Who Was Richard Kuklinski?
Born in 1935 in New Jersey, Richard Kuklinski suffered a rough upbringing and committed his first murder as a teenager. He eventually found a living as a hitman for the Genovese, Gambino and DeCavalcante crime families, becoming known as "The Iceman" for his method of freezing victims to obscure their time of death. Following his incarceration in 1988, Kuklinski freely shared his experiences with interviewers and was featured in multiple HBO documentaries. He died in prison in 2006, at age 70.
Beatings to Murders
Richard Leonard Kuklinski was born on April 11, 1935, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the second of four children of Irish and Polish immigrants. His mother, Anna McNally, was a devout Catholic, and his father, Stanley, who worked on the railroad, was a violent alcoholic who beat him regularly; another son, Florian, reportedly died from such brutal punishment.
Kuklinski said that he began killing cats as a child and graduated to his first murder as a teenager, beating to death a local bully and then disposing of the body by removing identifying markers. He later told a prison interviewer that this experience made him feel "empowered."
Kuklinski, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, soon showed little hesitation for killing anyone who angered him, from loudmouths who reminded him of his father to adversaries at the pool table, and sometimes did so for seemingly no reason at all. The west side of New York City became a testing ground for honing his "talents"; the police thought that bums were killing each other.
While working on a New Jersey loading dock, Kuklinski met his future wife, Barbara, a recent high school graduate who was employed as a secretary. She discovered that he was already married with two boys, but he was romantic and persistent. When she eventually expressed doubts about marriage, he pierced her back with a hunting knife and told her that he couldn't live without her, she later said.
They married in 1961, had three children together and enjoyed a seemingly nondescript life in suburban New Jersey, where Kuklinski held backyard barbecues, served as an usher at Mass and organized trips to Disney World. Meanwhile, his temper flared behind the scenes, with Barbara often enduring the brunt of his wrath.
'The Iceman' Finds His Niche
Kuklinski's criminal activities included robbery, hijackings and selling pornographic films, but murder was his forte. He earned Mafia respect at age 18 by efficiently and unquestioningly killing a random man selected for him on the sidewalk. He soon became the Genovese crime family's indispensible hitman, known for thoroughly disposing of his victims—removing their teeth and fingers, or dumping them off bridges, in rivers or down mine shafts. He also worked for Newark's DeCavalcante crime family and the Gambinos of New York City.
At a towering 6'5", weighing an eventual 300 pounds, Kuklinski had an imposing and fearsome bearing. His resume for killing included guns, ice picks, hand grenades, crossbows and chainsaws, but his favorite method of murder, he'd later proudly confess, was a nasal-spray bottle filled with cyanide. Kuklinski learned many of these tactics from fellow hitman Robert Pronge, known as "Mister Softee" because he drove an ice cream truck as his cover. Kuklinski earned the moniker "The Iceman" for freezing many of his victims to obfuscate their time of death.
Following an undercover investigation, Richard Kuklinski was arrested in December 1986 on multiple charges of murder, robbery and illegal-weapons violations. He was sentenced to two life terms in 1988, with another 30 years tacked on after his later confession to another killing.
From behind bars, Kuklinski relished the opportunity to brag about his criminal activities. He granted interviews with writers, psychiatrists and criminologists, offering differing accounts on how many people he killed, the tally ranging from at least 100 to more than 200. He also first denied and later claimed credit for the disappearance and death of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, his confessions becoming the subject of multiple books and three HBO documentaries.
Kuklinski died at St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, on March 5, 2006. He had been suffering from a rare inflammation of the blood vessels, and told family members that he had been poisoned.
In 2012, Kuklinski's chilling story hit theaters with The Iceman, starring Michael Shannon as the notorious Mafia hitman and Winona Ryder as wife Barbara.
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