Even before his first murder, supposedly at the age of 14, Richard Kuklinski was no stranger to violence. Born into a household riddled with abuse, he was beaten on a nearly daily basis. His brothers didn’t fare much better, with one brother dying of his injuries at the age of 10. Authorities were told the boy had fallen down the stairs, but Richard knew better.
Joseph Kuklinski, Richard’s surviving brother, also succumbed to the cycle of abuse. He kidnapped a dog, just to lure its 12-year-old owner up to the roof of an apartment building. After raping the girl, he threw her body, as well as the dog, off the roof. The dying dog’s cries brought help, but too late for either victim. Joseph was caught and confessed to his crime, and eventually served in the same prison as his brother Richard, though they rarely spoke. When asked about Joseph, Richard replied, “We came from the same father.” But by all accounts, mommy dearest wasn’t much better, though she preferred a broomstick over bare-knuckle beatings. During interview questioning about his early childhood, Richard referred to both his parents by their first names, and says his mother was “cancer”. The only person to survive that household was Richard’s sister, who was considered the “normal” one in the family.
Along with daily beatings at home, Richard Kuklinski was also tormented on the streets. He was raised in a tough neighborhood, and soon learned that the only thing that would keep him alive was meeting violence with violence. One day, at the age of 14, Richard was confronted with a neighborhood bully. He returned to his apartment and took the closet rod out of a small closet. He returned to the street, found the bully, and proceeded to beat him without mercy. He said, “That’s when I learned it was better to give than to receive.” On later retellings of this story, Richard claims to have killed the boy, then steal a car and drive the body to the Pine Barrens, leaving the body in the woods. It’s hard to imagine a teenaged boy able to remove a body from his neighborhood, steal a car and drive it to the woods, and dispose of the body without getting caught. Some investigative reporters have tried to document a missing person from that time, to no avail, so much of this story is suspect. Regardless, there are sources who claim Kuklinski killed well over 100 people before he ever became a hired hit man for the mob. These were personal killings, he claimed; people who had angered him in some way or another, people he experimented on, road rage, and bar fights.
Well before his self-professed first murder, however, Little Richie Kuklinski was capturing and torturing animals when he was as young as 10 years old. He felt nothing, he said, as he watched the animals die, just as he felt nothing later in life as he watched man after man die at his hands. Between his childhood home-life, early childhood torture of animals, and tormentors on the street, it would have been a surprise if Kuklinski hadn’t grown up to be the monster he would become. He almost had no choice.
Later in life, as a young married man with children of his own, struggling to make ends meet, he met a beautiful, pampered, Italian Princess named Barbara. He vowed to marry her, and set about winning her over. In between opening doors for her, taking her out to dinner, and wining and dining her, however, he showed his true colors. Barbara married Richard out of fear, figuring he would get what he wanted anyway. So, promptly following his divorce from his first wife, Barbara and Richard became Mr. and Mrs. Kuklinski, and somewhere around this time Richard became more deeply ingrained with the mob life.
Richard had been working as a movie pirate, copying pornography and supplying the copied movies to the mob. He claims to have been introduced into a life of murder and mayhem by Gambino soldier, Roy DeMeo, but this contradicts Richard’s earlier claims of having killed over 100 people by this time.
However the introduction to life as a hit man was made, Richard reportedly jumped in with both feet. His final body count, as he told it, was close to 250 people. Being a non-Italian, he would never be a “made” man, so he was able to freelance for any of the families he chose, and bragged about being the only person to work for all 5 of the New York families, as well as the New Jersey folks. He claimed association with the notorious Gemini Lounge, which was basically a body factory. People were killed, dismembered, and packaged for shipping within those walls.
Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski killed by shooting, stabbing, choking, hanging (using his own body as the “tree”), and poison. He liked it up close and personal. He smiled at the notion that the last thing these people saw was his face. The only murders that bothered him, he said, was when he would tie a victim to a chair, put him in a cave, set up a motion-activated camera, and wait for the rats to eat the victim alive. He watched each and every one of those tapes, he says, which really bothered him. He found it distasteful.
Richard was fond of freezing his victims, then years later depositing the bodies, confusing the time of death, and by extension, any association he may have had with the victims. This earned him the nickname of The Iceman. His emotionless demeanor would only cement that moniker.
When asked if he regretted any of his hits, he relates a story of a man who begged for his life. The man was praying, asking God to save him. Richard struck a deal with him.
“So I told him he could have a half hour to pray to God, and if God could come down and change the circumstances, he would have that time. But God never showed up, and he never changed the circumstances, and that was that. It wasn’t too nice. That’s one thing. . . I shouldn’t have done that one. I shouldn’t have done it that way.”
Through all the interviews, the bragging and horrible details of people dying, Kuklinski showed emotion only once. “I’ve never felt sorry for anything I’ve done, other than hurting my family. The only thing I feel sorry for. I’m not looking for forgiveness, and I’m not repenting. No, I’m wrong. (Sniffles) I am wrong. I do want my family to forgive me. Oh boy. I ain’t going to make this one. Oh shit. This would never be me. THIS would not be me. I feel for my family. You see The Iceman crying. Not very macho, but I’ve hurt people that mean everything to me, but the only people that meant anything to me.”