The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
Part III. VERY BAD GOODFELLAS
Making Ends Meet
Richard Kuklinski was still putting in a lot of overtime hours, though at another film lab. Now he was pirating mostly porno movies; there was a large, ever expanding market for porn, and Richard was dutifully filling it.
All the overtime hours he was putting in, however, were causing guys in the lab to complain to the film printers’ union, and a union delegate came around the lab to talk with Richard. The delegate was a broad-shouldered Irishman with an attitude problem, the type of guy who doesn’t know how to wield authority—a bully. He stopped Richard as he was leaving work. The lab he was working at now was on West Fifty-fourth. They went into the DeWitt Clinton Park on Twelfth Avenue to talk. By now it had gotten dark.
“We got complaints,” the union guy began, “that you’re taking all the overtime.”
“Hey,” Richard said, “they ask me if I want the time, I say yes. I got a wife and child. What’s the problem?”
“Problem is you’re stealing from the other guys.”
“My ass. They’re saying they don’t want the work. I do. Take a walk.” Richard started on his way. The union guy grabbed Richard’s shoulder, and Richard spun and hit him a solid roundhouse right. As the union man went down he struck his head hard on the edge of a park bench. Unmoving, he stayed on the ground.
Richard checked for a pulse. There wasn’t one. Oh shit! he thought. I’m in hot water now.
He knew people had seen them together and figured someone at the union knew the guy had come out to talk with him, and now he was dead. Not good. Richard quickly hid the body in some bushes there, went to a nearby hardware store, bought some strong rope, and hustled back to the park. He spotted a wooden milk crate in front of a bodega and grabbed it. Richard made sure no one was watching, dragged the guy to a tree, tied the rope around his neck, threw the other end over a thick branch, hoisted the guy up, tied the loose end of the rope to a park bench, put the milk box under his dangling feet, and left him there like that, quite dead, swinging in a breeze off the nearby Hudson River, no one the wiser.
When the police found the body of the union official, they first believed it was indeed a suicide but soon suspicion fell upon the notorious Westies gang. This was their turf, the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. The leaders, Micky Featherstone and James Coonan, were picked up and questioned. They truthfully said they knew nothing. Richard was never even suspected, let alone questioned. He had amazing luck when it came to killing people.
For the most part Richard now stayed clear of his mother and his sister, Roberta. He had grown to genuinely hate his mother, thought of her as “cancer,” and he despised Roberta, thought of her as a whore; however, after several years had passed he did have some contact with his brother Joseph. What had happened in the bathroom stall was forgotten. Richard felt he could have done more to help Joseph: give him advice, direction, a brotherly helping hand. Richard now saw his brother once a month or so. They’d meet in a bar for a drink, Richard would give him a few dollars, and that was it. Though he didn’t like it, Richard had learned to accept his brother’s homosexuality.
Joseph, like Richard, had a hair-trigger, homicidal temper, and hurt people with broken bottles, chains, and stools in bar fights. Several times Richard had to go to Jersey City to get Joseph out of jams. Each time Richard helped Joe, he warned him it was the last time, said he had a family now and couldn’t be coming to get him out of trouble all the time.
Richard received a call from Joe late one Saturday afternoon. “Richie, I got a problem,” Joseph said.
“Yeah, what now?”
“I’m in a bar. There’s four guys here and they won’t let me leave.”
“They say I owe them money.”
“We were playing cards and I guess I lost.”
“Just walk out, Joe.”
“They won’t let me. I tried. There’s four of them. They got…bats.”
Richard took a long, exasperated breath. “This is the last time I’m going to help you—understand?” he said.
“Yeah,” Joe said.
Richard hung up.
Everyone knew Joseph Kuklinski was his brother, and Richard didn’t like the idea of a group of guys holding him hostage, threatening him with bats; where did they get off thinking they could get away with such a thing?
Richard had a locked attaché case he kept hidden in the garage. From it he retrieved two .38 over-and-under derringers loaded with dumdum bullets and put them in his jacket pockets. Then he put a hunting knife in his sock and drove to Jersey City, getting angrier with each mile. Angry that his brother was such a fuckup, angry that these guys would dare to hold him hostage. Richard parked his car a few blocks away from the bar, made sure no one was laying for him, and walked into the bar. His brother was sitting at a table off to the left. There were indeed four burly guys sitting around him. One of them, Richard could see, had a bat under the table.
“Come on, Joe, let’s go,” Richard ordered. Joe began to get up. The largest of the four guys walked over to Richard.
“He ain’t goin’ anywhere till he pays what he owes. I’m glad you came, Rich. We know you’re a stand-up guy.”
“How much does he owe?”
“I’ll make sure he does his best to pay you back. Come on, Joe, let’s go,” Richard ordered again.
“Hey, I says he ain’t goin’.”
“Joe, walk toward the fucking door,” Richard ordered.
“We know all about you, Rich, that you always carry a gun. Why don’t you pay what he owes?”
“I ain’t paying you anything. If you know all about me you know I’m not going to let you hold my brother against his will. Joe, come on over here!” Joe began to stand.
“Stop him,” the one close to Richard said.
Richard ran out of patience. He pulled his right hand out of his pocket, let them see the gun in his hand.
“I got a slug for each of you,” Richard said. “Come on, Joe!”
With that the four guys backed up. Joseph joined Richard. They both walked out the door.
“Thank you, Rich,” Joe said.
“This is the last time. You gotta stop this shit.”
“They cheated. That’s what this is all about—they set me up.”
“I don’t give a hoot. Joe, I can’t be doing this stuff. I got a wife and two kids. Merrick is sick. She needs me. I can’t be doing this anymore…okay?”
“Okay…I understand,” Joe said.
By now they were half a block away from the bar. They began to cross the street, when a car, the four guys in it, came barreling down on them. The driver tried to run the brothers over. Richard pulled out one of the derringers and fired two shots. One of the bullets hit the trunk lock, and the trunk popped open. Within seconds, it seemed, police sirens filled the air. Richard tossed both the derringers away. Police cars blocked off each end of the street. The driver of the car told how Richard had shot a gun at them. Richard, of course, denied it.
“What gun, where?” Richard said.
But the cops found the two bullet holes in the car and began looking for the gun, and they found one of the derringers. Everyone was cuffed and arrested. Richard was fit to be tied. He needed this like a hole in the head. At the police station, Richard denied having any gun, and he warned the four guys in the car to keep their mouths shut.
“You don’t say anything and we’ll all walk, got it?”
They nodded, but Joseph again began arguing with them, saying they had cheated him, they had set him up, they had called the cops.
“Shut up—all of you shut the fuck up,” Richard demanded. “The cops are listening.” They became quiet. Detectives interrogated them. Everyone kept his mouth shut, but the detectives knew what had happened and kept badgering Richard. He wouldn’t even talk to them. Richard didn’t like cops; they were corrupt bullies with guns and badges, and he had no reservations about letting his animus show.
Finally able to make a call, Richard phoned a criminal attorney in Jersey City and told him what had happened. The attorney came over to the jail and told Richard he needed money to “resolve the matter.” Jersey City was one of the most corrupt municipalities in America. Cops and judges could be bought and sold for little more than a song and dance. Richard quickly made another call, got John Hamil on the phone, told him what had happened, and asked him to get three grand to the lawyer.
“Done, brother,” John said.
Richard and the others stayed in jail overnight. Richard called Barbara to say he was working at the lab. Richard often stayed at the lab overnight, making overtime.
In the morning they were all taken to court for arraignment. In a foul mood, Richard made sure no one said anything. His lawyer found them in the holding pen, winked, and said, “Everything is taken care of.” They soon appeared before the judge—who had been given the three g’s by Richard’s lawyer. The judge said he didn’t see “reasonable cause” to hold over the case, levied a small fine, and dismissed it on the spot.
As Richard and the others were walking out of the courtroom, one of the detectives—not a happy camper—walked up to Richard. “Here’s your gun back,” he offered, holding out Richard’s derringer.
“That’s not my gun,” Richard said, and walked out of the courtroom.
Outside, he told his brother, “This is it. Get yourself in another jam, I am not going to help you. You understand?”
“Yeah,” said Joseph sheepishly. “I understand.”
Murder Runs in the Family
The dog had a broken leg and was in shock, shaking and trembling and barking nonstop in the yard of a building on Jersey City’s Central Avenue, number 438. It was 12:30 A.M., September 16, 1970, and the dog was disturbing people trying to sleep. The dog belonged to Pamela Dial, a twelve-year-old girl, small for her age and thin. Pamela had black hair and large, round, dark eyes. She was a straight-A student at nearby St. Anne’s Parochial School. She lived at 9 Bleeker Street with her mother and father and brothers John and Robert, just around the corner from Central Avenue, the block on which lived Joseph and Anna Kuklinski.
Pamela loved her dog, Lady, a little black-and-white mutt. They were always together; wherever Pam went, the dog was with her, wagging its tail and unusually attentive to Pamela.
Earlier, near eleven o’clock that fateful Tuesday night, Pamela had left the house looking for her dog. She had not finished her homework yet; it was still spread out on her bed. Nor did she tell her family she was going out to find Lady. Her parents were watching the eleven o’clock news when she left and didn’t even know she’d gone.
Pamela did find her dog and was walking home when she ran into Joseph Kuklinski.
Joseph and Pam knew each other from the neighborhood. Joseph was tall and handsome, thin and muscular, had glistening long blond hair, a Fu Manchu mustache. He was now twenty-five years old. The two talked. Joseph asked Pamela if she’d like to be alone with him. Not knowing exactly what he had in mind, she innocently said okay and followed Joseph Kuklinski into a four-story building, 438 Central Avenue, and up to the roof. Joseph lived at 434 Central Avenue with his mother, just two buildings away. Joseph had used the roofs along Central Avenue for sexual liaisons many times over the years, with both girlfriends and boyfriends. Pamela had no idea of what Joseph was after. He was known in the neighborhood as Cowboy Joe, and she thought he was cute. She liked the idea that he paid attention to her, that he wanted to be alone with her. Unaware of the demons inside of Joseph Kuklinski’s head, Pamela willingly went up to the roof.
Joseph had been drinking, was buzzed, smelled of alcohol. On the roof he quickly came to the point and tried to have sex with Pam. She refused. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He forced himself on her, sodomized her, then choked her to death; all the while, little Lady was barking like mad. Joseph tried to catch the dog but couldn’t.
When Joseph was finished with Pamela, he picked up her lifeless body as if it were a rag doll and tossed her off the roof. She hit the cement backyard of 438 Central Avenue with a meaty, bone-breaking thud. Joseph then managed to catch the dog and tossed it off the roof too. The hapless animal landed near Pamela, and its legs and several ribs broke. Lady crawled to Pamela’s lifeless body and began to cry, then howl and bark nonstop. People called the police to complain about the insistent barking and howling. A squad car was dispatched. The police discovered Pamela Dial’s lifeless, broken body.
The murder of a child, even in rough-and-tumble Jersey City, was a rare event, an outrage. Early that morning every available detective and uniformed cop in Jersey City was looking for Pamela’s killer, canvassing the neighborhood, knocking on doors, stopping people driving by. Detectives soon learned that Pamela had been seen talking to Joseph Kuklinski the night before. When detective Sergeant Ben Riccardi came knocking on the Kuklinskis’ door, Joseph was still sleeping and hung over. When he was taken to the police station and threatened by angry Jersey City detectives, he admitted what he’d done.
“I threw her off the roof,” he said. With that Joseph was roughly handcuffed and placed under arrest.
Later that day, Anna Kuklinski called Richard and told him how Joseph had been arrested for the killing of a twelve-year-old girl. This bowled Richard over. He couldn’t conceive of his brother doing such a thing. It had to be some kind of mistake. As much as Richard wanted nothing to do with his mother, he hurried to Jersey City. Just the day before, Richard had gone to see Joseph. He’d waited in a bar on Central Avenue for Joseph, but Joe hadn’t shown up. Richard had known that Joseph was home, out of work, but he hadn’t knocked on the door to get his brother, because he didn’t want to see his mother; he had grown to despise Anna to that degree. The few times she had come to his home, Anna always tried to instigate trouble with Barbara, who also grew to loathe Anna, but tolerated her. Barbara had no choice; she was Richard’s mother, after all.
My mother was cancer; she slowly killed whatever she touched, Richard recently said.
At first Richard was willing to try and help Joseph, get him a lawyer. He found his younger brother at the Jersey City jail, and Joseph readily admitted to Richard that he had raped and killed the girl and thrown her and her dog off the roof.
“Why the fuck would you do such a thing?” Richard demanded, so angry he wanted to beat his brother, beat him to death. Richard had two daughters, and the thought of someone doing that to either of them left him cold and empty inside—outraged.
“Because,” Joseph said, “she wanted it.”
With that Richard stood up and walked away; he would never talk to his brother Joseph again.
That day I washed my hands of him, wanted nothing to do with him anymore. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have a brother. I didn’t have a family. To hell with them all…
Within several months Joseph Kuklinski was convicted of Pam Dial’s murder, given a life sentence, and sent to the Trenton State Prison. As far as Richard was concerned he had no brother. No mother. No sister. No family.
Let’s Do the Twist
The film lab where Richard worked now moved to a new space on Forty-sixth Street, not far from the famous Peppermint Lounge on Forty-fifth Street, the place where Joey D. and the Starlighters made the Twist so popular all over the world. Richard sometimes liked to go there in the early evening, before he started a double shift bootlegging porn, for a cocktail or two. Richard well knew he shouldn’t drink hard liquor, but it mellowed him; he was, in a sense, self-medicating, for the liquor tended to calm him; but he also became nasty when he drank, just like his father and brother. On this night he made an off-color remark to a woman at the bar; she took offense and complained to her boyfriend, who in turn said something nasty to Richard. The boyfriend was a friend of the bartender. Soon in an argument with the bartender, Richard reached over the bar and grabbed the bartender by the tie. He was going to sock him, but the bouncer interceded, coming out of nowhere, and made Richard leave, said he’d call the cops.
On the sidewalk outside, Richard was talking to the bouncer, trying to explain how the bartender had a big mouth, when suddenly the bouncer sucker punched Richard.
“Why’d you do that?” Richard asked, more shocked and embarrassed than hurt.
“’Cause you got a big fuckin’ mouth. Come back and I’ll send you to the hospital,” the bouncer promised.
“Thanks for the warning,” Richard said. “I will be back. Count on it, my friend.” Richard went back to the lab, fuming. The punch had cut his lip and he was bleeding slightly. Richard wasn’t really physically hurt, but this incident ate at him. He couldn’t forget it. Another guy might have written it off as a stupid occurrence that meant nothing.
But not Richard.
His mood fouled.
He couldn’t think of anything but this bouncer and getting even. Having revenge. Killing him. But how? Forty-fifth Street was a very busy street. The club was popular, people were always there, moving in and out.
Richard took out his anger on Barbara, abused her for not making a sandwich correctly, not cutting off the crust of the bread just so, the way he liked. Though Richard never touched either of his daughters, he frequently abused Barbara in front of them, broke furniture in front of them.
That night Richard couldn’t sleep; he couldn’t stop thinking about how the bouncer had embarrassed him, disrespected him, hit him with a sneaky punch. Richard resolved to murder the bouncer; come hell or high water, he was dead.
Some three days later Richard was ready. He had it all worked out. He left the house that morning carrying a change of clothes, those of a laborer. He had a .22 with him, in a paper bag with his lunch, two turkey-on-rye sandwiches with extra mayo, his favorite.
Late that afternoon, Richard went to the bathroom, which was in the hall. He changed into the clothes he had brought, put a peak cap on his head, pulled the brim down in front of his face, and went downstairs. Richard knew the bouncer began work at about 4:00 P.M., and Richard stood in front of the building with the gun in his coat pocket, staring, waiting, looking for an opportunity to strike, like a hungry predatory cat with his eyes on a potential meal. The club had a large picture window, and he could readily see into it. It was a chilly fall day in 1971 and Richard had murder on his mind.
What this bouncer had done was, for Richard, exactly what his father had done to him—strike him for nothing when he least expected it—and as Richard stared at the club, memories of Stanley’s brutality, in stark, harsh black-and-white images, flashed before his eyes. These memories often came back to Richard like this, as if an old silent movie.
A band began to rehearse inside the club. Richard could hear the music across the street. Everyone at the bar looked toward the stage. This was the moment to move, to strike. Quickly, catlike, Richard crossed the narrow street and opened the door. The bouncer was right there. Perfect. Without a moment’s hesitation, Richard put the .22 close to his head and fired, turned, and calmly walked out, not looking back. He took a right, grabbed a cab on the corner, and had it take him to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Forty-first Street. Here Richard changed back into his clothes, threw away the outfit he had been wearing, and walked back to work. Now there were cop cars and ambulances in front of the Peppermint Lounge, spinning red lights. A big crowd had gathered. Richard stopped and looked for several moments, just another curious guy, then went into the building where he worked, feeling good and whole—now at peace. He wasn’t even remotely suspected of the killing, was never questioned about it, never connected to it.
A change of sorts had come over Richard: these recent killings reminded him of his past, and he coveted having power over life, deciding who would live and who would die, when and where and how.
Murder, Richard knew, was one of the few things in life that he truly excelled at. It seemed, he mused, that he had a gift for it, and he began to think seriously of again hiring himself out as a contract killer, making that his profession, his job, his specialty, committing himself as a killer for hire.
But now, he reminded himself, he had a wife and two adorable little girls. He couldn’t do anything to jeopardize them. Yet, he believed if you planned a killing carefully, meticulously, didn’t hurry it, it was relatively easy to get away with because there was no tangible link between the killer and the victim. This, he knew, was the reason serial killers were so hard to catch—the randomness of the crimes made it nearly impossible for the police to connect the killer to the victims. Richard would exploit this element over and over again.
With these life-and-death musings in his head, Richard returned to Jersey City and Hoboken and let it be known that he was available for “special work.” He also went to see Tony Argrila, the porn distributor. He found Argrila at his office on Spring Street in downtown Manhattan. Argrila was in his midforties, balding, short, and heavy, had a thick Brooklyn accent. He and Paul Rothenberg were responsible for most all the porn produced in New York. They had a silent partner named Roy DeMeo.
“I need to make some serious money,” Richard began. “I want to get back in the life. I—”
“Listen to me,” Argrila stopped him. “You really want to make money, get into porn; there’s truckloads a money to make. We’ll front you whatever you want. No problem.”
Richard didn’t see much of a future making porn movies. He thought of it as dirty and didn’t want to get that involved in it. Pirating it was one thing; making it himself was another. Murder—murder was okay, nothing wrong with that. But producing porn movies was sleazy… beneath him, as it were.
“I’m tellin’ you, there’s a ton a fuckin’ money in it,” Argrila repeated.
“Absofuckinlutely. No fuss, no-muss, and it’s perfectly legal. We’ll give you all the product you need. I know you’re a stand-up right guy. Just pay us for what you take when you get paid, and you’re in business.”
“I’ll think about it,” Richard said, ultimately warming to the idea because it was, in fact, perfectly legal. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the idea seemed, and he decided to try it, what the hell. But he knew if he did delve into this he had to make a go of it, not fuck up, because the money involved was mob money, and he had to pay it back in a timely fashion. He didn’t like owing mob people anything, but for such an enterprise, he also knew, there was nowhere else to turn: I couldn’t go to a bank and say I got three naked girls and two guys with hard-ons and I want to make movies, he recently explained.
So Richard began taking large shipments of porn on consignment from Argrila and Rothenberg and wholesaling it out all over the East Coast. Money began pouring in. Richard was surprised at how much in demand porn was, and the dirtier and kinkier it was, the better. Because he was selling most of the product he was getting from Argrila on consignment, the bill he had with Argrila quickly grew to seventy-five thousand dollars, since Richard was spending money he should have been giving Argrila.
Richard wasn’t even sure Argrila and his partner were really mob connected. Guys were always saying they were “mobbed up,” and Richard kept taking product and was slow in paying it back. He also got it in his head to make his own movies, to have his own line, and decided to use the money he owed Argrila to start his own business. This proved to be, as Richard would soon find out, a near-fatal mistake in judgment.
Richard quit working in the film lab and immersed himself in the porn business full-time. Argrila and Rothenberg kept asking for money, and Richard kept stalling them. From working in film labs over the years, Richard did know quite a few people who made porno movies—line producers, camera people, even directors. He began talking to some of these individuals and quickly realized that he could indeed make his own porno movies from scratch. Using Argrila’s money, that’s exactly what he did—he began producing porno films, hired directors he knew, made deals with them, and let them run the show. He was only interested in the finished product—making money.
Richard’s daughter Merrick’s health was not improving. She was frequently in pain and had raging fevers, sometimes up to 106 degrees. Her sickness and distress embittered Richard even more. Her suffering, any child’s suffering, was so unfair that surely, he thought, there was no God. How could any God allow a child to suffer? Richard had great empathy for children, though absolutely none for adults. He and Barbara did all they could for Merrick, but whatever they did didn’t work; at least he was making money now and had the funds needed for Merrick’s care.
Richard was thinking he’d deal in porn for a short while—a few years at the most—make some serious money, and get the hell out of the business. Maybe move to the West Coast, buy a house on the beach and relax. That was Richard’s dream: to have a first-class white house on a beach and enjoy the view, the glorious sunsets, watch the girls frolic in the surf.
Richard said nothing to Barbara about what he was doing or his plans for the future. He knew she wouldn’t like it. As much as Richard dominated and abused Barbara, he had much respect for her, valued her opinion, valued her judgment. She often explained things to him he read in the newspapers that he didn’t understand. An avid reader, Barbara told him about books she enjoyed. She was always reading a book, both popular novels and classics. Richard was, of course, still dyslexic and had comprehension problems when it came to the written word. The only thing he ever truly enjoyed reading were the true-crime magazines; those, for some reason, he never had any trouble understanding.
The movies Richard was producing were shot in dilapidated warehouses—no doubt now fashionable lofts—in SoHo. Richard never went to any of the shoots. He was not interested in seeing the films being made. He thought little of the people who did such things and didn’t want to be around them. For him this was a strictly moneymaking proposition. He had no prurient interests at all. He was, when it came to sexual matters, a bit of a prude. Because all the films Richard was distributing were given out on consignment and were paid for after the retailer sold them, there was a mandatory period of time that the producers had to wait to get paid. There was no getting around that.
When Richard was sober and not in a bad mood, he was relatively easy to get along with. People he did business with tended to like him. He had a keen sense of humor and would readily pay for drinks and meals. For the most part, he tried to keep his word. Because of that he expected people to keep their word, which all too often didn’t happen. One individual who let him down was named Bruno Latini. He was a short, balding, mobbed-up guy who owned a bar on Eighth Avenue. Richard had given him fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of films on consignment. Because the fifty-two-year-old Latini had mob connections (his brother was Gambino captain Eddie Lino, who would, it would later be alleged, be murdered by crooked cops Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa at the behest of Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso), he thought he could get away without paying. He kept stalling Richard, then stopped returning Richard’s calls. This incensed Richard, ate at him.
Christmas was still very much a big deal to Barbara and she went out of her way for the holidays to be special; she bought dozens of wonderful gifts, had a huge tree, decorated the house beautifully. That Christmas Eve Richard was quiet and morose. He was thinking of Latini, not his family. When everyone went to bed, Richard quietly got into his car and drove to the city looking for Latini, looking to kill him. It was snowing hard but that didn’t stop Richard. When he reached the bar, he learned that Latini just left. Richard went to the lot on the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Tenth Avenue and found Latini sitting in his car. Latini invited Richard into the car and gave him a song and dance about the fifteen hundred dollars. Richard pulled out a .38 and shot him twice in the head. For a minute or two he was blinded and couldn’t hear because of the report of the gun in the enclosed space. Richard found Latini’s wallet. There was several thousand dollars in it. Richard took his fifteen hundred and put the wallet back with the rest of the money still in it. Odd. He finally stepped from the car, went back to his Caddy, and returned to New Jersey.
In the morning on Christmas Day a parking attendant found Latini with his destroyed head, quite dead. Police discovered his wallet on him and there was sixteen hundred dollars in it. This murder was never linked to Richard by the police or by the mob.
I killed him, Richard explained, out of principle. He thought he could treat me like a piece of wood.
Though Barbara made a big deal of the holidays, they tended to depress Richard. They reminded him of his childhood, and that always made him…angry. He still thought about his father, about killing him.
Tony Argrila kept hounding Richard for the money he owed. Richard kept stalling, giving excuses, not money, to Argrila. Just when Argrila began getting hot under the collar, Richard would give him some money—but not what he said he would—to shut him up. Richard was planning to pay him and was doing his best, but his best wasn’t good enough. Finally, Argrila lost his patience and called his silent partner, Roy DeMeo, and suddenly everything took a serious turn for the worse.
Roy DeMeo was an out-of-control psychopath, an associate of the Gambino crime family, who would eventually become the subject of a popular true-crime book appropriately entitled Murder Machine, by journalists Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain.
Roy DeMeo was born and raised in Canarsie, a tough neighborhood in one of the toughest towns anywhere in the world—Brooklyn, USA. As a boy Roy had been overweight, Humpty Dumpty-like, and was regularly put upon and abused by neighborhood bullies. He had thick black hair, dark eyes, olive-colored skin, and a huge belly, and waddled like a penguin. His older brother Anthony, known as Toby, was a tough, muscle-bound kid—always there to protect Roy—but he joined the marines, went to fight in Vietnam, and never came back. Thus fat little Roy was left to fend for himself on Canarsie’s mean streets.
The young Roy DeMeo always admired neighborhood mob guys, of whom there were many. They were all over Canarsie, mostly members of the Lucchese crime family, with their fancy cars, fancy women, fancy clothes, and huge rolls of hundred-dollar bills. That’s what Roy wanted for himself; that was Roy’s dream; that’s what Roy saw in his future. Roy’s heroes were Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and Albert Anastasia, infamous killers all. Those were the people Roy looked up to, wanted to emulate. He longed to be respected and feared like them.
Though a bright child and good with numbers, Roy did not do well in school. School didn’t interest him in the least. He knew that what he wanted he could never get in any classroom. What he wanted you could learn only on the street, so that’s where Roy spent his time; that’s where he went to school; that’s where Roy DeMeo applied himself.
The first order of business was to lose weight and to get muscular, and the young DeMeo began to diet and lift weights with a vengeance, and soon enough he lost the baby fat and protruding stomach, and his muscles became large and rock hard. Now when anyone bothered him, Roy gladly beat him to a pulp. He was an extremely dirty fighter, biting and gouging people’s eyes, and soon—as he planned—he secured a reputation as a tough guy, as someone who was stand-up, dangerous; no one to trifle with—not an easy task in Canarsie.
As a young teen, DeMeo began loaning out (shylocking) the money he earned working at a supermarket. If someone didn’t pay back on time, Roy took apparent delight in beating him up. He quickly became a loudmouthed bully, mean and sadistic, swaggering around with his mouth twisted up as if he’d been sucking on lemons. He had a chip on his wide shoulder and dared people to try and knock it off. He was trouble looking to happen.
DeMeo loaned money to a kid named Chris Rosenberg, who sold nickel bags of pot. With the money Roy loaned him, Chris was able to buy weight and was soon selling ounces and even pounds. Roy made Chris his partner, co-opted him and his pot business. This would be a recurring theme in DeMeo’s bloody, infamous life of crime: he made people who owed him money and couldn’t pay him on time his partner. This was, in fact, a classic Mafia ploy, used from its very inception. The word mafia in lowercase means a man of respect, an individual who has pride and honor and walks with his head high. Mafia, capitalized, has come to mean the criminal enterprise that began in Sicily in the mid-1800s and spread its insidious tentacles all over the globe. For many years the Mafia was a highly secretive, highly successful criminal enterprise the likes of which the world had never known; all its members took a blood oath to the particular family they were inducted into. Until Joe Valachi, at the 1963 McClellan Senate hearings in Washington, told about the intricacies of the Mafia—where it began, how it worked, its structure—law enforcement had no comprehensive understanding of the Sicilian Mafia. In fact, there are three distinctly different criminal organizations in Italy: the Camorra from Naples, the ’Ndrangheta from Calabria, and the Mafia from Sicily. Of the three the Camorra was—and still is—the most violent and vicious.
The infamous John Gotti was one of the few Neapolitans who was allowed into the ranks of the Sicilian Mafia, into the Gambino family, which many say was a fatal error in judgment on Carlo Gambino’s part. An exceedingly cunning individual, Carlo Gambino was a small, frail, unassuming Sicilian who dressed and acted like a simple peasant from Sicily, when in truth he ran the largest and most successful of the five New York crime families. Carlo opened the books to John Gotti because Gotti killed a man who was stupid enough to kidnap Carlo’s nephew Sal and murder him after a ransom was paid; that, of course, was a one-way ticket to a graveyard, and John Gotti gladly killed the jerk who masterminded this ill-conceived kidnapping and killing.
Carlo would later make a second grave error in judgment, and that was appointing his brother-in-law, Paul Castellano, the head of the family when he died in October 1976.
Paul Castellano was a tall, gaunt, sallow, and dark-eyed man who had a butcher shop on Eighteenth Avenue, just off Eighty-sixth Street, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, another very tough, Mafia-ridden neighborhood. If the Mafia had a graduate school, it was surely the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Made men—soldiers, lieutenants, captains, underbosses, and bosses from all the five families—lived in Bensonhurst. Here they bought homes, baptized and married off their children, celebrated holidays, lived their lives. The Bensonhurst public schools were filled with children who were the offspring of made men.
Paul Castellano was a good businessman, though a very bad mob boss. He parlayed his butcher shop into a large chicken and meat wholesale business that made him a wealthy man. Paul married Carlo’s sister, Kathy, and it was mainly that marriage that caused Paul to rise quickly within the Gambino hierarchy.
Paul was a notoriously greedy individual, did not come from the street as such, and was resented by most of the twenty-one captains in the Gambino family. Resentment of Castellano’s greed eventually caused Castellano to be killed in front of Sparks Steak House in December 1985. He and his bodyguard-chauffeur, Tommy Bilotti, were killed at the behest of John Gotti and Sammy “the Bull” Gravano by a hit team; one of those men was, in fact, Richard Leonard Kuklinski.
In theory, Roy DeMeo should have been associated with and inducted into the Lucchese family; they were centered in Canarsie, had scores of junkyards and chop shops in the area. But Roy wanted more for himself; he wanted to become a member of the Gambino family; they were Mafia royalty, and that’s where Roy wanted to be made. DeMeo was an excellent moneymaker—had interests in unions, stolen cars and credit cards, drugs and shylocking, had partnerships in restaurants and bars, had a lot of money on the street. But DeMeo was loud and boisterous and readily drew attention to himself, all traits shunned by mob guys, and he had a very bad temper…would scream and yell and pull guns at the drop of a hat. He believed the best way to get people’s respect was to bully them, to beat them up, to make them bleed.
“I don’t give a flyin’ fuck if anyone likes me; what I care about is that they fear me,” was a favorite saying of his, and people did fear him, with good cause, for Roy DeMeo was a bona fide raging psychopath. Besides all his other enterprises, he killed people for both sport and money. He filled mob-sanctioned hits as well as hits civilians wanted done and were willing to pay for. Essentially, he retailed murder. Roy had worked as a butcher in Key Food, a Brooklyn food store, and he was particularly adept at cutting people up to get rid of bodies.
“Disassembling,” he called it, laughing. With expert knife work he dismembered those he killed, cut them up into six convenient pieces—the head, arms, legs, and torso—all of which he cleverly disposed of in different places, the head in a garbage bin, the arms in the nearby Atlantic Ocean, the legs in the mountain-high Canarsie garbage dump over near the Belt Parkway.
DeMeo put together his own little killing crew, a bunch of cold-blooded serial killers named Joey Testa, Anthony Senter, Chris Goldberg, Henry Borelli, Freddie DiNome, and DeMeo’s cousin, Joe Guglielmo, who was known as Dracula, and they shot and stabbed and bludgeoned their way to prominent positions in the Mafia homicide hall of fame. Before they were finally brought to justice, the DeMeo crew murdered over two hundred people. Many of the murders were carried out in the rear apartment of a bar DeMeo owned called the Gemini Lounge on Troy Avenue.
DeMeo made the acquaintance of Nino Gaggi, a made man in the Gambino family and a close personal friend of Paul Castellano. Both Gaggi and DeMeo dealt in stolen cars. DeMeo had a contact in the Department of Motor Vehicles and provided Gaggi with clean vehicle identification numbers (VIN) and paperwork for stolen cars. DeMeo was only too happy to help Gaggi in any way he could. He saw Gaggi as his entry into the Gambino family.
Nino Gaggi lived at 1929 Cropsy Avenue in Bensonhurst. It was a redbrick three-family house with small yards in front and out back. Gaggi was from the old school, quiet and reserved, a slight man with small, seemingly frail hands, but he was tough like coarse sandpaper, with a bad temper. Everything about him was understated. He didn’t particularly like DeMeo, because he was so loud, so bold, so in your face. But DeMeo was a hell of a moneymaker, so Gaggi tolerated him and, as time passed, did more and more with him. During the Christmas holidays, DeMeo brought carloads of gifts for Gaggi’s three children and diamond bracelets and watches for Nino’s wife, Rose, an attractive blonde who was fiercely loyal to her husband. Gaggi had a vicious German shepherd named Duke. He loved the dog because it was tough and wanted to bite everyone, man or beast. Duke was so vicious that he used to climb up the eight-foot chain-link fence around the backyard, using his teeth and paws, to get at the sanitation guys on Bay Twenty-second Street. Gaggi had to have a chain-link overhang installed so Duke couldn’t escape and wreak havoc on the neighborhood. Duke’s tenacity gave Nino a big kick and he loved that dog as much as one of his own sons.
It was an inconsequential incident on Bensonhurst’s Eighty-sixth Street that eventually caused Roy DeMeo to be inducted into the Gambino family: when a neighborhood tough, a Golden Gloves champion named Vincent Governara, known as Vinnie Mook, hit Gaggi and broke his nose, Gaggi turned to DeMeo and asked Roy to kill him. Whatever Nino asked of DeMeo, Nino got; and he later sponsored DeMeo to be made by the Gambino family, making DeMeo’s long-cherished dream come true.
Because DeMeo lived and worked out of the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, a few miles away from JFK International Airport, he had a lot of contacts at the airport and helped mastermind numerous cargo thefts, heisting all kinds of merchandise from all over the world: wines and champagnes from Italy and France, exotic foods, jewelry, cash money, and guns. Lots of guns. Crates of pistols, revolvers, and even machine guns, Berettas from Italy, Walther PPKs from Germany, Uzi machine guns from Israel.
Roy was a genuine gun fanatic and truly loved firearms. He had an extensive collection of them, enough guns to arm a small army, and he happily and easily sold all the stolen armaments from Kennedy Airport to members of organized crime. Because of Roy DeMeo, crates upon crates of clean, untraceable guns found their way to the New York and New Jersey underworld, and thus DeMeo was inadvertently responsible for scores of mob killings all across America.
When Tony Argrila, a friend of DeMeo’s, went to Roy and told him that Richard Kuklinski was behind on his payments and had an “attitude problem,” DeMeo said he’d talk to Kuklinski.
Partnership Born in Hell
It was a blistering hot August day, 1973, the humidity near 100 percent, the temperature in the low nineties. No one was in a hurry to go anywhere. People seemed to move in slow motion. DeMeo was in a foul mood, on his way to the office-film lab of Argrila and Rothenberg to collect his end of the business.
A year earlier, DeMeo had gone to see them and told them he was their new partner. Rothenberg laughed. DeMeo took out a pistol and slapped the shit out of him. Argrila and Rothenberg had a new partner. Theirs was a quasi-legal business, and neither Argrila nor Rothenberg had the balls to go to the police at that point.
That August day all DeMeo knew about Richard was that he was big, acted tough, and was behind on his payments. DeMeo was at the office when Richard showed up for some product. Acting tough, DeMeo was heavy-handed with Richard. Richard had no idea who DeMeo was and that he was truly connected, and Richard was curt and nasty with DeMeo. Richard didn’t like this loudmouthed Italian guy trying to strong-arm him.
“I’m a friend of Tony’s here,” DeMeo said.
“And so?” Richard said.
“And so I’m here because you’re behind and you got a bad attitude, I hear.”
“Like I told them, I’ll pay back everything I owe when I have it.”
“Yeah, and when’s that?” Roy demanded, getting mad, not liking this big Polish guy’s attitude one bit.
“Hard to say,” Richard said, a slight smirk on his chiseled face. “You know how it is. The product’s out there. I’m waiting to get paid; when I get paid, they’ll get paid—simple.”
“You think you’re cute?” DeMeo asked.
“I think I don’t like you coming around and trying to put the squeeze on me,” Richard told him, and these two very dangerous men—neither knowing anything about the other yet—stared at each other with angry, homicidal eyes, like two white sharks eyeing each other, sizing each other up.
DeMeo could see that Kuklinski was not scared of him and would readily fight. Like all bullies, DeMeo was not about to tangle with a guy as big and tough as Richard apparently was.
“We’ll see,” DeMeo said, and he turned and stormed off.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Richard said to his back.
Argrila now, for the first time, told Richard who DeMeo was, that he was a connected guy. “I don’t wanna see you hurt, Rich. Leave, leave before he comes back.” With that Richard turned, went into the hall, and pushed the elevator button.
DeMeo was steaming. There was no way he was going to let this big Polack trifle with him, disrespect him. Downstairs, in his white Lincoln, were his cousin Joe Guglielmo, Anthony Senter, and Joey Testa. Guglielmo was gray haired and resembled Bela Lugosi, thus his nickname, Dracula. Anthony Senter and Joey looked so alike that they appeared to be brothers, but they weren’t. They were both dark eyed and handsome with a thick head of black hair, each six feet, muscular, and athletic.
Now, with his guys behind him, DeMeo went back upstairs to see Richard, and they found him in the hall waiting for the elevator. Richard was suddenly surrounded, guns pointing at him.
“So, tough guy,” DeMeo said. “You wanna die, you fuckin’ wanna die?” And with that he struck Richard hard in the head with the butt of his gun. Knowing his life was on the line here, Richard did nothing. He had a .38 derringer in his pocket, but he didn’t draw it. DeMeo hit him several more times. Richard went down. Guglielmo hit him in the back of the head and kicked him in his right knee. Now they all proceeded to pummel Richard. Though they didn’t knock him unconscious, they beat him good. Richard had never gotten a beating like this in his entire life. He was angry beyond words, but he knew that DeMeo would kill him on the spot if he fought back. He had only a two-shot derringer on him. DeMeo found Richard’s derringer and took it.
“You come up with the money or you’re fuckin’ dead—fuckin’ dead, motherfucker!” DeMeo said, and they left.
Richard was suddenly alone, bleeding all over the floor. He stood up, went into a bathroom off the hall, and looked at himself in the mirror. He was a mess.
Cursing out loud, using paper towels to wipe away the blood, Richard vowed to kill DeMeo. The wounds he’d gotten from the pistol-whipping were deep, and Richard had to go to St. Vincent’s Hospital on Seventh Avenue to have them stitched up. He received thirty-eight stitches on three different mean gashes on his head. His eyes blackened, his lip swollen, all stitched up, Richard slowly went back to New Jersey. He was so beat up that he didn’t want Barbara and his daughters to see him, so he went to his mother-in-law’s house. Shocked when she saw him, Genevieve let him in the house and got an ice bag for him. He told her, and later Barbara, that he’d been mugged, jumped by four guys and robbed. He slept that night at Genevieve’s house—mostly tossed and turned, planning how he’d torture Roy DeMeo.
It didn’t take long for Richard to find out who Roy DeMeo really was—an associate in good standing of the Gambino family, who ran a ruthless band of serial killers. Richard knew if he killed Roy now, he’d surely be killed in turn, and quickly. He was so mad over what DeMeo and the others had done that if he hadn’t been married with children, he might have gone and found DeMeo and killed him anyway. But because of Barbara and his family, he had to play it cool—for now. No easy thing for Richard Kuklinski. But Richard knew that there would be, in the future, an opportunity for him to get revenge; he’d bide his time. But, he vowed, he would one day pistol-whip and kill Roy DeMeo.
The first thing Richard did was make arrangements with Tony Argrila to pay him back the money. That done, Richard went to Brooklyn, to the Gemini Lounge, and asked for DeMeo. DeMeo was shocked to see Richard at the bar by himself.
“I hear,” DeMeo said, “you’re doing the right thing. You got balls coming here like this.”
“I wanted to talk with you.”
“Yeah, well, talk.”
“First off, I didn’t know who you were,” Richard diplomatically, and uncharacteristically, said. “Second, Rothenberg and Tony are stealing from each other—I’ve seen it myself. Sure I’m a little behind, but nothing like they’re saying. All the time Rothenberg is trying to give me material on the side. That’s the truth, Roy.”
Richard figured, correctly, that it was Rothenberg who had sicced Roy on him, and now he was returning the favor.
“I’ll tell you, big guy, you got balls; you got some pair a nuts coming here like this. I’m thinking maybe we got off on the wrong foot here—I got mad when I should’a been talking. I asked around ’bout you and I know you’re a stand-up guy. You had a gun on you, and didn’t use it…you got balls.”
“Roy, I want to make money with you, not fight with you. That’s all I want to do here is make money…do business.”
“I hear you got contacts all over the place; we can do something together. You just play straight with me and you’ll make money—a lotta money.”
“Let’s shake on it,” Roy said, and these two killers shook hands, a slight smirk on each of their faces.
“I hear,” Roy said, “you got an Italian wife. Take a ride with me,” Roy offered. They got into his car and drove to an Italian food shop a few blocks away.
“Come on,” Roy said.
They went inside. The place had sawdust on the floor, salami and giant rolls of provolone hanging from the ceiling. Roy picked out all kinds of meats, Italian sweet sausages and giant blocks of different cheeses and a head-sized piece of mozzarella in water.
“They make mozzeralla fresh a few times a day,” he told Richard. Roy paid for everything—$150—and gave Richard four big bags.
“You bring this stuff home to your wife. She’ll like it, I bet you. Call me in a couple of days and we’ll do business, okay? I got a few lines of my own and I’ll front you all you want.”
“Okay,” Richard said, genuinely taken aback by this little-seen generous side of Roy DeMeo.
“Thanks, Roy,” Richard said, and it was done.
Forgive Me, Father, for I Have Sinned
Anna McNally, Richard’s mother, was terminally ill, dying of liver cancer. When Roberta, Richard’s sister, called to tell him of their mother’s impending death, he didn’t even want to go see her. Finally, he thought, she’s getting her due. But Barbara convinced him that he should go see his mother one last time, so he and Barbara went. Barbara had no use for Anna; she knew what a rotten mother she’d been to Richard. But still she was his mother, and Barbara felt he should see her one last time before she died. It was the right thing to do.
As the years had gone by Richard grew to despise his mother more and more. He pretty much blamed her for everything: for marrying Stanley; for having children with Stanley; for how Stanley mercilessly beat Florian—killed Florian—for how Stanley beat him.
When they arrived at the hospital, however, Anna did not even acknowledge his presence. She was facing the wall, holding blue rosary beads, repeating over and over “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” nonstop, as if it were a Tibetan chant. Richard spoke to her. He tried to say good-bye. But she wouldn’t even look at him. It seemed as though she were already dead and gone but her body didn’t yet realize it. She had shrunken to a mere shell of the robust, attractive woman she had once been. For Anna McNally, life had been cruel—a constant bitter struggle filled with heartache, hard menial labor, pain, suffering, and want. For Anna death would be a blessing, certainly better than her life had been, and she welcomed it.
She did in fact die later that night. Richard reluctantly went to the wake only because Barbara convinced him he should go. He did not cry. He showed no emotion.
Stanley Kuklinski also came to the wake, and Richard didn’t even say hello to him. It was all he could do to keep from taking Stanley by the neck in front of everyone and choking the cold heartless bastard to death, right there. With great effort he held himself back. Barbara could see he was getting all bent out of shape at the sight of his father, his lips twisting up, his face flushing. Sitting there next to Barbara, all Richard could think of was killing Stanley; harsh black-and-white images of what Stanley had done to him moving in his head like a grainy old slow-motion film. It took much restraint for Richard not to take his father outside, put him in his car, kill him, and dump him down a Pennsylvania mine shaft. Richard told Barbara he wanted to leave. In the car on the way back home, she said, “You okay, Richard?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I just…when I see Stanley it all comes back. That man should never have been allowed to have children.” Here he stopped talking. He didn’t want Barbara to hear the truth, what Stanley truly had done to him: how he had murdered Florian.
The Porn King of New York
True to his word, DeMeo gave Richard, on consignment, all the pornography he wanted. Richard bought himself a van, went to Brooklyn, and picked up boxes of porn produced by Roy, one hundred films per box. By now Richard had many contacts in the porn business across the country. He was distributing porn—both his and DeMeo’s—to wholesalers everywhere, and business boomed. For the first time Richard was making good money on a steady basis.
Richard was scrupulously careful about giving Roy all he was due, on time as promised. Roy began to take a shine to Richard. He admired his temerity, the fact that he had taken the beating “like a man,” as he told his crew. The fact that Richard had a gun in his pocket and didn’t use it; the fact that he came to the Gemini by himself. That, he knew, took balls.
DeMeo’s crew, however, didn’t like Richard. They thought he was aloof and unfriendly—he was—and he was a non-Italian…he was Polish. They made fun of Richard behind his back, told one another silly Polish jokes at Richard’s expense. Richard sensed the hostility, the cold stares, the sneers, but Richard didn’t care. He figured they were just jealous of his relationship with Roy, and he was right.
As months passed, Roy and Richard’s “friendship” grew. By now Roy had learned that Richard had killed well and discreetly for the De Cavalcante family, and one day, when Richard went to the Gemini to drop off some money, Roy sat him down in the rear apartment.
“I hear,” Roy said, “that you are cold like ice and do special work. That true?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“I have a lot of special work…. You interested?”
“You’ll do it with no questions asked?”
“I’m not a curious man.”
Roy stared at Richard. Being stared at by Roy, with his penetrating black eyes, was like having two drills bore into you.
Roy had to see for himself if, in fact, Richard could do a piece of work, coldly and methodically.
“Okay,” he said, “let’s take a ride; you game?”
“Sure,” Richard said, and Roy, his cousin Joe Guglielmo, and Richard piled into Roy’s car. Joe was driving. Richard sat in the back.
“Let’s go to the city,” Roy ordered. He always ordered people to do things—never asked. In silence they drove to Manhattan. It was a nice cloudless day. The sky was blue. The sun shone. Someone was going to die. As they were going through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Roy turned around and handed Richard a short-barreled .38 with a suppressor on it.
“Use this,” he said.
“Okay,” Richard said, and casually slipped the gun into his waistband. They continued uptown and wound up on the west side of Greenwich Village, on a quiet tree-lined street. Richard’s old hunting ground. They passed a lone man walking a dog.
“Pull over,” Roy ordered. “See that guy with the dog?” he asked Richard.
Richard calmly stepped out of the car and walked toward the man with the dog, who was to the rear of the car, maybe twenty steps. After Richard passed him, he stopped and turned around and tailed the hapless man. He wanted to do the job right in front of Roy and Joe. Just as the dog walker passed the Lincoln, Richard caught up with him, made sure he was unobserved, quickly pulled out the gun, and fired, shooting the man in the back of the head.
He never even knew he died, or why.
He went down like a laundry bag, Richard confided.
Richard calmly walked back to the car and got in. “You’re fuckin’ cold like ice. Well done,” Roy said, smiling. “You’re one of us.” And they went back to Brooklyn. Richard had just proven to Roy, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was a stone-cold killer, and that murder that day cemented their bloody relationship. When they arrived back at the Gemini Lounge and went into the rear apartment, Joey Testa, Anthony Senter, Chris Goldberg, and Henry Borelli were all there.
“The big guy,” Roy announced, “is fuckin’ cold. I just saw him do a piece of work right in the middle of the fuckin’ street. He’s one of us.”
Thus, Richard became a part of a coven of serial killers never seen before or since; they would, in years to come, make homicide history.
Richard, however, didn’t like any of this: he didn’t want any of these guys knowing about him, what he did, what “special work” he performed. He didn’t trust them and didn’t like them; he thought it was just a matter of time before they caused problems, for themselves, for Roy, and for him.
Richard needed to use the john and went inside the bathroom. There was an odd, thick, fetid smell hanging in the air. As he was taking a leak, he looked around the shower curtain and there, hanging over the tub, was a dead man. His throat had been cut and there was a black-handled butcher knife sticking out of his chest. His blood, rubbery and thick, was slowly draining into the tub. They were bleeding him.
These fucking guys are really into it, Richard thought, and went back inside.
“You see the guy taking a shower?” Roy asked, laughing out loud at his joke. The others laughed too.
“No, I didn’t see anything,” Richard said, and they sat down and had a meal of spaghetti olio and broccoli rabe. Roy enjoyed cooking and loved to eat. As they sat there and ate, drinking red wine—with the guy hanging over the tub—they made jokes, talked about sports, about a girl both Joey and Anthony had fucked the night before.
After having espresso, Chris and Anthony spread a blue plastic tarp on the floor. They brought the guy out of the bathroom and proceeded to cut him into “manageable pieces,” as Roy put it. “Makes getting rid of him easier,” he told Richard. They had a professional autopsy kit, with razor-sharp saws and knives made for the sole purpose of cutting up bodies. Within minutes they cut him into five pieces. Each piece was wrapped in brown paper, then put into heavy-duty black garbage bags. Richard watched this through amused eyes, thinking, These guys are something else, admiring how easily and expertly they disassembled the body. They’d obviously had a lot of practice and knew what they were doing. Chris Goldberg especially seemed to enjoy taking apart the body.
When Richard was ready to leave and go back to his family, he asked to speak to Roy on the side. They went outside. By now the sun was setting. A nice breeze blew in from Jamaica Bay.
“Look, Roy,” Richard said. “Don’t get me wrong here, but I’d rather just work with you on any special jobs.”
“You’re reading my mind,” Roy said. “Big guy, you are my secret weapon. I ain’t mixing you up with my crew. Don’t worry. They are all good, very fuckin’ stand-up guys—Chris is like my son—but I ain’t mixing you up with them.”
“Okay,” Richard said. They hugged and kissed on the cheek, and Richard went back to his family in New Jersey. Like this, Richard Kuklinski became Roy DeMeo’s “secret weapon.”
The police could find no witnesses to the murder of the man walking his dog in the Village, no likely suspects, no rhyme or reason for the killing—still another unsolved New York homicide Richard Kuklinski had committed.
Richard was scrupulously careful to keep what he was doing far from his family. Barbara had no idea what he was really up to; she didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell her.
Besides distributing porn, Richard rented a warehouse in North Bergen and from it sold counterfeit sweaters, handbags, jeans, and even perfumes. He bought large lots of these knockoff goods, had women sew brand-name labels into them, and sold them to wholesalers, who in turn sold them at flea markets all over the country. Money was rolling in. Richard still dabbled in hijacking, acting as the middleman between the hijackers and the buyers and always making a profit. He stopped drinking hard alcohol and tried not to gamble. He loved his family deeply and profoundly and didn’t want to do anything to undermine it. On the one hand, he was the perfect husband and father, considerate, loving, and generous to a fault. He’d gladly drive his daughters and their friends to movies and restaurants they liked; he took great joy in buying them nice clothing, two of everything; nothing was too good for his children. He constantly bought Barbara clothes and shoes and jewelry, mink coats—whatever she wanted. They went out to fancy restaurants every weekend. Richard always made sure Barbara’s favorite wine, Montrachet, was already at the table in an ice bucket waiting for her. He opened doors for her. He graciously pulled out her chair so she could sit down.
On the other hand, he could lose his temper over some little thing and become tyrannical, mean, a menace. The Kuklinski home could be, one moment, a tranquil Shangri-la, the next moment a storm-besieged island in the middle of a dangerous, turbulent sea.
When my dad was normal, he was golden. When he lost it he was…he was a maniac, his daughter Chris recently explained.
Richard bought himself a new white Cadillac. The family began looking for a new house in a better part of Jersey. West New York, Hudson County, was changing; many minority groups were moving in, and Richard and Barbara wanted to move to “greener pastures.”
They wound up buying a split-level ranch-style home in Dumont, New Jersey, with a garage and three bedrooms. This was a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood, a good place to bring up children, a reasonably juicy slice of the American dream come true. Barbara wanted a pool and the grounds covered with bright green healthy sod—no problem; whatever Barbara wanted, Richard was anxious and only too happy to provide. He still had no concept of money and readily spent it as quickly as it came in.
On weekends, the Kuklinskis had extravagant barbecues, invited everyone on the block. Richard was, for the most part, outgoing and friendly—a good neighbor, quick to offer a helping hand. He’d don a cooking apron and happily grill burgers and franks for his children and all their friends. He watched them play in the pool, making sure no one was hurt. He gladly doled out towels and helped dry his children off, happily cleaned the yard after a day of the kids playing. The Kuklinskis had also been blessed by the birth of a son. Barbara had always wanted a boy and her dream had come true. They named the boy Dwayne, after a country singer Richard was fond of.
When Richard did get mad, however, he’d explode. He didn’t seem capable of controlling his anger, and when he became angry his cruelty knew no bounds. It was as if he became a different person; he’d break his children’s toys and keepsakes, smash chairs and tables and knickknacks. After Barbara had the kitchen redone, all new appliances and cabinets installed, Richard lost it and actually tore the cabinets right off the wall, and he pulled the kitchen sink out and tossed it through one of the kitchen windows.
Afterward, he always felt bad, indeed hated what he’d done. He was so angry at himself that he couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror. When he was like that, in one of his out-of-control tirades, all Barbara and the children could do was stay the hell out of his way, and they did, as best they could.
Also, when Richard was mad at Barbara, he had no reservations about abusing her in front of the children. It was as though he didn’t even know they were there. He slapped her, pushed her, beat her. Horrified, his daughters watched this, begging that he stop, screaming and crying and pleading with him to stop. If not for his daughters’ intervention, their pleas, he might well have killed Barbara in a fit of rage. If he had killed her in such a fit, he would also have killed his children.
“If Mommy dies, Merrick,” he actually told his firstborn, “you know I’ll have to kill you and your sister. I couldn’t leave any witnesses…you understand?”
“Yes, Daddy,” Merrick said.
Barbara was, she said, trapped. There was nowhere for her to turn. If she went to the police and showed them her injuries, her black eyes and bruises, he might be arrested; but she knew that he’d be out on bail soon enough and he’d come looking to kill her. He had told her as much in plain language on numerous occasions.
And she believed him.
In her heart Barbara was certain, she explained, that Richard would destroy her if she ever went to the authorities or did anything to cause him to lose his family. Before that he’d kill them all.
However, as odd as this sounds, Barbara was not cowed by Richard. She’d stand up to him, defy him, point her finger in his face and dare him to hit her again—which he usually did. “Big shot, think you’re so tough, beating up a woman—you aren’t tough. You ain’t tough at all!” she’d say, right in his face.
If, daughter Merrick recently explained, my mom had kept her mouth shut it wouldn’t’ve been so bad. She made things worse—a bad situation even worse. It was like she wanted to egg him on. I used to tell her to be quiet—“Mommy, be quiet”—not to answer him back, not to stand up to him—“Mommy, shut up”—but she didn’t.
Barbara’s only way of fighting back, of not losing her own identity, who she was, was to stand up to her husband, and she did, and she regularly suffered the consequences.
Daughter Chris explained it this way: My father married the wrong woman. If, say, Mom was more meek, I mean less outspoken, the tirades would’ve ended much more quickly. But she wouldn’t keep her mouth shut and made it worse. Even when he was actually striking her, beating on her, my mom would taunt, berate, and belittle my dad. My mother…my mother encouraged it.
Barbara, however, does not feel that way: There was no way, she explained, that I was going to allow him to walk all over me and I was going to keep my mouth shut and let him abuse me. I had nowhere to turn, no one to ask for help, and so I told him…I told him how I felt. Maybe, I mean now looking back on it, I was encouraging him, enabling him, but I was not about to let him make a doormat out of me and keep my mouth shut; forget that.
Afterward, Richard was always angry at himself for terrorizing his daughters. Dwayne was still too young to know what was going on. Yet, Richard never said he was sorry or that it wouldn’t happen again. He acted as though nothing had occurred; everything was just peachy and dandy. It was as though a terrible storm had come and gone and the destruction was just a natural consequence of the storm. Nothing more. He had nothing to do with it. It was all the storm’s fault.
Daughter Chris took to calling the operator after one of her father’s tirades and hanging up when she heard the operator’s voice; she somehow felt comforted and reassured knowing that there was someone at the other end of the phone, someone out there who would help. Chris and her sister began to pack an “escape bag,” as they called it. In it were some clothes, a favorite toy or two, an extra pair of shoes for each of them. They figured it was only a matter of time before their father really did kill their mother, and they wanted to have an escape kit ready to go so they could run out the door when the time came.
In no uncertain terms, Barbara again told Richard that if he ever laid a finger on her children, she’d cut his throat when he was sleeping. She said this with such cold, calm sincerity that he believed her. Besides, he would cut his hands off before he ever physically hurt any of his children.
Barbara…Barbara was another matter entirely.
Sometimes, when Richard was losing it, his face paling, his lips twisting up, that terrible clicking sound coming from his lips, he’d actually strike himself with his fist so hard he’d knock himself out cold. This was, he recently confided, the only way he could avoid striking Barbara and terrorizing his little girls: to knock himself out, and he did.
Richard knocking himself unconscious was a frightening, unsettling, sobering thing to see. Not only did he hit himself, he banged his head against the wall so hard he’d knock himself out cold, come to after a while, and silently leave the house, like a tornado going away—quietly disappearing over the horizon.
True, Richard did not strike his children or physically abuse them in any way, but he was causing them great anxiety and pain inside…a thing Barbara seemed oblivious to. Outwardly, Chris and Merrick appeared well adjusted and happy, but inside they were in turmoil. They did, however, make friends easily, were outgoing and gregarious, and did reasonably well in school.
Merrick, though, was still plagued by kidney and bladder problems, high fever, infections, and convulsions, and spent a lot of time in the hospital, and consequently missed an inordinate amount of school, several months of every year.
When Merrick was hospitalized, her father was always there, getting her whatever she needed and making sure she was comfortable and receiving good treatment. He catered not only to his daughter but to all the other children on whatever ward she was housed. He was always bringing dolls and toys and candy to the kids on the ward. He had tremendous empathy for these sick children and would gladly do anything he could, including paying for procedures and medication children needed that their parents could not afford. One child, a seven-year-old girl in the room next to Merrick’s, was dying of cancer, had only a few days left. Her parents could not afford the hospital TV, and it was disconnected. When Richard came to see Merrick and heard what had happened, he was outraged that the child’s TV was disconnected, went and found the technician, paid him, and made him immediately activate the child’s television. Richard was a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No matter what he did, however, what kind of outburst he had, no matter how afraid of him she was, Merrick always forgave her father, never ever held anything against him. These two, Richard and Merrick, had some kind of special bond that neither Barbara nor Chris had with Richard.
Both Chris and Barbara held Richard’s outbursts against him, would never forgive or forget what he did. But never Merrick. To this day, after all that has happened, Merrick does not have a bad word to say about her dad, holds nothing against him. He is her sunrise and sunset, and she will be there for him to the very end, no matter what, no matter where, come hell or high water. Richard was somewhat jealous of his son Dwayne, because of the attention he received from Barbara.
He confided that he actually didn’t want a boy because he felt somewhere deep inside that he’d become competition for Barbara’s undivided attention, even for his daughters’ attention. Richard was jealous in the extreme of any other male.
“Can you meet me at the diner on my side of the Tappan Zee Bridge?” Roy DeMeo asked.
“Sure, be there in an hour,” said Richard, and he was soon on his way to meet Roy in his flashy new white Cadillac El Dorado. Roy and Richard had developed and perfected this simple clandestine way of talking. Roy would call Richard on his beeper and punch in the number of a Brooklyn phone booth, Richard would use a phone booth near his house to phone him back, and like this they managed to talk without fear of an FBI tap, a constant, very real concern among mob guys. Goodfellas were falling like flies because of the newly developed and cleverly applied Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. All anyone had to do to be convicted of RICO and go to jail was talk about committing a crime, or conspire, as the statute says; no crime actually had to be committed.
As Richard drove to his meeting with Roy, he wondered what piece of work he had. Since the day Richard had blown away the dog walker in the Village, he had undergone a radical metamorphosis; he had now totally committed himself to murder, to killing for profit.
Cold, detached, and exceedingly calculating—sober now—Richard was about to embark on a violent journey that would leave scores of people dead, mangled, tortured, buried and burned alive, thrown into bottomless pits, fed while still alive to ravenous rats, fed to crabs along the abandoned piers of Manhattan’s West Side.
Whatever murders Roy DeMeo was committing with his Brooklyn crew of serial killers, he kept his promise and never involved Richard in any of those. No, DeMeo would use Richard for special jobs, as he thought of them. DeMeo had become the premier assassin for the Gambino family. He was filling hits for them—and other families—left and right, several a week. His reputation as an efficient, brutal killer had grown to monumental proportions. Even the notorious Gotti brothers, Gene and John, steered clear of DeMeo and his serial killers. His bar, the Gemini Lounge, had aptly become known as “the Slaughterhouse.”
Richard and Roy met at a busy diner near the Westchester side of the Tappan Zee Bridge. They greeted each other with a hug and kiss on the cheek, as is the Italian way. Roy chose this place because most people that went to a diner were on their way somewhere and probably wouldn’t come back, and this place was off the beaten path of mob guys; here, it was highly unlikely that anyone in “the life” would see them together. Their business was the business of murder—a serious life-and-death enterprise for all involved. There was no room for mistakes or oversight, for bad timing or miscalculations.
“I got a piece of work for you,” DeMeo said. “Nothing fancy, just make sure it’s done quickly and that no one knows about it…got it?”
DeMeo handed Richard a photograph with a Queens address on the back. “This is him. He always carries; be careful.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Richard said. Roy handed him an envelope. There was twenty thousand dollars cash in it. Nothing else had to be said. The less said the better. They hugged and kissed each other good-bye and went their separate ways.
Still, in the back of his mind, Richard remembered the beating Roy had given him.
The following day Richard was parked on a residential street in Queens, two blocks from Calvary Cemetery. The mark lived in a two-family redbrick house, on the ground level. He had, Richard quickly discerned, a pretty wife and two little boys. The fact that the mark had a family didn’t matter to Richard, had nothing to do with the job at hand, though he would not kill him in front of his family. After a time the mark left his house, got into his car, and drove off. Richard followed him to an outdoor four-level garage on Queens Boulevard and parked in the spot just next to the mark’s car. Richard first flattened the front left tire of the mark’s car; then he unlocked the trunk of his Caddy, sat in his car, and calmly waited for the mark to return. Richard had unusual patience in these situations. He could sit still for hours on end, his mind drifting all over the place, but never losing focus on the job. This time it didn’t take long for the mark to return, carrying packages. When he saw the flat, he grimaced, then opened the trunk of his car. The moment was perfect. Richard moved quickly, silently slid out of the car.
“Got a flat?” Richard asked the mark, stopping and looking as if he cared, as if he were a concerned good Samaritan.
“Yeah,” the mark said, and before he knew it Richard had a gun to his head and made him get in the trunk of the Caddy, on his stomach. Richard now handcuffed him, taped his mouth shut, and warned him to be quiet. He closed the trunk and drove out of the garage. He had a pistol under his seat and one in his pocket. If a cop pulled him over, he’d kill him—simple.
Listening to country music, Richard made his way to the bottomless pits in Pennsylvania. When he arrived there, a desolate area he knew well, he pulled the mark from his car, marched him to a mine shaft, shot him once in the head, and let him drop down the gaping hole, which seemed to swallow up the hapless man. Richard casually disposed of him as if he were discarding a bag of trash. He turned, went back to his car, and drove home to his wife and children…just another guy returning home after a day’s work.
It didn’t take long for people in organized crime to learn that Richard was available for hire, up and running and particularly reliable. The fact that he was non-Italian and could never be made was a plus because it enabled him to work for any of the seven East Coast crime families—the Pontis and the De Cavalcantes of New Jersey, and the Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo, Genovese, and Bonanno factions of New York—without conflict, problem, or needing to explain to anyone. He did not have to ask permission to fill a contract. He was a freelance agent, and was soon receiving contracts from skippers (captains) affiliated with different families.
Richard carried out each hit with great care, with patience and cunning, never in a hurry. He didn’t tell anyone what he was doing, when or where or how; that was his business; he kept to himself. He didn’t hang out with mob guys and always went home to his family.
Barbara had no idea where he was going when he left home. She learned not to question her mercurial, exceedingly moody husband. Barbara had learned to live with Richard, accept him for what he was, stoically tolerated his mood swings, his temper, even his abuse. She had, in reality, no other choice. As long as he didn’t hit her children, she accepted his abuse. It was blatantly obvious to Barbara, even now, that Richard resented Dwayne; he was not nearly as warm to him as he’d been to Merrick and Chris, and this greatly concerned Barbara. She knew that in a fit of rage, Richard could very well hurt Dwayne…accidentally break his neck…
For Richard, killing by contract became a kind of life-and-death cat-and-mouse game, a lethal chess match that he was intent upon winning. He knew that if he was caught and exposed, he’d lose his family, truly the only thing in the world he’d ever cared about. Yet, Richard continued taking contracts and filling them. He would go talk to anyone, as he puts it. He figured if he was careful, meticulous, and sober, he could earn enough money to retire, buy a stately home on the beach somewhere, and live well, provide all his family needed. They would want for nothing.
It didn’t, of course, work out that way.
Through his new friend, partner, and crime associate, Roy DeMeo, Richard managed to secure all kinds of handguns, shotguns, and semi-automatic .22 Magnum rifles, which Richard cut down—both the stock and the barrel—creating a perfect weapon with which to kill human beings at close range. Roy had an inexhaustible supply of armaments, which were regularly pillaged from Kennedy Airport, conveniently located a mere ten minutes from the Gemini Lounge.
DeMeo had weapons all over the Slaughterhouse. He often held them, fondled and caressed them like a woman’s breast, as though they were warm, cute, cuddly teddy bears, not instruments of sudden death. A gun, in DeMeo’s hand, was a means to an end: dead people.
One day when Richard went to the lounge to drop off money for Roy, his end of porn profits, Roy was all smiles and hugs and happy to see him. The usual group of serial killers was present, Anthony and Joey, Chris and Freddie DiNome, and Roy’s cousin Dracula. They all sat around the big round table and had steak and potatoes and homemade red wine. Off on the left there were weights and a heavy bag.
Richard didn’t like any of these people, but he sat there like one of the boys, bantering and laughing and eating. Roy ate like a slob, talked with food in his mouth, a real gavone (an ill-mannered man).
At the end of the meal, Roy’s mood suddenly changed—he was even more mercurial than Richard—and he picked up an Uzi with a long, ominous-looking silencer, a weapon that fires fifteen nine-millimeter parabellum rounds per second.
“Beautiful fuckin’ piece,” he said, suddenly pointing the gun at Richard and chambering it, a sickening metallic sound—click-click.
Everyone around the table quickly moved back, as if on cue, no one smiling or laughing or merry now. In the bat of the eye, Richard knew, his chest could be filled with gushing bullet holes. He stared at Roy curiously.
“Why you coming at me like this, Roy? What the fuck?” he said.
“I hear,” Roy said, “you’re saying shit about me.”
“That’s bullshit. I have anything to say about you, I’ll say it to your face. Bring the motherfucker here who said that; I want to hear this for myself. It’s bullshit!” Richard said, getting hot. The Uzi still pointing at Richard’s wide chest, Roy stared at him with his black, white-shark eyes. Outwardly, Richard appeared tough and defiant, but inside he was all tight. He well knew Roy was a psychotic killer, that the Uzi could literally tear him apart in seconds. Roy’s finger was, he could see, actually on the trigger. The silence in the room—the Slaughterhouse—became thick and heavy. Stark images of the guy they had bled over the tub came to Richard.
“Yeah, you would,” Roy finally said, lowering the Uzi. “You got balls, big guy. I know you got balls,” and he laughed this sickening hyenalike cackle he had, and everyone moved back to the table. The moment passed as quickly as it came. Roy put down the Uzi as if it never happened. Soon Roy and Richard moved outside. Roy sort of said he was sorry. Richard assured him of his friendship. The two hugged. Richard was soon on his way back to New Jersey. As he went, he cursed DeMeo under his breath; DeMeo had pulled a gun on him twice, bullied him—embarrassed him. All the way back to Dumont, Richard vowed to kill the prick.
When Richard arrived home, Barbara immediately knew he was in a foul mood, and she and the girls steered clear of him. Barbara made sure Dwayne stayed in his room. Richard put on the television and watched a cowboy movie—his favorite—and seethed about Roy DeMeo. Yes, he would kill Roy; but he’d wait, he’d be patient; he’d do it when the right time came. Meanwhile, he’d use him.
Just as Richard had thought, Barbara fussed constantly over their son. She couldn’t get enough of him, and Richard did outwardly resent little Dwayne. He never felt like that about his daughters, but he did about Dwayne. Barbara tried to play down Richard’s jealousy, but inside she worried that Richard might actually do something to hurt Dwayne; she worried that he’d explode over an inconsequential event and vent his anger on little Dwayne.
“Hurt my son and you’re dead,” she told Richard on numerous occasions.
If Barbara had known whom she was talking to, she would have, she says now, packed, grabbed her children, and run for the hills. Still, she knew no matter where she fled, he’d find her, he’d never let her go. She became so concerned about Dwayne that she began bringing him to her mother’s home for the weekend so he’d be “out of harm’s way,” as she put it.
The porn distributor Paul Rothenberg, Tony Argrila’s partner, was becoming a problem. Rothenberg was an in-your-face guy, pushy, belligerent, and curt, a stocky individual with a potatolike nose. He had been arrested numerous times over the years for making and distributing pornography, which itself was not illegal, but Rothenberg pushed the envelope and sold bestiality films and films involving minors, heavy sadism—films in which blood was drawn, golden shower films—and was arrested for the distribution of these types of products.
“If people didn’t want to see them, I couldn’t sell them,” he was fond of saying, and he went on selling these exceedingly hard-core, kinky productions, which were generating a lot of profit. The more perverse and kinky they were, the more they sold, indeed flew off shelves in stores across America.
Richard had a hard-on for Rothenberg: he blamed him for his initial troubles with DeMeo and was biding his time to have revenge. Richard firmly, obsessively, believed in revenge. He could never turn the other cheek. That was as foreign to him as the moon. If someone did him a disservice, he didn’t feel complete until he hurt that person.
The NYPD raided the film lab and confiscated truckloads of porn, valued by Rothenberg’s lawyer at a quarter of a million dollars. The NYPD well knew that organized crime had muscled into the porn business, and the police and District Attorney Robert Morgenthau were intent on exposing this insidious business. They were sure that the Gambino family was deeply involved—everyone on the street knew that—but they needed proof, tangible evidence that they could use in a court of law. No easy task, for someone would have to be willing to take the stand and point a finger.
The police also confiscated Argrila and Rothenberg’s books, and there they found checks made out to Roy DeMeo, who had cashed the checks through the Borough of Brooklyn Credit Union, the first direct connection to the Gambino family.
The cops suspected Roy had links to organized crime, but had no proof. Detectives began trailing DeMeo all over, though he often managed to lose them. “He was wily like a fox during the first days of hunting season,” an NYPD detective recently confided.
Roy obviously knew that if Argrila and Rothenberg cooperated with the police, he’d be in trouble; not only him, but Nino Gaggi as well: Gaggi had been there the day Roy strong-armed Rothenberg. Roy knew he had to protect Gaggi at all costs: if Gaggi was busted because of this shakedown, Roy would be in deep shit, might very well have to be killed. Nino Gaggi had murdered people for a lot less.
DeMeo didn’t think Tony Argrila would talk, but he didn’t trust Rothenberg. DeMeo contacted Rothenberg and took him for a nice dinner in an Italian restaurant in Flatbush, to feel him out, and he didn’t like what he felt. Roy, like many people who come from and were educated on the street, had an overly developed sense of danger, and he sensed that Paul Rothenberg couldn’t be trusted, that he was resentful of the money Roy had been shaking him down for; that he felt his, Rothenberg’s, troubles with the law were being disproportionately magnified because of Roy DeMeo. Acting like a concerned friend, Roy gave Rothenberg a few thousand cash to help pay his lawyers, saying he’d be there if, in fact, Rothenberg needed more money. For Rothenberg it was not about money. He’d always resented Roy, the beating he’d given him, and felt no kind of friendship or kinship at all with DeMeo.
“He’s a fuckin’ punk and I ain’t taking any heat for him,” he told one of the girls who worked in the lab. When asked if he felt in danger he said, “I know too much for anyone to hurt me”—a fatal mistake in judgment. It didn’t take long for this quote to reach DeMeo.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office office urged Rothenberg’s lawyer to convince his client that he should tell about how the Mafia was shaking him down. The district attorney’s office didn’t give a flying fuck about the porn Rothenberg and Argrila were making and distributing: they wanted the mob; that’s where the headlines were, and all prosecutors in all places love headlines. A good example of this would, of course, be former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani: “He never saw a camera he didn’t like” was a running joke among reporters covering Giuliani’s much publicized war against organized crime.
There were several meetings between Rothenberg’s lawyer, Herb Kassner, and assistant DAs. DeMeo, who had extensive connections in the NYPD—i.e., crooked cops who sold him information—soon learned what was in the wind. He immediately called Richard to a meeting in Brooklyn.
When Richard arrived, Nino Gaggi himself was there. He was wearing a short-sleeved yellow shirt and large aviator-type glasses. Introductions were made. What Roy wanted done, the murder of Rothenberg, he would not entrust to any of his guys. Rothenberg knew them all, and Roy wanted a professional to do this job. His guys were great for killing and dismembering in the Gemini apartment, but Roy knew better than to involve them in a job that required finesse, careful planning…discretion.
Roy, as usual, got right to the point: “This fuckin’ Jew Rothenberg’s a problem,” he said. “Did you hear what he said about knowing so much we couldn’t hurt him?” he asked, incredulous.
“I heard,” Richard said.
“Our friend here is concerned. It’s because of him that we’re able to earn; it’s because of him no one bothers us.” Richard nodded respectfully; he understood.
Gaggi spoke now for the first time. “I made the mistake of letting this kike see me. He knows who I am. It’s a problem. The cocksucker can put me away.”
Nino Gaggi dreaded the thought of going to jail. He viewed himself as a businessman who just happened to rob and kill, and jail never played into the equation. Most mob guys know—never forget—that jail is an inherent part of the territory, but not Nino Gaggi. He was above that. Jail wasn’t for him.
“I can take care of this problem,” Richard offered. He now knew why he’d been called to Brooklyn, and he knew this was a good chance to get in good with Gaggi and the Gambino people. “I’ll be happy to go see him,” Richard added.
“Good,” Roy said, and told Richard where Paul Rothenberg lived, the type of car he drove, even the license plate number. Nothing else had to be said. Now it was just a matter of time.
When Richard went out on a “piece of work” he usually took his van with tinted windows. He brought a supply of club soda and a plastic container he could use to relieve himself.
Being an efficient contract killer was all about planning and patience—being able to sit and watch and wait for the right moment to strike; this was the part of a piece of work that Richard enjoyed the most, what he excelled at, the stalking and planning.
Sunday July 29 was a hot, humid day. Richard discreetly parked his van a block away from Rothenberg’s house and sat there waiting. Roy had told Richard that Rothenberg was married, and that he often took his wife shopping. Rothenberg also had a black girlfriend. Richard had met her several times. Richard had with him today a .38 with a silencer. Patient and calm, he sat there in the July heat waiting for Rothenberg, listening to country music.
When Rothenberg finally walked out of the house, he took a rag from the trunk and began cleaning the windows of his car. Roy had asked Richard to call him when he spotted Rothenberg, which Richard now did from a phone booth on the corner there. He beeped in the number. Roy called him right back.
“What’s cookin’?” Roy asked.
“I’m looking at him right now. He’s in front of his house cleaning the windows of his car,” Richard said. “Looks like he’s going somewhere.”
“Call me and let me know where he goes. If possible I want to see this go down.”
“Roy, that complicates—”
“Rich, just call,” Roy insisted, always the bully, always the boss.
Richard hung up. He didn’t like the idea of letting Roy know when and where the hit would go down, but he’d do as Roy asked.
Soon Rothenberg’s wife left the house. They both got in the car and off they went, Richard following. Richard did not know the area well, but he managed to trail Rothenberg to a mall. Because it was the weekend there were many shoppers. Rothenberg parked, his wife got out of the car and went into a store. Rothenberg began reading the sports section of the Daily News. Richard called Roy and told him where he was, that he was planning to pop him right there. Because of the silencer he’d be able to do the job if the right moment presented itself.
“I’m on my way,” Roy said. “Wait for me!” he added.
“Are you nuts?” Richard began, but Roy hung up. Angry about this, Richard went back to his van. Shaking his head in disgust, he sat there, watching Rothenberg read the paper. He knew that once his wife came out of the store, the moment would pass. He would not kill him in front of his wife. Rothenberg was parked off to the left of the large lot, near an alley between two cinder-block buildings where goods were unloaded from trucks.
Sure enough, Richard spotted DeMeo’s white Lincoln come speeding into the lot, tires screeching. Richard rolled his eyes. There were three guys in the car: Freddie, Dracula, and Chris. Freddie spotted Richard’s van and pointed to it, Richard could see. They started toward Richard. Roy got out of the car and walked over to the van.
“Where is he?” Roy asked.
“There, but I don’t understand—what’s this all about? Why’d you bring your army?”
Before Roy could answer, Richard watched Rothenberg get out of his car and start toward the alley, moving quickly, looking over his shoulder, fear about his face.
“He spotted you,” Richard said, pissed off. He stuck the .38 into his pants, got out of the van, and went after Rothenberg, who now began to run into the alley. When Richard reached the alley, he pulled out the .38, aimed carefully, fired two times, and dropped Rothenberg. He hid the gun, turned, and made his way back to the van.
Roy approached him. “Fuckin’ great shot, Rich,” he said, smiling.
“Yeah,” Richard said, getting into his van, keeping his anger to himself.
“You mad, Rich?”
“Roy, come on, I just popped someone, I want to get the fuck outta here,” Richard said, and pulled away.
Richard got lost but soon found his way to the Belt Parkway and headed for home, thinking that Roy DeMeo was nuts, that he had watched too many gangster movies. And Richard didn’t like the fact that three other guys had seen the hit; this was still another thing Richard had against Roy DeMeo. The list was growing.
As Richard drove back to his family, a man in a red Mustang cut him off. Richard pulled up alongside the red Mustang and began to curse the guy, made a fist at him. The driver of the Mustang gave Richard the finger. Incensed, Richard followed him off the parkway and caught up with him at a light. Just the two of them were there. The guy jumped out of his car. Richard shot him dead, made a turn, and left him there by his car, another unsolved murder done by Richard. With no witnesses and no apparent motive, the police could do nothing. He soon dropped the .38 in a creek, but he kept the silencer. He had used the gun to kill two people within the span of forty minutes.
Richard returned home, had a turkey-on-rye sandwich, sat down in the living room, and watched TV with Barbara. The children were sleeping.
Angry, serious-faced detectives immediately went and picked up Roy DeMeo and questioned him about Paul Rothenberg’s murder. He had nothing to say other than his name and address. Anthony Argrila—lucky for him—had been boating when his partner was murdered by Richard. He swore he knew nothing about Roy DeMeo, nothing about anything, said that his partner had “a lot of dealings with people I know nothing about.”
“Truth is,” he told skeptical detectives, “he dealt with people I never even met. Truth is, I think, no I’m sure, he was stealing from me, you know,” he said.
However, the police trailed Tony Argrila and actually saw him meet with DeMeo several times, proving that he lied through his teeth; but there wasn’t much they could do about it at this point.
More than anything in the world, Roy DeMeo wanted to be made, and he was hoping this murder would do the trick. A big smile about his pudgy, dark-eyed face, Roy went to Nino Gaggi at his Bensonhurst home on Cropsy Avenue and proudly told his boss, hopefully his sponsor—the man that could have him inducted into the Gambino family—that Rothenberg was dead, and that he’d actually seen him go down. Gaggi wanted all the details, which Roy gladly regaled him with.
“Good, good job!” Nino told Roy, proud of him. How quickly he had disposed of this potentially serious problem. He hugged and kissed Roy, as is the custom. Little did Nino Gaggi know that Roy DeMeo would soon bring the world crashing down on his balding head.
Richard did not ask for or receive any payment for this hit. It was a favor. But Roy later told him, “The slate’s clean between us,” forgiving fifty thousand dollars Richard owed Roy for porn. All nice and neat and tidy, it seemed.
Barbara Kuklinski both dreaded and looked forward to weekends. Though she never knew when Richard would be home—he often left the house without any notice, at the drop of a dime, at all times of the day and night—she tried to make plans that included him. Barbara enjoyed getting dressed up and going to nice restaurants, enjoyed good food, good company, good conversation. Unlike her mother, Genevieve, Barbara was outgoing and gregarious and liked the company of friends and other couples on Friday-and Saturday-night outings. In this she was just like her father.
When they went out, Richard always ordered the best of everything. Money was no object. As far as he was concerned money was for spending, and he spent as if he had a tree in the backyard that grew crisp new hundred-dollar bills every time you watered it. Chateaubriand, lobster, three-hundred-dollar bottles of wine, were the norm. Richard also enjoyed putting on hand-tailored suits, silk ties, expensive Italian shoes. Barbara picked out most of his clothes. He trusted her taste; he trusted her social graces and direction. If another couple joined them, as often happened, Richard picked up the tab. He wouldn’t let anyone else pay. Barbara tried to explain that he didn’t have to pay every bill, that it was okay to split tabs or let others pay. But he didn’t see it that way, and her words fell on deaf ears.
Barbara didn’t know where all the money was coming from. She figured he had finally found his way in business and didn’t question him. If she had questioned him, his answer would have been a blank stare, a stone face, as though he hadn’t heard her. Barbara learned to accept, like everything else, her husband’s tight lips…and generous ways. When Barbara and Richard went out for a night on the town, he was usually quiet, didn’t talk much. He just sat there, taking everything in. Barbara, however, talked enough for both of them, and that was fine with him. She’d even answer questions for him. Richard now only drank a little wine. He knew hard alcohol made him mean and he had the good sense to steer clear of it. He was mean enough without it.
Richard was not only generous, he could be amazingly considerate, an incorrigible romantic. He had, for instance, nicknamed Barbara “Lady” and regularly called her that, and he’d arrange for Kenny Rogers’s song “Lady” to be playing when they entered favorite restaurants—Palosadium, Archer’s, Over Rose’s Dead Body, Le Chateau, and Danny’s Steakhouse—and he made sure Barbara’s favorite wines, Montrachet and Pouilly-Fuissé, were in fancy ice buckets next to their table. He even arranged for freshly cut long-stemmed red roses to be placed on their table before they arrived.
Nothing was too good for Lady.
This Richard—the good Richard—Barbara loved in her own quiet way. The other Richard, however, she had grown to hate, and often the bad feelings she harbored for him far outweighed the good ones. Like a pendulum, her feelings swung back and forth—love, hate; love, hate.
When they dressed up and went out, Richard was usually polite, a gentleman. But he was obsessively jealous. If a waiter or any man paid too much attention to Barbara or stared at her, Richard’s face iced over, and he didn’t have the slightest compunction about becoming rude, aggressive…even violent. More than ever he viewed Barbara as his personal property, a treasured bauble, and it was a dangerous enterprise, paying her too much attention.
One Saturday evening they went to a movie in Dumont. As they were leaving, Richard abruptly walked away from Barbara, went over to some guy Barbara didn’t even notice, and demanded to know why he was staring at Barbara. The man told Richard he was crazy; that he wasn’t staring, to “shove it.” Richard punched the guy and knocked him out cold.
“Why, Richard?” Barbara asked when they got outside.
“I saw him staring disrespectfully.”
“I didn’t even see him.”
“This was between me and him,” he said.
Barbara loathed to be in the car with Richard, for often he got into arguments with people about how they drove, which inevitably caused him to lose his temper, get out of the car, berate people, break windshields with his huge ham-hock fists. Barbara knew that when Richard was like this she could do nothing to reason with him. No one could. Not even a cop with a drawn gun. It was best she just keep quiet because his rage could suddenly be turned on her. Richard was a walking time bomb. When he was mad and you looked at him you could almost hear the ticking. He could go off at any moment. That was reality. That was what she had to live with. Even when he was in the car with his daughters, he’d get into these nutty, nonsensical, violent disputes with men and women about how they drove. He was even arrested for breaking the windshield of a woman’s car when his daughters were with him. However, the woman refused to press charges. She was—correctly—deathly afraid of Richard. To see him in one of his rages was a frightening experience. No one who saw it was apt to forget.
Dwayne was still too young to comprehend fully what a madman his father could become, but both Merrick and Chris well knew how volatile and violent he was, and both of them were terrified of their father, scared to the core of their little beings. Merrick took to trembling when Richard lost it. But he never laid a finger on either girl. Even now, so many years later, both Merrick and Chris pale and tremble at just the sound of Richard’s voice.
Yet, when Merrick had to be hospitalized, as she often was, Richard could not be more solicitous and caring. Oh how Merrick loved that daddy, and oh how Merrick feared the other daddy. It was during the quiet times at the hospital, when Richard and Merrick were alone in the early-morning hours and late at night, that Richard began telling his firstborn about his childhood. How he, his mother, and his brother Florian were brutalized by Stanley; how poor they were; how there was never enough of anything; how he stole to eat. He never spoke like this to Chris or even to Barbara, only to Merrick. She’d look at him with her huge, honey-colored fawn eyes and silently listen to him, having an understanding beyond her years. It wasn’t as though he were trying to rationalize or make any kind of excuse for his temper tantrums and his violence against Barbara. He just wanted her to know the truth; how it had been. But after hearing these things, Merrick only loved her father all the more.
There were times at home when Richard would have one of his outbursts and break things and then lock himself in his office. Merrick would go to him, ask him to calm down, to “please relax, Daddy.” During these episodes Richard would explain in a matter-of-fact way, “You know if…if I kill Mommy, if something happens and she dies, I’ll have to kill you all…. I can’t leave any witnesses.”
“Yes, Daddy. I know, Daddy,” she said.
As strange and horrible a thing as this was to tell a child, Richard was trying to let Merrick know in advance—out of consideration—what might happen. He wanted her to understand that his doing such a thing was out of…love. Only out of love.
He loved Barbara too much.
He loved his children too much.
That was the problem. The only way he could deal with their loss, if he inadvertently killed Barbara, was to kill them. Essentially, that was how Richard had dealt with all his problems since he was a child. Kill it and the problem goes away. Richard had a unique ability to compartmentalize emotional pain and turmoil. He was like two different people who didn’t know each other, two strangers in the same body.
“But you, Merrick…. You’ll be the hardest to kill. You understand?” he’d tell his daughter, she recently explained.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said, and she did understand and readily accepted this. She was, she knew, his favorite, and she coveted that.
That August Richard and Barbara—with her cousin Carl and his wife, Nancy—rented a nice beach house in Cape Cod for two weeks. Barbara was still very close to Carl. Richard had grown to accept and even like Carl, though because he was a man, Richard would not let Barbara kiss him hello or even hug him. She could only shake his hand. Carl and Nancy had two children, and all the kids loved playing on the beach, making sand castles and frolicking in the surf. Richard enjoyed playing with the kids. He helped them with their castles and sea walls, dug deep holes for them, let them cover him in sand, though his skin was fair and he always ended up sunburned. Barbara would warn him about the sun as if he were a child, remind him how sensitive he was to it, but Richard so enjoyed playing with the children that he’d inevitably end up burned red like a steamed lobster.
They had barbecues and cookouts on the beach, everyone happy and smiling and having a good old time. To look at Richard there on the beach with the children, you’d think he was the best dad in the world. A wonderful, devoted family man who surely wouldn’t hurt a fly.
That summer the family also went down to Florida to visit Barbara’s father. Little Dwayne couldn’t fly because he’d get ear problems from the altitude of the plane, so the family drove. They got up early—all the kids excited about the trip, Disney World, seeing their grandpa—piled into the car, and headed south on the New Jersey Turnpike. During this Florida trip, Richard did not lose his temper at the way someone drove. They stopped at a restaurant and had lunch on their way down and continued on. Barbara and the children sang and played license-plate poker, seeing who could find the most matched numbers on any given plate, and they looked for animal-shaped clouds. They stayed in a good hotel, where the kids played in the pool, and continued on in the morning. Richard even sang along with the family as they went.
As fun and good as the trip was, both Chris and Merrick were wary and on guard; they never knew when their father would go off, when Barbara might say something to upset him. Barbara had a sharp tongue and would use it to cut Richard if she had a mind to. It was, in a sense, her way of getting back at him for bullying her.
In Florida, they stayed with Barbara’s father. He now had a house on the Intra-coastal Waterway and had a twenty-two-foot Chris-Craft fishing boat. He gladly took the kids out on fishing trips—Barbara did not go because she became seasick—and they gleefully caught snappers, blue runners, and blow fish that Al cleaned and grilled that night. Barbara’s dad was an excellent cook, and it was always a big treat to eat anything he prepared. Chris recently observed, Never on any of these fishing trips would Dad go off, because my mom wasn’t there to upset him.
Sometimes they saw sharks in the water, a very dramatic thing. Once a small tiger shark took a snapper Richard was reeling in. The children were both horrified and fascinated; the sharks gave Richard macabre ideas.
Barbara very much enjoyed going to fine outdoor restaurants along the water in Naples and having sumptuous meals. Like most married women with three children, she liked to be waited on. The children were all exceedingly well behaved, like three small adults, never acted up or made any kind of fuss. Richard always insisted on taking care of the check. He wouldn’t even let Al put his hand in his pocket. Richard paid with cash, never any credit cards. He carried around a roll of hundred-dollar bills that could choke a horse. All his money was earned illegally now—he had no “straight employment” and there couldn’t be any record of the money he spent so readily. There was one fancy restaurant, Phillipe’s, that Barbara particularly liked. All the waiters wore stiff white shirts, black bow ties, and vests. Al would inevitably get the children in trouble by making them laugh—he’d hang onion rings on his ears, tickle them, and grab their feet under the table. Al Pedrici loved his grandchildren to no end and couldn’t get enough of them.
After a few days at Al’s house, the Kuklinskis drove to Disney World and stayed in the Contemporary Hotel, the best one in the Disney complex. It was expensive, but you could get the monorail right there straight to the rides, where all the action was. The family would get up early so they could enjoy as much as possible before it became too hot. As much as Barbara loved Florida—going for long swims, watching the children play on the beach—she didn’t like the heat or the humidity. It made her tired and irritable, and when Barbara was irritable she and Richard inevitably clashed. Still, the Florida vacations were great fun.
They were, Merrick explained, some of the best times of my childhood…but you never knew when Dad might go off, so it was always—well there was always this kind of tension lurking.
For Richard Kuklinski, money mattered. With money you were a successful man; without it you were a failure, a needy no one who had to watch the good things in life go speeding by.
After Richard killed Paul Rothenberg, he was in good with DeMeo, but more important, he was in solid with Nino Gaggi and by extension the Gambino family. Roy invited Richard to dinner in an Italian restaurant called the Villa in Bensonhurst. It was on Twenty-sixth Avenue, in an old-fashioned home with large pillars out front. The restaurant served first-rate home-style Neapolitan cooking, Nino’s favorite. Everyone there knew who Nino was, and he was waited on as though he were Italian royalty; the best of everything, food and wine and service, was immediately his. Richard was impressed. It was hard not to be. Nino was obviously pleased that Richard had done away with Paul Rothenberg, and he promised that Richard would “earn with us.”
DeMeo acted as if he had created and molded Richard…a kind of secret Frankenstein’s monster killing machine who would faithfully carry out any contract, no questions asked, no piece of work too dangerous.
Because of DeMeo, Richard would become an integral part of the killing arm of the Gambino crime family. The fact that Richard was not Italian and did not hang out with wiseguys proved to be a big plus and would eventually get him involved in taking down the heads of two different crime families—a unique distinction.
After the sumptuous dinner with Gaggi and DeMeo at the Villa, Richard headed back to his family in Dumont. Dumont was as different from Bensonhurst as the sun is from the moon. In Dumont, Richard was able to wrap himself in a cloak of respectability: he was the good neighbor, the guy who drove his daughters’ friends all over, a faithful, stoic usher at Sunday Mass. Richard had no use for the church or its hypocritical teachings, but Barbara insisted that all her children attend private parochial schools, which were quite expensive, and that the family attend Sunday Mass together every week. In these things Barbara was the boss. Richard had nothing to say. He acceded to all of Barbara’s demands and directives when it came to the children—where they went to school, how they dressed, who their friends were, their table manners.
The following week Richard was beeped by DeMeo and went to meet him at the diner near the Tappan Zee Bridge.
“Hey, Rich,” DeMeo greeted him, and they warmly hugged and kissed, these two stone-cold killers, and began to walk around the parking lot.
“Got a special piece a work for you. This Cuban cocksucker down in Miami beat up and raped the fourteen-year-old daughter of an associate of ours. She couldn’t pick him out in a lineup because he wore a fuckin’ bandanna, but we know who he is; he works as a maintenance guy in the complex where they have a place. It’s called the Castaway right in Miami, on Collins Avenue. Richie, you go see him and make sure he fuckin’ suffers…really suffers! You understand?”
“My pleasure,” Richard said, and he meant it.
“This is from our associate,” Roy said, and slipped Richard an envelope with twenty thousand dollars in it. Mob guys make trainloads of money, and twenty thousand was a mere drop in the bucket, though it was enough for Richard to leave for Miami the following day. Now he did not stop for lunch or stay at a nice hotel on the way down. He drove straight through. When he bought gas and oil he paid with cash. Even if he had a credit card he would not use it, because he wanted no record of this trip. There was no photo of the mark, but DeMeo told him the kind of car he drove and that he parked it in the designated area for hotel employees; he even gave him the license-plate number.
The only people Richard hated more than bullies were rapists. As he drove he thought about how he’d feel if one of his girls were attacked that way…the rage and hatred he’d know. As cold and indifferent as Richard could be to human suffering, he had great empathy for a young woman who had been raped. This killing was a piece of work he’d enjoy. This was a piece of work he’d gladly have done for free.
As always, Richard was careful about not speeding, even though he was in a hurry—indeed looked forward to—doing the job. He had with him a .38 loaded with hollow-point rounds and a razor-sharp hunting knife with a curved blade and a hardwood handle. The handle had four notches on it—Richard liked to notch his knives when he used them to kill someone. He explained, I didn’t know how I picked up the habit, but I always liked to notch my knives. Like gunfighters used to. Over the years I had dozens of knives I used to kill. Some of them had ten to fifteen notches on them. Then I’d just get rid of them.
Richard planned to use a knife for this particular job. He very much enjoyed, he says, killing with a knife because it was so personal; you had to be close to the victim. He liked to see life leave the eyes of those he killed; especially a rapist. This would be…fun.
The Castaway was a sprawling three-story condo complex on Collins Avenue, near 163rd Street, on both the ocean side of Collins and the street side. Richard checked into a hotel near the place, had a nice lunch, and drove to the parking lot, looking for the mark’s car. It wasn’t there. Richard quickly found out there were two shifts, 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., then 4:00 P.M. to midnight. It was now the middle of the winter, 1974, and the parking lot was full. He would have to be careful, he knew, about being seen taking the mark.
He left, returned at 3:30 P.M., and waited. He didn’t have to wait long, for the mark soon pulled into the lot and parked, not a care in the world, singing to himself. He drove a beat-up red Chevy. The license plate matched. Richard smiled when he saw the guy, a tall, skinny Latin with a thick, greasy head of black hair combed straight back. Richard quickly saw how the job should be done and soon left.
Now it was only a matter of time.
At eleven thirty that night Richard was back in the parking lot of the Castaway. Just across the street was a hangout for young people called Nebas, and a huge crowd of kids were mingling. Richard parked his van as close to the mark’s car as possible, got out of it, walked to the red Chevy, gave it a flat, then calmly returned to the van. This was a tried and proven method Richard would use many times over. He already knew where he’d take the mark once he snatched him—a desolate stand of palms about a half an hour north of the hotel, right by the ocean.
Near midnight, the mark came bopping over to his car. He spotted the flat, cursed out loud, and opened his trunk. As he bent to pull the spare out, Richard stole up behind him and put the .38 in his lower back.
“My friend, I need you to come with me,” he said, his voice faraway and detached, as if it were coming from a machine, a telephone recording. Richard let him see the gun now, took his skinny arm and marched him to the van, put him inside, handcuffed him, put a sock in his mouth, and taped his mouth shut with heavy-duty gray duct tape. Richard calmly got behind the wheel and pulled out of the lot. The whole thing took less than two minutes. As Richard drove north on Collins, he talked to the mark.
“My friend,” he said, “I want you to know that I’ve been sent by friends of the girl you beat up and raped.”
With that the mark began to moan and flop around like a fish suddenly out of water.
“If you don’t stop making a fuss, I’m going to hurt you.”
The mark became still, silent. What was so unsettling about what Richard said was not so much the words. It was the cold, detached way he said them, each word like the cut of a jagged knife.
“So, my friend, I want you to know that you have to suffer before I kill you. They paid me well for that, but truth is I’d gladly do this for free. I want you to know that.”
“Hmm! Hmm!” the mark mumbled, panic-stricken.
“If you believe in God, my friend, you better start praying because you’ve reached the end of the line. The train is going to soon stop and it’s time to get off.”
Richard was purposely tormenting the mark, letting the caustic words be the last words he heard in this life.
“Did you really think you could do such a thing and go about your business like nothing happened? Well, my friend, you picked the wrong girl this time.”
Richard turned right, shut off the lights, and made his way onto a rough road that went all the way down to the beach. There was a nearly full moon in a velvet black sky. The moonlight, white and clean and lovely, reflected off the calm sea, laying a glistening lunar highway on the still surface of the water. Richard stopped, sat, and listened. All was quiet and still. No sound but the gentle lapping of small waves on the fine white sand of the beach.
Richard put on blue plastic gloves, pulled the rapist from the van, dragged him to a wide, particularly curved palm, and tied him to the tree with yellow nylon rope. Now the mark was in a frenzied panic. Richard showed him the gleaming curved blade, the moonlight reflecting ominously on the razor-sharp steel.
“So, my friend, let’s get started.”
And with that Richard roughly pulled down the mark’s pants, took tight hold of both his testicles, and pulled so hard he literally tore them off the mark—
White-hot pain exploded where his testicles had just been. His eyes burst open. Richard showed him his balls.
“How’s that feel?” he asked, smiling. “My friend.”
Richard gave time for the shock to wear off a bit and for the pain to set in.
“Nice night, isn’t it?” he asked. “Look at the moon, how pretty.”
Now he used the knife; he grabbed hold of the mark’s penis—“This is what got you in all the trouble, you don’t need it anymore”—and easily cut it off. He showed it to the rapist as blood gushed from the sudden fleshy stump Richard had created. He went back to the van and put the severed member in a Ziploc sandwich bag he’d brought for this purpose.
He returned to the mark, ripped all his clothes off him, and began slowly slicing away fillets of flesh—kind of like pieces of skirt steak, making sure to show him the pieces he was methodically taking away, smiling as he worked.
The mark was soon a monstrous sight, terrible to see in the pale silver light of the Miami moon. Richard again returned to the van. He had brought along a large container of fine kosher salt and he now poured the salt all over the exposed flesh. The salt would bring, Richard knew, a whole new symphony of pain. He gave time for the salt to work.
Now Richard forced the blade into the mark’s lower abdomen and slowly pulled it up with his superhuman strength. The mark’s guts spilled forth and were suddenly just hanging there like a nervous cluster of blue-red snakes.
Richard cut him free, put a life preserver on him, grabbed his ankle, and dragged him down to the water’s edge, talking as he went: “My friend, I know the tide’s going out now, I checked, and you’re going out with it. I put the life vest on you because I don’t want you to drown. I’ll bet you my last dollar that the sharks’ll find you in no time. I hear there are big nasty tiger sharks here.” And with that Richard swung him up and around and tossed him into the water and watched him drift out. Then he turned and went back to the van, retrieved what he had cut from the mark, threw it all in the water, and returned to his hotel, where he had a nice sandwich—his favorite, turkey and mayo on rye—and slept like a baby. Richard always slept particularly well after a good piece of work.
In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast and a nice walk, Richard started back home, calm, relaxed, listening to country music as he went. He had very much enjoyed this job and wondered how long it had been before the sharks found the rapist. He knew they prowled the shoreline at night and was sure it hadn’t taken long at all.
As Richard was going through South Carolina, a van with a rebel flag in the window pulled up alongside him. There were three guys in it. They began to taunt Richard, called him a “nigger lover,” gave him the finger. Of all the people in the world to pick on, they chose the wrong guy. Richard told them to fuck off, to get lost. They again gave him the finger, all serious faced, as if they had bad intentions, wanted to hurt him. He pulled ahead of them, spotted a rest stop off the highway, and drove into it. They too pulled into the rest stop. Richard retrieved his gun from under the seat. The three of them got out of the van. One of them had some kind of club. Richard got out of his van and without so much as one word shot all three of them dead, got back in his van, and pulled away. In less than ten hours he had killed four people without a second thought, other than to wonder how long it took for the sharks to find the rapist; he was proud of his work, his imaginative ingenuity, the justice he had served up. When the police found the three dead men at the rest stop, there was little they could do with no tangible link—witnesses, clues, tire marks—to these bodies and the person responsible for the three homicides.
Back in Brooklyn, Richard went to see DeMeo. He met him at the Gemini Lounge, told him what he had done, and gave him the severed member.
Roy smiled. This he liked. “Good, great!” Roy exclaimed. “I’ll show it to our friend. He’ll be pleased. Excellent job. Fuckin’ beautiful. You’re the best…. Ju eat yet, big guy?”
“Let’s go grab a bite,” Roy said, and they went and had a good meal in a restaurant Roy liked in Coney Island called Carolina’s, and over a large, colorful platter of antipasto, Richard provided more details of how the rapist met his end. Roy just loved it, smiled and laughed and had newfound respect for Richard.
“You’re fuckin’ one in a million!” he exclaimed happily.
Richard smiled along with Roy, ate with gusto; but Richard had not forgotten the beating Roy had given him or how Roy had pointed the cocked Uzi at him. It would be, Richard knew, just a matter of time before he had revenge. For now he’d wait, bide his time, smile and be friendly and make money with Roy. He’d profit. Richard was, in fact, a very good actor; he could effortlessly sit and eat and drink and laugh along with a man whom he knew he would surely kill. Until he killed DeMeo, however, he wouldn’t quite be whole. That’s how he looked at it. That’s how it was.
Because of DeMeo, news of Richard’s homicide acumen quickly spread in the circles all mob guys frequented. Made men are a clannish lot, a close-knit society, and talk incessantly among themselves; like old washwomen they are incorrigible gossips.
Richard began keeping a record of new ideas he had about ways to torture and kill people, writing down these new inspirations in a small spiral reporter’s notebook. He’d be sitting home watching TV, see something, and write it down; the idea of using salt on the rapist came from a pirate movie he’d seen; the idea of using wet strips of rawhide and pouring hot water into people’s noses also came from a film. Richard even took inspiration from cartoons, especially the Road Runner with Wile E. Coyote: the use of heavy weights, fires, booby traps, throwing people out of windows, all came from Road Runner cartoons. He also found inspiration for mayhem and chaos from Popeye cartoons.
Meanwhile, Richard’s porno business was thriving. He consigned almost everything he produced or Roy fronted him within a day or two of receiving it. Now that Paul Rothenberg was gone, Richard and Roy were filling the vacuum created by his sudden demise. Richard only wished he had killed Rothenberg sooner.
The next job Richard did for the Gambinos was in Los Angeles. As usual Richard traveled first class. He got a big kick out of the fact that he was a professional killer, sitting there like all the other businesspeople, except that his business was the business of taking life, quickly or slowly, whatever the client preferred.
Through Gambino family ties in Los Angeles, Richard secured a .22 with a silencer, rented a van, and went to fill the contract. He had a photo of the guy and his address, and knew he used the same phone booth at the same time every day. The mark was a made man and this was a sanctioned hit. He was giving information to the feds and had to go.
Like clockwork the mark, a burly, big-bellied Italian, left his apartment, made his way to the phone booth, and started talking animatedly, waving his free hand as if he were conducting an orchestra. Richard had been told to call Roy when he spotted the guy, which he now did. As usual, Richard used a phone booth, beeped in the number, and Roy called him back.
“You find him?” Roy asked.
“I’m looking at him right now. He’s on the phone. Loves to talk.”
“He’s talking to a guy I’m with right now.”
“You want me to move?”
“Hold off. We need to find out something first,” Roy said.
And every day for nearly a week, Richard was in position and would call Brooklyn as the mark talked up a storm, and was told “not yet.” Richard didn’t like all this hanging around, but he would do what the job called for. Several times a day he’d call home, make sure everything was okay—the concerned dad and husband just checking in.
Finally, Richard was given the green light. It was raining that day. He positioned the van where he knew the mark would walk, opened the side panel an inch or so, and waited. The mark had, Richard knew, broken the cardinal rule: he’d fallen into the same pattern every day, making Richard’s job that much easier. Sure enough the mark came walking toward the van, his mind preoccupied. Richard raised the .22 and waited for him to be in position, and when he was in the precise line of fire Richard pulled the trigger—a soft pop, hitting the mark in the side of the head, a little left of the temple. He went right down, brain-dead before he hit the wet pavement. Richard used a .22 Magnum hollow-point round, which entered the skull and bounced about inside the mark’s head, making instant mush of his brain.
Richard got behind the wheel and headed to LAX, pleased that this piece of work was finally done. He hadn’t liked having to hang around for several days. But he was a hunter and knew that with all hunting, patience was a prerequisite.
As always Richard got rid of the murder weapon on his way to the airport, and he soon boarded a flight back to Newark. He took a cab home and walked in the house in a good mood. He had been paid thirty grand for this job. The Los Angeles police knew nothing about Richard, and this murder was never linked to him.
Barbara was in the kitchen preparing dinner; the girls were setting the table; Dwayne was reading a book. Richard kissed everyone hello, got hugs and kisses from his children.
“How was your trip?” Barbara asked, having no idea what Richard had just done; she only knew he’d been in LA “on business.”
“Good,” he said, no more.
The family soon sat down for dinner, roast beef and potatoes, one of Richard’s favorites. He sliced the meat carefully, just so, not too thin, not too thick. The girls talked about school. Dwayne talked about the book he was reading. Richard, as always, sat quietly and listened.
Merrick was enrolled in the prestigious Devonshire Academy, an extremely expensive private school. Chris was enrolled in Holy Angels, also an expensive parochial school. That’s what Barbara wanted; that’s the way it was going to be. Barbara was, for the most part, oblivious of the costs, certainly of the chances Richard was taking to earn the kind of money needed for the private schools, and for all the trappings required to attend such schools.
Young Dwayne, Barbara had realized early on, was a gifted child, and she could not have been more proud of him. He had an IQ of 170 and loved to read; he’d much rather read a book than watch cartoons or play with toys. He loved the Golden Books series, quickly burned through them, and went on to the classics: The Jungle Book and Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby-Dick, Oliver Twist. Books fascinated him. Barbara would often catch him in bed, under the covers, with a book and a flashlight to read. She treated Dwayne as if he were royalty, and repeatedly let Richard know how smart Dwayne was; this, without any malice. She was just a proud mom effusively expressing herself. But Richard didn’t take it that way. Yes, Dwayne was his son, yes he was pleased the boy was obviously gifted—but he was still a male, and Richard didn’t want any other males stealing away Barbara’s attention. Richard inevitably became jealous of Dwayne and was, for the most part, standoffish and somewhat aloof from his last born, his own son, he readily admits.
Barbara did not want any more children with Richard. She already had serious misgivings, she says, that she had three children with him. She’d gotten a tubal ligation to make sure she could never become pregnant again. Richard was a very sexual man. The older he became the more he wanted to make love to Barbara, every day…sometimes twice a day, even more. She wasn’t always receptive to his overtures, which would immediately infuriate him, and he’d take her whether she wanted to or not. That was his nature. That’s what he did. This was a frequent source of friction between them because Richard would not take no, “I’m not in the mood,” for an answer. If she said, “I have a headache,” he’d say, “I don’t want to make love to your head.”
He’d even become violent with Barbara if she said no. He took it as rejection—a thing he would not tolerate, on any level for any reason. Even if she was menstruating, he didn’t care. For him it was irrelevant. Richard was obsessively loyal to Barbara, would never ever go with another woman, wouldn’t even think about it, he says, and thus he felt he had the God-given right to have his wife whenever the hell he pleased. He was, for the most part, a gentle, considerate lover; he never hurt her during sex, never wanted to bind her or dominate her or anything like that. He was conventional, indeed a bit puritanical, when it came to sex. Yet, he was hot-blooded like a dedicated Latin lover and often wanted to make love to Barbara.
Like all things, Barbara had to learn to accept this, make the best of it. But Richard always made sure she too was satisfied. In that way he was “quite considerate,” she recently revealed.
Because of financial pressures Richard was always looking for more ways to make more money. There was never enough money. But as word of Richard’s dedication, expertise, and efficiency spread, more and more people contacted him to do hits, and blood money came rolling in. He took pieces of work all over the country, indeed, the world. Wherever the Mafia had interests, did business, there was conflict, disagreements, backstabbing, the disrespecting of wives, girlfriends, daughters, there were people who had to die. Richard filled the bill. He traveled to Wisconsin, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Las Vegas, Mississippi, Chicago, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wyoming, Indiana—all over the place—and killed people. Some he left where they dropped. Others disappeared forever…were buried, squashed in the trunks of cars, thrown down bottomless pits in Pennsylvania, fed to rats in Bucks County.
A man in Brooklyn owed the Bonanno family $140,000. Instead of paying he figured he’d go to the feds and talk, get the people he owed money to arrested. He had a garage. Richard was called there. The people owed the money were already there, waiting. They wanted to see it done, a skipper and four associates. Richard was given the nod. He knocked the guy down and, with a pistol equipped with a silencer, shot him in the arms, elbows, and knees, then in the genitals, drawing out the death for his customers to see and know and enjoy. After shooting him seven times, Richard tortured him with a knife, then finally slit his throat. Everyone was happy. Richard received twenty-five large. He liked to please his customers.
A guy in Tennessee owed money, would not pay. He had been given porn by the Gambinos and thumbed his nose at them; told his friends, “I ain’t payin’, fuck ’em.” Richard was sent to see him. He gave Richard checks that proved to be worthless. Richard threw him out a window—eight stories down.
A big heavy guy who was thought to be talking to the cops got into his car and drove off, listening to music as he went. Richard followed him on a motorcycle. He had a cut-down double-barrel shotgun with him, hidden in his leather jacket. The mark stopped at a red light. He began to light a fat cigar, looked at the large biker who had just pulled up next to him. He didn’t give him a second thought. A moment later Richard pulled out the shotgun and let loose both barrels, holding it with his enormous hand, completely taking the mark’s head off. The light turned green. The motorcycle pulled away slowly, not in any hurry. No witnesses; no connection to Richard.
An Asian man in Honolulu also owed money, wouldn’t pay. He made excuses; he thought he was above reprisal. Richard was dispatched. His orders were “get the money or make him dead.” Richard met him in his room in a very expensive five-star hotel. No money. Plenty of lame excuses. Richard was fawning and excessively polite. They moved out on the terrace. “What a nice view,” said Richard, looking out at the wonderful vista.
“Yes, yes it’s lovely,” said the Asian, and before he knew it he was plummeting to the ground. A big, bloody, meaty thud, broken bones, smashed beyond recognition or repair. Richard calmly turned and left. Whenever he killed, he never hurried. This killing was thought of as a suicide by the authorities, as Richard knew it would be, he says.
Richard recently said, I felt I had no friends because I thought everyone was against me, always against me, no real ties to anyone. Rage, hate, that’s what I walked around with. That’s what I brought to the job. I used bats, tire irons, rope, wire, knives, guns, bow and arrow, ice picks, screwdrivers, poison, explosives, my hands, just to mention a few….
Interestingly, when Richard filled contracts he felt no animus toward the marks. Except the rapists. For him killing people was as easy as passing gas. He felt no empathy or sympathy or anything like that. Stanley Kuklinski had, quite successfully, beaten those things out of Richard many years ago…lifetimes ago.
Richard viewed himself as a champion gladiator in an arena of death, simply doing what was his calling in life. Richard had accepted—indeed grown to relish—that he was part of an elite underground society: people who killed for the sheer fun of it; people who killed for profit. What made Richard unique, however, was that he was doing both: he killed for both personal enjoyment and profit on an unprecedented scale, the police having no idea he even existed.
Richard was not averse to working with other killers. Sometimes the job called for that and he readily did it; but he always preferred to work alone. One such hit was of a man in Detroit, a union guy involved with the mob. The mark had a big mouth and a bigger ego, was always saying how he wasn’t scared of the mob, wasn’t scared of anyone, that he would do this and he would do that if they ever tried to make a move on him. This was a genuinely tough individual with tight, narrow lips and high cheekbones, thinning hair greased straight back. As well as having a big mouth, he had serious delusions of grandeur.
The order for the hit came from Tony P., a made man in the Genovese family who held court in Union City, New Jersey. At the behest of Russi Bufalino, temporary head of the Genovese family Tony P. was given the job of getting rid of this union guy.
Tony P. had known Richard since he was a kid back in Jersey City. He knew he could be trusted and would keep his mouth shut, so Tony P. made Richard part of a four-man hit team that included two brothers, Gabe and Sal, and a guy named Tommy. Of the four, Richard was the only one who was a bona fide professional killer, who had a doctorate in murder. Richard didn’t know who had to die and he didn’t particularly care. I could give a flying fuck less, he recently explained. The who and why is never any of my business.
It was July 29, 1975. Richard drove to Union City while it was still dark out and met the others. They got on Route 80 West and made their way toward Detroit, always staying within the speed limit. Richard sat in the backseat. Tony P. was with them. He was to lure the union guy to a lunch. Richard had a .22 auto with a silencer on it and a razor-sharp hunting knife. Both weapons were strapped to his massive calves. He also had a jawbreaker with him. The plan was to quickly snatch the mark. It would be Richard’s job to make sure this went smoothly, without a commotion, and to actually kill the mark, who had to then disappear “forever.” That was mandatory.
The drive to Detroit took almost ten hours. Everyone but the driver slept most of the way. Richard did not drive. When they arrived in Detroit it was already mid-morning, a hot, humid day. Quiet and stoic and serious—few words said—they checked into a hotel, freshened up, had a light breakfast. They had walkie-talkies with them they would use in the taking of the mark. Richard would have preferred to do this alone, but he accepted the fact that it had to be this way. Murder, he knew, can be a very complicated, political business.
A phone call came. They left and went to the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, a well-to-do suburb of Detroit. As they pulled into the restaurant, a man who looked vaguely familiar to Richard was standing there waiting for them. Tony P. got out of the car. The two shook hands and talked for a minute, and the mark got back into the car with Tony P. He sat up front. He didn’t seem too happy. They started out. Richard was going to use a knife in a special way. He was just waiting for the nod from Tony P. After they’d gone a few miles, Richard was given the signal. He first knocked the mark unconscious with the jawbreaker. So there would be little blood, less of a mess, Richard pulled out the hunting knife, leaned forward, grabbed the mark’s wide chin, and pulled him up so he’d have access to the lower back of the mark’s head. Now Richard positioned the knife just at the base of his skull, slanted it upward, and with his unusual strength he thrust the knife directly into the mark’s brain. The man shook violently, became still; his last breath came as a rattle. Because of the upward motion directly into the brain, and the fact that Richard left the knife in his skull, there was little bleeding. They soon pulled over at a rest stop, put the mark in a body bag in the trunk. Richard agreed to take the body back to New Jersey. He would have preferred to dump it here, but they wanted it back in Jersey. The others were going to take a bus. Richard dropped them off at a bus depot and headed for Jersey. Now that the job was successfully done, he was relaxed and sang along with the radio as he went.
Back in New Jersey Richard went straight to a junkyard under the Pulaski Skyway in Kearny, just along the road to Newark. The junkyard was owned by a mob associate. Here the mark was placed into a black fifty-gallon drum. Gasoline was poured all over him. He was set on fire, and they let him burn for a half hour or so. The fetid stink of his burning flesh and organs and bones filled the air. The junkyard dog there was howling and salivating for some meat. They then sealed the drum carefully, welded it, and buried it there in the junkyard.
The job, for now, was done. Richard was paid forty thousand dollars, a good score. Before he left the junkyard, he made sure to wipe away any fingerprints he may have left in the car; couldn’t be too cautious. Though none of the hit team except Tony P. knew who Richard was or where he lived, he knew who they all were. They only knew him as “the Big Guy.”
Tired but pleased with how well the job had gone, Richard returned to Dumont, to his family. Dwayne had a new kite, and Richard showed him how to fly it. Barbara was in the pool with Chris and Merrick and some of their girlfriends. It was a very hot day and the cool pool was a welcome reprieve from the stifling heat. The family had a barbecue. Richard did all the cooking, gladly served up burgers and franks for the kids, steaks for the adults. “Well done or rare?” Richard always asked. He very much enjoyed doling out the meats the way people—even the kids—liked it. As the meat cooked he was reminded of the burning union guy.
Later on one of the brothers, Sal, began talking to the feds, and, because he might try to use this murder to get out of trouble on an unrelated problem, the drum was quickly dug up and placed in the trunk of a car that was smashed down to a four-by-two-foot cube of metal in a giant car compressor. It, along with hundreds of other compacted cars, was then sold to the Japanese as scrap metal and shipped off to Japan to be used in the making of new automobiles that would compete with Detroit carmakers’ products.
And that, according to Richard, is what happened to Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa.
He’s part of a car somewhere in Japan right now, Richard recently confided, a slight smirk about his high-cheekboned face.
The Big Guy
Mob guys and their associates, allies, affiliates, and friends are, for the most part, a bitter, vengeful lot. They do not believe in letting bygones be bygones. Thus, Richard’s murder business flourished. The more he worked, the more successful his game, the more new contracts came rolling in from all over the country, then even overseas: in South America and Europe Richard murdered for profit.
More often than not the job required a quick murder, nothing elaborate. But Richard was killing so many people, he inevitably received special requests, as he refers to them.
A made man in New Jersey had a very lovely daughter, innocent and wide eyed, drop-dead gorgeous. She was nineteen. She started seeing an older guy, a particularly handsome fellow. The father tried to stop his daughter from seeing this older guy, an obvious playboy type with big white teeth and flashing dark eyes, an earring in his left ear, too good-looking for his own good.
In frustration the father took the boyfriend to the side and politely asked, “What’re your intentions regarding my daughter?”
“Intentions?” the playboy asked, perplexed. He had no idea the father was mobbed up.
“Yeah, we’d like to know, me and her mother.”
“Just to have some fun, you know.”
“Fun?” the father asked.
“Yeah, you know, fool around. Some fun!” the playboy volunteered, smiling his big toothy beguiling grin.
The father, a Sicilian, turned beet red, though he didn’t say another word.
Through some friends, this Sicilian father reached out to Richard, told him that he wanted the guy to disappear, but that first “he must suffer!”
“My pleasure,” Richard said, and he meant it.
Within two days Richard snatched the playboy and took him to the caves in Bucks County where he knew the rats lived. Richard had with him thin strips of rawhide. He wanted to try out something new. He stripped the playboy, wet the rawhide strips, wrapped one around his testicles, one around each arm, one around his forehead. It was a mild September day. As the rawhide grew taut, Richard watched the playboy suffering, amused, detached, telling the playboy why this was happening. Richard took some Polaroid photos of the playboy’s distress, his now tomato red balls. He stayed there for some time with the playboy, watching him suffer, hearing his pleas. Unfazed, Richard studied the man’s suffering as a scientist doing research would examine infectious bacteria under a microscope. For Richard this was a learning experience, seeing how the rawhide strips cut into his flesh…how the rats began to gather near the mark. So many rats appeared that Richard was finally forced to leave, though he took more Polaroids of the playboy before he left.
He returned two days later. There was nothing left of the man but some of his gnawed skeleton. The rats had even eaten the rawhide strips. The fetid smell of the rats and their grisly droppings filled the air. Richard threw the paltry remains down a mine shaft.
When Richard showed the Sicilian father the Polaroids, he was quite pleased, had a smile from ear to ear, and with newfound respect for “the Big Guy” gave Richard an extra ten grand. Another happy customer.
Richard took to wondering why seeing and doing such things—committing such barbarous acts—didn’t bother him in the least. He thought long and hard on this. It was troubling and, to some degree, disconcerting to him.
Why, he wondered, could he be so cold, so indifferent to people’s suffering. It made him feel, for a while, that there was something wrong with him. He explained: Since I was a kid I always felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong, and now, because of these things I did, I was really feeling that way again. But from another angle, for the most part, it didn’t bother me…I got used to it. But why—why, I wondered, am I like this? I mean so cold, so indifferent to people’s feelings. Their pain. Was I born like that, or was I made that way? Even my own family—how mean I could be to them, the only people I truly ever cared for. I didn’t like that; I didn’t want to be that way, I mean to my family.
I thought about going to see a psychiatrist, seeing if I could get, you know, some help, maybe some medication, but of course I couldn’t do that. I mean what would I say to a shrink: I torture and kill people for money and I like my work? I don’t think so.
This “introspective Richard” was much in contrast to the stone-cold killer whose reputation as a homicide superstar was clearly established in mob circles across the country. Known as “the Big Guy,” Richard was becoming a much-sought-out killer. He was efficient and tight-lipped, and did not hang out with wiseguys. He was a true “family man” who happened to be a contract killer. For the longest time, this kept Richard off police and FBI radar. Very few people even knew his real name. He did not socialize with mob guys. He did not go to their weddings, funerals, or family functions.
People, even Roy DeMeo, had only his beeper number. That was the only way he could be reached, and that’s the way he wanted it. He never brought any mob guys to his home or told them where he lived. He kept all that far away from his family.
One of the few people that Richard had a personal relationship with was Phil Solimene over in Patterson. Richard considered Solimene a friend, didn’t have designs to kill him (rare for him), and did a lot of business with Solimene: sold him porn, bought and sold hijacked goods from him, murdered people Solimene set up in bogus business deals and rip-offs. Barbara and Richard even socialized with Solimene and his wife, Anne. It would be this one relationship—this one friendship—that would ultimately make Richard vulnerable. It was a chink in his carefully constructed and well-worn armor.
The Achilles’ heel of his size 14 foot.
Meanwhile, Roy DeMeo was out of control, a runaway train heading for disaster. He had taken to thinking of himself as invincible, above the law, that he could do anything when and how and where the fuck he pleased. DeMeo had turned the small apartment in the back of the Gemini Lounge into a virtual slaughterhouse. He and his crew of serial killers were murdering, cutting up, and dismembering scores of people; several a week; sometimes two a day. All these murders were going to Roy’s head. He began to think of himself as untouchable, a god among mortals. He had several NYPD detectives on his payroll and thus was given frequent information he was able to use to stay out of trouble, avoid arrest. One of these crooked cops was a beady-eyed detective out of the Brooklyn hot-car unit. His name was Peter Calabro. He had dark, receding hair, dark hooded eyes, full lips, and was in his midthirties, relatively young to be a detective.
Peter Calabro was in deep with Roy DeMeo. When Calabro wanted to get rid of his estranged wife, Carmella, Roy did the job for him, had her abducted in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, drowned, and left in the ocean. But by chance her body was discovered floating near New Jersey’s Sandy Hook by the Coast Guard. Carmella’s mother, Antonia, was positive Calabro was responsible and told every cop who would listen to her that Peter Calabro killed her daughter, that he was a low-life murderer, “a scumbag,” she said. The case was even presented to a Brooklyn grand jury, but Calabro had an airtight alibi and there was insufficient evidence to indict. It couldn’t clearly be established if Carmella’s death was in fact a homicide or a suicide.
Richard had nothing to do with the murder of Carmella Calabro, but DeMeo personally drowned her and left her body adrift. DeMeo, unlike Richard, had no qualms about killing women.
This killing, DeMeo knew, would forever cement his relationship with Calabro, and because of it DeMeo had an everlasting inside track into most of the investigations into his exceedingly nefarious business dealings—particularly his booming, very lucrative stolen-car operation. DeMeo was like a greedy octopus—he had his tentacles in everything. He also paid Calabro handsomely for his assistance. One of the many “favors” Detective Calabro did for DeMeo—and others in the Gambino family—was to provide him with clean VIN numbers for stolen cars.
Richard’s business with the very busy Roy DeMeo was twofold—murder and porn—and they were now both making money hand over fist. When DeMeo had a special “piece of work,” he called upon Richard, “the Big Guy.” Richard also became known as “the Polack.” He didn’t particularly like that name, though any name, he knew, was better than his real name. It’s no accident all mob guys have nicknames.
With Richard’s deadly assistance, DeMeo became the well-oiled killing apparatus for the Gambino family, and because DeMeo was not made yet, he was filling murder contracts for almost anyone who wanted someone dead.
Nino Gaggi, Roy’s rabbi, kept telling Roy to cool it, to be more discreet, to stop killing so many people, but the huge amounts of cash DeMeo was giving Gaggi put to rest most of Gaggi’s concerns. Gaggi was absolutely money hungry, greedy to a fault, and Roy DeMeo regularly gave him brown paper bags filled with cash; and during the holidays DeMeo still showed up at the Gaggi home with truckloads (literally) of presents, expensive jewelry for Nino’s wife, Rose, toys for all the kids. A kind of Italian Santa Claus from hell.
Over the ensuing months after the Hoffa hit, Richard met with DeMeo a dozen times at the diner near the Tappan Zee Bridge, and every contract DeMeo gave Richard, Richard carried out successfully, without problem or repercussion, complication or mishap.
It was during this time that Richard brought more and more marks to the caves for the rats to eat and filmed their deaths. He even took to sitting down in his house when everyone was asleep and watching these ghastly videos as he had a late-night snack—turkey on rye, a bit of mayo. He wasn’t so much viewing the films for entertainment as trying to understand himself, his reactions to them…why, he says, such things didn’t trouble him in the least; this…concerned him, he recently explained.
He even showed one of the films to DeMeo, a bona fide psychopath, to see his reaction—and even DeMeo couldn’t stand to see them. Because of the films, DeMeo knew that Richard was a rare individual, indeed a man—as he thought of him—with no soul.
“He’s fuckin’ ice,” he told his crew. “I…mean…ice.”
And, too, these films created a perverse bond—“friendship”—between Roy and Richard, and they actually enjoyed each other’s company…two peas in a bloody pod.
Still, though, Richard was waiting for the chance to kill Roy, to beat him and humiliate him and end his life. For Richard that was the ultimate cure-all. Richard used murder to get rid of his problems the way people used aspirin to get rid of headaches.
Besides contract killing, Richard was murdering people he did business with, men he fronted porn to who decided they were not going to pay him. One such individual had a porno shop in downtown Los Angeles, a bear of a man who prided himself on being tough, independent, not afraid of anyone. He owed Richard ten thousand dollars and, arrogantly, stopped even taking Richard’s calls.
Angry, Richard got on a plane and went to see the guy. He had brought with him in his luggage two fragmentation hand grenades that he’d gotten from DeMeo. A grenade in each pocket, Richard walked unannounced into the guy’s store. The mark was behind the chest-high counter, sitting on a tall, pillow-covered stool, big and heavy and mean faced, not liking the world or anyone in it.
“Hello, my friend,” Richard said, approaching him, walking on the balls of his feet, his mouth twisted off to the left, that soft clicking sound issuing from it.
“Hey, Big Guy,” the mark said, not pleased to see Richard suddenly in his shop.
“Been trying to reach you, my friend,” said Richard.
“Yeah, well I been busy, you know how it is.”
“You have a bill with me, my friend.”
“Yeah, well I don’t have all the money just yet.”
“What do you have?” asked Richard.
“Yeah, zero,” he said, smiling, showing cigar-stained crooked teeth. As if he had just heard a joke, a joke Richard was deaf to.
“Funny guy,” Richard said.
“A real comedian: I used to do stand-up before I got into this,” he said, expansively indicating the shop, as though it were an accomplishment of note, something to write home about.
“What about my money? I need it,” Richard said.
“How about you come back in…in say, a month.”
“That wasn’t our agreement.”
“Yeah, well it is now.”
Richard smiled. It was not a pleasant smile to see. Ti-ti-ti came the clicking sound from his lips.
Richard took out a grenade and pulled the pin, though the shop owner didn’t see it because of the high counter. Richard handed the pin to the guy behind the counter.
“What’s this?” he demanded.
“A surprise,” Richard said as he began walking out of the store.
“This one,” Richard said, and tossed the grenade behind the counter just next to the guy. Richard exited the store. The grenade went off and blew the belligerent guy to pieces.
This incident, like many others Richard was involved with, was not so much about the money as about the principle of the thing. If one guy on the street could get over on you, everyone would soon be doing the same thing. True, by killing this man, Richard lost ten thousand dollars, but he figured in the long run he’d earn much more because people would pay what they owed. On the street, as Richard had learned so many years ago in Jersey City, might was truly right.
I didn’t give a flying fuck about the money, Richard explained. I wasn’t about to let this stiff make a fool out of me, and I capped him to make a point. An exclamation point, I guess you could say.
Again, the cops did not tie Richard to this homicide by hand grenade, as Richard refers to it.
Richard grew to like Los Angeles, the accommodating weather, the relaxed lifestyle, the palm trees. Porn was very popular in Southern California, and Richard made more money there distributing porn than on the East Coast. He liked going to the “porn conventions,” thought they were fun, he says. He had a lot of business there and enjoyed spending time in Los Angeles. He enjoyed LA so much he rented an apartment in West Hollywood, just off Sunset Boulevard. He liked to sit at outdoor cafés in the warm weather and watch the world go by—the colorful circus that LA always is, the fancy cars, the fancy women, the fancy clothes. Barbara knew nothing of this apartment. She didn’t even know where Richard was when he went off on “business trips.” Barbara’s only concern—her whole life—was her children, especially Dwayne. She focused all her energy on them. When Richard wasn’t home the house was peaceful, calm…normal. Only Merrick missed Richard when he wasn’t home, though she was not encouraged to express such emotions.
When Richard returned from Los Angeles, he was given a contract by the Gigante family that had to be filled at a Howard Johnson just off Route 46. No problem. The mark was going to a breakfast meeting at this Howard Johnson, a setup. Richard chose the .22 Ruger rifle, cut down to a mere fifteen inches and equipped with a blue-black silencer. He was in the parking lot when the mark arrived early that morning for his meeting with a Gigante lieutenant. Richard watched the two of them have breakfast, pancakes, shake hands, and part in the parking lot as if friends. As the mark reached his car, Richard raised the weapon and shot him nine times in two seconds, in rapid succession. The mark fell to the ground, dead. Richard calmly pulled away. It looked as if the mark had had a heart attack until you saw all the blood coming from these sudden little holes. Another job well done. Another murder never linked to Richard by police.
It didn’t take long for a host of new contracts to come in from the Gigante people, which Richard gladly filled. There was no contract he would not take—except, of course, the killing of a woman or a child. That was taboo for Richard, a line he would not cross.
There were, however, female contract killers, lethal femme fatales, who could readily get close to a mark, offering warm embraces, hot sex, a lustful blow job, but delivering sudden death. These women, Richard felt, were fair game, and he would kill one as quickly as any man. But this had not yet come to pass.
When, in the fall of 1976, Carlo Gambino died of natural causes, everything suddenly changed, and the stage was set for a tumultuous earthquake that would rock the very foundations of Mafiadom.
Rolling Over in His Grave
Because Carlo Gambino so fervently believed in family ties—fidelity and loyalty—he appointed his brother in-law, Paul Castellano, as his successor as the head of the family, now the biggest, most successful crime family in history. This would prove to be a monumental error in judgment.
Paul Castellano was not cut out for this position; he did not have the inherent instincts, the cunning, or the street smarts to master the multifaceted operation he was suddenly put in charge of. Yes, Castellano was a good businessman, but the head of a crime family—no.
His first in a series of serious blunders was demanding that all twenty captains in the Gambino crime family come to see him once a week at a social club called the Veterans and Friends Club he began on Brooklyn’s Eighty-sixth Street, just off Fifteenth Avenue. This directive enabled the FBI to take extensive surveillance photos and video of who came and went, and thus the government suddenly knew who all the Gambino capos were, which proved to be the beginning of the end—the very unnecessary exposure of the family’s star players, the inner circle, the virtual engines that ran the family.
The second fatal error Castellano made was not detecting the FBI’s listening devices in his fortresslike Staten Island home; because of these bugs the FBI—for the first time ever—got a fly-on-the-wall view of all the inner workings of a Mafia chieftain, who did what, when, where, and even how.
The third fatal error Castellano made was having a carnal affair with the Columbian housekeeper his wife, Carlo’s sister, had hired, while his wife was actually in the house—an unspeakable thing that surely caused Carlo Gambino to roll over in his grave. This, for a Sicilian, was the ultimate infamy, unforgivable—a blasphemy!
And because of the excellent listening devices in the Castellano kitchen, the FBI heard all the ridiculous syrupy conversations Castellano had with his lover while his wife was in the house. These conversations would eventually be made public, printed in a book, excerpts of which appeared in New York magazine, making Paul Castellano a despised laughingstock of every made member of all crime families in all places, even in Sicily, which sealed Castellano’s fate; interestingly, Richard Kuklinski would play a large role in that fate.
The only capo pleased about Castellano’s promotion was Nino Gaggi. Gaggi had for thirty years been a very close personal friend and confidant to Castellano, and this put Gaggi in an excellent position—and by extension, Roy DeMeo too.
DeMeo still wanted more than anything to be made, get his button, and now with Castellano as the boss that possibility loomed large in the very near future.
Castellano, like Gaggi, was a particularly greedy man—whatever he got, it was never enough. DeMeo was a moneymaking machine, and Castellano was impressed with the money he was receiving—via Gaggi—from DeMeo. Gaggi kept petitioning Castellano to make DeMeo, but Castellano was reluctant: he thought DeMeo too loud, too brash—a psychopath that would eventually draw police attention—and said no.
Then DeMeo really stirred up a hornets’ nest when he brought the infamous Westies into the Gambino fold—another large mistake.
The Westies were a loose-knit group of Irishmen who ran Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen on the West Side. They specialized in shakedowns of local stores, bookmaking, shylocking, numbers running—and murder.
The leaders of the gang were James Coonan and Micky Featherstone, two stone-cold killers. Featherstone was a rather frail-looking guy, about 145 pounds, with little baby hands and a baby face, but he’d shoot someone in the head as readily as batting an eye. Coonan was just the opposite, broad shouldered, big boned, square jawed, red faced, with a bulbous nose; he had whitish blond hair in a military-style crew cut.
DeMeo liked these guys because they were utterly ruthless. At DeMeo’s suggestion they began cutting up their victims and burying dismembered bodies in the abandoned train yards on the far reaches of the West Side of Manhattan.
One afternoon when Richard went to drop off some money at the Gemini Lounge, DeMeo asked him to go up to Harlem with Freddie DiNome and see a black guy who owned a bar there. He owed DeMeo a lot of money and wasn’t paying it back as promised.
“Big Guy, I want you to go see him and let him know he’s walking on thin fuckin’ ice here, okay?”
“No problem,” Richard said. “Sure.”
“You go pick up Eddie Mack. He knows the Muli, and he’s got brass balls, okay?”
“Sure, Roy,” Richard said, and he and Freddie DiNome, an ugly guy with curly brown hair and a giant potato for a nose, left to go to the city. DiNome was a car freak who helped Roy give stolen cars legit makeovers. He had a pet chimpanzee who one day punched DiNome and knocked him out cold. Richard had no monetary interest in this business; he was just doing DeMeo a favor.
These days DeMeo was very “up.” He was figuring he’d surely be made soon, the thing he had coveted since he was a little fat kid victimized by neighborhood bullies. For him, in a sense, being made was the holy grail and winning the lottery rolled into one.
Eddie Mack was part of the Westies gang, a tough Irishman and another stone-cold killer. Richard liked the Westies, thought they had balls. But he also thought they were out of control, should be kept on leashes, indeed in cages. Be that as it may, he went to the city with DiNome and picked up Mack, a stocky guy with long blond hair, and together they went up to Harlem. The bar was on Third Avenue. Eddie said he’d go in and talk to the owner, said that they knew each other from jail.
“I’ll go in with you,” Richard offered.
“Nah, that’s okay,” Mack said, and got out of the car and went inside.
As always, Richard was armed. He sat there wondering why the hell he’d been asked to come along if Mack didn’t want him to go in. Within minutes, however, there was a commotion inside, things breaking, a shot fired. Richard jumped out of the car and hurried inside. Just as he entered the place, he got struck in the forehead with a bat. He fell back but didn’t go down. Chirping birds moved before his eyes. The sidewalk spun. He drew a .38 derringer and began back in, pissed off. Eddie Mack came out. He was holding his stomach.
“The fuckin’ nigga shot me,” he said.
“Let’s go get ’im,” Richard said.
“Forget it. There’s a whole fuckin’ tribe a them,” Mack said, getting back in the car. “The motherfuckers.”
“What happened?” Freddie asked.
“He got cute, I went after him, and one of them shot me in the side. It’s dark in there and all I saw was teeth and eyes. I ain’t laying down on this. Take me home. I got some serious heat—I wanna get it and come right fuckin’ back.”
“Let’s go,” Richard said. They returned to Hell’s Kitchen. Freddie called Roy and told him what had happened, said they wanted to load up and go back. Cursing, DeMeo gave them the green light. Eddie Mack had an old steamer trunk filled with weapons—heavy-duty armaments he’d gotten from DeMeo. Richard chose a street sweeper, a twelve-gauge shotgun with a large round clip, like an old-fashioned tommy gun. Both DiNome and Mack grabbed Mac-10s, machine-gun pistols that fired thirty nine-millimeter rounds a second. Richard helped Mack put a bandage on the bullet hole, which was on his extreme left side, in line with his belly button, and off they went, straight back to the bar, and parked in front. Richard, his forehead all swollen, burst from the car, was the first in, and let loose with the shotgun. Soon both Freddie and Mack cut loose with the Mac-10s, and they literally blew the place apart and shot whoever was standing.
Satisfied, they left and went back to Brooklyn, making jokes about how you couldn’t see the black guys in the dark bar. At the Gemini, DeMeo got a doctor he knew to treat Mack’s wound. The bullet had apparently passed right through his side. Freddie told everyone how Richard had gone in with the shotgun and let loose.
“The Big Guy’s got elephant balls,” DeMeo proudly said.
Richard now had a lump on his forehead the size of a navel orange. He also had a splitting headache. DeMeo thanked him a half dozen times and gave him a big basket filled with Italian delicacies. “Your wife’ll love this,” he said, and Richard went home, angry this whole thing had happened. He could have been killed, he knew, for nothing, a thing he had no stake in. He now had something else against DeMeo.
Barbara’s eyes got wide when she saw Richard’s head. “What happened?” she asked, concerned.
“I fell,” he said, nothing more. She prepared an ice bag for him. He took a few aspirin and sat in his easy chair in the family room and watched a Clint Eastwood movie and stewed. His favorite actors were, not surprisingly, Eastwood and Charles Bronson.
Word quickly spread in mob circles how the Big Guy went up to Harlem and blew apart a bunch of “uppity niggers” that needed to be put in place, to be killed, and Richard was more in demand than ever. His murderous exploits were taking on legendary proportions; yet, still, few people even knew his real name.
Also, stories of how he was feeding live people to ravenous rats were making the rounds, both amusing and appalling those who heard them.
The Big Guy was much in demand.
It began as an insignificant event on Bensonhurst’s Eighty-sixth Street. Nino Gaggi was sitting in his car, double-parked in front of the Hy Tulip, a popular Jewish deli just off Twentieth Avenue, under the West End elevated train. Gaggi was waiting for his brother Roy’s wife, Marie Gaggi. Marie was a dark-haired beauty with blue eyes. When she walked down the street most every man’s head turned. When Marie left the deli that day—February 14, 1975—a few neighborhood youths made some inappropriate comments, wolf whistled. Seeing this, Nino Gaggi leaped from his car with a hammer and started swinging it at the youths, looking to break some heads. From the old school, Nino Gaggi could not tolerate such disrespect. One of the teenagers was named Vincent Governara. He did not know who Nino was—a capo in the Gambino family—nor did Nino know who Governara was—an excellent boxer, a Golden Gloves champion. Governara, a wiry, muscular youth, ducked the hammer and hit Nino with a left hook, knocking Nino right down and breaking his nose.
This was an insult Nino would never forget, and he vowed to kill Governara.
Word quickly spread all over Bensonhurst that Gaggi wanted Governara, wanted blood. Vinnie Governara was known as Vinnie Mook because, mentally, he was not the swiftest guy, but he was a truly superb athlete, a great handball player and baseball player, as well as a champion boxer. He looked like an Italian Jerry Lewis, had a wide mouth. Vinnie Mook was also an excellent dancer. He’d go to the Hollywood Terrace on Eighteenth Avenue on Latin night and dance up a storm. He was such a good dancer that people always moved out of his way to give him room to tear up the dance floor. Vinnie was also a vicious fighter, would hit people with extremely fast combinations. He never lost a street fight. When Vinnie heard whom exactly he had hit, he left Brooklyn and went down to Florida. Vinnie had been born and raised in Bensonhurst and he well knew the consequences of punching out a made man: death.
Vinnie Mook would end up playing an instrumental role in Roy DeMeo finally aquiring his much coveted button.
Some months after Governara broke Nino’s nose he returned to the neighborhood, and his car was spotted parked on Bath Avenue, just a few blocks south of Eighty-sixth Street. Nino Gaggi had his nephew Dominick, a Vietnam War vet with Special Forces training, rig up a concussion grenade to go off when Governara opened his car door. Roy DeMeo happily provided said grenade.
However, when Governara opened the door, releasing the pin from the grenade, he didn’t close the door right away, and when the grenade went off most of the concussion escaped out of the open door. Still, the explosion broke Governara’s leg and threw him across Bath Avenue, a main thoroughfare running directly through Mafiaville.
Needless to say, Governara again hightailed it out of Bensonhurst, went back to Florida, and wisely stayed away for a while—but not long enough; and when he returned to Bensonhurst his car was spotted on Twentieth Avenue and Eighty-fifth Street, just two blocks away, coincidentally, from the Hy Tulip where this all began.
It was now June 12, 1976, the birthday of Dominick’s wife’s, Denise Montiglio. In the Gaggi house birthdays were always a big deal. Roy DeMeo happened to be there that day and he gave Denise—a beautiful neighborhood girl of Neopolitan extraction with long black hair and a big lovely smile—a diamond-studded watch. Denise was Nino’s niece by marriage, and Roy would do anything he could to please Nino, ingratiate himself with Nino.
When word reached Nino that Vinnie Governara’s car had been seen on Twentieth Avenue, he, his nephew, and Roy DeMeo quickly left the house and Denise’s birthday party to go kill Vinnie Governara for a slight, a broken nose, made now some fifteen months ago. Nino’s nephew Dominick had dark hair, dark eyes, high cheekbones. He had seen a lot of action in Vietam, and since he’d returned he was quiet and sullen, and seemed to walk around with a dark storm cloud hanging over his head.
Nino put on a ridiculous false mustache, and he, Dominick, and Roy drove over to Twentieth Avenue in Roy’s car and waited for Vinnie Governara. It was the middle of the afternoon, a Saturday. A lot of shoppers were out. None of that was going to stop Nino Gaggi from getting his revenge. This was, in fact, a stupid, very risky enterprise, killing a man in broad daylight near Eighty-sixth Street, but that wasn’t about to dissuade Nino. He was willing to sacrifice all he had to get even with Vinnie Governara, just a young man struggling to find his way in life with a good punch.
Nino Gaggi didn’t have to wait long. They soon spotted Governara walking to his car, an old Plymouth, without a care in the world. Nino and Roy were soon behind him. Governara spotted them and began to run. Right there, in broad daylight, Roy and Nino took aim at the fleeing Governara and let loose a fusillade of .38 bullets, shooting Governara down. Dominick did not fire the .22 he had. As they were hurrying back to Roy’s car, bystanders began to chase them. Gaggi raised his .38. Everyone hit the ground. The killers quickly got into DeMeo’s car and off they went, making a clean getaway. Governara died of his wounds a few days later at Coney Island Hospital.
Now, with newfound intensity, DeMeo petitioned Gaggi to talk to Paul Castellano about getting made. Gaggi promised Roy he would; he would see to it that DeMeo finally got straightened out, as they said.
This incident with Governara and Nino Gaggi concerned Richard Kuklinski only because it would ultimately cause Roy DeMeo to become made, which meant that Richard made more money with DeMeo, and DeMeo sent more murder contracts Richard’s way.
The next hit Richard performed for DeMeo was also in Los Angeles. The mark owed money to wiseguys, wasn’t paying, seemed to be daring the wiseguys to do something. DeMeo beeped Richard, they met at the diner near the Tappan Zee Bridge, Richard was given the contract, and he was on a plane back to LA the following day.
This mark was very cagey. He knew people were looking for him and moved with caution. For days Richard staked out his home. He lived in a pink condo complex in Sherman Oaks. The two times Richard saw him, he couldn’t make a move. There were witnesses. Richard did not like hanging around to do a piece of work. The chance of something going wrong became greater by the hour. In frustration, Richard tried something he’d seen on a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He boldly went and knocked on the mark’s door. He could see light through the peephole and he put his eye up against it. When he saw the shadowy figure of the mark approach and reach the door, Richard put the barrel of a .38 up to the peephole, waited for the right moment, and fired, shooting the mark directly in the eye, instantly killing him.
Another job well done, Richard went for a nice meal in West Hollywood, had a long walk, got a good night’s rest, and headed home, back to his family.
Money kept rolling in, but no matter how much Richard earned, it never seemed to be enough. It went out, he recently said, faster than it came in.
Richard was now filling, on the average, four to six contracts every month. He was a very busy, dedicated man, always scrupulously careful, always successful. He even began using poison to kill. He also began to gamble heavily again, not a good thing; old habits die hard.
It was the spring of 1977, a time of rebirth and renewal, the end of the bitterly cold East Coast winter. All over Bensonhurst’s quiet tree-lined streets and avenues—this unassuming place with the world’s greatest concentration of serial murderers—green leaves and grass on small lawns returned. Birds chirped. Flowers bloomed. The sun shone. Kids returned to the streets and played boisterous games of stickball with cut-down broomsticks, Johnny on the Pony, and Cork-Cork-Ringalevio. Young girls jumped rope. Except for the mob rubouts that occasionally occurred here, Bensonhurst was a safe place, a good place to bring up children, okay for women and girls to walk about without worry.
Because of Nino Gaggi’s constant campaigning, the never-ending lovely stacks of hundred-dollar bills DeMeo was sending to both Gaggi and Castellano, and the Vinnie Mook killing, Paul Castellano finally relented and agreed to make DeMeo. That spring Castellano was “opening the books” and allowing new members into the fold, and Roy DeMeo was one of them.
For DeMeo this was like receiving a doctorate after a lifetime of earnest studying. It was the highlight of his life, what he had always wanted, a dream come true. As is the mandated custom, word went out to every made man in all the families that Roy DeMeo was being “straightened out,” and if anyone knew something about DeMeo that was reason for him not to be made, they had to speak up and let the Gambino people know. No one spoke against DeMeo’s induction.
The simple though deadly serious ceremony was held in the finished basement of a Gambino lieutenant who lived on Bay Seventeenth Street in Benson-hurst. Castellano and Gaggi, DeMeo, and old-timer Jimmy Esposito were there. Gaggi, of course, was sponsoring DeMeo. The ceremony was made, a little blood was drawn from DeMeo’s finger, the oath was taken, all comically solemn. Gaggi and Castellano kissed DeMeo on both cheeks and gave him a big bear hug, and now Roy DeMeo was officially, formally, a made member of the Gambino crime family…a sgarrista.
Afterward they went for an elaborate four-course meal at Tomasos on Eighty-sixth Street. After dinner there were toasts and more hugs and kisses, and Roy DeMeo headed back to the Gemini on the Belt Parkway—a made man.
Now, he knew, many more doors would open to him. He would finally get the respect and fear he had always yearned for. Now he’d be able to move up the ladder. DeMeo had big, expansive plans that included having his own crew, being made a capo, and, perhaps, the eventual head of the family. Why not? As far as DeMeo was concerned, he had more on the ball than anyone else in the whole Gambino family or, for that matter, any other family. And, too, he was ruthless, a stone-cold killer, a very necessary attribute to ascend in organized crime in New York.
By now DeMeo’s reputation for murder had spread far and wide; he was considered the undisputed assassin of the Gambino family, its lethal arm. No other Gambino crew (there were twenty altogether) even came near the extraordinary killing acumen of Roy DeMeo and his gang of serial killers. And Richard Kuklinski was always lurking in the background, like some supernatural, malevolent spirit ready to come out of the shadows and create chaos when DeMeo summoned him.
Richard Kuklinski was Roy DeMeo’s Luca Brasi.
Back at the Gemini Lounge that evening there was another celebration. All DeMeo’s people were there. Bottles of expensive champagne were opened and numerous toasts were made. Glistening piles of cocaine were on the kitchen table for anyone who wanted to partake. Some loose women were brought in to entertain, put on a cunnilingus show, perform virtuoso blow jobs. AIDS was not an issue yet and the women happily swallowed all.
Roy considered himself quite the ladies’ man, did not get along with his wife, was always horny, and tonight he got a doubleheader: two women sucking and licking his penis and testicles at the same time. “A double suck,” as the crew called it.
Life was good. Life held much promise. Roy DeMeo was a very happy man. Roy DeMeo had been made. Roy DeMeo was at the top of Mount Everest. He came, he saw, he conquered.
Drugs were just one of a host of problems that began to plague the Gemini crew. Henry Borelli, Chris Goldberg, Joey Testa, and Anthony Senter were all doing a lot of cocaine. Anthony Senter was becoming rail thin, paranoid, and unreliable. Because of their success so far, the Gemini crew came to believe nothing could ever hurt them—not the police, not the FBI, certainly not another Mafia crew or crime family. They were invincible. They were deadly. They were Murder Inc. and the Purple Gang all rolled into one, the kings of a mountain strewn with dismembered bodies.
Roy DeMeo walked around—really swaggering now—as if he were ten feet tall, the king of Brooklyn, his egg-shaped head the size of a watermelon, filled with himself. With careless abandon he killed or had killed anyone that got in his way, anyone he believed might be a problem; anyone who disrespected him, whom he perceived as a threat, a source of dismay. He took no chances.
“Dead men tell no tales,” he’d say. His answer to any concerns he had about someone was to kill him. Like Richard he acted as if he had the God-given right to kill human beings. Unlike Richard, however, Roy DeMeo had surrounded himself with a bunch of psychotic coked-up serial killers, which would prove to be a grave error in judgment.
Richard left his house carrying a wrinkled brown paper bag of money for DeMeo, his cut of the porn business. They were full-fledged partners now.
Richard also knew that DeMeo had been made, that he was no longer a picciotto, but was now a sgarrista. Richard knew, too, that DeMeo had grand plans. Richard believed DeMeo would quickly ascend within the Gambino family, would surely have his own sanctioned crew within a few years. But Richard firmly believed that DeMeo was too temperamental, was an out-of-control maniac, had too much of a volatile temper to last very long and reach his full potential. Richard also believed it was just a matter of time before DeMeo’s crew of crazies, as he thought of them, would set fire to the bridge DeMeo was building for himself.
Richard still planned to kill DeMeo when the time was right. DeMeo’s being made would not stop that. Indeed, nothing would. It was just a matter of time before the proper elements would all be in play. Richard had come to know that it was okay to cap a made man, provided no one knew about it. To murder a made man without the hit being sanctioned and letting anyone know about it was a ticket to the grave…certain death.
Richard hugged and kissed DeMeo at the club, effusively congratulated him, playing the part of a loyal friend, good partner: an Oscar-winning performance. Richard gave Roy his share of the money. Richard was scrupulously honest with DeMeo. He made sure he got every dollar due.
Roy surprised Richard by inviting him to go fishing on his boat, a new toy DeMeo was proud of. It was a nice day, Richard liked to fish, so he agreed to go along. They got into DeMeo’s Caddie and headed over to the nearby Sheepshead Bay Marina. The serial killers Chris Goldberg, Joey Testa, and Anthony Senter were already at the marina waiting for Roy. They had a fourth guy with them, Bob, whom Richard didn’t know. Introductions were made. They got on the boat, a fast thirty-foot gleaming white cruiser outfitted with a few fishing poles, and off they went. DeMeo had brought along a big box of Italian hero sandwiches, chunks of provolone and mozzarella, and thick links of pepperoni. DeMeo obviously loved the boat and was proud of it—like a kid with a new bike, the best bike on the block, which everyone envies. The sky was clear and very blue. It was unusually warm and the ocean was calm and friendly. When they were a little way out, DeMeo full-throttled the boat and off they went, straight out to open waters. Richard sat and enjoyed the ride, the fresh air. Though Roy’s guys still hadn’t warmed to Richard—nor he to them—they had learned to accept him; but they were wary of him.
Since he was a kid in Jersey City, Richard loved the ocean and he enjoyed being on a boat, the clean, fresh smell of the Atlantic coming to him. Joey and Anthony were talking to this Bob guy, making jokes with him, telling him how these two gorgeous girls had given Roy a double suck.
When they were way out, Roy slowed the boat, shut the engines, and announced that this was a good place to fish, but first they had to put chum in the water.
“What are we fishing for?” Bob asked.
“Sharks,” Roy told him.
Bob was a short, square guy with the face of a bulldog. He had a slight accent Richard couldn’t place. Maybe Canadian. After lowering a chum basket in a net into the water and putting a couple of baits on big hooks, Roy broke out the sandwiches, and they had lunch, drinking beer and white wine and telling dirty jokes. There were no other boats to be seen. Richard was curious to see sharks up close and personal, though he really didn’t believe there were sharks in these waters. He had an open mind though and was excited by the prospect. Roy, however, was sure there were sharks here, said he caught a lot of them in this very spot.
Richard sensed something in the air—danger; but he didn’t know why. All seemed okay. He was, as always, armed, had a gun and a knife on him. DeMeo was in a great mood. As they were finishing lunch, Chris spotted a shark, its cobalt blue dorsal fin cutting the water. They all stood to see it as it moved closer.
“See, I told ya!” DeMeo announced. Soon there were other sharks; they suddenly seemed all over the place. DeMeo moved to where Bob was standing. DeMeo said, his demeanor suddenly changing, “I know you’re a fuckin’ rat. Calabro told me what you’ve been up to,” and with that DeMeo pulled out a pistol and shot Bob in the face. The hapless man screamed and fell down. The others grabbed him and tossed him in the water.
Wide eyed and screaming, he tried to keep afloat, but was having difficulty. Chris wanted to shoot him, but Roy wouldn’t let him.
“Let the sharks do him,” Roy said. Bob was bleeding profusely; his heart, no doubt, was pumping away furiously, and blood came from the hole in his face in a pulsating torrent of red; and it didn’t take long for the sharks to gather near him, swim around him, as Bob screamed and flailed about wildly. This Richard watched in awe, amused, enjoying it. It didn’t take long for the sharks, no doubt stirred on by the blood, to begin taking nips, then bites out of the screaming, pleading, begging Bob, and he soon went under and didn’t come back up. DeMeo and the others thought it was entertaining, great fun, better than any Broadway show; they high-fived one another, laughing and smiling. Richard too thought it entertaining, liked its originality.
“Fuckin’ rat got what he deserved. I only wished it lasted longer, you know,” DeMeo said.
They all agreed. They caught a few sharks, shot them in the head when they were close to the boat, then headed back to the marina. As they went the sky abruptly changed, became gray and dark. It began to rain. With the rain came winds, thunder, lightning. The water became choppy. Whitecaps hurried across the suddenly rough sea. Richard began to feel seasick and wanted to get back on solid land. They arrived at the dock all right. Richard thanked Roy for a “very entertaining afternoon.”
“You’re full of surprises,” Richard said.
“Got a million a them,” Roy said.
As Richard made his way along Flatbush Avenue—it was dark by now—a car filled with black guys wearing red bandannas on their heads pulled up alongside him and for no reason began harassing him, calling him “cracker” and “honky.” They reached a red light.
“Hey, motherfucker!” one of them said, only a few feet from Richard now. “Get the fuck outta this neighborhood.”
“My seven friends don’t like that talk,” Richard said.
“What seven friends?” the driver demanded, looking at Richard as if he were nuts.
“These seven friends,” Richard said, showing them his gun, which contained seven bullets. The guy went through the red light, tires screaming, burning rubber. Richard drove onto the Belt and headed west, back to Dumont, his wife and children, turning over the day in his mind. He liked the idea of feeding people to sharks, thought it was a novel way to get rid of a body.
He began thinking of new ways to kill, expanding his repertoire. He wondered about poisons. He knew assassins had successfully been using poisons for many years. Deciding it was something he needed to look into, he began across the wide expanse of the Verrazano Bridge, admiring the view as he went, how a multitude of colored lights glistened on the water like giant piano keys. He remembered how he used to admire how the lights of Manhattan glistened on the Hudson River when he was a boy back in Jersey City.
Richard’s one friend, Phil Solimene, could get his hands on anything if he put his mind to it. Richard was still going to Solimene’s store on Friday nights to play high-stakes games of poker, and he usually stopped in a few times a week to shoot the breeze, see what was in the wind, have some coffee. Richard was gambling again, more and more.
If New Jersey had a Fagan it was Philip Solimene. It seemed every thief and larceny-hearted hustler knew Phil. Richard asked Phil offhandedly if he knew where he could get some poison.
“What kind?” Phil asked.
“To kill rats—big rats, ha ha—cyanide, strychnine, arsenic.”
“I’ll ask around,” Phil said. That’s what Solimene always said when people asked him for different items. Solimene never said no, and he most often came through.
Solimene knew firsthand just how deadly Richard was. He had set up people for Richard to rob and kill. He would offer different merchandise for sale—perfumes, drugs, blank tapes, porno, guns—and when the people showed up with the cash, Solimene would call Richard, who’d come over, bullshit the buyer, get him alone, kill him, and split the cash with Solimene. Solimene had actually seen Richard kill people.
Solimene liked Richard, thought he was stand-up, always kept his word, was tight-lipped and steely eyed and had balls. If, of all the people in the world, Solimene had to be in a foxhole with someone, he would want it to be Richard—hands down.
Four days later, Solimene called Richard and asked him to come by that night. Richard made his way to the store, and Solimene told him that he had a friend, a Union City pharmacist and “player,” who’d sell him all the poison he wanted. Thus Paul Hoffman entered, for a relatively short while, Richard Kuklinski’s life.
Hoffman was average in size, overweight, a particularly greedy individual. He was always looking for an angle, a way to get over, more than what he was fairly and equitably entitled to. He had a good profession, a successful business, but it wasn’t enough; he always wanted more. He had been buying hijacked loads of drugs from Solimene for years. He’d buy anything—aspirins, barbiturates, diet pills, antibiotics, ulcer medication, perfume, razor blades—for a fraction of the real worth and then sell it at retail prices, making a big profit. When Richard first met Hoffman at Phil’s store, he didn’t like him. Of course, Richard liked very few people.
Not only would Hoffman sell Richard all the poison he wanted, but he told him how to administer the proper dose for the desired—for the maximum—effect. He actually sat down with Richard and gave him detailed instructions, insights, and pharmaceutical advice on the proper application and use of the most dangerous toxins known to man, warning him that if he used too much the police could determine the cause of death, too little and it wouldn’t work at all. He even gave Richard a tiny measuring spoon for doling out proper dosages. Richard first bought cyanide; it came in a thick glass vial adorned with a skull and bones. Richard got the strangest sensation when he held the deadly little vial. It gave him, not surprisingly, a feeling of power and omnipotence.
This, indeed, was a very dangerous combination—Richard Kuklinski and cyanide.
The hit was of a lieutenant in the Bonanno family, a paranoid, crafty individual—a hard man to kill because he knew people were looking to do him in, and because he always went around with two grim bodyguards. His name was Tony Scavelli. He was known as “Dapper” because he always dressed to the nines. He was quite the ladies’ man, had a beautiful girlfriend who liked to go to the best restaurants, out clubbing afterward…to the upscale Regine’s on Park Avenue and Xenon on West Forty-fifth Street. For ten days Richard stalked Dapper but could never get close enough to make a decisive move.
Richard decided to do it in one of the clubs—with poison. Paul Hoffman showed him how to mix the cyanide with a special liquid and put it in a hypodermic needle.
“A lethal hot shot,” he called it.
Using the thinnest, least detectable needle he could find, Richard mixed the liquid and cyanide carefully until all the poison blended and became one with the liquid.
Regine’s was, he decided, too small, not crowded enough for him to get close to the mark unobserved. But Xenon was another story—it was perfect: crowded, noisy, strobe lights blinking on and off. To blend in Richard put on a garish outfit that he believed made him look gay.
It was a Saturday night. The mark, his girlfriend, and his bodyguards ate in a popular French restaurant called Un, Deux, Trois, then headed over to Xenon. Wearing a red peaked hat, pink pants, a yellow vest, beads around his neck, and platform shoes, Richard managed to get in the club, which unto itself was a feat. The place was packed with dancers—an upscale, chic crowd—music blared, the bass thumped, disco lights swirled madly. The lights confused Richard. He didn’t like them. People, Richard could see, were openly snorting cocaine. Richard managed to find the mark. He was dancing on the edge of the dance floor off to the right.
Moving with the music, shaking his huge body as he went, Richard swished-danced past the mark, and as he went he stuck him with the needle while moving toward the exit. Within a minute the mark went down, and he was soon quite dead. Everyone believed he’d had a heart attack. At the autopsy in the medical examiner’s office, the poison was not even detected.
According to Richard, one of the guys on the Jimmy Hoffa hit, Sal Briguglio, got into some trouble with the law, and word spread that he was trying to use what he knew about the Hoffa murder to get himself out of trouble. This is what caused Hoffa’s remains to be dug up, compacted in the trunk of a car, and exported to Japan. Richard was given the contract to kill Briguglio. He and another Jersey assassin, Paulie Salerno, tracked Sal to Little Italy. As he was walking near Mott Street, Richard struck him from behind with a jawbreaker, knocked him down, and shot him numerous times with a .38 equipped with a suppressor, then quickly walked away. The cops were called. Detectives questioned neighborhood people. No one saw anything. Another mob-related murder in Little Italy…nothing new.
Poison and Richard Kuklinski went together like peanut butter and jelly: for one of the few times in his life, Richard bought books and carefully studied them, medical texts about poisons. For several weeks he was reading and taking notes, teaching himself the subtleties and finer points of killing people with poison. He learned about cyano, prussic acid, hydrocyanic acid, hydrogen cyanide, aniline, and cyanic acid, and their proper applications. Whenever he saw Paul Hoffman, he asked him questions, and Hoffman gladly answered Richard’s questions, and provided Richard with the actual poisons. Hoffman, of course, was charging Richard exorbitant amounts, but Richard didn’t care; it was just the price of doing business.
Like a child with a new toy, Richard was anxious to try out these new killing tools. He loved, he says, the subtlety of poison: that there was no violence, guns, blood, broken bones; that it was odorless and colorless, yet as lethal as—perhaps more lethal than—a bullet to the head.
With vials of poisons in his pocket, Richard went out into the world to fill murder contracts. In many instances, Richard could get close to a mark, invite him for a meal, a drink—and use my new friends, as he called the poisons.
His name was Billy Mana. He was a made guy in the Genovese family. His boss wanted him dead. Richard contacted Mana, invited him for a drink, saying he had a load of fur coats he wanted to sell “real cheap. I’m in a hurry to move the load,” Richard said.
Like all mob guys, Mana was money hungry, and he met Richard for a drink in a Union City bar. Richard had a pinkie-sized vial of cyanide with him. When Mana went to the john, Richard quickly and discreetly—like a magic trick—dumped the poison in Mana’s drink. Mana soon came back and knocked off his drink. Richard graciously ordered another round. Before it was served, however, Mana choked, held his throat, his eyes swelling, and soon fell over.
“Heart attack, call a doctor!” Richard called out and soon disappeared, as if he never was there.
Pleased, Richard made his way home, back to his family, like Dracula returning to his lair. Over the coming months, whenever possible, Richard used poison to kill, in food, in drinks, on pizza. He became quite the expert in the application of deadly substances.
This, of course, only bolstered his reputation as an assassin, and even more murder contracts came his way. He was traveling all over the country now to murder people the mob wanted dead. He’d go anywhere to do a piece of work. He was very busy; too busy. He knew this could not go on forever; but he greatly enjoyed the work, the challenge, a successful outcome. It made him feel godlike, a truly lethal force. Richard became the brightest star in a rogues’ gallery filled with stone-cold killers. As Richard’s reputation spread, people “in the life” didn’t like to be around him, looked at him warily out of the corner of their eyes. Even Roy DeMeo was wary of Richard. DeMeo was one of the few people in the world that knew how truly dangerous and diabolical Richard was. When DeMeo had a beef with John Gotti and his brother Gene, he asked Richard to come to a meeting with them and watch his back.
The Gotti brothers and their crew also had a reputation for being dangerous, ruthless—quick to kill and ask questions later. But even they wanted nothing to do with DeMeo and the Gemini gang. True, DeMeo and John Gotti were in the same family, but there was friction between them. Yet, because they were in the same family, in theory anyway, disputes and disagreements had to be settled with talk, amiably, not murder. When DeMeo and John Gotti—these two ruthless men with oversized egos—had a disagreement over how merchandise stolen from Kennedy Airport was divvied up, who would get what, there had to be a “sit-down,” the mob term for resolving disputes with reason and conversation, not violence.
John Gotti, like DeMeo, had a reputation as a no-nonsense, two-fisted, dangerous man with a volatile temper. He had recently been released from jail, having done time for his involvement in a murder: Gotti had killed Jimmy McBratney, the man rumored to be responsible for the abduction and murder of Carlo Gambino’s nephew. Gotti hired the famous Roy Cohn, who made a sweetheart deal for Gotti—four years for attempted murder, a cakewalk.
Gotti had done the time and was out now and making waves in the Gambino family. He, like many in the Gambino clan, hated Paul Castellano, for a host of reasons: Paul’s greed; his insistence that all the captains come pay homage to him once a week at the Veterans and Friends Club; the fact that he was appointed because of family connections; the fact that he failed to prevent the FBI from bugging his home; the fact that his affair with the housekeeper had become public scandal, much talked about in Mafiadom.
DeMeo didn’t like or trust John Gotti, and when the sit-down occurred DeMeo brought along Richard as his bodyguard. As they drove to the meeting, held in the home of another Gambino captain, Roy said, “Big Guy, we can’t trust this fuckin’ Gotti. Keep your eye on him, and don’t let me out of your sight, got it?”
“Got it,” Richard said.
Richard had three guns on him and a knife strapped to his calf.
Richard enjoyed being taken into DeMeo’s confidence like this. Of all the killers in his crew DeMeo had chosen Richard to watch his back. DeMeo knew that Richard was the coldest, most dangerous killer he had ever come across, and he trusted Richard. Over the years they’d been doing business together now, Richard had been scrupulously honest—always kept his word. DeMeo still had no idea that Richard was waiting for the right opportunity to kill him; that Richard never forgot the beating he’d given him; how he pointed the cocked Uzi at him and laughed. On the one hand, Richard liked Roy, his gregarious, generous ways when he was in a good mood; on the other hand, he despised him—his loud, bullying ways, how he went from hot to cold in the blink of an eye.
Roy and I were alike in many ways. When I was in a good mood, I was the nicest guy—give you the shirt off my back. When, however, I was on a tear…I scared myself, he explains in all sincerity.
The site was a redbrick two-family home on Brooklyn’s Mill Basin, a simple, unassuming structure. A three-foot statue of the Virgin Mary, dressed in blue and white, stood in the front yard, as though to scrutinize visitors with a critical eye. Richard was pleased—proud in his own way—that DeMeo was trusting him like this, counting on Richard to watch his back. This could, Richard well knew, turn into a life-and-death situation, and DeMeo wanted Richard to be there to protect him.
I was, you know, kind of honored, Richard explained.
As usual, Richard was wearing a large, baggy short-sleeved shirt, the tail out. The shirt covered the guns he had in his waistband. He had extra clips in his pants pocket.
John and Gene Gotti were already there, as were a few soldiers in his crew, and Aniello Dellacroce, the underboss of the Gambino family, John’s mentor, an old school diplomatic man. Everyone within La Cosa Nostra had believed Aniello would take over the Gambino family after Carlo’s death. He’d been the most likely choice. By right he should have, though that hadn’t happened. Still, in many of the captains’ minds Aniello Dellacroce was the real head of the family; he had kept a tenuous peace within the family after Carlo’s death. Dellacroce seemed sickly and frail, as if he would keel over any moment. He had large eggplant-colored circles under sad blue eyes, thin gray hair, a flattened nose. But this was a strong-willed individual, a tough Sicilian with a backbone of steel who believed it was better to make money than war, but would kill in a heartbeat if and when necessary. This meeting was an informal get-together. It was not, as such, a formal sit-down. Hellos, handshakes, reserved respectful age-old hugs and kisses on both cheeks, were exchanged. The smell of Old Spice and Canoe hung in the air. Richard was introduced. He respectfully nodded, shook hands; no hugs or kisses for him. Everyone knew who he was—Roy’s secret weapon, a virtual killing machine—and resented that DeMeo had brought him. It was an affront. But DeMeo had purposely brought Richard for just that reasons. He wanted to make a point; and he did without saying a word.
This was all before John Gotti became a Mafia superstar, a legend in both his own mind and the public’s, but even then he was ambitious in the extreme and quite deadly, everyone knew. Yet, Roy DeMeo had a far-reaching reputation as a very dangerous man that far overshadowed John Gotti’s.
As the meeting began, Richard stood stiffly in the living room as the others moved to a large dark wood dining-room table. DeMeo sat with his back to Richard, who carefully watched what was happening, studying eyes and hands as a tennis umpire observes a championship match. He couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. John Gotti expansively made his case, Roy made his, Dellacroce had a say, and soon they all shook hands. A deal had been struck. Richard could see that the Gottis were wary of DeMeo. Who could blame them? It was no secret that Roy had turned the apartment in the back of the Gemini Lounge into a virtual slaughterhouse, that DeMeo and his crew were murdering scores of people, cutting them up, and getting rid of body parts all over Brooklyn. Gotti thought of DeMeo as an out-of-control ghoul who would eventually make trouble for everyone in the family with all these murders.
Whatever the dispute had been about, it was obvious to Richard that it had been peacefully resolved. The meeting was soon over. DeMeo and Richard left. In the car on the way back to the Gemini, DeMeo said, “This fuckin’ Gotti can’t be trusted. Mark my words, he’s gonna be trouble. I don’t like him. He thinks he’s hot shit. He ain’t nobody. If it wasn’t for Dellacroce he wouldn’t even be made.”
Richard just listened. Back at the Gemini, Richard did not go into the club. He knew DeMeo’s people were inside, and he didn’t want to be around them. DeMeo thanked Richard for coming, and hugged and kissed him, and soon Richard was on the way back to his family, feeling in his gut that there really would be trouble someday because of John Gotti. It was clear in Gotti’s eyes, the way he moved, his body language, even how he gestured with his hands. He was, Richard thought, a storm waiting to happen.
Richard never drove straight home anymore. He always took roundabout routes, would suddenly pull off the parkway and wait for cars to pass him. He didn’t want to be followed home. He didn’t want anyone to know where he lived. Above all else, Richard wanted to protect his family, to keep the street and what he did far away from them.
Barbara still had no idea what Richard did, that he was one of the most proficient killers organized crime had ever known. However, one time she did find a gun wrapped in a rag in the garage, up on a high shelf. She put it right back, didn’t even mention it to him, not sure how he would react.
Richard was still losing his temper and abusing Barbara. He would often come home in a bad mood and get into an argument with Barbara over something small and inconsequential, she’d get in his face, he’d lose it and do damage—slap her, rant and rave, break things with his superhuman strength.
Barbara had bought a gorgeous dining table. It was made of thick Italian marble and had wide marble legs. It cost a fortune, but she wanted it, so they bought it. What Barbara wanted, Barbara got. The table was so heavy it took four burly men to pick it up and carry it inside the house and place it where Barbara wanted it. One afternoon Richard came home in a foul mood. He and Barbara got into it, and the two of them were arguing; he started to lose it. He wanted to slap her, wring her neck, throw her up against the wall. But rather than hurt her, he actually picked up the beautiful marble dining table and tossed it right out the large bay window that faced the street.
Aghast, Barbara berated him, having no idea just how truly dangerous Richard was, whom she was arguing with.
She would later say, Mind you, we are talking about a table that took four men to bring in the house. He picked it up like nothing and tossed it right out the window, shaking her head at the memory, smoking.
Unfortunately, these kinds of outbursts were happening in front of Merrick and Chris, though not Dwayne. It was Merrick that would usually calm her father down. She had a soothing effect on him. She talked softly to him, got him to leave the house, got him to take her to feed the ducks.
Over in the town of Demarest, a ten-minute drive away (the place where Pat Kane was born and raised), there was a small freshwater pond in the center of a park, called the Demarest Pond. Flocks of wild ducks always gathered there. Richard enjoyed going to this tranquil pond and feeding the ducks. He’d buy bread in a nearby store, sit on a green park bench just near the calm water’s edge, and feed the ducks. He often took Merrick there with him, and together they’d toss the ducks small pieces of bread, which they quickly gobbled up, and as they sat there Merrick would calm her father, talk to him about his childhood, make him forget his anger at Barbara, his anger at the world. Merrick had, for some unfathomable reason, a very calming, soothing effect on her dad. Chris rarely did this with her father, though Barbara did often come here with Richard too. They both enjoyed sitting on the bench, close to the calm pond, feeding the different ducks, talking quietly…at peace. The pond truly had a calming effect on Richard. The ducks knew Richard and would come waddling over at the first sight of him.
Richard’s daughter Chris drew further and further into herself, away from her father—away from the family. For Chris the arguments and violence were extremely upsetting and debilitating.
Chris was now a very attractive twelve-year-old. She had a long, slender body; long, thick blond hair; and a sweet, heart-shaped face with big blue eyes. One summer evening Barbara and Richard were arguing after dinner and he began to break things. Chris silently got up and left the house. She couldn’t deal with the violence, the yelling, her father’s temper, her mother’s “big mouth,” as she thought of it, and would later relate. She walked to the corner and sat on a wooden bench near the bus stop there, trying to figure out what to do, whom she could talk to, where she could get help, where she could turn.
Once, Chris had thought that all parents argued, that surely all dads tore the house apart; but now she knew that wasn’t the case at all, that her father was unique, and that her mother too was unique. As she sat there, dusk coming on quickly, lightning bugs starting to appear, a man in a red van pulled up and said hello to her, offered to take her where she was going.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Chris said in a small voice, knowing she shouldn’t be talking to a stranger. Barbara had warned her many times about talking to strangers.
“Would you like to go for a ride?” the man asked. He was in his midthirties, had blond hair, was attractive, seemed nice—seemed…interested in her.
“Okay, sure,” she said, and got in the van with the stranger, knowing she shouldn’t, knowing her parents would be angry, punish her severely for such a thing, but she didn’t care. She was taking control; she was in charge; that was it.
It didn’t take long for Chris to find out exactly what the blond man was interested in: He asked if she’d like to go to a secluded place he knew of and “fool around.”
“Okay,” she said, even before she realized she’d said it. He took her to a small clearing in some nearby woods and began kissing her. She let him; she didn’t resist him. He took her into the back of the van, undressed her, and proceeded to have all forms of relations with her, including intercourse, which she willingly let him do. This was Chris’s way of taking control of her life. Her body was hers, hers only, nobody could take that away from her—and she was going to use it, let it be used, any way she wished. She certainly didn’t enjoy what he was doing, what he had her do. She was doing it to assert her own individuality, to rebel. Chris knew that if her father saw such a thing he would probably kill her, and would surely tear this man apart, literally. But she didn’t care….
When it was over, he was done, he thankfully took Chris back to the bus stop, the bench where he had found her, and she got out of the van, thanking him as she went, polite and sweet, not traumatized at all. He didn’t ask to see her; she didn’t volunteer any information. She didn’t want to see him again. They both knew what had happened was wrong—very wrong, sinfully wrong, against-the-law wrong.
Chris slowly walked back home, a virgin no more. Barbara asked her where she’d been.
“At a friend’s house,” she said.
Richard knew his violent outbursts were wrong, and he didn’t like himself because of them. He knew he shouldn’t be violent with Barbara, but he had no control over his volatile temper. It was as if a bomb exploded inside him. Richard decided to rent an office, to have a place he could go when he wasn’t in a good mood, a place where he could prepare himself for hits, calm himself after a job was done. He had come to realize that he shouldn’t be around his family at such times. It wasn’t fair to them. It was outright dangerous, he also knew.
From Argrila the porn producer Richard heard that there was office space available in a commercial building on Spring, just off Lafayette, perfect for what he had in mind, and it was in the city. Richard was often in the city now on business, and this little office would serve him well. He rented it and proceeded to buy some office furniture, a bed, a big desk, a safe, a fridge. He had phones installed and suddenly Richard Kuklinski had an office—a place from where he could conduct business, his criminal dealings, murder contracts. He stashed a host of weapons in the safe, hand grenades, handcuffs, and some of his expanding library of poisons.
Now, when he knew he had a job to do early in the morning, a contract that had to be filled in the city, he’d sleep at the office, his war room, as he thought of it. There was even a bathroom with a shower stall. He didn’t tell Barbara about it. He told Barbara very little.
Another piece of work came Richard’s way, the killing of a Genovese soldier. He was using drugs, making mistakes, compromising the family; he had to go. Richard knew the mark, Henry Marino, was a coke hound, and decided to use that as the way to kill Henry. Richard bought a few grams of pure coke and carefully laid it out on his desk in his new office, on a piece of mirror. Richard did not use coke; he didn’t do any drugs. But he knew about drugs, their applications and effects. After chopping up the coke with a razor, he put on white plastic gloves and carefully mixed enough cyanide with the coke to kill a man. That done, he put the coke into a vial, and he was soon on a plane to Las Vegas. Richard had always loved Vegas, since he was a kid, and now he was going there to do a piece of work and get paid well for it. He had it, far as he was concerned, made in the shade.
Richard knew the mark was staying at a swank hotel on the Strip. He checked into the hotel, went down to the bar near 9:00 P.M., and had a beer. Richard rarely, if ever, drank when on a job, but he knew Henry Marino liked to hold court at the bar, pick up babes, that he’d show up sooner or later, and Richard wanted to look as if he belonged, act as though their meeting were purely coincidental.
It didn’t take long. Henry Marino soon came strolling in, a tall thin man with thinning hair. He saw Richard; they shook hands, said hello. Richard bought him a drink before he had a chance to say no. They began to shoot the breeze. After a time Richard offhandedly mentioned that he had just ripped off a Colombian coke dealer and had a few keys of high-grade coke he wanted to unload.
“You know anyone?” Richard asked, somewhat conspiratorially; this caused Henry’s ears to immediately perk up.
“Good stuff?” he asked, equally conspiratorially.
“Pure, straight from Medellín,” Richard said.
“What happened to the Colombians?”
“Sure. I might be interested—if it’s really good and the price is right.”
“I got some with me; wanna taste?” Richard innocently asked, springing the trap.
“Sure,” Henry said.
Richard discreetly handed him the vial. Henry smiled, winked, and walked off to the bathroom, newfound purpose in his hurried step. Richard paid for his drinks and left.
Henry Marino was found dead in the bathroom, a vial of coke on the floor nearby, and his passing was written up as a heart attack, not a homicide.
Later that same evening Richard went out gambling. He was again beginning to gamble large amounts of money. Money was rolling in; he had it; why not? he reasoned. He so enjoyed the thrill of gambling, the challenge of it. The higher the stakes, the more he got out of it. He won sometimes, but mostly lost. He didn’t know when to quit. That was his problem in a nutshell. He lost, in fact, all the money he had earned killing Henry Marino. He felt doubly bad about losing because he had a family now, a wife that wanted and demanded nice things: that the children go to top private schools, that everything was the best, their clothes, their cars, the restaurants they went to, the wines they drank. Angry at himself for losing forty thousand dollars in a few hours, Richard went back to New Jersey in a foul mood.
Richard came to truly enjoy killing with poison. Now whenever possible he used poison. Most often these hits were written up as suicides or natural deaths, mainly because Richard was scrupulously careful about using the right dosage: just enough to kill, not enough to be readily detected. But in one interesting instance the cause of death could not be put down as natural.
Richard was still involved with hijacks and B and E jobs (breaking and entering). He’d pretty much do anything to turn a buck. His life was all about crime, and there was nothing he would not do except kill women or children. This particular job, all told, involved six people. A B and E crew of four (with Richard, five) and the insurance guy who spotted the job, the “inside man.”
A wealthy businessman in Montclair, New Jersey, had an expensive collection of coins and rare stamps. He kept them in a tall narrow safe in his home, built into a fancy cedar closet. The insurance guy knew about the coins and stamps because the company he worked for had insured the collection. He also had the combination of the safe.
Richard knew this B and E crew from his wild and woolly days back in Jersey City. There was a possibility that the owner would show up unexpectedly, and it would be Richard’s job to take him out quickly and quietly. The gang met in Jersey City, got into the house without trouble, opened the safe without incident, found the coins and stamps, and made a clean getaway. So far it was a perfect job, had gone like clockwork.
Back at the home of one of the gang, Ralphie the Snake, they looked over their loot, the rare coins, the precious stamps. Beforehand, all had agreed to a six-way split. But they got to arguing among themselves about who would and should get what. This was exactly why Richard hated working with people, this kind of ridiculous bickering, backstabbing…greed.
Losing patience, Richard said, “Hey look guys, this all went perfectly, a piece of cake, let’s not fudge it up by arguing amongst ourselves. The deal was a six-way split; that’s it, okay? I mean, come on.”
Still, they argued on: about who had the largest part, about how the split should be made. Richard became more and more annoyed.
One of the guys said he was hungry; another said Harry’s was still open. Harry’s was a small take-out restaurant in Jersey City, little more than a greasy spoon, but they made great sandwiches with a renowned “special sauce.” Richard magnanimously said he’d go get the sandwiches, diligently wrote down what the others wanted, and off he went. These days Richard had taken to carrying around, especially when he went on a job, a vial of cyanide. He had it with him now. He recently explained:
So I’m driving over to get the sandwiches, when the idea first came to me. I mean, I was going to completely play it straight here with these guys, but now…now I’m thinking to myself they’re all a bunch of greedy stiffs and I decided it was going to be a one-way split—one way my way. I’d show them what greed really was.
Richard dutifully ordered the sandwiches, some sodas, and coffee.
Outside, in the quiet solitude of his car, he put his sandwich on the side and put on plastic gloves (Richard always kept an economy box of plastic gloves in his car), opened each of the other four sandwiches, and ever so carefully sprinkled cyanide on them in such a way that anyone who ate one would get the full dose, each dose about what you’d find in a salt packet at any McDonald’s. He put the sandwiches back in the bag, his right on top, took off the gloves, and returned to the house and the still-squabbling gang. Richard took his sandwich, announced he was starved, went in a corner, and ate with gusto—he really was hungry; and as he ate he watched the others consume their delicious Harry’s sandwiches with the special sauce as they still bickered. Within minutes the poison had an effect; suddenly they were all frozen in place, eyes wide open, spittle coming from suddenly lax mouths, which actually hung open, as though their jaws had become unhinged. Richard carefully watched them, eating his sandwich, got up and looked at them closely, learning firsthand, like a scientist in a lab observing monkeys, the actual effect of the poison. One of them tried to stand, but that was impossible. Motor movement was gone. Richard carefully put all that was left of the sandwiches, the soda, and the coffee back in the bag. He then wiped away all his fingerprints, moving slowly, methodically. Satisfied, he took the loot and the garbage and left, closing the door softly as he went.
The following day he went to meet the insurance appraiser who had turned them on to the job. They met in a crowded bar in Teaneck. When he wasn’t looking, Richard put a boost, as he calls it, in the insurance guy’s drink. Within minutes he fell to the floor—still another heart attack in a Jersey bar; how sad. Still another murder not attached to Richard Kuklinski.
Richard wound up selling what they stole to a fence he knew in Hoboken. Altogether he earned four hundred thousand dollars. He put it in one of the two safe-deposit boxes he rented in different Jersey banks.
Most of that money, however, was soon gone—Richard gambled it away. As far as he was concerned it was easy come, easy go.
Barbara would have been livid if she’d found out he was squandering amounts of money like that. He never told her about it, or even about the safe-deposit boxes he had. They were, like much of Richard’s life outside the home, his secret. His business.
That Sunday Richard was watching Wild Kingdom, one of his favorite shows. Richard liked animals far more than people. When he saw a large male lion subdued by a tranquilizer gun, he got an idea: Why not use such a gun on humans, he thought. It would be, he reasoned, an ideal way to snatch people marked for death. Monday morning, Richard went to see his buddy Phil Solimene and asked him if he could get him a tranquilizer gun, with the darts and tranquilizer.
“Sure, I’ll ask around,” Solimene said, and within two days Richard had the gun, thirty-five darts, and enough tranquilizer to put a football team to sleep.
Richard was given a contract to kill another mob guy by the notorious De Cavalcante Jersey family. The job specifically called for torture. The mark had to suffer severely; that was a prerequisite.
This was a particularly difficult job because the man knew he’d been marked for death and was wary and paranoid, as skittish as a house cat around a crazed junkyard dog. The mark often doubled back for no reason when driving, would suddenly pull over and let the cars behind him pass. Richard followed him for eleven days and could never get the opportunity he needed. Then he figured out that the mark met a woman at a Marriott Hotel in Queens, either a nurse or a beautician because she wore a white uniform. They would spend afternoons and evenings in one of the deluxe rooms. Richard began hanging around the hotel, looking for a clear chance to snatch the mark, waiting for the right moment.
While in the elevator, coming down from the floor where the mark was having his romantic tryst, Richard first ran into him—a small dark-haired man with shifty eyes, a thin nasty mouth, and bushy eyebrows who was definitely up to no good, Richard was sure. They smiled at each other. Richard knew the guy was a player. The elevator opened. They went their separate ways. A few hours later, Richard went to use the hotel bathroom (he had taken a room in the hotel), and as he was standing at the urinal taking a leak, the shifty-eyed guy walked in and took the urinal next to him. Richard thought this guy was stalking him, and got ready to draw his gun, do battle, kill him right there.
“How ya doing?” Richard asked, looking down at him, a tight smile about his face.
“We keep running into each other.”
“You following me?” Richard asked, facing him head-on.
“No…you me?” the guy asked.
“No. I’m doing a piece of work, that’s all. You’ve nothing to do with it.”
“So am I.”
“You sure your business isn’t with me?”
“Positive. Yours with me?”
“Absolutely not.” They stared at each other.
They both finished their business and washed their hands. Richard reached out and shook the guy’s hand.
“Okay,” he said, “good luck to you.”
“And to you,” the other said, and they parted.
Richard had an uncanny way of discerning immediately other contract killers. He knew intimately the moves, the looks, the eyes, the body language, and he could spot another killer a mile away, hands down, with one eye closed, and he was sure the little guy was stalking someone to kill him. Richard even contacted the people who’d given him this job to ask if they’d given it to more than one person. He was assured they hadn’t.
Several days later, Richard was sitting in his van (these days he most often used the van for stalking marks). He had with him the animal-tranquilizer gun and four darts filled with animal tranquilizer. If the mark was true to form he’d soon be showing up at the hotel. Richard was planning to snatch him right from the parking lot, if circumstances permitted such a move. It was a warm day. Richard was thirsty. He had already drunk the sodas he’d brought from the house and eaten a turkey on rye Barbara had prepared for him. Richard heard the familiar jingle of a Mister Softee truck. He saw in his rearview the white truck slowly coming down the block. Richard stepped from the van and waved the truck down, sweat beading on his high, wide brow. He walked up to the window and was stunned to see the guy from the bathroom inside the Mister Softee truck.
“You again,” Richard said, amused though suspicious and on guard.
“You again,” the guy said.
“What’re you doing?” Richard asked.
“This is what I do. I’m Mister Softee…. I use the truck to do, you know, surveillance, to follow people,” he said.
“Really…fucking clever!” Richard said, impressed, admiring the originality of it. Who would ever suspect a Mister Softee? Brilliant.
“You still working?” this Mister Softee asked.
“You want something?”
“Yeah, how about a Coke?”
“Sure thing,” he said, and gave Richard a cold can of Coke. Richard tried to pay.
“It’s on me.”
“I like this,” Richard said. “Great idea. Talk about blending.”
“My name’s Robert, Robert Pronge,” he said, offering his hand.
“How you doing? I’m Richard.” They again shook hands.
“Funny how we keep running into each other,” Richard said.
“I keep my truck in a garage nearby. So you’re doing a piece of work?”
“Yeah. Guy’s very hard to pin down.”
“Does he drive?”
“Use the car.”
“Can’t be that way—there’s a special request involved here.”
“Got you. Look, if you can come over to the garage I’ll show you some interesting stuff.”
“I’ll come now. I’ll follow you,” Richard said, and he got into his van and, curious but on guard, followed Pronge to a garage in a quiet Queens neighborhood.
Pronge parked his truck in the garage and opened a battered gray locker in the rear corner of the garage. It was filled with weapons—rifles, pistols, hand grenades, boxes of ammunition. Richard was impressed. He’d never heard of an ice-cream man who killed people. What better disguise could someone take on? He showed Richard a hand grenade he had wired up so it could be detonated by remote control. Robert Pronge, as it happened, was also a contract killer.
“What I do,” Pronge said, “is put the grenade under the driver’s seat of the car and set it off when the moment’s just right. It’s got a radius of about two blocks.”
“Very clever,” Richard said, noticing a bottle of poison. “I see you use poison.”
“Absolutely. I use it whenever possible. I made a spray, but you gotta be real careful about the wind.”
“How do you mean a spray?”
“I mixed cyanide with DMSO [dimethyl sulfoxide, a solvent easily absorbed through the skin] and put it in this,” he explained, and showed Richard a sturdy white spray bottle.
“Absofuckinlutely. Watch this,” he said, obviously proud of his creation.
There was a stray cat lolling about some garbage cans there. Pronge walked up to it, acting as if he had something to eat for the cat. When he was close enough, he checked the wind, held his breath, sprayed the cat right in the face, and quickly backed off. The cat immediately went down and started to die.
“Fuckin’ amazing,” Richard said. “I never knew something like that existed. Will it work on a human?”
“Absofuckinlutely,” Pronge said, and the two of them shared war stories about how they killed people. This was a one-in-a-million coincidence—that Richard Kuklinski and Robert Pronge would run into each other. It seemed like some kind of ungodly-unholy contrivance Satan had to have a hand in….
Robert Pronge was a former Special Forces soldier. He had one passion in life and it was killing people. He was thirty-six years old, a guy with an extremely diabolical mind, a seemingly normal man who drove an ice-cream truck but in truth was an unhinged psychopath. Richard would later say of him, The two most dangerous men I ever met in my life were Roy DeMeo and Bob Pronge. Pronge was completely nuts. At least Roy had some semblance of being normal, but Pronge was way way out there…dangerous beyond belief. Far more dangerous than Roy.
Robert Pronge was an obsessed assassin. He hated the world, everyone in it, and most all his waking hours were devoted to devising new, unorthodox ways to murder people. In his garage he had stacks of Special Forces and survivalist magazines, boxes of books about how to kill people…how to use explosives, poisons, booby traps, pistols, rifles equipped for nighttime use.
Pronge, like Richard, filled contracts for the Mafia, and these two hit it off like long-lost relatives. Richard took an immediate liking to Pronge, who liked Richard. After sharing notes with each other for a while, Richard said he had to get back to work, and he left after they made plans to meet again soon.
The following evening, Richard managed to park his van close to the mark’s Lincoln. Richard had the tranquilizer gun close at hand. He had practiced with it and was sure he could score a bull’s-eye at close range. A little after midnight, the mark left the hotel and approached his car. Just as he reached it, Richard shot him with the dart, hit him in the left buttock. Startled, the mark turned, began to reach for a weapon, but never made it. He went right down. Richard picked him up, put him in the van, handcuffed his hands and feet together, put duct tape over his mouth, and headed for the caves in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
This job required torture, and Richard was going to feed him to the rats. He was very pleased at how well the dart gun had worked and planned to use it again. By the time he arrived in Bucks County it was almost 4:00 A.M. Richard parked the van, pulled the mark out, uncuffed his ankles, and walked him to the cave. The guy was hysterical now, crying like a baby, but his mouth was taped and all he could do was grunt and moan. Richard didn’t want to hear anything he had to say. He had heard it all before and didn’t want to hear it again.
Richard says he didn’t get any particular kick out of doing this. It was just a job, nothing more, he says. In the cave, using a powerful flashlight, Richard made the mark lie down, again cuffed his ankles together. He used his knife and cut the man’s arms so he’d bleed. The blood, Richard knew, would quickly draw the rats to him. Richard set up the camera and light and left.
When Richard returned two days later the mark was completely gone. There was only a stain on the ground where he had been. This time the rats took even his bones.
Richard retrieved the camera and that night he watched the video in his war room on Spring Street, and sure enough it was, again, all on film: how the rats first approached, took tentative bites, soon completely covered the mark. Richard proceeded to take the video to Hoboken and showed it to the De Cavalcante captain who had ordered the job. He loved it. Clapped his hands, patted Richard on the back.
“You’re the fuckin’ best!” he proclaimed, and gladly gave Richard forty thousand dollars.
Another job well done, another customer satisfied, Richard headed back home, looking in his rearview as he went, pulling off the highway suddenly to make sure he wasn’t being trailed. Besides country music, Richard was fond of oldies, and he sat there listening to “Blue Moon.” The oldies, he now says, relaxed him.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Richard knew this couldn’t go on forever, that sooner or later, if he didn’t stop, there would be trouble. He didn’t worry for himself but for his family, his children. If what he was doing came out it would be a terrible thing for them to have to live through. He shook his head at the thought of the embarrassment and humiliation they’d suffer if he was ever exposed. The thought of it shook him to the core of his being. He would, he resolved, make enough money to retire, then walk away from the life and go straight.
He still had the fantasy-daydream of having a house on the beach in Southern California. He had mentioned it to Barbara numerous times, but she didn’t want to leave Jersey. She liked Jersey. It was where she’d been born and raised, where most her family lived, where her children went to school and had friends.
“I’m not moving to California. Forget it,” she said, with grave finality. But still Richard had this hope…this dream.
What I wanted to do was walk away from it all, go to LA, only deal in porn out there—it’s big out there—but Barbara wouldn’t go and so that was that. Barbara made all the decisions when it came to those things…about the family and all.
Richard and Barbara’s son, Dwayne, was a truly gifted child. He was always first in his class, and this in the prestigious Sacred Heart/Elizabeth Marrow School. Dwayne had grown into an intense dark-haired boy with curious eyes, intelligent beyond his years. His eyes seemed like the eyes of a middle-aged man who had been around the block a few times, not a child’s eyes.
Barbara, Chris, and Merrick still did their best to shield Dwayne from Richard’s tirades and outbursts. Most weekends he was sent to stay with Barbara’s mom. Richard did try to exhibit more control when Dwayne was around. He seemed to know instinctively that if Dwayne saw him be violent toward Barbara, as the girls did, it would only be a matter of time before Dwayne attacked him, and he’d have to hurt his son.
Dwayne was painfully shy around strangers, but he was open and gregarious once he got to know someone. Dwayne was endlessly curious, still always reading, a polite, very well-behaved boy any parent would be proud of. Barbara and the girls thought they had protected Dwayne from Richard well, and little if any damage had been done him, his development, how he viewed the world, his take on life, his psyche.
But in truth, Dwayne knew what was going on. This was a very sharp little guy. He saw the marks on his mother, the black eyes and bruises, the broken furniture, and he well knew his father was responsible.
At first this exceedingly bright, curious child accepted what he saw, thinking such things were normal. But it didn’t take Dwayne long to piece together the reality of his father’s actions, and it made him terribly angry. Dwayne loved his mother and sisters deeply, and the thought of his father hurting his mom, terrorizing his sisters, left him cold and angry deep inside. Dwayne started planning how he’d defend himself against his father, what he’d do if Richard came to hurt him, even kill him. He began leaving knives and swords Richard had given him in strategic places in his room. When Richard gave Dwayne a BB gun, Dwayne plotted how he could use it to blind his father. Surely if he blinded his father the way Ulysses had blinded the Cyclops, Dwayne could handle Richard, do him in if it came to that. When Richard gave Dwayne a bow-and-arrow set, Dwayne made it part of his arsenal. He practiced with the bow to be able to hit his father, if necessary.
Barbara was effusively, gushingly proud of Dwayne and let Richard know every chance she had how smart their son was, implying that Richard couldn’t hold a candle to his son. This, of course, caused Richard to resent Dwayne, and sometimes, when angry, he’d stare at his son with a dreadful gleam in his eyes. In fact, one time just after dinner Richard grabbed Barbara, manhandled her in front of Dwayne, and the boy immediately got up and put himself between Richard and Barbara.
For a second it appeared that Richard might clobber him, but Richard turned away, saying, “I knew it would come to this.”
“Don’t…don’t do that,” Barbara warned Dwayne. “Never do that!” He didn’t answer her, but no matter what—even if he died—Dwayne would not allow Richard to hurt his mother. Thus, the stage was set for a terrible tragedy, with dire Shakespearean implications.
In no time Richard and Robert Pronge became…friends. The more Richard learned about Pronge, the more he liked him…at first. In addition, Richard had been looking for an out-of-the-way garage he could rent; he needed a place to stash stolen items and sometimes kill people, and he wound up renting a garage near where Pronge kept his truck.
Pronge now told Richard he had a job that he had to do in Connecticut and invited Richard to come along. Pronge wanted to show Richard how well the cyanide spray worked. This was, he explained, something he had personally developed, and he was obviously proud of it.
The mark lived in a nice stone house on a quiet street. He went to work the same time every day and returned the same time every night. This kind of pattern made an assassin’s work relatively easy. Pronge parked about one hundred feet away from the mark’s home. He and Richard sat there, waiting for the mark to arrive home. There was, Pronge pointed out, no wind. “You cannot ever use this stuff in the wind—don’t forget that.”
When the mark pulled onto the block, Pronge slipped on a pair of gloves and boldly got out of the car, saying, “I’ll be right back.”
As the mark parked, Pronge was nearly to his car. The mark opened the car door and stepped out of the car, and at just that moment Pronge sprayed the man right in the face. Pronge turned and calmly walked back toward his car. He hadn’t taken ten steps when the mark fell over. He was soon dead.
Richard sat there quite amazed, impressed—not an easy task. Pronge got back in the car and off they went.
“Wow,” Richard said. “So he’s dead?”
“He is by now.”
“Smooth. Very smooth. I like it.”
“Just never use it in the wind if you are outdoors.”
“Of course,” Richard said, feeling close to his newfound friend, Robert Pronge, who had, before they left, put another license plate on his car with magnets. He now removed the bogus plate.
Richard had to have one of these cyanide sprays, and back at the garage where Pronge kept his Mister Softee truck, he showed Richard how to mix it and put it into the special spray bottle he had. Richard couldn’t wait to use it; he was a kid with a new toy.
But on the next job that came his way, he would not be able to use this unique killing tool. It would have to be done the old-fashioned way, with guns and bullets at close range. This would be the most important murder contract Richard had filled to date: the killing of the head of a Mafia family—a milestone in his bloody career.
Joe and Mary’s
Just how the Gambino family became involved in the murder of the notorious Carmine Galante is a long, convoluted story with many twists and turns, betrayals and colorful characters.
Carmine Galante was “one tough cocksucker,” as a rival boss put it. He was born in Riva Del Gotta, Sicily. As a young man he had thick, wavy black hair and the dark, fearless eyes of a predatory killer. Galante came up the Mafia ladder the hard way, gleefully breaking heads and killing people as he went. His early association with the Mafia began with Vito Genovese, who many say Mario Puzo used as a model for his immortal Don Vito Corleone.
The young Galante was a hit man for Genovese. When someone had to die, Genovese sent Galante. Genovese was a staunch Fascist, an ardent fan of Benito Mussolini, and Genovese ordered Galante to kill an Italian journalist, Carlo Tresca, who worked for Il Progresso and was an outspoken critic of Mussolini. Galante shot him four times, twice in the head, twice in the chest.
Eventually, however, Galante was inducted into the Bonanno crime family, not the Genovese clan. Joe Bonanno was a far less volatile and violent man than Genovese, but he used Galante to commit murder when necessary. In the early 1950s Joe Bonanno sent Galante to Montreal. Though Bonanno openly condemned dealing in drugs, he put Galante in charge of the Bonanno family’s Montreal rackets—extortion, shylocking—and Galante soon turned Montreal—with Bonanno’s silent blessing—into the main transit point for heroin coming out of Marseille, into America, instigating and encouraging the so-called French Connection. Thus Galante worked his way up in the Bonanno family, and by 1962 he was the underboss of the family. Thinking he was above the law, invisible (very much like Roy DeMeo), Galante ran afoul of the law, was arrested in Brooklyn for drug trafficking, and sent away for twenty years. While he was in prison a psychiatrist announced that Galante was a psychopath…no shit, Sherlock; and while in prison Galante methodically plotted and planned his ascension to the very top position of La Cosa Nostra: capo crimini/capo di tutti capi, the boss of bosses.
Tough as rusted nails, Galante picked fights with large black guys in prison, got in front of them on food lines, saying, “Get the fuck outta my way, nigger.” From prison Galante boldly let it be known that he planned to take charge of the Bonanno family, that he planned to be capo di tutti capi. By now Carlo Gambino was the boss of bosses, and Galante regularly told anyone who would listen how he would get rid of Gambino, that Gambino was afraid of his own shadow, that Carlo Gambino was a “spineless prick.”
No one looked forward to Galante’s release, least of all his own crime family, but he was let out of prison in the fall of 1974, having served twelve years. He never testified against anyone. He never tried to cut a deal. He kept his mouth shut and did his time. Not like the mob guys of today.
Now Galante was balding, wore large black plastic glasses, had a perpetual scowl about his hard face as if he’d been sucking on lemons all the years he’d been away. Bitter, angry, and very dangerous, Carmine Galante quickly managed to take charge of the Bonanno family. By now Joe Bonanno had effectively retired and lived in Tucson, and Galante quickly bullied the family leadership away from Rusty Rastelli.
Galante immediately plunged the family into heroin distribution. He believed that’s where the most money was, and that’s where he concentrated the family’s resources, energy, and power. This was the beginning of the end: Galante was recklessly leading the family down a ruinous road. He also began ordering the murders of other mob members who, he felt, were competing with his interest. In one year he had killed nine Genovese people (all made men) who dealt in drugs; it was painfully clear to anyone who looked that Carmine Galante would not stop killing until he completely dominated and controlled the exceedingly lucrative drug trade and the entire American Mafia. Yes, he and his family were making truckloads of money, but he was also writing his own death warrant.
Galante became so out of control, so greedy, so violent, that the heads of the other four families, as well as the powerful New Orleans boss Santo Trafficante, secretly met in Boca Raton, Florida, and decided that Galante had to go or he would eventually destroy La Cosa Nostra single-handedly.
Thus, with the full commission’s backing, the contract to kill Galante was issued. This was a first. The full commission had never ordered the death of a family head. It was now the summer of 1979.
Bonanno captains and people Galante trusted were contacted and told what was about to happen, and they agreed to do nothing (they actually had no choice). They would even cooperate in the hit.
It was decided that people from several families would be used. Genovese killers were tapped. Paul Castellano had committed the Gambino family, he sent Nino Gaggi to see Roy DeMeo, and Gaggi told DeMeo what was in the wind. DeMeo immediately suggested his premier killer—Richard Kuklinski—for the job. “He’s by far the best we got and no one will suspect him. He ain’t one of us. He’s off the map. I mean, we can put him right fuckin’ there close to Galante.”
Nino agreed and told Paul Castellano, and Paul gave the green light, the proverbial nod, and it was done.
DeMeo soon called Richard, they met near the Tappan Zee Bridge, and DeMeo told Richard they wanted him to cap the head of a family: kill Carmine Galante. “He’s gotta go,” DeMeo said.
“No problem,” said Richard. He knew all about Galante, thought of him as a loudmouthed bully, and would gladly blow him away. “Be my pleasure.”
“Paul himself okayed you.”
“Really, I’m honored.”
“This will be very important for you, Big Guy. They’ll owe you huge after this.”
“Like I said, it’d be my pleasure,” Richard said. Galante was a notorious bully, and Richard had been a bully slayer ever since he killed Charley Lane back in the projects. He hated bullies, truly enjoyed killing them. Richard knew too that this would put him in good with all the families, that this was a sanctioned hit by the commission itself. For Richard this was the job of a lifetime, a homicide milestone.
It was now late June. The wheels that would result in Carmine Galante’s murder were oiled and inexorably turning. Galante, however, was not an easy man to take out. He was cunning and very dangerous, and he knew that a lot of people wanted him dead. He was a professional assassin himself and knew what to do and what not to do. He never adhered to any set routine. He always traveled armed. He always had two stone-faced bodyguards with him, Caesar Bonventre and Nino Coppola.
But Galante had no idea that his death had actually been sanctioned by the full Mafia commission, that bosses all over the country, in Philadelphia, California, Detroit—even Joe Bonanno—had given the nod that he had to go.
One of Galante’s bodyguards was also brought into the hit, and he readily agreed to help set up his boss. He really had no option: if he didn’t agree, his days would be numbered. By cooperating he assured his own ascension in the family; he’d have his own crews in no time.
The hit was going to go down in a restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, a heavily Sicilian enclave. It was called Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant. They served real homemade Sicilian dishes. It was owned by Galante’s cousin Mary. For that reason Galante felt safe there and often had both lunch and dinner there.
On July 8, 1979, Richard met DeMeo at the Gemini, and they headed over to Bushwick for lunch. DeMeo wanted this to go down flawlessly. For him too it was the biggest job he’d ever taken part in and would guarantee his moving up quickly in the Gambino family. Both his reputation and his life were on the line. This was going to be an inside job, and DeMeo wanted Richard to see the layout, “the lay of the land,” as DeMeo told Richard that morning.
The restaurant was a small mom-and-pop affair. An inexpensive sign over the front door said:
JOE AND MARY’S ITALIAN-AMERICAN RESTAURANT—
SPECIAL ATTENTION TO TAKE OUT ORDERS
It had a large window from one end of the store to the other, a good twenty feet, with thin, inexpensive curtains covering the window. DeMeo and Richard entered, took a table, and ordered lunch. The food was good and cheap. The two men quietly ate, started with an antipasto, then shared some pasta, thinking about murder, sudden death in the afternoon. Richard then had veal and peppers, Roy a shrimp dish covered with hot marinara sauce. Richard did not like the setup at all. The place was small, long, and narrow, with one way in and one way out. In the back there was an outdoor patio with some tables, enclosed by three-story buildings. It was there, DeMeo said, that Galante liked to sit; he felt secure back there because he could see anyone coming his way in time to make a move; you had to walk the full length of the restaurant to reach the patio.
“It’s tight,” Richard said in little more than a whisper. “I don’t like it.”
“This,” Roy said, “is how it’s set up. See what you think. Keep an open mind here. His people will be with him when he comes in and while he eats. Two guys. One is with us. After they eat, our guy is going to excuse himself to make some calls. You’re going to be the inside guy. You’ll be having lunch when they come in. He’ll never suspect you. You obviously aren’t Italian, see. He always has a cigar after he eats. So you sit as close to the back as possible, facing the street, and order food. Our guys will pull up right out front, double-park, and get out of the car. You’ll be able to see them through the curtains. Because the place is long and narrow, he’ll be able to see them right off, and this guy will start shootin’ and ask questions later. That’s why there has to be a guy inside, in position—and that guy is you.”
Richard looked toward the street. Through the curtains he could easily see the sidewalk and Knickerbocker Avenue, people and cars passing; he heard the rumble of trucks, the sound of horns.
“So,” Roy continued, “soon as you see them, you move. Get up calm, real calm, walk toward the patio, and let him have it. Don’t give him the chance to reach for a piece. They’ll be right behind you, with shotguns. This cocksucker can’t live. He can’t survive this…What do you think?”
“It’s tight,” Richard repeated. “But doable.”
“You okay with it?”
“I’m okay with it. Just make sure the guys that come in know I’m on the team.”
“They’ll know. You should be firing at the scumbag when they first see you. When you’re done just turn and walk out. Don’t run. I’ll be in a car waiting for you; okay?”
“Thursday, the twelfth. I’ll pick you up that morning. Say ten thirty. You gotta be here, you gotta be inside, sitting down, at twelve fifteen. Use something that’ll definitely do the job…maybe a .357.”
“Okay,” Richard said, calm, cool, collected, taking a drink of water, thinking the food was good.
July 11 Richard called Barbara from the war room and told her he wasn’t coming home, that he had business. As always, she said okay. Barbara never questioned Richard. He did what he wanted to do. By now she had come to realize that he was involved in “shady dealings,” and she readily accepted what he said. He had some Chinese food in nearby Chinatown, watched television in his war room, called Barbara to say good night, talked about the children, a planned trip for the family to go to Disney World. He went to sleep after watching the news and Johnny Carson’s monologue.
July 12 was a clear, typically hot, humid day. Richard showered and dressed for the day’s events. He put on plain green pants and an oversized short-sleeved shirt that would readily cover the three pistols he would bring to lunch. He went and had an omelet in a Greek coffee shop nearby, bought the three New York newspapers, took a walk, went back to the war room, and opened the safe. He would use the newspapers as props. Inside the safe he had an extensive collection of weapons. He chose two six-shot .357s and a .38 with a four-inch barrel. One of the .357s had a hair trigger. Richard had filed down the firing mechanism so the gun would go off with just the slightest pressure applied to the trigger. He put the guns in a black sports bag and went downstairs carrying the bag and newspapers. As planned, DeMeo picked him up on the corner of Spring and Lafayette. They barely spoke on the trip to Brooklyn. Richard was, as always before a hit, oddly calm; he knew he could very well be killed today, that any one of a number of things could go wrong and it would be over for him. However, this didn’t unduly trouble him. In an odd way, Richard Kuklinski had a death-wish, which would become stronger with each passing year. He listened to golden oldies as they went. Roy liked oldies too.
Richard was looking forward to confronting Galante. He knew this would be up close and personal—what he liked most. He knew too that Galante would definitely try to defend himself, that he had finely tuned killing instincts and skills. In a sense, Richard viewed this as his High Noon. He was Gary Cooper and he was going up against the baddest outlaw in town, a black-hearted bastard that had to die—that needed killing the way a rabid dog needs killing.
No, Richard was not nervous at all. Near Knickerbocker Avenue, Richard took the three guns from the bag and carefully stuck them in the waistband of his pants, in the position they needed to be. Roy said he’d be out front when he came out, in front of the car that brought the two other shooters, whose job it was to do the coup de grâce.
“Make sure I don’t come out of there and I’m stuck.”
“I’ll be there!” DeMeo promised. They shook hands, kissed on each cheek. DeMeo wished him luck. Richard stepped from the car into the fierce mid-July sun. He was carrying a copy of The Daily News, a handy prop. Rubbery waves of heat rose from the ground in sinuous waves. Richard slowly walked to the restaurant, passing Italian cafés, pizza shops, Italian food stores with salamis and giant logs of provolone hanging in the window. The smell of freshly baked bread permeated the air. He opened the door and went inside. He took a table toward the rear, but not too far because he didn’t want to draw undue attention to himself. He greeted the waiter in a friendly manner, ordered some lunch, a meatball hero, something he could eat without using utensils. He didn’t want to leave prints on anything. He opened his paper and paid attention to it, looking down, acting as though he were reading something of great interest. His sandwich was served. It looked and smelled delicious. He didn’t, however, touch it. He’d wait.
Soon, Carmine Galante appeared at the door. Loud and gruff, he and his two guys entered and made their way straight to the rear patio. There was a long table already set up for them, adorned with a spanking new tablecloth. The patio was shaded by the surrounding buildings. Fawningly, waiters hurried to wait on Galante. Everyone knew who he was, and he was treated like the pope himself. Bottled water, wine, and food were hustled to the table. Still reading The Daily News, Richard now casually began to eat his sandwich. At one point he dropped the paper and, as he picked it up, turned for a brief moment and saw where Galante was seated. It was set in his mind. Now he kept his eyes on the street. The car with the other assassins could pull up at any moment. Richard slowly ate the meatball hero and read the paper, keeping his eyes on the street. DeMeo had told him one of the bodyguards was supposed to leave Galante at one point and that was when the hit team would show up; but he was thinking that they could come sooner. Calm and relaxed, feeling no anxiety—in his own element—Richard waited, eating slowly, reading the paper after each bite.
Then, sure enough, one of the bodyguards got up and walked out of the restaurant. It was Caesar Bonventre.
It would be any moment. Richard prepared himself. He moved his feet to be in position to quickly stand. True, Richard was a huge man, but he had the quickness of a lithe cat—a giant pale-colored panther.
The car pulled up right out front. Richard saw the assassins getting out. This was it. Time to do it. Richard immediately got up and, not hurrying, walked straight toward the patio, straight toward Galante, his eyes now riveted on the mark. All of Richard’s senses were heightened. He heard the front door open. Galante now saw Richard coming; they locked eyes. Galante immediately knew what was up, clearly saw his own death fast approaching. He knew the dance; he knew the look; he knew the beats, the steps, the body language. He began to stand. Richard pulled out two guns, the .357s, aimed, and fired repeatedly, emptying the guns in seconds; he hit Galante and shot Coppola too. Richard turned, and the hit team immediately let loose on Galante, one with a shotgun. It was deafeningly loud in the enclosed space. Richard grabbed his newspaper and walked out of the restaurant, the sounds of all the shots ringing in his ears. The car was there. He walked to it and got in, and off they slowly went.
“How’d it go?” Roy asked, his face all creased with curiosity.
“Like fuckin’ clockwork,” Richard said.
“You’re the best, Big Guy.”
Richard went straight back to the city. He was pleased at how well it had gone; it really had been like clockwork—perfect. He and Roy went to a Little Italy outdoor café and ordered coffees, and Richard told him all the details—how Galante saw him coming and right off the bat knew what was up. Roy shook his hand several times. He was as happy as a kid on Christmas morning. The two walked back to Richard’s office. Roy hugged him and kissed him, and they made plans to meet soon. Richard went up to the war room. Pleased, he felt as though he had just run a grueling marathon race and come in first. He planned to stay in the office, in the city, for a few days. He would not go home until he was sure it was truly over and done. For all he knew someone would now come looking to kill him, to silence him, to close the door on what had happened. Italians, mob guys, had very funny ways when it came to murder. Nothing was simple. There were all kinds of protocols and backstabbing. He loaded a shotgun he had, put it on his desk, and waited, tight…unsure. He trusted no one—certainly not Roy DeMeo.
Would DeMeo now look to kill him, he wondered, send people to take him out? Silence him. Let ’em try, he thought.
He called Barbara. She was making sandwiches for herself and the children, who were playing in the pool. He told her he’d be home in “a few days.” Again, they talked about their planned trip to Disney World, hung up. Richard put on the TV and watched a news bulletin about the hit, wondering if an adult was keeping an eye on the kids as they played in the pool.
A news photographer somehow managed to get up on a roof overlooking the patio where Galante had been killed and took pictures of his corpse. Oddly, Galante still had the cigar he’d been smoking sticking out of his mouth; it had wedged itself into his mouth, which hung open now as if his jaw had come undone. His glasses were askew. Blood pooled around him in a glistening red puddle that drew flies. The stink of a dead body in the July heat filled the air; mixed with the lovely smell of fresh baked bread, it was an odd odor. When detectives back there saw the photographer, they yelled at him to get lost. “Get the hell outta there!” one called.
The following day, however, one of those pictures appeared, not surprisingly, on the front page of all New York papers—on papers across the country—there was the terrible badass Carmine Galante dead as a doorstop with this ridiculous cigar sticking out of his slick mouth. Mafia families everywhere celebrated. A barbed thorn in their collective side had been removed, a cancer had been cut away; he was history; good riddance.
Carmine Galante hadn’t shown anyone the proper respect, indeed any respect, and he not only got what he deserved, but the whole world got to see him in that compromising, embarrassing position, as if he were dog shit left on the sidewalk.
Toasts were made all over Mafiadom. Made men shook hands, congratulated one another, patted one another on the back as if there had been a marriage, as if one of their children had just graduated college with high honors.
“The prick got what the fuck he deserved,” Paul Castellano decreed in his Veterans and Friends Club on Eighty-Sixth Street. When Richard saw the extraordinary photograph of Galante with the cigar sticking out of his mouth, he smiled, thinking: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Several days later Richard went to see DeMeo, and Roy was again all hugs and kisses and smiles. Richard had enhanced his rep in the world of organized crime. Because of Richard, DeMeo had newfound respect. He was finally being recognized for his unusual talent. He was sure he’d be promoted soon. Paul Castellano would certainly reward him generously. How could he not? As they often did, Richard and DeMeo went out for a meal—to Rao’s in Manhattan—and Richard again told DeMeo all the intricate details of how flawlessly the hit had gone down. Richard had never seen DeMeo so pleased. It looked as if he were going to jump on the table and do a jig any moment.
“Big Guy,” DeMeo said, “we owe you! I’m going to make sure you earn seriously!”
Now another Gambino captain walked in: Sammy Gravano out of Bensonhurst, known as Sammy the Bull. He was with an attractive blonde and another couple. DeMeo and he nodded to each other. Gravano took a table in the back of the small place. Richard knew who Gravano was and wondered if his being there was only coincidence. In fact, Gravano was there just to eat and have a good time. He would, however, play a large part in Richard’s life in years to come. He too would play a large part in the murder of a capo di tutti.
DeMeo discreetly slid a sealed envelope filled with money over to Richard. “For a job well done,” DeMeo said.
“Roy,” Richard said, “I don’t want anything. This one is a favor. Tell the big guy [Castellano] and the others that…Truth is, it was my pleasure,” Richard said, quite the diplomat—a very smart move, this.
“You’re the best! you’re the fuckin’ best,” DeMeo said in little more than a whisper.
After a delicious feast—this place served excellent homemade Neapolitan Italian food—coffee, and after-dinner drinks, DeMeo offered to take Richard to a special cathouse and have four women do him at one time.
“All beautiful babes—like model beautiful, I swear!” DeMeo swore.
Richard declined. “The only woman I sleep with is my wife,” he said. And soon he was on his way back home. Richard felt at the top of his game, as if he had the world by the balls. He knew he should be earning big now.
As usual, Richard did not drive straight home; he doubled back, took turns, pulled off the parkway and waited, making sure he wasn’t being followed. He still wasn’t certain how all this would play out in the end. He figured he was still in danger if there was some kind of Italian double-cross in the wind. He still suspected DeMeo might have him killed; he didn’t trust DeMeo, didn’t consider him a friend. The only friends he had, Richard figured, were Barbara and his weapons. They never lied. They never cheated. They were always there when he wanted them, ready to do his bidding.
Little did Richard know how much Barbara had grown to resent him. She did her best to act as though it was all over when a tirade stopped, but it wasn’t. When Richard arrived home, he took Barbara in his powerful arms and made love to her.
The next day the Kuklinski family left for Florida. As always they stopped for a nice lunch on the drive down. The man who had just blown away Carmine Galante was in the car with his family on the way to Florida singing a Beatles song—“I Want to Hold Your Hand”—with his children, not a care in the world.
They stopped in a good hotel, the kids played in the pool, they had a nice leisurely dinner, and in the morning they drove straight on to Florida. On the way they bought fireworks at a shack along the way, some Roman candles, rockets, and ash cans to amuse the children. Richard seemed to be in a good mood, and Barbara was pleased, as were Chris and Merrick.
Neither Richard nor Barbara had found out anything about what Chris had done with the man in the van. For a while after it happened, Chris had felt bad…dirty, was troubled by it. But all that had changed. Now she felt stronger because of it; she had asserted her own individuality in the strongest way she could and was glad she’d done it.
When the family arrived in Florida they went straight to Al Pedrici’s home. As always Al was very pleased to see Barbara and his grandchildren.
The kids, of course, wanted to go out fishing on Al’s boat, and he was happy to accommodate them. He had the boat all gassed up already and bait and soda on board. As usual Barbara declined to go, and Richard and the kids hopped on board and off they went. Al commented to Richard about the picture of Galante on the front page of all the Florida papers. Richard acted as though he were as surprised by it as everyone else.
As per Barbara’s instructions, Richard made sure he put sunblock on himself, Chris, and Merrick. Dwayne didn’t need any sunblock. He had the dark skin of a Mediterranean boy and didn’t sunburn like his dad and sisters. They started catching snappers and blowfish right away. They also hooked a small sand shark, which Al let go. Seeing the shark fleetingly reminded Richard of the rapist he had tortured and killed in Miami. Richard rarely thought of the people he murdered. It was almost as if someone else had done those things. In a very real sense there were two Richards. Even now, so many years later, when Richard talks about things he did he often says “we,” refers to himself in the plural. Rarely does he say “I.”
After staying at Al’s home a few days, going out to the best restaurants each evening, Richard dropping hundred-dollar bills as if they were used tissues, the family went on to Disney World, and the kids had a ball. Funny how Richard so enjoyed Disney World. When he was there he was more like a big kid. It seemed he was making up for the childhood he’d never had. He’d go on all the fun rides and had a bigger smile than the children. The family stayed at Disney World six days, then headed back up to New Jersey, stopping in hotels as they went. It was a good vacation. Richard didn’t lose his temper once. Everyone had a great time. Still, it was good to be back home. Home sweet home.
The following day was a Sunday and the family went to church. Barbara made sure of that. Richard was an usher at the church, dutifully helped with the collections. He didn’t at all believe in the Catholic Church or its teachings. He came and was an usher to please Barbara. He recently explained, The church was all full of shit. A bunch of lying, money-hungry, hypocritical bastards. I used to see priests I knew in peep shows over on Eighth Avenue, in the shops I sold porn to.
As the summer was coming to a close and autumn was approaching, Richard spent more and more time with Robert Pronge. He was fascinated with the unique methods Pronge had invented, developed, and perfected to kill people. But the more Richard grew to know Pronge, the more he began to think that Pronge was a sick motherfucker, as he put it—certainly an interesting characterization coming from him.
Pronge had a piece of work to do in Queens. He used his Mister Softee truck to scope out the mark’s house. Intrigued, Richard went along with him to observe. Pronge pulled up right in front of the mark’s house and actually sold ice cream to the mark’s children. Later that night Pronge—with Richard still tagging along—went back to the mark’s home, opened the mark’s car with a master key he had, and planted a fragmentation grenade right under the front seat.
In the morning, now in Pronge’s car, Pronge and Richard watched the mark get into his car and pull away. They followed him. Pronge had the triggering device in his hand. He had many good opportunities to set it off, but he waited, clearly enjoying toying with the mark’s life, which troubled Richard. He seemed to enjoy too much having control over when and where he died. Richard kept asking him to do it; he wanted to see how the grenade worked and to get this over with, but Pronge kept drawing it out, as if it were good sex he didn’t want to end. Richard began to wonder about Pronge’s sanity.
Finally, after two hours of following the mark around, Pronge set off the grenade, and boy did it work well. It not only killed the mark, but blew the lower half of his body apart. Richard was impressed. He bought four of the radio-activated grenades from Pronge.
The police had no idea who had blown up the man, or why. There was, of course, no connection between Pronge and the victim.
Richard, in turn, took Pronge on a job. Together they abducted the mark from a parking lot using Richard’s animal-tranquilizer dart. This was a situation where the order was for the mark to suffer, to be tortured, and Richard took him to the caves in Bucks County, and Pronge watched Richard prepare the mark for the rats, set up the camera, the lights, the motion detector.
Pronge thought all this was just great, the best idea since the wheel. “Fucking excellent!” he exclaimed.
When Pronge and Richard returned the next day, Pronge’s eyes got all wide and he couldn’t get over Richard’s “great fuckin’ idea,” as he called it: the rats had eaten the man alive, and Richard had it on tape. Wide-eyed, Pronge watched the tape and kept congratulating Richard on his “great idea.”
On another job Pronge had, the mark never left his apartment. Pronge asked Richard what he’d do. Richard told him to go knock on the guy’s door and shoot him with a .357 when he saw the mark approach through the peephole. Pronge tried it and it worked like a well-oiled clock.
For one of the few times in his life, other than Phil Solimene, Richard had a friend…someone he had much in common with; but that wouldn’t last long.
Richard’s daughter Chris was troubled. After witnessing her father’s temper tantrums and sudden violence against Barbara and their home, she had lost part of her individuality, who she was; and to get that back, to feel whole again, like a complete person in charge of her own life, her destiny, she let boys take advantage of her. Actually, she says, she was using them. She came to think that if she did what she wanted that way, romantically, she was asserting her individuality, taking charge of her life, controlling her destiny. She became very popular in school, was voted most popular girl in class two years running, and it was, she recently explained, because she was having relations with most every boy in school, amused by the memories, laughing about it now.
Interestingly, it would seem that Merrick would be doing such things, not Chris. Merrick dressed wildly. Merrick had friends her mom and dad didn’t approve of. Merrick had a very giving nature, was all about peace and love. But Merrick was a prude about sex. She wouldn’t let a boy so much as touch her that way. It became, for Chris, like a dangerous game she played with herself. She’d let boys come over to the house and “fool around” with them in her lower-level bedroom—while Richard was home!
If Richard had known what she was doing, he would have gone absolutely bananas. He was very conservative about sex—even though he was now thought of as the porn king of New York—and if he had known his young daughter was having relations right there in the house, he would’ve exploded.
Chris was not enjoying any of these liaisons. She was doing these things to get back at her father the only way she knew how—with her body. As time went by and Chris started hanging out with boys who could drive, she’d actually have relations in cars and vans parked right out in front of the house.
Richard, of course, didn’t realize what was going on, because he just never in a million years would suspect his daughter Chris, Little Miss Goody Two-shoes, of all this flagrante delicto right in front of and even in the house. Ironically, Richard thought Merrick might be fooling around, and he actually followed Merrick, went to parties and dances she attended.
Merrick recently explained: My dad would suddenly just show up. I’d be, you know, at a party and he suddenly would be there, looking at me. He used to hide behind trees and bushes and watch me. I only saw him if he wanted me to. He had this…this kind of amazing ability to blend, to not be seen if he didn’t want to. He was like a ghost. I never did anything I shouldn’t because I never knew where my father was.
Of course, Merrick had no way of knowing that her father stalked people all the time, that he was a professional stalker. Considering Richard’s huge size, he did have an amazing ability to not be seen if he didn’t want to be.
Yet, he never knew his daughter Chris was voted most popular girl in school because most of the boys had relations with her.
Off the Record
This was a very delicate, dangerous business for a whole host of reasons.
Nino Gaggi and Roy DeMeo found a great cocaine connection: two Brazilian brothers who were processing coca leaves from Bolivia into pure, high-grade cocaine. The brothers had apparently found a German scientist to expertly refine the coca leaves into a highly desirable product, called “mother-of-pearl” because of its unique luminous, bluish-pink tint.
The problem was drug dealing was a no-no for made men, forbidden by the Mafia commission. Carmine Galante had been killed because of it. Yet, most captains were involved with it in one way or another—“off the record,” as they referred to it. There was just too much money to be made, so the rank and file of all the families across the country had their greedy, gluttonous fingers in this highly profitable business.
The seventies were coming to a close and cocaine was the in drug, the most popular drug of all time. It was served up at swank parties from Bel Air to Park Avenue. Everyone everywhere was doing it. And the Mafia could not resist the temptation and profit it readily presented for them.
So DeMeo contacted Richard to come for a meeting with Gaggi. They again met at the Villa on Twenty-Sixth Avenue and had a nice meal, and when it was finished Gaggi got to the point: “We know,” he said, in his low, formal tone, “you can be trusted. You’ve proven that many times. We have this situation we’d like to involve you in. If you don’t want to get involved, no problem. But if you say you want in you must be in all the way…you understand?”
“We have two brothers, the Mediros. They live in Rio de Janeiro. They are processing babagna [cocaine] there in Brazil and bringing it over in ships, in those containers. They have, Roy tells me, the best stuff on the market. We want you to go there, meet them, see the operation, and make the deal if you think it’s right. They will deliver it to us here, to a warehouse we have in south Brooklyn. You will receive it and watch it until it’s picked up by our people. Basically that’s it. You will get fifteen percent of all the profit. You want in?”
“Yeah, sure, definitely,” Richard said, pleased he was being asked. This he thought, was payoff for killing Galante.
“So be it,” Gaggi said, shaking Richard’s enormous hand, and it was done.
Several days later, Richard was on a plane to Rio de Janeiro. It was a long, arduous trip but he had a first-class seat and managed to sleep most of the eleven-hour flight. He’d never been to South America before. Always curious, Richard enjoyed seeing new places, peoples, cultures. He was met by a man who worked for the Mediro brothers after he went through customs. He was taken to a hotel in the center of Rio called the Copacabana Palace, right across the street from the famous Copacabana Beach on Avenida Atlantica. He looked in awe at the beautiful stretch of white beach—Lima, Copacabana, and Ipanema elegantly stretched out before him in a gentle horseshoe shape from one end of this glimmering city on the Atlantic to the other.
Arrangements were made for Richard to be picked up in a few hours. He freshened up in his room and went for a walk along Avenida Atlantica, marveling at the beauty of Rio, the coastline, Sugarloaf Mountain—the huge statue of Christ standing guard, it seemed, over the entire city. As is the custom, Brazilian women walked about the streets in tongas—the skimpiest of bikinis, their posteriors completely exposed—and Richard was taken aback by their outrageously beautiful, curvaceous curves and mocha-colored suntans. He’d never seen such beautiful women before. I can’t stay here too long, he thought, or I’ll get in trouble.
As planned he was picked up and taken to the Mediro home, a sprawling white house surrounded by a gorgeous, sweet-smelling garden. It was in the area where the Christ was, on a mountain overlooking the city.
The Mediro brothers were two intense, very polite Brazilians. Richard first met Eduardo, a handsome dark-haired man with flashing white teeth, dark predatory eyes, jet-black hair slicked back. Richard and Eduardo went out on a veranda, had cold drinks, and talked. As they talked, Eduardo’s brother, John Carlo, showed up. John Carlo was very dark, seemed, Richard thought, a Negro. He sat down, and they discussed the deal, price, delivery. Richard was on his best behavior. When he wanted, he could be amazingly polite—the perfect gentleman. The brothers seemed to take to him. Eduardo had a gorgeous little girl, two or three years old, and she came running out onto the veranda, was completely fascinated by Richard, taken by his huge size and white skin. Her name was Yada. Richard loved children, and he immediately began playing with Yada, picked her up and tickled her as she squealed with delight. A maid came and got her and took her for a nap.
“She is so very fascinated by people,” Eduardo explained, very much liking how Richard responded to his daughter. Now that the particulars of the business were out of the way, Eduardo said he’d like to show Richard their processing lab; then they’d go to eat.
“Fine,” said Richard. They piled into a yellow Mercedes sedan the brothers had and went for a two-hour drive, over a very long bridge, up into thick green hills. The lab was in a huge cinder-block warehouse. Armed guards sat in chairs in front of it. They jumped to attention when they saw the brothers’ yellow car.
Inside, Richard was stunned by all the cocaine. There were large squares of it, tightly wrapped in thick plastic, neatly piled up from floor to ceiling. In the back, off to the left, was the lab. Huge vats of coca leaves were being turned into a nearly pure white powder. Eduardo offered Richard “a taste.” He declined, said he never did drugs. Eduardo liked that too.
Impressed, Richard saw the whole operation, thinking he would surely make a fortune. He was, he knew, taking a big risk getting involved with so much cocaine, but he didn’t think he’d get caught; the risks seemed worth it, as he put it.
From the warehouse, they went back to Rio, to an upscale barbecue restaurant in Ipanema, where they cooked all kinds of meats on metal spits over a wood fire in the center of the restaurant, and Richard had the biggest, best steak in his life, he would later say. After this wonderful dinner, the brothers offered to take Richard sightseeing and horseback riding the next day, but Richard politely declined, said he needed to get back home. He missed his family.
“As you wish,” Eduardo said, and they took him back to his hotel. Richard called DeMeo and let him know all was good, the flight he’d be returning on. DeMeo said he’d come pick him up. Later that evening Richard was taken out to the airport and managed to catch a flight out of Rio to New York, with a brief stopover in Lima, Peru.
Richard was startled to see Gaggi with Roy at the airport. As they drove to a restaurant in nearby Bensonhurst, Richard told them about all that he’d seen. Gaggi said he had spoken already with the Mediro brothers and they really liked Richard…even said how nice he was to the little girl Yada.
“You did a good job,” Gaggi said; then they had a dinner and finalized plans to receive the first shipment of cocaine the following month.
George Malliband was a large, boisterous man, a two-bit hustler, a degenerate gambler that happened to weigh three hundred pounds. Richard first met Malliband at Phil Solimene’s store; they did a little business together, developed a relationship of sorts. George lived on a farm in Pennsylvania and Richard went hunting there with him once in a while. When Malliband overextended himself and borrowed money from loan sharks because of gambling debts, he painted himself into a corner—a particularly dangerous corner. Like many other people, Malliband heard stories about how dangerous Richard could be, and he turned to Richard for help. Richard, in his own way, had taken a shine to Malliband, or Georgie-Boy, as he called him, and he reluctantly came to his assistance: he arranged for the loan sharks to wait a few days for their money, and introduced Malliband to DeMeo, who wound up loaning Malliband thirty-five thousand dollars, at “a friend’s rate.”
Malliband paid off the Jersey sharks and people he owed money in Vegas. He had promised up and down he’d pay DeMeo back in a timely fashion, sworn on his mother and father and everyone else, but he soon stopped making payments to DeMeo, and Roy put the squeeze on him. Malliband again ran to Richard for help.
“Look,” Richard said, “I can’t help you. You swore on your word of honor, on all your relatives, you’d do the right thing here, and now you’re obligated. DeMeo…you can’t fuck around with this guy, see. He’s fuckin’ dangerous.”
“Yeah, well, you can fix it for me, Rich. I know you can,” Malliband said. “I just need a little more time here, that’s all.”
“How much more?”
“A week, let’s say a week.”
Again, Richard extended himself, went to see DeMeo and got Malliband a week.
Again, though, George Malliband had a song and dance instead of the money, and again, Richard had a heart-to-heart talk with him, explained that DeMeo was hot, that DeMeo was talking about hurting him. They were now in Richard’s van, driving along.
Malliband said, “Big Guy…I know too much about what you do; I don’t think you’d ever let DeMeo hurt me. Fact is I know you won’t. Remember, Big Guy, I know where you live; where your family lives. You won’t let anything happen to me,” he said, thinking himself sly.
This incensed Richard. His face paled. His lips twisted off to the left. That soft clicking came from him. A threat to his family, by Jesus Christ himself, was something he could not tolerate. He was nearly blind with red-hot rage.
“You know, Georgie-Boy, you’re wrong,” Richard said, pulling over to the curb, and without another word he whipped out a .38 and shot Malliband five times, killing him.
I could see, he’d later say, the bullets tearing into his clothes.
Richard proceeded to take Malliband to the large North Bergen garage he used as a warehouse and a place to kill people, near where Pronge kept his Mister Softee truck. Richard stuffed Malliband’s huge body into a fifty-five-gallon drum. But Malliband was too big for Richard to properly fit him into the drum, no matter how hard he pushed and squeezed, all the while talking to Malliband, saying: “See, Georgie, see what you made me do? I didn’t want to do this. See what you made me do?”
In the end Richard had to get a saw and cut one of Malliband’s legs so he could bend it into the black metal drum, which he sealed and put into his van. It was over three hundred pounds, yet Richard picked it up easily. He now drove to Jersey City, his old stomping ground. There was a big chemical plant on Hope Street called Chemtex. Out back was a kind of dumping ground. It was February now, a bitterly cold day, snowing lightly. Everything was frozen and brittle. Frigid winds ripped off the Atlantic. Richard backed his van to this impromptu dumping area, pulled the drum out of the van, rolled it down a steep embankment that abutted an old railroad yard, got back in the van, and left. For years people had been using this area as a convenient dumping site, and Richard believed Malliband wouldn’t be found for a long time, maybe never.
He was wrong. When the barrel hit a rock at the bottom of the ravine, the top popped off.
The man who owned the plant opened the rear door of the place and was standing there having a smoke when he noticed something odd—what looked like a man’s leg sticking out of a big drum. He investigated and nearly fell down when he saw what was in the barrel, a very large dead man, his leg all cut up, his femur bone visible. The man ran to call the police.
The identity of the dead man was soon established. His family was contacted. Malliband’s brother said George had been going to meet Richard Kuklinski of Dumont the day he disappeared. The police questioned Richard. He, of course, said he knew nothing about the murder. But this was the first time he’d ever been connected to a homicide he’d done, though it didn’t go any further. It stopped, for now, right there.
Richard was mad at himself. He should have buried Malliband, dumped him down one of the bottomless holes in the caves, fed him to the rats. I must, he told himself, be more careful.
As much as Richard loved his home life, being a “family man,” he came to believe that being married, having children, was making him…soft, he explained, taking away the razor-sharp edge a professional killer must have. He vowed to be more careful. He would get his razor edge back. In a bad mood now, he had a temper tantrum in the house and began breaking things.
The cocaine from Brazil arrived and was delivered to a warehouse Gaggi and DeMeo had found in south Brooklyn, down by the waterfront, near the old armory.
Richard, seriously armed, was there to receive it. It was a lot more than he thought. The cocaine was on wooden skids, two of them, all neatly wrapped in plastic. Richard set up a cot for himself, put broken glass all over the floor, even installed two electronically activated beams at the entrance so no one could sneak in. He had to stay with the coke until it was picked up. Those were his orders. That night a few of DeMeo’s guys did show up and took the load away. Richard’s job was done. He soon received a big bag of money from DeMeo, minus what Malliband had owed, of course. But DeMeo didn’t charge any vig at all.
For months this went on flawlessly. The loads came in; Richard received and guarded them until they were picked up; a short while later he was given a bag filled with hundred-dollar bills. Richard was pleased. It was all working out well. Everyone was making money. There were no problems.
That soon changed.
DeMeo beeped Richard; they met near the Tappan Zee Bridge.
“We’ve got problems,” DeMeo said, “with the Brazilians.”
“What happened?” Richard asked, concerned.
DeMeo explained that he and Gaggi had found a better coke contact, Colombians out of Medellín, that sold coke for far less than the Mediro brothers, and DeMeo had not paid the Brazilians for the last load; furthermore, he wasn’t going to pay them, he said.
“How much is involved?” Richard asked, thinking this was a stupid thing for DeMeo and Gaggi to be doing. Why, he wondered, were these Italians always so greedy?
“Little more than half a million. And they…well, they threatened us.”
“Of course. Roy, these are serious guys. I wouldn’t fuck with them. Give them—”
“We ain’t,” he interrupted.
“And what do you want me to do?”
“Go there with a few of the guys and kill the cocksuckers,” DeMeo said.
“Roy, Rio is a big place; I don’t know my way around.”
“I’ll send you with three of the guys.”
Richard thought about this. It was a risky proposition, he knew…but he liked the challenge, even the danger, of it. “If I go I want to do this by myself,” he said.
“Any way you think is best. There’s sixty large in it for you.”
“Okay,” Richard said, intrigued by the challenge, how the odds were stacked against him; his death wish was again coming into play.
“When can you go? The sooner the better,” DeMeo said.
“I’ll leave tomorrow,” Richard said. “That soon enough?”
“Good man,” DeMeo said, and hugged and kissed Richard. They both got back into their cars and went in opposite directions, Richard’s mind playing over, as if he were studying a giant life-and-death chess match, what he would do, how he would do it.
By now you know, he recently explained, what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary. I got no rise as such out of it at all…for the most part. But the figuring it out, the challenge—the stalking and doing it right, successfully—that excited me a lot. The greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it.
Gambling, it was all about gambling, I guess, you know, and I was betting my life, all I had; that was the bet. Me, alone, against them…I don’t mean these guys necessarily, the Brazilian brothers, anyone I was going up against. This involved me, only me—it didn’t put my family in danger at all. That I’d never do. Gamble with them. Their lives. Their well-being.
Richard didn’t seem to realize that he was, in fact, putting his family in jeopardy. Serious jeopardy. South Americans, as a matter of course, regularly strike at enemies’ families. For them it was the norm. For Richard it was anathema. For South Americans, the first, logical place to strike was to kill a man’s family, and it was, they knew, much more painful and lasting than even doing in the intended target.
Moreover, Richard didn’t seem to connect what he was doing to the full spectrum of calamities that could and would befall his family if he was found out. Such a thing was so painful for him, he didn’t think about it. Perhaps he couldn’t think about it. He pushed it away somewhere in a dark corner of his mind and left it there.
Getting weapons to Rio, Richard knew, would be the first order of business. That night he took apart two Italian automatics with silencers, put them in a wooden box, lined it with pieces of styrofoam. In the morning he mailed it and a box of nine-millimeter bullets to himself at the Copacabana Palace. (He was using a bogus name.)
As usual, he didn’t say one word to Barbara about where he was going or what he was doing. He kissed her so long, drove himself to Kennedy Airport, left his car in the parking lot, and boldly caught a Pan Am flight—of course first-class—directly to Rio de Janeiro.
The plane ran into a fierce thunderstorm and Richard was tossed about in his seat. He was a superstitious man, and he hoped the storm wasn’t some kind of bad omen. As much as Richard could like someone, he liked the Mediro brothers; he very much liked Eduardo’s little girl Yada. That weighed on him for a while, but he soon forgot about her. Richard was very good at compartmentalizing his feelings, and he focused his thoughts, his energy, on murdering the brothers and getting away with it unscathed. That was all that mattered. That was the job at hand.
He took a cab from the airport directly to the lovely Copacabana Palace, checked in under his false name, and went up to the luxurious room. It had a sweeping view of the beach, and Richard stood at the window admiring the tawny-colored beach and the beautiful nearly naked females all over the place.
The guns were supposed to arrive that day, but they never came. They were, no doubt, stolen by a customs agent, and now Richard was in Rio with no weapons, feeling as if he were in band with no instrument to play.
This was, of course, a dilemma. Richard knew no one here, didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, didn’t even know how to get to their home. He walked onto Copacabana Beach, down to the water’s edge, turned, and faced the bustling, steaming city. Using the giant Christ as a point of reference, Richard had an idea where the house was, but he had no car.
Perplexed, concerned, he walked all the way to the Ipanema district and back. He sat at a shaded outdoor café, ordered an iced tea, and watched the Brazilian people go about their fast-paced hot-blooded lives. Here it was like summer and the temperature was in the low nineties. The sun, so close to the equator, was much stronger than back in the States. Richard could see its searing heat rising from the black-and-white mosaic tiled sidewalk in sensuous undulating waves. He just sat there watching people, the gorgeous women, thinking this thing out.
It didn’t take long for Richard to spot street urchins dealing drugs along the sidewalk on the beach side of the wide avenue, on the other side of the street. They were tough little tykes, and as the sun began to set behind Sugarloaf Mountain, Richard approached a tall, skinny cappuccino-colored kid. The kid saw him coming from across the street, thinking Richard was a gringo who wanted to suck his dick. Many such men approached him for he was a handsome boy, maybe fifteen. He smiled at Richard, willing to let anyone who paid him suck his dick to his heart’s content.
Using mime, his street savvy, Richard quickly managed to let the boy know he wanted to buy a gun, a pistol, a .38. The street kid, an outlaw, immediately understood exactly what Richard wanted and, using his fingers, let him know how much such a gun would be. More or less a hundred bucks. Richard said okay. They agreed to meet in this same spot at twelve the following afternoon. The boy asked for the money now; Richard said no—he’d get paid when he brought the “pistola.”
Not sure if the kid would deliver, Richard went back to the café and watched the busy thoroughfare some more. When darkness engulfed the city he returned to his room and called Barbara. They talked about the kids. He said nothing about where he was. She didn’t ask. He went back downstairs, had dinner, went for another long walk, and retired early.
At noon the following day, Richard crossed the street, and the boy was there, holding a brown paper bag. Richard looked inside. Sure enough it was a .38 Smith & Wesson. Richard paid him. They shook hands and parted. Back in his room, Richard took the gun apart. It was old and somewhat beat-up, but all the components worked. He cleaned and oiled it.
Now carrying the gun, Richard went back out and walked away from the beach, into Rio Central. He located a hardware store, bought a hammer, pliers, and screwdriver, walked on. He found a quiet street and quickly managed to steal a van, using the tools he’d just bought. Now with wheels, he headed straight for the hills overlooking Rio, and using the giant Christ as a point of direction he actually managed to locate the Mediros’ home within several hours. He smiled, parked down the street, and waited, not sure what to do or how to do it. He wasn’t there an hour when the electronic gate suddenly opened and out came the yellow Mercedes. Both brothers and two other men were in it. Richard followed them back down to the beach area along Avenida Atlantica. They parked and went into a secluded restaurant on a quiet Ipanema street. Richard had six bullets. He knew every shot had to count, that surely they were armed and he had to move quickly. He managed to park near the Mercedes. He let the air out of the front left tire, went back to the van, and waited, tense like a coiled spring, a giant cat about to strike, but calm inside; ice cold inside…an Ice Man. Richard was in his element. This is what Richard did. Stalk to kill. After two hours, they came out. They had obviously been drinking, were now laughing, relaxed. As they approached the Mercedes, Eduardo first noticed the flat. After appropriate curses, one of the other guys opened the trunk of the Mercedes and pulled its spare tire out. The others waited. They lit cigarettes. Richard stepped out of the van and calmly walked right toward them, staying in shadows as he went. John Carlo first spotted him—but he couldn’t quite conceive that it was truly Richard. Richard pulled out the pistol and in a matter of several seconds fired four times, dropped all of them. However, he had to fire a second shot to finish off Eduardo.
The job done, Richard got into the van and pulled away. Shocked diners and waiters poured from the restaurant. Richard drove to the other side of the city, to Lemi, and left the van there after carefully wiping all his prints off it. He threw the gun into the ocean and returned to the hotel. The following day Richard left Rio on the first flight out.
Richard was very proud of this piece of work. It was the kind of accomplishment he wanted to tell people about, brag about, but of course he couldn’t.
He got into his car and drove back to New Jersey, checking his rearview and taking U turns as he went. Near his home, he beeped DeMeo from a phone booth. Roy called him within minutes. Richard let him know the brothers weren’t a concern anymore.
“Big Guy, you’re the fuckin’ best—the fuckin’ best, you hear!” DeMeo said.
Richard thanked him, hung up, and went home, pleased and proud of himself, but thinking DeMeo and Gaggi were greedy bastards.
Several days later, Richard met DeMeo at the diner near the Tappan Zee Bridge, and DeMeo gave him, as promised, a paper bag with sixty thousand dollars in it, in one-hundred-dollar bills. They hugged and kissed each other on the cheek and went their separate ways.
Sammy “the Bull” Gravano
Sammy Gravano was born and raised in the heart of Mafia country, Bensonhurst Brooklyn.
As a youth Gravano was a tough kid, a member of the notorious street gang called the Rambers. It was headed by Gerald Pappa, a vicious, extremely tough street fighter with jet-black hair and light blue eyes, one of the roughest guys in all of Brooklyn—no easy task. Gerald Pappa was known as Pappa Bear because of his unusual strength. He, like Gravano, would eventually be inducted into one of the five New York crime families, the Gigante clan, while Sammy would be made by the Gambinos. Sammy Gravano and Pappa were very close as teenagers. Gravano would eventually name his only son Gerald, in honor of Pappa.
Gravano had a bad habit of killing his friends and business partners; he murdered his own brother-in-law, Eddie Garofalo. He was known as a greedy, black-hearted backstabber. If Gravano called you up and invited you for dinner, a friendly drink, an espresso, it was a good idea to leave town in a hurry.
John Gotti would later take a shine to Gravano and promote him to underboss of the Gambino family—a fatal mistake—after the two of them successfully conspired to kill Paul Castellano on December 15, 1985, in front of Sparks Steak House. Now it was early March 1980. Richard Kuklinski knew Gravano; they had met at restaurants and Roy’s place over the years.
According to Richard, when Gravano had a “special piece of work to do”—the killing of a cop—he contacted DeMeo, and DeMeo referred him to Richard and strongly vouched for him. DeMeo wanted nothing to do with killing a cop, even a crooked cop. No matter how you looked at that, it spelled trouble, and DeMeo knew it. It was Peter Calabro.
DeMeo let Richard know Gravano would be calling, and a meeting was set up at a diner on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. They met in the parking lot, shook hands. Gravano came with a driver. As Richard and Gravano walked and talked, Gravano’s car slowly followed. Gravano wasted no time. “I’ve been hearing good things about you for a long time, Rich. I have a special piece of work I’d like you to do. It’s gotta be done pretty quickly.”
“I’m available,” Richard said.
“The guy lives in Jersey. I’ve got his address and photo for you, even the weapon—a shotgun. You okay with that?” Gravano said, not mentioning that the mark was a cop.
“Sure. They’re messy but they work.”
“Okay, there’s twenty-five large in it for you.”
“Where’s your car?”
“Just down the ramp here.”
“I’ll give you everything right now, all right?”
Richard led them to his parked car. Gravano had his driver open the trunk of his car. In it was a green canvas bag, like a small army duffel bag. Gravano opened it. Inside was the shotgun, a walkie-talkie, and a photo of the mark, a nice-looking dark haired man with an oval-shaped face. Gravano still said nothing about him being a detective out of the Brooklyn hot-car division. He had been working with the Gambino family for years now, providing a laundry list of services, some of which had caused people to be murdered. It was Calabro’s wife, Carmella, that DeMeo had murdered. Calabro had gotten himself in trouble, and both Gravano and DeMeo were concerned he would turn on them. He had to go. Richard took the canvas bag and put it in the trunk of his car.
“I’ll pay you when it’s done, okay?” Gravano asked.
“Sure. I know you, you know me, no problem,” Richard said, and it was done.
Peter Calabro lived with his young daughter, Melissa, and another detective, John Dougherty—also a widower—in a simple ranch-style house in Saddle River, New Jersey, a secluded wooded area. Richard checked out the house but decided not to do the murder there. He saw Calabro’s young daughter with some other young girls and opted to do the hit down the road from the house, a narrow, little-used road with few homes.
The plan was for Calabro to be followed from work, and Richard would be informed via the walkie-talkie when Calabro was approaching the house. Calabro knew he was marked—there had been threats against his life—and as he made his way from Brooklyn back home that evening he took a secondary route, traveled on back roads, not Route 17. But still he was followed, and Richard knew when and from which direction he was coming. It was March 14, 1980, a cold night, snowing heavily.
Richard parked his van on the snow-covered road, put on his emergency lights, grabbed the shotgun, crouched in front of the van, and waited for just the right moment. Richard was able to see the approaching car, its headlights reflecting off the snow as it came. He had parked his van so that Calabro was forced to go slowly; Richard raised the shotgun and, at just the right moment, when Calabro was abreast of Richard, cut loose with both barrels of the blue-black twelve-gauge, shooting Calabro in the side of the head with the double-ought buckshot rounds. Calabro was killed instantly. His brown Honda meandered for a ways, then careened down a thirty-foot embankment and crashed into a stand of trees.
Calmly, Richard got back into his van and left, still not knowing he had just killed a cop.
As Richard made his way back to Dumont he dumped the shotgun into a stream near his home and went into the house. It was a Friday night. His daughters Chris and Merrick were in the living room with some friends. Barbara was sleeping. Richard made himself a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and retired.
At 2:15 A.M. Saturday morning a snowplow crew clearing the road found Calabro’s car. In the morning Richard first learned that the man he had killed was a decorated NYPD detective. It didn’t make any difference to Richard that he had killed a cop, but it would have been nice, the right thing to do, if Gravano had told him. Be that as it may, Gravano called Richard a few days later and made arrangements to give Richard the twenty-five thousand.
It was over and done…for now.
In years to come, though, this murder would take on a life of its own and come back to haunt not only Sammy Gravano, but the United States Justice Department as well.
The accident occurred on March 18 of that same year. John Gotti’s youngest son, Frank, borrowed a friend’s motorized minibike, shot out onto the street where the Gottis lived, and was struck and killed by a car driven by one John Favara.
Surely, Favara should immediately have left town, but what he did do was to continue driving the car about the neighborhood, infuriating Mrs. Gotti and her husband, John. He also should certainly have gone to the Gotti home and told the family how genuinely sorry he was. He did neither. His days were numbered. It was by now well known that Richard did “special work,” and Gravano asked him that July if he’d be interested in applying his special talent to the man who had killed John Gotti’s son. Richard knew all about what had happened.
“Sure, be happy to,” he said.
On July 28, Richard met with a few other men, one of whom was Gene Gotti. They drove in a van to where Favara worked and grabbed him as he made his way to his car—the same car he’d run the young Frank Gotti over with. They drove to a junkyard in East New York. There, Gene Gotti and the others beat Favara to a bloody pulp, broke his bones, knocked out his teeth, knocked out an eye. Richard then went to work on him, bound him and tore off his clothes and used emergency flares to torture him, to burn off his genitals. He then stuffed the burning flare up Favara’s anus. They all stood about and watched what was left of him suffer terribly, though not die. Gene Gotti then used a pipe to mercilessly beat Favara and finally kill him. Favara was then stuffed into a fifty-five-gallon drum.