March 8, 2006
Richard "The Iceman"
Kuklinski, a Dumont hit man who turned raging psychosis into a
string of lucrative killings, died Monday in the prison wing of a
Following him to the
grave is a murder charge against Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano,
a former Gambino crime family underboss charged with hiring
Kuklinski 26 years ago to kill a New York City detective in Upper
But an associate of
the hit man's family said Monday that a new mystery has arisen: What
killed the 70-year-old Kuklinski?
"He was healthy and
robust and he got sick all of a sudden," said Philip Carlo, a New
York author who is about to release an extensive Kuklinski biography
and had been in constant contact with him the past two years.
"Family members believe he was poisoned."
Four months ago,
Kuklinski suddenly developed heart, lung and kidney problems, the
author said. He also suffered from dementia and could not even
remember his wife's phone number or the names of his three children,
a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections,
confirmed that Kuklinski died at St. Francis Medical Center in
Trenton, where he was being treated for an undisclosed medical
federal law prevents her from releasing a cause of death. She said
only that Kuklinski died of natural causes in the hospital's prison
recently been moved from New Jersey State Prison to the hospital.
Sources said he had been in declining health for some time.
With the demise of
their star witness, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said
Monday that authorities were dropping the case against Gravano.
"I cannot proceed
with this particular matter at this juncture and will be requesting
that the court dismiss [it]," he said, following a daylong review of
At 6 feet 5 inches
tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds, the heavily bearded and
tattooed Kuklinski became a horror-movie-type villain not just in
New Jersey but nationally. In a pair of HBO television specials,
Kuklinski detailed the gruesome fates of what he said were 100
killing was a business tactic used to cover up numerous robberies
and thefts. Kuklinski shot, stabbed, strangled and poisoned his way
into the upper echelon of mass murderers. As a Gambino family
enforcer, he was known for killing with such ease that even "wiseguys"
became timid around him.
He claimed to have
blown up one man with a grenade, stuffed another into a barrel of
quick-drying cement and killed another by poisoning his hamburger
and stuffing him under a North Bergen motel bed.
He said he also
killed Robert Prongay, a Mister Softee ice cream truck driver whose
bullet-riddled body was found hanging inside a garage on Tonnelle
Avenue in North Bergen.
arrested by New Jersey authorities in 1986 and charged with five
murders. He was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to consecutive life
terms for killing Gary T. Smith in 1982 and Daniel E. Deppner in
1983. The two Vernon men had worked under Kuklinski in a robbery and
At the trial,
Kuklinski was accused of strangling the men after poisoning both
He also pleaded
guilty in 1988 to the robbery and shooting deaths of two
Pennsylvania businessmen. He froze one of the bodies for months to
confuse investigators about the time of death, thus earning him his
New Jersey State
Police captured Kuklinski with the help of Dominick Polifrone of
Hackensack, at the time a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
agent who, posing as a mobster, taped Kuklinski admitting to several
killings. It was only after Kuklinski was arrested that Polifrone
learned that he was next on the hit man's list.
"The problem was
that I was one step ahead of him," the now-retired Polifrone said
Polifrone added. "He is lucky he had this long life he had in
prison. He should have died a long time ago."
A cop's murder
More than a decade
into his life sentence, Kuklinski seemed to have faded into
oblivion. Then, in 2001, he appeared in an HBO special and said he
was the gunman who – at the behest of Gravano – killed New York City
Police Detective Peter Calabro on the night of March 14, 1980.
Kuklinski said he
popped from behind a double-parked van on a snowy winding road and
fired into Calabro's windshield. Gravano, sitting in a car nearby,
kept in touch with him by walkie-talkie.
guilty to the murder in early 2003. A week later, Molinelli brought
murder charges against Gravano, 60, who is serving a 20-year term in
federal prison for a drug conviction.
scheduled to testify that he met Gravano at a New Jersey diner,
where he received a shotgun and about $30,000 to kill Calabro.
even know Calabro was a police officer, Carlo said. "But he told me
that even if he knew, he would have killed him anyway."
Gravano case dead
Once Gravano "ratted
out" the mob in the 1990s, bringing down dozens of capos, Carlo
said, Kuklinski felt he had no more allegiance to "Sammy the Bull."
called the claims "ridiculous." But this much is sure: Without
Kuklinski, the case against Gravano has all but collapsed.
"I regret that a
jury is not going to have an opportunity to determine who killed
this police officer," Molinelli said. "We do have evidence to
corroborate Kuklinski's testimony, but it's not enough."
That doesn't mean
the case is closed, the prosecutor warned. "Perhaps in the weeks,
months and years ahead, further information may be learned which may
shed further light upon this matter."
One of Gravano's
attorneys said Monday that he was both satisfied and disappointed.
"We had every
confidence in the world that the evidence would have shown Gravano
was completely innocent of this crime," said lawyer Peter Quijano.
"But we are somewhat disappointed that we didn't have the
opportunity to vindicate him of these shameless accusations."
Anthony Bruno, a
Philadelphia author who wrote a biography of Kuklinski in the 1990s,
also had mixed feelings.
"He wasn't a nice
man and he wasn't an asset to society," Bruno said.
"I can't say I am
saddened by his death, but one of my main subjects is no longer
Richard Kuklinski is arrested outside his Dumont house and charged
with five murders.
Kuklinski is convicted of murdering two underlings in his burglary
ring, Daniel E. Deppner and Gary T. Smith, both of Vernon. He is
sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole until age
May 1988: Kuklinski
pleads guilty to fatally shooting George Malliband and Louis Masgay,
both of Pennsylvania. In return for his plea, the state drops a
charge against Kuklinski for the April 1982 slaying of Paul Hoffman,
a Cliffside Park pharmacist. Kuklinski had confessed to Hoffman's
slaying, state investigators said.
1992: Kuklinski says
during an HBO program that he killed up to 100 people.
1993: Kuklinski says
in a book that he murdered Roy DeMeo, a Gambino crime family member,
in 1983. He also takes credit for murdering Robert Prongay of North
Bergen, whose body was found in 1984.
appears in a second HBO special and claims he was paid by the mob to
kill New York City Police Detective Peter Calabro.
Kuklinski is charged with, and pleads guilty to, Calabro's murder.
Kuklinski implicates former Gambino family underboss Salvatore
"Sammy The Bull" Gravano. A week later, Gravano is charged with the
Gravano appears in court and pleads not guilty to murder.
March 6, 2006:
Kuklinski, who was to be the star witness against Gravano, dies.
Authorities drop murder
charges against Gravano.
Richard Kuklinski: The Iceman
by Katherine Ramsland
Going To Florida
poisoning is a terrible way to die. It interferes with the cellular
enzyme system that processes the body's utilization of oxygen: The
victim asphyxiates as the cells starve. If ingested, there's a
burning in the mouth and throat, and the victim quickly grows dizzy
and disoriented. While it's possible to survive cyanide, it's a fast-acting
poison that tortures as it kills. Often the pathologist doesn't
think to look for cyanide as a cause, because the pinkish spots on
the skin are consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning as well.
However, if detected before the body absorbs it, a bitter almond
smell lingers in the corpse's mouth, tipping savvy investigators to
poison is usually committed in families or close groups, because the
victim generally must ingest it. That requires getting close and
even developing a bit of trust.
what the Iceman counted on.
Kuklinski, a scam artist, had learned how to use cyanide to take out
those who stressed him, and now he had to take care of one of his
own associates. Gary Smith helped him steal cars to resell for
profit, but he was a weak man and the police were on to him. There
was a warrant out for Smith's arrest on the charges of stealing and
cashing checks. It was just before Christmas in 1982 and to shield
Smith, Kuklinski was moving him around from one New Jersey motel to
another. It wasn't that he liked Smith. It was that he was afraid
that the man would talk. Already he'd defied orders and hitchhiked
home to see his daughter. There was clearly no way to control him….
except for one.
thief Danny Deppner assisted him, but there was a warrant out for
Deppner as well, and he, too, could not keep his mouth shut.
let Deppner know through his estranged wife, Barbara, that it was
time for Gary to "go to Florida," which meant it was time for him to
die. Kuklinski had tired of hiding him and footing the bill, not to
mention bringing him food every day in whatever hotel he was in. He
was concerned that one or the other of these men would willingly
make a deal to save his own skin, and he was not going to let that
happen. If Kuklinski was anything, he was careful.
evening in December, in the York Motel off Route 3 near the Lincoln
Tunnel, Kuklinski brought hamburgers to room 31. Smith liked burgers,
so that made things easier. Kuklinski handed over the bag of food,
giving one wrapped burger to Deppner, who knew that his was okay.
They both watched as Smith wolfed down the other burger, but nothing
was puzzled. He'd mixed cyanide in ketchup and it was supposed to
work pretty fast, but Smith wasn’t showing any sign of it. He Took
another bite. Then he started to choke.
was pleased. Finally the stuff was working. Smith was losing
control, but he still wasn’t dying quickly. Kuklinski signaled to
Deppner that it was time for the next step. Deppner took a lamp cord
and put it around Smith’s throat. He tightened it several times
until his colleague-in-crime was no longer breathing. Even s he
performed this grisly tsk, he probably knew he was watching how his
own death would play out one day…maybe soon.
Barbara Deppner failed to return with a car to remove the body,
Kuklinski had Smith placed beneath the mattress and box springs. Let
someone else find the guy.
someone did. Four days later, just after Christmas, the fourth
couple to rent the room complained to management of an ungodly odor.
When the mattress was lifted, the bloated, blackened body that had
been baking all that time in the heated room was found. It was later
identified as Gary Smith.
Deppner did the killing, he realized that now he knew too much.
Kuklinski didn't like that about anyone. When people learned too
much about his business, they were gone. Deppner knew that his turn
was next and there was nothing he could do about it. Since there was
a warrant out for him for burglary and car theft, like Smith, he was
being kept in a variety of motels, compliments of Kuklinski.
day in January 1983, there were no more trips to motels for
Kuklinski. The "problem" had been solved.
until May that a giant turkey buzzard signaled Deppner's whereabouts.
A man on a bicycle rode closer to see what the bird was doing and
noticed a large shape wrapped in green garbage bags. When he saw a
face and arm sticking out from a tear in the bag, he alerted the
that the dumpsite was just over three miles from a ranch where the
Kuklinski family often went riding. From photos in his possession,
they were able to identify him. The cause of death was "undetermined,"
although pinkish spots on the skin were noted and photographed.
became a prime suspect, but he proved to be the devil himself when
it came to getting evidence on him. The man was clever and elusive.
not Kuklinski's first murders. In fact, he'd been killing since he
was fourteen years old, usually for profit but sometimes just to rid
himself of a problem. By the time he took out Smith and Deppner,
he'd been a hit man for the Mafia. But it wasn't his sociopathic
personality that earned him the nickname "The Iceman." It was
Kuklinski always had a deal going, and usually several at once. He
stole cars and expedited trade in pornography, guns, and drugs.
Bruno points out in his book, The Iceman, written with
Kuklinski's cooperation, that he first killed someone in 1949 when
he was fourteen years old. Protecting his territory against a bully,
he fatally beat the other boy, although it surprised him to hear the
next day that the kid was actually dead. It also filled him with a
sense of power. He now perceived himself as "someone." He grew up
into a controlling man who tolerated no one's defiance or disrespect.
televised documentary on HBO, Kuklinski described his first
premeditated kill as an adult: In Jersey City one evening, he'd used
a car bomb triggered by gasoline to kill a man. As he walked away
from the exploding car, he felt nothing. That was his way. He
detached himself from his victims, an attitude that he claims came
from having to detach himself from the abuse his drunken father
inflicted on him as a boy.
he had a brother Joey who'd gone to prison at the age of 25 after
raping and killing a twelve-year-old girl and throwing her body from
the roof of a building. He threw her dog to the ground with her, and
for that he got life in Trenton State prison.
planned on avoiding that fate but he didn't really care who he hurt.
He just had to make sure it couldn't be traced to him.
he got involved in business deals with the Brooklyn-based Roy DeMeo,
a one-time butcher's apprentice and the most feared hit man for the
Gambino crime family. While Kuklinski wasn't great about collecting
money due, DeMeo saw that "the Pollack" had what it took to kill
people. Kuklinski admitted that he'd do anything for money, so DeMeo
took him to a place where they spotted a man out walking his dog.
Without a thought, and on command, Kuklinski walked by the man and
then turned and shot him. That brought him deeper into DeMeo's inner
circle and he witnessed DeMeo's volatile moods.
DeMeo had a strange assembly-line approach to his killings.
According to a former associate, the target person would walk into
the club. He'd be shot by one person, wrapped in a towel by another,
and stabbed in the heart by yet a third person. Then he'd be cleaned
up, drained of blood, laid out on a pool liner, and hacked into
pieces that were packaged like meat and tossed into a dump.
Kuklinski knew he had to be careful, and once for no apparent reason
he was nearly annihilated by the paranoid DeMeo.
DeMeo's renowned temper and mania for killing became disorganized
and conspicuous, he fell out of favor with the Gambino family. A hit
was put on him and eventually he was found shot to death in the
trunk of his car in January of 1983. While by some reports, Nino
Gaggi did the hit, Kuklinski smiles at the idea that it might have
been done by him. "He outlived his usefulness," was Kuklinski's
comment. At any rate, the man responsible for well over one hundred
killings was now gone, but not before he'd taught Kuklinski a thing
he killed a number of other people during the 1970s, but the first
one that police linked to him was George W. Malliband, Jr., from
Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, who was in the pornography trade with
Kuklinski. Early in 1980, he left home with Kuklinski to meet with
Roy DeMeo. Malliband owed DeMeo money, and since Kuklinski had
vouched for him, it was now on Kuklinski's head. DeMeo was furious
and it would be in character for him to shoot them both dead on the
Malliband did not realize is that Kuklinski's own anger had been
simmering since Malliband had come to his home the summer before.
Kuklinski never allowed his business to penetrate his family life,
and he'd been furious when Malliband had just walked into his yard
during a family gathering, asking for him. Now that he was in a bind,
Malliband reminded Kuklinski that he knew where his family lived. It
was a veiled threat and that was the last idea Malliband ever had.
Kuklinski pulled over and shot him five times with a .38, right
there in the van.
was faced with a body disposal problem. He decided to put the guy
into a 55-gallon steel drum, but Malliband was six-foot-three and
weighed 300 pounds—almost matching Kuklinski's own enormous frame.
Kuklinski knew it wouldn't be easy, and it wasn't. He stuffed the
corpse into the drum, headfirst, and found that he couldn't quite
make the legs fit in. The answer was to break one. Cutting the
tendons behind the knee, he snapped the leg forward. Then he placed
the top on the barrel, secured it, and rolled it off a cliff in the
Palisades. It hit some sixty feet below.
paid off DeMeo and washed his hands of George Malliband.
February 5, the owner of a Jersey City building at the foot of the
cliff noticed the dented drum. The lid had popped and something was
sticking out, so he went closer. When he saw two bloody human legs,
he ran to get the police. They traced the corpse's identity, and
soon heard from Malliband's brother that he had been seriously
afraid of Kuklinski. They now had a suspect.
It was a
year and a half before a similar murder was performed, and much
longer before the victim was identified, mostly due to an idea
Kuklinski got from a man named Robert Prongay, a.k.a., Mister Softee.
Prongay sold ice cream out of his truck to kids in North Bergen,
even as he was dreaming up unique new ways to kill someone. He was
an army-trained demolitions expert who was highly versed in the art
of destruction. He teamed up with Kuklinski for several deals in the
pornography trade, doing hits for Roy DeMeo when needed. Kuklinski
learned a lot from Mister Softee.
that Prongay was good at was using various types of drugs and
chemicals to take a life, though he preferred cyanide. He taught
Kuklinski how to put cyanide into a spray bottle, which could be
used quickly and easily to take someone out. Once the poison got
into them through the nose, they were gone. He even demonstrated the
technique, and in less than fifteen seconds Kuklinski watched a man
fall down dead in the street. Somehow Prongay managed to get cyanide
quite easily and Kuklinski never learned his source.
also experimented with other things. He wanted to know, for example,
if a body kept frozen could foil the medical examiner's reading for
time of death. If so, then a killer did not have to worry about an
Masgay became the guinea pig. Masgay was to bring a rather large
amount of cash to Kuklinski for a shipment of blank videotapes. He'd
already attempted this exchange several times before, and each time
Kuklinski had stood him up. Masgay didn't realize that this was part
of Kuklinski's MO: get his targets all worked up over some
nonexistent deal, increasing both the anticipation and the price
On July 1,
1981, Masgay left his home in Pennsylvania with around $95,000,
expecting a huge profit. But he never returned. The only sign that
something had happened to him was his abandoned van, found on Route
17 in Bergen County. The secret panel in which he'd kept the cash
had been ripped out and the money was gone.
different stories pieced together, it's apparent that Mister Softee
helped Kuklinski hide the body. One witness later claimed to have
seen it hanging in a large industrial freezer in a warehouse rented
by Kuklinski, but there was some reason to believe that the corpse
had lain for at least part of the time in the freezer in Mr.
Softee's ice cream truck----the one out of which he served ice cream.
No other freezer was found in the garages of either Kuklinski or
Prongay large enough to store a body.
It was two
years before Masgay's body was actually found, just over the Jersey
border in Rockland County, New York. He'd been shot and wrapped in
plastic garbage bags. Oddly, he had on the same clothing he'd worn
the day he vanished, but the medical examiner thought the body
looked fresh. Yet during the autopsy, ice crystals inside the
tissues gave away what had happened.
Kuklinski only waited until the corpse had thoroughly thawed, he'd
have gotten away with his attempt to foil the reading of the
postmortem interval. When Masgay was identified through his
fingerprints, Kuklinski became a chief suspect. The cops started
calling him the Iceman.
didn't stop Kuklinski. He went on to kill a pharmacist, Paul Hoffman,
51, in the spring of 1982. Hoffman had been pestering him endlessly
to get a shipment of Tagamet, a prescription ulcer medication, for a
cut-rate price. Kuklinski had nothing for him but led him to believe
a shipment was in. Hoffman was to bring $25,000. Hoffman put the
cash together and went eagerly to see Kuklinski at his rented garage
in North Bergen, New Jersey. That was the last his family ever saw
eventually admitted to shooting and beating him with a tire iron,
and then cementing the pharmacist into another steel drum. He left
the drum outside a motel next to a hot dog stand in Little Ferry,
New Jersey. Occasionally he'd go have a hot dog and see if the
barrel had been discovered. Eventually, it was just gone. Apparently
someone had moved it and to this day Hoffman's body was never found.
1984, it was Mister Softee's turn to die. He argued over something
with Kuklinski and threatened his family. That was sufficient for
Kuklinski to get rid of him. Robert Prongay was found shot to death
in his Mister Softee truck in his garage in North Bergen…just across
the street from Kuklinski's garage.
Unfortunately for him, he'd also cut off his source of cyanide,
which would prove regretful in the near future.
collected what information they could on Richard Kuklinski, a task
force was formed to try to stop him. At that point they had no idea
that Kuklinski would use almost any weapon---a bomb, a gun, a knife,
strangulation, poison---to accomplish his lethal goals. Once he'd
even decided to try out a crossbow. He opened his car window as if
to ask directions, and when a man approached, he released the arrow.
It went through the man's head, killing him. Kuklinski was happy to
know that it worked. Another time, he just shot a man at a traffic
law enforcement did not realize it, as an enforcer and a free-lance
scam artist, he may have killed over one hundred men, and later he
admitted that loudmouths especially annoyed them. They reminded him
of his father, whom he'd have taken great pleasure in killing.
hard-working expediter," he later said. "I'd do something that
someone wanted done and would pay a price."
disguised himself as a gay man one evening so that he could walk
unnoticed through a disco and inject a target victim with poison.
rate, several agencies joined together to nab Kuklinski: the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the New Jersey Attorney General's
Office, and the New Jersey State Police Organized Crime Task Force.
Special Agent Dominick Polifrone, who had extensive experience
undercover with the mob, was hired to lure Kuklinski into a deal,
specifically to get him either to admit to something on tape or to
actually engage in the initial stages of a premeditated act of
murder. He took on the name Michael Dominick Provenzano, or just "Dom."
over a year and a half to connect with Kuklinski, but he was ready.
As Dom, he promised Kuklinski a big score on cocaine and an arms
deal, and to his surprise, Kuklinski asked if he could score any
cyanide. That indicated that he was certainly up to something but
had no other supplier. He and Dom called each other from pay phones,
using pagers to initiate contact, and met from time to time at the
Vince Lombardi truck stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
everyone's surprise, Kuklinski revealed quite a bit to this man he
barely knew, which meant that either he was not as careful as his
reputation indicated or he was planning to kill the federal agent.
He bragged about his cyanide methods and even talked about the man
he'd frozen. He didn't name names but the details he gave out
matched those of the victims attributed to him. "You spray it on
someone's face," he said about the cyanide, "and they go to sleep."
confessions, captured on tape, were a gold mine. They also made it
clear that he needed cyanide as soon as he could get it to take care
of another "problem"—which indicated that he was planning another
Dom asked Kuklinski for help killing a "rich Jewish kid" who would
bring a lot of cash for several packages of cocaine. The plan was to
poison his egg sandwich with the "cyanide" (in actuality, it was
quinine) that Dom brought, and they would split the money.
arrived---December 17, 1986---and Kuklinski claimed he had a van all
prepared for the hit. He took the sandwiches that Dom had bought and
said that he'd be back. However, he did not return and another
officer soon spotted him back at his house. The task force believed
that Dom's life was now in danger, so they moved quickly to make an
Kuklinski's wife, Barbara, was ill that morning, so he urged her to
get into the car with him so he could take her to get checked out.
In many ways, that proved to be a lucky break for the Feds because
she became a point of leverage.
Kuklinski had beaten her up and threatened her life on several
occasions, his family was sacred to him. Even the idea that the
police had Barbara in custody and intended to charge her with
possession of a gun (because a handgun was found in the car), he was
enraged. He demanded they let her go and insisted that she knew
nothing of his deals. Yet he'd have to give them something in return,
which he ended up doing after his trial.
Kuklinski had actually applied the quinine to the sandwiches, it
would be easy to use that to show at trial his intent to commit
murder. He was charged with the five murder charges, and for these
he faced two separate trials.
25, 1988, Kuklinski's trial for the murders of Daniel Deppner and
Gary Smith began. The prosecution team, Bob Carroll and Charles
Waldon, said they would seek the death penalty. Yet the case was
circumstantial, since no witnesses came forward to say that they'd
actually seen Kuklinski commit a murder. However, they did have a
few aces up their sleeves.
Patterson, a man who had almost married one of the Iceman's
daughters, admitted that he'd once unknowingly helped Kuklinski
transport a corpse to a place near where they all went horseback
riding on occasion. The man had been killed in his apartment one
weekend early in 1983 while he was away. The likely victim was
Daniel Deppner. (With this information, detectives searched beneath
the cleaned carpet for blood and found it.)
witness also said that he'd seen Tupperware containers in the
apartment after that weekend that were consistent with those he'd
seen in Kuklinski's home, which could mean that Kuklinski had
brought food there, and that Kuklinski himself had scrubbed away the
blood on the carpet.
prosecution also called Barbara Deppner to the stand to tell what
she knew. She was clearly afraid of the defendant. She knew about
the two victims being hidden in hotels, and she recalled her ex-husband
telling her that Kuklinski intended to kill Smith. Danny also
described the events afterward. Her live-in companion and the former
foreman of the car-theft ring, Percy House, testified that Kuklinski
had admitted to both murders.
Attorney, Neal M. Frank, tried to discredit this witness, but
Kuklinski used his finger to point an imaginary gun at the man, and
that's all the jury needed to give the witness credibility.
Polifrone took the stand and described his many encounters with
Kuklinski. Parts of the tapes were played for the jury, particularly
the description of how to use cyanide in food. There was also a part
in which he talked about how long it took one of his victims to die,
and how he needed more to take care of a couple of "rats."
claimed that Kuklinski's statements to Polifrone were just
braggadocio. He'd been trying to impress the guy. They also pointed
out that an autopsy had shown no indication of cyanide in the two
allegedly poisoned victims.
the prosecutor hired New York medical examiner Michael Baden, who
explained that cyanide degrades in a body into the natural elements
of carbon and nitrogen. After a few days, there's no detectable
trace of it, not even the odor. However, the fact that it was used
shows up in the lividity---pinkish spots on the skin that indicate
oxygen starvation. This was consistent with photos of both corpses.
the testimony of pathologist Geetha Natarajan, who indicated the
ligature marks consistent with strangulation, the jury was convinced.
It took them four hours to decide. On May 25, 1998, they found
Richard Kuklinski guilty.
he did not get the death penalty, due to the absence of eyewitness
testimony that could definitively put the murders directly in his
bargaining tool for the sentencing and to save the expense of a
second trial for the murders of Masgay, Hoffman, and Malliband, the
DA said that they would drop charges against Barbara Kuklinski and
one of their children (a drug charge) if Kuklinski confessed. He did
so in the cases of Malliband and Masgay, and then agreed to show
them where he'd last seen Hoffman, but while he indicated where he
placed the drum containing the body, he couldn't take it any further.
He claimed he had no idea who had removed it.
got two life sentences, each of which required that he serve a
minimum of thirty years. The same for Malliband and Masgay. That
meant that Kuklinski would be 111 years old before he could be
considered for parole.
taken to Trenton State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, the same place
where his brother is serving a life sentence for murder.
Kuklinski, a prison sentence was much worse than death, but he
continued to keep his notoriety alive, which gave him some
The Devil Himself
HBO's America Undercover decided to do a documentary on the
Iceman. They went to the prison and filmed him as he discussed the
kinds of murders he would do. He told the story dispassionately and
without apology. The only time he broke was when the subject of his
family was raised. He admitted he had a weakness. He had loved his
wife and three children.
dislikes is having his routine ordered for him, where others tell
him what to do and he has to comply. He makes no friends in prison,
and wants none. According to Anthony Bruno's book, family killer
John List had once approached him, but Kuklinski had nothing but
contempt for someone who would harm his own family.
cooperated with Bruno for the book, The Iceman, and in 2001,
HBO brought out yet a second documentary about him, The Iceman
Tapes: Conversations With a Killer. In this he discussed a few
more crimes, including a 1980 hit on a crooked cop in Saddle River,
New Jersey, and a special Christmas Eve surprise for Bruno Lattini,
who owed him $1600.
about how this debt had gotten under his skin, so he just left home
that evening after everyone was in bed, went into Manhattan, and
found Lattini in his snow-covered car. The man claimed he didn't
have the money, so Kuklinski shot him right there in the car. The
blast blinded him and it was so loud that he couldn't hear anything
else for a few minutes. However, he found a wad of rolled-up bills
in the dead man's pocket. The next day the newspapers indicated that
it was a mob hit.
does a man who kills his cohorts, traps business partners in fatal
deals, and murders strangers merely to experiment manage to have a
real family life? How is it possible to have no feelings in one area
and such strong ones in another?
himself has offered an explanation. He grew up hating his father for
the inexplicable abuse and humiliation he suffered at the man's
hands. To endure being beaten, he distanced himself and thought
about other things. He points to his violent brother as proof that
such an upbringing warps children.
says about his emotional distancing is consistent with the stories
told by people who develop dissociative identity disorder, in which
they have more than a single personality existing in the same body.
Each personality type can manage some specific life arena and the
dissociation typically occurs under stress, as it did during the
Kuklinski does not exhibit multiple personalities, his wife did see
him as a man with two distinct sides: the Good Richard and the Bad
Richard. These were defined by his moods and behavior. If he were in
a good mood, he could be loving, generous and protective. However,
the black mood meant such things as beating her up, threatening her,
chasing her in a car, and even beating up on himself when he
couldn't get to her. There was no way to predict when the Bad
Richard would emerge, and no way to know what he might do.
may mean is that Kuklinski had learned to compartmentalize: In other
words, he could turn his feelings on and off when it suited him, and
he could completely separate certain of his behaviors from others.
The killings were business. His home life was another matter
many people can do this but not many take it to such a pathological
extreme. Kuklinski clearly had stored up enough anger from childhood
to act out against others, but as an adult he was also able to
replace the home life that he'd had with something different. Even
so, there were still times when he unwittingly recreated his father,
and that makes for a man with some serious inner turmoil. His cool
façade doesn't hide the truth that he's not as controlled as he may
want to believe. Killing outside the family may have kept him
functional within the family.
an analysis from a distance. Let's see what the author who actually
spoke to him has to say about the experience.
writer Anthony Bruno, who writes both fiction and nonfiction, says
that writing The Iceman changed his life. It was the first
time that a "character" wanted to know how he was being portrayed.
Bruno had to be careful about what he said.
invited to write the book as a spin-off to the original HBO
documentary from America Undercover, The Iceman Confesses. He
spent two years working on it, using interviews with both Kuklinski
and his wife, letters from Kuklinski, a psychological report, and a
thorough review of the public records on the Kuklinski investigation,
arrest and trial. He agreed to talk about his experience:
wouldn't talk to me for the longest time as the book was being
written," Bruno says about Kuklinski. "I wrote to ask if he'd speak
to me and at first he ignored me. In fact, I was finished with the
first draft of the book before he finally talked with me. He talked
with the HBO people, but not to me.
first saw him on film, I was mesmerized. His manner is so
deceivingly welcoming…not glad-handing, but he's got such a way
about him that I could see how he could con so many people into
believing that he would get them whatever goods he was selling at
the time. It was always a scam; there never were any goods. He'd end
up killing the person for the money. He's a natural actor. There's
something very winning about his personality. That's what struck me
most about him. His external attributes are so in contrast to his
manner, and yet there's an overtly scary side to him.
the constant warnings I heard before I went to visit him at the
prison was to look out for 'the shark look.' That's when the eyes
roll back and his face freezes for a split second. In a five-hour
interview, I saw it twice. At one point, I brought up the subject of
one of his daughters, and that set it off. The other instance was a
reference to a newspaper clipping that he'd sent me, with a post-it
note. He'd put random thoughts in these notes, like a gun caliber or
a place. Never a name or date. So he'd written down a couple of
restaurants, a room number, and a pastry shop. I wanted to know what
it meant, so I read them off and when I got to the pastry shop, I
got the look again. What I did was just back off and go to another
topic. It's quick but it sets you back on your heels.
first visited him, I interviewed him for five hours, and the first
half was terrible. I had the tape recorder running and I could see
that he was paying more attention to the tape than to me. His
answers were clipped and unresponsive. After about two hours, I said,
'We're not really getting anywhere, so I'm just going to pack up and
go.' As soon as the tape recorder was back in my briefcase, he
started talking. I pulled out a yellow pad and started scribbling
notes, and I think he liked the control. The more he talked, the
more I scribbled, and that's when he started telling me lots of
profiler thought that Kuklinski was obviously a serial killer, but I
disagree. He had no psychosexual motivation. It was all motivated by
profit. He might kill three times in a month and then lay low for a
few years. Serial killers usually go through escalation, where they
feel compelled to kill more frequently. They become more excited and
disorganized. Ted Bundy is a good example of that.
to call Kuklinski a mass murderer might be more accurate, but being
profit-motivated was the key. Most of his murders were scams to make
money, but he was also associated with Roy DeMeo, a capo on
the Gambino crime family, and in the second interview that he did
with HBO he admitted to mob hits.
on his connection with Prongay ["Mister Softee"] is that Prongay was
the brains. He was the mad scientist who came up with all the ideas,
like freezing bodies and using cyanide as a spray. Not that
Kuklinski is stupid by any means. But I think he lost his source for
inventive methods when he killed Prongay. It was hard getting
information about Prongay because there were open murders associated
with him. Kuklinski admitted to killing him.
great quote to me was 'I'm not the Iceman, I'm the Nice Man'---when
he wanted you to think he was a good family man from Bergen County.
But by the same token, if you listen to him long enough, he'll tell
you fantastic things to pump up his other image of himself. He once
sent me a long letter about being part of the team that had abducted
and killed Jimmy Hoffa. When I checked into the details of the
letter, he was all wrong.
possibility that they'd hidden a body in the freezer in the Mister
Softee truck, the other police theory was that there was a drainage
compartment in the floor of the garage where the truck was stored
which was very cool, so they were able to keep him in a partially
frozen state in that drain. When I asked Kuklinski about whether it
could have been in the ice cream truck, he gave me this
acknowledging smile. I'm hesitant to say that he admitted to it, but
he gave me that impression.
being so open with Dominick Polifrone, the undercover cop who went
after him, apparently Kuklinski did this with others that he knew he
was going to kill. He would bring them into his confidence and tell
them far too much, always in the back of his mind thinking, 'It
doesn't matter, because I'm going to kill him. He's dead.' The
insidious thing is that he layered all these scams. He told you he
could get you something and string you out, and he'd have you call
me as his next target, to get you to vouch for him. And everyone
always said good things about him because they wanted what he was
promising, so it seemed like he was on the up-and-up. Then the
fateful day would come when he'd kill you. He'd collect his profits
and sit back for a while.
"I did go
to most of the crime scenes. I went to see the motel room where Gary
Smith had been left under the mattress. Room 31. It was pretty
creepy to imagine that three people had rented that room from the
time of the murder to the time when the body was discovered.
with Barbara Kuklinski often. She'd call me every week or so when I
was writing the book. She talked pretty extensively about the abuse
she lived with. I never talked with Kuklinski about this directly,
because it was her story. I wanted to keep it pure. She did say, 'Look
at this nose. Has this nose been broken more than once?' She was
right. And she'd lost a child; thanks to a beating he'd given her.
that upsets people most is that Richard Kuklinski has a human side.
People didn't want to like him. They didn't want to know about his
childhood or his tears over his family. People want their monsters
black and white.
I still hear from him. His is the first Christmas card I get every
polite in his letters, and a pretty good artist. Imagine the most
gruesome tattoos that you can…that's the kind of art he does. Skulls
with confederate caps on, creatures from hell, things like that.
Kuechenmeister [the presiding judge at Kuklinski's trial] told me
that 95% of the time when he lays down a sentence, he sees relief on
the convicted person's face, because these people lead disorganized
lives and now they know that they're going to be fed, clothed and
housed somewhere. Their lives will now have regularity. But that 5%
that we might call 'master criminals'---the people who could
organize their lives and who are successful as criminals---they're
totally blown apart when the control is taken away from them. It's
devastating for them.
prison is the most appropriate punishment for him, as opposed to the
death penalty. He told me that when he was arrested and they were
bringing him back to the courthouse in Bergen County, there were two
cops with him. He was in shackles, and he said to one of them, 'Take
off the cuffs. Take off the shackles. Let me run and shoot me in the
back. Let's get it over with.' For someone as organized as he is,
living this life now must be hell for him.
other side of that coin is that he's never admitted to a murder that
took place after the death penalty was reinstated in New Jersey. He
was careful about that. Here's the dichotomy again: He was willing
to be killed on the spot yet he doesn't want to face the death
concerned at times writing the book, and the cops warned me there
might be people on the street who were connected to him, but I was
Kuklinski's chronicler. I was the one who put him between the covers
of a hardcover book. He liked the notoriety. He wanted the book to
happen. He wanted people to know about him.
"I have no
doubt that he still holds information about unsolved murders, and
he's clever enough to dole it out slowly, to keep his story alive."
book, The Iceman, was published in 1993. His latest
nonfiction crime book, The Seekers, is about a bounty hunter
who relies as much on his spirituality as his physical skills to
bring 'em back alive.
Michael., with Judith Adler Hennessee. Unnatural Death:
Confessions of a Medical Examiner. New York: Ivy Books,
Anthony. The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer.
New York: Delacorte, 1993.
Colin. The Casebook of Forensic Detection, New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Gaudiano, Nicole. "HBO to Feature Lawman who Stopped Mafia
Killer," The Record, cgi.bergen.com.
Mustain, Gene, and Jerry Capeci. Murder Machine: A True Story
of Murder, Madness, and the Mafia}. Onyx Books, 1993.
Iceman," HBO America Undercover, 1992.
Iceman Confesses," HBO America Undercover, 2001.
Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia.