and fathered two daughters and a son by her.  By 1970, he had become quite well off from his career as a hitman, he lived in an expensive middle class home in a good neighbourhood with his family. His family and even the neighbours never  suspected that he was a Mafia enforcer, obviously he never mentioned what he did for a living except to say that he was a businessman and arranged legitimate business deals.

He would leave his house at anytime during the day or night to go and kill someone with the words to his wife " I'm off on business " and that was it.  His wife later reported that she knew never to ask about his business meetings as he forbade discussing work.  It was a total shock to everyone  when it was revealed during his arrest and the subsequent court case and news reports on TV who he really was and what he really did, a hitman for the Mafia.

         Below: Kuklinski, the happy family man, with his wife and two daughters.



When the authorities finally arrested Kuklinski in 1986, their case was based almost entirely on the testimony of  undercover agent Dominick Polifrone.  New Jersey State Police detective Pat Kane had been on  Kuklinski's case for six years, the investigation involved a joint operation with the New Jersey Attorney General's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms a branch of the F.B.I

Special Agent Dominick Polifrone had specialist undercover experience dealing with the Mafiosi and with the New Jersey State Police and the Bureau, he began joint operations with them.  Detective Kane recruited Phil Solimene, a close friend of Kuklinski, who introduced undercover agent Polifrone to the killer.

F.B.I agent Polifrone who was microphone wired, pretended that he wanted to contract Kuklinski out for a hit, and recorded him speaking in detail about how he would go about it.  Polifrone later stated that  whilst talking to him he thought he was talking to the devil, and he could feel the pure evil from him.  Polifrone asked if he could do a nice quiet hit and, Kuklinski replied in a business like manner " ...where there's a will there's a way my friend...don't worry about it  "

Hitmen like Kuklinski did not  go around putting on airs and graces and acting the part of the big mean killer, instead they were quiet, calm, determined and collected individuals that kept a low profile.  They could approach their victim with a smile and a handshake, they could take the prospective victim out for lunch, or sit and chat for hours and then when the right opportunity arose, kill them.

Almost every time, the victim did not know he was about to die, it was never advertised to them before hand.  Kuklinski would walk up to his victim, quickly pull out his gun and shoot him in the head straight away, no chat, no messing, no fumbling about, job done.

When state police and federal agents went to arrest Kuklinski they blocked off his entire street and agents went in and arrested  him.  His wife was also arrested and she was charged with gun possession because the family car was registered under her name.  When she was arrested, a police officer apparently put his boot on her back while she lay on the ground being handcuffed. This enraged Kuklinski and he broke out into a fight with the officers and it took between six and eight of them to hold him down.

During his incarceration, Kuklinski  allowed  interviews with prosecutors, psychiatrists, criminologists, writers, and television producers and openly discussed his criminal career, upbringing, and personal life.  Two documentaries, featuring interviews of Kuklinski by Dr. Park Dietz  were aired on HBO after interviews in 1991 and 2001.  Philip Carlo also wrote a best selling book in 2006, simply entitled The Ice Man.

Below I present a YouTube video that is part one of twelve, taken whilst Kuklinski was in prison of him talking about his life as a Mafiosi hitman.

 

Kuklinski told an HBO interviewer that he once he wanted to use a small crossbow to carry out a hit but wanted to test its lethality first.  So he got into his car and drove a while, eventually stopping with the pretence of asking for directions from a pedestrian, as the man bent down to peer into the side window, Kuklinski immediately shot him in the forehead "...it went half way into his head,"  when later asked if it did indeed kill him, Kuklinski casually replied " it sure did ! "

He confessed that he only had one regret whilst being a Mafia hitman and that was the way he went about a particular hit, he was about to shoot a man that he had captured and the man began praying for his life.  Kuklinski said to the man "I will give God half an hour to change the circumstances but if there's no change, I'll kill you "  then Kuklinski continued... " The circumstances didn't alter, so after the thirty minutes was up...I killed him."

Kuklinski stated "I would move heaven, hell and anything in between to get you, You wouldn’t be safe anywhere..." and that once he was contracted to kill someone that he never ever failed.  He guaranteed his work, once he was contracted to kill you, you were a dead man, regardless of where you were, what you were doing or who you were with, there was no escape.  His reputation preceded him, his record was impeccable, he was highly recommended as one of the best "Enforcers" and Kuklinski prided himself on all of this.

Although never proven, John Gotti the Gambino  Mafia boss as seen below would have used Kuklinski at some time to "whack" (kill) someone.  These guys live in a different world to the rest of us where they believed they could just kill anyone for any reason at any time...and often did.  If they were caught, then they often became a stool pigeon and ratted on the whole crew.  The old and quite truthful saying goes " There is no honor amongst thieves " and when in a jam its normally every man for himself.

Kuklinski's fee for a hit was upwards of  $20,000 including expenses, he never turned down a job, but as a small saving grace, he refused to kill women or children.  He claimed that apart from that, all of his assigned hits were carried out and that he never let anyone get away.  He did state that he once toyed with the idea of letting a man go free but he changed his mind and shot him dead anyway.

At 1:15 a.m on March 5th, 2006, the seventy year old Richard The Iceman Kuklinski, died.  He was held in a high security wing at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey due to illness.  Coincidentally at the time of his death, Kuklinski was to testify against former Gambino Mafia underboss Sammy The Bull Gravano, (pictured below) who had contracted him to kill N.Y.P.D Detective Peter Calabro.

It was on the night of March 14th, 1980, that Kuklinski was ready to carry out the hit.  He had waited patiently for several hours for Calabro to drive from Queens in New York to Saddle River in New Jersey.  Kuklinski hid behind a van that he had previously double parked on the street, as Calabro slowed to drive around the van, he stepped out and shot him in the head at close range with a sawn off shotgun.    Kuklinski later denied knowing that Peter Calabro (pictured below) was a serving police officer, but said it would have made no difference as he always carried out a hit and would have killed him regardless.

At the time, Gravano was already imprisoned, serving a nineteen year stretch for operating an ecstasy drug ring in Arizona.  Kuklinski stated that he believed the Gambino family were slowly poisoning him, a  few days after his death, prosecutors were forced to drop all charges against Gravano, as there was no case without Kuklinski's testimony.  Kuklinski's body underwent an autopsy at the behest of his surviving family, carried out by the excellent forensic pathologist Michael Baden.  The autopsy was to determine if he had indeed been poisoned but the final conclusion was that he had died of natural causes.

This may be ironic because if Kuklinski had been poisoned with cyanide then it would have looked like death by natural causes.  As stated earlier, a small but lethal dose of cyanide is extremely difficult to detect in the system, Kuklinski may have been killed by his own favorite method.

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Page created August 16th 2009.   Updated August 18th 2012