Richard Kuklinski, also known as ?The Polack? and ?The Iceman?, was a mafia hitman for all six major East Coast crime families throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He carried out hits for the Gambinos, DeCavalcantes, Luccheses, Genoveses, Colombos, and the Bonannos. Throughout his career he would rack up almost 200 murders, including every friend he ever had ? except the one that would eventually turn him in. Kuklinski was caught by an undercover cop and sent to prison in 1988, ending nearly three decades of murder and mayhem.
The true horrors came to light after he was caught, through prison interviews with the killer, his family, and fellow mafia colleagues.
Here?s 10 absolutely brutal facts about the life and times of Richard Kuklinski: The Iceman.
- His elder brother was murdered as a child ? by his own father.
Kuklinski was born in 1935 to a world of poverty and abuse. Richard?s father Stanley beat his wife, Anna, and their children mercilessly. When Richard was five, he witnessed his father beat his eight-year-old brother to death. Stanley had a penchant for punching the little boy in the back of the head whenever he was drunk or in a particularly bad mood. His parents covered it up to authorities by saying Florian had fallen down a flight of stairs.
This would be one of Richard?s first and worst memories of his father. He also had zero fondness for his mother, a broken woman who would also dole out beatings. He would later refer to her simply as ?cancer?.
2. He committed his first murder at the age of 13.
Growing up, Richard was bullied not only in his home but at school and in the streets, as well. This culminated in him beating his childhood bully to death. While he had set out with the intention of getting the kid off his back, Richard found he just couldn?t stop hitting him. By the time he did, Charley Lane wasn?t moving anymore. He then pulled out all his teeth and cut off the fingertips so the body couldn?t be identified. Richard was only 13 years old and had gotten these ideas from reading true crime magazines.
Although he admitted he hadn?t intended to kill the bully, he ultimately went after every other kid in Lane?s gang and developed a reputation as someone not to mess with.
This was the first time Richard had felt any semblance of power in his life. Three years later, when he was 16, he would commit his first premeditated murder, that of a cop named Officer Doyle who made fun of him during a pool game. Kuklinski did this by setting the man on fire and watching him burn alive.
3. He murdered homeless men for sport.
As a young man, he often walked around the Upper East Side of Manhattan, provoking fights with people on the street. This killer hobby began when a homeless man accosted him for money and wouldn?t take no as an answer. Richard stabbed him and left him lying in the gutter. He said he enjoyed walking past the dead body on his way back home afterward, as it made him feel a sense of accomplishment.
This effectively made him a bonafide serial killer before he ever became a contract killer. Richard placed the number of random men he?d killed during this time at around 50. His total victim count would later reach 200.
4. His younger brother was a convicted child rapist and murderer.
When Kuklinski?s younger brother Joey was 25, he lured a 12-year-old girl to a rooftop where he raped her, then threw her and her dog over the side of a five story building. The cops were alerted by the dog?s cries. When Joey was arrested, he confessed to the murder immediately. He was sent to Trenton State Prison for 33 years.
Upon hearing this, Richard said his brother was disgusting but he wasn?t surprised, as they came from the same father. They would later share a cell block when Richard was sent to prison over 20 years later, though there was no brotherly love between them.
5. Barbara Kuklinski was the only victim he left alive.
Although she was his wife, she was the most unlucky person in Richard?s life. When she didn?t want to date him anymore, he literally stabbed her in the back. Then she got pregnant, and to protect her honor, her family insisted she marry Kuklinski. They even paid for him to divorce his first wife, Linda, with whom he also brutalized and was estranged. That first family he left behind, including two children, would be the lucky ones.
Once married, he beat Barbara so often and so badly that she had three miscarriages before their first child was born ? and one of those beatings resulted in a partial birth. When they took her to the hospital, the baby?s leg had breached. She was 5 months pregnant, with what would have been a baby boy.
Barbara was, understandably, inconsolable. But this would be her life up until Richard was arrested in 1988. She knew he was a monster, but claimed to have no idea about his secret life as a mafia hitman.
6. He often told his kids that if he ever accidentally beat his wife to death, he?d have to kill them too.
Richard and Barbara eventually had three kids. While they lived an upper-middle class life and spent many vacations at DisneyWorld, which was purportedly Richard?s happy place, Kuklinski was anything but a model father.
While he went to great lengths not to beat his children, (sometimes punching himself in the face until he passed out) the emotional abuse inflicted upon them was rampant. Only Merrick, his favourite daughter, said she loved him until the day he died. She was the only one he claimed to have loved back, and had told her the story of his own abusive childhood. Growing up, the kids had go-bags packed so they could flee in case Richard killed their mother.
Merrick was particularly offended by the portrayal of her father in the 2012 movie The Iceman starring Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder. She later told Ryder, who played Barbara, ?If the character you played had been my mother, my life would have been very different.? The film depicted Richard as a loving family man.
7. He once shot a random motorist with a crossbow just to see how it worked.
The brevity of this story is part of what makes it so horrible.
One day while fiddling with a new weapon on the side of the road, Kuklinski politely called over a stranger and then shot him in the eye with it. When asked why, he said it was just to see if the crossbow worked. It did. This incident is a great example of why his childhood buddies gave him the nickname ?The Iceman?, because he was so cold-hearted.
A similar event occurred when Richard was asked to prove he could kill by a fellow mobster, Roy DeMeo. Richard calmly walked up to a man who was out walking his dog, and shot the pedestrian in the head. Without any change of expression, he crossed the street back to DeMeo, who offered him a job.
Richard also later claimed to have killed DeMeo, though the evidence suggested otherwise. Kuklinski?s stories were often peppered with big names, including Jimmy Hoffa (another claim that was quickly debunked).
8. He got creative with killing.
His favourite methods of execution were cyanide poisoning and feeding people alive to his warehouse full of rats. With poisoning, he?d slip it into people?s sandwiches, or just inject them with a syringe. The cause of death was usually just chalked up to heart failure. He also practiced a move he called ?The Tree?, wherein he would tie a rope around someone?s neck then throw them over his shoulder, effectively hanging them until dead. Kuklinski was an enormous man, at 6’5″ and 270 lbs.
Richard also loved cartoons, and claimed he would actively take notes on creative ways to die while watching Looney Tunes and Casper reels. He also worked as a cartoon bootlegger on the side.
9. He died in prison, likely the target of a contract killing, himself.
Richard died of a rare illness called Kawasaki disease that usually only affects Japanese children. It also just so happens to mirror the symptoms of mercury poisoning. Keep in mind, this was after he?d done several interviews sharing mafia secrets. It?s widely believed that he was poisoned. Richard was due to testify against another mobster, Sammy ?The Bull? Gravano, and prior to his death, told his family that he thought he was being poisoned.
Charges were brought against Gravano for the hit, but were dropped due to lack of evidence.
10. His wife declined to resuscitate him.
The Kawaksaki disease ultimately led to Richard going into cardiac arrest. Barbara signed a ?do not resuscitate? order, and a week before he died, the hospital asked if she?d like to rescind the order. She said no.
Although Kuklinski said he wanted to be revived in the case of a cardiac arrest, Barbara had the official right as next of kin not to resuscitate, and she used it. The Iceman died in 2006, leaving a broken family that was glad to be rid of him. Barbara had endured her husband?s temper for 27 years before he was finally arrested, and she and her children never looked back.
Parks, Marcus. ?Richard Kuklinski Part I: Origins of the Iceman?. Last Podcast On The Left. Podcast audio, September 7, 2017. https://www.lastpodcastontheleft.com/episodes/2018/8/5/episode-326-richard-kuklinski-part-i-origins-of-the-iceman.
Carlo, Philip. The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2013.
Kuklinski, Richard. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer. DVD. Directed by Arthur Ginsburg. New Jersey: HBO, 1992. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmY3qhlCshY&t=364s&bpctr=1582817515.