The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
Richard Kuklinski was first drawn to the sprawling woods of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, because of their peace and tranquillity, solitude and fresh air. The woods reminded Richard of church, one of the few places in his life where he found solace and comfort and could think without distraction. Like a church, the woods were peaceful, quiet, and serene.
The woods of Bucks County were also a good place to get rid of bodies. By profession Richard was a contract killer, and the disposal of bodies was always a concern. Sometimes it was okay to leave the victims where they dropped, in alleys, parking lots, and garages. Other times they had to disappear. That was specifically requested. One time Richard left a victim in an ice-cold well for nearly two years—preserving the corpse—purposely seeking to confuse the authorities as to the accurate time of death, thus earning his eventual moniker: “Ice Man.”
Richard was careful never to leave two bodies close to each other here in the woods, lest the authorities become suspicious and stake out a given area. His business was the business of murder and he was particularly adept at it. He had honed killing to a kind of fine art form. No job was too difficult. He successfully carried out every contract he’d ever been given. He prided himself on that. In the netherworld of murder, Richard Kuklinski was a much sought-after specialist—a homicide superstar.
Richard was unique in that he filled murder contracts for all five New York crime families, as well as the two New Jersey mob families, the Pontis and the notorious De Cavalcantes.
It was now mid-August of 1972 and the woods were thick with lush green vegetation. As Richard moved in the quiet shade of elm, maple, pine, and tall, elegant poplar trees, he carried a double-barrel Browning shotgun with fancy engraving on the stock. The weapon, in Richard’s enormous hands, seemed like a child’s toy.
Richard very much enjoyed this kind of cat-and-mouse game he had invented, sneaking up on unsuspecting animals and shooting them before they knew he was there. Richard was a very large man, six foot five in his stocking feet and 290 pounds of solid muscle, yet he had an uncanny ability to move silently and with great stealth, suddenly just being there, and like this Richard managed to shoot unsuspecting squirrels, woodchucks, skunks, and deer, which was all practice for the thing that Richard excelled at, his one true passion in life: stalking, hunting, and killing human beings.
I don’t particularly enjoy the killing, you know; I enjoy the stalk, the planning, and the hunt much more, Richard explained.
On one of these “practice outings” in Bucks County, Richard spotted it: a large rodentlike animal standing next to a thick oak tree. Thinking it was a woodchuck, he snuck up on the creature. All was quiet and still except for the rustling of leaves in a gentle breeze. Moving on just the balls of his size fourteen feet, using trees and shrubbery to get close enough for a clean shot—it was important to Richard that he kill with the first round—he managed to outflank the animal by staying upwind. When in good position, he took aim and fired.
He hit the animal but it was still alive, its rear legs futilely kicking the warm August air. As Richard drew closer, he realized it was actually a huge brown rat—Rattus norvegicus—and it was snarling at him, baring its two large incisor teeth. Tough guy, Richard thought.
Richard did not particularly want to cause the creature to suffer, and, admiring its moxie, he quickly killed it. As Richard began to walk away, he noticed a cave behind a thick mulberry bush at the foot of a steep granite slope dotted with kelly green moss.
Always curious, Richard made his way to the cave and went inside. He immediately smelled them—rats—and saw their droppings but could see no rats. The cave went deep into the rise of granite and became too dark to see. Richard had a small penlight and used it. No rats anywhere, but he sensed them; he could smell them. Besides being endowed with nearly superhuman strength, Richard had amazingly strong senses of smell and hearing. His senses were like those of a predatory animal—a creature that regularly hunts for meat to survive.
He left the cave and slowly made his way back to his car, thinking about the huge brown rat, a diabolical idea coming to him. He slid his shotgun into its fleece-lined leather case and put it into the trunk of his car. He didn’t want his wife or children to see it. Richard was always scrupulously careful about not letting his family know what he really did, seeing any of his extended collection of killing tools, which included razor-sharp knives; all sorts of pistols, some equipped with silencers; garrotes; different poisons (his favorite was cyanide); spiked clubs; hand grenades; a crossbow; ice picks; rope; wire; explosives; and plastic bags, to name but a few. He was particularly fond of .22 pistols because, he knew, when the bullet entered the skull it had a tendency to bounce about, causing massive damage to the brain. He also very much liked .38 derringers; they were small, could easily be hidden, and at close range, loaded with dumdums, they were quite lethal…could knock down a horse. Richard usually carried two .38 derringers, a knife, and a large-caliber automatic when going to work.
Several days later, Richard returned to the Bucks County cave. It was drizzling. The deep August greens of the woods were shiny and more pronounced. Richard again had his shotgun with him. He also carried a brown paper bag containing two pounds of ground chuck. As he reached the darkened cave mouth, he saw hundreds of rat footprints in the wet soil. He took fifteen or so steps into the cave. The musky, fetid stink of the rats came to him. He put down the meat and left.
When Richard returned the next day, all the meat was gone; he smiled. Knowing rats were scavengers and would eat anything, Richard wondered if they would actually eat a human being. He wondered if he could make them unwitting accomplices in torture and murder.
Curious, Richard got back into his Lincoln and returned to New Jersey. He lived with his wife, Barbara, and their three children in a split-level cedar house at 169 Sunset Street in the town of Dumont. It was a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood, a good place to bring up children. Here, everyone knew his neighbors. People said good morning and good evening and really meant it.
Barbara was a tall, attractive woman of Italian descent. She had a natural air of style and elegance about her. Even in old jeans and a baggy sweatshirt Barbara appeared carefully put together, comfortable in her own skin. She had particularly long legs, was thin, and had curves in all the right places. She did not appear to have given birth to three children—two girls, Merrick and Chris, who were now eight and seven respectively, and a son, three-year-old Dwayne. Barbara had lost two children while still pregnant because of physical abuse she suffered at Richard’s enormous hands. Barbara recently explained: When Richard lost his temper, he was like a bull in a China shop—anything could break; nothing had value. He could be the sweetest, most considerate man one moment, or the meanest son of a bitch on the face of the earth whose cruelty knew no bounds, in the next.
When Richard arrived home that day, Barbara was preparing dinner. She never knew what kind of mood he’d be in when he walked in the house, and always greeted him with a kind of wary trepidation. She did not smile until he smiled. He smiled now and kissed her and the children hello. She immediately knew he was not in a bad mood.
Barbara was married to two different men, the good Richard and the bad Richard, as she had come to think of them. Thankfully, now, he was the good Richard. After washing up, Richard assembled a red fire truck for Dwayne, patiently sitting on the floor with his boy and the toy and a screwdriver.
Barbara tried her best to shelter Dwayne from the bad Richard. Just about every weekend she sent him off to her mother’s home to keep him out of harm’s way, and she was quick to ferret Dwayne out of the house if she saw Richard’s mood changing, his lips tightening against his teeth, his face paling. Whenever he made a soft clicking sound out of the left side of his mouth, they all knew it was time to run. That sound was like an air-raid siren warning of attack.
Richard’s daughter Merrick was his favorite. She had had a failing kidney since she was a very young child, often had to be hospitalized, and had undergone several operations. Richard was always there for her, by the side of her bed, holding her hand, stroking her head. He could not have been more caring and attentive, Barbara said.
Merrick never held anything her father did against him. The beatings he gave Barbara, the furniture he broke, the toys he tore apart, the cups and keepsakes smashed, all was forgiven. None of it was his fault. He couldn’t help himself. He just couldn’t control his anger, he had explained to Merrick—only Merrick—and she believed him. He was her daddy. She would love him deeply and profoundly no matter what.
However, daughter Chris remembered and held all her father’s outbursts against him, particularly how he abused her mother. Chris, too, loved her father; he was the only dad she had ever known, and when he was nice he was truly golden, but she hated the man her father became when he flew into one of his irrational rages. No matter how mad Richard became, though, he never hit either of his daughters or Dwayne.
If, Barbara explained, he ever laid a finger on any of my children, I would’ve found a way to kill him, and he knew it.
Still, Barbara did not take into account, or perhaps just could not accept, the realities of the psychological damage Richard’s outbursts were causing her girls deep inside. Both Chris and Merrick had golden blond hair and sweet heart-shaped faces—the best features of both their parents. Chris had light blue eyes, Merrick’s were honey colored. They were both particularly attractive, with Richard’s wide Slavic cheekbones, Barbara’s long, perfectly straight nose and strong jawline, and the fair skin of the Polish. They looked so much alike that people often mistook them for twins. Barbara enjoyed buying them twin outfits, always two of everything. In most family pictures the girls are dressed alike, and there is a discernible sadness behind the smiles for the camera. The girls attended parochial school and were shy and polite, perfect little ladies. Warm and giving and quick to smile, they both made friends easily.
Chris and Merrick were now helping their mom set the table. The family soon sat down for dinner, roasted chicken and potatoes, one of Richard’s favorite meals. To an outsider they seemed perfectly normal, a well-adjusted, happy family. In truth, however, the man sitting at the head of the table, patiently slicing the roasted chicken, lovingly doling out preferred pieces, was America’s most prolific contract killer.
The contract came down in the first week of September. The mark had to suffer. That was the order. If he did suffer, the price would be doubled, the client said, from ten thousand to twenty thousand dollars, cash money. The mark lived in Nutley, New Jersey, in a fancy house with a curved driveway and elegant white pillars on either side of a large mahogany door with a big brass knocker in the shape of a ram’s head. Richard didn’t know anything about the mark other than that he had to suffer before he died. Richard preferred it that way. The less he knew about the mark, the better.
Richard had access to the camera because he produced pornographic movies for distribution all over the East and West Coasts and everywhere in between. Richard’s partner, the man who fronted Richard the money to start the production company, was the infamous Roy DeMeo—a psychopathic soldier attached to the Gambino family. DeMeo was an excellent moneymaker. He dealt in stolen cars, drugs, shylocking, pornography, and murder. He ran the most brutal, feared crew of killers organized crime ever knew. They were responsible for literally hundreds of murders. His immediate boss, his captain, was Nino Gaggi, who reported directly to Paul Castellano, the recently appointed head of the Gambino crime family, the largest, most successful crime family in New York’s rough-and-tumble history. Castellano had inherited the mantle from a genuine organized-crime legend: his brother-in-law, Carlo Gambino himself.
The camera, gray duct tape, and handcuffs needed for what Richard had in mind were in his trunk. Richard knew the mark left for work every day at 10:00 A.M. He had carefully plotted the mark’s route to work and planned to snatch him at a desolate corner where there was a stop sign, where he had to stop to make a turn. Richard preferred not to work in broad daylight, but he’d do whatever the job called for; and, he knew, people tended to be less defensive in the light of day, a natural element he repeatedly exploited.
When the mark came down the road toward the stop sign, Richard was there, innocently standing next to his car, its hood and trunk open, emergency lights blinking, a pleasant smile about his handsome face. He had a .357 Magnum in his hand, which was hidden in his coat pocket. Richard flagged the man down. As the mark reached the corner, Richard made sure to approach him on the driver’s side. Somewhat annoyed, the mark rolled down the window. “Yeah?” he demanded.
“Thanks for stopping, pal,” Richard began, and in the next instant, really just the bat of an eye, Richard pressed the thick blue-black .357 to the man’s head while with his other hand he quickly snatched the car keys from the ignition, done so quick it was like a magic trick.
“What the fuck?” the man exclaimed. He was a large heavyset individual with a huge round face, several double chins, a bald head. Richard opened the door, pulled him out, and, keeping the gun in his side, quickly made him get in the open trunk of Richard’s car.
“I’ll pay you—I’ll give you—”
“Shut up.” Richard stopped him, cuffed his hands behind his back, and taped his mouth shut.
“Make any noise and I’ll kill you!” Richard said in a practiced modulation that was a chilling thing to hear, like the growl of a nearby hungry lion. Richard closed the trunk and hood of his car, got into it, and slowly pulled away. In a matter of seconds he had snatched the mark without anyone seeing him. The first aspect of the job was done.
By now the leaves of the trees in Bucks County had taken on colors, bright reds, hot oranges, bold yellows. Slowly falling leaves seemed like multicolored butterflies on the first days of spring. Richard parked his car in a remote spot. He pulled the mark from the trunk and led him to the cave he’d found, and located the spot where he had laid out the meat. He made the mark lie down here and carefully wrapped duct tape around his ankles and legs and arms, tightly bound him as a diligent spider wraps silk around its prey. The man’s panic-stricken eyes bulged out of his large round face. He desperately tried to talk, to offer Richard all the money he had, anything he wanted, but the gray duct tape held tight and only panicky, mumbled grunts came from him. What he wanted to say Richard had heard many times over. They were words he had become deaf to. Richard had no remorse, no conscience, no compassion. He was doing a job, and none of those feelings even remotely came into play. Richard calmly went back to his car. He retrieved the camera and tripod, and a light and a motion detector that would trigger both the light and camera when the rats came out. Richard carefully set up the camera, the light and motion detector just so. Satisfied, he cut the man’s clothes off—he had dirtied himself—and left him there like that.
As Richard made his way back down the hill to his car, he was curious, even a bit amused, to see what would happen; would the rats in fact eat a man while he was still alive? Curious, also, to see his own reaction to such a thing. Richard often wondered why he could be so cold-blooded. Was he born that way or made that way—was it nature or nurture that made him the remorseless monster he’d become? It was a question he’d been asking himself for many years now, since he was a young boy.
Today, Richard had promised to take his daughters Merrick and Chris to Lobels, a specialty shop that sold parochial-school uniforms. Barbara was feeling a bit under the weather and didn’t go. Both the girls enjoyed shopping with their dad because he bought them whatever they wanted. All either of them had to do was look at something and it was suddenly theirs. Richard had been brought up in extreme poverty, had to steal food to eat as a boy in Jersey City, and his own children would never want for anything.
Excited, the girls sat next to their dad in the front seat. They both knew that their father often got into arguments with people about how they drove, and the girls silently hoped that nothing like that happened today. It was a kind of ritual they had—hoping their dad would not explode as he drove.
Barbara explained: Richard was like the cop of the road. He couldn’t see someone do something wrong, take a turn without signaling, without saying something. I mean something, you know, nasty.
Each of the girls needed four blouses and two skirts for the school year. At the shop in Emerson, Richard bought them five gray pleated skirts, fifteen blouses, two dozen pairs of knee-high socks, two blue blazers, five vests, and a half dozen pairs of gym outfits. Going shopping with dad was like Christmas morning.
Pleased his girls were happy, Richard paid with cash, and off they went. They were now going to stop in Grand Union to pick up some groceries and return home. Two blocks from the shop, a woman in a station wagon cut Richard off. Incensed, he stopped next to her at a light, rolled down his window, and berated her for cutting him off. There were several children in the backseat of the wagon.
“Daddy—Daddy, don’t get mad,” Merrick begged. “Please, Daddy.” But the woman gave Richard a dirty, condescending look and ignored him as if he were crazy, a fool. In the next instant, Richard was out of the car. He quickly walked to the station wagon, opened the door, and actually ripped the door right off its hinges in two powerful pulls.
Terrified, the woman stared at Richard.
Satisfied, he got back in his car and pulled away.
“Please, Daddy, please calm down,” Chris now begged.
“Quiet!” he demanded, the word seeming more like a growl than any word in the English language.
Four days later, Richard returned to the cave. The rats had eaten the man alive. All his flesh was gone. In the pale yellow glow of Richard’s flashlight, the mark was now only disjointed, haphazard bones—an unspeakable sight.
Curious, Richard stared at his work, this monster he had created. He made sure the camera had captured what had happened…how the huge rats first approached the hapless man with trepidation as he furiously squirmed to free himself; how the rats, more and more of them, bolder and bolder still, began taking bites out of him, first his ears, then his eyes. Vicious little bastards, Richard thought.
Richard retrieved his equipment and left. A gentle snowfall had covered the forest with a pearly white blanket. Everything was white and clean and storybook lovely. A solemn white silence had descended upon the forest. He knew the fresh snow would cover any tracks he left.
Richard took the videotape of the mark being eaten alive to the man who had ordered the hit.
“Did he suffer?” the man asked, his voice gruff, his manner callous, his eyes dead, like two bullet holes.
“Oh yeah, he really suffered,” Richard said.
“Really?” the man asked.
“Really,” Richard said, and gave him the tape. They both watched it. Overjoyed, yet slightly appalled that Richard would even think of, let alone do, such a thing, the man gave him ten thousand dollars for the contract, and a second ten thousand dollars for the incredible suffering the mark had experienced.
“You did a good job,” he said. Richard liked to please his customers; that was how his business had grown over the years. Richard did not know what the mark had done to deserve such a fate. He didn’t care. None of that was his business. The less he knew, the better.
After a job well done, Richard made his way home, again wondering why such things didn’t bother him, how he had become so cold, so devoid of human feelings. He thought about his childhood, and his jaw muscles clenched into tight knots and he made that slight clicking sound out of the left side of his heart-shaped mouth. He took a long, deep breath, turned on the radio and tuned in a country music station. Richard liked country music. The simple lyrics and meandering repetition soothed him.
Still thinking about his childhood, the barbaric cruelty he had suffered, Richard made his way home, where he would again wrap himself in the cloak of a loving husband, a doting father, a devoted family man.
He parked his car in front of his home and sat there for a while wondering how he had become so unlike other people. With these thoughts filling his enormous head, Richard slowly stepped from his car and made his way inside, walking with his quiet catlike gait, like a heavyweight prizefighter in his prime.