Technically speaking, the term “iceman” is far more demure than any person to receive this moniker in modern times. All “iceman” really means is an individual happens to be in the business of buying, selling, or carving frozen water. Due to the acts of certain fictional characters known to cometh, however, it has also come to refer to a cold-blooded killer. Being one of the most heartless contract murderers in American history, Richard Kuklinski earned his nickname “The Iceman” primarily through that second definition, although literal ice did play a macabre role in how he committed these crimes.
What separated Kuklinski from the average serial killer were his motives, methods, and above all, the untraceable professionalism in how he took people’s lives. Of course, there were a few aspects of the Iceman’s life that weren’t unusual for men of his ilk, including a childhood filled with trauma and the thrill he described receiving after doing the unthinkable. After getting caught, Kuklinski would claim his death count was as high as 250, making him one of the most prolific mass murderers of all time.
Throughout his more than three-decade career getting paid to break society’s most basic laws, Kuklinski never once rose suspicions in his family or friends, all of whom thought he was a totally normal guy who, at worst, had a bit of a temper. He did gain the attention of the Family, as in the mafia, becoming the preferred hitman for a number of major crime syndicates. Rather than ever showing shame or remorse of any kind, Kuklinski reveled in the attention until his dying day. For all the gritty details he loved to share, keep reading to learn 15 terrifying facts about “The Iceman Killer” Richard Kuklinski.
15. He Was Abused By His Extremely Religious Parents
Born the third of four children to Stanley and Anna Kuklinski in 1935, some might argue young Richard started out as innocent as any other newborn baby entering this world. By the time his childhood was over, however, he would have undergone such horrific trauma that it was highly unlikely he’d live a normal life. Many serial killers come from abusive parents, and the Iceman is no different, having been physically abused by both his parents. Ironically, his parents were extremely religious Catholics, who didn’t see how beating their kids went against the fundamentals of their faith. This religious hypocrisy would get passed on to Richard, who kept going to church regularly as his life of crime took off. The Kuklinski parents were so vicious in their abuse they actually murdered Richard’s older brother, Florian, covering it up by claiming he fell down the stairs. Later, Richard’s other brother was convicted of sexual assault and murder, which the Iceman brushed off as a consequence of having been raised by the same father.
14. His Murders Started Out Of Revenge
No matter what people do for work, the more time spent honing their craft, the better they’re going to become at doing it. This holds true for contract murder like anything else, with Richard Kuklinski serving one of the rare pieces of evidence to such a fact. Kuklinski claims his first murder took place when he was only 14 years old when he beat a neighborhood gangster who used to bully him to death with a wooden rod. Years later, he explained the murder made him feel empowered, a thrill he wished to seek out again and again. Soon, he was murdering anybody he felt had wronged him or who resembled his father, plus the errant pool hustler or random passerby should he suddenly get the inclination. Kuklinski was so cavalier about choosing some victims, he later described his teenage murders as “practice,” testing out weapons and methods of disposal he would utilize when his crimes started to pay.
13. In Time, He Caught The Mob’s Attention
Sometime in his late teens, Richard Kuklinski ran into members of Newark’s DeCavalcante crime family, who instantly hired him to undertake his first contract murders. After about 20 full years of working primarily for that organization, Kuklinski incurred a debt with another infamous mobster named Roy DeMeo, who sent several members of his crew to beat the future Iceman into paying what he owed. Typically, this is where Kuklinski would fight back and kill them all as revenge, or some sort of gang war would break out. Either because he knew he was outnumbered or because he was seeking like-minded souls, Kuklinski instead reached out to his attackers and gradually built a relationship with DeMeo’s crime syndicate. From there, Kuklinski soon moved up in the gang world to the Gambino family, and before long, he was working for all of New York City’s Five Families.
12. His Gang Activity Started In Robbery And Adult Film Production
The jump from a spree killer who murdered for fun to a professional hitman apparently isn’t a straight line. Initially, it looked like it would be for Richard Kuklinski, as the DeCavalcantes were quick to pay him to kill. To become ingratiated to the DeMeos and then Five Families was a bigger step, though, and the mafia bosses decided they needed to test his resolve before truly trusting him. To this end, Kuklinski was involved with a vast and illicit adult video empire, trafficking illegally produced videos and helping enforce debt collection through brute force, which was just a little ironic given how he came to contact with the family. Over time, Kuklinski gained both the trust and the respect of his fellow gangsters, who also enjoyed his tales of gleefully enacting the punishment they paid him to dole out.
11. He Gradually Moved On To Contract Killing
Beating people up on the mafia’s dime wasn’t going to satisfy the Iceman for long; nor was it about to fill his bank account. He was good at it, though, and that meant the only way for his criminal career was upward. As fate would have it, Roy DeMeo saw potential in a young Kuklinski, especially after he had passed his final test, murdering a random target walking down the street for no reason. After that, DeMeo and other mobsters all had Kuklinski on their proverbial speed dials, hiring him for all the biggest and most secretive hit jobs they had in mind for the next 25 years. Kuklinski was the primary hitman for the Genovese crime family at this time, in addition to doing part-time work for most others. His skills were so in demand that a single hit could net Kuklinski as much as $65,000, and five-figure jobs like that weren’t exactly a rarity. Upping the ante were some of the gangster touches Kuklinski would happily oblige his clients in adding to the crime, such as shoving a dead canary in a victim’s mouth.
10. He Froze His Victims, Making It Harder For Cops To ID Them
Based solely on what we’ve written about Richard Kuklinski in this article, his nickname, “The Iceman,” already feels wholly appropriate. A ruthless killer with no second thoughts about his actions, Kuklinski was stone cold in every sense of the phrase. That said, another dark touch often seen in Kuklinski’s victims was his propensity to freeze them immediately after the murder. His sole purpose in this act was to make it harder for authorities to identify the bodies later on. In achieving this goal, Kuklinski would also remove most victims’ teeth or fingers before dumping them in rivers or mine shafts. Chilling as it sounds, the freezing actually had nothing to do with the murder itself, always happening after the fact. Kuklinski’s methods of death were just as terrifying, though, involving ice picks, grenades, crossbows, chainsaws, and his self-professed favorite: a bottle of nasal spray laced with cyanide.
9. He Was A Devoted Family Man (Half The Time)
According to Richard Kuklinski, he had taken around 65 lives before even meeting the woman who would become his second wife, Barbara Pedrici. Despite the fact Richard was already married with two children when he met Barbara, the two soon fell in love. Barbara especially appreciated Richard’s sweet, kind-hearted nature enough to make him leave his first wife and remarry her in short order. Unfortunately for Barbara, this is when she met his dark side, which she called “bad Richie.” This version of her husband was viciously abusive to her, although he apparently never raised a finger on the three children their marriage would produce. Though his kids may have lived in fear after seeing him beat their mother, no one else in the neighborhood knew this part of the Kuklinski family story, all believing them to be a happy, loving family who went to church every Sunday and Disneyland every summer. Not only were the neighbors oblivious to Richard’s crimes, but his own family likewise had absolutely no idea he was a murderer, let alone that he was connected to the mafia.
8. An Undercover Detective Got Him To Confess
While it’s true that people tend to get better at doing things the more they practice them, it’s also a fact that so-called experts can fall into patterns of complacency, making themselves sloppy. So depraved was Richard Kuklinski’s indifference to committing murder that his crime spree ended due to this sort of behavior. Almost four full decades after his lifetime of killing began in 1948, police captured Richard Kuklinski at his home in December of 1986. For several years prior to that, bodies of the Iceman’s victims were found scattered throughout New York, and authorities started realizing they had something in common: the last person to see them alive was a “business partner” named Richard Kuklinski. Also, the Iceman disposed of a victim without letting his body thaw, revealing his methods and solving a mystery many police departments had been confused about for decades. To catch him red-handed, an officer named Dominick Polifrone went undercover and tracked Kuklinski for 18 months, posing as a mob boss looking to hire him. Once Kuklinski accepted the job, the cops made their move and put him behind bars.
7. He Was Convicted Of Murdering Five People
Ultimately, the world will most likely never know how many lives Richard Kuklinski senselessly stole. Police and prosecutors were able to prove only five murders in court, and he was given two life sentences for doing so. This meant it would be 111 years until he was up for parole, and having been captured in his 50s, there was no chance he’d ever see the light of day again. Though the state tried sentencing Kuklinski to death, a lack of eyewitness testimony putting him on the scene of any crimes took that off the table. After countless interviews and confessions, police were also able to unequivocally prove Kuklinski murdered a sixth victim, adding another 30 years onto his sentence. Beyond that, it had been too expensive for police to further investigate cases that had been cold for decades to confirm or deny Kuklinski’s claims about other victims.
6. He Amassed An Alleged 250 Victims
Aside from the fact he got paid for it by some of the most powerful crime syndicates in the country, there’s very little separating Richard Kuklinski from the average serial killer. At their core, mass murders are vicious individuals who kill for pleasure, and there’s no denying the tens of thousands of dollars Kuklinski was given to take lives couldn’t bring him pleasure, so long as he lacked the consciousness to face what he was doing. Kuklinski also made an absolutely outrageous statement about his death toll after getting caught, claiming to have taken the lives of far more people than police could ever prove. As mentioned, Kuklinski ultimately served time in relation to six murders, but there were dozens more he could’ve been connected to in some way. On top of that, the man himself would later claim anywhere from 100 to 250 victims in various interviews. This isn’t wholly unusual amongst serial killers like Kuklinski, who often inflate their numbers after the fact.
5. He Most Likely Suffered Several Mental Illnesses
When it’s all said and done, the only accurate way to view Richard Kuklinski is as a monster. The man murdered viciously, unrepentantly, and for little more than pleasure, none of which can be justified in any way. That said, there were definitely a few issues throughout Kuklinski’s life that could at least explain how a human turned into this sort of beast. In Kuklinski’s biographer’s opinion, he was bipolar from a young age, albeit unwilling to ever seek proper treatment. Proving his scribe wrong twice over, Kuklinski later visited with a psychologist who diagnosed he suffered from either paranoid personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. Both conditions were heavily worsened if not outright caused by the way Richard’s parents had treated him and his siblings, teaching them violence was the answer from a very young age. One almost wonders if his father would be proud of what he did.
4. He Loved The Attention He Received After Getting Caught
As evil as Richard Kuklinski seems based on the actions courts could prove about him, authorities have been hesitant to believe some of his claims about other victims. Part of the reason is that although the Iceman was anything but pleased at the prospect of life behind bars, he nonetheless loved the spotlight given to him by reporters, biographers, and documentarians looking to hear his story. To expand on the infamy that killing five people and working for the mafia provided, Kuklinski has even claimed responsibility for some of the most famous unsolved crimes in American history. Included amongst Kuklinski’s wildest confessions was that he killed and buried Jimmy Hoffa, the infamous teamster who disappeared in 1975. Despite details about how much he got paid ($40,000) and what he and his accomplices did with the body (crushed it in a car), FBI agents involved with the Hoffa case have deemed his story highly dubious if not outright impossible.
3. His One Chilling Regret
More terrifying than any of the acts committed by Richard Kuklinski is the joy he clearly took in telling others about his crimes. Kuklinski sat behind bars and, in front of the camera on more than one occasion, usually offered dark smiles as he recounted tale after tale of senseless, horrific murder. As it would turn out, however, the man who gleefully claimed to have taken 250 lives does have at least one true regret in the mess. As Kuklinski told it, one unnamed victim realized death was forthcoming, got down on his knees, and begged God to save him. Kuklinski allowed the man to pray for a full half hour, arguing that God didn’t want him to die and that something would change about their situation. Nothing changed, and Kuklinski killed his victim as intended exactly 30 minutes later. Kuklinski didn’t have that much regret over the ordeal, merely admitting he shouldn’t have been that cruel about it, yet the fact he showed any regret at all implies part of him deep down knew how wrong his actions were.
2. He Died In A Prison Hospital
Decades of nightmares came to an end on March 5, 2006, when Richard Kuklinski passed away due to undisclosed causes. His wife had placed a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on him while in prison, making his chances of survival slim from the moment he entered St. Francis Hospital’s prison wing. In fact, Kuklinski’s last years were lived in the same fear he struck upon so many others, as he was set to testify about yet another crime, this one involving some of the crime families he had worked for in his criminal days. Kuklinski himself believed someone was trying to poison him to keep him silent, and the New Jersey Department of Correction never released an official reason he was sent to the hospital — two facts some believe weren’t coincidence. That isn’t to say that the prison authorities were involved in Kuklinski’s murder, but they may have agreed with Dominick Polifrone when he was quoted as saying, “If it was foul play, that’s okay with me.”
1. His Stone Cold Demeanor Inspired Movies, Documentaries, and More
Sitting in prison for 17 years and waiting for death was a boring task, so Richard Kuklinski spent the time doing the only thing guards allowed him to do—grant interviews to seemingly anyone who would ask. Most notably, this included two interviews on HBO, one titled The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer and the other The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman. Multiple biographers have also been heavily intrigued by his tale, with one of their books getting adapted into the major motion picture The Iceman with Michael Shannon in the starring role. Believe it or not, Kuklinski also directly inspired the most successful wrestler of the 1990s, his icy demeanor serving the basis for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s “don’t trust anybody” attitude in the WWE Universe.
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