Born Richard Leonard Kuklinski in Jersey City, NJ, he started murdering in 1948 at age 13 and didn’t stop until he was arrested in 1986. He was convicted of six murders, but experts seem certain he is responsible for at least dozens more—and possibly as many as 300. In taped interviews recorded in prison, he speculates that he probably killed as many as 100-200 people, and what’s most chilling is that his tone is that of a man who’s estimating how many hot dogs he’s eaten over his lifetime.
Kuklinski killed people with guns, chainsaws, bombs, hand grenades, icepicks, and his bare hands. More than anything else, though, he loved to take people out with cyanide. Often he’d spike their food with cyanide and they’d die right there at the burger joint. But his favorite method of administering cyanide was with liquid spray: “You spray it on someone’s face and they go to sleep,” he explained with his trademark emotionlessness.
Ultraviolent Family: Kuklinski’s Brother Was Murdered By Their Maniac Father
If you ask Kuklinski what made him that way—which is exactly what forensic specialist Dr. Park Dietz did in a 2002 prison interview—he blames it all on his father. If that sounds like a weak dodge, maybe you should learn a little bit about his father.
Kuklinski’s father Stanley, a vicious alcoholic, worked as a brakeman for a local railroad. He would routinely beat his wife Anna in front of the children. He would also beat Richard and his brother Florian so badly that he’d knock them both out cold. One day in 1940 he beat Florian to death and forced the family to tell everyone that his son had accidentally fallen down the stairs.
Richard’s younger brother Joey was imprisoned for raping a 12-year-old girl on a tenement rooftop, then throwing her and her dog off the roof to their deaths. Joey was 25 at the time of the murder. When asked why Joey did that, Richard replied, “We come from the same father.”
His mother, who worked at a meat-packing plant, was a fanatically devoted Catholic who also frequently beat Richard, often with blunt objects. It is said that more than once, she broke a broom handle while beating him with it.
But nearly all of Richard’s hatred hinged on his father’s endless beatings and ritual humiliation. And just as he learned to disassociate himself from the emotional and physical pain his father rained down on him, he could also detach his mind from the pain of his countless victims.
Not all of Kuklinski’s murders were Mafia hits and contract killings. Sometimes he just killed people who were acting like a loudmouth. His father was a loudmouth, so he hated all loudmouths.
First Murder At Age 13: Kuklinski Turns From Bullying Victim To Bully
Unluckily for Kuklinski, his parents wouldn’t be his only antagonists.
As he entered adolescence, a local teenage gang named The Project Boys targeted him for repeated harassment and beatings.
At age 13, for the first time in his life, Kuklinski decided to fight back.
He grabbed a thick wooden hanging rod and went into the alley outside his apartment building to wait for the gang’s leader, Charley Lane, who he knew would be walking through the alley on his way home.
When Charley finally came walking down the alley, Richard stood in his way. Charley told him to get out of the way. Richard said, “Yeah, try.” Charlie tried. And Charlie failed.
Kuklinski had thrashed him so hard with the thick wooden pole that he killed him. Knowing he needed to dispose of the body, he stole a car—mind, you he was 13 at the time—and drove to a bridge near a remote South Jersey pond. He hacked off Charley’s fingertips with a hatchet and knocked out his teeth with a hammer before dumping his mutilated corpse in the pond.
Later he would individually track down every other member of The Project Boys and thrash each one of them to within an inch of their life. Then he formed his own gang called The Coming Up Roses, who quickly established a reputation as a crew not to be fucked with.
Becoming A Mafia Hit Man
As he entered adulthood, Kuklinski was a 6’5”, 270-pound behemoth who was known to murder anyone who even slightly irked him. When he wasn’t beating people to death with pool cues over billiards disputes, he formed a habit of heading from New Jersey into Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, where in the spring of 1954 he began randomly murdering transient men. It has been estimated that before the mob recruited Kuklinski as a contract murderer, he slew 65 men—never women—for reasons as petty as looking at him the wrong way.
Since he was Polish he could never truly become a “made” member of the Italian Mafia, but his effortlessness at killing soon caught the mob’s attention. To test Kuklinksi’s mettle, Roy DeMeo, a member of the Gambino crime family, drove him to a city street one afternoon, randomly picked out a man walking his dog, and told Kuklinski to kill him. Without a word, Kuklinski got out of the car and shot the man in the back of the head, killing him.
The problem with hiring Kuklinksi as a money collector was that he was too eager to kill people, and when someone’s dead, it make it impossible for them to pay off their debts to the Mafia. So instead Kuklinski became a designated contract killer. And his legend grew to the point where in the 1970s he was the world’s most feared hit man.
At first the Mafiosi referred to Kuklinski as “the Polack.” Then he became known as “One-Man Army” and “The Devil Himself.”
One day mobster Carmine Genovese directed Kuklinski to ice someone. Awed at how calmly Richard dispatched his prey, got back in his car, and hit the gas, his partner John Wheeler reportedly looked at him and said, “Man, Rich, you’re cold like ice!”
One of his sickest murder methods was to tie his victims up and leave them in caves populated by giant rats, who’d be drawn to them by the sounds of their screaming. Kuklinksi filmed at least one victim being eaten alive by rats. Upon viewing the film, Ted DeMeo—a ruthless murderer himself—couldn’t finish watching and said that Kuklinski “had no soul.”
After his conviction on six murder charges, Kuklinski gave several prison interviews dispassionately discussing many other murders for which he was never convicted that could short-circuit a normal person’s brain due to their sheer savagery:
• Getting into the snow-covered parked car of mobster Bruno Lattini one Christmas Eve, blowing his brains out, and becoming temporarily blinded and deafened by the gun flash and sound. After he regained his sight, Kuklinksi went through Lattini’s pockets and counted out the $1,600 Lattini owed him, leaving the rest for the man whose life he’d just taken.
• Shooting a stranger in the head with a crossbow arrow just to see if a crossbow was an effective murder weapon. It was.
• Murdering a man who’d disrespected Carmine Genovese. Kuklinski knocked him out with one punch, hog-tied and gagged him, put him in his car trunk, drove to the desolate New Jersey Pine Barrens, broke his knees, chipped off his fingers one by one with a hatchet, and finally decapitated him, returning the head to Genovese as a trophy.
• Dressing up in a flamboyant yellow costume to pose as a gay man in a NYC disco in the 1970s. When Kuklinski got close enough to his intended mark, he injected him with a substance that immediately gave him a fatal heart attack.
• Getting revenge on a man who’d disrespected him at a bar by waiting until the man went outside and fell asleep in his car, then tossing a lit gasoline can into the car, burning the man alive.
• The murder of accomplice Robert Pronge, AKA “Mister Softee.” Pronge drove a Mister Softee ice-cream truck selling treats to children while he was scoping neighborhoods to perform his own contract killings. He was the one who introduced Kuklinski to the ease at which cyanide allowed one to murder. He also allegedly helped Kuklinksi store a corpse in a freezer in his truck. His mistake was asking Kuklinksi to kill Pronge’s wife and kids. Despite all of Kuklinski’s deeds, the mere suggestion of killing one’s family members set him into a moral tizzy. Pronge was found shot dead in his Mister Softee truck.
• Pausing in the midst of murdering a man to allow him to pray to God, then waiting a half-hour, announcing that God obviously didn’t care, and killing the man anyway. Of all his murders, Kuklinski said this was the only one where he felt he’d been unnecessarily cruel.
But Kuklinski would never be tried or convicted for any of these murders. And as far as his family and neighbors knew, he was nothing more than a successful businessman who loved his family.
Richard Kuklinski, Family Man
At age 26, Kuklinski was married with two sons. He met 19-year-old Barbara Pedrici on a dock where they both worked. Despite being married, he fell for Barbara like a corpse he’d throw in a river.
He began wooing her and she initially fell for his charms but started to feel that he was too controlling and smothering. According to Barbara, when they were sitting in a car and she told him she wanted to see other people, he started stabbing her in the back with a knife and told her that he owned her. He said that if she left him, he’d kill her and her entire family. When she started screaming at him, he choked her unconscious.
Still, he returned the next day with flowers and apology. And Barbara took him back. Richard divorced his wife and married Barbara. They would have two daughters and a son.
Unlike his own father, Richard never hit his kids. But he allowed the psychosis his family had implanted in his head to infect his new family to a degree. He beat Barbara frequently. He broke her ribs and busted her nose more than once. The abuse got so bad that at one point, Barbara and her teenaged daughter Kristin plotted to poison Richard.
Still, the family says they have no idea Richard was a universally feared hit man. Even though Barbara said her husband had two personalities—Good Richard and Bad Richard—she hadn’t a clue exactly how bad the latter persona was. He lavished his family with gifts and sent his kids to private schools. He treated Barbara to furs and took her to posh restaurants, always calling ahead to ensure that their theme song, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, was playing as they entered the place.
As Richard entered his fifties, though, the infamously clean and meticulous killer started to get sloppy. Ironically, it was literal ice that would prove to be the Ice Man’s undoing.
The Iceman Falleth: Arrest And Murder Convictions
By the mid-1980s, Kuklinski was charging in the high five figures for each hit. He’d become such a sought-after killer that he distanced himself from the Mafia and went into the murder business for himself.
It was almost always deadly to do business with Kuklinski. He covered his tracks so thoroughly, he wound up killing nearly every friend who knew anything about his crimes, especially if they had been accomplices.
In 1985, an ATF agent arranged with Mafia informant Phil Solimene—one of Kuklinksi’s only close friends—to introduce him to an undercover agent named Dominick Polifrone, whose phone recordings of Kuklinksi asking him if he knew where to get more cyanide so he could kill more people would seal his murder convictions.
Solimene was the only friend that Kuklinski didn’t kill. And he was the one who betrayed him the worst.
In all of Kuklinski’s murder convictions except that of Paul Calabro, he became the prime suspect because he was the last person known to have sene them all alivel
Paul Hoffman … shot and beaten with a tire iron
In the spring of 1982, Kuklinski arranged with the pharmacist Hoffman to get him a shipment of ulcer medicine at a black-market price. When Hoffman arrived with $25,000 cash, Kuklinski killed him. He cemented his body inside a steel drum and left it next to a New Jersey hot-dog stand, which he’d frequently visit just to eat hot dogs and look at the steel drum until it was eventually removed.
Louis Masgay … shot
Masgay’s corpse—which Kuklinksi had kept in an industrial freezer for two years after shooting him in the head in 1981—was what led police to start calling Kuklinski “the Ice Man.” After investigators uncovered the cadaver in rural New York state in the summer 1983, a medical examiner noticed that there were ice crystals still thawing in Masgay’s heart. This was obviously not a recent murder, and Kuklinski became the prime suspect.
Paul Malliband … shot
A mob associate who’d worked with Kuklinski in the dirty business of bootlegging pornography tapes, Malliband infuriated his partner by showing up unannounced at Kuklinski’s house one day, violating the strict separation of family and business. When Kuklinksi expressed anger at this, Malliband threatened to kill his family. Kuklinski shot him five times, killing him. He stuffed Malliband’s 300-pound body in a steel drum and threw it over a cliff. When asked later why Malliband was murdered, Kuklinksi gave a slight grin and said, “He outlived his usefulness.”
Richard Smith … poisoned, strangled
While running car-theft scams with a man named Gary Deppner, Kuklinski conspired to kill their associate Gary Smith by feeding him a cyanide-laced burger at a New Jersey motel. Smith didn’t die as easily as expected, and Deppner wound up strangling him with a light cord. Kuklinski and Deppner stuffed his body under the mattress and left. It wasn’t until four days later that the smell of decomposition had become so unbearable, people noticed there was a dead body under the motel bed.
Gary Deppner … likely cyanide
Since Deppner obviously knew too much, Kuklinski appears to have poisoned him with cyanide, wrapped him in plastic bags, and dumped him in a rural area, where his body was found being eaten by a turkey vulture in May 1983.
Peter Calabro … shotgun killing
In 1980, allegedly aided by eventual mob snitch Sammy “The Bull Gravano,” Kuklinski waited hours in the wintry darkness for the car of Peter Calabro to pass by. When Calabro’s car approached, Kuklinski emerged from his hiding place and blasted Calabro with a shotgun. Unbeknownst to Kuklinski, Calabro was a cop. This was the only murder conviction not linked to Kuklinski’s original murder trial. In 2003 he agreed to plead guilty to Calabro’s murder in exchange for testifying against Gravano.
One cold morning in 1986, agents descended on Richard and Barbara Kuklinski as they were leaving their driveway and heading to breakfast. As sirens wailed and helicopters floated overhead, both Kuklinski and his wife were thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
In exchange for a deal in which authorities agreed not to prosecute his wife for aiding and abetting his crimes, Kuklinski pled guilty to two murders, eventually being convicted of all six.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment. When he turned seventy, his health took a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse. When he lapsed into a coma, Barbara refused to sign an order to resuscitate him. She says her only regret was not telling him how much she hated his guts.
It is said that even Kuklinski’s relatives suspect that he did not die of natural causes and was instead poisoned by mobsters who feared his testimony against Sammy Gravano.
In the end, Kuklinski died alone, hated, and betrayed—just the way his father would have wanted it.
The Killer In His Own Words
These and other Richard Kuklinski quotes are on Quote Catalog.
By now you know what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary.
My friend, there’s more than one way to do it…there’s more than one way to skin something.
I am probably the loneliest person in the world because I have nothing I care for.
I’ve never felt sorry for anything I’ve done. Other than hurting my family. I do want my family to forgive me.
I’m not the Iceman; I’m the Nice Man.