The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)

Part I. BIRTH OF THE GRIM REAPER

1

Mortal Sin Indeed

At the turn of the twentieth century, Jersey City, New Jersey, the place where Richard Kuklinski was born and raised, was a bustling Polish enclave. Because of its many Polish Catholic churches and an abundance of blue-collar work, Polish immigrants flocked to Jersey City in large numbers.

The Lackawanna, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Central railroad companies all had bases in Jersey City. Trains from across the United States brought all kinds of produce to the East Coast of America, and this was the final stop. Sprawling rail yards filled the area. Rail tracks ran on just about every other street. Jersey City’s main thoroughfare, Railroad Avenue, had a trestle running right down the center of the wide two-way street. Powerful black locomotives pulling long rust-colored trains to the waterfront were the norm; the heavy chug-chug sound and high-pitched screams of steam locomotives came from all directions, both day and night, seven days a week.

Located at the northeast end of the state of New Jersey, Jersey City was ideally located near the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, and from here all types of goods and produce were shipped up and down the eastern seaboard. At its closest point just across the southernmost end of the Hudson River, Jersey City was only three-quarters of a mile away from lower Manhattan—the center of the world—and ferries were constantly bringing goods to the piers that crowded the busy Manhattan waterfront. On a clear day, it seemed, you could easily throw a stone to Manhattan from Jersey City, it appeared so close—the proverbial stone’s throw away.

In truth, Jersey City was as different from New York City as another planet. In Jersey City lived the working poor, those struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table. Yes, there was a lot of work in Jersey City, but it was backbreaking menial employment, and the wages were pitifully low. In the summertime it was unbearably hot and humid. Because of underdeveloped swampland nearby, undulating dark clouds of mosquitoes filled the night air. In the winter Jersey City was brutally cold, constantly battered by powerful winds that came tearing down the Hudson River and off the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It seemed during those months like a place in the far northern reaches of Siberia.

Located just next to Hoboken, Frank Sinatra’s hometown, Jersey City was a rough-and-tumble town filled with hard-boiled blue-collar workers and their hard-boiled blue-collar offspring. This was a place where a kid quickly learned to defend himself or was victimized and bullied. The strong were respected and prospered. The weak were marginalized and put-upon.

Richard Kuklinski’s mother, Anna McNally, grew up in the Sacred Heart Orphanage on Erie and Ninth Streets. Her parents had emigrated from Dublin in 1904 and settled in Jersey City, which was then the tenth largest city in America. Anna had two older brothers, Micky and Sean. Shortly after the family arrived in Jersey City, Anna’s father died of pneumonia and her mother was killed when a truck ran her down on Tenth Street. Anna and her brothers wound up in the orphanage. Though skinny and malnourished, Anna was a physically attractive child with dark, almond-shaped eyes and flawless cream-colored skin.

In the Sacred Heart Orphanage, religion was forced upon the children, and Anna had the fear of God, hell, and damnation beaten into her by sadistic nuns who treated their charges as though they were personal servants and whipping posts. Before Anna was ten years old she was sexually accosted by a priest, and she lost both her virginity and a part of her humanity, and grew into an austere, cold woman who rarely smiled and came to view life through hard, unfeeling dark eyes.

When, at eighteen, Anna was forced to leave the orphanage, she went into a Catholic convent, planning to become a nun herself. She had no skills as such and nowhere else to turn. But Anna was not cut out for the pastoral life. She soon met Stanley Kuklinski at a dance sponsored by the church, and her destiny was sealed.

Stanley Kuklinski had been born in Warsaw, Poland, and immigrated to Jersey City with his mother and father and two brothers. At twenty-six, when Stanley met Anna, he cut a handsome figure, resembling Rudolph Valentino. He wore his hair parted in the center and slicked back tight against his scalp as was the fashion of the day. Stanley was smitten by Anna and pursued her relentlessly, and she agreed to marry him some three months after they met. They wed in July of 1925, and their wedding picture shows a particularly good-looking couple who appeared well matched, a union that held much promise. Anna had grown into a truly beautiful woman. She resembled Olivia de Havilland in Gone with the Wind.

Stanley had a reasonably good job as a brakeman for the Lackawanna Railroad. It was not hard work as such, though it was always outdoors and he regularly suffered under the summer heat and the frigid, brutal winters. At first the hasty union between Stanley and Anna seemed a good one. They rented a cold-water flat in a two-story clapboard house on Third Street, just down the block from St. Mary’s Church. But Stanley liked to drink, and when he drank he became short-tempered and mean, and Anna soon came to know that she had married a jealous, possessive tyrant who would beat her as if she were a man for the slightest provocation. Because Anna was not a virgin on their wedding night—she could never bring herself to tell her husband that she’d been raped by a priest over and over again—Stanley accused her of being a tramp, a whore. She hated this but stoically suffered through his verbal abuse, which all too often became violent. Stanley was not a large man, but he was strong as a Brahma bull. When drunk he’d toss Anna about like she was a weightless rag doll. Anna was tempted to tell her brother Micky about the abuse, but she didn’t want to make a bad situation worse, and divorce wasn’t even an option back then. Anna was still hyper-religious, and good Irish Catholics did not divorce, period. Anna learned to accept her lot in life.

In the spring of 1929, Anna gave birth to a baby boy, one of four children she’d eventually have with Stanley before the marriage soured and finally ended. They named him Florian after Stanley’s father. Anna had little memory of her own parents; the only memories she had of her childhood were bad ones—beatings and abuse.

Anna was hoping Stanley would mellow with a child in the house, but just the opposite happened. When drinking he took to accusing Anna of infidelity, even said Florian was not his, that she had fucked another man while he was away working.

Sometimes Stanley was kind to young Florian, but for the most part he seemed indifferent to the child, and it didn’t take long for Stanley to start beating Florian, too. If Florian cried he got hit, if Florian dirtied his bed he got hit, and Anna could do nothing. Her answer was to go to St. Mary’s down the block and light candles and pray. There was nowhere else for Anna to turn, and she grew to loathe Stanley and often thought of leaving him, even killing him, but none of that ever came to pass.

Still, Stanley frequently had sex with Anna whether she wanted to or not. He considered himself quite the ladies’ man and was often on Anna without notice or warning or any kind of foreplay: wham, bam, it was over.

Anna became pregnant a second time and gave birth to another boy on April 11, 1935, and they named this child Richard. He was a mere five pounds and had a thick head of shiny hair so blond it seemed white.

With mounting bills and another mouth to feed, Stanley became even meaner and more remote. When he came home on Friday night he was always drunk, and often had the smell of other women about him and lipstick on his collar, but Anna could do little, for Stanley would beat her at the drop of a hat. He viewed her as his personal property to be used and abused any way he wished. Worse, he took to beating Florian and Richard for both real and imagined infractions, and both boys grew to fear and dread their father, becoming sullen and quiet, painfully shy. Stanley always wore a thick black garrison belt, and he’d quickly slide it off and lay into his sons with it, mercilessly whipping them. If Anna tried to intercede, she too was beaten. Violence seemed to fuel Stanley’s sexual appetite—often, after beating his wife and young sons, he wanted to have sex, and before Anna knew it he was forcing himself inside her.

As far back as Richard could remember, his father was beating him. He recently related: When my father—father, that’s a joke—came home and I said “Hello,” he’d say hello by slapping me across the face.

Stanley drank hard whiskey with beer chasers—boilermakers. When he drank he became even meaner and his violence grew more indiscriminate. He took to wrapping his garrison belt around his hard-knuckled fist and punching his sons with it. It was like being struck by a two-by-four. He was fond of hitting them in the head with his belted fist, and often knocked both Florian and Richard out cold. Richard became so utterly terrified of his father that he wet his pants just at the sight of him or the sound of his voice, which caused Stanley to become angry and beat the boy for wetting himself. Little by little Stanley was, in effect, beating the very necessary human elements of compassion and empathy out of his second-born, clearly delineating the path Richard’s life would ultimately take.

Finally, Stanley Kuklinski did the unspeakable—he murdered his son Florian with one of his beatings. He hit the frail boy on the back of the head one too many times, knocking the hapless boy to the floor, and Florian never got back up. Stanley made Anna tell family and friends and the authorities that Florian died by falling down the stairs and striking his head. No one questioned their story, and Florian was laid out in the Kuklinski living room, just down the block from St. Mary’s Church, where this ill-matched couple had been wed.

Richard was just five when his brother was killed by Stanley. Anna told Richard that Florian was hit by a car “and died.” Richard had no conception of what death really was. He just knew that Florian was in a cheap wooden coffin that smelled of pine in the living room as if he were asleep, but he would not wake up. His mother and other relatives were there crying, praying, lighting candles, holding shiny black rosary beads, but no matter what, Florian would not wake up. Five-year-old Richard stared at his ghostly pale dead brother, the only friend he had ever known, wondering why he wouldn’t get up. He had always gotten up before….

Wake up, Florian, wake up, he silently begged. Don’t…please don’t leave me here alone. Florian…Florian, please wake up….

Florian never woke up.

2

Mean Streets

After Florian’s murder, Stanley let up on Richard for a while, but it didn’t take long before he went back to his old ways. Now the beatings became even more brutal and frequent. Stanley seemed to blame Richard for everything unjust that ever happened to him, for all the curveballs that life threw him, and he regularly and indiscriminately beat his son. Anna’s answer was still going to church and silently asking God for help—even after Stanley had murdered Florian. She took to facing a wall and praying fervently as Stanley beat the young Richard. Richard often went to sleep with bruises, aches, and pains; sometimes he was so bruised and covered with eggplant-colored welts that he couldn’t go outside or to school.

Richard grew, not surprisingly, into a painfully shy, awkward child with little confidence in himself. He viewed the world as a brutal, violent place filled with pain and turmoil. He often wondered where his brother Florian was but could never find out. His mother told him “in heaven,” but he had no idea how to get to this place. Richard had been very close to Florian, held him tight when his father beat their mother and smashed the meager possessions the family had, and now Florian was gone and Richard had to face his father alone. He was a thin, frail boy, and it didn’t take long for neighborhood toughs to start picking on him, which only compounded Richard’s feelings of isolation and resentment; his anxieties mounted.

Two Irish brothers that lived on the block regularly accosted Richard. One Saturday morning they gave him a particularly severe beating. Richard managed to get away from them by running. Stanley was home that day and saw what happened from the front window. When Richard arrived upstairs, Stanley took off his belt and beat the boy, demanding that he go back downstairs and fight the brothers. “No kid’a mine’s gonna be a chicken shit!” he bellowed, and struck Richard across the face with his belt.

Confused, his face burning, a red welt forming, Richard hurried back downstairs. “Go get ’em,” Stanley ordered from the window, and Richard did exactly what he was told. With newfound ferocity and pent-up hostility, he laid into the brothers, caught them off guard, and gave them both a terrific beating. Their father, a tall, gangly Irishman named O’Brian, then came out of the house and roughly pushed Richard away.

Amazed, Richard watched Stanley actually leap out of the second-story window, land squarely on his feet, storm across Third Street, and slap O’Brian, saying, “When your kids beat up my kid, you watched and did nothing. When my kid fought back, you stopped it.” Stanley then hit O’Brian so hard that he knocked him out right there on the sidewalk in front of everyone, just down the block from St. Mary’s Church.

Richard wanted to run to his father, hold him, and thank him for sticking up for him, for making everything right, but he knew he could never do such a thing. Showing outward affection to his father was forbidden. Richard learned that Saturday afternoon that might was right. Richard often wondered why his father and mother didn’t like him, what he had done to deserve their indifference and violence. He drew further and still further into himself, was always alone, couldn’t seem to make friends; and a seething, fiery rage slowly grew inside the small boy.

Because Stanley spent most of the money he earned on weekend drinking binges and whoring around Jersey City and Hoboken bars, the family had little, and there was never enough food or warm clothes. All of Richard’s clothes were tattered and dirty, and his schoolmates took to calling him names—dumb Polack, skinny, scarecrow—because of his gangly arms and legs. Richard quickly developed an inferiority complex he would carry with him for the rest of his life. There were running feuds among the Polish, Italian, and Irish kids, and Richard became a target for the Irish and Italian kids’ barbs, taunts, and put-downs. They made fun of the holes in his clothes, the ripped and tattered shoes he wore. Anna didn’t seem at all interested in Richard’s appearance; her only concern was the church, praying, lighting holy candles, and saying the rosary—none of which helped her son.

Anna soon became pregnant again and gave birth, prematurely, to a girl they named Roberta. She became pregnant still again, and the Kuklinskis soon had a fourth child, a boy they named Joseph, who, like his older brother Richard, would grow into a remorseless killer—a psychopath.

Having three small children to feed and clothe made Stanley meaner still. Stanley took to bringing home loose women he found in bars and openly fornicating with them as he pleased. When Anna complained, he beat her with his belt, fists, and feet. He was the king of the house and would do whatever the fuck he pleased. Once Richard tried to come to his mother’s rescue, and Stanley hit him in the head so hard he knocked the boy out for half the night. When Richard came to he had a lump on the side of his head the size of a lemon, and for hours he didn’t even remember who he was. Richard grew to hate his father and often fantasized about killing him.

Finally, Stanley took up with a Polish woman and, thankfully, came around less and less. Anna was now working two jobs: one at the Armond Meatpacking Company, the other cleaning floors at St. Mary’s Church in the evening.

Anna, who had become a flaming religious zealot, tried to force the fear of God on her children, particularly Richard—she insisted he attend Catholic school—but he had come to loathe the church and its restrictive, hypocritical teachings. Much of that had to do with how brutal the nuns and priests were at St. Mary’s, how quick they were to use corporal punishment; they seemed, he came to believe, even more wicked and mean than his father, no easy task, Richard explained. Richard was highly dyslexic, had a lot of difficulty reading, and when he tried to use his fingers to keep his eyes in the right place a nun would inevitably slap his hand with a metal ruler.

Richard took to fooling around in class. He enjoyed making others laugh, and this invariably earned him a slap. Sometimes the bitter-faced, austere nuns yanked his overly protrusive ears. Richard believed they actually enjoyed hitting and slapping their young charges.

At Anna’s insistent urging Richard became an altar boy. Every Sunday he got up early, went to St. Mary’s, and assisted the priest with mass. When taking the pulpit, the priests seemed nice enough, talked glowingly about giving and kindness and avoiding sin; they acted compassionate, as if they cared. But Richard believed that they were mean-spirited men who drank alcohol, were quick to condemn, and reprimanded, even slapped boys who didn’t do their assigned tasks around the altar to their liking. One priest made inappropriate overtures to Richard about sex, started talking about the virtues of masturbation, and Richard made sure he was never alone with this priest. Richard knew little about sex, but he knew what was in the priest’s eyes, behind his face, was wrong—a sin.

The nuns, too, were quick to use sudden, irrational violence against the children in their care. One nun liked to use the narrow edge of a metal ruler and would hit Richard so hard across his knuckles she caused him to bleed. After this happened several times, he became fed up and said, “You hit me again, you cunt, I’ll break your fucking head—bitch!”

The nun, stunned by Richard’s words, the sudden fire in his eyes, hurried from the classroom and soon returned with an irate, red-faced priest who slapped Richard so hard his face stung and a huge strawberry-colored welt quickly formed. Rubbery dots swirled before his eyes. The priest grabbed Richard by the ear and dragged him to his office, where he proceeded to beat the boy with a book—a Bible, Richard realized. Later that night, Richard received a second beating from his mother.

From that day on Richard had little interest in religion, and came to believe that the nuns and priests were a bunch of sadistic creeps who used religion and the always ominous specter of God to scare and manipulate people into doing what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted. Religion was one big con job, he thought, and he soon turned away from the Catholic Church, its teachings, mandates, and disciplines. He did, however, find solace sitting in the church when it was empty. He’d stare at the pained face of Christ up on the cross and ask him questions—where Florian was, why people were so cruel, why his mother and father beat him. He never received an answer. If there really was a God, he came to believe, he would never allow the violence that parents, nuns, and priests so readily dished out to children.

Not surprisingly, Richard soon turned his rage on animals.

Stray dogs and cats became the focal point of his anger. Richard devised terrible tortures, sadistic beyond what a child should be capable of: he’d capture two cats, tie their tails together, then hang them over a clothesline and gleefully watch them tear one another apart. He threw stray cats down the incinerator, then lit it and enjoyed the cats’ screams, how they tried to claw their way up the chute to no avail. He’d hunt down dogs, set them on fire with gasoline, and watch them run around in flames. He used clubs and pipes and hammers to beat the dogs to death.

He killed so many stray animals—all practice for the indiscriminate killing of human beings—that he cleared the neighborhoods of them. Something was very wrong with the young Richard Kuklinski, but no one addressed his problems, the demons already inside him, and they grew to monumental proportions.

3

Sticky Fingers

Richard first started stealing to eat. As religious as Anna Kuklinski was, she was not a good mother. She didn’t seem to realize that her children had to eat, and eat on a regular basis. When Stanley finally abandoned the family, Anna became the lone, hard-pressed provider, working at the meatpacking company and cleaning St. Mary’s floors at night. However, with four to feed, and rent and utilities to pay, there was never enough of anything, and Richard took to stealing food. He’d get up early and lift cakes and cookies from the Drake’s delivery truck, which made daily deliveries to shops and homes all around Jersey City. Although shy and awkward, Richard was particularly ballsy when it came to stealing.

Catlike, he’d stalk the Drake’s delivery truck, and when the deliveryman made a drop-off, Richard would sneak into the truck, quickly grab cakes and milk, and take off. He did this several times a week, and like this his sister, Roberta, and brother, Joseph, had something more to eat than the cheap porridge Anna provided—somewhat reluctantly, it seemed.

Anna too was a firm believer in corporal punishment. She’d had a mean streak beaten into her at the Sacred Heart Orphanage, and Richard sometimes thought his mother was even meaner than his father—no small thing. Anna tried to stop Richard from stealing, hit him with most everything she found in the house: shoes and broom handles, hairbrushes, wooden spoons, pots and pans. She often hit him on the head—this even after Florian was killed that way—and knocked Richard out cold. She’d come up behind him and strike him when he didn’t expect it. One time after Anna hit him with a broom handle, Richard ripped it out of her hands. Like his father, Richard had a very bad temper. Anna picked up a skillet, and he hurried from the house.

Why, Richard often wondered, did his mother hate him so? Why, he wondered, was she so cruel? What had he done to make her so hateful?

Another good source of food was the train cars that lined the huge railroad yards all over Jersey City. The boxcars were filled with all kinds of food from across the country, and Richard took to breaking into them and stealing pineapples, oranges, and huge chunks of frozen meat from icy freezer cars. Anna learned to accept the bounties Richard brought home. She could never afford such food items, and she soon stopped punishing Richard for his pilfering. He was, after all, the man of the house now, and he was inadvertently filling the role of his father. He had effectively taken the place of Stanley, and Anna, Roberta, and Joseph looked to the young Richard as the breadwinner. Richard liked this role. It made him feel important, grown up, older than his years. His stealing got so bad that if it wasn’t nailed down, Richard would bring it home.

4

First Blood

Somehow Anna managed to get a federally subsidized apartment in a new four-story redbrick housing project complex at New Jersey Avenue and Fifteenth Street. This was a real step up for the family. The project was heated, well insulated, had all the modern conveniences. Everything was spanking new and clean. Richard loved this new home, the new hardwood floors, how the sun streamed in through the windows, how everything was clean and shiny and nice to look at.

The projects were filled with low-income blue-collar people, and there were many potential friends and playmates for Richard. He had grown into a tall, skinny, very shy boy with glistening blond hair, almond-shaped light brown eyes, and excessively protruding ears. The boys of the projects quickly took to teasing Richard; they made fun of his appearance, his clothes, his thinness, his shaggy blond hair, his ears.

“Hey, you dumb Polack,” was a frequent insult.

“The project boys,” a gang of five or six of them that were always in a group, not only teased Richard but took to physically abusing him, pushing him, slapping him, throwing his baseball cap to and fro, demanding that he give them money. Richard had little money, which caused him more and more abuse, slaps, and kicks in the ass as he walked. Whatever fires of discontent were already burning inside of Richard, the abuse he suffered from the project boys was further fueling it.

The leader of this group of punks was a big dark-haired kid named Charley Lane. He was a few years older than Richard, a foot taller, and much stockier. He seemed to get the most joy out of making Richard’s life miserable.

Richard had no friends. He was a loner. There was no one he could confide in, talk to, throw a ball with. He wanted friends, someone to be his ally, his buddy, to stick up for him, but all the boys in the projects wanted was to taunt and tease him, bring him down and call him names: “Hey, dumb Polack; hey, locked brain!”

Richard’s brother, Joseph, was too young to be his friend, and his sister, Roberta, had her own interests and little in common with her older brother.

As it happened, Richard found solace in true-crime magazines. He discovered them in a neighborhood candy store and with his sticky, nimble fingers managed to steal new, exciting, eye-opening issues every few weeks. Richard had grown into a bold, particularly adept thief; he was, he would later confide, a born thief. He already knew his lot in life would be crime—on the outside of the law, the underbelly of society—and learned to readily accept that fact, indeed to embrace it.

For the most part, Richard did not enjoy reading, but he devoured these true-crime magazines. He’d read slowly, using his long, thin fingers to keep his place, often having to go over the same passage several times to comprehend the words, their hidden, secret meanings. Because he was so drawn to the subject of crime, he made it his business to understand the words, to turn over the words in his young mind, to imagine the larcenies, robberies, and murders they vividly described in short, simple sentences. When the weather was nice, Richard liked to go down by the Hudson River and read there by the silent, swift-moving water. Here it was quiet and no one harassed or bothered him. Just opposite Jersey City, he could see lower Manhattan, a teeming, lively place filled with tall, stately buildings and rich people who ate steak and fancy food every day, all they wanted, as much as they wanted, Richard was sure.

What interested Richard the most was how crimes, especially murders, were solved. For hours on end, Richard buried his face in these true-crime magazines, and they gave him an insight into criminal behavior he could find nowhere else, insights he would put to good use. The words in these simply written pulp magazines with colorful covers, brimming with violence, filled Richard’s head like sinister clouds of poison gas with fantasies of violence, of murder, of striking back at those who abused him, taunted him, called him names. He began thinking about hurting people…killing people. Getting even. Having revenge.

Like all teenage boys, Richard wanted to do grown-up things. He pined to own a car, to drive around and show the world that he had the wherewithal to own a car, to go where he pleased, even to go to Manhattan, “the city,” if he had a mind to. Just down Sixteenth Street, near his house, there was a parking lot, and Richard took to stealing cars, parking them in the lot, and taking them on short, exciting jaunts around Jersey City. He was tall for his age now and quickly learned the nuances of the steering wheel, brake, and gas pedal. Richard savored these little sojourns. Someday, he resolved, he’d own a fancy car—a Caddy or maybe a Lincoln Continental. He wanted to drive through the Holland Tunnel, go visit the city, but he was afraid one of the tollbooth operators would stop him, question him. All this Richard did by himself, and doing this made him feel grown up and more independent. He was just thirteen years old, proud that he had the balls to do such things.

That winter the situation with the project boys became intolerable. They wouldn’t leave him alone; the taunts and pointed barbs became more and more frequent, violent, vicious. He tried to fight back one day, and they gave him a terrible beating—four of them kicked him, punched him, and spit on him when he was down. He was so beaten up that he couldn’t leave the apartment for a solid week. Anna Kuklinski wanted to go to the police and have the boys arrested, but Richard wouldn’t do that. “I’m no rat!” he kept saying. “I’ll settle this my own way.”

Already, Richard knew the strict rules of the street—and the cardinal rule was never go to the cops. Nearby Hoboken had a large Mafia contingent, indeed was a Mafia hub, the home base for the notorious De Cavalcante family (who in later years would become the inspiration for the HBO hit The Sopranos), and the young Richard already knew well that only rats went to the cops.

No, he would take care of this in his own way, in his own time. The boy Charley Lane, the leader of the project boys, had hurt Richard the most, and Richard’s wrath and need for revenge were centered on this oversized bully who swaggered like an ape when he walked. Plans of destruction ran through Richard’s head night and day, for days on end, all during his convalescence. He thought about stabbing Charley, hitting him with a wrench, dropping a cinder block on his head as he made his way about the narrow walkways that crisscrossed the project grounds. He would, he decided, stalk and attack Charley late at night.

It happened on a biting cold Friday evening. Richard removed the closet pole, a two-foot-long, thick wooden dolly, from the hall closet. It was perfect for what he had in mind, light and lethal. Just next to the hall closet there was a photograph of Florian, which Anna always kissed as she went out—Anna still had much guilt over what had happened to her firstborn, that Stanley had gotten away with killing him, that she had conspired to cover up the murder, and it was a suffocating, colossal weight she would carry with her for the rest of her days. The weight would slowly drag her down, round her shoulders, actually make her appear smaller, shorter; the weight would eventually speed up her demise. There were also pictures of a pained Jesus and a virtuous Mary in a blue dress next to Florian’s picture, which the hyper-religious Anna also kissed on her way out. The only other photograph in the house was of Anna’s brother Micky. He lived in upstate New York with his wife, Julia. Micky was a kind, gregarious man and gave his sister what he could. He was the only person who had ever been kind to Richard, gave him a watch when he graduated grade school. One summer Richard spent a few weeks at Uncle Micky’s house, and it was a dreamlike experience he would savor for his entire life.

My uncle Micky, Richard explained, was the only adult that was ever good to me. He was a real nice guy, and I’ll never forget him.

In Micky’s house everything was clean and shining and all the food was first-class, and for the first time Richard saw that people lived another way, a better way, and he would never forget that either. It would always be something he coveted for himself.

The powerful winds that frigid January night howled through the project grounds, bending trees and rattling windows. It had snowed that week and glistening sheets of ice covered the walkways. Richard had one warm coat—a peacoat so threadbare that his elbows showed through. Richard donned a few tattered sweaters, slipped the wooden dolly up the worn sleeve of his peacoat, and went out to find Charley Lane with a need for revenge burning inside him like a tropical fever. He positioned himself facing the New Jersey Avenue entrance of the project, his back up against the wall of the building in which the Kuklinski family lived. More than likely, he knew, Charley would come home via this entrance. He had seen him do so many times. The redbrick wall Richard stood against contained the flue for the building’s incinerator, and the warmth gave Richard some comfort, but the fire burning inside him was what really kept him warm. He watched men who lived in the projects leave the bar across the street, a place his father, Stanley, sometimes went. Standing there in the Jersey City cold, Richard thought about his father; the hatred he had for him had grown inside him like a festering tumor, and Richard often thought about getting his hands on a gun, going and killing Stanley. He didn’t think of him as his father anymore. He thought of him as just Stanley, and would for the rest of his life refer to him as “Stanley,” never “my father” or “Dad.”

Richard had no idea how long he’d been standing there, and he was just about to give up and go back upstairs when he saw Charley come off New Jersey Avenue and start onto the project grounds. He was by himself. Richard’s stomach tightened. His heart began to race. At just the right moment, Richard left his hiding place. Charley sneered when he saw Richard suddenly in front of him. “What the fuck do you want, Polack?” he demanded. Richard stayed mute, just stared at him with calm, cold hatred. “Get the fuck outta my way or I’ll give you another beating, fuckin’ dumb Polack!”

“Yeah, try,” Richard said, and Charley quickly came at Richard, but Richard pulled out his secreted weapon and without a moment’s hesitation swung with all his might and hit Charley square on the side of the head, just above the ear. Shocked, Charley held his head, backed up, his eyes filling with rage, surprise, and indignation.

With a combination of fear and pent-up animosity filling him, Richard went after Charley—struck him on the head and knocked him down. And Richard kept hitting him, hitting him, hitting him. He didn’t want to kill the boy; he just wanted to teach him a lesson he’d never forget, wanted only to be left alone. But all the rage Richard had stored up inside, a world of it, came to the surface, and Richard kept striking the prostrate boy with all his might. When he was finally finished, Charley didn’t move. Richard kicked him, again and again, cursing him, crying with rage. Still, Charley Lane didn’t move. Richard demanded that he get up, fight. “Come on, come on,” he hissed through clenched teeth. Charley stayed still as a log. Richard slapped him, moved him over, and felt for a pulse in his neck—he knew about such a thing because of the true-crime magazines. Nothing.

Stunned, horrified, the young Richard realized that Charley Lane was dead and he had killed him. His mind reeled with the dire implications of such a thing. He would be sent to prison, the dreaded big house, for the rest of his life. He stood and staggered. As much as he hated Charley, he had wanted only to hurt him, certainly not kill him. He had wanted to make Charley suffer the way Charley had made him suffer, cause him pain and anxiety. Not this. What to do, where to turn? There was no one he could tell about this—not his mother, not his uncle Micky, no one. Richard forced himself to take long, deep breaths, to think, to form a plan, his mind racing furiously to and fro.

By instinct Richard knew the only way out of this was to get rid of the body. But how? Where?

He had a stolen car in the lot down on Sixteenth Street, a dark blue Pontiac he had found two days ago in front of a store on Hudson Boulevard with the keys inside. He now hurried to get it, drove it to New Jersey Avenue, and parked just by the project entrance. Charley was very heavy—dead weight. Richard grabbed him by the coat, made sure the coast was clear, and boldly pulled the body toward the Pontiac, using the slippery ice to slide it across the frigid ground. He opened the trunk and managed to pick up the dead boy and get him in the trunk. As he closed the trunk he noticed a battered tool: on one side it was a hatchet, and on the other a hammer. Before getting into the car he looked around and made certain that no one was looking at him from one of the project windows. All seemed clear. He got into the car, drove onto the nearby Pulaski Skyway, and headed south. He wasn’t sure what he’d do or how he’d do it, but Richard was intent upon not getting caught. He put on the car’s heater and calmed himself, knowing if he was pulled over by the police he’d be in deep shit, so he purposely drove at the speed limit, and as he drove, a different feeling slowly swept over Richard: a feeling of power and omnipotence. A kind of invincibility. He remembered all the abuse he had suffered over the years because of Charley, the taunts and put-downs, the random punches and slaps and kicks, and he was suddenly glad he’d killed him. He’d been fantasizing about killing people for the longest time, almost as far back as he could remember, and now he’d done it, and he liked the way it made him feel.

“I will never,” he said out loud in the quiet interior of the moving car, “ever allow anybody to fucking abuse me again.” And he never did.

After two hours of driving, his mind playing over what he’d do, Richard reached South Jersey, an area filled with desolate marshland and pine forests. He pulled over on a small bridge above a frozen pond surrounded with tall blond-colored reeds, which he could see in the car’s headlights. There was no one about. The wind howled. He got out of the Pontiac and opened the trunk. Charley Lane was much heavier than he’d been before. Rigor mortis had not set in yet, and he was still malleable. Struggling, Richard got him out of the car, laid him on the frozen ground, and returned with the ax-hammer. Knowing Charley’s teeth could be used to identify him and put the murder on his doorstep, Richard used the hammer to knock out all of Charley’s teeth. He then laid out the lifeless hands and chopped the tips of his fingers off. He gathered up the fingertips and teeth, planning to get rid of them elsewhere. Last, he made sure Charley had no ID on him, found some paper money, took it, picked up the body, and dumped it off the small bridge. It broke through the ice. He returned to the car and turned back toward Jersey City, stepping on the gas. As he went he got rid of the other pieces of Charley he’d retrieved, knowing birds and animals would eat them sooner or later. All this he had learned by avidly reading true-crime magazines. Thus Richard’s path in life was set irrevocably and forever.

By the time Richard got back to Jersey City, a frigid pale dawn was rapidly coming on. He watched the sky in the east turn a tawny winter orange. He figured it would be best to get rid of the car now, so he left it in a parking area in Hoboken and walked back home, forever changed.

Proud of himself, how cool he was under pressure, how clever his actions were, he lay in bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He felt, for the first time in his entire life, like a someone, a person who merited respect. He could control who lived and who died, when and where and how. The last thought Richard had before he finally fell asleep was: Fuck with me and I’ll kill you…. I will kill you!

5

Reborn

In the ensuing days, Richard saw the project boys, but without Charley to lead and egg them on, encourage and compel them, they left Richard alone. But Richard didn’t leave them alone. They had tormented him for years, a thing he’d not forgotten. Using a length of two-by-four he found, he went after them all one by one and beat them mercilessly, and from then on they did not trouble Richard again. Indeed, they moved out of his way when they saw him coming, wouldn’t even look him in the eye.

It was then I learned it was better to give than receive, Richard recently explained.

There were a lot of questions about what happened to Charley, but no one ever tied his sudden disappearance to Richard, the closet pole, the stolen Pontiac. Richard believed he had committed the perfect crime, came to think of himself as a cunning, dangerous criminal, a force to be reckoned with. He went from a cowering boy to a dangerous man in just a few days. He began carrying around a baseball bat and was quick to use it on anyone, man or boy, who bothered him. He had a lot of old scores to settle, and he methodically went about Jersey City, seeking out, finding, and beating anyone who had ever bullied or abused him. He was very tall for his age and had a long-limbed, wiry strength beyond his years. In no time he garnered a reputation as a tough guy, no one to fuck with, and he liked that—a lot.

The bat, however, was too large and conspicuous, so instead Richard started carrying an inexpensive hunting knife, and he had no qualms about using it with very bad intentions.

Richard never thought about Charley Lane. He was dead and gone and to hell with him. Whether it was all of Stanley’s brutality, his mother’s beatings, the many head traumas Richard had suffered, or the way he’d been born—with some kind of bad gene—Richard had no concern, no guilt, no qualms about cutting someone across the face, even taking a life.

The thought of murder was the natural result of living in a jungle, and Richard had come to know the world as a brutal jungle, and he resolved to be a predator, not prey. Richard was, it was apparent even back then, a natural-born killer.

Richard had little use for school and barely went anymore. He began hanging out in smoke-filled pool halls and bars with pool tables. He really liked the game of pool, its neat precision, its rules, its timing and strategy. He practiced constantly, for hours at a time, perfecting his skills, his hand-eye coordination, the correct stroke needed to make good, then very difficult shots. With his tall, thin body and unusually long arms he was able to lean into difficult shots and make them easily. He soon learned you could make money if you shot pool well, and he had visions of becoming a famous pool shark, a slick, soft-spoken hustler who could beat the pants off all challengers.

Richard had an uncanny ability to move quietly. He naturally walked on just the balls of his enormous feet, and he could readily move up on people without their noticing. One afternoon he came home unexpectedly. Walking into the house, he heard a strange noise, heavy breathing, rhythmic grunting. He slowly moved forward and looked into the living room, and there was his mother, having sex with a man on the couch—a married man with three children who lived next door. His mother’s legs were high in the air, wide open, and the man was pumping into her, his fat, white, hairy ass exposed. Richard wanted to plunge his knife into the man’s back, but instead he quietly turned and left, disgusted, hating his mother. She was always talking about how dirty sex was, don’t do this, don’t do that, and there she was in broad daylight fucking the married guy next door. What a hypocrite, what a tramp—a whore, he thought, and went back to Jake’s pool hall in Hoboken and began to practice.

Richard became better and better at shooting pool and actually did start making money. With his shy ways and innocent baby face most people he played were sure they could beat him, but would inevitably lose to him. He got into arguments and fights with guys in pool halls and bars, and he was quick to smack with a pool stick anyone who got in his face or reneged on a bet. He quickly came to realize that if you struck first with a lot of force, you won, the fight was over, the dispute settled. End of story. Might really was always right.

His reputation quickly spread all over Jersey City and Hoboken and few wanted to tangle with Richard Kuklinski. Several times Richard got into runs-ins with guys who were with friends, and even then he wouldn’t back down. He was fearless to the point of being reckless. One such time he fought two brothers who with a third guy got the better of him. But Richard waited for these three guys to leave the bar, followed them home, found out where they lived, and went back a few nights later. He waited in the shadows for the right moment and stabbed, from behind, one of the brothers. He then went after the friend and stabbed him in the stomach as he went up the stairs to his home. He tried to find the second brother, but he had hightailed it out of Jersey City. Richard earned a reputation as a genuinely dangerous guy. Other toughs his age quickly gravitated to him. He was a natural leader, had a quick acerbic wit, and would cut a throat as readily as spit on a soiled sidewalk.

Soon Richard had his own gang of sorts. There were five of them—three Polish guys (including Richard), an Irish kid, and an Italian. They called themselves the Coming Up Roses, and each of them got a tattoo on his left hand of a parchment scroll with those words, “Coming Up Roses.” For them the words meant that there were bright things ahead, and that if anyone fucked with any of them he’d end up plant fertilizer. They swore an oath of loyalty and soon began plotting robberies and stick-ups together.

Richard bought his first gun from a guy he played pool with. It was an old .38 revolver with a six-inch barrel. He and his gang went to the abandoned Jersey City waterfront and took target practice. They were all the children of two-fisted, heavy-drinking, blue-collar people, high school dropouts, antisocial toughs, fearless and reckless; trouble waiting to happen.

The second individual Richard killed was a man named Doyle, a red-faced Irishman that talked out the side of a thin-lipped mouth. He hung around a pool hall–bar in Hoboken called Danny’s. He drank a lot, and when he drank he became loud, mean, and abusive. Richard was playing pool for money with Doyle, winning game after game, and Doyle began calling Richard names—“dumb Polack,” “cheater.”

Everyone knew Doyle was a Jersey City cop, and even Richard, with his homicidal hair-trigger temper, would not assault him out in the open. But the more Doyle abused Richard, the madder Richard became. Doyle very much reminded Richard of his father—a fatal resemblance. Rather than tangle with Doyle in the open, Richard quietly put down the pool cue, left the bar, and waited for Doyle. After a time Doyle also left the bar, got into his car parked down the block, lit up a cigarette, and just sat there. Richard soon realized that Doyle had fallen asleep. As always, Richard had a knife on him. But Doyle was a cop, and if Richard stabbed him he’d have to kill him, and he’d be first on the list of likely suspects, a thing Richard was intent upon avoiding. He turned away, went to a nearby gas station, bought a quart of gas, and quickly made his way back to the sleeping Doyle. The driver’s window was open. Without a second thought, Richard quickly and silently poured the gas into the car, on Doyle, struck a match, and threw it in the car. A fireball exploded. Doyle was quickly consumed and killed by the ferocious flames and intense heat. Richard stayed nearby and actually enjoyed hearing Doyle scream, the smell of his burned flesh coming to him on a strong breeze off the nearby Hudson River. Satisfied, actually smiling, Richard made his way home; he never said a word to anyone about what he had done, not even his Coming Up Roses cronies.

Richard had grown into a very tall, handsome young man. He had light blond hair, honey colored almond-shaped eyes, wide Slavic cheekbones, and heart-shaped lips. He looked like a young Jimmy Stewart and had a beguiling shy way about him that women were drawn to. In most all the bars and pool halls where Richard hung out, there were older women, as he had come to think of them, and they soon found their way to Richard and invited him home with them, and thus Richard lost his virginity. It didn’t take him long to realize that women found him attractive, which he enjoyed, and he began dressing to please women, but he was still painfully shy and unless a woman approached him he was hard-pressed to strike up a conversation.

Often, however, women approached him.

One such woman, a twenty-five-year-old named Linda, took Richard home when he was sixteen, and he began to live with her. She always wanted to have sex and he was always happy to accommodate her. She was short with black hair, attractive in a simple way. But she was always “in the mood,” it seemed, and Richard gave her what she wanted, when she wanted it—and how and where she wanted it. He had a particularly large member she couldn’t seem to get enough of.

By now Richard had come to hate his mother and visited her less and less. His sister, Roberta, had acquired a reputation as a loose girl, easy to have, and Richard didn’t like that. He warned her several times to “keep your drawers on,” to no avail. His younger brother, Joseph, like him, was tall and thin with a thick mop of blond hair. Joseph did not do well in school, was always in fights; he had punched out a teacher. At Anna’s urging Richard spoke to Joe, tried to get him to behave, but it was like talking to a wall.

Joseph, like Richard, had an antisocial personality, was clearly a budding psychopath…would think nothing of breaking a bottle and cutting someone’s face wide open. Richard’s father, Stanley, was a short man with black hair, five foot seven or so, yet both Richard and Joseph were well over six feet and still growing. This sometimes caused Richard to wonder if Stanley was really his father. Richard had come to think of his mother as an unkempt, slovenly whore and had little use for her. However, when he found out that Stanley came around the house, yelling at and slapping Anna, he went and found his father, put a .38 to his head, pulled the hammer back, and warned him through tight lips and clenched teeth that if he ever went near his family again, he’d kill him and dump him in the river. After that, Richard didn’t speak to his father for many years, and Stanley never troubled Anna again. Truth is, Richard was heartfelt sorry he didn’t kill Stanley and often thought about going back and finishing the job.

Even now, so many years later, Richard regrets not having blown Stanley away. He confided: Stanley was a first-grade, sadistic prick. He shouldn’t’ve never been allowed to have children. A thousand times if once I wondered why I didn’t kill him. If I had to do it over, I would’ve done the job right for sure.

6

The De Cavalcantes

The Coming Up Roses gang, under Richard’s leadership, committed more and more crimes: broke into warehouses, held up liquor stores and drugstores, burglarized rich people with nice homes in Jersey City Heights and Lincoln Park, the most exclusive areas in Jersey City. Because Richard was cautious and carefully planned all their jobs, thought about them from numerous angles, they were successful. In all his short life Richard excelled at three things: playing pool, sudden violence, and crime.

Richard began making good money and usually walked around with a large roll of bills. He soon acquired a penchant for gambling, playing cards and going to the racetracks, and as quickly as he made money, he pissed it away. He said he was “nigger rich,” and had no comprehensive concept of money, how to manage it, save it, and parlay it into more. For him, money was for spending, when and where and how he wished. Easy come, easy go.

Wanting to look good—sharp, as he says—he bought garish suits for himself, bright yellows and pinks. Thus attired, Richard and the Coming Up Roses made the rounds of all the Hoboken bars. There were, literally, two or three bars on every block, more bars per capita than anywhere in the country. They also went to dance halls. Once in a while men made comments about how Richard dressed, and he assaulted these individuals quickly and violently. He’d pull out his knife and use it at the drop of a hat, and it got so that no one commented on his outlandish outfits. Still, he was quite a sight in a pink, large-collared suit, tall and thin and gangly, particularly broad at the shoulders, with his light blond hair combed straight back and his intense honey-colored eyes. Even then it was an unsettling experience, having Richard Kuklinski stare directly at you with his pale, deadpan face.

Richard took to drinking more than he should, and when he drank he, like his father and more than likely his grandfather, became mean and belligerent. He and the Coming Up Roses often got into bar brawls, and they rarely, if ever, lost a fight, because all of them were vicious in the extreme and were always sending people to the hospital with gaping knife wounds, cracked heads, broken bones. Richard and his friends became notorious, not an easy feat in the tough blue-collar cities of Hoboken and Jersey City, each filled with the notorious. It didn’t take long for members of the De Cavalcante crime family to notice the Coming Up Roses gang.

His name was Carmine Genovese, no relationship to the infamous Vito Genovese. Carmine was a made man, a cunning individual who had his sausage-thick fingers in many juicy pies. He was short and round like a meatball, with a large round head that was also round like a meatball. Indeed, his nickname was “Meatball.” Carmine heard about the Coming Up Roses crew many times over the years, that they were very violent, stand-up and fearless, all neighborhood kids who had come up the hard way, looking to earn. He invited them to his home one afternoon and sat them down in the kitchen as he prepared a meat gravy sauce for pasta. With his heavy tough-guy accent, talking out of the left side of his mouth, he said, “I’m hearing all the time about you and I like what I hear. I got a piece a work for you. You do this good, I’ll make sure you earn big.” He added some hot sausages to the gravy pot. “There’s this guy in Lincoln Park. Here’s his address and his picture. He’s a problem. He’s got his head up his ass; he’s gotta go. You do a good job, I make sure you earn, capisce? I did everything for you already—just finish the work. He’s gotta go…understand?” With that he handed Richard a black-and-white photograph of a man getting in his car, a black Lincoln. Richard passed it to the others. They all looked. Richard knew this could be a golden opportunity for his crew, that the door was opening to a bona fide in with organized crime—a thing they had always hoped for. Because four of them were not Italians, they could never be made, but they could become “independent contractors.”

The mob, they all knew, controlled New Jersey commerce, had an absolute stranglehold on the unions, the piers, all vices, hijackings, robberies, shylocking, and murder.

Carmine then added a pile of neat, round meatballs to the gravy. “You want the work?” he asked, looking at them out of the corner of his reptilian eyes.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Richard said.

“Good. This gotta happen quick, understand? Anything goes wrong, you call me. We own the cops here, okay?”

“Okay,” Richard said as the others nodded in solemn agreement.

“You guys stay. Eat lunch with me,” Carmine said, and soon they all sat down to a simple though hearty meal of spaghetti, meat sauce, and salad with big green Sicilian olives that Carmine had cured—one of his hobbies, he explained.

When the Coming Up Roses left Carmine, they went to a Hoboken bar near the waterfront called the Final Round. There they sat down to discuss this sudden opportunity, all of them except Richard nervous and unsure. Barroom brawls were one thing, but cold-blooded murder was a horse of another color. The baddest of the group was a tall, bull-like guy named John Wheeler. He was an amateur heavyweight boxer, tough as nails. Despite his anxiety he said, “I’ll do it. I’ll pull the trigger. No problem.”

Good, okay, that was settled. Richard said, “Let’s do this quick and let’s do it right. Guys, this is a great chance for us, okay? We don’t wanna blow it.”

They all agreed and piled into John’s car and drove over to Lincoln Park. Richard was behind the wheel. John had the gun, a mean little .32 revolver. This was a good neighborhood. People who lived here were rich. The Coming Up Roses had robbed numerous houses in the area. They found the address, a stately wood-frame house with fancy columns and porticoes and a beautiful, well-tended garden. It was early spring and already the grounds were bursting with young flowers. This was a far cry from where these guys had grown up; this was the proverbial other side of the tracks. As they sat there discussing how to do the job, the mark walked right out the front door, as if on cue, without a care in the world it seemed. All of the Coming Up Roses were nervous, had butterflies in their stomachs.

“There he is, go do it, John,” Richard said.

But John didn’t move. He froze, got pale. The mark slid into his fancy Lincoln and drove away.

“What happened?” Richard asked, annoyed.

“I don’t know…. I just, I just—I don’t know,” big, tough-as-nails Wheeler said.

“Okay, not to worry, we’ll follow him, nail him in his car, okay, at a light,” Richard said.

“Yeah—yeah, okay,” Wheeler said. Richard put the car in gear and off they went, this inexperienced impromptu hit team.

They caught up with the Lincoln at a light on West Side Avenue. “Get ready,” Richard said, easing up right next to the Lincoln. Wheeler’s hands, however, were trembling so much he couldn’t even take proper aim.

“What’s wrong?” Richard asked, and the others asked the same thing.

“I don’t fuckin’ know. I can’t.”

The light turned green. The mark drove off.

“We have to do this,” Richard said. “We have no choice anymore.” They trailed the mark to a Hoboken bar, watched him belly up to the bar, have a drink and shoot the breeze with the bartender.

“I’ll do it,” Richard solemnly said, and took the gun from Wheeler. Silently, contemplatively, they sat there. Night came on quickly. It began to rain. The mark left the bar and headed for his Lincoln. He seemed a little wobbly now. The coast was clear. Without a word, Richard stepped from the car, quickly made his way to the Lincoln, deadly purpose in each step, made sure no one was looking, put the gun up close to the mark’s head, and pulled the trigger, boom, one shot to the left side of his head, just above the ear. It was done.

Calm, cool, collected, Richard walked back to the car and got in, and they drove away. Wow! was the collective feeling of the others, but no one said anything, each of them looking at Richard with a newfound respect.

Finally, after several blocks, the big, bad Wheeler said, “Man, Rich, you’re cold like ice.”

“Cool as a fuckin’ cucumber,” another said.

Richard enjoyed the adulation. He felt no pangs of conscience, no emotion, no guilt at all. Indeed, he felt nothing. He had killed the mark as easily as belching and never looked back.

Near noon the following day, the Coming Up Roses went back to Carmine’s place. Richard knocked on the door. Carmine opened it.

“What’s up?” he said. “I told you not to come back till you did the thing.”

“You see the papers?” Richard asked.

“No…why?” Carmine asked.

Richard’s answer was a slight, coy smile.

“Ah, you sons of bitches, you did it, bravo. You sons of bitches,” Carmine exclaimed, and he invited them in, graciously poured drinks for them, gave them each five hundred dollars, and thus the door to organized crime opened wide.

7

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

True to his word, Carmine gave Richard and his crew a lot of work. Suddenly they were making money hand over fist. They proved without question they could be trusted, were ruthless, and got the job done, no matter what it was. Carmine knew the best way to test potential associates was for them to commit a murder. Once that was done, they could, theoretically, be trusted, for they had incriminated themselves in a serious crime. In those days there were few people involved with La Cosa Nostra—“Our Thing”—who became “rats,” and the best way to guarantee someone’s loyalty was to have him commit a murder, which is exactly what Carmine had done with the Coming Up Roses. Indeed, the first step into the induction of any Mafia family was carrying out a killing, or making one’s “bones.” That created the lifetime bond that proved so successful for so many years, first in Italy, then around the world: the Italian Mafia was, still is, the most successful criminal enterprise of all time, and Richard Kuklinski would become one of its premiere killers—a homicide superstar.

Carmine Genovese had amazing sources of information all over New Jersey. He knew what trucks to hijack, when and where and what they were carrying, even had the truck numbers, which he gave to Richard’s crew. Carmine received half of the proceeds of all the ill-gotten gains they made, and the gang split the other half five ways among themselves. They hijacked trucks that were filled with appliances, jewelry, clothing, albums, razor blades, furniture, tools and machinery, even fancy foods such as steak and loads of caviar—anything that could be turned into hard cash quickly.

No matter how much Richard’s crew made, they spent it all, gambled and lived large. Richard was not too fond of the horse tracks, but he loved Las Vegas, and he went there by himself and with Linda—the older woman he was still living with—and gambled up a storm. He also very much enjoyed watching the garish, extravagant Las Vegas shows. His favorite entertainer was Liberace, of all people. He loved the game of baccarat, won a lot, but lost far more. He recently explained: I had no idea what money was, and I spent it like water. I should’ve been investing it, buying property, but I threw it all away.

Richard also enjoyed seeing all the gorgeous showgirls. Often he was propositioned by Las Vegas prostitutes. He was hard to miss, with his huge size and decked out in a yellow suit, but he never went with any of the very lovely prostitutes who came on to him. He thought of prostitutes as whores and wasn’t turned on to them. A girl that screwed eight guys that day does nothing for me, he explained.

The largest score Richard and his crew made—because of Genovese—was taking off an armored truck company in North Bergen, New Jersey. Genovese had given them the combination to the alarm and locking system, and after pressing a few buttons they were inside the small redbrick warehouse, where armored trucks were neatly lined up. There was a huge safe filled with boxes of cash and gold bullion. Carmine told them it couldn’t look like an inside job, so the first thing they did was break a hole in the wall. They then proceeded to blow open the safe and completely fill up one of the armored trucks with bullion, cash, and coins.

Unfortunately, they put too much weight in the truck, and when they were pulling out of the garage and hit the outside curb, all four rear tires blew out with loud explosions, startling them. They tried to drive to a prearranged warehouse they had rented not far way, but the armored truck couldn’t make it, and the gang was forced to go back and take two more armored trucks. Working triple time they emptied the contents of the first one into the other two trucks right there on the side of the road just near the turnpike and finally took off. If a cop car had come along they would certainly have been busted, but they were lucky and made it to their safe haven just as it was getting light.

Altogether they stole two million dollars’ worth of currency and gold. Carmine took half, and Richard and his group split one million: two hundred thousand each. A great score for these young toughs still wet behind the ears. The Coming Up Roses gang now really lived it up, squandered their shares, and before any of them knew it the money was gone, mostly lost at the racetrack and poker tables and spent on women.

Richard made several first-class flights to Vegas and managed to lose all his ill-gotten gains.

I was a dumb kid. I didn’t know any better, he says; but boy did I have a ball—smiling as he thought about it even now.

With all their success the gang became more and more bold and began to think they were invincible.

Two of the Coming Up Roses, John Wheeler and Jack Dubrowski, got it into their heads that it would be okay to stick up a card game sponsored by a made man in the De Cavalcante family. They did this without asking or consulting with Richard, which proved to be a fatal mistake in judgment. One of the group they robbed recognized John, even though they both sported plaid bandannas over their faces. Word quickly reached a De Cavalcante soldier. Knowing Richard led the Coming Up Roses and that they worked with Genovese, this soldier—his name was Albert Parenti—found Richard and solemnly sat him down in a quiet corner of a bar called Phil’s. Parenti was a barrel-chested Italian American of Sicilian extraction, balding, weasel faced, so bowlegged he walked like he just got off a horse. He said, “I know two of your guys stuck up my game on Washington Street. I also know you had nothing to do with it or I wouldn’t be talking nice. I’m coming to you here like this as a courtesy, see. We all know you are a stand-up guy; we hear only good things about you. That’s why I’m talking to you nice like this, see. Those guys of yours gotta go. There ain’t no other way.”

Angry but controlling himself, Richard knew better than to try and deny his guys’ involvement or to become belligerent in any way. What he did was plead for mercy.

“First let me say I appreciate you talking to me like this,” he said. “I had no idea ’bout any of this. I’m real sorry. I’ll make sure every fuckin’ penny is paid back, all—”

“It’s not the money I’m talking about here, it’s the principle.”

“I know that, I’m just saying—”

“Look, let me cut to the chase: these guys gotta go. And you gotta do it, see. They’re your responsibility, see.”

This hit Richard like a bare-knuckled punch in the face. In his own quiet way he loved John and Jack; they were his first and only friends. How could he kill them? But Richard knew enough about the rhyme and rhythm of street justice to know that if he didn’t do what Parenti was asking—actually demanding!—he himself could very well be marked for removal.

He tried again: “Let me talk to them, let me make sure they leave town and never, I mean never, come back.”

“They gotta go. That’s it. You do it or we do it, capisce?”

“Capisce,” Richard said, seeing clearly the handwriting on the wall; and it was written in John and Jack’s blood, and if he was not careful, his blood.

“Good. I’m glad that’s settled,” Parenti said with solemn finality. He stood up and left, the two goons he traveled with close behind. A heavy life-and-death weight suddenly on his shoulders, Richard sat there as still as a tombstone, knowing he and his small crew could never fight with the De Cavalcantes. They were many, and notoriously violent, and defying or fighting with them would only mean sure death for all of them. Richard knew too that John and Jack had fucked up big-time, gone against the basic tenets of the street, and his strict rule of never taking off any mob guys. They had, he knew, sealed their own fates. Richard got up slowly, left the bar, first found Jack, shot him in the head before he knew it, and left him where he dropped. He then found John leaving his girlfriend’s apartment and shot him down, killing him, leaving him on the street so the De Cavalcantes would know the deed was truly done. They both died without pain—before they knew what hit them.

Still, Richard felt terrible. He had just killed two of the people he’d been closest to, whom he loved more than brothers. They had done much together. Now they were dead, dead by his hand.

It was them or me, he kept telling himself, but that didn’t help much, he later confided.

The De Cavalcantes immediately heard, of course, about what Richard had done, and it didn’t take long for them to realize that Richard Kuklinski could be a great asset to them—a made-to-order killer who knew what to do and how to do it, and kept his mouth shut…something all mob families in all places are always scouting for. True, Richard could never be made, but he could surely work as an independent contractor if he proved he could keep his mouth shut, that he understood that silence was golden. Before they’d approach him with anything more, they’d wait and see if he could be trusted.

The Jersey City police found no witnesses…no links to Richard; no one knew anything about the murders of John and Jack, and they soon became forgotten; just two hoods that got their just desserts.

8

Long Walks, Short Piers

It was the spring of 1954. Richard was just nineteen years old but comported himself as if he were much older. He had a stoic seriousness about him beyond his years. Perhaps it was because of his parents’ brutality; perhaps it was because he’d always been an outsider, put-upon, victimized; perhaps it was because he’d never had any kind of childhood. Perhaps, because he had killed his two best friends. Whatever it was, Richard was no longer a boy. He was a man about to make his mark on the world.

Like many Poles, Richard had a penchant for walking, the outdoors and fresh air. He’d regularly walk miles at a time. He didn’t believe in exercise, lifting weights, working out in a gym, jogging, but he loved to walk and think as he went. Though he didn’t exercise, Richard was endowed with unusual strength. He did menial work between his financial highs and lows, loading and unloading trucks—always keeping an eye out for something he could rob and turn into hard cash. His strength, however, seemed something he was born with, in his genes. The Poles from northern Poland, where his father had come from, were a hardy, powerful lot—and all the best physical traits of his bloodline seemed to manifest themselves in Richard. When recently asked if he exercised as a young man, went to a gym, lifted weights, he said: The only exercise I ever got was carrying dead bodies.

Curious to see more of New York, Richard took the ferry to Manhattan, marveling as the boat crossed the river at the multicolored, rich skyline—how different it was from Jersey City and Hoboken. He had been to the city several times already with the Coming Up Roses crew, but never by himself. Now the Coming Up Roses were a thing of the past, part of his youth. There were rumors on the street that Richard had killed John and Jack, and the other members steered clear of him. As it happened, they soon began using heroin, and Richard in turn stayed away from them. He did not like drugs, or the people who used them. He viewed drug users as weak and unreliable—people you couldn’t trust. Richard had become a kind of solemn, slow-moving, very dangerous lone wolf—an attribute that would serve him well for many years to come. He enjoyed being alone. He avoided friends.

When Richard stepped off the ferry near Fortieth Street, he took a right and began to walk downtown along the riverfront, under the West Side Highway. This was a dark, dank, desolate place. Most of the great piers that had once lined West Street, bustling with commerce, ships, and affluent people, were now rusting and dying, mere skeletons of their former selves. Here there were few streetlamps, and the streets were rough cobblestone, slick when wet. Richard now always carried a knife or a gun. He didn’t feel fully dressed unless he was armed, a trait that would stay with him all his professional life. He didn’t, he says, have any designs on hurting anyone on this first lone foray into Manhattan, but a nasty bum with an attitude approached him, asking for money. Richard ignored him. The bum followed, demanding money, and still Richard walked on. The bum, a large, dirty, bearded bear of a man, grabbed Richard by the shoulder and swung him around.

“Hey, you deaf, motherfucker?” he said. Smiling, Richard quickly turned and, before the bum realized it, pulled out his knife and slammed it into the bum’s chest in two swift movements.

“Get the fuck away from me!” Richard growled as the bum went to his knees and hit the ground hard. It was all over in a split second. Richard watched the light in his eyes go out, wiped his blade on him, and walked on, knowing he had killed the man, glad he had killed him.

I enjoy seeing the lights go out. I enjoy killing up close and personal. I always wanted the last image they had to be my face, he explained.

Richard had come to enjoy having control over who lived and who died. It made him feel omnipotent. He viewed the man he just killed as a vermin, and he kept his eyes open for more vermin. He walked all the way to the Battery Tunnel and solemnly stared at Jersey City just across the water, remembering how he used to read crime magazines over there when he was a kid, remembering his brother Florian, remembering his father’s brutality, remembering the friends he had killed. He could just about see the place where he had shot John Wheeler to death. Hell of a thing, he thought.

His handsome face a mask of unfeeling granite, Richard turned and made his way back uptown, passing the bum he had killed as he went, enjoying the sight of him there like that, dead at his hand, still lying where he had left him, though now a ghostly pale in the forlorn yellowish light of a streetlamp.

Richard knew this murder would not be tied to him, that the New York police would definitely not communicate with the Jersey police.

He came back to Manhattan numerous times over the ensuing weeks and months and killed people, always men, never a female, he says, always someone who rubbed him the wrong way, for some imagined or real slight. He shot and stabbed and bludgeoned men to death. He left some where they dropped. He dumped some in the nearby Hudson River.

Murder, for Richard, became sport.

The New York police came to believe that the bums were attacking and killing one another, never suspecting that a full-blown serial killer from Jersey City was coming over to Manhattan’s West Side for the purpose of killing people, to practice and perfect murder.

Richard made the West Side of Manhattan a kind of lab for murder, a school, he says. He learned the finer points and intricacies of where to put a knife for the maximum effect: in the back of the head and up into the brain; an inverted slice across the throat, at the same time cutting the carotid arteries and windpipe. Directly into the heart was also very effective.

But in the back of the head and into the brain, he realized, was the quickest way and much less bloody. That, blood, became a constant concern, for Richard did not want to get blood on himself or his clothes. With respect to a gun: a bullet to the head, just above the ear, under the jaw, proved to be the most efficient. He hung a man one time, looped a piece of hemp across the man’s neck, hoisted the man off the ground, holding him with the rope over his shoulder. I became the tree, he explained. He also used an ice pick, which proved to be a good killing tool—easy to conceal—when stuck in the right place: directly into the ear, or directly into the eyeball, it was quite lethal.

Even back then the darkened cobble streets of Manhattan’s far West Side were a gathering place for gay men. There were numerous dark bars that discreetly accommodated a homosexual clientele. One such place was Scottish Annie’s, a safe haven for men who liked to wear skirts and dress as women. The dark bars on these dark, out-of-the-way streets were the perfect place for men to lead what often amounted to a second, hidden life.

Richard had nothing against homosexuals, he says, and didn’t seek them out, though his steely-eyed Jimmy Stewart good looks invariably drew gay men to him, and if they were too pushy he hurt them; indeed, he killed them. These murders had, he says, nothing to do with sex; they only had to do with someone being too pushy.

One evening, Richard was drinking in a bar near Grove Street and a man kept coming on to him….

“Look,” Richard finally said, “I ain’t into that, okay; go somewhere else, okay?”

But the guy, a tall gentleman with a military crew cut, wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was so insistent that Richard was forced to leave the bar. The guy followed him outside and propositioned him, saying, “I know you want to. Come on, come on, big guy.” Finally, after two blocks of this, Richard saw a loose cobblestone, picked it up, and struck the fellow in the head so hard that brain matter hit a store window.

“I fuckin’ told you to leave me alone,” Richard told the dead man, and walked on.

Richard came to realize that when he drank he became outright mean, and during most of these homicide forays into Manhattan he was drinking—certainly not drunk, but definitely buzzed. He told himself that he should drink less, and beer instead of whiskey. Richard also traveled to other places to kill people: Newark, Rhode Island, and Hoboken too. But those areas were less populated, people seemed more on the lookout, nosy, so Richard kept going back to Manhattan, enjoying the hubbub of his own private killing field.

Because, for the most part, Richard was murdering “throwaway people,” bums and hobos (and occasional gay men), the New York police did little, if anything, to solve these many sudden, impromptu killings.

No one cared.

“Let ’em kill each other,” a police captain told his detectives in the Tenth Precinct. There were no stakeouts set up, no curious detectives asking questions with a notebook in hand, and Richard quickly picked up on this, for he saw no extra police anywhere.

He didn’t kill someone every time he went to New York. There were times he just walked around, had a drink, thought over different schemes he had in his head. With the Coming Up Roses a thing of the past, and Carmine Genovese in jail on gambling charges, Richard was making far less money and was forced to take a menial job unloading trucks, a thing he didn’t like; but he always had his eye out for a score—something he could steal and turn into cash. He had a friend in the Teamsters union named Tony Pro who always made sure Richard had a job if he wanted to work. Richard still shot a lot of pool. The problem now was that most everyone knew how good a pool shark he was, so he was hard-pressed to find anyone willing to play him for money.

Then Linda became pregnant. Richard had no feelings about the pending birth. He did not love Linda, didn’t think she was a good homemaker. She was just a warm body in the bed on cold Jersey City nights, a convenient way to get his rocks off. He wanted her to get an abortion. She wouldn’t. She didn’t believe in abortion. He threatened her. She still wouldn’t get one. Richard had no qualms about hitting Linda. He had been brought up in a household where the beating of women was the norm, and he struck Linda without a second thought if she annoyed him, which she did more and more often: she wanted to get married, he didn’t; she wanted him to get a straight job and hold it, he didn’t; she wanted him to stay home nights, he wanted to go out. Most of their disagreements were settled when Richard slapped her, said “Shut up!” out of the side of his thin-lipped mouth. He even tried to make her lose the baby by punching her in the stomach; that didn’t work. Her stomach became larger and larger still every week.

As cruel as Richard often was to Linda, he could be sweet and gentle—considerate to a fault. He brought her cute stuffed toys, freshly cut flowers, fancy candies and clothing. But the truth was Linda never knew what he would be like when he walked in the door, kind or mean, with a present or a slap. In the end, Richard wound up marrying Linda at city hall. He didn’t tell anyone he was getting married. He was doing it, he said, “for the kid’s sake.”

Richard had grown into a particularly moody young man, had extreme highs and lows. When he was in a bad mood—most of the time—he was outright dangerous to be around, for man or beast. By now most everyone in Jersey City and Hoboken knew all about Richard Kuklinski, how dangerous he was, and gladly gave him a wide berth, but he still got into altercations with men, which most often ended with Richard killing them.

For Richard, murder had become an integral part of everyday life…just as night followed day, and the tides moved in and out of the nearby Hudson River. Richard seemed to have the perfect disposition to kill people without reservation or remorse, indeed, without a second thought. Richard was always careful: if he got it into his head to kill someone, or hurt him, as he says, he tried to pick the time and place. Oddly enough, Richard was most dangerous when he was quiet. If someone did something to offend him and he stayed quiet, it was a good time to run for the hills. When he got angry, when murder filled his eyes, he always made this kind of slight clicking sound out of the left side of his mouth, a trait that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

If I was going to hurt someone, I’d never tell him. Why let him know what your intention is? he recently asked.

9

A Triple Play

It was the middle of February 1956. Horrific cold winds came barreling down the Hudson River from upstate New York and whipping off the Atlantic. The water in the river was choppy and rough, filled with large, sharp-edged pieces of ice the color of nicotine-stained fingers. Richard was in a bar called Rosie’s Place in Hoboken, playing eight ball with a large square-shouldered truck driver with a glistening bald head and hands as big as ham hocks. There were a few pool tables, a long slat bar, some wobbly tables and chairs. It was a Friday night. Considering the weather, the place was crowded, cigarette smoke hanging in the air like a thick, fallen cloud. There was a jukebox, and country music came from it. Richard kept winning. He seemed to make every shot. The bald-headed truck driver became more and more angry and started making nasty comments to his two friends at the bar, who were trying to pick up girls.

Staying quiet, Richard kept running all the balls, not missing a shot. Soon the truck driver started calling Richard “Polack.” “Hey, Polack, you got a rabbit’s foot up your ass? Hey, Polack, how ’bout you give me a chance to shoot? Hey, Polack, where’d you get that fuckin’ fag suit?”

Richard abruptly stopped playing, quietly walked to the truck driver, and without a single word smashed him alongside the head with his pool cue, breaking the pool stick into pieces. The truck driver went right down. His friends at the bar stayed put. Richard started toward the door. “Fuck you,” he said as he went. Before he knew it, however, the truck driver was up and throwing fast, furious punches at him, well-placed combinations, like a boxer would. He was exceedingly strong and was beating Richard. The fight moved to a pool table. The truck driver managed to get Richard down on top of it and proceeded to pummel him. Richard grabbed an eight ball and, with all his strength, struck the guy alongside his bald head; again, he went down.

Richard didn’t want anything more to do with this situation—fighting for dear life in a bar over what amounted to nonsense. He left the Hoboken bar, got into a blue Chevy he had, and drove toward Jersey City, licking his wounds as he went. The bald-headed truck driver was the toughest, strongest guy he’d ever gone up against, and it was all over nothing. Thinking he had to learn to control his drinking and homicidal impulses, Richard went under a low train trestle between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets, where a car suddenly cut him off and made him come to a screeching stop. The truck driver jumped out of the car, all red-faced mad, followed by his friends; they were carrying pipes, storming toward Richard.

Under the seat of the car, Richard had a snub-nosed .38. He quickly grabbed it, and as the truck driver reached him, cursing, raising the length of pipe he had, Richard shot him square in the forehead. He went down and this time he stayed there, a finger of blood gushing in squirts from the sudden dime-sized hole in his head. Richard got out of the car and proceeded to shoot the other two dead, the report of the gunshots deafeningly loud under the cold metal trestle. Shaking his head in disbelief, Richard knew he had to move and move fast unless he wanted to go to jail. His mind raced. Quickly, he put the three bodies into the back of the bald-headed guy’s car and drove it down to the frozen, bleak waterfront, only a few blocks away. He retrieved his own car, parked it near the car with the bodies, put the three of them in the trunk, and took off for Pennsylvania’s Bucks County. He knew he had to get rid of the bodies, that they could never be found; if they were it would be a foregone conclusion that he had killed them. He had thought about just driving the car into the river, but he was concerned it would be spotted there and the bodies would be found, and of course tied to him.

The year before Richard had been in Bucks County hunting deer and had come across some interesting caves in which there were bottomless pits. He made a mental note then of these endless holes in the ground as a good place to get rid of a body, never imagining he’d have three bodies to dispose of. Richard had an uncanny sense of direction, and without much difficulty he managed to find the caves; one by one he carried the bodies inside and tossed them down a gaping, ominous hole. He could hear them banging along the sides of the hole as they went down, but not hit bottom. Huffing and puffing, his breath fogging in the February cold, he hurried back and forth, throwing each body in turn down the hole, amazed at how heavy a body became when life left it.

Deadweight. There really is such a thing as deadweight, he explained.

Finished, a job well done, Richard drove back to Jersey City listening to country music, resolved to stop getting into barroom brawls, fights over nothing. But that never happened. If someone, anyone, insulted Richard, spoke down to him, or was disrespectful, Richard wanted to kill him, and often did. This would be a recurring theme that played out often and tragically in Richard’s incredibly violent life.

Back in Jersey City, Richard carefully wiped his prints off the car, took off the license plates, drove it to the edge of a pier along the Hudson where he knew the water was deep, and eased it into the frigid, secret-holding, accommodating river. The car quickly disappeared. If the car was found at some point without any bodies inside of it, he’d have no problems. The sky was still dark, but a thick leaden dawn was coming on quickly. The wind blew hard. Richard walked back to his car and drove home, proud of his quick thinking, proud of the fact that he had met the enemy head-on and prevailed.

He felt they had gotten what they deserved, and he was, in the end, glad he had killed them. The last thought before he went to sleep, the February winds whistling, rattling the windows, was They got what they deserved.

Oddly enough, Richard wasn’t even questioned about the disappearance of the three men. He had, it seemed, amazing luck. He’d killed them on a quiet, desolate street with few houses nearby; a passing car could very well have come along, but none did. This luck would follow Richard for many years. It was almost as if he had some kind of dark, demonic archangel watching over him, keeping him safe…off police radar.

There were rumors that Richard had done in the three guys, but no one ever asked him, no cops questioned him, and Richard certainly wasn’t about to tell anyone what he’d done. He was tight-lipped in the extreme—another aspect of his personality that would serve him well for many years to come.

10

Murder for Hire

Carmine Genovese was out of jail and needed another man killed, though this time, he told Richard, the mark had to “suffer” before he died and the body had to “disappear.”

“This guy,” Carmine said, “did something to a friend of mine’s wife; something very disrespectful. You make sure he suffers—understand? Do it good and I’ll pay you double…okay?”

“Okay, sure, no problem,” Richard said. He did not ask what the man had done, why he had to suffer. That was irrelevant; none of his business.

Again, Carmine gave Richard a photograph of the mark and the address of the place he worked, a used-car lot on Raymond Boulevard in Newark. The mark was standing in the lot next to a woman that looked kind of like him.

“You do this right, I pay you very well, capisce?”

“Capisce,” Richard said.

“Maybe you can bring me a little piece a him so I can see for myself and tell my friend how he suffered.”

“A piece of him?” Richard repeated, a little confused.

“Yeah, so I can show my friend.”

“How big a piece?” Richard asked.

“Not so big, maybe like his hand…some toes, okay?”

“Yeah…sure, okay,” Richard said. “No problem. I aim to please.”

“Good,” Genovese said. They shook hands. The contract was sealed.

Glad Carmine was giving him another “piece of work,” Richard left his place, his mind suddenly filled with the job before him. This was, he would later reveal, the part he liked the most—the stalking of a victim. Richard immediately knew how to do this and looked forward to it. Clearly, Richard had grown into a psychotic sadist who had discovered a way to hurt and kill people, and get paid for it. Life was good.

It was a sprawling used-car lot. Colorful flags were strung across it every which way. Richard quickly found the mark. He was tall and thin and was often walking about the lot with customers. He even went on test drives with people. Before Richard made any kind of move he surveyed the place for two days—found out when the most people were there, when the mark arrived, and when he left. When Richard had a clear plan in his mind, he parked his car a few blocks away, on a quiet street lined with broken-down warehouses. There were fewer people shopping for cars about 11:00 A.M., just before lunch, and that’s when Richard walked onto the lot, straight up to the mark, a friendly smile about his high-cheekboned face. It was late March. The weather had become mild. Richard wore a baggy sport coat. In one pocket he had a .38 derringer, in the other a jawbreaker—a kind of blackjack with a piece of solid lead the size of a cigarette pack encased in black leather with a short, thin handle—perfect for knocking people unconscious with one blow. Smiling, Richard told the mark he needed an inexpensive car quickly, that his car had been stolen and that he needed wheels for work.

“Something reliable,” he said. “I’m not handy with engines and I don’t want to get stuck somewhere at night,” he explained, his face suddenly grave. Richard was, in fact, a consummate actor. He had a natural ability, no doubt acquired on the street, of looking someone square in the eye and lying through his teeth.

“Got the perfect car for you,” the mark said, and led him over to a two-door Ford. Richard looked it over carefully, kicked the tires.

“Can I take it for a spin?” he asked.

“Of course,” the mark said. “Let me get the keys.” He walked into the little office on the left. Richard had set the trap; soon he’d spring it. They piled into the car. Off they went. Richard drove a few blocks, talking about how well the car handled, then headed directly toward his car. Completely unaware of what was about to happen, the mark was no doubt calculating his commission. Richard pulled up to his car and stopped, said he wanted to check under the hood.

“Is that okay?” he politely asked, smiling.

“Sure, no problem. Got nothing to hide here. Clean as a whistle.” The mark was caught up in the moment, having no idea about the hatchet, rope, and shovel in the trunk of Richard’s car. Richard slid out of the Ford and opened the hood. The mark, of course, followed. As he was looking down at something Richard pointed to, Richard struck him with the jawbreaker just above the ear. He went right down, out cold. In seconds Richard put him in the trunk of his car, taped his mouth shut with industrial duct tape, hog-tied his feet and hands behind his back. Calm and cool, Richard got on the turnpike and drove south to the Jersey Pine Barrens, desolate forests that were perfect for what he had in mind. This was where he had disposed of Charley Lane—the projects bully—so many years ago. Richard had already scoped out a good spot, where he hid his car behind a thick stand of accommodating pines. Here he opened the trunk and dragged the panic-stricken mark from his car and tied him to one of the trees, his back tight up against it. Richard took a length of rope, forced it into the mark’s mouth, and tied it tightly to the rough pine tree, forcing the mark’s tongue up against the back of his rapidly constricting throat. The mark was crying now, trying to talk, to beg, to plead, but he only made muffled, unintelligible grunts. He seemed to know why this was happening, as if, in a way, he had expected it. Richard now actually told him that he had to suffer before he died, and went back to his car and retrieved the hatchet and shovel, very much enjoying this.

He made sure the mark saw the hatchet and shovel, watched the reality of their meaning in Richard’s enormous hands sink in. The mark began to scream, to try and break free, but that was impossible. He wet himself, a thing Richard would see many times in years to come. Richard proceeded now to smash the mark’s ankles and knees with the hatchet. Then he chopped off his fingers, one at a time. Richard stepped back to see the degree of pain the mark was suffering. He’d been planning to take the fingers back to Genovese as proof of the suffering, but suddenly got a better idea, as he put it….

When Richard finally killed the mark, he dug a hole in the pine-needle-covered ground, threw what was left of the hapless man into the hole, retrieved the proof Genovese had asked for, and returned to Hoboken, carrying it in a plastic bag he’d brought along, listening to country music as he went.

He found Genovese at home.

“Did you do the job?” Genovese asked.

“Yeah, it’s done,” said Richard.

“You bring me something good?” Genovese asked.

“Sure did,” Richard said, amused, placing the bag on the kitchen table. Curious, Genovese looked inside, and there was the mark’s head. A big smile spread over Genovese’s large, round face.

“Son of a bitch—beautiful…you did good, son of a bitch,” Genovese said, realizing he had found a rare man in this giant Polack. “Very good! Molto bravo…molto bravo!” he added.

“Want me to get rid of it?” Richard asked.

“No…leave it here. I want to show it to my friend. Did he suffer?” asked Genovese.

“Yeah, he suffered good,” Richard said, and Genovese paid him ten thousand dollars cash on the spot for, he said, “a good job well done.”

The cash in his pocket making a pleasant bulge, Richard left Genovese, knowing his reputation as an efficient contract killer was assured.

11

The Enforcer

Richard still frequently thought about killing his father Stanley. He’d start thinking about him, remember the brutal, callous treatment he’d suffered, get all mad inside, and want to beat him to death. On several occasions he actually went to a bar where Stanley hung out near the projects, looking to put a bullet in his head, but Stanley wasn’t there.

It was like kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, Richard explained. He was lucky because when I was looking for him he wasn’t around. Even now, I mean sitting here and talking about him, I regret a lot not capping him—the prick…the sadistic prick!

Stanley never realized how close he’d come to being killed by his second son.

Joseph, Richard’s younger brother, was also extremely violent, in frequent difficulties in school, always getting into trouble, stealing things, drinking excessively. Richard wanted to reach out to him, give him advice, put some money in his hands, but he loathed his mother so much now that he wouldn’t even go near their apartment anymore.

After being given the head of the car salesman, Carmine Genovese took a shine to Richard. Carmine had a lot of money on the street, and he now used Richard as his chief collector and enforcer. Had Richard been Italian, Genovese would surely have sponsored him for induction into the family, but he was Polish and that could not happen. Still, Carmine gave him a lot of work. Richard was collecting money for him from people up and down the East Coast. He was reliable, honest, and very violent when necessary, sometimes too violent. Richard was always knocking on Carmine’s door with brown paper bags of money in his hand. He never stole a dime from Carmine; indeed, he never even thought about it, which only made Carmine that much more fond of him. Most everyone that borrowed money from Carmine Genovese knew the ground rules out of the gate and paid it back quickly, as agreed to. Not to do so, everyone also knew, could be fatal.

For the most part Richard enjoyed working for Genovese. He made money—most of which he pissed away. People respected him and showed him deference, and his reputation as a dangerous “mob-connected guy” spread all over Jersey. Nobody fucked with him. Even other mob guys stayed clear of Richard Kuklinski. He became known as “the Polack.” That became his street name.

Richard took to always carrying two guns and a knife whenever he went out. If he wasn’t armed to the teeth, he felt naked. He was fond of over-and-under .38 derringers. They were so small that they could readily fit in the palm of a hand, and at close range they were lethal. Richard enjoyed killing up close and personal, and to kill someone with a derringer you had to be right on top of him; that is why, he says, he also enjoyed killing with a knife.

It’s intimate. You can feel the blade going in, the bones breaking, see the shock on the guy’s face—watch his light go out.

When asked if he believed in God, that it was a sin to kill a human being, he said:

The only God I believe in is a loaded pistol with a hair trigger. Funny how before I killed a lot of guys they’d call me God. “Oh, God, no! Oh God no!” he says, smiling, amused by the memories.

Richard’s wife, Linda, gave birth to a baby boy they named Richard. Richard felt no love for or emotional attachment to his child. He was a natural extension of a sex act—nothing more. Richard didn’t even go to the hospital when Linda gave birth, nor did he help bring her home. He acted as though it were someone else’s child, not his; but it didn’t take long for Linda to become pregnant again.

Linda saw all of Richard’s weapons but never questioned what they were for. She knew how violent and psychotic Richard could be and acted as if she were blind. She knew too that if she questioned him, demanded information, asked questions, he might very well explode and hit her. In this Richard was a carbon copy of his father—the man he most hated in the world—but he did not, never would, hit his son, or strike any of the five children he would eventually have.

Richard was, for the most part, fond of children, saw them as put-upon innocents, and became enraged when he saw an adult hitting a child. One time he beat the hell out of a man he saw hitting his kids in a parking lot; in years to come he’d kill a friend of his because the man asked him to murder his wife and eight-year-old son.

I don’t kill women and I don’t kill children. And anyone that does doesn’t deserve to live, explained Richard. As cold and completely indifferent as Richard was to the suffering of men, he could not stand to see a child harmed. He also hated rapists—tree jumpers, he calls them—and was always on the lookout for sexual predators. He viewed them as vermin that need immediate eradication.

Richard was still taking trips to Manhattan’s West Side, where he killed anyone who got in his way, was pushy, or rude. He very much enjoyed killing aggressive panhandlers, so quickly that they didn’t even realize what had happened until they hit the ground.

One night Richard came upon two burly leather-clad men raping a young boy behind a red eighteen-wheeler parked just near the Hudson. He was walking along, admiring how the lights on the Jersey side of the river played on the water, the giant piano keys of light they made, when he heard a plaintive cry, moaning, meaty thumps. He slowly walked behind the truck and there he actually saw the rape—a boy was being forced to fellate one man while the other sodomized him. They were laughing. They were drunk. They were now in trouble. Richard pulled out a .38 derringer and without a word shot both the rapists dead.

“Thank you, mister, thank you!” the boy said, pulling up his pants, wiping blood from his nose.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Richard said, and proceeded to cut open the stomach cavities of the two leather-clad men, silently cursing them, then dumped them in the river. Richard knew that with their stomachs eviscerated, gases could not build up, so the bodies would sink and stay down.

He so enjoyed killing these two rapists.

Richard had become addicted to killing people. After he committed a murder he felt relaxed, whole, and good—at peace with himself and the world. Richard was very much like a junkie who needs a fix to soothe the pangs of addiction. Murder, for Richard Kuklinski, became like a fix of pure heroin—the best high ever. And the NYPD never suspected that a huge man of Polish extraction from Jersey City was killing all the men they kept finding. There were no witnesses, no clues; no one knew anything.

Retired NYPD captain of detectives Ken Roe recently said: “Back then there were no citywide records of homicides being kept, as there are today. The local precinct had a file, but that was it, and because most all these killings were of bums, people no one really gave a fuck about, there was no incentive to properly work the case. You see, because he was killing in all different ways, the cops didn’t think one guy was doing it. In a sense…in a very real sense, they were inadvertently giving him a license to kill. Hell of a thing.”

Richard’s mentor, Carmine Genovese, had another special job for him. A man in Chicago named Anthony De Peti owed Carmine seventy thousand dollars, wasn’t paying as promised, had stories instead of the money. After Carmine explained the facts of life to him, De Peti promised he’d have the money in two days, “on Wednesday.”

“Okay, I’ll send Richie to come and get it,” Carmine said, and called Kuklinski.

“You go to Chicago. This guy is going to meet you in the bar-lounge in the Pan Am terminal, give you the money he owes, seventy g’s, you bring it right back, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Be careful; he’s slippery like a fuckin’ wet eel,” Carmine told him.

Richard enjoyed going out to the Newark Airport and flying to Chicago. It made him feel like a successful businessman. These days Richard sported a Fu Manchu mustache and long sideburns that tapered off at sharp angles just above his jawline. Stern and forbidding to begin with, he looked even more scary and unsettling with the curved mustache and long daggerlike burns. Already his hair was thinning on top, highlighting his high, wide brow and the severe planes of his Slavic cheekbones. He had, of course, a .32 and a knife with him, as well as one of his beloved derringers. Back then there was no problem carrying weapons onto a plane.

Richard arrived in Chicago’s sprawling, very busy O’Hare Airport and went straight to the lounge, sat down, and waited for De Peti to show himself, not expecting any bloodshed. This was a simple pickup, he thought. He sat and looked around, wondering where the hell De Peti was, becoming a little annoyed. Finally, he stood up and walked all over the lounge, making certain every man there saw him. He was hard to miss at six foot five and 250 pounds. Nothing, no recognition from anyone. Hmm. He was about to call Carmine when a man who’d been sitting not ten feet away from him all along stood up and said, “Rich?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Anthony De Peti—”

“Why the hell didn’t you say something—you saw me sittin’ here?”

“I wanted to make sure you were alone,” De Peti said. Richard didn’t like that answer. It immediately made him suspicious. He looked at De Peti with jaundiced eyes.

“You got the money?” he asked.

“Yeah, right here,” said De Peti. He was a head shorter than Richard, though wide in the shoulders, with a long, narrow hatchet face and buckteeth. Hairs, like the antennae of an insect, protruded from his narrow nose. He handed Richard a black attaché case.

“But it’s not all there,” he said.

“How much is here?” Richard asked.

“Thirty-five, half.”

“He’s not going to like that.”

“I’ll have the rest in a day or two.”

“Hey, buddy, I’m here now and you’re supposed to have it all, here now. I gotta get on a plane back to Jersey soon. He ain’t going to like this.”

“I swear I’ll have it in a day or two.”

“Yeah, well I gotta call him. Come on,” Richard said, and led De Peti over to a nearby bank of phones. Richard got Genovese on the line. “You find him all right?” he asked.

“Yeah, he’s right here, but he don’t have it all.”

“Son of a bitch, how much does he have?”

“Half…thirty-five, he says. He says he’ll have the rest in a day or two. What do you want me to do?”

“Put him on the phone!”

Richard handed De Peti the phone. Smiling, De Peti explained how he’d have the money soon, “in a day, the most, I swear,” he proclaimed, making sure Richard saw his smiling face, like all was okay, no problem here; Carmine was his friend; what the hell. He gave the phone back to Richard, flight announcements booming on a nearby loudspeaker.

“Yeah,” said Richard, not liking De Peti. Richard had an uncanny ability to read people, like some kind of animal-in-a-jungle thing, and he did not like this guy, did not trust him.

“Rich, you stay with him, don’t let him out of your sight. He says people owe him money, that he’ll definitely have the money real soon.”

“All right. What do you want me to do with what he gave me?”

“You hold on to that! Don’t let him out of your sight, understand?”

“Yeah,” Richard said, hanging up.

“See, I told ya,” said De Peti. “It’s all okay.”

“It’ll be all okay when you give me the rest of the money,” Richard said.

With that they left the airport, and De Peti took Richard from bar to bar, looking for different people he could never seem to find. After ten hours of this, in and out of different bars, Richard was thinking this guy was trying to give him the slip, buying time De Peti could not afford. They ended up in a crowded place on the South Side called the Say Hi Inn. It was filled with a rough clientele. They ordered drinks. De Peti went to use the phone; Richard kept an eagle eye on him, and saw him talking to a big burly guy whose face was so pockmarked it looked like gravel. Richard clearly saw something he did not like in the big man’s eyes. In his right hand in his pocket Richard held the white-handled, chrome-plated .38 derringer. There were two hollow-nosed rounds in the gun—better known as dumdums—which spread out on contact, making horrific wounds. De Peti came back to the bar, drank some of his drink. “He’ll be here soon,” he told Richard.

“The guy with the money?” Richard asked.

“Yeah, guaranteed.”

Soon, though, Gravel Face made his way over to the bar. Purposely, he shouldered Richard, looking, Richard instinctively knew, to start a fistfight with him so De Peti could slip away. Richard slowly turned to him.

“You like your balls?” Richard asked.

“What? What da fuck?” the guy said.

“If you want to keep your nuts, get the fuck outta here,” Richard said, now showing him the mean little derringer pointed directly at his crotch. “Or I’ll blow them both the fuck off here and now.”

Gravel Face turned and left. Richard turned to De Peti. “So you’re looking to play games.”

“No games—what’re you talking about?”

“If I start playing games you are going to end up very hurt. I’m losing my patience. You think I’m a fool?” Richard asked.

“He’ll be here with the dough,” De Peti said.

But nobody showed up. The bar was closing. Finally, De Peti said they should rent a room in a nearby hotel, that he’d definitely have the money “in the morning.”

“In the morning?” Richard repeated.

“I swear.”

Reluctantly, Richard called Genovese, who said it was okay to wait. They checked into a nearby hotel. Richard washed up and, tired, lay down on one of the two beds there, as did De Peti. But Richard was wary and sleep did not come easily. He didn’t know how long he’d been lying there, but he sensed, in this half-asleep state, movement nearby. He opened his eyes. As they adjusted to the dark he could just discern De Peti skulking through the room, moving toward him, past him, and to the window. De Peti slid it open and began to creep, snakelike, out onto the fire escape. In two swift movements Richard was up, grabbed him, and yanked him back into the room, where he pummeled him. Richard moved shockingly fast for such a big man, which caught many people off guard. Richard turned on the light.

“You slimy motherfucker, you been playing me all along.” Richard kicked him so hard he moved across the floor. Oh how Richard wanted to kill him, shoot him in the head, and throw him out the window, but those luxuries were not his, he knew. This guy owed Carmine a lot of money, and Richard couldn’t just go killing him. Instead, Richard called Carmine in Hoboken.

“The fuckin’ asshole tried to fly,” he said. “I caught him sneaking out on the fire escape.”

“Son of a bitch; put him on’a da phone!”

Blood running from his mouth, De Peti told Carmine that he was only looking to get some fresh air, not escape…certainly not trying to get away. “I swear, I swear on my mother,” he cried, histrionically holding his heart for maximum effect.

“Where’s the money?” Carmine demanded.

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I swear!” De Peti pleaded.

Richard got back on the phone. Carmine said, “Give ’im until tomorrow. He don’t come up with the money, throw him out a window with no fuckin’ fire escape, okay?”

“Okay,” Richard said. “Gladly.”

The next day, it was the same story, running around to different bars and lounges, looking for different people who had the money. It was like, Richard was thinking, De Peti was playing a shell game, a three-card monte shuffle. Again, De Peti went to use a phone. There was a door near the phone, and Richard could see De Peti eyeing it. He hung up, came back, said they had to go to a pizza place. They waited there an hour, then went to two more bars.

Richard was tired of De Peti’s bull. “He’ll be here, he’ll be here,” he kept telling Richard, and no one showed up.

Pissed, Richard took De Peti back to the hotel and, without another word, hung him by his feet out of the window. Begging, De Peti now said he’d get him “all the money,” that it was in a place he owned over on the South Side—

“You lying to me, I’ll kill you on the spot!” Richard promised.

“I ain’t lying! I ain’t lying!” he pleaded, cars and trucks and buses moving on the wide avenue ten stories below.

Richard pulled him inside. “Let’s go.”

It was a kind of go-go place. Half-naked girls who had seen better days danced around, wiggling their breasts and shaking ample asses in Day-Glo red lights. De Peti took Richard straight to a rear office, opened a safe hidden in a closet wall, grabbed a pile of currency, and gave him the thirty-five g’s.

“My God, if you had the money all the time, why didn’t you just give it to me?” Richard asked, really annoyed now, anger rising in him.

“Because I didn’t want to pay,” De Peti sheepishly admitted.

That made Richard see red; his balls, as he says, were all twisted already, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Really,” he said, smiling slightly, making the soft clicking sound out of the side of his mouth.

“Let me get one of the girls in here to clean your pipes out,” De Peti offered.

“Naw, that’s okay,” Richard said.

After counting the money, Richard suddenly pressed the little .38 derringer hard to De Peti’s chest and pulled the trigger. Boom. The report of the gun was muffled by De Peti’s chest and drowned out by the music coming from the club.

With a horrific hole in his chest, De Peti hit the ground hard, and was soon as dead as a doorknob.

Calmly, Richard left the club, hailed a cab a block away, went to the airport, and caught a flight back to Newark. As soon as he hit the ground, he went to see Carmine Genovese.

“And what happened?” Carmine asked as he opened the door.

“I got two things to tell you.”

“Yeah?”

“First, I got the money—all of it. Second, I killed him. All he did was play me,” Richard said, not sure if Carmine would get mad. After all, he had killed a customer of Carmine’s after getting all that was due.

“Good, bravo,” Carmine said. “We can’t be letting these fuckin’ assholes play us for fools. That gets around on the street, we’re out of business. You did the right thing,” Carmine said, patting Richard on his enormous back. “You’re a good man, Richie. Mama mia I wish you were Italian. I’d sponsor you in a fuckin’ minute, in a fuckin’ minute,” he said, and paid Richard well.

Carmine, a very rich man, tended to be—like most Mafia men—cheap and greedy. For them, nothing was ever enough.

Content, Richard soon left.

Back in Chicago, one of De Peti’s strippers discovered his body. The police were summoned. They questioned everyone in the club, got a vague description of a big man seen leaving the office.

Another unsolved homicide.

12

Mob Guys and Crooked Cops

His name was Jim O’Brian. He was a large, burly, red-faced Irishman, a former police captain out of Hoboken. He was as crooked as a figure-eight pretzel, worked intimately with the De Cavalcante crime family. He’d do anything to turn a buck—pimp women, deal drugs, sell hot merchandise. He, like most everyone in New Jersey crime circles, knew about Richard Kuklinski, knew how reliable he was, that he was the best bagman in Jersey; how ruthless he could be when and if the job called for violence. O’Brian approached Richard in a Hoboken bar and asked him if he’d pick up a suitcase for him in Los Angeles.

“You interested?” O’Brian asked.

“Sure, if the price is worth my time,” said Richard. He did not usually like cops, crooked or otherwise. He felt they could not be trusted, that they were bullies with badges and guns, but he knew O’Brian worked with the family he was associated with.

O’Brian said, “It’ll take you no longer than a day and I’ll pay you five large and all expenses.”

“Sure, I’ll go,” Richard said, and the next morning he was in the first-class section of an American Airlines flight to LA. Richard very much enjoyed traveling in first class. It made him feel successful, that he’d made a notable step up in the world.

Amused, he looked at the other men in the section, knowing they were all civilians, thinking how surprised they’d be if they knew what he really did—that he regularly killed people and enjoyed doing it. Smiling stewards served him a lovely lunch and free drinks, and he soon fell asleep.

Richard took a cab from LAX straight to a fancy hotel on the famous Sunset Boulevard. He checked in under a false name, went upstairs to his room, and was admiring the sweeping view of LA when there was a soft knock on the door. He opened it. Two of the shiftiest-looking men he’d ever seen, one resembling a rat, the other a ferret, stood there. “You Rich?” Rat Face asked.

“I am. Come on in.”

They walked into the room, Ferret Face carrying a suitcase.

“That for me?” Richard asked, friendly enough, but not liking either of these men.

“Yeah, that’s for you,” Ferret Face said. “You got any ID?”

“Do you have any ID?” Richard asked.

“No.”

“Then why should I?” Richard wanted to know.

They all stared at one another. Uncomfortable seconds slipped by. Richard reached inside his jacket and pulled out a short-barreled pistol.

“This is my ID. It’s called .357,” Richard said. “And in this pocket, I’ve got some more ID—it’s called .38,” Richard added, showing them both his guns, all solemn-faced, staring at them, deadpan.

“Okay,” Rat Face said, and he took the black case from Ferret Face and handed it to Richard; and they soon left. Good riddance. Richard did not even try to see what was in the suitcase. It was none of his business. His business was getting it safely back to O’Brian in Hoboken. He had a nice lunch in the hotel restaurant, thought he saw John Wayne with some pretty women wearing real short dresses, and was soon on his way back to LAX.

In those days there was no screening for drugs or weapons and Richard was able to walk onto the plane without being questioned or challenged. Without incident he made it back to Hoboken, delivered the suitcase, was paid, and as far as Richard was concerned, it was a done deal.

However, some weeks later he found out that there had been a kilo of heroin in the suitcase. He was furious. If he had been busted with it, he’d have gone to jail, no doubt for a long time. He kept his anger to himself, but when the right time came he did get even with O’Brian—he killed him by shooting him in the head, and got rid of his body in South Jersey, not far from the car salesman whose head he gave to Genovese; and no one had any idea that O’Brian was done in for manipulating Richard Kuklinski, putting his life on the line without having the courtesy of even telling him. Richard, of course, didn’t say a word about what he’d done…not even to his mentor and rabbi, Carmine Genovese. The way Richard saw it, a crooked cop had gotten exactly what he deserved, and he was only too happy to serve it up.

An unusual piece of work now came Richard’s way. A mob boss named Arthur De Gillio had to go. He was stealing from his boss, the head of the family, and a death contract was issued. Carmine tapped Richard to do the job, called him to his home, solemnly sat him down, said: “This here is the most important piece of work I’ve given you. This guy is a boss. He’s gotta die. You are doing the job. There’s a special requirement with this job—you need to take his credit cards, you understand, and after you kill him, you stuff the credit cards up his ass.”

“You’re kidding,” said Richard.

“No. That’s the way it has to be. That’s what the skipper wants. And before you kill him, make him suffer and make sure he knows why he’s dying and what you’re gonna do,” Carmine said, his meatball-shaped face all serious.

“You’re kidding,” Richard repeated.

“I look like I’m kiddin’?”

“No.”

“And so?”

“Okay, no problem,” Richard said, thinking these Italians were a crazy lot, had all kinds of nutty rules and regulations, but his job was not to question the ways of the Mafia; his job was to carry out orders. End of story.

“This will be tricky—and dangerous. He always has bodyguards around,” Genovese said, and gave Richard the mark’s home and business addresses. “You do this job good, it’ll be a big feather in your cap, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Don’t hurry it. Do it right. Take’a your time. Make sure no one makes you. If they do, it’ll come right back to me—you understand?”

“I understand.”

“You cap anyone that gets in your way—no matter who.”

“Okay,” Richard said, and soon left.

This, he knew, was a very important piece of work, and he felt honored to be given it; he was moving up in the world. It would put him at the front of the line. It was like an actor being given the role of his life…a part that would surely make him a star, a bright light in the galaxy of organized crime.

Richard plotted this murder meticulously for ten days. As Carmine had said, De Gillio always had bodyguards around, but he had a girlfriend over in a residential area in Montclair, and when he went there, every few days, he did so with only a driver-gofer, a skinny kid who was his nephew. The girlfriend lived in a quiet, two-story yellow building with a parking lot off to the left. The nephew waited outside, in a quiet corner of the parking lot, near a grated wood fence, as De Gillio, a heavyset man who had a large belly and short bandy legs, went inside, did the job with his girlfriend, and came out. He wasn’t inside more than an hour—an afternoon quickie. On the day Richard planned to move, he trailed De Gillio to the Montclair apartment. De Gillio got out of the car and waddled inside. Richard waited fifteen minutes, walked up to the nephew, and without a word shot him in the side of the head with a .22 onto which was attached a suppressor, better known as a silencer. The small-caliber bullet instantly made mush of the driver’s brain, and he was dead before he even knew he’d been shot.

Casually, slowly, Richard walked back to his car, got in, pulled it up near De Gillio’s car, opened his trunk, and began to change his tire, moving slowly, taking his time, not drawing any suspicion to himself, just another guy with a flat in a mostly empty parking lot. Almost like clockwork, De Gillio came waddling out of the house, apelike, not taking any particular notice of the guy with a flat. When he reached his car, however, his face creased with anger because he thought his nephew had fallen asleep. Richard now began walking toward him. As Richard neared De Gillio, he pulled out the .22 with the silencer, an assassin’s weapon that immediately stopped De Gillio.

“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me here?!” De Gillio demanded. “You know who da fuck I am?”

“Yeah, I know who you are. You’re the guy who’s coming with me,” and with that Richard discreetly though firmly pressed the .22 up against De Gillio’s stomach, took him by the arm, and led him toward his car. “Someone wants to talk to you,” Richard said.

“Yeah, who?”

“A friend.”

“A friend—you’re fucking dead! You and your friend are dead!” Richard’s answer was to push the .22 into De Gillio’s chest, hard. He pulled back the hammer. De Gillio’s face paled. Richard led him to the rear of his car; the trunk was opened already. Before De Gillio knew it Richard pushed him inside the trunk. Here De Gillio tried to resist. Richard cracked him in the head with his jawbreaker, knocking De Gillio out cold. Richard cuffed his hands behind his back, put duct tape across his mouth, closed the trunk, and drove to a desolate area in Jersey City, down by the water.

Here, Richard calmly got out of the car, pulled De Gillio from the trunk, and laid him on the ground. Richard took a bat from the trunk and without preamble beat De Gillio in the legs, breaking bones every time he struck, saying, “This is happening because you stole from your boss. This is happening because you’re a greedy fucking pig,” and he smashed De Gillio with terrific force, now in the arms, the elbows, the shoulders, the collarbones. Richard then went to work on his chest, and broke his ribs.

Next, Richard slipped on a pair of blue rubber gloves, took De Gillio’s wallet, pocketed the cash he had, found his credit cards, said: “They want me to stick these up your ass. You believe that? I still don’t believe it myself. Fuckin’ Italians are crazy.” De Gillio’s eyes were bulging with fear and pain; he tried to plead with Richard, offer him money, all the money he had, but the duct tape held. Richard was deaf to his mumbled entreaties.

“Say good-bye to the world,” Richard said, and struck De Gillio square in the head, smashing his skull, destroying his brain—finally killing him.

Richard viciously pulled down his pants and underwear and rammed the credit cards where the sun don’t shine. He rolled De Gillio in a plastic tarp, took him to Bayonne, and left him in an abandoned lot down by the water, there for all the world to see.

Finished, Richard went to see Carmine and told him exactly what had been done.

“You’re a good man, the best!” exclaimed Genovese, patting Richard warmly, and paying him handsomely for a job well done. When De Gillio was discovered, the police were summoned, but there were no witnesses and no connection to Richard—another organized-crime killing, nothing new in Jersey City, Hoboken, or Bayonne.

Richard’s reputation as an efficient, cold-blooded killer spread. He began taking pieces of work from men in different Mafia families, not only the Ponti and De Cavalcante Jersey families, but New York crime families as well. Because he hadn’t been “made,” he was able to work as a giovane d’honore, an independent contractor, without trouble. He carefully planned each hit, and scrupulously followed instructions.

If, he recently explained, they wanted a guy tortured, I did that; if they wanted a mark to disappear, I did that. I got to really enjoy the planning—and the hunt; it was kind of like…a science.

Still, most of the money Richard earned he lost gambling. His pockets would be bulging with hundred-dollar bills, then he’d get into a few high-stakes card games and lose it all. Easy come, easy go. That was his attitude. One time he not only lost all the cash he had, he lost his car in a card game in Hoboken and actually had to take a bus back home.

13

Independent Contractor

Linda gave birth to a second male child and they named him David. Richard was still completely indifferent to his sons. He viewed them as though they were someone else’s kids. The relationship with Linda had become more and more strained, and they weren’t even having intimate relations anymore. Richard gave her some money now and then, but that was the sum of it.

However, he was protective of Linda and the boys in the extreme. He viewed them as his personal property—her especially—and became enraged if anyone abused or took advantage of either Linda or his sons.

In the low-income housing complex where Linda and the boys lived there was a superintendent who was sweet on Linda and kept making overtures that became more and more bold. She kept ignoring him. After a time he became abusive, loud, vulgar. She wanted to tell Richard but didn’t want any trouble. She knew Richard had a fiery hair-trigger temper, could be extremely violent, had all kinds of guns and knives and terrible weapons, so she kept quiet about the abusive superintendent.

But one day the superintendent slapped both of Linda’s children, claiming they were making too much noise. This was too much for Linda to bear, and she called Richard at a bar he hung out in, the Final Round in nearby Hoboken. When Richard heard that the super had slapped his kids, he slammed down the phone, jumped in his car, and sped to the house. His sons confirmed that the super had hit them for playing in the hall. Richard went looking for him with violence on his mind, planning to kill him and dump his body somewhere no one would ever find it; that would become one of Richard’s noted specialties: getting rid of bodies.

The super, he soon found out, was in a bar just across the street that Richard sometimes went to. It was nearly four thirty in the afternoon and the bar was crowded with men having a drink after work before they went home to their families or to empty apartments. His lips twisted to the left and making that soft clicking sound through his clenched teeth, Richard opened the door and walked in. The smells of whiskey, cigarettes, and hardworking men drinking hard liquor greeted him. He spotted the superintendent standing at the bar. He was a large man with a chip on his shoulder—a bully—the kind of man Richard hated most.

Calmly, Richard walked up to him. “What right you got hitting my kids?”

“They wouldn’t shut up—,” the super began, but before he could finish, Richard hit him so hard he seemed to fly across the room as in a cartoon. Richard went after him and beat him to a bloody pulp. The bartender, Richard knew, was a moonlighting cop, but he didn’t care. As Richard was making his way to the door, the bartender showed him his badge and demanded to see his ID. Richard answered him with a vicious roundhouse right that knocked him out cold. Richard would surely have killed the super right then and there if there hadn’t been so many witnesses.

It didn’t take long before angry-faced detectives came around looking for Richard because he had punched out the bartender-cop. Richard went to Carmine Genovese and told him what had happened, Genovese reached out to some friends in the PD, and Richard had to pay three thousand dollars for the matter to be over and done with. The super was in the hospital for three weeks, had a broken cheekbone and jaw. Upon release from the hospital, he quit his job and hightailed it the hell out of Jersey City. Smart move. Richard was planning to kill him.

Some months later, Richard was leaving the Final Round when his brother Joe called to him from across the street.

Joe, like Richard, was now nearly six foot five, blond, and handsome.

“Hey, Rich!”

“How you doing, Joe?”

“Same old same old.”

“What’s up?”

“Rich…I have…I have something to tell you.”

“About ma?”

“No…Linda.”

“Linda? What?”

Joe stared at his brother. He, like everyone in Jersey, knew Richard was always armed, always dangerous. “I don’t know how to say this,” Joe began.

“Say what?”

“Rich, I saw Linda and Sammy James go into a room at the Hudson Hotel.”

“What!” Richard demanded, his voice rising, his face flushing strawberry red.

“Don’t go getting mad at me, Rich; I just thought you should know.”

“What room, you know?”

“Yeah, number sixteen, on the ground floor, just near the Coke machine.”

“Thanks, Joe,” Richard said, and he jumped into his car and sped over to the Hudson Hotel.

True, Richard and Linda were mostly estranged at this point, but Richard still thought of her as his wife—and as his property. He pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, which was in a secluded area near the river. It was a place where people went to have sex, for the most part. Richard knew Sammy James. They had played pool as partners. Richard stormed up to number 16 and smashed the door wide open with his enormous right foot.

There they were, both naked, in bed, actually having intercourse. Linda’s eyes nearly popped out of her shocked face. Richard grabbed James, a tall, muscular guy with curly black hair, and pummeled him. Linda, in shock, looked on.

“You treacherous bastard!” Richard told James. “I’m going to break every bone in your body but one, and you go near her again, I’ll find out and break that bone.” And Richard proceeded to methodically smash and break almost every bone in James’s body but the femur of his left leg, repeatedly getting on the bed and jumping on him, kicking him, stomping him, punching him.

Finished with James, Richard turned his wrath on Linda, drew out a knife.

“If you weren’t the mother of my sons,” he said, “I’d kill you, but now I’m just going to teach you a lesson you will never forget.” He grabbed for her left breast. She tried to resist him. He slapped her unconscious, grabbed her left breast, and cut off its nipple. He then did the same thing to her other breast and left her there like that, storming out of the room like a hurricane.

From that day on Richard had little to do with Linda. He’d see his boys now and then; that was it. James left town and never came back to Jersey City.

Philip Marable was a captain in the Genovese crime family. He owned a popular Italian restaurant in Hoboken and lived in nearby Bloomfield. The name of the restaurant was Bella Luna. They served good southern Italian food at reasonable prices. There were yellow oilcloths on each table and candles in empty wine bottles covered with different-colored wax.

Marable was a good dresser, always perfectly coiffed, handsome with thick black hair and dark menacing eyes…a dandy. He reached out to Richard and had him come to the restaurant, greeted him warmly, sat him down, insisted he eat a good meal. Richard kept wondering what he wanted. After they finished eating and had anisette-infused espresso, Marable said, “You know George West, don’t you?”

“Sure,” Richard said.

“We have a problem with this guy. He’s been holding up my runners”—people who collect bets on the numbers racket—“and I don’t want him around no more,” Marable explained.

“Could be arranged,” Richard said.

“Make sure a message is sent—understand—that this kind’a shit can’t be goin’ on, okay?”

“I understand,” Richard said, pleased, seeing his career horizons broadening.

With that Marable adroitly slipped a white envelope across the table, as if it were a practiced trick. The envelope was filled with cash. Richard pocketed it. Dinner was over. Richard knew that Marable’s giving him a piece of work was a good opportunity, and Richard immediately went looking for George West. He searched high and low for West but couldn’t find him. He staked out his house, bars he frequented, kept missing him. But Richard was determined to fill the contract quickly and successfully, and he kept looking for West, like a shark following the scent of blood. Under the front seat of his car Richard had a cut-down .22 Magnum rifle with a silencer and a thirty-clip magazine. It was a vicious little weapon, an assassin’s tool, easy to carry, easy to conceal—deadly. Richard had an unlimited, convenient supply of weapons. He knew a guy named Robert, known as “Motorboat” because his ears protruded excessively, who sold all kinds of guns out of the trunk of his car, new guns still in boxes. Richard never killed two people with the same weapon. As soon as he used one in a killing, he got rid of it. This habit would serve him well for many years to come, for it kept his activities off police radar. He also purposely shot people to death with two different-caliber weapons, so it would appear as if there were two shooters. Motorboat the gun salesman had a big old Lincoln Continental with a huge trunk filled with handguns, rifles, and silencers. He was a tall, skinny guy with thick rose-colored glasses. He was also a mechanic and made suppressors for nearly all the guns he sold. When in need, all Richard had to do was call Motorboat, and he’d come around with his wide-ass Lincoln. Richard even bought hand grenades from Motorboat. The cut-down .22 he was going to use on George West he’d gotten from Motorboat.

For nine days Richard couldn’t find West, no matter how hard he searched for him, yet he knew West was in town because people saw him. It was the end of April 1958 now and it rained just about every day.

By happenstance as Richard was driving away from a bar in Bayonne where he’d picked up money for Carmine Genovese, he passed an old-fashioned silver boxcar diner a little way down the road, and George West was sitting there plain as day eating a sandwich. Not believing this bit of luck, Richard nearly hit the car in front of him, he was staring at West so hard. He made a U-turn and pulled into a parking lot next to the diner, found West’s car, and positioned his own car so he’d have a clear shot. It was raining hard. Richard liked to kill in the rain. There were fewer people about. Everyone was in a hurry, not paying attention to anything but where he was going.

Soon West left the diner and made his way to his car, using a toothpick as he went. Richard calmly took a bead on him, pulled the trigger of the semiauto .22, and in two seconds shot West numerous times. Because of the silencer the gun made only a soft popping sound, like a ladyfinger firecracker going off, Richard explained. Wanting to be sure West was dead, Richard calmly got out of his car and walked over to West. No one noticed Richard. No one cared. West was still alive. Blood was squirting from a dime-sized bullet hole in his neck. Richard made sure he was unobserved and put two slugs in West’s head, walked back to his car and returned to Jersey City. He would’ve liked to torture West a bit, that had been the directive, but circumstances hadn’t permitted such a luxury. It had taken him nine days to find West, and he hadn’t wanted to give him a chance to get away. Richard did not tell Marable of the hit, how it had happened; he’d find out soon enough, Richard knew; indeed, it was bad form to talk about a murder after it was ordered and went down.

Marable liked what Richard had done and gave him several more contracts over the next year. One was a man who owed Marable over fifty thousand dollars from gambling debts but refused to pay, was bragging to people all over Jersey that he wasn’t going to pay, that he wasn’t afraid of Marable—“Fuck him!” Richard gave this guy a flat, and as he was changing the tire, Richard crept up on him and struck him with an L-shaped tire iron in the head so hard he actually opened his skull up and the mark’s brain splashed all over the car and on Richard’s trousers. Bummer.

Richard soon began to carry a change of clothes with him all the time because murdering people, he came to know, could be a messy business. The next hit for Philip Marable was a man who owned a boat in Edgewater. Richard didn’t know why the guy had to die; he didn’t care; that was not his business. However, he had known the mark for a few years and didn’t like anything about him, thought of him as a loudmouth braggart. On the evening Richard went to see him it was the middle of July, a hot, humid night. The boat was moored at a quiet marina, and Richard parked in the dirt lot there, found the boat in a slip at the end of the dock, a small blue-and-white cabin cruiser. It was 11:00 P.M. Richard could see inside the little portal windows of the boat, and there was the mark, having sex with a young woman, not his wife, Richard knew. He could easily have sneaked up on them, but he did not want to hurt the girl, so he went back to his car and waited for the mark to finish. He sat there for three hours, thinking, You better enjoy it because it’s the last piece of ass you’ll ever have.

By 2:00 A.M. Richard was beginning to think she’d sleep there, but at 2:30 she walked off the boat and got into a red car, and off she went. Immediately, Richard got out of his car and walked to the boat, a .38 with a suppressor he had bought from Motorboat in his pocket. Catlike, silently, as deadly as a puff of cyanide gas, Richard stepped onto the boat, walked to the cabin and inside, the gun in his hand. When the mark saw him, big and mean and deadly serious, he was so stunned he nearly fell over.

“What da fuck?” he demanded.

“You’ve made some enemies,” Richard said. “How do you want it, quick or slow?” he asked, subtly tormenting the mark.

“Please, man, I got kids, a wife—”

“That your wife that just left?” Richard asked.

“No, my gomatta. Please, Rich, I got money, I’ll give it all to you, please, Richie, please…you know me, I—”

“My friend,” Richard calmly told him, “when you see me it’s the end of the line. I’m the grim reaper, my friend,” he said, a nasty, sardonic smile playing on his stone-cold face.

“Please, no, please,” the mark begged, now getting down on his knees, his hands in a twisted knot as if he were fervently praying.

“I’ll do you a favor,” Richard said.

“What?”

“I’ll kill you quickly.” And with that Richard shot him in the forehead, just above the ridge of his nose. A finger of blood came squirting out of the sudden hole. Richard waited for the blood to stop, for his heart to cease. When that happened, he dragged the mark, careful not to step in the blood, onto the deck and threw him in the water, cursing him silently. He then walked back to his car.

Off in the distance, out at sea, a lightning storm started up and for a while Richard sat in his car and watched giant lightning bolts dance madly across an ominous velvet black sky, knowing fish and crabs would eat the mark, piece by piece.

He was lucky I didn’t torture him. I was in…a good mood, I guess, he thought.

14

Tough and Rough and Ready to Go

It was 1959. Richard was twenty-four years old and had acquired a serious drinking problem; he often got drunk, became nasty and belligerent—just like his father—and inevitably got into fights, which all too often ended in a spur-of-the-moment murder.

He was in a bar called the Pelican Lounge in Union City, drinking boilermakers—hard whiskey followed by beer chasers. He had words with another man at the bar, and the guy hauled off and slugged Richard. Before Richard could do anything though, the bartender, a guy Richard knew, asked him to “take it outside.”

“Come on,” Richard encouraged the man. As they made their way onto the sidewalk, Richard took hold of his hunting knife, secreted in his coat pocket, and just when they reached the sidewalk, Richard turned quickly, and in one swift movement, like the strike of a rattlesnake, brought up the blade, and stuck it directly into the man’s throat, at an upward angle, the blade immediately entering his brain.

Dead, he hit the ground.

Calmly, Richard walked off. When the police came around asking questions, no one knew anything.

Richard was in the Orchid Bar in Union City, drunk and a bit rowdy. A huge, burly bouncer made him leave, pushed him outside, which Richard accepted, but the bouncer kicked him in the ass as he went; this outraged Richard. Knowing, however, he was too drunk to defend himself properly, he vowed to return. The bouncer spat at him—his second mistake. Richard didn’t like bouncers. Most of them, he felt, were bullies: Richard despised bullies. Richard was, in fact, a slayer of bullies.

Two days later Richard was back, sober, deadly—murder on his mind. He waited in his car for the bar to close, the bouncer to leave, which he did. Richard stepped from his car, carrying a hammer. He followed the bouncer, who got into his car and started it up. Richard approached. “Hey, big guy, remember me?” he asked.

“What da fuck you want?” snarled the bouncer.

In the bat of an eye Richard swung the hammer and struck him in the side of the head so hard that the hammer entered his skull. Richard hit him again, again, and again. When he finished, the bouncer was dead—destroyed, unrecognizable. Now Richard spat on him and walked away.

No matter how much money Richard made, he was often broke, for he was a chronic degenerate gambler and most often lost. He also tended to gamble when he was drinking, which only compounded his losing and his problems….

He wasn’t happy with his life, where it was going: essentially, Richard had come to hate the world and most everyone in it. He viewed the world as a mean, hostile jungle crowded with dangerous creatures, a dog-eat-dog place filled with brutal iniquities. He did, however, realize that his drinking and gambling were becoming a problem, though he didn’t know how to stop either one. In the circles Richard was moving in, everyone drank and everyone gambled, everyone hustled, everyone lied and cheat and stole. He trusted no one; at the drop of a hat he’d kill. For him it was a simple equation: Kill or be killed—eat or be eaten.

Unsettling rumors about Richard’s younger brother Joseph were circulating. Richard kept hearing these rumors—that Joseph was taking drugs, that Joseph was gay—and became disturbed. Richard viewed drugs as a one-way trip to nowhere, an early grave.

Richard heard that Joseph was hanging out in a gay bar called Another Way in Guttenberg, New Jersey.

How could that be? he wondered: he saw Joseph with girls on numerous occasions. The thought of this, that his brother was gay, a fag, was for him unsettling. Not believing such a thing, wanting to see it with his own eyes, Richard went to the bar on a Friday night. The place was crowded with men and boys who openly showed affection to one another, and there was Joseph, kissing a man dressed as a woman. Richard’s face reddened at such a sight. He ordered a beer with no glass, not even wanting to drink from a glass in that place. Back then, Richard would later say, there was a big stigma associated with, you know, being homosexual, and I wasn’t at all at ease in this joint, where men were kissing and holding hands right out in the open. Probably my own shortcoming, but I couldn’t help it; I didn’t know any better. I mean, I know people don’t really have much say over that, their sexuality…but, still.

When Richard looked up, his brother and his friend were suddenly gone. Where had he disappeared to so quickly? Richard looked all over the place but couldn’t find Joseph. He wanted to talk with him, tell him he was doing the wrong thing. He went to the bathroom and saw under the toilet stall door that two people were inside. He heard his brother’s voice. His stomach turned at the thought of what he was doing. A strange kind of rage came welling inside him. He kicked open the locked door and there was his brother, performing fellatio on the other guy—an infamy right there before his eyes.

Shocked, Joseph stood. Before he could say anything, Richard struck him and knocked him down to the floor, out cold. He also hit the transvestite and knocked him out, too. Oh, how he wanted to commit more violence, break bones, draw blood, but instead Richard turned and left, his mind reeling with the implications, enraged.

Like some kind of wounded animal, he went back to Hoboken, to the Ringside Inn, in a foul mood. He walked up to the bar and began drinking. He had a rule of never getting drunk here. This was his home base, his regular hangout, and he was afraid he’d hurt someone—maybe kill someone—and not be able to come back, as had happened in numerous drinking establishments.

The Ringside Inn was owned by a cantankerous, tough woman, ugly as sin, says Richard. Her name was Sylvia and she looked like a chimpanzee who’d been struck with an ugly stick in the face a few times. One eye was bigger than the other; her nose was flat like a pancake with two holes—her nostrils; her face was framed by wirelike tendrils of frizzy bleach blond hair. Sylvia liked Richard because he was handsome and he played high-stakes pool games in her place that brought in business. Men—and some women—came from all over the East Coast to play pool with Richard for as much as two hundred dollars a ball.

Rather than get into trouble in here, Richard left and found his way to Manhattan’s West Side, where he murdered a man for asking him for a light with a belligerent tone.

After the incident in the gay bar, Richard and Joseph did not talk again for several years.

Richard had a long-running streak of bad luck; he lost most of the pool games he was in; he lost at all kinds of bets he made, on football or baseball, on what roach would climb up on the wall of Sylvia’s place first. And he kept drinking more and more.

Angry, Richard made more trips to New York, back to Manhattan’s West Side, where he expressed his rage, where he continued to kill people to vent his hatred for the world. When asked recently how many men he killed on Manhattan’s far West Side, Richard said, deadpan, All the fingers on both your hands five times.

I swear if someone just looked at me the wrong way, I killed ’im, he explained.

And still the NYPD did little to find out who was committing all these murders under the rusting, noisy, antiquated West Side Highway. Because Richard killed in dark shadows in so many different ways, with different-caliber guns, clubs, bricks and bats, knives and rope and ice picks, the NYPD never thought it was one man; that Richard Kuklinski of Jersey City had created his own personal hunting ground; that he was stalking and killing human beings as if the West Side were his private hunting reserve. Richard was, of course, killing purposely in many different ways, knowing that would confuse and misdirect the police, and he was right.

Dead right.

Spurred on by the inner demons that plagued him, the growing, raging psychosis inside him, Richard was hitting bottom. He kept hoping a nice score would come his way, a profitable murder contract, a lucrative hijacking, but business was slow.

Carmine Genovese had been murdered, shot in the head as he was cooking in his kitchen: another unsolved mob hit. Richard had nothing to do with it. He liked Carmine, as much as he could care for anyone. He did not go to Carmine’s funeral. He knew the cops would have it staked out, so he stayed away.

Life, for Richard, held little promise….

A friend of Richard’s, a guy known as Tony Pro who ran Local 560 of the Teamsters union, managed to get Richard a plum job at the Swiftline Trucking Company in North Bergen. The money was good, the work not that difficult. But still Richard didn’t like it. He hated it, in fact. It was a straight job, a thing he always wanted to avoid. He was a player, a hustler, an assassin. What the fuck was he doing here? He resigned himself, however, to keep the job and keep his eye out for a good load to steal—televisions, jeans, anything he could sell quickly and turn into cash, which, no doubt, he would only gamble away. His plan was to turn this straight job into a way he could make a score by setting up specific trucks to be hijacked.

It was the spring of 1961. Richard Kuklinski was twenty-six years old and going nowhere fast. He had, by his own account, killed more than sixty-five men.

It was now that Richard met Barbara Pedrici, and everything suddenly changed. The world he had known became a very different place.