By now you know what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary. I got no rise as such out of it... for the most part. But the figuring it out, the challenge -- the stalking and doing it right, successfully -- that excited me a lot. The greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it.
Kuklinski

Richard Leonard Kuklinski, a.k.a. "The Iceman", was a serial killer (possibly prolific), hitman, poisoner, and gangster.

Background

Kuklinski was born in a housing project in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 11, 1935. His father, Stanley Kuklinski, was an abusive alcoholic who beat everyone in the family. His mother, Anna, was also abusive, beating their children with broomsticks. He had two brothers, one older and one younger. The oldest, Florian, was beaten to death in 1940 by Stanley, who made the rest of the family cover it up as an accident and say he had fallen down the stairs. The younger, Joseph, was convicted of raping and killing a 12-year-old girl as an adult and died in 2003 after spending almost 30 years in prison. At the age of 10, Richard started torturing animals and would fantasize about killing his father. He was known to tie cats together by their tails, throw them over clothing lines and watch them tear each other apart. At the age of 14, he committed his first known murder, beating Charley Chase, the leader of a teenage gang, to death, throwing him off of a bridge and removing his teeth and fingertips to prevent identification. He then attacked the six other gang members, almost killing all of them. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade. In 1960, he met a woman named Barbara Pedrici. They later married and had three children, two daughters and a son, together. They weren't informed of his criminal activities until after he was caught, but were instead led to believe that he was a businessman.

Becoming a Hitman, Arrest, Incarceration, and Death

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction in Richard Kuklinski's criminal career. After his incarceration he often spoke about his crimes, sometimes truthfully, sometimes less so. He was a lifelong criminal who had few legitimate jobs in his life, but earned enough money from his activities to give his family a comfortable lifestyle. He undoubtedly killed people (the exact number is unknown). It is known that he also dealt in pirated pornography, carried out robberies and ran a burglary gang.

Some of his claims - that he killed former Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa and that he gunned down two New York Mafia bosses - were obviously untrue. He bragged of killing up to 250 men, although the details of most of these murders are sketchy. He claimed to have been the favorite hitman of notorious Mafia murderer Roy DeMeo, and that he later killed DeMeo himself. However, several of the DeMeo crew later became FBI informants, and none of them mentioned Kuklinski. Jerry Capeci, author of Murder Machine, and former Colombo capo Michael Franzese have also disputed Kuklinski's involvement with DeMeo.

Of Kuklinski's known murder victims, two (Gary Smith and Daniel Deppner) had been members of his burglary gang, whom he killed to protect himself when law enforcement began to close in on them. Both men were poisoned with cyanide and then strangled. Three other victims (Paul Hoffman, Louis Masgay, George Malliband) were relatively small-time drug and porn dealers whom he had lured to phoney business meetings on the pretext of concluding a lucrative deal, only for him to kill them instead. All three were carrying large sums of money at the time. Kuklinski subsequently stored the body of one of these men in an industrial freezer for over two years, hoping to mask the time of death. This led to him being nicknamed "The Iceman".  

Law enforcement eventually noticed that Kuklinski was the last person known to have seen each of the above five men alive and thus set up an undercover sting operation involving ATF Special Agent Dominick Polifrone. On December 17, 1986, Kuklinski was arrested after buying (fake) cyanide from Polifrone, which was to be used on a hit on a "rich Jewish kid" that Polifrone had hired Kuklinski to carry out. Polifrone also recorded Kuklinski discussing murders he had committed. He was charged with murder, attempted murder, firearm violations, robbery and attempted robbery and was indicted for five murders to which he had been tied.

In March 1988, Kuklinski was found guilty of murdering Daniel Deppner and Gary Smith. However, the jury found that the murders were not proven to be by his own conduct, so he escaped the death penalty. He subsequently pleaded guilty to murdering Louis Masgay and George Malliband as part of a plea deal in which some lesser charges against his wife and son were dropped. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and served them in the Trenton State Prison, where his brother was already serving his own life sentence. He spent the remainder of his life there and was interviewed on multiple occasions, twice for HBO documentaries. In 2003, he confessed to killing an NYPD detective, Peter Calabro, in 1980.

On March 5, 2006, Kuklinski died from Kawasaki disease, aged 70, in a secure wing of the St. Francis Medical Center. At the time, he was scheduled to testify that he had been hired for the Calabro murder by a Gambino family underboss, Sammy Gravano, so there were some suspicions that he may have been murdered, but an autopsy concluded that he died of natural causes. The charges against Gravano, who at the time was serving a long sentence on a drug trafficking charge, were ultimately dropped since there wasn't enough evidence against him without Kuklinski's testimony.

Modus Operandi

While Kuklinski is reputed to have killed his victims in a variety of ways, including shooting, bludgeoning, stabbing, dismemberment, using hand grenades, chainsaws, fire and even a bomb attached to a remote controlled toy car, he claimed that his favorite weapon was cyanide because it was difficult to detect during an autopsy and could easily be administered. He stated that he liked injecting it into the victims' hamburgers while they were in the bathroom and that he carried a nasal spray bottle filled with a cyanide solution and killed some victims by spraying it into their faces. He also claimed to have brutally tortured many victims before killing them and to have made some victims bleed non-fatally before tying them up and leaving them in rat-infested areas to be eaten alive. Additionally, he would freeze the bodies of some victims in an industrial-sized freezer to make it more difficult to establish the time of death, hence his nickname, "the Iceman". He also claimed to have disposed of some victims by putting them in cars to be crushed by compactors or by putting them in barrels and to have left the bodies of some seated on park benches.

Known Victims

Kuklinski was convicted of five murders and was considered the chief suspect in two others.

  • Unspecified date in 1949:
    • Charley Chase (bludgeoned with a clothes-hanging rod)
    • Six unnamed gang members (all assaulted with a metal pole)
  • 1980:
    • January 31: George Malliband, 42 (shot repeatedly)
    • March 14: Peter Calabro, 36 (shot with a shotgun)
  • July 1981: Louis Masgay, 50 (shot in the head; body kept in a freezer for two years; found in September 1983)
  • 1982:
    • April 29: Paul Hoffman, 51 (shot, then fatally bludgeoned with a tire iron; body was never found)
    • December 27 (found): Gary Smith, 42 (poisoned with cyanide, then fatally strangled with a cord by Daniel Deppner)
  • May 14, 1983 (found): Daniel Deppner, 46 (killed by unknown causes; possibly poisoned and strangled)
  • August 10, 1984 (found): Robert Pronge (shot)
  • Note: Kuklinski claimed his first victim was a neighborhood bully named Charley whom he accidentally bludgeoned to death with a clothing rod. Additionally, Kuklinski also claimed to have killed up to 250 people. Most of these murders have not been verified. He was also known for taking the credit for famous Mafia killings that almost certainly had nothing to do with him, including Jimmy Hoffa, Roy DeMeo, Paul Castellano and Carmine Galante.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season One
    • "Natural Born Killer" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this, Kuklinski appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Vincent Perotta - Both were prolific (possibly in Kuklinski's case) serial killers, hitmen, and gangsters who came from abusive backgrounds, admitted that they didn't like the idea of killing women, and fantasized about killing their fathers (Perotta actually went ahead with it). Also, Perotta's way of leaving one of his victims to be eaten alive by rats is very similar to the way Kuklinski claimed to killed some of his victims.
  • Season Thirteen
    • "Blue Angel" - Kuklinski was mentioned by Reid about being a born serial killer and mafia hitman.

Sources

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