The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
Part II. BARBARA
Bambi Meets the Ice Man
Barbara Pedrici was a tall, curvaceous eighteen-year-old Italian American with black hair, intense hazel-colored eyes, and a perfectly formed aquiline nose. In her stocking feet she was five feet ten, comfortable in her own skin, a natural air of affluence and superiority about her.
Barbara’s father had come to New Jersey from the northern Italian city of Venice, her mother’s family hailed from the lovely port city of Naples. Barbara had recently graduated high school and was not quite sure what she wanted to do with herself. She toyed with the idea of going to college to pursue a career as an artist, but her mother thought that “a waste of time” and wanted Barbara to get a job, find a man, get married, and have children. She even offered to buy Barbara a car if she did not attend college. Barbara refused.
Barbara and her mother did not get along well. Barbara was an only child; her parents had divorced when she was two years old. She was brought up by Nana Carmella—her mother’s mother—and her mother’s sister Sadie, both of whom were always doting on Barbara, giving her what she wanted, when she wanted it. Thus Barbara had become a bit spoiled; early on in life she learned that if she wanted something, she got it. Nothing was ever denied her. All she had to do was ask, and keep asking until it was hers.
Barbara’s mother, Genevieve, was a cold, austere woman, a stick-in-the-mud, as Barbara recently put it. Genevieve rarely smiled, didn’t show much affection. She worked hard as a seamstress in a factory in North Bergen and never seemed to have time or a kind word for her only child. It was as if she had never really wanted children, that her daughter was an inconvenience life had dealt her.
Barbara, though, was extremely close to her grandmother and her aunt Sadie. Sadie had a bad heart condition and couldn’t work, and her life was all about pleasing Barbara, giving to Barbara, making sure Barbara had whatever she wanted. Both Carmella and Sadie were warm and effusive, whereas Genevieve was cold and distant…not quite there.
Barbara was popular and gregarious, had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. She loved music, shopping, going to the movies with her girlfriends. She led a very sheltered life, had never been outside of New Jersey (except to visit her father in Florida), and knew absolutely nothing of the world that Richard Kuklinski came from.
Barbara went along with her friend Lucille when she responded to an ad for a secretary placed by the Swiftline Trucking Company that fall. As Barbara was waiting for her friend in the lobby, the owner of the company, Sol Goldfarb, saw Barbara and walked over to her.
“You look,” he said, “just like my daughter.”
“Really,” said Barbara, and they began talking; he explained that his daughter was deaf and mute.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Barbara said. He invited her into his office. Goldfarb was a tall, attractive man with dark hair and eyes, a sharp dresser. He worked hard, did well in business, made a lot of money. He was so taken by Barbara and how she resembled his daughter that he offered an accounting job there on the spot, which she accepted. Though she had absolutely no office experience, Barbara was a quick study; she had a high IQ and was readily able to master and perfect all that was required. She had always gotten good grades in school with little effort. This was her first real job. She enjoyed making her own money, enjoyed entering the workforce, having the responsibility of an adult and the independence that brought.
There was a soda machine at the trucking company and it was there that Barbara first encountered Richard Leonard Kuklinski. They said hello, smiled, and went back to work. They next ran into each other on the loading port, exchanged a few words about the weather; that was it. Mr. Goldfarb saw them talking and didn’t like it. Right away he went over to Barbara and, like a concerned parent, warned her to stay away from Richard. He said, “Look, I know you’re a nice girl, an innocent girl. Don’t have anything to do with that guy. He’s a lug; he’s married with kids.”
“Oh, I’m not,” she explained, taken aback. “We were just, you know, talking about the weather.”
“Okay, well, that’s good. Just stay away from him.”
“Certainly…of course, okay,” she said, caught a bit off guard. She’d had no designs on Richard; the thought of getting involved with him had never even entered her mind. The matter would surely have died right there had Goldfarb not pursued it further. He now called Richard into his office and said: “Look, Kuklinski, I don’t want you associating with the help, see.”
“Excuse me, what’re you talking about?” Richard asked.
“Barbara—stay away from her.”
This also caught Richard completely off guard. He hadn’t even thought about making a pass at Barbara. She was not his type. He’d never even known a girl like her—a good girl from a nice family, as it were.
Always defiant, always a chip on his shoulder, Richard said: “You know, it’s a free country. People’re allowed to talk to whoever they please.”
“I see you talking to her again, you’re fired,” Goldfarb said.
This was like a stinging slap in Richard’s surprised face.
“Take this fuckin’ job and shove it up your pompous ass,” Richard said, making that soft clicking sound out of the left side of his mouth, his face flushing.
“Get off this property,” Goldfarb said, standing up.
If Goldfarb had known he was talking to a genuine, raging psychopath, he would surely never have taken such an aggressive tone. Richard killed people for less than this.
“You owe me money,” Richard said.
“Come back later today and you’ll get your money. Outta here.”
Richard stared at him long and hard. “I’ll be back,” Richard said and left.
Richard’s plan was to kill Goldfarb that very night. He was going to follow him home and beat him to death right at his front door. Who the fuck did he think he was? Nobody talked to Richard Kuklinski like that. Without knowing it, Goldfarb had signed his own death warrant.
At four o’clock Richard was back, looking for his money. As he was waiting for a check, Barbara came walking out of the offices to get herself a Coke from the machine. Richard now told her how he’d gotten fired for talking to her.
“What?” she said, not believing this, having difficulty even comprehending such a thing.
“I got fired because I was talking to you,” he repeated.
She felt terrible. The poor guy, she knew, hadn’t done anything out of line, had never even intimated he wanted to take her out. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ll go talk to him right now. I’ll get your job back. This is outrageous.”
“That’s okay—forget about it. I didn’t want to work here anyway.”
“Jeez, I feel so bad.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“He says I look just like his daughter; I’m sure this is what it’s about.”
“To hell with him—the pig.”
“Would you like to have coffee later?” Barbara said, wanting to be nice to Richard because he’d got canned for talking to her, lost his livelihood because of her, she thought.
“Sure, yeah; I’d like that,” he said.
“Come back at five. I’ll meet you out front, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, liking the fact that Barbara wanted to stand up for him, was willing to meet him right out front. He soon got his check and left.
Had Barbara known who Richard really was, that he was a genuine wolf in sheep’s clothing, she would surely have run the other way, had absolutely nothing to do with him. As it was, she fixed herself after work, combed her hair, put on a little makeup, and went to meet Richard in front of the Swiftline Trucking Company.
Worst mistake I ever made, she would say many years later, still shaking her head in disbelief. I should’ve run for the hills, but instead I walked outside like a lamb to the slaughter.
Richard was tall and exceptionally handsome, shy and respectful, but he was not Barbara’s type, and he was too old for her. Still, they did go for coffee that windy fall day, had a nice talk. He opened doors for her, was truly the perfect gentleman, polite to the point of distraction, even too much of a gentleman. Barbara sensed—mistakenly—that she could readily control him, and she didn’t like that. She liked strong men, take-charge kind of men. Be that as it may, after their coffee, he made sure she got home okay. He insisted on taking her. He asked her if she’d like to go see a movie when they reached the home she shared with her mother and grandmother. Her aunt Sadie had moved out, now lived nearby with her husband, Harry.
“Sure, okay,” she said, as innocent and wide-eyed as a young fawn suddenly caught in the oncoming headlights of a speeding car. A car coming from hell driven by the devil himself.
That Saturday evening Richard showed up at Nana Carmella’s house. Shy and awkward, he met Barbara’s mom and grandmother. They thought he was nice enough, certainly tall and handsome, but he was too old for Barbara, and he wasn’t Italian. They went to a movie in nearby North Bergen, saw Godzilla and a few cartoons, one of which featured Casper the Friendly Ghost. Barbara offhandedly mentioned to Richard that she liked Casper. After the movie they went for pizza, sat and talked. Barbara still felt bad about Richard’s losing his job because of her.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, and meant it.
Richard was completely taken by Barbara. He thought she was a perfect lady, all class, polite, well-spoken and very funny. She was always making wisecracks that made him laugh, no easy thing. Barbara had no romantic designs on Richard. She did think he was very attractive, had a lovely smile, engaging honey-colored eyes. But he was married, had kids…and he was too old for her; not her type.
He told her that his marriage was, in fact, on the rocks; that he barely ever saw his wife and kids; that he was getting divorced, which was essentially all true, and Barbara believed him, took him at his word. Why shouldn’t she? There was no reason for him to lie. Plus, lies and deceit had never played a part in her short life. They were foreign to her. When they left the pizza parlor, Richard made sure he opened the door, and he hurried to open the door for her when she got into his car, an old Chevy. In front of Nana Carmella’s house, he didn’t try to kiss her good night, was too shy. She thanked him for a nice evening and went inside, not sure she’d ever see him again.
As Richard made his way back to Jersey City, he couldn’t stop thinking of Barbara, her smile, her lovely eyes, how her dark hair contrasted with her fair skin. It was as if someone had put a spell on him, as if Cupid had shot him with an arrow, a particularly pointed arrow. Until then Richard had only known “bar women.” Women who were loose, whores and tramps, as he thought of them. He also met many married women who fucked like rabbits in heat when their husbands weren’t around, he says.
Richard had grown to think of most women—certainly his own mother—as whores. He would never forget his mother screwing the next-door neighbor, a slovenly guy with three kids, right in the middle of the afternoon. That image, her naked with her legs wide open, her feet up in the air, was seared into his strange mind.
But not Barbara; she was different; she was good and innocent and pure as the driven snow. He wanted her, he resolved. He’d move heaven and hell to get her. But how? he wondered. How could he get her to fall for him? He didn’t have much to offer her. This was a dilemma. Still, he wanted to own her, possess her, to make her his.
That night when Barbara went inside, her mother immediately started complaining about Richard: he was too old for her; he lived in Jersey City; he seemed rough around the edges; he was not Italian. Biggest sin of all. Nana Carmella had nothing to say. If Barbara liked him, he was fine with her. Aunt Sadie, however, would have much to say. She would hire a private detective to look into this Richard Kuklinski of Jersey City.
It was Sunday morning, an unusually cold fall day. Barbara liked to sleep late on Sundays. She was still sound asleep when her mother shook her and woke her up with some urgency.
“That man you went out with last night is here,” she said, obviously not pleased about it.
Surprised to the point of shock, Barbara climbed out of bed, freshened up, and went downstairs. She found Richard sitting in the living room. He popped up when he saw her. In his left hand he had a big bouquet of flowers, and in his right hand a white stuffed toy: Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Speechless, though touched, Barbara just stood there, her mouth slightly agape. No one had ever paid such attention to her. What was this about?
“I’m sorry I woke you up,” he said. “I didn’t mean to—”
“That’s…that’s okay. How thoughtful of you,” she said, taking the flowers and Casper, smiling politely.
Richard had never courted a girl in his life; he had no idea how it was done, what was good form and what was not. Barbara offered him some coffee and put the nice roses in a vase. This was also another first—no boy had ever given her flowers.
It was painfully obvious to Genevieve that this Polish guy from Jersey City, certainly an undesirable place filled with ruffians, had designs on her daughter—her only child—and she didn’t like it. Her daughter was good girl, a virgin…. Where did this guy get off coming around early Sunday morning with flowers and lovesick eyes? Genevieve believed an older guy like him was after one thing—sex; and he wasn’t going to get any of that from her daughter, her Barbara. Forget it.
Genevieve was cold and indifferent to Richard, and Barbara knew it was best to get him out of the house, away from her mother, ASAP. She showered and dressed, and she and Richard left. They went to Journal Square in Jersey City, a main shopping street lined with beautiful old art deco movie houses—the Loews and the Stanley—and all kinds of nice shops. They went for a Sunday brunch at an Italian restaurant called Guido’s, walked up and down the wide street looking in store windows and talking.
Richard felt close to Barbara, as if he’d known her a long time. For some inexplicable reason he…he trusted her. They even talked about sex that day, and Barbara told him she was a virgin and was proud of it. This really bowled Richard over. How could a girl so attractive, so sexy and desirable, still be a virgin? That didn’t make sense, he thought, and told her so.
“Yeah, well I am,” she said, adamant, not pleased he didn’t take her word, but in truth he did believe her, and that made him want her all the more. She really was, he was more sure than ever, a good girl—someone he could trust. They saw another movie, Otto Preminger’s Exodus, and Richard took Barbara back home. He tried now to kiss her good night but she wouldn’t let him. She didn’t invite him inside; she wanted to keep him and her mother apart.
That Monday, when Barbara left work, Richard was outside waiting for her, and he had still more flowers with him.
This all caught her off guard, made her…a little uneasy. There was no plan for him to be here, but here he was insisting on taking her home, and of course she had to get into his car; after all, he was only being nice. How could she decline? She did have plans to meet a girlfriend and go to the record shop, but now that had to be scrapped.
Barbara recently explained, If I’d had any sense I would’ve seen the handwriting on the wall then and there and ended it. But I’d never met anyone like Richard…so…attentive, and I had no real point of reference.
Barbara went to the record shop in North Bergen with Richard and he insisted that she let him buy her the records she wanted. She tried to pay but he wouldn’t let her.
“Forget it, let me…. I want to,” he told her.
When he took her home, Nana Carmella saw them and made him come in for dinner. Barbara had to go along with this, though she felt his presence was being forced on her. Genevieve worked hard all day and had no real interest in cooking, but Grandmother Carmella was an amazingly good cook, and she served up eggplant parmesan, no big deal, but Richard raved about how good it was.
Genevieve was not thrilled he was there—she knew what he was after; but she tolerated him and was…pleasant enough. After dinner and some sweets Nana Carmella had made, they sat in the living room and watched The Sid Caesar Show, everyone but Genevieve laughing out loud. Though shy and awkward, Richard felt oddly at ease, felt at home. He’d never in his life been around a family that wasn’t severely dysfunctional, and he admired the warmth in Barbara’s home. He wanted this for himself. He’d do anything he had to do to get it. Nothing would stop him from having Barbara—from having his own family with Barbara.
He came to view Barbara as a valuable means to an end, sure she could show him a part of life he knew nothing about. He could, he was equally sure, know real love if he made Barbara his. He didn’t so much see her as an intelligent, independent woman; he saw her as a potential possession, a thing to acquire, own and control, hang above the mantel; a prized trophy everyone could admire.
Outwardly, Richard was a perfect gentleman, soft-spoken, fervently polite; inside he was a churning volcano…intent upon owning and possessing Barbara Pedrici, no matter what. His wife, Linda, was forgotten; a thing of the past.
Every day when Barbara left work, Richard was there. She quickly became so used to his presence that she began to take it for granted, accept it; she didn’t tell him she had other plans; she didn’t tell him that she wanted to go shopping with her friends, hang out and talk and have fun with the girls. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings. As it happened, Richard didn’t even give her the chance to protest; he was just always there with that handsome face and those intense almond-shaped eyes, flowers, his shy smile, his polite ways. How could she say no? How could she resist him? In fact, she began to grow fond of his undivided attention. After all, he was a handsome older guy, obviously nuts about her, and she felt…well, she felt flattered. The attention and the admiration appealed to her ego; none of her friends had a tall, gorgeous older guy waiting on them, always there, opening doors, being polite, a caring, considerate gentleman out to please.
Little by little Barbara was becoming more and more fond of Richard. His seduction was bearing fruit. Now when he kissed her she let him; indeed, she kissed him back…passionately. But that was it. She refused to have sex with him. Her mother had warned her many times over the years to never, never have sex before being married. That had been ingrained in Barbara since she was a young girl.
But the more she resisted Richard’s impassioned pleas, the more he wanted her. Had to have her. He began to tease Barbara about her virginity, said the reason she wouldn’t have sex with him was because she really wasn’t a virgin at all, that she was “hiding the truth.” At first he said this jokingly, toying with her, but the more she said no, the more he teased her, and dared her to show him. Prove it.
Barbara, a strong-willed, independent young woman by nature, finally gave in to Richard’s entreaties, more to shut him up and prove she was a virgin than anything else. The first time they were intimate was in a motel in Jersey City, and it was not a particularly pleasant experience for Barbara. In fact, it hurt. But Richard had reached the top of Mount Everest, and Barbara proved there in the hotel that she was, indeed, a virgin, for her blood was there to prove it. This made Richard want her all the more. Barbara was the only virgin he’d ever known, and he was intent upon making her his.
He was intent upon marrying her.
Barbara’s aunt Sadie was more like a mother to Barbara than Genevieve had ever been. Cold and aloof, Genevieve was not a people person. She didn’t seem to like anyone. She’d go to work, come home, eat, watch a little TV, and go to sleep; that was her life; that’s what life was all about.
Aunt Sadie, on the other hand was outgoing, warm and friendly, loved movies, loved opera, enjoyed going out, had a giving, effusive southern Italian way about her. Sadie was also a crafty, cunning woman, as is also the way of southern Italians, of Neapolitans. If Barbara, who was surely more like a daughter than a niece, wanted to be involved with this big Polish guy, that was okay with her. But Aunt Sadie wanted to know more about him—who he was, where he came from, what kind of family he had. Whenever the subject of his family came up, Richard became quiet and changed the subject. Sadie wondered why, and she resolved to make it her business to find out. Her brother Armond was a part-time cop in Cliffside Park, and with his help, Sadie found a private investigator who, for a fee, went to Jersey City and Hoboken and began snooping around and asking questions about Richard Kuklinski.
It didn’t take long for him to find out that Richard was a player, that he hurt a lot of people, that he hijacked trucks, that he had a hair-trigger temper, that he had drinking and gambling problems; and that he had associations with organized crime. He even heard rumors that Richard had murdered people in sudden bar altercations, and for money! Mama mia! Richard had no kind of police record, but he had a reputation as a dangerous guy: a thug, a hustler with a violent streak who carried a gun and a knife. All this Armond summarily reported back to Sadie. She was appalled and immediately dispatched Armond to go to talk to Richard, intent upon ending the relationship before it went any further. Armond found Richard in a Jersey City bar and said he needed to talk with him….
“Sure,” Richard said, wary that Armond had suddenly come to Jersey City to talk with him: “What’s on your mind?”
“Barbara,” Armond began, “is a good girl—”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I like her,” said Richard.
“Look, I found out all about you, Richard. I know who you are. And me…me and the family want you to stay away from Barbara.”
“Really,” Richard said, his lips tightening, his eyes narrowing.
“Yeah, really,” Armond told him, acting tough.
“And what if I don’t?” Richard asked.
“It won’t be good for you,” Armond said.
“You threatening me? Are you threatening me, Armond?”
“I’m telling you to leave Barbara alone. She’s a good girl.”
“My intentions toward her are only honorable.”
“You are married with two kids…. What’s honorable about that?”
“I’m getting a divorce.”
“You aren’t for her.”
“Me. Says me. The family wants you to steer clear of Barbara. Don’t you get it?”
“Yeah, well, I ain’t, okay.”
“That wouldn’t be…good for you.”
“You are threatening me. Look, Armond, if you wanna go to war over this that’s fine with me, but I can tell you right now, right here, like a friend, that only one of us is going to come out of it, and it ain’t—listen to me—it ain’t going to be you. Take that to the bank.” Richard let his words sink in. Armond was not a particularly tough man. He was tall and thin, not powerful. But he had fought in World War II, was highly decorated, had killed a lot of Japanese soldiers, and he did carry a gun. He had one on him right now, a .38 with a four-inch barrel, his service revolver. Richard had two guns on him. They stared at each other.
“My niece is a good girl!” Armond repeated with firm conviction. “Don’t you get it?”
If Armond hadn’t been Barbara’s uncle, Richard might’ve taken him outside and shot him there on the spot, then got rid of his body. Instead, he said, “Like I told you, my intentions toward Barbara are only honorable. Tell the family that; tell them I’m getting a divorce; tell them I love Barbara and’ll never do anything to hurt her. Tell them that…. Okay?”
“Okay, I will,” Armond said, seeing clearly the resolve in Richard’s face, and he went back to his sister Sadie and told her what Richard had said.
“I’ll talk to Barbara,” Sadie said, and she sat Barbara down and told her all she had learned, none of which was particularly troubling to Barbara. Whatever Richard had done, she said, was in the past. “He’s nice and kind and real good to me,” Barbara said, trying to defend the indefensible.
“He’s married with children,” Sadie said. “He’s a gangster.”
“He’s getting divorced,” Barbara said. “He’s no gangster. When I met him he was working. Working hard. He got fired for talking to me—you believe that? For just talking to me.”
“He’s hurt a lot of people,” Sadie said.
“I’m sure they deserved it,” Barbara said, having no idea of how severely Richard hurt a lot of people: that indeed he was a full-blown serial killer.
“Barbara,” Sadie said, “I love you. I’m only telling you this because I care. I don’t think you know what you’re getting involved with here.”
“I know, and I love you too, and I appreciate your caring, your looking out for me. Listen, we’re only dating, okay? I mean, I’m not marrying him; we aren’t going to rush off and elope. Don’t worry. Please, don’t worry.”
“But I do. I don’t want to see you hurt. You can do better than this guy, I promise you.”
“We are only dating,” Barbara repeated.
“Okay…but you be careful. Don’t go falling in love with him; don’t go letting him make you pregnant.”
“Of course not,” Barbara said, and hugged her aunt Sadie long and hard. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Aunt Sadie said, having a very bad feeling deep inside her gut about this Richard Kuklinski from Jersey City with the shy, crooked smile and shifty eyes.
That Christmas Barbara decided to invite Richard to join her family for both the Christmas Eve fish dinner and the Christmas Day meal, which would be a customary five-course feast lasting all day and part of the night. For Barbara’s family, like most Italian American families across the country, Christmas was a special time of year—a wonderful opportunity to give and laugh and sing and eat and bring everyone together. Barbara, a talented artist, painted colorful Christmas scenes on the windows with watercolor paint, and there was a big tree in the living room.
Barbara saw this as a good opportunity for her family to get to know how kind and polite and sweet Richard really was. When Barbara told her mother she wanted to invite Richard for the holidays, Genevieve was not happy, but she reluctantly accepted it, as did the rest of the family. If that’s what Barbara wanted, so be it. Unless she had her way, she’d have a long, sour face, and would let everyone know she wasn’t happy.
When Barbara told Richard she’d like him to join her family over the holidays, he was caught off guard, but he was pleased too, and readily accepted the gracious invitation and looked forward to it. He knew Barbara was close to her people, and if he wanted her, he knew they had to accept him. Simple. But he was nervous. His family never had a Christmas tree or any special foods; for him Christmas had meant nothing—zero. He usually went to a diner to eat, and that was it. No big shakes. This would be a whole new experience.
This Is for You, Richard
December 24, 1961, Christmas Eve, Richard arrived at Barbara’s house in North Bergen.
This stone-cold, remorseless killer was nervous, indeed had butterflies in his stomach; he’d never been to such a function, had no idea what to expect, what to do, how to act, what was expected of him. Barbara’s whole family was there, fifteen people in all. Grandma Carmella had been cooking nonstop for days. Huge, colorful platters of food were ready to be served. Barbara introduced Richard, awkward and painfully shy, to cousins, aunts, and uncles he’d not met yet. It was now that Richard met Barbara’s cousin Carl. “He’s my favorite cousin,” she told Richard. Of course her aunt Sadie was there, and she was warm enough to Richard, but she didn’t like him, didn’t like anything about him—what he did, where he came from, where he was going. Still, she resolved to be nice, to make him feel welcomed no matter what. After all, it was Christmas Eve, the time of love and family unity, and if her Barbara wanted him there, so be it. She’d make the best of it, hoping it was only a passing phase.
Drinks were soon poured. Toasts were made. The smell of delicious southern Italian foods permeated the air, mixing with the strong smell of pine coming from the Christmas tree. Richard knew better than to drink whiskey, and he only had a glass of white wine to be social.
When they all sat to eat at the long, glorious table Barbara and Nana and Aunt Sadie had carefully set, Richard sat next to Barbara. They started with colorful platters filled with antipasto, red peppers in oil, salamis, prosciutto, all kinds of cheese, stuffed peppers, olives, artichoke hearts. They then had the customary spaghetti and clams, followed by fried fillet of sole, stuffed shrimp and shrimp scampi, stuffed calamari, and grilled lobster tails. This was followed by fruits and nuts and more cheese, followed by Neapolitan stuffed artichokes, to help with digestion. Then, of course, the desserts.
Richard had never even seen a home-cooked Italian meal like this, let alone eaten one, and he was amazed at how good everything was. Warmed and flushed by the beautiful meal, he was even more touched by how the family openly showed affection, readily touched and kissed and hugged, the constant banter and laughter. He was seeing something he had never known existed: a tight-knit family enjoying one another’s company, openly showing tender feelings. By the time espresso was served with sweets Carmella had made—also sambuca and grappa—it was near twelve, the time when gifts were given. Richard hadn’t brought any gifts. He didn’t know you were supposed to, and when Aunt Sadie handed him a carefully wrapped gift and said, “This is for you, Richard, merry Christmas,” he was touched. He was speechless. And there were still more gifts for him, from Barbara, from Nana Carmella, even from Barbara’s mother. Richard was so moved that tears actually filled his eyes, and like this he opened his gifts—a sweater, some cologne, a nice suede jacket from Barbara. All choked up, Richard tried on the jacket. It fit perfectly. It was the nicest gift anyone had ever given him.
“Is it always like this?” he asked Barbara.
“What do you mean?” she asked, smiling.
“Everyone so nice and warm and giving,” he said.
“Of course—it’s Christmastime,” she said. “It’s always like this, Richard.”
The following day, Richard returned to Nana Carmella’s house carrying gifts. He had shopped all morning and made sure he’d gotten something for everyone that would be there. He gleefully handed out the gifts, receiving thank-yous, kisses and hugs. He never knew people could be so warm and effusive, readily expressing their feelings.
Soon they all sat down to eat again, and this meal was even larger than the meal the night before. There was antipasto, lasagna, and eggplant parmesan, followed by ham and lamb, with three different kinds of potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, rice balls, huge bowls of salad, and fruit, sweets, and fennochio (fennel). They ate for hours, taking a break after each course; much wine was poured, toasts were made, there was laughter, and old and new jokes were shared, some a little bawdy. They also sang Christmas carols.
That Christmas Barbara’s family grew to accept Richard: his shyness, how much he obviously enjoyed being there, the considerate gifts he’d brought, won them over. Though he was not Italian, they made him feel welcomed and loved, as if he were truly one of them. Part of the family. He wanted to reach out and hug them all, wrap his powerful arms around them and hold them tight. With a warm glow, he sat there eating and smiling, and maybe—truly for the first time in his entire life—Richard was glad to be alive. Richard felt…loved. He was so moved, so touched, that he went out on the back screened-in patio and cried in his cupped hands. Barbara found him there like that and she took him in her arms and held him tight, thinking he was just a big baby.
If she’d only known.
After the holidays passed and the New Year began, Richard and Barbara saw each other more and more. But Barbara was beginning to feel stifled, boxed in. Richard was always there. No matter which way she turned he was there, waiting for her, opening doors for her, demanding her undivided attention. He had cut her off from seeing her friends, certainly from dating anyone else, and she felt that she was trapped. She had grown very fond of Richard, but she wanted a little room to breathe, to go for sodas, to go shopping and have long talks with her girlfriends. She resolved to tell him. She had the right. She was only nineteen years old and couldn’t do anything on her own anymore. She thought of the best way to do this, turned it over in her mind. She did not ask any of her friends or anyone in her family for advice because she didn’t want to let anyone know how hemmed in she felt.
Meanwhile, Richard decided to take her to his favorite haunt in Hoboken, Sylvia’s Ringside Inn. Richard had told Sylvia all about Barbara, the wonderful time he’d had over the holidays, the feast they’d served. Barbara didn’t particularly want to go to the Ringside Inn. That was a part of Richard’s life she wanted nothing to do with. But being polite, she agreed to go, and Richard proudly introduced Barbara to the crowd there, and to Sylvia. Sylvia was outright rude, even hostile. She felt Barbara had been keeping Richard away from the place. Richard’s pool playing had been a draw. She’d been making money because of him. Sylvia resented Barbara and had no reservations about letting her know. The feeling was mutual—Barbara thought she was the rudest, ugliest person she’d ever met and told Richard so. “I don’t like being here,” she said. “It’s dirty, it smells. I don’t like the people; I don’t like this Sylvia character! My God, what a face; could stop a clock, could stop Big Ben. I want to leave, Richard.”
For the life of him Richard couldn’t understand Barbara’s animus or why Sylvia was so unfriendly, and the couple left.
“I don’t ever want to go back there,” Barbara said, “and truth is, I don’t see why you would either. It’s below you, Richard.”
“Okay, guess it was a bad idea to bring you,” Richard said. They never went back as a couple, and soon Richard stopped going altogether.
Several days later Barbara finally mustered the courage to tell Richard how she felt. He had come to pick her up at work. When she got in the car she still had no idea how dangerous Richard was, that he carried a gun and a knife with him all the time. However, she would soon learn.
“Richard, I need to talk with you,” she began.
“Sure,” he said, sensing he was about to hear something he wouldn’t like.
“Look, Richard, I’m very fond of you. You know that. It’s…well, I feel trapped. Everywhere I turn, you’re there. I want some space; I want to hang out with my friends. I’d like to go out on a Saturday night with my girlfriends like I used to do.” She went on to describe, her voice kind and considerate, warm and sincere, how she needed space. She was very young and didn’t, she said, want such a “serious commitment.”
Maybe, she said, she’d even like to…you know, date other guys.
Barbara’s words cut Richard like broken glass. They hurt. They made him bleed. As she talked he actually began to pale, and his lips twisted off to the left. Barbara did not see him reach down and pull out the razor-sharp hunting knife he always kept strapped to his calf, and as she talked he reached out his arm and held it behind her. He looked at her and smiled as she prattled on about freedom and space and her being so young. He raised his hand and jabbed her in the back, just behind her left shoulder, with the knife.
“Ow,” she said. “What was that?” Then she saw the glistening knife in his hand. “My God, you stabbed me—why?” Seeing the blood, her eyes filled with shock and dismay.
“‘Why?’ As a warning,” he said, in a sickeningly calm voice. “You’re mine…understand? You aren’t seeing anyone else, understand? You do what I tell you!”
“Listen, Barbara, if I can’t have you no one can. Got it?”
“That’s what you think. Who the hell do you think you are? How could you stab me like that? What kind of person are you? Where’d this knife come from?” She was aghast. “I’m going to tell my family. I’m going—”
“Really,” he said, his voice calm and icy cold—a voice she’d never heard before, detached, inhuman. “How about this: how about I’ll kill your whole family, your mother and your cousins and Uncle Armond. How about that?” he asked.
Now really angry, she began to yell at him, to berate him. He grabbed her by the neck and throttled her until she was unconscious. When she came to he was driving along as if nothing had happened, calm, cool, collected…as if they were on the way to a movie.
“Take me home,” she said, making it a point not to be too aggressive. Aggression obviously didn’t work. Barbara now viewed him as a very dangerous man, a nut, a psycho, didn’t trust him, was deathly afraid of him. She had to get away from him. But how? When she arrived home, he warned her again that he’d kill “anyone who meant anything to you…understand?”
“Yes, I understand,” she said, her mind reeling with the dire consequences of his words. Dizzy, nauseated, she got out of his car and slowly walked inside. He pulled away.
That day, Barbara’s life took an irreversible turn for the worse. Indeed, her life was about to become a long series of nightmares, of terror, and there was nothing anyone could do for her.
Not her family.
Not the police.
Not Jesus Christ himself.
Richard was outraged. How could Barbara want to stop seeing him, feel hemmed in by him? He’d been nothing but kind and gentle to her. Where had he gone wrong? What could he do to win her back? His mind turned like an out-of-control merry-go-round. He felt dizzy; his head throbbed. He resolved he would murder her and bury her in South Jersey if she left him. If she was dead, she couldn’t hurt him.
Murder, as always, was the answer.
The following day, when Barbara left work, Richard was waiting outside. He had flowers for her, a cute little teddy bear, an abundance of sweet words. He told her how sorry he was—that he loved her too much, that was the problem.
“Barbara,” he said, “I never felt like this for anyone. The thought of losing you…well it just makes me, you know, crazy. I’m sorry.”
“And the threats?”
“I just can’t lose you. I…I couldn’t handle it,” he said. “I’d go over the deep end. Please let’s make this work; let’s try. I love you. I want to marry you.”
“Richard, you’re already married, with children!”
“I’m getting a divorce. I promise. I swear. My word.”
And like this Richard convinced Barbara, gullible and young, that they would have a wonderful future together. Truth is, Barbara did want children, did want to have a family and a loving dedicated husband, and she knew that no one could ever be more dedicated than Richard.
Had Barbara been older, more mature, had she seen more of the world, known herself better, she would have found a way to end this then and there. But she truly believed Richard would hurt the people she cared for the most, and she succumbed to Richard’s sincere, seemingly heartfelt, endless entreaties.
That night Richard had dinner at Nana Carmella’s house. He had grown to love Nana Carmella’s cooking and really enjoyed eating there. He was, in a sense, making Barbara’s family his own family; he was co-opting them for himself, filling a deep void he had inside. Barbara’s mother had learned to accept Richard, and he felt at home and at peace when he was there.
Over the coming weeks and months, as spring grew near, Barbara was caught up in a kind of sticky spiderweb she could not get out of. The more she twisted and turned, the more entangled she became. Most of the time Richard was nice enough, fawningly polite. He could be very funny, and good company. But he had no reservations about striking her, choking her, threatening to kill her—and her family. Barbara’s mind-set became: It’s better he hurts me than anyone in my family.
At one point she did go talk to the police, she says, and learned that if he was arrested for assaulting her he’d soon be out of jail, and she believed he’d come looking to kill her. She knew now he also carried guns as well as a knife.
Barbara repeatedly thought about telling her uncle Armond and Nana Carmella’s brother, the chief of police in North Bergen, but Barbara was absolutely convinced that if she told them about Richard’s abuse, they’d surely confront him, and just as surely Richard would end up killing them and burying them somewhere. He flat-out told her he would. She believed him. She stayed quiet and endured the abuse, which only became worse and worse still.
Barbara came to realize that Richard could be outright sadistic in the extreme, as cold as ice, as she puts it. Richard had, in fact, all the worst qualities of both his parents magnified many times over. He had Stanley’s capacity for prolonged, sudden cruelty, and Anna’s indifference to people’s feelings. Richard had taken those elements to new, staggering heights; he was far more dangerous and cruel than Stanley Kuklinski had ever been.
When, conversely, Richard was kind he was the nicest, most easygoing, giving guy in the world: attentive, polite, considerate, and very romantic. On a regular basis he brought Barbara long-stemmed red roses and loving cards with romantic sayings. Barbara felt like she was on a roller coaster. A roller coaster she desperately wanted to get off. But she did not know how.
The couple was now having intercourse on a regular basis. Richard had rented an apartment, and they went there for romantic interludes. Richard refused to wear a condom, Barbara didn’t have access to any kind of birth control, and the inevitable happened: Barbara became pregnant. It seemed that’s what Richard was planning all along—to make her pregnant, to force her deeper into a relationship with him.
Barbara became despondent. She was normally an upbeat, optimistic woman; she was now depressed, cornered…trapped, she explained.
Richard talked about getting married. He said he was glad she was pregnant, that he’d wanted to have children with her all along, from their first date. Barbara decided she didn’t want to marry Richard, did not want to have his child, and finally—after much soul-searching—she went to her mother and told her the truth….
“I knew it!” Genevieve said, her face stern and cold and angry. “I told you. I warned you. That’s all he wanted, and you gave it to him—a married man with kids. How could you? How could you allow this to happen? You know better. I taught you better—”
Disgusted, Barbara turned away from her mother.
Nana Carmella was far more understanding. She didn’t know anything about Richard’s past. His shy, polite ways had grown on her. True, he wasn’t Italian, but she had, with some difficulty, learned to accept that, to accept him. Nana Carmella hugged Barbara and assured her everything would be okay.
But Barbara knew better. She knew she was in quicksand and sinking rapidly. She was a good Catholic and did not believe in abortion. Even if she had, that would have been, back then, a hard thing to come by. She’d have the baby, she resolved. But she wanted nothing more to do with Richard. That was, she was sure, a one-way ticket to a place she didn’t want to go. She’d make the best of this bad situation she’d gotten herself into. How right Sol Goldfarb had been about Richard. If only she had listened to him, she mused over and over again.
Barbara went to the bank, withdrew all her savings, and took off—left town without telling Richard anything. She went to the only person in the world who would understand, who would protect her, who loved her unconditionally and didn’t judge her no matter what—her father, Albert Pedrici. Mr. Pedrici lived in Miami Beach, and when Barbara boarded the plane, and it taxied and took off, she felt as if she were leaving a bad dream, a nightmare, behind. Little did she know that she was actually speeding toward the nightmare her life would become.
Al Pedrici was a tall, handsome Venetian who loved life and made the most of it. He was quick to laugh, quick to make friends, a naturally gregarious man—the exact opposite of Barbara’s mother. Albert’s father had come to America through Ellis Island in 1906, and bought a house in the Italian enclave of Hoboken, on the same block where the Sinatras lived. The Pedricis opened a small food shop in Hoboken, and the family did well, never wanted for anything. Albert met Barbara’s mother when he was twenty-two, she nineteen. It was a kind of, sort of love at first sight, that resulted in an ill-conceived marriage that did not work out. Albert and Genevieve were divorced when Barbara was two years old.
During the years Barbara was growing up, she’d seen her father as much as circumstances allowed. Albert gave Barbara whatever she wanted. All she had to do was point and it was hers. He spoiled her. Barbara was much closer to her father than to her mother, even though they lived apart. When he moved to Miami, they spoke on the phone often, wrote detailed letters to each other. Albert very much enjoyed living in Miami, the fair weather, the glorious sunshine, being near the sea, the city’s bustling nightlife. He and his second wife, Natalie, socialized a lot, went to parties and clubs all over Miami. Albert liked to dance, and just about every weekend the couple went out “high stepping,” as Albert was fond of saying.
When Richard learned that Barbara had fled New Jersey, he was distraught. He kept asking Genevieve and Nana Carmella where Barbara had gone. They wouldn’t tell. Richard became obsessed. He kept coming back to the house. He wouldn’t leave them alone. He did not get aggressive, rude, or threatening, but Genevieve sensed he could very well become violent. Extremely violent. She had heard stories about his violence from Sadie and Armond. Still, in no uncertain terms, Genevieve told Richard to forget Barbara, to get on with his life, to find a nice Polish girl his own age.
“You don’t understand,” he said, shaking his head in dismay. “I love Barbara, I love her with all my heart. I’ve never—never—cared for anyone like I care for Barbara—”
“Richard,” Genevieve interrupted, “you’re a married man.”
“I’m getting divorced. That woman, that marriage, never meant anything to me.”
“You’ve been saying that for months now and you still aren’t divorced. What’s that about?”
“I’m…I’ve had a run of bad luck. I need money for the lawyer. I already spoke to him, a lawyer over in Hoboken, and he won’t do it until I pay him. Linda, my ex, she doesn’t mean anything to me. I met her when I was a kid. I never loved her. The children, they just happened. I wasn’t planning that—you know, to settle down, anything like that. Barbara is pregnant with my child. I want to marry her. I wanted to marry Barbara and have a family with her from the first time we went out—I swear. Barbara is all class. I never met anyone like her.”
There was a long, heavy pause. Finally, Genevieve said, “If I give you the money for the Hoboken lawyer, you’ll get a divorce?”
“Right away, like tomorrow.”
“On my life!”
Genevieve looked at him long and hard; he was a very handsome man. She was, in fact, beguiled by Richard. When he wanted to, he could be extremely charming…indeed disarming.
“How much?” she asked.
“A thousand,” he said.
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you,” she said.
“Yes. Really. I wouldn’t kid about something like this.”
Richard picked up Genevieve like a doll and hugged her so hard he nearly broke her ribs. “Then you’ll tell me where she is?” he asked, all hopeful.
“Yes, only after you’ve gotten a divorce—and you prove it.”
“I will, I promise I will,” he said.
He came back the next day, got the thousand dollars from Genevieve—every dollar hard-earned—hurried to Hoboken, paid the lawyer, the papers were drawn up, and Richard had Linda sign them. He gave her no option. He then signed them, and with the lawyer’s help, Richard and Linda were soon legally divorced. Richard had never loved Linda, and he’d hated her since he caught her in the hotel. He was glad to be rid of her.
Proof in hand, Richard went back to see Genevieve, and she now actually told him where Barbara was—a thing Barbara would hold against her mother for the rest of her life.
That May was unbearably hot and humid in Miami. When the sun went down mosquitoes filled the air. You couldn’t go outside, there were so many mosquitoes. Barbara didn’t like Miami. She wasn’t used to all the heat; the pregnancy was making her particularly uncomfortable. She was afraid Richard would hurt her family. He’d said a dozen times that he would, and she was haunted to distraction—sleepless—that at any moment the phone would ring and she’d hear the terrible, unspeakable news—Richard killed your family: Nana, your mother, your aunt Sadie….
What, Barbara wondered, had she done to deserve such a fate? She’d been a good, God-fearing person all her life. Since she’d known the difference between right and wrong, she’d always done right. And now this. This living, breathing, snake-eyed nightmare. She began to think she had to have committed some heinous, terrible crime in another life to be condemned to such an unfair state of affairs. God…there was no God. What kind of God would condemn her to such a fate?
She began to wonder if it was all because she’d had sex with Richard—wanton, lustful sex whenever he pleased. Surely that was it. That’s what had brought this black curse, this psychotic Polack from Jersey City, down upon her. He was, she came to think, punishment for her carnal passions.
Barbara very much enjoyed the company of her father. He was supportive and loving and didn’t criticize her at all, had nothing negative to say. He kept telling her everything would work out well, that she had her whole life before her, that she could stay with him and his wife as long as she wished. No pressure. Just love. Unconditional love, given without expecting anything in return.
Aunt Sadie called her every day, and she too was supportive and optimistic, and they talked about the joy of having a child. Aunt Sadie said she’d be more than happy to babysit for the baby—she was sure it was going to be a girl—when Barbara was ready to go back to work. With each passing day Barbara became stronger and more resigned to her fate. She stopped beating up on herself; she began going for long walks along the glorious Atlantic Ocean, and she enjoyed swimming in the early morning as the Florida sun slowly climbed out of the east. She got dark with the sun and looked quite beautiful with a radiant tan, a baby rapidly growing in her ever-expanding stomach.
A storm from the south came tearing into Miami. The sky abruptly darkened, became the deep gray color of gunpowder. Strong winds bent palm trees, made them seem as if they were dancing to Latin music. Lightning bolts tore the darkening sky apart at will. Thunder trembled the air. Since she’d been a little girl, Barbara had never liked storms. They seemed to be harbingers of bad things to come.
Barbara was sitting in the screened-in porch of her father’s house, watching the storm, the lightning bolts, how the wind abused the palm trees, when she saw out of the corner of her eye a taxi come to a slow stop in front of the house; a lone man, a large man, got out of the cab. He carried one piece of luggage. He began to walk up the path to the house. Barbara suddenly realized, as if she’d been struck by a thunderbolt, that it was Richard. She wanted to get up and run, but where could she go? Where could she run? He walked up to the screen door and knocked. Barbara went to the door, not pleased, actually scowling.
“I found you,” he said.
“Yes, I see that.”
“Why’d you run away?”
“Why do you think I ran away?”
“You look so beautiful. You’ve changed. Guess it’s true.”
“That women become more beautiful when they’re pregnant.”
“So you say?”
“Can I come in?”
“I’d rather you didn’t if you want to know the truth.”
They stared at each other through the screen. It began to rain. He just stood there in the rain getting wet.
“I got divorced,” he said, taking out the divorce papers so she could see. “See, they’re signed by a judge.” The papers were getting wet.
“I’m shocked…. I didn’t think you would.”
“I said I would and I did. I love you, Barbara. I love you so much it hurts,” he told her. And thus Richard insinuated his way back into Barbara’s life, a storm-filled purple sky and lightning bolts behind him, as if nature were trying to send Barbara a message.
When Barbara found out that her mother had paid for Richard’s divorce and told him where Barbara was, she called her mother and berated her nonstop for fifteen minutes. Genevieve’s answer was, “I don’t want you to have a child without a husband. How would that look? It’s not right. It’s not…natural.”
“I don’t care how it’ll look! You had no right telling him I’m here. No right—no right!” Barbara hung up on her mother.
Young and inexperienced and particularly vulnerable now with this sudden unwanted pregnancy, Barbara was soon convinced that Richard would change, that his love for her would make everything good and right, and they would be happy.
Al Pedrici readily accepted Richard. He could see that Richard was nuts about his daughter and resolved not to do anything to get in their way. He figured things would work themselves out, that Barbara—whose pregnancy was more evident every day—was certainly better off with a husband than without. Al had no idea about Richard’s violence toward Barbara, his homicidal threats, how calm and cold he was when he made them, or that he was always armed. Even now, she was sure, he had a gun with him.
Barbara and Richard went for long walks and talked. Barbara, aware now that Richard had drinking and gambling problems, made him swear off those vices, which he readily did. Al managed to get Richard a job driving a delivery truck, and he dutifully went to work every day, not complaining, toeing the line, intent upon proving that he would be a good provider. A good husband. A better man. He resolved also to stay away from crime. Killing people. The Mafia. Days quickly melted into weeks then into months. Florida’s summer arrived with even more thick, stuffy humidity, as well as more giant mosquitoes. As Barbara’s stomach grew, the heat and humidity bothered her more and more. Richard kept insisting that they get married, Barbara finally agreed, and as the summer grew to a close, Barbara and Richard were married by a justice of the peace at Miami’s city hall. Al and his wife attended. That night they went out for a nice dinner in a fish restaurant. Toasts were made. There was no honeymoon, no money for that, and suddenly Barbara Pedrici became Barbara Kuklinski.
That was, she recently confided, the worst day of my life. Now that I think of it I should have thrown myself in the ocean and drowned rather than marry Richard. But I did, and the die was cast.
When, one evening after dinner, Richard saw his new wife smoking a cigarette, he became disproportionately angry: he ripped the cigarette from her hand and stomped on it.
“I’ll smoke if I want to,” Barbara said, annoyed.
Richard’s answer was to step on her right foot with all his weight—and turn it, fracturing her large toe.
“Are you crazy!” she asked, grimacing with pain. “What’s wrong with you?”
“You aren’t smoking,” he said. “You will do what I say!” And that night Richard would not allow Barbara to even come to bed. He made her sit on a gray metal stool on the screened-in patio the whole night.
“You move, I’ll kill your father in front of you,” he said, dead serious, and left Barbara there like that.
Convinced that Richard would truly kill her dad, Barbara sat on that hard metal stool the whole friggin’ night, as she put it. The temperature dropped suddenly, as it always did, and she was so cold she began shivering. Certainly Barbara should have hurried to the police, told them what Richard had done, what he was making her do; but she was so frightened for her father that she sat there shivering and freezing all night long, silently cursing heaven and hell, and her mother for telling Richard where she was.
Barbara lost the baby the next day. She was sure what Richard had made her do was the reason. Whatever affection Barbara once had for Richard was inexorably being replaced by another emotion entirely—and that emotion was hate.
Love and Marriage and a Baby Carriage
October 15, 1962, Barbara and Richard Kuklinski returned to New Jersey. It was a bitterly cold night. Uncle Armond met them at the airport, all smiles, hugs, and kisses. Barbara was overjoyed to see her uncle and be back home. When Barbara saw Nana Carmella they both cried, they were so happy, and hugged each other for the longest time. Now that Barbara and Richard were married, the family readily accepted him, for better or for worse. Richard’s dream of making Barbara’s family his family came true. That’s what he’d wanted, and that’s what he’d gotten. Seeing that the newlyweds had little money and nowhere to live, Genevieve graciously invited them to stay with her and Nana until they “got on their feet.” Richard was quite serious about his marriage with Barbara working. He swore off drinking hard liquor and gambling, and he stuck to his word…for the most part. Barbara still had no true idea about Richard’s involvement in crime, in murder, and Richard knew that if he was serious about the marriage and having a family with Barbara, he had to give up all that. He had to go straight. Become a working stiff, a civilian, he says.
Because he had no education and no skills as such, Richard’s opportunities for employment were inherently limited. Barbara’s uncle Tony, however, managed to get him a job at the 20th Century Deluxe Film Lab off Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. Richard didn’t like having to go to the city every day, but he dutifully took the bus, carrying his lunch, prepared by Barbara, in a brown paper bag. The job consisted of lugging and shelving boxes and large reels of film, getting things for people, cleaning up discarded pieces of film. He was beginning at the bottom of the totem pole. The 20th Century Deluxe Film Lab made prints from masters to be distributed to movie theaters across the country. Richard, being a quick study, always looking for angles, wanting to move up within the company, began to watch carefully how the printers made copies on the machines. There was a carrot redheaded printer named Tommy Thomas, who patiently showed Richard how to make prints, step by step. After a few months Richard did, in fact, begin working as a printer. He received a raise and was making ninety dollars a week. He had grown to like the job; and it didn’t take long for Richard to find a way to make some extra cash; by bootlegging masters and selling them on the black market. The lab printed all of the Disney Company’s masters on the East Coast, and Richard began running pirated prints of Cinderella, Bambi, and Pinocchio, for which there was a ready market. It was now already the spring and Richard made pirating Disney cartoons a business.
Richard and Barbara’s mother didn’t get along. She didn’t like how he treated Barbara. Richard did, however, like Carmella—it was hard not to; she was gracious and kind and exceedingly giving.
Time seemed to fly by. Soon the holidays were upon them, and Richard very much enjoyed being at the joyously decorated Christmas dinner table with Barbara’s family, now as Barbara’s husband. Proud and content, he ate and drank and laughed and even sang along with the family. He was one of them.
Romantically, Richard couldn’t get enough of Barbara. The couple did not subscribe to any kind of birth control, and it didn’t take long for Barbara to become pregnant again. But she lost this child too, a miscarriage through natural causes. Doctors told her she had weak muscles along the vaginal canal and her muscles weren’t giving the proper support to the fetus, a condition none of the other females in her family had. But both Barbara and Richard wanted children, a family of their own, and quickly set out to make that happen.
Richard had no reservations about hitting Barbara in front of Nana or Genevieve. He viewed a man striking his wife, physically dominating her at will, as the normal order of things. That’s all he’d ever known growing up; and he slapped and pushed Barbara right in front of her mother.
“Richard, don’t do that!” Genevieve would admonish him, but he couldn’t care less. He once even threw a pillow at Genevieve and told her to mind her own business.
The couple finally rented a small apartment in West New York. What little money the couple had saved up was quickly exhausted. Richard hated being broke, wanting for things—furniture, clothes, a new car, a larger TV, a stereo player. It reminded him of the suffocating poverty and sacrifice of his youth. He became depressed, mean, short-tempered, and vented on Barbara, who had grown to view his abuse as a twisted though intrinsic part of her marriage, and she stoically learned to accept it. But Barbara grew further and further away from Richard. At times she felt she was a prisoner, not his wife, and surprisingly she often stood up to him, answered him back, disagreed with him, lashed him with her sharp, acerbic wit, which only fueled his anger. Barbara had always been an outspoken, independent person with an edge to her personality, and her overgrown husband wasn’t about to take that away from her. He broke her nose for smoking; he fractured ribs when she didn’t spread peanut butter on his sandwich the way he liked; he gave her black eyes; yet, she stood up to him, had shocking courage given Richard’s size and near-superhuman strength. Barbara was constantly amazed by his strength, how he could carry a refrigerator, a stove, a porcelain sink up to the second landing of their apartment all by himself, easily.
Barbara’s third pregnancy occurred, and under doctor’s orders, she took it easy, did exercises to strengthen her weak muscles. Richard was attentive, would not let her carry anything heavy. But he still struck her, abused her, if she angered him or gave him lip.
“Big man, tough guy, you’re nothing but a bully,” she’d say.
Often when Richard came home from work he talked about the film lab and his gay colleague Tommy Thomas. Though Barbara had never met him, she knew what he looked like because Richard had described him; he had a freckled hatchet face and carrot red hair.
One evening, when the couple was in bed watching The Milton Berle Show on TV, a funny-looking man with bright red hair appeared. Barbara offhandedly commented how odd he looked, that she imagined that’s how Tommy looked. Without warning Richard threw Barbara a beating, broke her nose, beat her so violently that she began bleeding from her vagina. He called her mother. Genevieve hurried over, took one look at her daughter, and called an ambulance. Barbara was now five months pregnant. The baby was coming out prematurely; its leg was actually sticking out of Barbara when the emergency doctors examined her. They helped the baby out; it was a boy. It was dead.
Barbara was distraught. She hated Richard. She so wanted to have a child, a boy; she was inconsolable. She thought about telling the authorities what had happened, but was deathly afraid of what Richard would do to her family, to her mother, to her cousin Carl, whom Barbara was very fond of, Richard knew; so she kept her mouth shut about the beating and how she had really lost the child.
In the afternoon, Richard showed up at the hospital as if nothing had happened, carrying beautiful fresh red roses and a big box of expensive chocolates. He didn’t say anything about what had occurred other than that it was Barbara’s fault, to which she said, “Yeah, sure, I beat myself up, I’m responsible for losing the child. Bullshit!” He ignored her. She came home two days later. She was quiet and sullen and wondered about her life with Richard, how she could deal with this violent madman she had married. The thought of suicide played in her head. She wondered if he’d physically abuse children they might have.
When Richard wanted to have sex with Barbara, she flat-out refused for the longest time, but he was not about to take no for an answer, and Barbara became pregnant still again, the fourth time. Richard promised he wouldn’t hit her, but if he came home in a bad mood, and something she did didn’t please him, he’d slap her. As Barbara’s stomach began to grow again, she summoned up the courage to tell him, “Richard, listen to me carefully…real carefully—if God blesses us with a child, and you hurt that child, hit that child, I swear I’ll kill you. I’ll cut your throat while you’re sleeping. I’ll poison your food…. I’ll kill you. Hitting me, abusing me, is one thing. You ever so much as lift a finger to my child, you’re dead.”
Strangely enough, Richard readily accepted this; he didn’t even answer her.
Barbara and Richard moved again, to a cute little garden apartment in Cliffside Park. The fourth pregnancy was very difficult for Barbara. For the last several months she was bedridden. She saw a pediatrician every week. Between doctor visits and everything else, money was short. To help make ends meet and have a little nest egg for the baby’s arrival, Richard took a second job driving a delivery truck. He worked all day at the lab, took the bus home, had a quick dinner, went and drove the delivery truck most of the night; then he would sleep a few hours before he had to go back to the lab. He was always tired, in a bad mood, his body aching, and still he was coming up short. Having a child was an expensive proposition. The harder I worked, it seemed, the less we had. I felt like I was…I was drowning, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay afloat, Richard explained.
Against his better judgment and the solemn promise he’d made to himself, Richard decided to become a player again; now, however, he would be much more careful and judicious, not take any undue chances, he vowed.
And he soon turned to his old friend—crime.
Richard contacted a couple of fellows he knew back in Jersey City, two hard-boiled Irishmen who were quiet and stand-up, discreet and tough, professional hijack artists. One was John Hamil, the other Sean O’Keefe. They had contacts with guys who worked in different trucking companies and sometimes got tips about good loads. They knew that Richard was reliable and tough, that he kept his mouth shut—and that he was deadly. The three of them, tipped off by a loader, staked out a trucking company in Union.
They saw how truckers just pulled into the yard, hooked up to a rig, and drove away, waving to the security guard as they went. This, they decided, would be an easy way to get their hands on valuable loads without so much as a how-do-you-do. Richard even went to a truck-driving school to learn the intricacies of handling an eighteen-wheeler. He was the only one who had the balls to just drive onto the lot and hook up to a rig as if he had every right, so outright bold no one even thought of questioning him.
When the newly formed gang learned that there was a load of valuable jeans, they stole a cab. Richard dressed up as a truck driver, even donned a truckers-union cap, and drove the cab onto the lot, hooked up to the jean rig, and pulled away, making a point to wave to the security guard, who smiled and waved back. It all went like clockwork. Now all they had to do was get the rig to a buyer in Teaneck and get paid, and the job was done. Richard was pleased with how well the heist had gone. But he was still nervous: now, for the first time in his life, he had something to lose—a wife he loved and a child he would love, unconditionally. The plan was for John and Sean to follow Richard to the Teaneck warehouse, but to keep up with Richard they went through a light and were pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper. Richard drove on, apprehensive and unsure of this huge rig on the open road. He calmed himself, reminded himself to drive slowly, to not do anything to get pulled over. The rig and cab were stolen and he had a gun on him, a .38 revolver with a two-inch barrel. If a cop did pull him over for some reason, he’d kill him and continue on. He would not, he vowed, go to prison, be taken away from the only person he’d ever cared for…and his unborn child. This child he would love and cherish, make sure it wanted for nothing.
As Richard thought about the future, hoping no cops came along, he inadvertently cut off a red Chevy. There were young men in it. They pulled up alongside and began cursing him, calling him names, then pulled ahead of him and slowed, forcing him to jam on the heavy air brakes. Richard made a fist at them. They gave him the finger, a thing that always enraged Richard. They kept it up. He figured they were drunk and hoped they would leave him alone. But they continued forcing him to slow up and slam on the brakes. This went on for miles. Richard was concerned now that a state trooper would see him driving erratically and pull him over, and he’d have real trouble. He decided to pull over himself and stop, let the two jerks go on their way, which is what he did. But the car also stopped and backed up. Oh shit, Richard thought. All I’m trying to do is avoid trouble, but trouble won’t leave me alone.
Shaking his head, Richard got out of the cab, hoping his huge size would calm the situation, but the two guys got out of their car, cursing Richard. One had a cut-down bat.
“Look, fellas,” Richard said. “I don’t want no trouble here. Go on your way. I’m just trying to do a job here.”
“Fuck you, fuckin’ asshole!” said the guy with the bat, who kept coming at Richard.
“Fuck me, no, fuck you,” Richard said, and he pulled out the .38 and shot them both down. He walked up to them and put a bullet in each of their heads, wanting to be sure they were dead, could tell no tales. With that he calmly got back into the cab and pulled away. Without further incident he made it to the warehouse, received his end of the money, and went home.
Always tight-lipped, he said nothing to Sean and John about what had happened.
With the proceeds of the job, twelve thousand dollars, Richard bought a nicer car, a large color TV, and some things they needed for the house, and put a little something on the side. Barbara didn’t ask him where he got the money; she knew better than to question him…about anything. If he had something to say, he’d tell her.
Richard was pleased. He had put it on the line, made a score; he was a man, a good provider. He’d prevail.
He didn’t even think about the two men he’d killed. They were, for him, like two insects who had smashed up against the windshield; they were roadkill, nothing more. But he did get rid of the gun he’d used to do the job.
These two murders were never linked to Richard—no witnesses, no clues, just two men shot to death on the road.
As Barbara’s stomach grew, Richard tried to control his temper. He didn’t want to hurt her, cause her to lose another child. He didn’t want to become, he recently explained, what his father had been. When I get mad, I just see red and go off like a bomb. I didn’t like that about myself. Still don’t. I didn’t want to hurt Barbara. I loved Barbara. Problem was, I guess I was obsessed with her. After I…after I struck her or became abusive, I was always mad at myself. Real mad. I’d look in the mirror and I really didn’t like what I saw.
Richard still had the gambling bug inside him.
Wanting to parlay the money he had made in the hijacking into more, he went to a high-stakes card game in Paterson. When Richard arrived he had six thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills in his pocket. He had a golden winning streak for a few hours, but wound up losing the whole six grand. Mad at himself, he went back home. Barbara had no idea about the money he’d had and lost. In a foul, dark mood, he walked in the door. It was just getting light out, but Barbara knew better than to question her erratic husband. She made him some eggs. He said they were overcooked, threw them on the floor, and went to bed. Good riddance, thought Barbara.
Barbara’s aunt Sadie passed away. Her bad heart finally failed and she died peacefully in her sleep. Barbara was devastated. She’d been very close to Sadie. Richard had liked Sadie—he didn’t care for many people—and he attended the funeral with Barbara, dutifully sat there with the appropriate demeanor. When Barbara cried, he consoled her. He had never seen the way Italians openly express their grief, and he was taken aback by it. For Richard, death was just a natural process of nature—nothing to fall apart about. He seemed oddly removed and detached from the normal grief people experience after a loved one’s passing. It was a classic symptom of his psychotic personality: no empathy. Stanley Kuklinski had, very successfully, beaten that out of Richard. Richard had never seen Barbara so upset, not even when she had lost the baby the year before.
When, that evening, they had to go for the final eulogy by the parish priest, Father Casso, Barbara and Richard were late because he went somewhere and picked her up after the service began. She was upset. He couldn’t understand why.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” he asked.
“That’s not the point. The point is to show the proper respect.”
He had no good answer, no point of reference, no real concept of this kind of respect.
Merrick Kuklinski was born in March 1964, a seemingly healthy baby girl. Barbara was overjoyed. She’d lost three children, and with Richard’s irrational explosions, who knew what could happen? Unlike the birth of the children he had with Linda, Richard viewed this child as a prized blessing, and he was very attentive to Barbara. He couldn’t have been more considerate about everything. Did she want something to drink, to eat? What could he get her? Barbara was beginning to think she had, in fact, married two distinctly different men, the good Richard and the bad Richard. When, she explained, he was the good Richard, he couldn’t have been nicer, more giving and considerate. When he was the bad Richard, he was the meanest bastard on the face of the earth….
When it was time for Merrick to come home, Richard proudly carried his little girl to the car, being ever so careful, a big smile about his high-cheekboned face. He’d wanted a little girl, and he had her. Strangely enough, he felt a male child would eventually have competed for Barbara’s affection, so he wanted only female children. At this point, he saw very little of the two boys he had with Linda. It was as though a different man had fathered them, not Richard. He felt no tie to those children as he did to Merrick.
When Merrick was brought home Barbara’s whole family came over to see her. Everyone was thrilled for Barbara, knowing that she’d lost three children in a row. Barbara’s Nana Carmella went to church to light candles, to thank God, sure he had intervened and blessed her granddaughter with a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Drinks were poured. Expansive toasts were made. Richard proudly gave out cigars, the beaming father. Life was good.
Soon, however, they realized that Merrick wasn’t as healthy as she seemed. She had a urinary block, which quickly caused kidney problems, high fevers, convulsions. She was in constant pain, and she had to make frequent trips to the doctor’s office to undergo numerous procedures and surgeries.
Meanwhile, Barbara became pregnant again. Her fifth pregnancy was a comparatively easy one, though during the last several months of it she was again bedridden. This was a difficult time for her. She was not easy to get along with, was sometimes demanding and short. She had to make frequent trips to the doctor. Bills piled up. Richard felt as if he were swimming upstream and could make no headway no matter how hard he tried. He hustled, took chances, but still had difficulty making ends meet. He felt trapped. Barbara gave birth to a second girl they named Christin.
As Merrick grew into an attractive child with large round eyes, she frequently had to stay in the hospital. Richard could not have been more attentive. He stayed by his first daughter’s side, stroked her hair, hurried to get her anything she needed. He even slept, as did Barbara, in her hospital room with her, on the floor with just a pillow and a thin blanket. Barbara was pleasantly surprised at what a caring, devoted father Richard was. For the first time she realized what a truly good man Richard could be, and she was glad he was her partner in this crisis.
Doctor and hospital bills mounted. The couple was soon deep in debt. Though Barbara’s mother and grandmother did what they could, Richard was forced to work more and more hours at the lab. Sometimes he’d do his shift, then stay the whole night printing pirated copies of popular films and cartoons. But no matter how hard he worked, how many overtime hours he put in, how many pirated films he printed and sold, there was never enough money. Barbara became pregnant yet again. The family moved to a larger apartment in Cliffside Park. Bills kept mounting. Richard recently put it like this: I felt like I was in a sinking hole, and the more I worked, the harder I tried, I was sinking deeper and deeper. This straight life wasn’t working for me!
Richard called John Hamil in Jersey City. “You guys got anything good coming up?” he asked.
“Fact is we do, Rich.”
This job involved a truckload of Casio watches, which were popular and easy to turn into cash. There was a guy in Teaneck who’d buy the whole load. Richard, John, and Sean went to see him. He had a warehouse just off Route 4. He was a big burly individual who talked out of the side of his mouth as though he had lockjaw. He confirmed that he’d take the whole load; a price was agreed upon. “Everyone wants one of those fuckin’ watches. I’ll take five truckloads if you guys can get your hands on ’em,” he assured them.
With that settled, Richard and his partners went about hijacking the load of Casio watches. They’d gotten a tip about the load, when and where it would be; they followed the truck and made the driver pull over and stop by showing phony police badges. Richard got in the cab and off they went, leaving the driver tied up on the side of the road. As always, Richard was wearing gloves. No matter what he did, if it was illegal, he wore gloves. They managed to get to the warehouse in Teaneck. The man who had agreed to purchase the load was all smiles. But he insisted his crew of three guys unload the truck to make sure there was a full load—one hundred thousand watches.
“Hey, my friend, they’re all there,” Richard said. “We didn’t even open the rig.”
“I’ve gotta check,” was his answer.
“Okay,” Richard said, “no problem, my friend,” wanting to get this over with, to get the money and go home to his family. He was, of course, armed. He had two pistols stuck into his pants under his jacket.
The three other guys used two high-lows to unload crates off the rig. Richard, Sean, and John watched them, not pleased. When they had the load on the ground they proceeded to open the crates and actually count the boxes of watches; there were exactly one hundred thousand of them. This took all of two hours.
Richard was becoming impatient. “See, I told you, my friend,” he said, knowing the more time he spent there, the greater the risk. Richard was becoming tense, and when that happened people often suddenly died.
“Come on in the office,” the buyer said. Richard had a bad feeling—something unsavory was in the air.
“Wanna drink?” the buyer offered, speaking out of the side of his mouth.
“No thanks, just the money,” Richard said.
“You know, I wanted to talk to you about that,” said the buyer, who looked more like a weasel by the minute.
“About what?” Richard asked, knowing the answer.
“What’s there to say, my friend? We agreed upon a price. You have the watches. Time for us to have the money. Simple.”
“Not so simple; I’m thinking I’d like to…renegotiate.”
“Come again?” Richard said, his high, wide brow creasing, his eyes growing cold, icelike, distant.
“Fifty large instead of seventy-five. I’m more comfortable with that,” said the weasel.
“My ass,” said Richard. “We agreed upon seventy-five. And now after you had your guys unload the watches you want to renegotiate? Funny, guy…. You know you’re a funny guy, my friend.” Richard looked at Sean and John, his eyes telling them to get ready because there was going to be trouble. Gunplay.
“You know Tommy Locanada from Hoboken. He’s my goombah. Let’s call him and he’ll tell you fifty is a good price.”
This really disturbed Richard. “You can call Jesus fuckin’ Christ himself if you want. We ain’t taking fifty. We agreed upon seventy-five. That’s what it is.”
“No it ain’t,” the buyer said, and with that Richard ran out of patience, whipped out the pistol, and shot the buyer in the head. He was dead before he even hit the ground, before he even knew his life was over. Richard hurried inside and quickly killed the three other guys—bullets to the head.
“We can’t have witnesses,” he said, and they put the watches back in the truck and split, making sure they left no clues. When the bodies were discovered the next day, the police summoned, the murders were put down as “mob related” and were never solved; never attached to Richard Kuklinski.
They managed to sell the load to Phil Solimene, a player Richard had known well for many years now. Solimene was a feral-looking man with thick dark hair slicked back. He was charming and affable. Solimene had his fingers in many pies, all of them illegal. He had a discount variety store in Paterson with no sign out front. He sold everything, and everything he sold was stolen: small appliances, perfumes, coffee and dried fruits, all kinds of canned goods—all hijacked, stolen stuff. Above the store he had a few girls who worked as prostitutes, and he sold porno movies too, even ones involving hard-core bestiality, any kind you wanted—women screwing and fellating dogs and Shetland ponies. There was a big market for that stuff, and Solimene was happy to fill it. He’d sell anything, including his own mother. He also ran a burglary gang, acting as a front for all kinds of thieves who stole from people’s homes all over New Jersey. He was, in a sense, the Fagan of New Jersey. On weekend nights Solimene hosted poker games in the back of the store. Richard liked him because he was a born outlaw, a slick operator, would do anything to turn a buck; they spoke the same language. Though Solimene was not a born killer, as Richard apparently was, he had no qualms about setting someone up to be robbed and killed. Solimene was one of the few friends Richard ever had—which proved to be a fatal mistake.
Now the idea of returning full-time to a life of crime loomed larger every day, like a glistening pot of gold at the end of a long rainbow. Richard wanted more out of life. A bigger, juicier slice of the proverbial American dream. He even thought about “hurting people” for money again—contract killing. It was something he did well, enjoyed, and found challenging; but now he had a family, something to lose.
Still, he went to work every day at the film lab, stole more and more from it. He now noticed, he said, that the three men who owned the place were all stealing from one another, absconding with stock (huge cans of films) and masters they could make copies from and sell on the side.
Once Richard sniffed what was in the wind, they suddenly had a fourth partner—him. He became bolder and bolder and began to sell expensive rolls of film, as well as the movies and cartoons he was pirating.
The lab, as a matter of course, also printed and developed XXX-rated movies. They were perfectly legal, and the lab processed most of the porno movies produced on the East Coast.
Richard began pirating these productions, would sometimes stay all night running four and five machines at a time. He partnered with another guy in the lab, a developer, and together they printed and developed all kinds of pornography.
For the first time in his life, Richard was seeing hard-core porn on a regular basis. He says little of it turned him on; he viewed the women in these films as whores and sluts and was not turned on by them at all. He did, however, get a rise out of the “girl-on-girl” productions. They also processed porn movies involving bestiality, one of which starred the not yet famous Linda Lovelace, giving a very happy German shepherd a lustful blow job. Richard sold some of these films to Phil Solimene, and they seemed to fly off the shelves. He never mentioned any of this to Barbara. She knew he was bootlegging cartoons and thought nothing of that, didn’t see it as any big deal.
Wanting to earn still more money, Richard spoke to a “connected guy” he met at the labs, Anthony Argrila, an associate of the Gambino crime family. Argrila said he and his partner, Paul Rothenberg, would buy all the films Richard could pirate, and like that, overnight, Richard was inadvertently selling bootleg porn to the Gambino crime family, who had a lock on porn shops all over the entire country.
John Hamil called Richard to tell him that a load of television sets was leaving a trucking company in nearby Pennsylvania. “We got the number of the truck and everything,” John explained.
“Count me in.”
“Rich, we have to move quickly.”
“I’m ready to go,” said Richard, and the following night Richard, Sean, and John headed to Pennsylvania. Rather than drive a hot rig to New Jersey with no buyer lined up, they decided to find a safe stash for the rig while they found a buyer. It was always better to sell the whole lot at once—wholesale, not retail, was the way to go. John knew a guy who had a farm and barn in Bucks County, and this man agreed to let them stash the hot rig in his barn for five hundred cash, no questions asked.
The truck was hijacked without difficulty. The driver had a gun put to him as he stopped for a light on a lonely stretch of road. He was tied to a light pole and left there for the authorities to find. Richard and his partners wore masks. The driver couldn’t give a description even if he wanted to, which he didn’t. Nothing of his had been stolen. Why put his head in a noose? Richard drove the load to the farm. They left it in the barn and went to find a buyer. This was always the best way to off a hot load—not in a hurry, shop it around. In fact, it took them eight days to find a guy who’d buy the entire load at a fair price, COD. They returned to the farm for the load. The barn was empty, the truck gone. The man who owned the farm—a tall, skinny dude who needed a shave and a bath, had long hair, was missing front teeth—said he had “no idea” where the truck was, looking the three hijackers square in the eyes, scratching his head as he did so.
“What?” Richard said.
“I have no idea what happened,” he said.
“My friend, there is no way anyone could have driven off with that load without you knowing. Do I look stupid here?”
“I have no fuckin’ idea what happened to it,” the owner repeated. “I swear!”
“We paid you good to stash the truck here. We want it. Where is it?”
“I don’t know—I swear on my mother’s life, I don’t know,” he said, adamant.
Richard took a long, deep breath. “Don’t make me hurt you—I will hurt you bad,” he said. “Where’s our truck?”
“Honest, guys, I don’t know! It was just suddenly gone.”
“My friend…this is a your last chance—where’s our truck?”
“I’m tellin’ you, I don’t know!”
Richard had John and Sean tie the guy to a tree near the barn. This was a very desolate place, no other houses around for miles. That was one of the reasons they had chosen it. Now the skinny guy was pleading and telling them how he knew nothing. Richard slapped him a few times.
“I swear, I don’t know!” he wailed, a little blood streaming from his lip.
A diabolical idea came to Richard; he calmly walked back to the car. He had two red flares, the kind used for road emergencies, in the trunk. He grabbed one and returned to the guy. “I’m telling you I’m going to hurt you bad. Where’s our load?” he asked, showing the man the flare.
“Buddy, I don’t know!” The skinny man’s bleeding lower lip was quivering now.
Richard had Sean and John take off the guy’s shoes and socks. It was a nice spring day. Birds chirped. The sky was clear and friendly. The sun shone. Butterflies danced in the air. Richard lit the flare. A sudden tongue of white-hot flame leaped from it. Richard brought it to the man’s left foot, just close enough to blister the flesh, not burn it. He was trying to give the guy a chance to talk, to spill the beans.
“Please, I’m telling you I don’t know—I swear!”
With that, Richard shoved the burning flare against his foot. The guy screamed and screamed, but denied any knowledge of the truck. The smell of burned flesh filled the air. Richard knew how intensely painful this was, and he was beginning to think that maybe the guy really didn’t know. To be sure, Richard kept it up. When the guy’s left foot looked like a charred piece of meat, Richard stopped. The bones of his toes were plainly visible; most of the flesh was gone; it didn’t quite look like a foot anymore.
“Where’s our truck?” demanded Richard.
“On my mother’s life I don’t know, on my mother’s life!” he screamed, crying, his face a mask of tormented sincerity.
“Tell us and we’ll take you to a hospital, you can get your foot taken care of, and we’ll be on our merry way. There’s no way anyone could have gotten that rig off this farm without you knowing. It sounds like a fucking jet taking off.”
“I wasn’t here twenty-four hours a day, I swear I don’t know!”
Richard smiled his deviant wolf grin, went to work on the other foot, soon burned that to a bloody, seared mess, all the while the guy screaming bloody fucking murder.
By now the first flare was all used up. Richard, John, and Sean walked off to confer.
“I think if he knew he’d’ve told,” said Sean.
“So do I,” John agreed.
“Yeah, I’m beginning to think so too,” Richard said, watching the guy crying like a baby. “Maybe he really don’t know,” Richard said.
But something, a sixth sense, told him the guy did know. Richard walked back to the car, retrieved the second flare, and went back to the distraught farm owner.
“Why,” Richard asked, “are you causing yourself to suffer like this? Tell us. We’ll drop you off at the hospital and it’ll all be over and done—”
“But I don’t knowww!” he pleaded.
Richard lit the second flare. “Okay, here goes, now I’m through playing fuckin’ games here. No more games. You tell us where our fucking load is or I’m burning your balls off.” He brought the white-hot flare to the guy’s crotch.
“Jesus Mary mother of God, I don’t know!” he wailed, his eyes popping out of his head, cartoonlike.
With that Richard calmly pushed the flame up against his crotch. The intense flame quickly burned through the fabric, and Richard held the searing heat to the man’s suddenly exposed testicles. He screamed and wailed, begging, promising, swearing he didn’t know. When the man’s balls were burned to a shriveled knob of flesh, Richard took away the flare. The guy was so distraught now he could hardly talk.
Richard, a bona fide sadistic psychopath, felt no sympathy for the guy. John and Sean were slightly appalled. It was hard not to be. The man was a sorry sight.
“Where’s our load, my friend?” Richard asked. “This is just the beginning.”
“I…I…I…don’t know,” he managed to cry.
“Okay, here goes your dick,” Richard said. “I’m going to burn your fucking cock off.” He brought the flare to him—
“Don’t! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you!”
“Where is it?” Richard asked, really pissed now.
“On a farm down the road. My friend Sammy has it.”
“Sammy has it,” Richard said. “You fuckin’ moron. Why didn’t you tell us in the first place and avoid all this?”
“Because I thought…I thought I could fool you,” the farm owner gasped, as if he’d been running full out.
“Does it look like you fooled us?” Richard asked.
“You could have avoided all this pain.”
“I didn’t want to do it. My girl needed an abortion. I was desperate for money.”
“You think money is worth your balls…. My friend, you don’t have any balls anymore.”
“I knooow,” he wailed.
“Idiot,” Richard said, “fuckin’ idiot!”
Richard sent John and Sean to the farm while he stayed with Burned Balls.
Sammy came walking out of the door of the farmhouse when they pulled up.
“You got our truck?” Sean said.
“What truck?” came the reply.
“Here we go again,” John said.
“Jon Atkins says you got our truck.”
“Jon said that? I don’t have any truck,” said Sammy. He was a short burly guy with a big round head. There were food crumbs in his beard. Flies buzzed around his huge head. If you looked up “white trash” in the dictionary, you might very well see a picture of this individual. Sean called Richard and told him what Sammy had said.
“Put some hurt on him,” Richard suggested. They whipped out their guns and began to pistol-whip Sammy. He immediately gave it all up, said the truck was behind a stand of trees out back, took them there, and lo and behold, they finally found their truck.
Back at Burned Balls’ farm, Richard decided both of these guys had to die. He figured it would be just a matter of time before the guy whose feet and balls he’d ruined would come looking for revenge, and without a moment’s hesitation he shot them both in the head, and off the hijackers went, back to New Jersey, where they sold the load at the agreed-upon price.
Money, however, seemed to burn a hole in Richard Kuklinski’s pocket. He took the family for a vacation to Florida, and he lost a lot of money at poker and baccarat tables. Nevertheless, with some of the money from the score and money Barbara’s mother and Nana Carmella gave them, Richard and Barbara managed to buy a new home, a two-family house in West New York. Richard had always wanted a house of his own, a castle he could be king of. He finally had it, and he would rule his castle with an iron hand.
Enter the Lone Ranger
It was late 1970, and a young man who would eventually play a pivotal role in Richard’s life was just finishing a four-year stint in the air force. His name was Patrick Kane.
Kane was a tall, handsome twenty-two-year-old with a wiry, muscular body and a thick head of dark hair that he combed straight back. He had large walnut-shaped brown eyes filled with hope and optimism set into a symmetrical oval-shaped face. Kane had been brought up in Demarest, New Jersey, a small town where everyone knew one another. The youngest of three boys, Pat was an upbeat though pensive young man, still not quite sure what exactly he wanted to do with his life. He was thinking of working on a 250-acre farm a friend of his owned in Pennsylvania. What was drawing him to the farm was the fact that he’d be outdoors all day. Since Pat Kane had been a kid he had always coveted the outdoors.
Pat Kane was a superb athlete and excelled at all the sports he played—wrestling, baseball, football, and basketball. He was very fast and strong and had excellent natural reflexes and coordination. But his favorite sport was fishing. He loved to fish on quiet, out-of-the-way lakes and streams, eating what he caught. He did not like hunting, because he felt it was inherently unfair to shoot an unsuspecting, unarmed animal who couldn’t fire back.
Kane had been stationed in Sacramento, California, and Iceland. He met his sweetheart, Terry McLeod, while stationed in California. They met on a blind date and it was love at first sight. Pat had just left her, and already missed her a lot.
The day Pat returned home, his brother Eddie, a New Jersey state trooper, came to pick him up at Newark Airport. Ed was wearing his immaculate gold-and-black trooper uniform and driving a shiny state police car. The two brothers hugged long and hard. The Kane family were all very close. While Eddie was driving him to their parents’ home, Eddie said: “Pat, the test’s next Tuesday.”
“What test?” asked Pat.
“To be a state trooper.”
“Eddie, I’m not sure what I want to do yet.”
“Pat, it’s a great job. The money and benefits are good, and you’ve got a chance to make a difference, to make this world we live in a better place. You’d be a good cop, Pat, I’m sure.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“The test is next Tuesday,” Eddie repeated. “Pat, we are the first and last defense against the bad guys. Without us, society would fall apart.”
Pat knew his brother had a point; he just didn’t know if he wanted to live the regimented life of a state trooper. The New Jersey State Police was, he knew, run like a military operation; you had to follow strict guidelines, rules, and regulations, something Pat had been doing now for the last four years. He wanted some space, room to breathe, not to jump from one uniform to another.
When Eddie and Pat reached the Kane home, Patrick senior and Helene Kane, Pat’s parents, came hurrying out of the front door, both of them hugging and kissing Pat and welcoming him home. He was their youngest, and they’d been worried about him; he had never lived away from home before he left for the air force. Now he was back safe and sound, and they were very pleased.
“Welcome home, son. Welcome home,” Patrick Kane said, holding his last born hard. Pat was so happy to be home and with his parents that tears came to his eyes.
“Come on inside, son. I’ve cooked you a wonderful meal,” Helen Kane said.
As it happened, it took a full year for Pat to decide what he wanted to do with his life. During that time he worked at menial jobs, did a lot of fishing, spoke to his sweetheart on the phone several times a week, went to visit her when he had the funds. Pat had little money; his parents weren’t wealthy people, and cash was tight.
Several factors finally convinced Pat to become a state trooper. First and foremost was his brother Ed. Just about every day Pat saw Ed in his slick state trooper uniform, his gun prominent on his right hip. Second, Pat came to realize just how vitally important law-enforcement officers really were. They were, just as Eddie had said, the first and last defense society had against the rapists, murderers, thieves, and desperadoes that so permeated society. Every day Pat heard about the unspeakable atrocities people committed on one another. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch the news without learning about another heinous crime. The third reason Pat was drawn to becoming a state trooper was the challenge. The physical tests and requirements were extremely difficult. You had to be in tip-top shape to qualify. On the average only fifty out of five thousand applicants met the physical mandates. Last, he was drawn to the state police because he’d be working outdoors most of the time.
In the spring of 1971, Pat Kane applied to be a state trooper. He readily passed both the written and physical tests, and toward the end of that winter he became a Jersey state trooper. His parents and brothers came to the graduation ceremony. Pat Kane cut a dashing, handsome figure in his spanking new uniform, and he looked forward—in a big way, he recently explained—to making a difference; to trying to make this volatile world we live in a better place, keeping the wolves at bay.
One of the first things Pat did after graduating the trooper academy was to ask Terry to marry him. She said yes, and soon she moved up to Demarest, New Jersey, leaving her family and all her friends behind, and married Pat.
Pat Kane now felt he had everything a man could hope for: a good job that was meaningful, rewarding and challenging, and kept him outdoors, and a beautiful, devoted wife who thought the world of him.
Terry, Pat recently explained, gave up everything, her family, her home, her friends, surroundings she was familiar with, to be with me. To be my wife. As far as I was concerned I was the luckiest guy in the world.
Thus the die was cast, the stage set for one of the most important, shocking murder investigations in the annals of modern crime history anywhere in America, indeed, the world.