The Mafia Files: Episode 5 The Iceman

The Iceman: this name has struck fear in the hearts of many. Once you became his target, you could already consider yourself dead. Here’s what you need to know about Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski.

April 11th, 1935: Richard Leonard Kuklinski is born in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father was a Polish immigrant who worked as a brakeman on the railroad & his mother—whose parents were Catholic Irish immigrants—worked in a meat-packing plant.

Richard was often beaten by both his parents. His dad was a violent alcoholic while his mom believed in stern discipline & tried raising her son a devout Catholic. He even became an altar boy at the age of 12.

Despite his mom’s efforts, Richard’s youth was troublesome to say the least. His father beat his five-year-old brother to death & his brother Joseph was just as cruel as Richard & ended up getting a life sentence for the rape & murder of a 12-year-old girl, after which he tossed her & her dog’s bodies from the roof of a building.

Richard first showed signs of violence by his unbelievable cruelty to animals. He’d tie the tails of cats together then throw them over a clothesline to watch them tear each other apart. He also put cats into the apartment building’s incinerator to watch them burn alive. His cruelty would soon turn to humans, getting his first kill at the early age of 13 when he bludgeoned to death the leader of a small gang of teenagers that were bullying & beating him.

Richard took care of his first body in experienced serial killer fashion. He chopped off the boy’s fingertips & removed his teeth before dumping the body off a bridge in New Jersey. This was a success too, as the body of Charley Lane was never found.

After his first taste of blood, Richard grew a liking to the taste. He followed up the murder of Charley Lane by going after the other teenage gang members as well & nearly beating them all to death with a metal pole. He said in HBO’s documentary “Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Hit Man” that it was the day he killed Charley Lane that he learned it was “better to give than to receive”. To go on & “give” he would, racking up a kill-count of approximately 200 murders for the Mafia.

Teenage Kuklinski stared committing all the typical, relatively small crimes that many mobsters & their associates start out doing: stealing cars, drugs, & guns then trading in the stolen goods. He also worked in a film lab where he pirated pornographic films. While running his operation, Kuklinski got into debt with Roy DeMeo, a soldier for the Genovese crime family, later to be renamed the Gambino family. The debt got so out of hand that Kuklinski was beaten up by DeMeo and some of his crew members. But the way Kuklinski took the beating left an impression on DeMeo. Shortly after the beating & after having repaid his debt, Kuklinski started working for DeMeo, the Genovese family’s most feared hitman.

DeMeo saw potential in Kuklinski. He first earned himself a reputation as being ferocious, cruel, heartless, & thus dependable in the eyes of the Mafia when one day, DeMeo took Kuklinski out in his car & parked it on a city street. DeMeo then selected a target & told Kuklinski to kill him. The apparently random target was a man taking his dog out for a walk. Kuklinski never hesitated. He got out of the car, walked up to the man, & shot him in the back of the head. From that day on, Kuklinski became DeMeo’s favorite enforcer.

Mid-1950s New York saw a massive increase in deaths among the homeless. Police were convinced it was due to them attacking & killing one another over small arguments, all the while never suspecting that a serial killer was using West Manhattan as his training grounds. Kuklinski was always looking for ways to not only quench his thirst for blood, but also to perfect his methods. He did so by diminishing Manhattan’s homeless population.

He was later quoted, saying, “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 at all…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.”–Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski

Roy DeMeo himself was a psychopath, but as it turns out, Kuklinski was even worse. DeMeo helped Kuklinski perfect his skills even more & soon Kuklinski became so good at killing people & getting rid of the bodies that his teacher commissioned him to do “work” for the family.

Over the next 30 years Kuklinski killed an estimated 200 people, charging $50,000 per hit and telling everyone around him that he was a businessman. One of the main reasons he was able to rack up such a high death count was that he used an immensely wide variety of murder weapons: knives, explosives, tire irons, fire, poison, asphyxiation, & even bare-handed beatings, which he said was “just for the exercise”. But above all, he favored the use of cyanide since it killed quickly & was difficult to detect in toxicology tests. He would variously administer it by either injection, poisoning someone’s food, aerosol spray, or simply by spilling it on the victim’s skin.

Not only did he act the part, but he looked the part as well. At 6′ 5″ tall, 300 pounds, & covered in tattoos, Kuklinski was a feared man by many. Nobody wanted him to pay them a visit.

Kuklinksi also had just as many methods of getting rid of bodies as he did killing methods. He claimed to have fed living human beings to huge cave rats in Pennsylvania not only because it made for convenient disposal, but it also allowed him to record footage of the feedings in order to collect torture contracts. Upon viewing one of these recordings, it was said that Roy DeMeo could not finish watching them & claimed Kuklinski truly “had no soul.”

Richard Kuklinski was initially nicknamed “The Polack” by his Italian associates because of his Polish heritage. He later earned the nickname “Iceman” after his experiments with disguising the time of death of his victims by freezing their corpses in an industrial freezer. According to Kuklinski, he used a Mister Softee ice cream truck for this purpose.

The freezing method was discovered by authorities 1983 when Kuklinski once failed to let one of his victims properly thaw before disposing of the body on a warm summer’s night. The coroner found chunks of ice in the corpse’s heart, which eventually lead to Kuklinski’s new nickname, “The Iceman”.

The victim who hadn’t been properly defrosted was Louis Masgay. Kuklinski’s mistake of improperly defrosting the body, along with the fact that authorities were able to figure out Kuklisnki was last seen with Masgay as well as four other victims, was what led them to realize he was, in fact, a serial killer. They had their suspicions for years & even had an undercover agent working on the case for five years, but to no avail. It wasn’t until 1985—after they had put all the pieces together—that they knew for sure it was him. All that remained was gathering enough evidence to convict him.

Dominick Polifrone was the main undercover agent working on the case. The New Jersey Criminal Justice Department also created a task force comprised of federal, state, & local law enforcement agencies dedicated to the arrest & conviction of Richard Kuklinski. The plan? To get Polifrone close enough to Kuklinski & pretend as if he wanted to hire him for a hit. The plan worked. The two men met under Kuklinski’s belief that Polifrone would provide him cyanide, which he would then use to murder a police detective working undercover. The meeting was recorded, & the cyanide was not actually cyanide but instead, was an innocent placebo. He was arrested two hours later by a team when stopped at a road block.

In the end, Kuklinski was convicted of five murders and sentenced to consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole until the age of 110. He later pled guilty in the 1980 slaying of New York police detective Peter Calabro, which added another meaningless 30 years to his life sentence.

March 5th, 2006, Richard Kuklinsi dies in Trenton, New Jersey under very strange circumstances. At the age of 70 years old, he was set to testify to another Mafia-related murder, and even told family members right before his death that he was about to be poisoned. His death came that same day, but it was never officially deemed a murder.

 

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