The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
Part IV. THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
The Lone Ranger
Among the many criminal enterprises Richard had become involved with, he also ran a breaking-and-entering crew. It consisted of Al Rinke, Gary Smith, Danny Deppner, and Percy House. Richard had met each of them, over a period of years, at Phil Solimene’s store. They broke into homes all over New Jersey and stole anything of value they could carry, much of which Phil Solimene sold, splitting the proceeds with the gang. They even stole cars from people’s garages. Richard was both the muscle and the brains behind the operation; and he was the discipline of the operation: he made sure none of them talked or did anything that would compromise the gang—and more important, compromise him.
Percy House was the foreman. He was a short, squat, gruff man that always looked dirty and in need of a shave—a nasty piece of work indeed. Gary Smith was tall and lanky and wore thick black plastic glasses and an Abe Lincoln–type beard, had a hare lip. Danny Deppner was also tall and thin, broad shouldered and strong, had a mop of unruly black hair that always looked windblown. Al Rinke was small and frail and looked like a mouse. None of them had so much as a high school education, and they were not too swift, but they took orders relatively well and, for the most part, did what Richard told them. They were all deathly afraid of Richard. By now Richard had garnered a very well-deserved reputation as a dangerous man, a stone-cold killer, and was the indisputable alpha predator in the criminal food chain. What he said went. He was the boss. The final arbitrator. God.
In this world might was always right.
Richard had always wanted his own gang, styled after a Mafia family. He, too, pined to be inducted into a Mafia family. But he knew that could never happen, because he was not Italian, so he was kind of developing his own crime empire, in his own way. Problem was, these guys were all undisciplined and dumb. They would ultimately become the chink in Richard’s armor of invisibility, breaking his incredible run of luck.
Louis Masgay had a variety store in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. He bought a lot of swag from Phil Solimene, which he sold out of his shop. He also played cards in the weekend games in Solimene’s store. Masgay had bought hijacked blank videos from Solimene and Richard. He wanted more of them and kept badgering Richard: “When will you have more; I’ll take all you can get; I got cash money, no questions asked.”
This went on for months. Masgay was beginning to annoy Richard, and Richard began ducking him. Still, Masgay kept showing up at Solimene’s store, looking for a big load of blank tapes, saying he had “cash money.”
Finally, on July 1, 1981, Masgay came into Solimene’s store late in the day. Solimene told him a new load of hijacked tapes had come in. Masgay was excited. Solimene asked if he had the money. Trusting Solimene, Louis Masgay told him he did, that it was hidden inside the door panel of his van. With that Solimene picked up the phone and called Richard (he was one of the few people who had Richard’s home phone number) and told him what was up. Richard said he’d be there in one hour. Masgay was excited.
Richard walked in the store an hour later. He had a .22 pistol with a silencer in his pocket. By now the store was closed.
“Where is he?” Richard asked.
“In the john,” Solimene said.
Richard calmly walked to the bathroom, taking out the .22 as he went. Without a word he quickly opened the bathroom door. A surprised Masgay was sitting on the toilet. Richard raised the .22 and shot him in the forehead, above his left eye, then shot him a second time square in the center of his head, instantly killing him.
“Hope you don’t mind I did it here,” Richard said.
“If I did it wouldn’t matter now,” Solimene said. Richard trusted Phil Solimene; they had done many illegal things together over the years and there was never a problem. Richard considered Solimene a friend…perhaps the only friend he ever had.
They put Louis Masgay into a large black plastic lawn bag, went out to Mas-gay’s van, pried open the door panel, and found a neat stack of money held together with two rubber bands. Back in the store they counted the money; there was ninety thousand dollars. Richard and Solimene split it down the middle. Richard proceeded to put Masgay in his van and took his body over to his warehouse in North Bergen. In the back of the place there was a hole in the ground, an old well, and ice-cold spring water ran in it.
Robert Pronge and Richard had frozen a man Pronge had killed and stored the body in a meat freezer. The man’s wife had gone to Pronge and asked him to kill her husband so she could collect the insurance money. To pull this off successfully it had to seem that the man had died later than the actual murder, to give her time to get the policy in place. Richard watched Pronge kill the man with his cyanide spray, and then they deep-froze him for several months, then put him where he’d be found. The wife did, in fact, collect the insurance money, which she ultimately split with Richard and Pronge.
Now Richard was wondering if the ice water in the well would slow the decomposition of a body. Solimene had told him that Richard Masgay’s family knew he was coming to meet them, and Richard was thinking he’d freeze Masgay, then months later put him out somewhere he could be found. Richard carried Masgay to the well and dumped him inside, put a tire on top of him, then a piece of plywood, then poured some cement on top of the wood, mostly covering the hole up. Now he went back to Solimene’s place, and Solimene followed Richard as he drove Masgay’s van onto the turnpike and left it on the side of the road right there out in the open. Then Richard got into Solimene’s car, and they returned to the store.
Another job well done, it seemed. Solimene and Richard hugged and shook hands and Richard went back to Dumont, forty-five thousand dollars richer, carefully making sure he wasn’t being followed as he went, listening to country music.
But Phil Solimene had a big mouth. Several weeks after the Masgay murder, he told Percy House what they’d done to Masgay, and how Richard had killed George Malliband too. House was giving Solimene a hard time about money he owed House, and Solimene offhandedly threatened him with Richard.
Percy House wound up telling other members of the gang what he’d heard, and they in turn told people—wives and friends—and soon a dozen individuals knew about Malliband’s and Masgay’s murders.
Thus, for the first time, the cat was let out of the proverbial bag.
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
Pat Kane, the young air force veteran whose brother Ed had convinced him to become a state trooper, was now a detective, the youngest in the Newton, New Jersey, outpost, where he was stationed.
Pat was a religious man who went to church every Sunday and loved his job. He thought he was the luckiest guy in the world, getting paid for what he wanted to do more than anything: putting bad guys behind bars where they belonged. He often worked outdoors and had a chance to make the world a better place. What could be sweeter? For Pat, being a cop was not just a job, it was a calling, his passion in life. He was, in a very real sense, on a mission, and that mission was protecting women and children from the fang-toothed predators that so readily moved about in a free society. Pat did everything by the book. He was a genuinely honest man, would never take a free meal or drink from anyone, not even a cup of coffee. He had come to believe that the police were the last and final line of defense society had against chaos. Though he was highly religious, Pat Kane wouldn’t have a second thought about killing a bad guy if it came to that. Detective Kane was a diligent, proactive investigator—the type of man who will not let go of something once he gets his teeth into it. Stubborn and tenacious, he was like a bulldog.
Pat Kane’s boss was Lieutenant John Leck, a tall, stocky individual with a bald head who looked like Telly Savalas. Toward the end of 1981, Leck called Detective Kane into his office. There had been an inordinate number of burglaries all over northern New Jersey, and Lieutenant Leck was concerned: a band of professional burglars, he explained, was breaking into homes with arrogant impunity and stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down. They mostly chose nice homes in secluded areas and robbed them at will, as though they had a license from the powers above to steal whatever the hell they pleased. A man representing himself as one of the gang had gotten caught robbing a house by the owner, and he was now in Lieutenant Leck’s office, trying to make a deal. The lieutenant didn’t know at this point whether the guy was for real or pulling his chain. On a map on the lieutenant’s desk were dozens of red pen marks where, Lieutenant Leck said, there had been unsolved burglaries. The lieutenant told Kane to take out this burglar and see if he, Kane, could match up what the burglar said with actual burglaries. Kane knew that Lieutenant Leck wasn’t sure if this rodent-faced guy was real or if he was bogus, another cornered rat trying to weasel out of a tight situation. What else is new? he thought.
Outside, as they approached Kane’s unmarked police car, the rodent said, “I’m going to help you and all, you know, show you all the jobs…but if they get wind a what I’m doing here, I’m dead. These are badass people; you understand that there?”
“Yes, I understand,” Kane said, thinking he was surely being melodramatic. Little did Kane know how truly dangerous this gang was; Kane himself would end up a target of them, tracked and stalked and set up for murder.
Kane proceeded to follow the informant’s directions, and they slowly made their way across three rural counties of northern New Jersey, going up and down back roads filled with potholes, raising dust, bumping along, and as they went, the informant indicated houses the gang had robbed. Kane copied down all the addresses—some of the houses didn’t even have addresses, they were so secluded. He would have to check every single one against Leck’s map to see if there had been a burglary. The informant did seem to know the inside of these homes, even what had been stolen.
Over a two-day period, the informant pointed out forty-three houses. This wound up presenting a monumental task for the young detective. Now, working alone, he had to verify all these burglaries and cross-index them with what the informant had said. Meanwhile, the informant also named his accomplices: Danny Deppner, Gary Smith, Percy House, and the leader of the gang—a guy known only as “Big Rich.”
Who, Kane wondered, is Big Rich?
Kane rolled up his sleeves and went to work, carefully investigating each of these robberies. It ended up taking him months to verify all the burglaries and present what he found to a New Jersey prosecutor, who in turn presented the case to a grand jury. By October of 1982, Detective Kane had single-handedly secured a 153-count indictment against the gang members. He managed to find and arrest Percy House, but the others were nowhere to be located. It seemed they had vanished into thin air. Intent upon locating the rest of the gang, Kane searched high and low for them. He staked out both Gary Smith’s and Danny Deppner’s apartments. Nothing. The Christmas holidays arrived. Terry Kane wanted Pat home with the family, their two children. This new case was obsessing her husband, she knew, and she didn’t like it. He assured her he’d be home for Christmas—Lieutenant Leck had promised he’d give him time off. But it didn’t work out that way. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Pat was on stakeouts, looking for Deppner and Smith. True, they had the gang foreman, Percy House, in jail, but he refused to say one word about anything. He wouldn’t even give them his name. He hated cops and had no qualms about expressing his animus.
Wondering where the hell Deppner and Smith had disappeared to, Kane continued to hunt for them, sensing something bigger was involved here, but not knowing what. One of the larger questions that loomed before him was where all the stolen goods had gone—televisions and VCRs, phone machines, all kinds of jewelry, guns, cars, and stereos. When Kane pressed the informant about this, he said all he knew was that Big Rich was in charge of that, that Big Rich sometimes hung around a shop in Paterson called “the store.”
“What store—what’s the name?” Kane asked.
“I don’t know,” the rodent-faced informant said. “Just ‘the store.’”
During the months that Pat Kane was trying to piece together the work of the B and E gang, Richard was particularly busy killing people. During those months alone, he filled fifteen murder contracts, all Mafia-sanctioned hits. Richard took all these victims to his garage-warehouse in North Bergen. It was an absolutely desolate area at night, perfect for Richard’s requirements, and Richard beat to death the fifteen men. He could have shot them or cut their throats, but he opted to kill them with his hands, beat them with a crowbar, a long screwdriver, hammers, and pipes. He also used the screwdriver, fifteen inches long and quite thick, to stab them and destroy their spines so they were paralyzed but still alive, and he beat them further still while they couldn’t move.
I was on a tear, he recently explained. I was beating them to death and enjoying it. It was…more personal, you know, intimate, and I…I needed the exercise. I was also doing it, I mean beating them to death, to get out my frustrations, my anger—my hatred, I guess you could say, at the world.
Richard taped the mouths of most of these victims so they couldn’t scream while he smashed and beat and destroyed their bodies. He had brought a truckload of fifty-five-gallon metal drums, which he stored in the garage. This space was wide enough to hold three cars. There was a hose hookup, and Richard used it to wash away the blood on the floor, though there were bloodstains all over the walls, and the ceiling too.
Richard got rid of these fifteen victims in two ways: inspired by DeMeo, he was now bleeding the bodies dry, then dismembering them, severing arms and legs at the joints, so he didn’t have to cut through bones. It’s easier that way. Some of these victims he wrapped up in plastic lawn bags, and he deposited different pieces in various Dumpsters he came upon. Most of them, however, he placed into the fifty-five-gallon drums in several pieces; then he cut grapefruit-sized round holes in the drums and sealed them tight by welding the metal top on. He had learned to do this because George Malliband had been discovered behind the factory in Jersey City when the top of the drum had popped off; that would not happen again. Richard then placed the drum into his van, drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, and returned to his old hunting ground, Manhattan’s West Side. Here there were miles of rotting piers where he could back up right to the water, open the rear of the van, and throw the barrels directly into the Hudson River. Because of the holes in the drums they sank right away, and in no time crabs—exceedingly efficient scavengers—began to feast on the flesh of the bodies inside the drums, easily able to get in and out, ultimately taking every bit of flesh. Because the barrels were metal, Richard knew, the salt water quickly corroded them, and the bones would be taken away with the currents of the river. Richard got this idea by watching people go crabbing along the river, and from a pirate movie in which people were fed to crabs. Thus, Richard developed another unique way of disposing of bodies. He chose to come to Manhattan’s West Side because there was so much traffic, he explained, so many vans and trucks; here, he knew, he could blend in. The piers and docks along Jersey City and Hoboken were abandoned at night, but he was more likely to get stopped by a nosy cop. On the West Side he became one with the constant hurly-burly of the city.
Interesting how Richard kept returning to the West Side, his original killing field, as though it were his alma mater, the place where he’d gone to homicide school and graduated with honors, with a doctorate in murder.
That Christmas was a joyous time in the Kuklinski home. This was Barbara’s favorite holiday. She went all out to decorate a beautiful tree and surround it with a lot of expensive gifts, all carefully wrapped, adorned with bows and fancy paper. Barbara painted Christmas scenes on the front windows, a waving Santa, reindeer, snowy hills with smiling children. Barbara and the children put up lights outside the house. Richard didn’t help with any of this. He gladly bought whatever Barbara wanted, but he didn’t pitch in. He seemed to both love and loathe Christmas. When it was time to pick out the tree, Barbara and Richard went to a tree farm, and he held up different trees so she could decide which one was best. About this Barbara was the boss. About all things relevant to the holidays, she was the boss. She chose a huge tree, as usual, and Richard dutifully carried it to the car, then into the house, where he put it into an oversized stand. Barbara and the kids had carefully, lovingly, decorated the tree, as Richard watched, seeming to enjoy it, but not participating. Barbara would have preferred if he weren’t there, because with him present there was tension. One never knew, she says, when he could go off. Barbara had Christmas carols playing on the stereo, Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand singing the Christmas classics.
Daughter Merrick now had a steady boyfriend, Richie Peterson, and he too helped decorate the tree. Richie Peterson was six foot six, had blond hair and blue eyes. Richard seemed to like him, though in the near future Peterson would finger Richard and talk up a storm.
That Christmas Eve Barbara had prepared her customary feast of all kinds of fish. Richard acted…strange; he had extreme highs and lows. Christmas reminded him of his childhood, of Stanley—the abuse, Florian’s loss—and he inevitably became depressed. On the other hand, he very much enjoyed buying gifts for the children, watching the decorating. Nothing was too good for his children. He gave Barbara whatever money she said she needed. No problem. No questions. Take it.
Barbara knew well how Richard could become quiet and gloomy during the holidays, just sit in his big easy chair and stare at the floor; stare as if he were seeing things from a long time ago; stare as if he were seeing something—someone—he wanted to hurt. Barbara did her best to keep the mood happy, but with Richard it was an uphill battle.
Christmas morning Barbara’s mother and her boyfriend, Primo, came over early, to be there when they opened their gifts. Richard put on a red Santa cap and a red Santa shirt and happily gave out the gifts. This he seemed to enjoy immensely. He’d pick up a gift, read out the name on it, and, smiling, hand the gift out. This, for Richard, was a joyous time, what he had pined for as a child and never had. This was the best life could offer: to be surrounded by a loving family, everyone happy and smiling and filled with good cheer.
After the opening of gifts, Richard took the whole family for breakfast at the Seville Diner in Westwood. Merrick’s boyfriend, Richie Peterson, was there too. Barbara had gotten him a blue cashmere sweater for Christmas, which he proudly wore now. Merrick was a full six feet tall, and she and Richie were an attractive, though imposing, couple wherever they went.
Later they sat down to Christmas dinner, a six-course feast that consisted of antipasto, shrimp cocktails, salad, ham and roast beef, rosemary potatoes, stuffed artichokes, and mushrooms, followed by pastries, fruit, coffee, and nuts, as was the Italian custom. They then played bingo.
Life for the Kuklinskis that Christmas was good, filled with a lot of nice presents, warm feelings, much love.
That Christmas evening Pat Kane dipped a somewhat stale cinnamon doughnut into a plastic container of lukewarm coffee. He was in his car, watching Danny Deppner’s apartment, hoping he’d show up.
Pat missed his wife and children dearly—it was the first Christmas away from them—but he was a man with a mission. He was sure he was onto something big here, yet still wasn’t sure what the hell it was. The chilled late-December wind blew hard. The bare arthritic branches of trees shook violently. Deppner didn’t show up the whole night. Over the next several days, Kane looked for him in all his haunts but couldn’t find even a trace of him.
On January 3, at 9:00 A.M., Pat Kane was in his office going over a burglary report when the phone rang. Kane had let all surrounding police jurisdictions know that he was looking for Smith and Deppner. A cop from nearby Franklin was calling.
“Pat,” he said, “I got Danny Deppner’s wife sitting here and she’s all bent out of shape—kind of hysterical.”
“Pat, I think we got a homicide here. Can you come over?”
“Homicide…sure, I’m on my way,” Kane said, and got in his car and sped over to Franklin, one town away. Not anticipating the violent storm he was walking into, Kane entered the barracklike structure.
Barbara Deppner was a small, frail woman with dirty blond hair. She might have been attractive once, but now she looked worn-out, beat up, haggard—as if she hadn’t slept for a long time, hadn’t eaten well for longer. All of life’s cruelties, it seemed, had manifested on her face. She had deep lines around her narrow lips, dark circles under puffy eyes, bad teeth; she seemed dirty. She had had eight children with a series of different men, one of whom was Danny Deppner. Pat soon learned she was the girlfriend of Percy House, who was still in jail, still refusing to talk. Barbara was, in fact, pregnant with House’s child.
Kane, as was his way, politely introduced himself and sat down, and Barbara Deppner began to pull open the curtain on one of the most horrific, sensational crime stories Pat Kane, indeed anyone in law enforcement, had ever heard. This was only the beginning; the first act in a violent Shakespearean tragedy that would span forty-seven years—since the murder of Florian Kuklinski; the murder of Charley Lane.
Barbara Deppner said, “I heard from Danny. He’s hiding from the police. After Percy was arrested they took off. They had to. They are deathly afraid of him. He’s the devil!”
“Who?” Kane asked, curiosity arching his wide brow.
“Richard Kuklinski. He’s a killer; I mean that’s what he does: he kills people!” she said.
“Is he a big man? Do they call him Big Rich?” Kane asked.
“Yeah, that’s him. First Kuklinski helped them, I mean hid them. He didn’t want the police, you know, you guys to find them. He put them in this hotel and told them to stay put. But Gary disobeyed! Gary went to see his little daughter, hitchhiked. Kuklinski found out and he killed him; he murdered Gary for seeing his kid.”
“Killed him…I don’t understand, why?”
“’Cause he disobeyed Kuklinski. I’m telling you, he’s a real killer, he’s the devil,” she said. Kane noticed that her hands were trembling as she spoke. He didn’t know if she was telling him the truth or not, but she certainly seemed to believe it was the truth. She was, it was obvious, “scared stiff,” Kane would later explain.
It was this fear that prompted Barbara to flee her home and go stay with her sister, which ultimately brought her to the attention of the police. When Barbara’s sister heard why Barbara was scared, she demanded that Barbara leave, fearing she would get killed too. They argued. A neighbor called the police. Barbara told her story to them, and she was brought in for further questioning. Barbara continued: “So Kuklinski found out. He came to the room that night. He had three hamburgers with him. Two of them had pickles; one didn’t. Gary ate this one. In minutes he began choking, got all blue, and fell on the floor.”
“Danny told you this?” Kane asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. Kuklinski poisoned the hamburger, see. That’s what I’m sayin’. He’s a killer. A professional killer…do you understand?”
“Yes,” Kane said, though he was having trouble wrapping his mind around all this. Why would someone kill because of a series of burglaries? What was that about? How could it be?
“But Gary was still alive, and Kuklinski made Danny choke Gary to death with a wire, a wire from a lamp there in the room. He told me, Danny told me.”
“The York Motel just outside the Lincoln Tunnel. Room thirty-one,” she said with certainty. “So Danny did it, did what Kuklinski said; he choked Gary to death with the wire.”
“Really?” Kane said, beginning to believe her, sensing she was telling the truth, but still wary.
“Yeah, really,” she said.
This was a hard pill to swallow. Why, Kane wondered, would this Kuklinski guy kill Gary Smith, risk a murder charge, when all that was going on here was burglary? It didn’t make sense. Though one look at Barbara, her trembling hands, her worried face, told Kane what she said was true.
“Where…where’s Gary Smith now?” he asked.
“They left him there, in room thirty-one, under the freaking bed. He was found there, by the police. Check if you don’t believe me. Go ahead,” she said. “Check.”
Kane immediately took her up on this, picked up the phone and called the North Bergen Police.
When Percy House was first arrested and Danny and Gary were indicted, Richard knew he had to take fast, decisive action. Already he regretted ever getting involved with Percy House and this motley crew, but House was Phil Solimene’s brother-in-law, Phil had vouched for him seven ways from Sunday, and little by little, over a period of several years, Richard had become more and more involved with them—and now it was all coming back to haunt him.
At first Richard tried to help Gary and Danny, to hide them from the police. He did in fact put them up in the York Hotel, paid for them to stay there, warned them in no uncertain terms to stay put. But Gary went to see his five-year-old daughter. Richard knew he could have been spotted by the police and picked up, so Gary had to go. As far as Richard was concerned, Gary killed himself by disobeying him. Richard went to a diner near the hotel, bought three hamburgers, sprinkled cyanide on Gary’s, went to the hotel, acting all warm and friendly, served up the burgers, and sat down to eat with Danny and Gary as if he were a good friend, when in truth he was the grim reaper. Richard had become quite the actor. He could fool the stripes off a zebra if he put his mind to it. Almost immediately, Gary succumbed to the poison, fell over, had spasms, turned blue, but didn’t die, and Richard had Danny strangle him, so Danny would, by extension, be guilty of the murder, part of it, and so keep quiet about it.
Then, after the deed was done, Richard made another mistake, as he had with George Malliband: he didn’t permanently dispose of Gary’s body. He foolishly had Danny stash it under the bed. Though he carefully wiped the place clear of prints, they left Gary there like that, dead, as blue as a rotting violet. When recently asked why he didn’t dispose of Gary’s corpse he said, There was a security guy at the hotel and people about; but Richard could have dumped Gary in a steamer trunk and gotten him out of the room, not just leave him there to be found.
The room had been rented twelve times, couples had lustful hotel sex on the bed with Gary there, rotting away, and it was ultimately the stink of his corpse that caused him to be found and the cops summoned. Also, had he not been stashed under the bed, the incident might have been written up as a heart attack.
Meanwhile, Richard had Danny stay in Richie Peterson’s apartment while Kuklinski let Richie stay in the spare room in his house. At first he didn’t want to kill Danny; but that would change soon enough.
Detective Pat Kane quickly found out that a body had, in fact, been discovered in room 31. That didn’t necessarily prove that what Barbara had said was true, he was thinking, but it sure as hell pointed in that direction. He asked the North Bergen police if they’d return to the room and see if a lamp cord had been taken from the lamp there. Within a half hour they called Kane back. The lamp cord was missing from the lamp.
Now, sure that Barbara Deppner had told the truth, knew the inside story, Kane was confronted with a diabolical homicide—and the possibility of another one. If this Richard Kuklinski killed Gary for just going to see his kid, surely he’d kill Danny Deppner, and God knew who else. Kane first made sure to find a safe place for Barbara and her eight children. He then focused his energy on locating Danny Deppner, getting to the bottom of what had happened, and finding this Richard Kuklinski. Kane couldn’t quite get out of his head how Barbara kept saying Kuklinski was the devil, how terrified she was. It was “disconcerting,” he would later say.
Kane now directed his attention to finding Richard Kuklinski. It didn’t take him long. He soon learned that Kuklinski actually lived close to him, only two towns away, and that Kuklinski was married and had three children. He found out too that Kuklinski was a film distributor. Kane phoned up the Dumont police, spoke to a detective, and learned that Kuklinski apparently had a very bad temper: on two occasions he had broken the car windows of people whose driving had somehow offended him. First he punched a hole with his bare fist in the windshield of a car filled with teenaged boys, and in the second incident a woman at a red light ticked him off, and he got out of his car and punched a hole in the passenger window. This was no easy task, Kane knew, punching holes in car windows, but this Kuklinski guy had done it twice. He was, Kane learned, six foot five, 280 pounds, and he was obviously endowed with great physical strength.
His curiosity piqued—the hunt on—Kane took a drive over to Dumont. He cruised past the Kuklinski residence. There were two cars in the driveway. He copied down their license-plate numbers and made his way over to the Dumont police barracks. There he met a detective he knew, and found out that the year before, Kuklinski had been brought in on a bad-check incident, but the case never went anywhere because Kuklinski made the check good.
“But we took his mug shot.”
“Mug shot,” beamed Kane.
“Sure,” the detective said, and he rummaged through his desk and handed the mug shot to Kane. He was looking at a balding man with severe eyes, who sported a well-trimmed goatee. The Dumont detective made a copy for Kane, who soon returned to his office, pulled out a yellow manila file, wrote the name Richard Kuklinski on it, and put it in his top right drawer. Thus began an exhausting investigation that would take four and a half years, strain Kane’s marriage, cause him to be ridiculed by his colleagues; an investigation that would, ultimately, expose one of the most prolific killers in modern times; an investigation that would put Pat Kane in the crosshairs of Richard Kuklinski’s .22 Ruger rifle.
Now, Kane knew, he had to find Danny Deppner, which proved to be a difficult thing to do. But Kane kept digging, and soon found out that Richard Kuklinski was a large distributor of porno movies, and had possible links to organized crime. He added this to the Kuklinski file in his desk.
For Richard the killing of Gary Smith was nothing more than swatting a nuisance fly. Richard knew that Gary could and probably would implicate him in the burglaries, and he wanted to be safe, not sorry. As always, Richard’s way of dealing with potential problems was murder, and thus he killed Gary. Now he had to deal with Danny Deppner. At first he tried to help Danny, hid him from police scrutiny, but it didn’t take long for Richard to learn that Danny had told his former wife (Barbara) all about Gary’s murder, and for Richard, that was reason enough to kill Danny, which he did two weeks after killing Gary Smith.
Danny had been staying in Richie Peterson’s apartment, where Richard had been bringing him meals. When Richard made up his mind to kill Deppner, he did so with cyanide. Deppner readily ate a roast beef sandwich Richard bought him, and soon he was near death. Richard then shot him in the head with a .22 equipped with a silencer. The problem was that Richard had hurt his back and wasn’t able to carry Deppner’s body so he could get rid of it. Because of that, he says, he asked Richie Peterson, his daughter’s boyfriend, to help him get rid of the corpse, and Peterson obliged. Richard told Peterson that Deppner had died of a drug overdose, and he believed him. Peterson set fence posts for a living and was particularly strong; after Richard wrapped the large, two-hundred-pound body in black leaf bags, Peterson carried it to Richard’s car. They drove to Clinton Road in West Milford and dumped the now stiff body in a desolate spot, near a reservoir, and there the body became a feast for all manner of creatures that feed on the dead.
Paul Hoffman, the larcenous pharmacist who had been selling Richard lethal poisons for several years, wanted to buy hijacked Tagamet, a popular drug used to treat the pain caused by ulcers. It was easy to sell, and he kept badgering both Richard and Phil Solimene to find him a stolen load.
“I have cash money,” he kept telling Phil, who of course reported this directly to Richard. Paul Hoffman was writing his own death warrant by telling the likes of Richard Kuklinski and Phil Solimene that he had all this cash he was so anxious to spend. Richard had never liked Hoffman. He thought of him as a greedy scumbag that would sell his own mother to turn a buck. If it wasn’t for the poisons Hoffman had been providing him, Richard might well have killed him long ago.
On April 21, 1982, Paul Hoffman showed up at Solimene’s store, saying he had twenty-five thousand dollars with him and he wanted Tagamet. The going rate was thirty-six dollars for one hundred tablets. Hoffman believed he’d be paying nine. Richard had offhandedly mentioned to Hoffman several times that he might be getting a load, but it hadn’t come to pass yet. He was in a very real sense setting out the bait. Phil now called Richard and told him that Hoffman was in the store claiming to have all this money with him.
“I’ll be right there,” Richard said, and left his house and drove over to Paterson.
Richard knew a state police detective had been asking questions about him, driving past his house, but with both Deppner and Smith dead he figured, incorrectly, he had nothing to worry about. Percy House was still in jail, couldn’t make bail, but Phil had assured Richard a dozen times that Percy was “stand-up,” that he’d keep his mouth shut. Richard had even given Phil money for Percy’s lawyer. He was, he recently explained, trying to do the right thing. Richard was thinking that this state detective smelled the smoke but had no idea where the fire was, as he put it, and wasn’t overly concerned now that Smith and Deppner were dead. Richard drove over to Paterson without concern that day. As always he was armed, had two handguns on him and a hunting knife strapped to his massive calf. As always, he made sure he wasn’t being tailed, made sudden U turns, pulled onto the side of the road, sat there, waited, moved on. It was a nice spring day, a comfortable seventy-one degrees.
Richard met Hoffman at the store; they talked; Hoffman assured him he had the money, and Richard said the load of Tagamet had come in and that it was at his garage in North Bergen, where Louis Masgay was still stashed in the well with the ice-cold water. The garage was perfect for what Richard had in mind—sudden murder. Richard now drove over to North Bergen and Hoffman followed him.
There were some empty boxes against the back wall of the garage. Richard said they held the Tagamet. Hoffman pulled his car into the garage, thinking he was finally getting his hands on the much-sought-after drug. The moment was right. Richard pulled out a .25 auto and shot Hoffman in the neck without a moment’s hesitation. Richard pulled the trigger again, but the auto jammed and couldn’t fire—
Like a man possessed, Hoffman leaped from his car and attacked Richard with a lionlike ferocity. Hoffman was fighting for his very life. He was not a big or particularly strong man, but his adrenaline gave him nearly superhuman strength, and he fought Richard so hard he almost took control of the situation, even with a bullet in his neck, bleeding profusely. Richard finally managed to grab a tire iron and with it beat Hoffman over the head, finally subduing him, destroying him, killing him there in the garage.
Richard was covered with Hoffman’s blood. It was everywhere. Even inside his shoes. As usual, Richard had a change of clothes in his trunk. After he washed up and changed he put what was left of Paul Hoffman in one of the fifty-five-gallon black metal drums, sealed it well, and put it in his van. He next drove over to Solimene’s store and offered to split the money with him, but Solimene told Richard to keep it all when he heard what had happened. Richard kept the twenty-five thousand.
Richard wanted to get rid of Hoffman’s body, so he drove over to Harry’s Luncheonette on Route 46 in Hackensack. He had a roast beef sandwich and a diet Pepsi, and decided to put the barrel with Hoffman in it right behind Harry’s Luncheonette. He discarded it there as though it were a used tire that had outlived its purpose. For the longest time the barrel was there; a few times Richard actually had his lunch, a nice Harry’s sandwich, right on the barrel. Then one day it just disappeared, and no one said anything about finding a body. Richard was amused by the whole thing. To this day he has no idea where the barrel with Paul Hoffman in it disappeared to.
The Disassembling of Roy DeMeo
Roy DeMeo had gotten himself into a heap of trouble. His egotistic, nothing-can-touch-me attitude had finally caught up to him and now had a stranglehold around his bull-like neck.
First, the senseless murder of Vinnie Governara had come back to haunt him. Nino Gaggi’s nephew Dominick Montiglio had gotten himself in trouble because of drugs and wound up making a deal with the feds to get himself out of trouble, if he gave up his uncle Nino—and Roy DeMeo—which is exactly what he did. Additionally, DeMeo was arrested for dealing in stolen cars, and he was responsible for Nino Gaggi getting arrested for killing Jimmy Esposito and his son Jimmy junior. There had been bad blood between DeMeo and Jimmy junior, stemming from a coke deal in which Jimmy junior believed he was beaten for several thousand dollars. The senior Esposito, an old-time Sicilian made by Carlo Gambino himself, complained to Paul Castellano that Nino and Roy were selling coke. In the old days, under Carlo’s reign, this might have been a death sentence for Nino and Roy; Esposito was, in fact, trying to get them killed. But times had changed. Castellano himself had been taking a lot of money “made off the record,” and he ultimately gave Nino the proverbial nod to take out both Jimmy senior and Jimmy junior.
This, however, was not an easy task. The senior Esposito was a wily Sicilian. He didn’t trust Gaggi, definitely didn’t trust DeMeo. Nino finally managed to lure Jimmy senior to “a friendly sit-down” at Roy’s place. On the way there, at a stop along the Belt Parkway, Nino and DeMeo shot both Espositos to death, which proved to be a stupid, ill-conceived crime, for people driving on the Belt Parkway actually saw it happen, the police were summoned, and after a brief chase Nino Gaggi was arrested. DeMeo managed to get away, but this had all essentially been his plan, and he was now in deep shit: he had indirectly caused his boss—a Mafia captain—to be arrested and charged with a double homicide. A potential death sentence.
Roy believed his days were numbered now. The strain was taking an obvious toll on him. He didn’t look or act in charge anymore. He seemed like a beaten man, disheveled, confused, drinking too much, a man about to crack; a man who might very well go to the police and try to make a deal for himself, for his family, to keep his money, for a new identity. The underworld knew DeMeo had a cousin that was a noted, highly respected law professor, Paul DeMeo, and rumors began to circulate that DeMeo couldn’t be trusted, that his cousin was advising him to make a deal with the government. This numbered the days DeMeo had left. Men in all the crime families began sitting down and talking about the danger DeMeo posed, how much he knew; they talked about taking Roy DeMeo out.
Richard, of course, heard these drumbeats resonating loudly through the underworld jungle.
Detective Pat Kane’s investigation was going nowhere fast. He couldn’t find Danny Deppner anywhere. Barbara Deppner hadn’t heard a word from him, and she kept telling Kane that he was surely dead, that Richard Kuklinski had killed him. But there was no proof of that, no body—nothing.
Still, Detective Kane believed that Richard was a stone-cold contract killer, master criminal getting away with murder. This was having a bad effect on the young Kane. His belief in what was right and just and proper was being turned upside down. He was beginning to drink more than he should. The relationship with his wife, Terry, was becoming strained. Even his colleagues thought he was “seeing more into this than there really was.”
But Kane wasn’t about to give up. He kept tirelessly working the case, kept looking into what he believed was the bold, insidious lie that was Richard Kuklinski’s life. Kane knew Richard was liked by his neighbors, was thought of as a devoted family man. He knew also that Richard went to church every Sunday, was even a church usher. Still, he was sure that Richard was a monster, an agent of the devil himself disguised as a family man. Kane was a religious individual—he fervently believed in the Catholic Church and all its teachings and mandates. He was sure he was on a God-given mission to put an end to Richard Kuklinski’s bloody career, a mission he could not fail.
Kane couldn’t get out of his mind how Kuklinski had killed Gary Smith with a poisoned hamburger because he’d gone to see his little girl. What the hell kind of man was capable of such a thing? He thought too about how Richard had smashed his fist through the windshields of a teenager’s and a woman’s car over everyday driving incidents.
With nowhere else to turn, Kane began back at the beginning and went to see Percy House. House was still in jail, still couldn’t make bail.
Percy House was a brutal outlaw, a sneering, mean-faced bully who abused anyone weaker than he. He beat up both Gary Smith and Danny for not following his orders; he beat up Barbara Deppner; he even beat up her children.
Richard didn’t like anything about Percy House. One time he had seen Gary after Percy gave him a beating and he looked like he’d run into a truck. Richard would surely have killed Percy House if it weren’t for the fact that his sister was married to Phil Solimene. House had been stewing in jail for many months now, and his nasty disposition had soured even more, if such a thing was possible. Right off Kane came to the point: “I want Kuklinski. I know who he is and what he does. You help me nail him, I’ll see to it that you make a plea bargain. Something you can live with. You help me, I’ll help you. My word of honor. If you don’t, I’ll make sure you rot in jail! I mean rot!” he added.
Percy House was afraid of Richard. He knew how dangerous Richard was, that he’d kill as readily as he’d scratch an itch. But he hated being in jail; he wanted to be free, and he knew the only way he’d ever get out of jail was to talk, to tell what he knew, to cut a deal. Yet the prospect of crossing Richard was a daunting, unsettling thing. He took a long, deep breath, finally said: “Look…I can give you some names. I’m not sayin’ Big Rich killed ’em…but some people say he did kill ’em.” And House went on to tell Kane about the murders of three people: Louis Masgay, George Malliband, and Paul Hoffman. He knew about these killings because his brother-in-law, Phil Solimene, had told him, and thus the investigation into Richard Kuklinski suddenly took on new life.
Armed with this information, Kane began to investigate these three killings. Kane did not like or trust Percy House, but he sensed he was telling the truth, though he needed concrete proof that could be used in a court of law. It didn’t take Kane long to find out that in both the Hoffman and Masgay killings, Richard Kuklinski had briefly been questioned, and had denied knowing either man. It had ended right there. Kane quickly realized that the crimes’ happening in different police jurisdictions was hampering any kind of solid investigation from moving forward. Kane mentioned what he had to state prosecutor Ed Denning.
“Wait a second. Kuklinski…I know that name,” Denning said. “But not connected to these murders. There was a grisly murder a while back, a guy named George Malliband. That was one of the names Percy House mentioned. He was found sticking out of a barrel in Jersey City. He’d been shot five times, dismembered, his leg cut off so it could fit in the barrel. A big man. He told his brother on the day he was murdered that he was going to meet this guy…this Richard Kuklinski.”
“You’re kidding,” Kane said, stunned.
Denning continued: “But no one ever saw Kuklinski with Malliband, and the investigation never went anywhere.”
It will now, Kane thought, and silently vowed that he would not rest no matter what until he got to the bottom of this. All things in his life would become secondary—his children, his wife, any other cases he’d been working on.
Back at his desk, Pat Kane wrote a meticulous report outlining everything he had learned. The file on Richard Kuklinski was growing. For the first time someone in law enforcement was looking at the pieces, carefully scrutinizing them, making sense of where they fit.
However, when Kane told his superiors and colleagues what he had, what he thought, they flat out didn’t believe him; in fact they mocked him, snickered behind his back, made jokes at Kane’s expense. They sarcastically dubbed Kane’s file on Kuklinski “the Manhattan Project,” after the A-bomb project, because the file had become so big, now containing crime-scene and morgue photos, maps, and police reports from numerous jurisdictions.
Kane was right on target. Yet, they treated him like a fool.
“Pat,” one of his bosses condescendingly said, “you’re saying you’ve got a guy here that poisons, shoots, and strangles victims, cuts legs off too. There’s no consistency here. Come on, open your eyes, Pat.”
Still, Pat Kane believed with all his heart and soul that Richard Kuklinski was a diabolical serial killer hiding in plain sight—a master criminal—and he was intent upon proving it. But how? Where to start?
Kane knew too that if he was right about Kuklinski, he and his own family might very well be in danger. He was sure Percy House was capable of telling Kuklinski about him. He knew Percy House might try to use Kuklinski to take him, Kane, out of the picture. With Kane gone, House would have a better shot at getting out of trouble. It was Pat Kane who had built the case against House, who had dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s.
Kane’s boss, John Leck, was worried about the young Kane. He believed he was suffering from some kind of delusional fantasy. Resources were scarce. Leck could not afford to tie up one of his investigators in murders that took place in other jurisdictions, let alone whose victims were thieves and degenerate gamblers, the very dregs of society. Who cared? Leck wrote up Kane’s ineptness to his youth, and he warned Kane to focus on other cases, to get over “this obsession you have here.”
“Yes sir,” Kane said, clenching his teeth.
Late that February, Roy DeMeo contacted Richard, and a meeting was set up for the following day. Richard left for Brooklyn a little after noon. He had a short-barreled .38 stuck in his pants, a pistol and knife strapped to his calf.
Richard met Roy as planned at the Gemini. Roy didn’t look good at all. Richard hadn’t seen him in a month or so, but Roy looked as if he had aged ten years. He was gaunt, his hair was uncombed, and there were eggplant-colored circles under his eyes. They got into Roy’s Cadillac, and as Roy drove, he told Richard about his concerns, about the cases against him, about how federal prosecutor Walter Mack was going to charge him with the murder of both Espositos.
Roy, Richard thought, seemed like a beaten man, a man at his wits’ end. They parked in a desolate spot in Sheepshead Bay and Roy went on and on about his troubles, how everything had turned against him. Richard had always viewed Roy as a tough, stand-up guy. But the man sitting next to him now was a mere shell of the man he knew.
Richard was concerned…indeed, very concerned: after all, DeMeo knew the intimate details of numerous murders Richard had committed. Sitting there listening to DeMeo whine, Richard remembered how DeMeo had pistol-whipped him, pointed the cocked Uzi at him, embarrassed him in front of everybody.
Rage soon began replacing any empathy Richard might have felt for DeMeo, and Richard made up his mind there and then to finally get even, and before DeMeo knew it Richard pulled out his .38 and let loose, shooting DeMeo five times, twice in the head, killing him. Richard then struck DeMeo numerous times with the butt of the .38, just as Roy had struck him, cursing him as he did so. Richard opened the trunk of DeMeo’s car, threw him in it. There was, Richard noticed, a lamp on the rear seat of the car. Richard knew it belonged to Roy’s wife, Gladys, and he removed the lamp from the rear seat and gingerly put it on top of Roy’s body. He didn’t want, he explained, anyone to steal it. He closed the trunk and left DeMeo there like that, the lamp resting on his body.
As Richard began to walk in the direction of Flatbush, he had mixed feelings about what he’d just done. On the one hand, he was elated: he finally had his long-awaited revenge. On the other hand, he was sad; a part of him had taken a liking to Roy. They were, he knew, in many ways alike. Be that as it may, Richard walked on, glad DeMeo was dead, for dead men tell no tales.
It was a large, dark brown, mean-eyed turkey buzzard, and it was intently picking at something wrapped up in black plastic, violently tearing away pieces of flesh.
By pure happenstance a man on a dirt bike came riding down the lonely stretch of road near the West Milford reservoir, spotted the bird, slowed to see what it was eating. Through a hole in the bag, no doubt made by the sharp beak of the buzzard, the cyclist discerned a human arm, definitely a skeletonized human arm sticking out of the bag, seeming to wave for attention, for help. Disturbed, the buzzard took flight. Not sure if the arm was real or not, the cyclist moved closer and now saw a human head sticking out of the bag. It had a Fu Manchu mustache and missing front teeth. The bicyclist immediately went to summon the police, pedaling so hard he nearly fell twice as he went.
The police removed the bag with the remains to the medical examiner’s office. As the ME peeled away the plastic, which had a tendency to preserve a body, a huge cloud of flies left the corpse, and then came hundreds of fast-moving carrion beetles out of every orifice. The ME found a billfold in the dead man’s pocket filled with photographs of children. She laid these photos out in the hall of the medical examiner’s office, hoping maybe someone recognized the children.
Again, by pure happenstance, a detective who knew Pat Kane and the case he’d been working on did recognize the children: they were Barbara Deppner’s kids. Danny Deppner had been found. Pat Kane was soon notified. He hurried over to the medical examiner’s office and quickly confirmed that the children in the photos were the Deppners’. Barbara Deppner was brought over, and she verified that the wallet and the photos were Danny’s.
“I told you! I told you!” she kept saying.
The cause of death, Kane was first told, was strangulation, though there were no signs of a struggle, and a little digested meal of burned beans was still in Deppner’s stomach, indicating, in Kane’s mind, that he, like Gary Smith, had been poisoned and strangled. Then, however, Kane was informed that Danny had been shot in the head.
For Pat Kane this verified what he’d been saying and thinking all along, but his superiors still—incredibly—weren’t persuaded, and a very frustrated Pat Kane was just about ready to bang his head against a wall.
Who could blame him? To work off his frustrations Kane beat a heavy bag he had set up in his basement. He went for long, arduous runs. What would have to happen, he wondered, asked out loud, for his bosses to see the light, to understand that there was a cunning, remorseless serial killer roaming free, murdering at will, when and where and how the hell he pleased?
Richard was concerned about Robert Pronge. He was beginning to think Pronge was truly crazy, completely out of touch with reality. The beginning of the end of their relationship came when Pronge asked Richard to murder his wife and eight-year-old son. As remorseless a killer as Richard surely was, he would not kill a woman or a child. For him that was anathema, an unspeakable infamy, and he told Pronge just that. This created a chasm of sorts between the two men, and Richard was concerned. He had come to know Pronge as a raging psychopath and he was thinking Pronge might very well kill him for refusing to murder his wife and child—for judging him.
The second issue that drove a stake between the two men was Pronge’s plan to poison with ricin a small reservoir that acted as drinking water for an upstate community. Pronge said a man would pay him several hundred thousand dollars to do the job, which was to kill a particular family that used the water from this reservoir. The problem was many other households used the water, and Pronge’s plan would kill hundreds of innocents, women and children. This truly incensed Richard, who made up his mind to stop Pronge.
In mid-August, Richard walked in rubber-soled shoes to the garage where Pronge kept his Mister Softee truck. Pronge had actually laid gravel on the ground so it would be difficult for someone to walk on it without making noise, but Richard used his catlike abilities and silently made his way right up to the truck. Pronge was inside cleaning it up. Without a word, Richard shot him five times with a .22 pistol equipped with a silencer, killing him, and left him there like that, dead, in his Mister Softee truck. It seemed appropriate, Richard thought. Pronge never knew what hit him, who killed him, or even why.
After Pronge was discovered, Richard decided to get rid of the warehouse, to finally get rid of Masgay’s body. Richard now broke open the cement on top of the well head, retrieved Masgay’s body, took it to a little-used area in upstate New York, and left it there, wrapped in black leaf bags.
Again, by pure happenstance, the body was found within several days and the police were summoned. Interestingly, the frigid well water had completely preserved the corpse. Masgay had now been dead for two years but he looked as if he had just died—been murdered—only the day before. The clothes he was wearing were matched with missing-persons reports, and thus the authorities realized it was Louis Masgay, reported missing so long ago.
On the day Masgay disappeared, the police knew, he’d gone to see Richard Kuklinski with ninety thousand dollars cash money on him. When word of this discovery reached Detective Kane, he hurried and told Lieutenant Leck. The lieutenant said: “Pat…Pat, you’ve made a believer out of me,” and he shook Kane’s hand. This murder finally vindicated Kane, and he felt ten feet tall.
Now with Leck’s permission and encouragement, Kane dug deeper and quickly learned that Louis Masgay was last seen on his way to have dinner with Kuklinski the day he vanished. Kane also learned that Masgay had been buying porn and blank tapes from Kuklinski. Kane now turned his attention back to the murder of George Malliband, spoke to his brother Gene, and heard how Malliband was a heavy gambler, deep in debt to loan sharks and “Mafia characters.”
Kane went for a long jog, thinking this out, trying to fit the jagged pieces of this bloody puzzle together. He had many good ideas while running, managed to see things in a new light—from different angles, as he says. While jogging he had the idea to contact the NYPD organized-crime unit and see if he could learn something more about Richard Kuklinski from them. He needed help, he knew. He was only a lowly detective in the small state police barracks at Newton, New Jersey, which had an absolute minimum of resources—a serious disadvantage, and Pat Kane had the good sense to know it. Kane’s query to the NYPD proved to be fruitful. He not only asked about Kuklinski, but he provided the OC Unit with Kuklinski’s mug shot; it was shown to a Mafia informant—Freddie DiNome—and Kane soon learned that the photo was of “the Polack,” a proficient hit man who had worked with Roy DeMeo, who himself had recently been killed. “He is supposed to be,” an NYPD detective told Kane, “a specialist at getting rid of bodies.”
This confirmed what Kane had all along suspected, but to hear it from the NYPD OC Unit was very sobering. It sent shivers up his spine.
How many people has he killed? Kane wondered, and his mind played over the long list of Mafia hits that occurred all over New Jersey. With this new information, Kane became even more concerned for both his and his family’s safety. If Kuklinski was a contract killer, what was to prevent him from coming after Kane, or his wife, or for that matter his children? Kane made sure to find out the license-plate numbers of not only all of Richard’s cars, but his family’s cars as well. With the information he took Terry aside and explained how he was on the trail of a dangerous killer, a contract murderer, who lived nearby, a ten-minute drive away, and he “might,” he said, come around looking to hurt him. This both troubled and confused Terry.
“Why,” she asked, “would he come after you, Patrick, and not one of the other guys?”
“Because I’ve been pursuing him for a while, and I think…well, I think it’s possible he found out about me.”
“You, I mean just you?”
“Terry, it’s long and involved. Just suffice it to say that I’m…I’m concerned, and I want you to be…”
“To be what, Patrick?”
“On guard—alert,” he said. “Keep your eyes open.”
“What about the children, Patrick? Would he…you know, hurt them?” she asked.
“Terry, I just want you to keep your eyes open, that’s all. No. No, he won’t hurt the children,” Kane said, but in truth he didn’t know what Richard would do, what Richard was capable of.
Merrick Kuklinski’s boyfriend, Richie Peterson, was becoming abusive. He first took to pushing Merrick around, then striking her and breaking things. As much as Merrick loved Peterson, she was not, she vowed, going to enter into an abusive relationship the way her mother had. So she unapologetically, irrevocably ended all romantic relations and ties with Peterson. He was heartbroken, crestfallen, pursued Merrick, begged her to reconsider, promised he’d change, but she didn’t want to hear it.
If Merrick had told her father that Richie Peterson abused her, Richard would have killed him and fed him to the rats. But Merrick kept silent about the abuse, and Richard still treated Peterson well. It was out of character for Richard to trust Peterson—or anyone—so much. Peterson was young, not an outlaw, and he had been involved with Merrick for a long time now. Richard thought of Peterson as a surrogate son. This familiarity, however, would come back to haunt Richard.
Chris Kuklinski was still asserting her individuality by having a lot of male friends. She would sometimes be fooling around in vans parked right outside the house with Richard home; she would sometimes cavort with boys in her basement bedroom with Richard home—just upstairs, watching TV.
Chris, of course, knew all about her father’s bad temper, but she knew nothing about the second life he led; she had no idea what a truly thin, dangerous line she was crossing by doing these things. If Richard had caught her in these acts he would have gone berserk and sent any male she was with to the hospital, or worse—a grave. This was a tragedy waiting to happen.
Several times, Pat Kane tried following Richard, but that proved to be very difficult. Richard’s doubling back, making sudden turns, pulling over on the side of the road and just sitting there waiting, made tailing him nearly impossible. Kane also thought about going into Phil Solimene’s store in Paterson to see what he could find out, but Solimene knew Pat Kane through an odd quirk of circumstances, and knew Kane was a cop, so he’d be made the second he entered the store.
Kane came to view Solimene as a possible weak link, a way to get something on Richard, but the question was how? In truth Solimene was a genuine black-hearted outlaw and knew very well just how dangerous Richard was, and he’d be hard-pressed to do anything to undermine Richard or help the cops in any way.
Though, with time, that would change.
Kane now turned his stubborn nature to Kuklinski’s phone records, and soon learned he had four different phone lines and ran up huge bills…several thousand dollars every month.
Upon closer scrutiny of Richard’s phone calls, Kane realized that Richard had been making phone calls to Louis Masgay’s number, which abruptly stopped the day Masgay disappeared.
“Interesting,” Lieutenant Leck observed when Kane brought this to his attention. “Especially considering that Kuklinski denied even knowing Masgay.” As provocative as this was, it didn’t in any way prove that Kuklinski had killed Louis Masgay, though it certainly pointed in that direction. Kane went back to checking the hundreds of numbers called from the Kuklinski home. This was grueling, tedious work, comparing all these seemingly unrelated numbers, but suddenly, one of the numbers seemed to jump off the page and slam Pat Kane right in the face. “Bingo!” he shouted, and hurried into Lieutenant Leck’s office. “We got ’im,” he announced.
“What’s up?” Leck asked.
Richard went about business as usual. He accepted murder contracts across the country. He bought and sold hijacked merchandise, drugs and guns, distributed pornography from one end of America to the other. He rented an office in Emerson now and started a new corporation he called Sunset Inc. He used the company to buy and sell lots of damaged goods and to sell counterfeit knockoff items, jeans and sweaters, handbags, even perfumes. Richard had bogus labels sewn into the clothing and sold it as the real McCoy. Wholesalers from flea markets across the country gobbled them up. Richard never brought home any of the pornography he dealt in. Barbara would never stand for such a thing. Once in a while, however, he kept loads of X-rated movies in the garage, wrapped in plastic, overnight. Richard’s son, Dwayne, happened upon one such load and became all wide-eyed at the sight of the blatant porn all over the boxes—an exciting thing for any healthy teenage boy to see.
Dwayne had never been close to his father. Though Barbara and his sisters tried mightily to shield Dwayne from the truth, he knew Richard beat his mother, broke up furniture, tore things apart. Dwayne figured it would be just a matter of time before his father turned his wrath on him. Dwayne would gladly defend his mother with his life, and he often thought about just that—trying to stop his father from abusing his mother and suddenly becoming the target himself. Dwayne still always made sure to have weapons ready, so when and if the time came to defend his mother from Richard, defend himself, he’d be prepared, ready for action.
But Dwayne had no idea just how dangerous, truly deadly, Richard was, and regardless of what preparations he made he’d never be able to do any kind of combat with his father and survive.
Richard did his best to please his son; he tried to be a good dad. He was buying Dwayne gifts all the time, mostly some sort of weapon: a sword, all kinds of knives, BB guns, a crossbow. Not just any crossbow, but a superdeluxe one designed to bring down a bear, with razor-sharp arrows, made to kill, readily pierce flesh and muscle and break bones. Dwayne didn’t take to any of these weapons, rarely used the crossbow—but he did think about using it against his father, indeed killing him with it to protect his mother. Dwayne was very close to Barbara, but he was by no means a mama’s boy. Dwayne loved sports and rough-and-tumble action, lifted weights, and had a long, lean, muscular body. Dwayne’s passion was wrestling, and he was very good at it, winning most of his matches. His whole family, including Richard, went to his wrestling matches and cheered him on wildly. Richard’s attending Dwayne’s matches was one of the few things Richard participated in that his son liked. Richard did not take him to baseball, soccer, or football games, didn’t go fishing with him, never did any of the things a father and son might do together. But Dwayne did enjoy when his father came to his wrestling heats and cheered him on.
Richard seemed to thrive on family life. He very much enjoyed being home, with his family, cooking at barbecues, watching movies together, shopping for groceries, even going to church with the family on Sunday mornings. A healthy, loving family was what Richard had always wanted, coveted, and now he finally had it. Yet, his enjoyment, his obvious love of home life, could turn to explosive rage at the drop of a dime. He still struck Barbara, broke her nose, gave her black eyes. Though these incidents were certainly less frequent than in years past, they still happened. Both Merrick and Chris had grown into large, physically strong young women and would run to get between Richard and their mother when he had one of his outbursts.
Richard was bipolar and should have been taking medication to stabilize his behavior, his sudden highs and lows, but going to see a psychiatrist was out of the question. He’d be admitting that something was wrong with him, and he’d never do that.
Conversely, family life was, he was beginning to think, making him soft, taking away his razor edge, and because of that he was becoming…vulnerable. But there was nothing he could do about it. The only thing in this world Richard Kuklinski ever cared about was his family, and he’d die, he often vowed, before he lost them.
He often fantasized now about making a lot of money and retiring from crime, going straight, buying a house near the ocean and enjoying the view every day, going for long walks with Barbara. Richard knew he’d been lucky for a very long time now, and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that someday his luck would change, had to change, the laws of average dictated that.
Still, Richard did little to lessen his exposure, to step back and look at his life with a critical, rational eye. He plunged forward, intent upon one thing, making money, providing for his family, and retiring one day. But he needed a lot of money for that, and the risks he was taking became secondary. They were a natural part of the landscape and he accepted that. He vowed to be more careful, to plan and plot methodically and move only when the time was right.
Another potential problem for Richard was his explosive, homicidal temper. He was still getting into arguments with people about how they drove, which could quickly escalate into sudden violence, even murder. Someone who cut Richard off in traffic was taking his life in his hands.
One evening Richard was returning to New Jersey and had just crossed the George Washington Bridge when he passed a tall, lanky hitchhiker. The man tried to wave him down, but Richard kept moving, and the hitchhiker gave him the finger. For some reason this disrespect always outraged Richard; he couldn’t let such a thing pass. He doubled back, taking a gun from the holster on his calf, rolled down the window, drove right up to the hitchhiker, and shot him in the chest, killing him. The hitchhiker was found by a biker; the police were summoned. There were no witnesses, no motives, no weapons, no clues. Another unsolved killing for the homicide books.
Another time Richard wanted to try out a new weapon—a small black metal crossbow made in Italy. It seemed like a good assassin’s weapon because it was so silent, so small, the size of a catcher’s mitt, but would it really work? he wondered. To test it Richard went out in his car looking for someone he could shoot with the crossbow. He wasn’t angry, hadn’t been drinking; it was just a test to see if the small crossbow would kill a human being, he explained. He spotted a man, his guinea pig, walking innocently on a secluded street, slowed, pulled up, and asked for directions in his friendly way. The man approached Richard’s car to answer and in the next instant Richard shot him in the forehead with the six-inch steel-shafted arrow. The man went right down, the arrow in his brain, not knowing what hit him or why…and was soon dead.
The Elusive Muskie
A man in Vineland, New Jersey, owed mob guys a lot of money—over one hundred thousand dollars. He was a degenerate gambler and a sexual degenerate, and got himself in deep with loan sharks of Italian persuasion. He paid his debt with a check that bounced—twice. Richard was asked to go see this man. His name was John Spasudo, and he would wind up playing an important role in Richard’s life.
Like Richard, Spasudo was a large man, though with long dark hair. He had perfected the gift of gab to a high art form, could talk the spots off a running cheetah if he had a mind to. Richard, however, had heard it all before many times over and did not fall for Spasudo’s line of bull. Richard calmly explained the facts of life to Spasudo, and Richard did end up getting all the money due after a few days.
In the course of these days, Spasudo told Richard about this “great opportunity” he had to make money buying and selling Nigerian currency and South African Krugerrands, a coin made of pure gold. And he told Richard about this idea he was developing with Louis Arnold, a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman, to open a series of rest stops specifically designed for trucks all along the interstate—a hotel, restaurant, and garage where mechanical problems could be quickly addressed. It sounded like a reasonably good idea and piqued Richard’s interest.
Richard, as always, was looking for new ways to make money, and he listened to Spasudo with an open mind, heard more about how much could be made with gold coins and currency trading, and soon was on his way to Zurich, Switzerland with a whole new spectrum of opportunities before him, and a new list of victims to be sent to the grave.
Pat Kane hurried excitedly into Lieutenant Leck’s office. He was sure he had found the rope they could use to hang Richard Kuklinski.
“Lieutenant,” he said, “I have here clear, irrefutable proof that links Kuklinski to the York Hotel. He called the place on December 21, when Deppner and Smith were staying there. Let’s see him try and deny this.”
“Good, very good work,” Leck said; while this was only circumstantial proof and did not mean that Kuklinski had killed anyone, it did tie Kuklinski directly to the place where Gary Smith had been found.
Though in Pat Kane’s mind it was further proof of what he’d been saying for years. This was not enough proof, however, to go out and handcuff Kuklinksi. More than anything he had ever wanted in his life, Kane wanted to arrest Richard Kuklinski and put him in a cell—cage him like the deranged animal Kane believed he was. This investigation had all been very frustrating and disheartening for Kane. He knew Kuklinski was a mob contract killer, a distributor of pornography, had killed five people that he was aware of—Masgay, Hoffman, Malliband, Smith, and Deppner—and he couldn’t do anything about it, at least not yet. Kane was becoming quiet and morose. Terry could barely get him to talk, to acknowledge her or the children. He had always been a loving, extremely devoted, and attentive husband, a doting father, but now he was like another man entirely: there, in the house, in the bed next to his wife, but not really present, a part of the family. He was somewhere else most all the time, Terry Kane would explain. Kane wasn’t sleeping well either. He’d lie in bed, toss and turn. Dark circles formed under his eyes. Sometimes at night, he’d hear a sound outside, get out of bed, and go outside with a cocked gun in his hand. If Kuklinski came around looking to hurt him or his family, he’d kill him. End of story.
If Kane was going to get Kuklinski, stop his bloody one-man crime spree, he needed tangible, irrefutable evidence, he knew—the proverbial smoking gun, eyewitnesses, fingerprints, real evidence that would stand up in a court of law. Pat Kane went for grueling runs, pounded his heavy bag, thinking only about this case, how to get Kuklinski off the streets. He fantasized often about getting into a shootout with Kuklinski and killing him. Kane was an excellent shot and wished he could face Kuklinski man to man. Kane believed that if anyone needed killing, it was surely Richard Kuklinski. But Kane knew such a thing was not possible. He had played it straight, within the rules and regulations of society, his whole life and he wasn’t about to change now, become a killer, because of Kuklinski. Still, he wished Kuklinski would give him cause to shoot him down like the rabid dog Kane was sure he was.
It was while fishing for muskellunge one Sunday—his favorite pastime—that an idea first came to Kane that could, he believed, move the investigation forward, perhaps even bring it to a successful conclusion. The muskellunge is a very clever, some say cunning, predator in the pike family. Known as muskies, these fish live in hard-to-reach spots in freshwater lakes. They are very hard to catch, cannot be fooled easily by lures and baits. They can grow to six feet in length, are fast and furious and have razorlike teeth. They are so vicious that they not only feed on other fish, but actually attack and eat ducks, muskrats, and other warm-blooded vertebrates. If there is a ruthless serial killer in the fresh waters of northern New Jersey, it is surely the muskie. As Kane was trying to catch the shadowy muskie that Sunday, with live bait, he first got the idea of using live bait to get Kuklinski.
Kuklinski was very much like a muskie, Kane was thinking—struck at will, was cunning, a hard-to-catch killer.
Yes, what Kane needed to get Kuklinski was live bait, a beguiling decoy that could fool him and draw him out in the open. Pat Kane started asking around about a man who could get close to Kuklinski, an adept undercover cop who could draw him out in the open.
John Spasudo also had his fingers in many pies. His passport had been taken away because he was on bail in a forgery case, so he had asked Richard to go overseas to consummate this currency-exchange deal. Some crooked Nigerian government officials had stolen a lot of cash and managed to get it out of the country, to Zurich. The problem was that the money could not be turned into any other currency because no one wanted it. There was, however, another government official in Nigeria who would allow the currency back into the country for an under-the-table fee of ten cents on each dollar. This official would stamp the money as legitimate and cause a check to be issued to a second corporation Richard would start, which would be paid in dollars.
Richard liked Zurich. It was clean and orderly, and the people were pleasant and accommodating. He checked into a hotel in the middle of town, the Hotel Zurich, met the man who had access to all this Nigerian currency, a Belgian named Remi, a short, heavyset individual with thick eyebrows. Richard was wary, but Remi took him to an office just outside of town, and there was the Nigerian currency, packed in thick plastic squares—150 pounds of it. Richard would have to take the currency to Nigeria. He was not too excited about going to Africa, but he’d go anywhere to make money. It was now arranged for the money to be transported back to Nigeria. Richard would fly on the same plane, which left the following day. Richard had always had a kind of wanderlust and he was curious to see Nigeria, one of the poorest, most violent countries in the world, where people were still bought and sold, where human sacrifice is still practiced. As planned, Richard met the official—a dark-skinned, tall cadaver of a man—and the money was quickly approved for import back into the country. Richard had to stay overnight to catch a return flight to Zurich. He didn’t like anything about Nigeria, its disorder, its overwhelming poverty, its dusty roads, withered palm trees, harried street dogs that seemed concerned that they could become someone’s dinner at any moment. To say that Richard Kuklinski, with his fair Polish-Irish complexion, stood out, was an understatement. He was glad to leave the next day and hoped he wouldn’t have to come back.
Zurich was just the opposite, neat and tidy and prosperous. Richard, as was his way, took long walks, curiously watching the fastidious Swiss go about their fastidious, ordered lives. The one thing that struck Richard the most, still sticks in his mind these many years later, was how clean the place was—not even a piece of paper on the floor. Richard found a park that was open all night and people strolling about without a care, no fear of muggers or being robbed. While waiting for the check from Nigeria, Richard had glorious meals, mostly by himself, but a few with his new friend Remi.
Remi told Richard about a second scheme he’d been working on: a man who worked in a Swiss bank would provide him with the numbers of Swiss bank accounts, even bank checks drawn on these accounts. “I am talking here about huge accounts of giant corporations and people who have much money to hide, people who could never go to the police—understand?” Remi said, his lips barely moving as he talked, like a ventriloquist.
“We need an account in the States where we can clear the checks. Would you be interested in such an enterprise?”
“What’s our end?”
“Half must go directly to the banker; we will split the other half.”
“And all I have to do is open an account and deposit these checks, you say?”
“How much are we talking about here?”
“No more than seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. Once the amount goes above that, the transaction will automatically be looked at more closely.”
“I don’t kid about money.”
“Sure, I’m in,” Richard said, and agreed to open still another corporate account back in the States to facilitate this scam. This all seemed too good to be true, but Richard had heard of far more bizarre things and he knew well the black-hearted larceny that lived in men’s hearts and readily accepted the deal Remi had laid out.
The check soon arrived from Nigeria. It was for $455,000. Richard’s end would be 25 percent. Richard took it and went back to the States in the first-class section of a Pan Am flight, with plans of soon returning to Zurich.
Pat Kane walked into Lieutenant Leck’s office and said, “The only way we are ever going to get Kuklinski is if we get someone close to him. We are going to need a really good undercover guy. Someone who could fool him. Draw him out into the open.”
“You have anyone in mind?” Leck asked.
“I was talking to the chief of homicide in Bergen County, Ed Denning. He says he knows a top-notch undercover guy—he’s with ATF. What do you think?”
“Sure, give it a try. Why not?” he said, knowing Kane was right—that he’d been right all along.
In early April Pat Kane drove to Trenton, New Jersey, to meet this super undercover guy.
How the Fuck You Doin’?
Dominick Polifrone was thirty-nine years old, had hardened dark street-eyes, full cheeks, a Fu Manchu mustache, wore an ill-fitting black wig. He was nearly six feet tall, a strapping, powerful man with broad shoulders, a second generation Italian American with dark olive skin. Polifrone was happily married with three young children. He had successfully infiltrated mob circles numerous times, had gathered credible evidence that was used in federal courts to get convictions, and no one he helped put away knew he was responsible. Polifrone knew the walk and the talk, how to dress, what to say and how to say it. He had taken on the persona, the rough exterior, swagger, speech, and mannerisms of mob guys. Often, every other word out of his mouth was “fuck.” Pat Kane was immediately impressed by Polifrone. When they first met he not only thought he could do the job, but do it very well; he was, Pat would later say, perfect, “right out of a Mafia movie.” He was, indeed, “almost too good to be true,” Kane said.
The two men, as different as night and day, one brash and bold, the other polite and introspective, sat down, and Pat Kane slowly ran down everything he had. As he talked, Polifrone’s high, wide brow creased with curiosity, the furrows deepening as Kane spoke. Curiosity soon turned to dismay, then outright anger. After Kane had laid out what he had, Polifrone said, “You mean to tell me this fuckin’ guy killed all these people and is still out there fuckin’ walking around?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Kane said, his boyish face rock hard, his gaze sure and steady, filled with resolute, steely resolve.
“That’s fuckin’ unbelievable!” he said.
“Tell me about it. Will you help?”
“The question isn’t will I help, of course I will. It’s how do I get my bosses to okay it?”
Polifrone worked for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and they did not investigate murders; homicides were not their jurisdiction, which of course Pat Kane already well knew, and he had a ready answer:
“I’ll tell you how,” he said. “Firearms—he deals in firearms,” Kane said.
“That’ll fuckin’ do it.” Polifrone went and made a few phone calls, ran down for his superiors what Kane had told him, and within an hour he was given the green light. He and Kane shook hands.
“Let’s get this fuckin’ guy!” Dominick said, and thus a rare coupling between the New Jersey State Police and the federal government was done. This pairing would grow to be one of the largest state-federal law enforcement efforts ever, a task force unequaled in New Jersey’s history.
But “Let’s get this fuckin’ guy” was a lot easier said than done.
Richard Kuklinski was a very untrusting, dangerous man. He could smell a cop a mile away. It was a talent he had developed, indeed honed, from a lifetime of crime, stalking and killing at will, a lifetime of being an alpha predator in a very dangerous jungle, as he perceived his world. How, they wondered, could they get Dominick Polifrone near Kuklinski, let alone get his faith and confidence? This was the million-dollar question, a giant mountain to climb.
All excited, very pleased, Pat Kane arrived home that evening, a man reborn. For one of the first times in far too long he was smiling, not quiet and morose. For the first time since this ever expanding case fell into his lap, Kane could see light at the end of a dark, treacherous tunnel strewn with the many rotting corpses of Richard Leonard Kuklinski’s victims.
When Richard arrived home from Zurich that weekend, he was in a good mood. He was always in a good mood when he made money. The following day he went to see John Spasudo and told him about the trip, how well it had gone.
“I told you, I told you, Rich!” Spasudo said, shaking Richard’s enormous hand.
“That you did, my friend—that you did,” Richard said, and the two of them soon split the profit from the Nigerian currency exchange; it was a good amount of money, and there was the prospect of making even more money. A lot more money. Richard hadn’t believed it would be that easy, but now he was a true believer, and John Spasudo was—for now—his new best friend.
Why didn’t Richard just kill Spasudo, take his share of the money and be done with him? When recently asked that question he said, ’Cause I had a use for him. If he could pull this off, there was no telling what he could do, I was thinking.
But Richard didn’t like John Spasudo, and the more he got to know him, the less he liked him. For instance, when Richard met Spasudo’s wife, Spasudo told Richard, in a winking, conspiratorial tone, “If you like, you can fuck her,” which stunned Richard, who was still very much a prude. What kind of man, Richard wondered, offered his wife like she was a favorite golf club? Spasudo also had a girlfriend, Sherry, and when Richard met her, Spasudo told him he could fuck her too.
“No thanks,” Richard said, thinking Spasudo surely had loose screws and nuts in his head. Then, something occured that completely turned Richard off to John Spasudo, indeed, numbered the days Spasudo had left on this planet. Richard was asked if he could get a few hundred pounds of pot. As usual, Richard would sell anything to turn a buck. He turned to Spasudo and asked him if he knew someone.
“Sure,” Spasudo said, only too happy to show Richard that he had contacts for anything, that he was a man of many talents and resources; and Spasudo took Richard to see “a friend.”
This friend lived in a nice house in an exclusive area of North Jersey. He was a bookish, nerd type, as Richard refers to him. He had a secret panel in the living room, behind which he had neatly stacked bales of marijuana wrapped in rough burlap. Richard got two hundred pounds, paid the guy a fair price, and put the grass in his van. Back in the house, the dealer asked Richard if he’d like to “see his toys.”
“What toys would that be?” asked Richard, and the dealer led Richard and Spasudo to a narrow stairwell, hidden in a panel under the main stairs to the second landing. They followed him down a narrow set of wooden steps into a secret finished basement. When Richard reached the bottom of the stairs, he was shocked to see children, ranging in ages from seven to fourteen, boys and girls, black and white, about a dozen of them. They were all quiet and wide-eyed, forlorn and frightened.
“Would you like one of them?” the dealer asked, as if they were tasty, fresh desserts on a tray in a busy restaurant.
“No, no thanks,” Richard growled as white-hot anger slowly welled up inside of him. The soft clicking sound immediately issued from his lips. John Spasudo had a big grin on his face. It was all Richard could do not to take out his gun and kill both of them on the spot. He quietly turned and went back up the stairs, his wide shoulders filling the space, making a silent promise that he’d return—for one reason only.
Seeing the children like that had an unusually bad effect on Richard. If there was one thing he hated, it was seeing children abused in any way. It caused a flood of repressed memories to come to the surface. No longer smiling, no longer friendly, Richard stared at the dealer with icy disdain. Richard recently explained: I couldn’t get the sight of those little kids out of my head…. It was eating at me. I had to do something. I couldn’t stop thinking about them; I’m getting mad even now, so many years later, at the thought of it—the memory, you know.
Outside, Richard told Spasudo that he didn’t approve of such things, in fact he deplored them. Spasudo thought it was a big joke. For Richard there was nothing funny about it.
The following day, Richard left for Georgia to open a checking account to facilitate the cashing of the stolen bank checks. He wasn’t sure if this was for real, if it would work, but Remi had come through once, with the Nigerian money. It had gone as smoothly as a Swiss clock, and Richard was optimistic. But as he drove down to Georgia, he kept thinking of the children, what was being done to them. He thought too about their parents and families—how he’d feel if one of his three children was in such a position. He put on the radio and listened to country music, trying to get his mind away from those children, what was in their eyes, the sadness about their small faces, his own childhood, but not having much luck.
Richard was opening the new corporate checking account in Georgia because he had sold a lot of porn in Georgia over the years and was familiar with the place, liked its live-and-let-live attitude. He had no difficulty opening the account under the name of the Mercantile Corporation.
As Richard drove back to New Jersey, his mind returned to the children. He resolved to go back to that house the following day, but John Spasudo called and told Richard that Remi had contacted him and that he had to go back to Zurich as soon as possible.
“Tell him I’m on my way,” Richard said, and the next day Richard was on his way back to Zurich. Barbara was used to these sudden trips and didn’t think twice about his abrupt departure. She says she preferred it when he was gone. There was peace in the house, she explained.
The key to getting close to Richard Kuklinski, Pat Kane had long believed, was Phil Solimene, the owner of “the store,” in Paterson, and Richard’s only friend.
Solimene was, perhaps, the only person in the world—aside from Barbara—that Richard trusted, that Richard considered…a friend. Richard had known him for well over twenty years, had committed every imaginable crime with him, including murder. Solimene even knew where Richard and his family lived, had been to the Kuklinski home for drinks and coffee several times, with his wife, Percy House’s sister.
Because of Kane’s constant pressure, Percy House finally agreed to be a snitch to get out of jail; he wore a wire and went to “the store,” where he managed to get Phil junior to admit his involvement in a burglary gone sour in which an elderly man had been murdered, beaten to death. House also tried to get Richard to incriminate himself on a secreted tape, but Richard didn’t trust him, indeed flat-out threatened to kill him, and Percy House hurried from the store as though his ass were on fire and never went back.
Phil Solimene Sr. also got himself in trouble with the law, and when Pat Kane approached him and told him that he wanted him to set up Richard, Solimene reluctantly listened. Also, Solimene’s son was now doing time in a Jersey state prison, and Kane thought he might be able to use that as leverage to turn Solimene. “You help us nail Kuklinski,” Kane said, “and your life will take a turn for the better. You don’t help us and your life will take a serious turn for the worse; it’ll become a train wreck. I promise you.” Because Kane had an innocent, cherubic baby face, a threat coming from him was unsettling. “Plus,” Kane continued, “I’ll make sure your son does easy time closer to you, in Rahway, instead of Trenton State.”
As much as Solimene dreaded Richard—and he truly did—he dreaded losing his freedom even more; and after several meetings with Kane and federal agents from both the ATF (including Polifrone) and the FBI, Phil Solimene, the one person in the world Richard trusted, agreed to help the authorities; and the rope to hang Richard Kuklinski suddenly became a little longer…stronger; a tangible reality slowly swinging, as if in a soft breeze, above Richard’s head.
Richard arrived in Zurich and checked into his hotel. He wasn’t there ten minutes, when Remi showed up. They had an early lunch together in a four-star restaurant near the hotel. Remi said, “All is good; we will have the first check tomorrow.”
“Five hundred thousand,” Remi said with a straight face as he shoveled buttery escargot into his mouth with practiced efficiency.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Richard said.
“You’ll see it tomorrow,” Remi said with absolute certainty. That would leave Richard and Spasudo—if it was true—nearly sixty-three thousand each, after the banker got his half and Remi his end.
“When…where—what time?” Richard asked, not quite believing this; it really did seem too good to be true.
“I’ll bring it to your hotel,” Remi said.
And sure enough, the following day Remi showed up at the appointed time with a check made out to the Mercantile Corporation for five hundred thousand dollars. Richard could barely believe his eyes, but there it was in his huge hand. All smiles, Richard said, “I didn’t think you could pull it off but you did. You’re a good man, Remi—good man!” He shook Remi’s pudgy hand. Richard noticed Remi didn’t seem that happy for a guy who had just made so much money.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Richard.
“There is…a slight problem,” Remi said. “A complication, you could say.”
“What is it?”
“Our friend, the banker, was apparently working with another group of people, and they, well, they screwed him, and then demanded more money…a bigger share.”
Greedy bastards, Richard thought.
“And they have threatened to expose him.”
“Really?” Richard said, thinking, Ain’t it the way?
Richard took another look at the check in his hand. “Well,” he said, “why don’t you take care of them?”
“How? They’re dangerous people. I think…I think they’re gangsters,” Remi added, whispering the word.
“Oh, gangsters, you say,” Richard said, amused.
“Yes! This is the problem, you see.”
“This isn’t a problem,” Richard said confidently.
“It is…. You don’t understand—they’re dangerous. They’ve threatened not only him, you know, but his family too. His wife and children.”
“Listen, my friend, you show me who these dangerous gangsters are and I’ll take care of them.”
“You, how…Do you, you know, know some people who—?”
“I’ll take care of it,” Richard repeated with such certainty that Remi believed him.
“I can show you the man,” he said.
“Good,” Richard said.
The following day Remi took Richard to the bank and showed him the official. He was sitting behind an ornate cherrywood desk adorned with brass lamps. To Richard’s surprise, he was Asian. The fellow trying to extort him was supposed to be coming to talk with him at noon, and he showed up on time. He was an Arab, sported a well-cut Italian suit, silk shirt, fancy tie. He carried a Vuitton attaché case. He had a short salt-and-pepper beard. He reminded Richard of the actor Omar Sharif. Richard smiled to himself, but his face was as cold and white as a marble statue in a cemetery on a winter night.
The plan was for Phil Solimene to act as if he’d known Dominick Polifrone for a long time. Polifrone would take on the name and persona of Dominick Provanzano. He had a driver’s license in that name, and there were bogus warrants for Provanzano, if anyone checked. It was no secret that crooked cops were checking out police files and computers and gleefully selling information to the bad guys. Everyone in law enforcement knew this. If Richard had a crooked cop check out Dominick Provanzano, he’d pass the scrutiny with flying colors.
The plan was for Dominick to start hanging out at the store, play cards, become “a regular,” as it were. He would, they hoped, be accepted by the criminals who made the store their second home. Phil Solimene would go out of his way to make sure everyone knew that Dominick was one of them—a slick, well-connected hood he’d known for many years, a guy with connections in New York’s Little Italy, trusted and confided in by “important people.”
It was now early 1985. Pat Kane drove Dominick to the store in Paterson in an unmarked van, wished him luck, and watched Dominick swagger across the street and enter the store. This was, he was hoping, the first step in finally nailing Kuklinski. Kane had no idea about Richard’s trips to Europe at this juncture; he had no idea he was even out of town.
When, that fateful day, Dominick Polifrone opened the door and entered the store, he metamorphosized into Dominick Provanzano. Phil Solimene looked up, saw him, and called out, “Hey, Dom, come on in!” a big smile on his chiseled face, hugged and kissed him, and proudly introduced him to the regulars. Here Polifrone was in his element. He was, in fact, a born actor, a smooth, seamless natural bullshit artist, and he quickly made himself at home, played cards with the guys, a rogues’ gallery of thieves and thugs: men who lived on the outside of the law, made their own rules, would steal anything that wasn’t bolted down and hurt anyone who got in their way, outlaws all. With Solimene’s obvious blessings and endorsement, Polifrone was quickly and readily accepted as one of their own. Every other word out of Polifrone’s mouth was “fuck,” and he quickly let it be known that he could get any-fuckin-thing, any kind of guns, drugs, silencers, hand grenades, assault rifles. People believed him. Why shouldn’t they? After all, Phil Solimene—Fagan himself—said he was “stand-up.”
Dominick had the natural gift of gab, was a wonderful teller of stories and jokes, and in no time he had everyone laughing and patting him on the back. He dressed, looked, and sounded the part. He had a Cuban cigar in his mouth. Even Bobby DeNiro couldn’t’ve been more convincing. Dominick’s bad, ill-fitting wig played well into his persona, though he hadn’t planned that. He wore this wig all the time.
When, that first day, Dominick left the store, walked across the street, and got into the unmarked van, Kane was relieved. If anything went wrong, if Dominick was hurt, it would surely be his fault, laid at his feet.
“How’d it go?” Kane asked.
“A fuckin’ piece a cake,” Dominick said, “Solimene’s good. He even got me believing we go back a lotta years.”
“Great,” Kane said, finally seeing a golden glimmer of light at the end of that foul-smelling tunnel.
Back in Zurich, through the crooked Asian bank officer, Remi found out where the Arab they’d seen lived, in a two-story brick house on a quiet street in town. Richard and Remi checked it out. Richard immediately decided against a gun or overt violence. He wanted this to appear like a natural death. He didn’t want any kind of police scrutiny. He decided that poison would be the best way to go. He said nothing of his plans to Remi. The less Remi knew the better. The first order of business, Richard knew, was to make sure the check cleared. He promised Remi that as soon as the money was in the account, he’d take care of the Arab.
“I believe you, I believe you will,” Remi said.
Richard soon left for the States, went to Georgia, and warily deposited the five-hundred-thousand-dollar check. He was uncomfortable doing this. He was expecting lawmen to jump out with badges and guns. But no such thing happened, and, to his delight and amazement, the check cleared.
Richard began asking questions of mob guys he had met over the years about the best way to move money. He also spoke to a tax lawyer he knew in Hoboken that did a lot of work for people in the underworld. With the new information, Richard devised a plan to move the money through a series of banks, one in Luxembourg, one in the Cayman Islands, and another in New Jersey, to disperse the money so that it wasn’t traceable. This was all before the banking laws were changed to make such transactions much more difficult.
Phil Solimene called a few times and asked Richard to come by the store, said he had some “good action,” but Richard was very busy now with his new schemes, his mind preoccupied, and he wasn’t as comfortable in the store as he used to be. He knew Percy House had become a rat, and was concerned he’d somehow be tied to the murders of Danny Deppner and Gary Smith.
Richard now thought long and hard about killing his daughter Merrick’s former boyfriend, Richie Peterson. He was a weak link in the chain, knew too much; but Richard ultimately decided against it. He was fond of Peterson, as was Barbara. He’d wait. But he knew he had made a mistake by allowing Peterson into his confidence.
Richard had to get back to Zurich and attend to the Arab. He carefully prepared the cyanide spray, placed it in a special sprayer, wrapped it up well, and put it in his toiletries case. He had to leave for Zurich the following evening. But first there was this unfinished business of the dealer with the children in the basement. Richard had not forgotten about them; he kept seeing their faces, and he could not rest until he fixed this problem, as he put it.
He loaded a .38 revolver with hollow-point rounds, fitted it with a silencer, and drove to the dealer’s home. He had a hard time finding the place but finally did locate it. It was near midnight. Richard slowly moved past the house. Lights were on on the ground floor. He drove down the road, parked his car, put on plastic gloves, then walked back with his long, fast gait. Without hesitation he moved straight onto the driveway and toward the house.
Suddenly a motion detector triggered and lights went on. Richard froze. The lights went off. No one seemed to notice. He quickly moved right up against the house and along it, avoiding the radius of the motion detector. There were deer in the area, and Richard figured the dealer had gotten used to deer triggering the motion detector and had became complacent.
Quickly, catlike, Richard moved to the back of the house. He approached a ground-floor window. It wasn’t locked. He ever so slowly slid it up and in two movements was suddenly inside, big and foreboding and deadly serious. He heard men talking and moved forward, toward the voices, on silent feet. Three men—the dealer and two others Richard had never seen—were sitting at a dining-room table. He raised the .38, took aim, quickly shot the first two, pop-pop, in rapid succession. The third was shocked, looking around to see what the hell had happened, when he too was shot and crumpled to the floor. Richard made sure they were all dead. He then moved straight to the door that lead to the basement, unlocked and opened it.
“Can any of you count to twenty?” he called out.
“I say can any one of you count to twenty?” he repeated.
“I can,” a young girl said.
“Okay, good. When I tell you, start counting. Then when you are finished all of you can come up here. There is a phone right in the kitchen. Those men can’t hurt none of you no more. Don’t be afraid. It’s over now! Call the police—dial 911. Then all of you go outside. The police’ll get you back to your people…. Okay, start counting,” Richard said, and made for the front door, unlocked it, and left, leaving the door wide open. He quickly made his way across the driveway, back to the street, and into his car, and returned home to Dumont. He felt better now. He was sure those children would soon be in good hands. That night he slept well.
In the morning, after he took Barbara for a nice breakfast, they went to feed the ducks in Demarest—coincidentally the town where Pat Kane had grown up. Richard was in an unusually good mood. Barbara was pleased. He said nothing about his recent business ventures. She didn’t ask. They sat by the calm lake on a green wooden bench and fed the ducks. They were always happy to see Richard. He had given many of them names. They knew him and he knew them. Richard then dropped Barbara off, went to see John Spasudo, brought him up to speed, saying nothing about killing the dealer and his friends or about the Arab he planned to kill. After seeing Spasudo, Richard drove over to Paterson. By now Phil Solimene had called a half dozen times and Richard wanted to see what was up. The usual lineup of suspects was there. As always, everyone was happy to see “Big Rich,” the king of the jungle himself. Dominick wasn’t there. Solimene and Richard walked out back.
“Where ya been, Big Guy?” Solimene asked.
“Been busy,” Richard said, not mentioning anything about Zurich. He still trusted Solimene; he was just tight-lipped by both nature and habit.
“An old buddy of mine came around the other day,” Solimene said. “He’s got a shitload of weapons, anything you want—including fucking rocket launchers.”
“Really, where from?”
“The city, downtown. I know him twenty years. He was away for a while. You need anything, I’ll hook it up—anything.”
“Naw, I’m good right now. Can he get grenades?”
“Absofuckinlutely. He’s got some kinda in with the army, I think.”
“What’s his name?”
“Related to Tony Pro?”
“Maybe, I’m not sure.”
“Okay, good to know,” Richard said, and ended it there. He had other things on his mind, bigger fish to fry.
Solimene asked him why he hadn’t been coming around. “Something wrong, Big Guy?”
“No, just been tied up.”
“Why don’t you come in for the game Saturday?”
“If I can,” Richard said, and soon left. He did not suspect Solimene in any way. As Richard drove back to Dumont, he wondered if this Dom guy could get his hands on some cyanide. Richard had killed both Paul Hoffman and Robert Pronge, his two sources for poisons, and would soon need a new contact.
Richard caught an early-evening flight back to Zurich, checked into the same hotel the following morning. Not wanting to waste any time, he showered, ate, and made his way to the house where the Arab lived, the convenient cyanide spray in his jacket pocket. There was a café across the street and down the block. Richard sat down facing the building, ordered a tea. He had a newspaper with him and he began to read it, keeping the paper high so he could watch the building. He sat there for three hours drinking teas. Nothing. He got up to leave, slowly walked past the house, reached the corner, turned and walked back and returned to the café and now ordered some food, watching, waiting—intent upon murder. Richard was a relentless, patient hunter when he had a job to do. It was as though he separated himself from reality; he could sit for hours on end just waiting.
As it grew dark, the Arab did show up, driving a gray car, hurried inside. Richard was pleased; now he knew he was still in town. Richard finished eating, paid the check, and made his way back to the Arab’s apartment. He was planning to knock on the door and spray him in the face when he opened it. As he walked, he slipped on plastic gloves. However, when Richard was some thirty steps from the house, the Arab came hurrying down the stairs, an unlit Cohiba cigar in his mouth. There was no wind. The time seemed right. Much of successful contract killing was about timing, moving swiftly and decisively. Richard took the little spray bottle out of his pocket. The mark got into his car, and as he was bringing a lighter to the tip of his cigar, holding the flame there, puffing away, Richard was suddenly next to him—psst, a quick spray directly into the man’s face. Richard walked on as if nothing had happened; he didn’t even look back. He knew he had a bull’s-eye. It was amazing how quick and agile Richard was for such a big man. He was there, he was gone, like a puff of smoke.
The Arab did die. When he was found and the authorities were summoned, his death was written up as a normal passing—a heart attack, just as Richard planned.
When, later, Richard met Remi and told him that the Arab wasn’t a concern anymore, Remi was very pleased, and bewildered.
“How,” he kept asking, “did you manage this?” his brow all creased with curiosity.
“I arranged for him to have a heart attack,” Richard modestly said, and no more, a slight smile on his face.
The following day, Richard opened a numbered account in Zurich, took a train to Luxembourg, opened a second account, and returned to Zurich. Now all he had to do was open a fourth account in the Cayman Islands and it would be done.
Remi gave Richard a second check, this one for $675,000, made out to the Mercantile Corporation. Richard soon returned to the States, drove down to Georgia, and deposited this check. He went to the Cayman Islands and opened still another corporate account. Then Richard soon arranged for the funds from the second check to be transferred to the Cayman Islands account, then to the Zurich account, and finally to the Luxembourg account, creating a trail of money nearly impossible to follow. Richard next arranged for Remi and the Asian bank official to get their ends from the Luxembourg account. He then gave Spasudo his end.
If, Richard believed, Spasudo kept coming up with viable schemes, without trouble, he’d play straight with him. Spasudo told Richard how the dealer and two of his friends had been shot to death. “It’s a dangerous world,” Richard said. Nothing more.
Phil Solimene again called and invited Richard to the store. Richard said he’d come by “when I can.” Solimene knew he had to be very careful with Richard. If Richard sensed any kind of setup, a double cross, he’d kill Solimene in a heartbeat, Solimene knew, and so did everyone else—the state police and the ATF.
Unbeknownst to Kane and the authorities, Richard again left for Zurich. This time he had to stay and wait for a check for nearly two weeks. He didn’t like being away from home so long, but he had no alternative. He phoned Barbara several times a day, spent a fortune on phone calls, but that didn’t matter. It got so that he missed Barbara to such a degree, wanted to make love with her so much, that he flew in, made love numerous times to his wife, and left the very next day, went back to Zurich. There were many opportunities for Richard to bed women in Zurich, Remi offered him different females, but Richard declined. “I look but don’t touch,” he told Remi.
Richard would not cheat on Barbara. He thought that low-down and immoral, and wouldn’t do it. He had, though, no morality when it came to killing men, feeding live human beings to rats; such things, in truth, didn’t even phase him. But, infidelity, forget it. He wouldn’t do it. Perhaps that was why he could be so brutal to Barbara: he viewed her not so much as a human being with feelings, but as an object that belonged to him, and because she was an object he could do as he wished with her. Barbara recently said, When he was away, the house was…peaceful. The pressure, the tension, he brought weren’t there. Truthfully, I preferred it when he was away. The kids and I had more fun. We didn’t have to worry about him tossing over the dinner table.
Dominick Polifrone showed up at the store just about every day now. He had readily been accepted by the regulars. Sometimes he had suitcases with him filled with exotic guns and silencers, and people wanted to buy what he had, but he’d always say these things were “already promised,” though he assured them that more would be forthcoming. Weeks quickly turned into months, and they all came to realize that Richard was staying away from the store. Much of this had to do with what he was doing in Zurich. He did, however, just show up at the store several times unexpectedly—which he had always done. He’d walk in, shoot the breeze, maybe play some cards, and leave, always when Polifrone wasn’t there. The investigation was going nowhere fast. Pat Kane became despondent and began thinking that Kuklinski was just too clever for them; he seemed to have a kind of sixth sense that kept him out of trouble, out of their reach, out of harm’s way. Kane knew Richard was a stone-cold killer, yet he and the others could do nothing to stop him. In frustration, he came home every night wearing his “work face,” as Terry called it…sad and forlorn, the light at the end of the tunnel diminishing, indeed, disappearing.
Sparks Steak House
Much change was afoot in the Gambino crime family. Paul Castellano was in serious trouble not only with the law but with his own soldiers, lieutenants, and captains. It was now common knowledge that the feds had bugged his home, and he had been taped talking endlessly about mob business and making ridiculous romantic ramblings to the housekeeper.
Violent, sudden change was in the wind, blowing strongly from the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club—John Gotti’s home base.
With the help of Sammy Gravano, Gotti hatched an audacious plan to kill Castellano and take over the family. This was, they both knew, a very dangerous enterprise on numerous levels. Paul was the head of a family, and this hit was not sanctioned by the commission, as it had been with Carmine Galante (a must). But, brash to the point of recklessness, Gotti was resolved to take Paul out and take charge of the family. Most of the captains couldn’t stand Paul, it was no secret, and Gotti was sure that once Paul was dead, the transition to his becoming the boss would be a relatively smooth one, that all the captains would quickly fall into line behind him, which is exactly what happened.
Nineteen eighty-five was coming to an end. The holidays were rapidly approaching. Richard Kuklinski had just returned from one of the many trips he’d been making to Europe when Sammy Gravano phoned him and a meeting was arranged at the same diner on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Gravano knew that Richard could be trusted. He had proven that over and over again. He knew too that he had no allegiance to anyone and that he was an extremely efficient killer who always got the job done: Richard never took a contract he didn’t fill, a fact he is still proud of to this day. Gravano came right to the point and told Richard he had a “special piece of work” that would involve “a boss.” “You have a problem in any way with that?”
“I’ll go see anyone,” Richard said, which is exactly what Gravano wanted to hear. Richard had, in fact, heard rumors about this very thing. Many men in the underworld were talking about Paul Castellano being capped: for his greed; for his insisting that everyone report to him every week, giving the feds a chance to take photos of all the skippers; for not keeping his home from being bugged; for his scandalous affair with a Colombian housekeeper while his wife—Carlo Gambino’s sister—was actually in the house.
A fuckin’ infamy was the collective opinion throughout Mafiadom.
“It’s Paul,” Gravano said.
“Figured that,” Richard said.
“So you’re down?” Gravano said.
“Absolutely,” Richard said.
“Okay, good. John’ll be pleased. We’ll never forget this, you know, Rich.”
“Good to hear that.”
“There will be a meeting—a dinner meeting in New York. It’ll go down there, in front of the place. On the street. You okay with that?”
“I aim to please. When?”
“Soon…within a week. Your job will be the bodyguard, Tommy Bilotti. He’ll be driving. He’s been with Paul over twenty years. Paul will be in the backseat. Don’t concern yourself with him—just Bilotti; that’s your target! Other guys’ll take care of Paul.”
“You’ll be part of a team. I’m going to give you a hat. You’ll all be wearing this same hat. Anyone near Paul’s car don’t have on this hat, cap ’im!”
“Got it,” Richard said.
Gravano went to his car, opened the trunk, took out a bag. He handed it to Richard. Inside was a walkie-talkie and fur hat, the Russian kind. Richard tried the hat on. It fit. It also made him look seven feet tall.
“Use something large—a .38, .357, okay? And wear a trench coat; everyone will have one on. Bilotti is big, but he’s fast, take care.”
“He won’t even see me,” Richard said, and Gravano believed him. By now Richard’s reputation as an efficient killer was legendary.
“Keep the walkie-talkie with you. If something goes wrong, I’ll let you know, all right?”
“Thirty large for you, okay?” Gravano asked.
“Okay,” Richard said, and it was done.
The few times law enforcement tried to follow Richard, it proved impossible, so they gave up on the idea. Thus, Richard was able to move around at will, unobserved. Had the state police and the ATF tracked Richard that night, they would surely have seen him meet with Gravano.
Phil Solimene was still trying to entice Richard to the store, but he wasn’t coming. He’d say he’d be there, but wouldn’t show up. At this point it was a foregone conclusion that Richard was not coming to the store because he knew something was in the wind.
Richard needed to go back to Europe, but he now had this business to attend to. In a strange way he looked forward to doing this job; the challenge of it, even the obvious danger, appealed to him. He personally didn’t like Paul Castellano—for his greed, for cheating on his wife with a housekeeper. He regretted only that his job was to kill the bodyguard, not Paul. He knew that he could very well be killed because he knew so much, but that only heightened the stakes; he was, in a very real sense, gambling. Gambling with his very life. The ultimate high, he says.
Richard was now making more money than he ever had, yet he didn’t save any of it, buy property, stocks, or bonds. What he did with much of the money was gamble it away. The old gambling addiction had returned with a vengeance, and Richard was losing small fortunes at different Atlantic City casinos and in high-stakes card games run by the mob in Hoboken. He figured he took chances and earned it and didn’t feel guilty. He was giving Barbara all the money she needed, and he felt he had the right to do whatever the hell he pleased, regardless of how irresponsible it was. Richard had never grasped how to manage money. You would think with age he’d know better, but he pissed away money as if there were no tomorrow: no consequences, no piper to pay.
That weekend Richard and Barbara went to Archer’s in Cliffside Park for a fabulous dinner, expensive wine. By coincidence, they ran into Phil Solimene with his wife and had coffee and desserts together. Barbara, with Richard’s approval, invited them for drinks back at the house, and they agreed to come. In the Kuklinski living room, as Barbara and Phil’s wife were in the kitchen, Phil again asked Richard why he wasn’t coming around the store. “There a problem, Big Guy?”
“No, just been busy.”
“You need anything, this guy Dom I told you about can get whatever you want—amazing stuff, even fuckin’ bazookas.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Richard said, still not suspicious. He had, after all, known Phil for a lifetime, had done dozens of crimes with him. Why should he suspect him of anything? Richard recently said, Most all my life I had no friends. Phil was probably the only guy I considered a friend. I liked him. Barbara liked him too. I had no idea about what a low-life backstabber he was.
True, Phil Solimene was working on behalf of the police to set Richard up, but he had seen Richard kill Louis Masgay, and that crime alone could have nailed him. Yet, Solimene never told Kane or Polifrone about that, fearful that the police would lock him up as an accessory. The evening ended with handshakes, hugs, and kisses, and Solimene and his wife left.
“I like them,” Barbara said.
“Yeah, me too. Nice couple,” Richard said, having no idea about the law-enforcement firestorm Solimene was bringing to his door, rumbling and gathering just over the horizon.
It was December 16, 1985, a day that would become a milestone in Mafia folklore. Paul Castellano was going to a long-planned meeting with Armand Dellacroce to give him condolences on the recent death of Aniello Dellacroce, Armand’s father. If Paul had had his eyes open, his ear to the ground, his finger in the wind, he would surely have taken precautions. It was no secret that John Gotti hated Paul, that Gotti was extremely ambitious. The writing was on the wall, but Paul Castellano didn’t see it, indeed was blind to it. He’d been running the Gambino family now for some nine years—far too long, most everyone in the family felt.
Sparks Steak House was on East Forty-sixth Street, between Second and Third avenues, a busy street. It was an upscale, expensive place, a favorite of Paul’s. There were Christmas decorations in most shop windows. On the bustling corner of Second Avenue, a Salvation Army Santa Claus rang a bell and ho-ho-hoed. Christmas was in the air. The streets were filled with shoppers, people on their way home from work, on the way to meet friends. Paul Castellano was supposed to arrive at five thirty. He was a stickler about punctuality. He was expected on time.
Richard left his home at two o’clock that afternoon. He was wearing a trench coat over two warm sweaters. He had the hat Gravano gave him in his left pocket, a .38 in his right pocket, two more guns in his waistband. He also had a knife strapped to his calf, and the walkie-talkie Gravano gave him in his left pocket. Rather than drive to Manhattan, he took the bus. He didn’t want to worry about anyone seeing him getting in or out of his car, or a record of his car ever being in New York. He had a union cap on. He was excited by the prospect of this job, its danger, its sheer audacity. This is what Richard loved to do—tempt fate, walk on the wild side, cross the thin, dangerous line. He felt no fear or tension, just exhilaration. He was a hunter going after big game.
Richard exited the Port Authority building and walked uptown on Eighth, passing numerous shops that sold porno he had helped to supply. He took a right on Forty-sixth Street and headed east, directly toward Sparks. The streets were crowded with people, shoppers, holiday tourists—busy people in the busiest city in the world. There was much traffic, the constant honking of horns, the metallic ringing of bells in the white-gloved hands of Santa Clauses on just about every corner.
Richard was, as planned, a little early, and he killed time by casually window-shopping, going in and out of shops, slowly moving east, timing carefully when he was in final position. He had scoped out the block the day before and knew exactly where he’d position himself. Because Forty-sixth was one-way east, he’d be on the north side of the street, so he could move directly to his intended target from the rear. As Richard reached Third Avenue, he put on the Russian fur hat. The walkie-talkie came to life. Richard learned that Paul would be there on time. He positioned himself just across the street from Sparks and waited. No one noticed him, no one cared. Standing there he had no idea who the other killers on the team were. That was no accident. That was the way Gravano and Gotti wanted it.
If anyone had a gun, it would be Tommy Bilotti, Paul’s bodyguard. Richard would make sure he never had time to even reach for it, let alone use it. That was his job. He would do it well or die trying.
For Richard everything seemed to be in slow motion now. Sights and sounds became sharper, more precise, defined. He waited. At five thirty sharp, Paul’s dark town car pulled up in front of the restaurant. Paul was in the backseat. The car stopped. Men in trench coats and those fur hats quickly approached, seemingly out of nowhere. Richard made his move. He began toward the car, crossing the street rapidly. As Castellano stepped from the car, two men in trench coats wearing Russian hats were there, rapidly firing handguns into him. He didn’t even know what hit him. Tommy Bilotti had no time to react: shocked, stunned, he was watching Paul get shot through the driver’s window, not reaching for a gun, both his large hands on the roof of the car. He didn’t even see Richard as he drew near and shot him dead, turned, and quickly made his way to Second Avenue, disappearing into the confused crowd. Richard turned to make sure he wasn’t being followed, the gun still in his hand, ready to kill anyone stupid enough to dog him. He was not being followed.
On Second Richard hailed a cab and had it take him uptown, got out of the cab at 100th Street, hailed a second cab and had it take him directly to Port Authority. He took off the overcoat and fur hat, paid the fare, and calmly went into Port Authority and caught the bus back to New Jersey, innocently blending with hurried commuters and shoppers with packages. He stepped off the bus in Bergenfield and dumped the coat and hat and walkie-talkie in a green Dumpster, making sure to push them down into the corner of the Dumpster so they would not be found. Now he calmly walked home, enjoying the crisp December air, glad it had all gone well, like clockwork. Gravano and Gotti had planned it flawlessly, he thought.
When he arrived home, Barbara and Chris were wrapping Christmas gifts. Richard had a dinner Barbara had kept warm for him. He then watched news bulletins telling how Paul Castellano and his driver had been gunned down and were dead, and that all the killers had gotten away clean.
When Pat Kane heard about the Castellano hit, he immediately thought Richard might have had something to do with it—the Gambinos were the family Richard had been involved with, Kane knew, and it stood to reason that Richard could’ve been involved. He called the NYPD organized-crime unit and ran this by them and was told that it had happened with such lightninglike efficiency that they couldn’t find a witness who could give them a viable, comprehensive description.
“Just guys in trench coats, wearing all the same fur hats, you know, the Russian kind, that’s all we have at this point,” he was told by NYPD detective Kenny McGabe.
“Was any one of them particularly large?” Kane asked.
“Can’t say just now,” McGabe replied.
Still, something told Kane that Richard was involved. It seemed the kind of thing that was right up his alley. (He was right again.) He ran this by some of his state police colleagues, Lieutenant Leck and Detective Ernest Volkman, but both of them thought Kane was off base, reaching for straws. An amazing thing considering how Kane had been so on the mark for so long.
Richard didn’t want to be away for the holidays, so he put off his next trip to Europe until after New Year’s. As usual Barbara went all out for Christmas. She gleefully spent a fortune on gifts, cooked up a storm for days. As usual Richard became quiet and solemn, but dutifully went through the motions of enjoying himself. He did, however, truly enjoy giving out all the gifts Christmas morning, as he wore a red Santa shirt and a Santa cap.
Shortly after New Year’s, Richard returned to Zurich. Again he checked into the Hotel Zurich. He had become more and more friendly with Remi. Remi had delivered everything he said, was a man of his word. Richard had, to the extent that he could, taken a liking to Remi. Richard was still involved with the Nigerian currency exchange, but it wasn’t as lucrative as the bogus checks. And Remi had still another scheme he shared with Richard. He didn’t know how Richard had caused the Arab to have a heart attack, but he was impressed, believed Richard could pull off anything. This new scheme involved stealing a huge load of diamonds from a Belgian diamond dealer. Richard took a train to see Remi in his hometown, Antwerp, and Remi explained that he had an in with a security guard of a huge diamond wholesale exchange. Richard went with Remi to check it out. The place was in the center of the famous Antwerp diamond district. Richard was amazed by all the gorgeous diamonds on display, had never seen anything like this, but he didn’t like the setup at all. The security was as tight as a nun’s ass, he recently explained, and he didn’t want anything to do with trying to rob anyone in this place. There were serious-faced armed guards everywhere, strategically placed cameras pointing every which way, and there was one main street in and out, a natural trap for anyone trying to make a quick getaway.
“This isn’t for me,” he told Remi. Though Richard really enjoyed seeing all the diamonds, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with robbing this place.
Back in Zurich, Richard received still another check; then he returned to the States, went down to Georgia, and deposited it. He didn’t know how long this cash cow could be milked, so he worked diligently.
When Richard returned to Dumont, there were still more messages from Phil Solimene. Richard called him back. Solimene again invited him to the store. Richard said he’d meet him at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, got into his car, and went to see Solimene. They hugged and kissed hello as was their custom. They discussed the killing of Castellano, how adroitly John Gotti had taken over the family. “He’s got balls and he’s got smarts,” Solimene said, fishing for information at Kane’s request. But Richard said nothing about his part in the killing.
Yes, he still trusted Solimene, but this was none of his business. Nor did Richard tell him about his trips to Europe; that too was none of Solimene’s business. Richard said, “Phil, I’m telling you this as a friend—get rid of the fuckin’ store. It’s served its purpose. It’s over now. It’s time to move on.”
“You know something, Big Guy?”
“I know it can’t go on forever. The cops are onto it. Fucking Percy House made sure of that.”
This was a bone of contention between the two men. Solimene had vouched for House numerous times and been proven very wrong.
“Look,” Richard said, “I know people make mistakes…that he’s family, and I’m not holding anything against you. Just get rid of the store. That’s my advice, take it or leave it.”
“I will, soon.”
“I’ve got this Dom guy I told you about. He’s getting people some amazing stuff.”
“You think he could get his hands on some cyanide?” Richard asked offhandedly.
“Sure, absofuckinlutely. Why don’t you meet him?”
“I’m just so busy right now, and the truth is I already know enough people.”
As much as Solimene wanted to campaign more for Polifrone, he kept his mouth shut now, was very wary about tipping Richard off. To do that—he knew—was certain death. “I’ll ask ’im,” he said, and nothing more.
Still, Richard very much wanted to kill Percy House. With him loose, cooperating with the authorities, Richard was vulnerable. Richard asked Solimene if he knew where Percy was, if his wife had heard from him.
“No, not at all, Rich. I have no idea where he is,” Solimene said.
“What about Barbara Deppner?”
“I heard she was staying with a sister, but I don’t know where,” Solimene said.
Richard figured correctly that if the cops truly had anything they would already have arrested him, and Richard soon left for Zurich again and received another check, but not before killing a second man involved with the Arab he had murdered with the cyanide spray. This man had an office in a new building in Zurich Central. Richard heard from Remi that he was now threatening to expose the Asian bank official.
“How many fucking people know about this guy?” Richard asked.
“Too many,” Remi said.
This second fellow was a currency trader, a nasty individual with a chip on his shoulder, Remi told Richard. Richard contacted the man, made believe that he was interested in doing business with him, went to his office late in the day, and just at the right moment, he pulled out a knife he bought near the Central Station and stabbed the man in the back of the neck. To cut the throat and carotid arteries was far too messy. Richard left the currency trader dead right there on his desk. Considering the police scrutiny and interest in Richard, it’s amazing that he could travel so freely, leave the country and return at will with no one even knowing about it. This was because the police had given up on trying to trail Richard.
Pat Kane walked into his house with a long face. By now it was already late spring and they hadn’t made any headway.
“I think we lost him,” he told Terry. “Everyone…everyone is right. He’s just too savvy for me, for us, for what we’re trying to do.”
“Patrick, you’ll get him. Just don’t give up. That’s not like you,” Terry said, and he knew she was right. This wasn’t like him at all.
Would You Like Some Tea?
By now Richard had grown to despise John Spasudo. If he hadn’t needed him, if Spasudo hadn’t come up with these profitable scams, Richard would already have killed him several times over. Their relationship came to a head, in a manner of speaking, when Richard went to see Spasudo to give him money, his share of the last check. When Spasudo opened the door, he didn’t invite Richard inside. Strange, Richard thought.
“What’s the matter, do I smell?” Richard asked, offended.
“No, I just have my girl inside.”
“And so—I’ve seen her naked a half dozen times,” Richard said, and walked right past Spasudo, sensing something. “You playing me, John?”
“No, nothing like that.”
Richard could see in the bedroom the form of someone under the sheets on the bed, but the figure, he knew, was too small to be Spasudo’s girlfriend.
“Hi,” Richard said.
He repeated—“Hi there, it’s me, Rich.”
Richard walked right into the bedroom and pulled the sheets off the bed, revealing a naked young girl with frightened eyes. She was, Richard realized with a start, very young, prepubescent. He could feel the anger moving up his body to the top of his head. His lips twisted and he made that soft clicking sound.
“John, are you fucking kidding me here? What’s wrong with you?”
“Just fooling around. I didn’t hurt her. Tell him I didn’t hurt you, honey,” he told the girl. She didn’t answer.
Richard wanted to kill him on the spot, but he didn’t want to traumatize the child. He turned and stormed out of the bedroom. Spasudo sheepishly followed.
“John, you’re fucked up. Get her back to where you found her,” he said, and left, planning to do in Spasudo. The problem was that too many people knew of his involvement with Spasudo and that if something happened to Spasudo he’d be the first suspect, he was sure. For now he had to be judicious, he knew. He’d wait for the right time: when their business was done, when he had no further use for Spasudo, he’d poison him and make his death look like a heart attack. But he had no more poison. Hmm—what to do?
Sammy Gravano beeped Richard. Richard phoned him. A meeting was set up at the diner. Richard was on edge about this particular meeting. He knew Gravano was a killer; he knew too that he might be the next target. Richard was a direct, tangible link between Gravano and the Castellano hit, a link Gravano might very well make disappear. Richard armed himself heavily for war and went to see Gravano. He had a Ruger .22 Magnum cut-down rifle with a thirty-round clip under the front seat of his van, three handguns on his body. He arrived at the diner an hour early, parked the van so he could readily see who came and who went—in case there was any kind of setup in the wind. Gravano arrived on time in a black Mercedes. Just him and a driver. All seemed okay. Richard was still very on guard, ready for action, as he stepped from the van. They hugged and kissed hello. Gravano congratulated Richard on his good work and gave him a paper bag with the agreed-upon thirty grand, “plus a little bonus,” he said.
“I appreciate that,” Richard said, and he did.
“I hear you do,” Gravano said, “special kinky work too.”
“Like I said, I aim to please,” Richard said.
“I’ve got a good friend; his daughter was knocked up by this coke-sniffing asshole and the father wants him to suffer. To suffer bad!”
“No problem,” Richard said. “My pleasure.”
Gravano told Richard he’d have the mark in a bar in Brooklyn on Friday night.
“You want me to grab him then?” Richard asked.
“Sure, sooner the better. John asked me to tell you that you did good. We plan to use you a lot,” Gravano said.
“Sounds good, I’m available,” Richard said.
Gravano told him where to be Friday night, and they shook hands, kissed, hugged, and parted.
Friday night Richard showed up at the bar, wary and on guard, heavily armed, a fragmentation grenade in his pocket. This, he knew, could be a setup, though his instincts told him Gravano’s request was on the up-and-up. The bar was called Tali’s. It was on Eighteenth Avenue. Richard had the camera with him, as well as the dart gun. Gravano was already there. He introduced the mark to Richard. The mark was about twenty-five, had greasy black hair, another guido wannabe whose dick got him into trouble, Richard thought. The two started talking, had a drink. Sammy drifted away. Richard offhandedly told the mark that he had some “good coke” he needed to get rid of, quickly putting out the bait, as Richard thought of it.
“Sammy know about this?” the mark asked.
“No. This is off the record.”
“Sure, I can move it. Got a taste?”
“Out in the van,” Richard said, thinking this was going to be easier than he thought. They both walked outside.
Inside Richard’s van, parked just off Eighteenth Avenue on a quiet side street, Richard knocked the mark unconscious with a jawbreaker, taped him up, covered him with a plaid blanket, and headed for Pennsylvania…rat country. He didn’t particularly like to drive so far with the mark in the back of the van, but if he was stopped by cops or state troopers, he’d shoot them dead in a heartbeat. He had a .38 right under the seat for easy, quick access. He did, however, stick to the speed limit and drove carefully, listening to country music as he went. A few times the mark acted up, but Richard told him to be quiet or he’d beat him with a hammer.
Richard hadn’t intended to do this anymore—feed people to rats. But if Gravano wanted the guy to really suffer, so be it. It was convenient, easy to do, and very effective. Richard was curious, still, to see his own reaction to this barbarity he had created.
By the time Richard reached the caves where the rats dwelled it was nearly 3:00 A.M. He made the mark walk to his own grisly end. There was a nearly full moon out and it was easy to see. Richard knew the rats had acquired the taste of human flesh, that they’d be on the mark like white on rice, as he puts it. The mark tried to run but Richard knocked him down, made him get up, and marched him into the cave. The stink of the rats was strong—a foul, pungent, fetid odor. Richard made him lie down, used duct tape and bound his legs together. He set up the camera. He could hear the rats toward the back of the cave, even saw a few of them, skulking about the shadows. The mark was moaning and begging. Richard turned and left.
The following day Richard returned to the cave. There was no sign of the mark, not a bone, not even a piece of cloth. Richard retrieved the camera, set up a meeting with Gravano, went to Brooklyn, and showed both Gravano and the girl’s father the tape. Neither of them could bear looking at it. Pleased, the father paid Richard twenty thousand dollars. Richard went back to New Jersey. A few days later he left for Zurich.
Pat Kane had to do something. The investigation was going nowhere fast. Richard had completely stopped coming to the store. Dominick Polifrone was in the store just about every day, playing cards, shooting the breeze, brilliantly telling dirty jokes, waiting on Richard to no avail. Kane went and spoke to Lieutenant Leck.
“I have an idea, Lieutenant,” he said.
“We need to shake up Kuklinski. We’ve got to stir up the pot.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I’d like to go talk to him…ask him a few questions—see what kind of response we get…. I’m thinking it’s time we rattle his cage, Lieutenant.”
“Have you run this by Dominick?”
“I did. He thinks it’s a good idea. Right now nothing at all is happening, Lieutenant. We’ve got to be more proactive.”
“Give it a go. Take Volkman with you.”
“Okay,” Kane said, though in truth he didn’t want to take Ernest Volkman with him. Volkman had been one of the most disbelieving of Kane’s colleagues, had made wisecracks about Kane’s theory that Kuklinski was a serial, contract killer hiding in plain sight, had laughed the loudest.
Nevertheless, Kane went and found him. He readily agreed to go confront Richard with him and together they set out to “rattle Richard’s cage.”
By now it was late August of 1986. Richard had just returned from Zurich. He was planning to drive down to Georgia come nightfall. It was very hot and humid when New Jersey State detectives Pat Kane and Ernest Volkman pulled up in front of the Kuklinski residence. Richard’s car was in the driveway. Although it was nearly ninety degrees, both Kane and Volkman had to wear jackets and ties. This was mandated by the state police dress code. Kane was looking forward to this. For years now Richard Kuklinski had played a big part in his life, had taken on a larger-than-life omnipotence, and for the first time he was about to confront him—up close and personal. Not knowing what to expect, the two detectives stepped out of the air-conditioned black Plymouth, walked to the Kuklinski’s front door, and rang the bell. The family dog, Shaba, started to bark. It was a loud, bellowing bark. The inside door slowly opened. Suddenly, Richard was before them, his huge size completely filling the doorway.
“What do you want?” asked Richard, looming in front of them. Kane was taken aback by how big he was. At six foot five, nearly three hundred pounds, Richard towered over them.
The detectives showed their gold badges and introduced themselves.
“Okay, what do you want?” Richard repeated, annoyed by their presence and the fact that they had the temerity to come knocking on his door unannounced. Nothing riled Richard more than uninvited people coming to the house…especially two grave-faced cops with obvious bad intentions. Richard was wearing tinted prescription sunglasses, so they couldn’t see his eyes, but they could feel the quiet animus coming from them like the August heat issuing from the sidewalks.
“We are investigating several murders,” Kane said. “We’d like to talk with you about that.”
“Yeah, well, talk,” said Richard.
“Did you know either Louis Masgay, George Malliband, Paul Hoffman, Danny Deppner, or Gary Smith?” Kane asked.
“Can’t say that I do,” Richard said, realizing now that this was the cop that had been investigating him all along, the cop that smelled the smoke but didn’t yet know where the fire was.
“So you say you don’t know them?” Kane repeated, knowing Richard was lying.
“How about Robert Pronge or Roy DeMeo. Did you know them?” Kane asked.
Richard stared at them, taken aback to hear Kane mention DeMeo’s name. Richard had borrowed DeMeo’s car when he was using Richard’s van, and Richard figured—incorrectly—that the police had copied down the plate number of Roy’s car when it had been in front of the house. Richard had no idea until just recently that Freddie DiNome, one of DeMeo’s serial killers, had tied him to DeMeo.
“I know you guys saw his car in front of my home. You know I know him,” Richard said.
“You know anything about his murder?” Volkman asked.
“It’s hot out here. Come on in,” Richard said, breaking the cardinal rule of the street: you never talk to cops.
The Kuklinski house was nice and cool, clean and well appointed, neat and tidy. Barbara was out shopping. The kids were off with friends. Richard offered the detectives iced tea. They both declined. They’d never accept anything from Kuklinski out of fear of poison, no matter how thirsty they were. Richard sat in his easy chair as the detectives stiffly sat on the couch facing him. He kept his sunglasses on. Kane looked at a loving oil portrait of Richard and Barbara on the wall above his head.
“I know nothing about the murder of Roy DeMeo,” Kuklinski said.
“But you knew him?” Volkman asked.
“Sure, I knew him. You guys know I knew him. Why don’t you like me, Mr. Kane?” Richard asked.
“Who says I don’t like you?” Kane asked, surprised by the question. Truth was, Kane hated Richard. Kane truly believed Richard was evil, an agent of Satan himself.
“I can see that…. It’s in your eyes,” Richard said matter-of-factly.
“I don’t take any of my work personally,” Kane said. “For me you’re just work product. So you say you didn’t know Deppner, Masgay, or Smith?”
“That’s right,” Richard said, daring Kane to prove he knew them. Kane, of course, had documentation that a call from Kuklinski’s home had been placed to the York Hotel, where Gary had been found under the bed, and he now reminded Richard of that phone call.
“Really? I don’t know anything about that,” Richard said, caught off guard that Kane had so carefully scrutinized his phone calls. He didn’t like that. Now Richard knew for sure that this cop Pat Kane had been the thorn in his side for the last few years. A thorn he wanted removed. Richard stared at Kane with malice, though Kane could not see the disdain because Richard kept his shades on. They asked him a few more questions, to which they got evasive answers. Richard remained a gentleman, but he let them know he didn’t want to talk anymore. He stood up. They followed suit. He led them to the door. Kane couldn’t get over how big he was.
“Thanks for talking to us,” Kane said as he stepped back into the stifling, white August heat.
“Anytime,” Richard said, closing the door.
This really pissed Richard off. How dare these motherfuckers come around his house? How dare they knock on his door unannounced? Who the hell did they think they were?!
Richard believed that if he got rid of Kane this whole thing would more than likely go away. The murders he was asking about were years old—yesterday’s news. If Kane was taken out of the equation, they’d stay old news.
He would, he resolved, kill Kane. That was the answer. Of course. You have a problem, kill it. The solve-all remedy.
It didn’t take Richard long to find out that Kane worked out of the Newton barracks. Richard borrowed a van from John Spasudo, went and staked out the barracks. He spotted Kane leaving the squat brick building after his shift and followed him. He had the cut-down Ruger rifle with him; he’d use it to do the job if the situation presented itself.
When Kane left Richard’s house that day, he figured they’d done what they’d set out to do. Even now he didn’t truly comprehend how dangerous Richard was. He never thought Richard would really stalk him, kill him. Pat Kane was part of a culture in which police were not murdered. To kill a cop was, he knew, like sticking a pointed stick into a hornet’s nest. It just wasn’t worth the risk. But Richard was intent upon killing Kane. The question wasn’t if but how he should do it—make it overt, make it look like an accident, or maybe just make him disappear. He decided on the latter.
Richard followed Kane to a nearby bar called the Wander Inn, a crowded blue-collar place. Kane began putting away drinks while standing at the bar. Richard actually walked in and watched Kane from a darkened corner. This, Richard thought, will be easy. The guy’s a lush. But it didn’t take long for Richard to figure out that Kane was drinking with cops; the place was filled with cops, and he slunk out the door unnoticed, like a giant, silent snake.
When Kane left the bar, he got into his car, not realizing he was being watched—stalked—and drove straight home. By force of habit he checked his rearview—most cops do—but Richard was exceedingly adept at trailing people unnoticed and soon learned where Pat Kane lived with his wife and two children.
The thing Pat Kane had dreaded from the very beginning had just happened.
Now, Richard thought, it was just a matter of figuring out how best to do this—dispose of Pat Kane once and for all and for it not to come back to him. To amuse himself, Richard took a bead on Kane with the rifle as he stepped from his car. Bang, you’re dead, he whispered, though he didn’t pull the trigger.
I’ve Got Some Rats I Have to Get Rid Of
The more Richard thought about killing Kane, the more he realized the law-enforcement firestorm he’d bring down on his own head. The link between anything happening to Kane and him would be immediate, he knew. To do this job properly, he decided, he had to make Kane’s murder look like an accident; that was the key, and he was sure he could do that, but he needed poison. He needed the cyanide spray to pull it off, though he didn’t have any. He began asking people he knew in the underworld in Jersey City, Hoboken, and New York if anyone could get his hands on some cyanide. No luck. Richard’s plan was to spray Kane in the face as he was leaving the bar after a few drinks; he’d keel over dead right there. Everyone would believe it was a heart attack. Perfect. Applied with the right dosage, cyanide was very difficult to detect.
He’d first give Kane a flat, and as he was changing the tire, he’d get him. It’d be a piece of cake. He smiled at the thought, knowing it would work. However, he was having a hard time finding high-grade, lab cyanide. He had only one shot at this, he knew, and it had to work. There would be no second chance. Kane was armed and dangerous.
Richard was supposed to go to Zurich that Friday, but he put off the trip until the following week. He’d plot and plan Pat Kane’s murder.
Now, for the second time in less than a week, strange men came knocking on Richard’s door, and this second incident upset Richard to the point of absolute distraction. It was, for him, a Waterloo of sorts—in a sense the beginning of the end. It all had to do with John Spasudo.
So far, with Richard, John Spasudo had made a small fortune, but he was a degenerate gambler, and not only pissed the money away but indebted himself to drug dealers, to cocaine wholesalers. He was apparently taking drugs on consignment, selling them, and losing the money gambling, and he had got himself in hot water with some Colombians. Spasudo had never been to Richard’s home. However, by using a trace on Richard’s license plates, he was able to find out Richard’s address.
When the Colombians put a squeeze on Spasudo, he got it in his head to tell them Richard had their money, which wasn’t at all true, and Spasudo actually took two of them to Richard’s home. Spasudo believed Richard wasn’t in town, that he’d gone to Zurich, but he was actually in the house when they knocked on the door. Richard saw them through the curtain—Spasudo sitting in the car—and was angry beyond words that street people, thugs, had come to his home.
This was not supposed to happen.
Richard had always been scrupulously careful about keeping the street, his nefarious dealings, far away from his home, his family. Now the street was actually knocking on his door, ringing his bell. He recently explained: I realized that day that I’d made mistakes. I’d allowed what I was doing to touch my family. It was what I’d always dreaded and yet it happened. For me…for me it was like getting hit by a speeding train. I would fix it. I had to fix it. My plan was to kill them all. To kill everyone close to me—I mean everyone!
As the Colombians stood there, Dwayne innocently pulled into the drive. The two of them approached Dwayne and asked where his dad was. They were friendly, but there was an undercurrent of danger, of threat.
“He’s out of town,” Dwayne said.
That seemed to placate them for now. They told Dwayne to tell his dad they’d been there and would be back. One of them touched Dwayne’s arm as he spoke. Richard saw this from the window and nearly exploded with rage. His lips twisted into a snarl. He wanted to run outside and kill them with his bare hands, but that would have to wait. He controlled himself, gritting his teeth, as the soft clicking sound came from his lips. They got back into their car and left. As they pulled away, Richard stared at Spasudo there in the backseat. Rage made his head spin. He actually had to sit down.
Early that evening, Richard went and found Spasudo. He was shocked to see Richard.
Richard bellowed, “How fucking dare you bring those spics to my house!”
“Rich, I thought you were out of town. I was just trying to stall them. I’m sorry; I’m sorry, Rich!”
If, Richard recently explained, he hadn’t been doing things with Spasudo, he’d have killed him right then and there, gotten rid of his body—fed him to the rats. But that luxury, for now, wasn’t his; though Spasudo’s days were now numbered. Richard pulled out a pistol and stuck it right in Spasudo’s mouth, pulled the hammer back.
“You ever bring someone near my home again, I’ll kill you, John. You understand?”
“I do, I swear, I understand!” he mumbled.
Richard then went to kill the two Colombians. By doing this, he was getting Spasudo out of debt, but that certainly was not his intention. He just wanted to kill the men who had dared to come to his door.
Next would be Pat Kane.
Now, out of irrational desperation, Richard did what Pat Kane and Dominick Polifrone had been hoping and praying for all along: he used a pay phone and called Phil Solimene. Polifrone was, by pure happenstance, sitting in the store playing cards.
“Hey, Big Guy,” Solimene greeted Richard.
“That friend you have, this Dom, he around?” Richard asked.
“Yeah, he’s sitting right here.”
“Put him on.”
“Hey, Dom,” Solimene called out. “It’s for you: Big Rich.” He smiled and winked as he handed the phone to Dominick.
“How ya doin?” Dominick said, very pleased that finally, after all these months, he was actually making contact with the elusive Richard Kuklinski. The devil himself was calling.
“I’m good. I hear you have some good contacts.”
“Let’s talk. I need something special. I don’t want to come there. Can you meet me at the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street?”
“Sure, Rich, no problem,” the agent said.
“Okay,” Polifrone said, and hung up.
Solimene was smiling. “I told you he’d call.”
“That you did,” Dom said. “He wants to meet me at the Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“I’ll be here,” Phil said, and Dominick left.
Dominick walked outside. There was no time to contact Kane or even his own ATF people. He was truly on his own, and he had to move fast. He slid into his black Lincoln sedan and drove over to the Dunkin’ Donuts. He knew he should have been wearing a wire, but there was no time for that. It was 10:45 A.M. The sky was filled with somber grays. Dominick was nervous, excited, concerned, all at the same time. He had been planning this for so long, had begun to think it would never happen. But it was. He’d just spoken to the devil himself. Dom was armed. He had a Walther PPK in his pocket. He was an excellent shot. He didn’t think Kuklinski would try to pull something in broad daylight, at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but he had no real idea what was up, what Kuklinski wanted—what was in the wind. As he pulled into the parking lot, he spotted Richard. He was in Dwayne’s silver Camaro. Polifrone parked and walked over, swaggering as he went, now seriously in his wiseguy mode.
“Hey, how ya doin?” he greeted Richard.
“Okay, good,” Richard said, getting out of the car and shaking Polifrone’s outstretched hand. The agent was taken aback by Richard’s size.
“Let’s grab some coffee,” Richard said, and they headed inside the Dunkin’ Donuts. It was just about empty. Richard moved to a quiet corner on the left, thinking this Dominick guy might have great contacts in the underworld and all, but he was wearing the worst wig he’d ever seen. It looked like a raccoon went and died on his head, he’d later say.
The bad wig aside, Richard had taken his “friend” Phil Solimene at his word: that Dominick was “good people,” that they went back a lot of years. They both ordered coffees. Dominick was concerned about poison, that somehow Richard knew he was a plant and that he’d somehow manage to slip poison into his coffee. He purposely didn’t order anything to eat and made sure to keep his coffee close, actually in his hand.
“I’m glad we’re finally fuckin’ meeting, Rich. I hear all kinds of good fuckin’ things about you.”
“And me you. So you know Phil a long time?”
“Yeah, we go back. You too I hear.”
“I know Phil…what, now, over twenty years.”
“He’s a great guy. Stand-up.”
“Yeah…So let me tell you what I need, okay?”
“I want to get some cyanide.”
“Cyanide, you mean like the fuckin’ poison?”
“Hey, Rich, go to, you know, go to a fuckin’ gardening store.”
“No, I mean high-grade stuff—laboratory quality. I got some rats I need to get rid of,” he said, amused.
“Yeah, well sure, I’m certain I could get ya that,” Dominick said, all serious. He wanted to, had to, draw Richard further out: cyanide, after all, was not illegal, nor was asking for it illegal. He had to get Richard involved in something that was overtly illegal. Dominick knew the game, knew what to say. The question was, would Richard take the bait?
“Rich,” he said, “I hear you got good contacts for serious weapons, I’m talking heavy steel here. My guy had to take off recently. I’ve got a good customer, a broad who’s hooked up with the IRA, and they got serious bucks and are looking for heavy steel. Can you help me there? You know, one hand washes the other?”
“Sure. Let me make a few calls,” Richard said.
There was something about Polifrone that Richard wasn’t comfortable with, that put him off. Yet they exchanged beeper and telephone numbers and planned to do business. The meeting soon ended. They walked outside together. The sky was lower and darker.
“I’m thinking of stopping and saying hello to Phil,” Richard said.
“Sure, good idea. I’ll follow you over,” Dominick said, and made his way back to his Lincoln and followed Richard to the store. They walked inside together. What a pair. As different as night and day.
“Hey, Rich!” Phil called out, acting overjoyed to see him. “Glad you two finally hooked up.”
Richard hugged Solimene and kissed him on the cheek, said hello to some of the other guys. During all the months Polifrone had been hanging around the store, he’d been clocking the action—he knew who was involved in counterfeit money, hijacking, robberies; but he couldn’t make any kind of move, yet. However, at the right time, he’d make sure all these criminals, the regular thugs that hung out at the store, were picked up.
“So you and Dom here go back,” Richard said offhandedly.
“Absofuckinlutely,” Phil said. “You can treat him like me, Rich. He’s a thousand percent!”
“Okay,” Richard said. “Good enough for me,” readily accepting what Solimene was saying. This was out of character for Richard. He was usually a particularly untrusting, suspicious individual. But he believed Phil and had no real reservations about Polifrone, other than his terrible hairpiece. He felt whoever had sold it to him should be arrested.
Phil, Richard, and Polifrone did a three-way handshake.
“Salud,” Phil said, wishing them luck on whatever enterprise they did together.
Richard had apparently taken the bait. He said he had to get going and soon disappeared.
“I told you, I told you I’d deliver him,” Solimene told Dominick.
“And you did. Good work,” Dominick said. He was anxious to let his superiors know he had finally hooked Kuklinski. He had been getting flak about a lack of results, but now he had something concrete to show for all the months he’d been working this case, the endless card games, cursing, cigar smoking, bullshit. When he left the store, he drove a few blocks, making sure he wasn’t tailed, used a pay phone, and told his people what had happened, what was said. “Our man has taken the bait,” he told headquarters.
Polifrone next called Kane. When Kane heard what had happened, he let out a loud whoop. He hurried into Lieutenant Leck’s office and told him the good news. They shook hands, high-fived each other.
“So we got him on the hook,” Kane said. “Now all we have to do is get him in the boat.”
As it happened, this was easier said than done.
Now what Kane and Polifrone needed to pull this off successfully was a larger, more sophisticated operation. They had not only to get Kuklinski to incriminate himself, but to record it and make it all admissible and viable in a court of law. They needed help—more resources, wiretaps, electronic surveillance, manpower, helicopters, money—and they would get most of it in the form of New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Bob Carroll.
It was time to take off the gloves.
Two days after their first meeting, Richard beeped Polifrone. The agent called him back. Richard wanted to know if he had secured the cyanide. He was anxious to get rid of Kane, and to do it properly he needed the cyanide.
“I’m working on it, Rich. How about you—you find what I need?”
“Got feelers out,” Richard said.
“Okay, I’ll get back to you on that ASAP, all right?”
“Yeah, good, okay,” Richard said.
Richard wanted to go back to Zurich, but he was hesitant to leave with this up in the air; now the first order of business was getting rid of Kane. He believed once that was done he’d be in the clear. But he knew it had to be done right, to make it look like a heart attack. He imagined spraying Kane in his surprised face, saw it happen in his mind.
Pssst, you’re dead, fuck you.
Since the two Colombians had come around the house, Richard was, Barbara noticed, quiet and withdrawn…introspective. He barely talked. She recently explained, I never saw him like this. He was just moping around the house, sitting in his chair and staring into space. He didn’t want to talk; he didn’t even want to go feed the ducks. I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what.
Operation Ice Man
Bob Carroll was a diligent, hardworking prosecutor. He had a full baby face, was stocky and square, appeared somewhat like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. That cherubic baby face, however, belied a tenacious prosecutor that won most trials he took before a jury. Bob Carroll was a supervisor of the New Jersey Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau task force, a relatively new unit put together to cross jurisdictions and build up and prosecute cases across the state of New Jersey, focusing on organized crime. Carroll worked out of a secretive unmarked two-story redbrick building in Fairfield. The entrance to the building was in the back, away from prying eyes. There were strategically placed surveillance cameras everywhere. If New Jersey had a Pentagon, a place from which to fight wars, this was surely it. When Carroll heard about the Kuklinski case, he contacted Kane and asked to see “the file.”
By now Kane’s one folder had grown to many carefully put-together files, all contained in a large brown cardboard box. For two days Bob Carroll pored over Kane’s files, more and more amazed—stunned, actually—at what the young detective had single-handedly put together. “It was,” he would later say, “one of the most significant, incredible files I’d ever seen.”
Thus the New Jersey attorney general’s office lined up behind the investigation that Detective Pat Kane had started.
On the evening of September 6, 1986—four days after Dominick Polifrone had his first meeting with Kuklinski—Pat Kane sat down in a windowless war room in the New Jersey attorney general’s Fairfield building. He was surrounded by law-enforcement heavies, including Bob Carroll, Deputy State Police Chief Bob Buccino, Captain John Leck, and New Jersey Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau investigators Paul Smith and Ron Donahue, all interested, all there because of Kane’s diligence. No one doubted any longer what he’d been saying. If John Leck was also there, he was now behind Pat Kane 100 percent. Here Operation Ice Man—because they believed Richard had frozen Masgay—was formed, and the rope to hang Richard Kuklinski became longer still.
Over Chinese takeout, Pat Kane and Bob Carroll carefully laid out all the information Kane had gathered over the many months he’d been working the case: how it all began as a series of unsolved burglaries; the murders of Masgay, Smith, and Deppner, and the disappearance of Hoffman; Kuklinski’s connection to Roy DeMeo and organized crime. All that Kane had found out, put together, was tremendously helpful. But the attorney general’s office needed tangible evidence that would hold up under the withering scrutiny of a crack defense attorney.
Dominick Polifrone was the answer. They would use him to get Kuklinski to incriminate himself. If Kuklinski had asked Polifrone for cyanide at their very first meeting at the Dunkin’ Donuts, it stood to reason that Polifrone was “in,” that Kuklinski would hang himself.
Cyanide was the key—that would be the beam from which to hang the rope.
With permission from his superiors, Polifrone soon attended a second meeting of the Operation Ice Man task force, and Bob Carroll ran down for Polifrone what he wanted. Again present were Pat Kane and the heavies—Investigators Paul Smith and Ron Donahue, Deputy Chief Bob Buccino, and Captain John Leck. Ron Donahue was a seasoned, hardened investigator, notorious for his toughness on the streets. He was actually booed by mob guys when he showed up in court, walked into mob hangouts. He very much looked like the boxer Jack Dempsey and was tough like him. Paul Smith was in his early thirties, had a Beatle haircut, hooded dark eyes. He was an adept undercover guy. Only Captain Leck wore a uniform. Bob Buccino had a thick head of silver hair, was a patient, intelligent man, a good administrator, adept at getting people to work well together. They all sat down. Now there was an eight-by-ten glossy of Kuklinski taped to the wall, a bull’s-eye drawn on it.
Bob Carroll began: “Dom, at this point the key is the cyanide; see if you can get him to talk more about it—how it works, how long it takes, could it really be used to fool a medical examiner. Details. Get him to talk about details, other victims.”
“I know exactly what you want, and I’ll get it,” Polifrone said. They all knew that Polifrone was the man for the job. It was obvious to everyone there that Polifrone knew the walk and knew the talk.
“The problem is,” Polifrone said, “he already beeped me, and I called him back, and he really wants the cyanide.”
“Yeah, well under no circumstances can we give him cyanide,” Captain Leck said. “Just think about the ramifications if he uses it to kill someone.”
“I’m only going to be able to stall him so long. I mean, if he doesn’t get it from me, he’ll get it somewhere else, and I might very well lose him. Right now the cyanide is the hook, line, and sinker.”
“You’ve got a point,” Carroll said, and they discussed the pros and cons of providing real cyanide to Richard, but in the end that idea was shot down. There was no way that they could give Richard Kuklinski cyanide.
Bob Carroll said, “Stall him, just keep stalling him, all the while getting him to talk. I think he believes he’s above the law at this point, that he’ll never get caught, and we’ll use that against him.”
They now discussed the fact that someone had spiked a Lipton soup packet with cyanide in a grocery store in Camden (not Richard), and a Jersey man had bought the soup, eaten it, and died. It was a big news item, and Polifrone said he could use this as an excuse to stall Richard. As they were talking, Polifrone’s beeper sounded; amazingly, it was actually Richard. Captain Leck wanted Polifrone to call him right back.
“Let ’im stew a little bit,” Polifrone said. “I don’t want to, you know, seem too anxious.”
“Agent Polifrone, your target called, call him back!” the captain insisted.
Polifrone repeated what he’d said. Of course he was right. It seemed, however, that Leck wanted to get into a pissing contest with the ATF agent. Finally, Carroll had to step in and tell the captain that Polifrone would decide how to work this.
“Who’s running this investigation, us or the ATF?!” the captain demanded.
“This,” Carroll said, “is a joint operation, and I have every confidence in Dominick’s expertise.” Captain Leck had to accept that. He stared at Dominick as if he wanted to take a bite out of him.
This was, Dominick had known all along, one of the biggest problems with interagency cooperation, or actually the lack of it: everyone wanted to be the boss, everyone wanted the glory. No matter what this uniformed stiff said, though, Polifrone was going to work this case the way he saw fit. It was his ass on the line, not Leck’s. It didn’t seem like a good match, but he’d do whatever he could to make it work.
Now, based on Polifrone’s initial contact with Kuklinski, Carroll planned to get warrants to tap all of Kuklinski’s phones, and an elaborate plan was put in place that would allow the calls to be legally recorded in a safe house near the Kuklinski home. Conversations would be listened to and transmitted into text by a team of typists in a second location. They had to catch every word accurately if these tapes were to be used in court. After they agreed on the nuts and bolts of this aspect of the operation, it was nearly 9:00 P.M., and now Dominick returned Kuklinski’s call. He had made him wait two hours.
Richard said he wanted to get together to discuss the arms deal, that he would bring his dealer and they could meet at the Vince Lombardi Service Area off the New Jersey Turnpike in Ridgefield. This caught Dominick off guard, first because Richard wanted to introduce him to his contact, and second because there wasn’t enough time to properly set up a comprehensive surveillance operation. If what Polifrone had heard about Kuklinski was true, and he had no reason to believe it wasn’t, Kuklinski was by far the most dangerous man he’d ever come up against, and he wanted to be sure all the ducks were lined up properly before he put himself on the line. What concerned Polifrone further was the fact that this was a joint, interagency operation. There was therefore no focal point of command—simply put, too many chefs in the kitchen. Polifrone had a wife he loved dearly, three children he was crazy about, and he wasn’t about to give that up by getting caught up and hurt in an interagency pissing contest.
Plus, Polifrone had no idea if Phil Solimene was playing two ends against the middle or was on the up-and-up. For all he knew, Solimene had been feeding Kuklinski information and setting him up. He had heard of much stranger things than that. When it came to mob guys, he knew, there was no telling what they’d do. They were dangerous, unpredictable jungle creatures, not creatures of habit, rhyme, or reason.
Richard did, in fact, have plans for this Dominick Provanzano, and those plans were to set up an arms sale, take what money he had, kill him, and get rid of his body. He was going to have John Spasudo help him play Dominick, take the order for all the “heavy steel” he said he wanted, but instead of delivering guns he was going to shoot Dominick in the head; and he was going to kill Spasudo at the same time. It was still eating away at Richard that Spasudo had brought people to his home, and he hadn’t forgotten the young girl in Spasudo’s bed. He would not just kill Spasudo, but he’d feed him to the rats. Yes, that was better. Spasudo would die the death of a thousand bites, as Richard had come to think of it, amused by his creativity. After he’d gotten the poison from Dominick, he’d get rid of both of them at the same time and keep all the money. All neat, all tidy.
Barbara was right. A very real change had come over Richard. People coming to his home upset him to the point of perpetual distraction. He blamed himself. He was getting sloppy, losing his edge. Married life, family life, he was thinking, had taken a toll on him, had softened him, made him less diligent…aware. He actually began to think of retiring. Getting away from the life. He’d been reckless in many ways, but had always been lucky. His luck, he was thinking, was apparently running out. He resolved to start saving money, to start putting all the money he was earning in a safe place. He’d stop gambling, stop taking unnecessary chances. He knew that if he didn’t become more cautious, he was destined for a bad end. Once this thorn in his side, this Pat Kane, was dead and buried, he’d be able to get on with his plans—save a lot of money and get the hell away from crime; from killing people for both profit and for personal gratification.
What Richard dreaded more than anything, what haunted him now, was the thought of his being uncovered and the shame and embarrassment his family would surely have to suffer and endure. They had nothing to do with any of his many crimes, all the pain and suffering he wrought; they were truly innocent. Yet, he knew, they’d suffer greatly, perhaps irreversibly, if he was ever found out, discovered, exposed. Just the thought of that gave him a splitting headache, made him reel.
If it ever came down to the police trying to arrest him, he vowed he’d go out in a blaze of glory. He’d never let them take him alive. He’d shoot as many of them as he could. They’d have to kill him. With him dead, he figured, they could never conclusively prove anything. What he’d done would be buried with his body, and the incentive for them to prove something would be mitigated, he was sure, with his demise.
Suicide by cop, that was the way to go.
First and foremost though he needed cyanide to properly take care of Pat Kane.
Second, he needed a truckload of money to properly retire.
Third, he’d stop gambling; he’d control that urge. He had to. He felt trapped and cornered, and the only answer was money. A lot of it. Money was the passport to a better life.
On September 11, at 8:00 A.M., Pat Kane went to the location where Richard’s phone calls were being tapped. Kane, Bob Carroll, Paul Smith, and Ron Donahue would be manning the lines twenty-four hours a day. They were legally able to record all the calls, even the ones by Richard’s family, his two daughters talking to their boyfriends, Dwayne talking to friends, Barbara ordering groceries—always the best of everything for her. However, they were legally allowed to transcribe only the conversations of Richard’s that were specifically relevant to…crimes.
Pat Kane was upbeat now. He was sure it was just a matter of time before they landed Richard in the boat. Kane still viewed Richard as the elusive, predatory muskie and was sure now that this new bait would do the trick. Pat returned to his old self now. He was much more attentive to his loving wife, had more time for his children. The old twinkle in his eyes was back. It was as if, Terry thought, the storm cloud hanging over her husband’s head was abruptly gone.
Terry had, of course, no idea that the brooding storm cloud was actually following her husband around, stalking him—was planning to swiftly and efficiently kill the only man she had ever kissed.
In his quest to earn money, Richard again left for Zurich. The task force was still intent upon not letting Richard know that they were onto him, and they were certain he’d spot a tail in a minute, so they just left him alone; so they didn’t even know he was out of the country.
Consequently, all they got from the phone taps was the family going about living their lives. Dominick left messages for Richard that went unreturned.
In Zurich, Richard was relaxed. He knew no one was watching him, and while waiting for more checks, more receipts from the Nigerian government official, he sat in parks and cafés, looking like a man enjoying the tranquillity of the park, though he was plotting and planning Pat Kane’s, Dominick Polifrone’s, and John Spasudo’s murders. He actually drew strength from just the thought of these killings. All his life, since he’d beaten Charley Lane to death, Richard had solved his problems with murder. Murder was an anchor that kept him stable; murder would make everything right. Sitting in a Zurich café near the Central Station, Richard planned murder. All he needed was a little cyanide and he’d be free of Pat Kane, the man who was trying to take everything away from him.
As days passed, the phone taps proved fruitless, unless knowing that Barbara ordered a lot of filet mignon from the Dumont butcher meant something. Not knowing that Richard was actually out of the country, the task force became concerned. Not only were they not hearing anything that would be useful in court, but Richard wasn’t even calling Polifrone back. What the hell was that about? They began to think Richard knew Polifrone was an agent, that Solimene had been playing both sides of the fence. Surely that was the problem.
Then on September 25, everything suddenly changed. Richard got back from Zurich, deposited still another check in the Georgia account, contacted Spasudo, and told him how he was planning to rip off Dominick and that he wanted to use him to impersonate an arms dealer. Though Spasudo was as ugly as sin, both a degenerate gambler and a sexual degenerate, he was not stupid. In fact, he had a mind as sharp as a tack. He readily agreed to go along with Richard’s scheme; he would have enough knowledge about firearms because Richard would make him read up on all types of armaments. Spasudo had no idea that Richard was planning to kill him too, planning to feed him alive to rats. At six foot five he would be, Richard was thinking, a huge feast for the rats. Richard called Polifrone from a pay phone in a shopping center in south Jersey.
Now Dominick, in the ATF’s Newark offices, was wired and ready for action. He returned Richard’s call. The first thing Richard asked was if Dominick was at a pay phone.
“Yeah, we can talk freely,” Dominick said, baiting the trap, smiling as he did so, and Richard walked right into it: he told Dominick he had his arms contact there and said he’d put Spasudo on the phone, telling Dominick his name was Tim. Spasudo took the phone and, with flourish and authority, told Dominick he could get him all the heavy armaments he wanted, rattling off different weapons as if he were selling fresh fruits at a busy market. Richard was proud of Spasudo. He was doing a good job. He sounded like the real McCoy. Polifrone then asked to speak to Richard, now ready to spring the trap.
“Hey, Rich, I told Tim what I needed. Now tell me the truth. Is this guy gonna deliver? I don’t wanna hear a lotta promises, then get a lotta excuses down the line. You know what I’m saying?”
“You don’t have to worry, Dom. If he says he can get you something, he’ll get it. If he can’t, he’ll be straight with you.”
“All right. I don’t wanna end up looking bad on this. My IRA girl, she looks like a schoolteacher, but she can be a real ballbuster. You disappoint her once, that’s it, no second chances. She’ll find somebody else. And I’m telling you, she’s one customer I do not want to lose. You understand me?”
“I hear you, Dom.”
“Now I understand that Tim’s got all his heavy stuff in the Mediterranean, so it’s gonna take some time to get us some samples. But let’s keep my girl happy, okay? Get me some silencers so I can show her something. Just something I can show. I’ll pay you—don’t worry about that; but just get me something.”
“Did Tim tell you he had silencers available?”
“Then don’t worry about it. We’ll get you something as soon as we can.”
“Okay, but don’t make me wait. I’m telling you, we can both make a lotta money off this broad. Let’s not screw it up. Okay?”
“I hear you. Don’t worry.”
“Okay, Rich, let’s stay in touch.”
“Say, Dom, you didn’t get any word on that stuff I was looking for? You know what I’m talking about?” Richard said, putting a noose around his own neck.
“Yeah, I know. I talked to my people, but they’re all nervous about this Lipton soup thing.”
“Why? That was a couple of weeks ago.”
“They heard that there’s a lot of federal people going around asking questions about all that shit. Now I know they got a chemist who gets that stuff for them, but like I said, they’re all nervous. I got stuff like that from these people before for other customers of mine, so I’m pretty sure they can get it. They just wanna wait till this Lipton soup thing cools down before they’ll give it to me. In the meantime, I’ll get you the other stuff, the—you’re on a pay phone, right?” Dominick said, drawing Richard further in.
“Yeah, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, of course. The cyanide, you gotta be careful because, you know, I don’t know how you fucking want to use it. But that’s your business, Rich. I’m not asking.”
“Well, it won’t be a problem of exposure. I don’t intend to resell it to anybody. I’m intending to use it myself.”
“Yeah? Well, don’t you take it,” Dominick said, laughing.
“No, no, I don’t intend to. I just have a few problems I want to dispose of. I have some rats I want to get rid of,” Richard said, chuckling.
“Yeah? Why not use a fucking piece of iron to get rid of these fucking people? Why fuck around with cyanide?” Dominick said, opening the door wider still.
“Why be messy, Dom? You do it nice and clean with cyanide.”
“Lemme ask you something then. You do the same thing I do once in a while. But I always use steel. You know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, I understand what you’re saying.”
“So what I’m asking is, would you be willing to do a—you know—a contract with me?”
“Dominick, if the price is right, I’ll talk to anybody,” Richard said, drawing the noose a bit tighter.
“And you mean to tell me your way is nice and clean, and nothing fuckin’ shows up?”
“Well, it may show, my friend, but it’s quiet, it’s not messy; it’s not as noisy.”
“Yeah, but how the fuck do you put it together, you know what I’m saying?”
“Well, there’s always a way. There’s a will, there’s a way, my friend.”
Dominick laughed. “All right, listen, we’ll have to talk about this sometime. It sounds interesting.”
“There’re even spray mists around,” Richard volunteered.
“Sure. You put that stuff in a mist, you spray it in somebody’s face, and they go to sleep,” he said.
“Fast? How long does it take?”
Kuklinski snapped his fingers. “About that fast,” he said, bragging.
“No shit. I thought—you mean, you don’t have to put it in the guy’s drink, something like that?”
“Not necessary. That will work too, but it’s very detectable that way.”
“You make it up as a mist. As soon as they inhale it, they’ve already had enough. Just one squirt. That’s all it takes.”
“Well, shit, if it’s that easy, Rich, there are definitely a couple of things we could get involved with, without any fucking problems. You know, as I said, contracts.”
“Can do it either way. If a guy wants it done with lead, then it could be lead. If the guy wants to prove a point and he wants steel, it could be done with steel. I’m not averse to guns, I’m not averse to knives, I’m not averse to, you know, whatever,” Richard said.
“As long as he’s dead, that’s the bottom line, Rich.”
“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? If that’s what they want.”
“Your way sounds like a fucking James Bond movie, but if it works, then—”
“Dominick, I’ve done it all ways, whatever you’ve known or heard. There aren’t too many things I haven’t tried. I’ll try whatever sounds workable. Some guys want it done messy and they want it as proof of the pudding. They want it shown. So I’ll do it that way.”
“But your way, what you were telling me, with the cyanide—there’s no problem with that?”
“I don’t have a problem. I’m not saying it’s not detectable. I’m just saying it’s quiet and fast.”
“In other words, you’ve done this before? You know there’s no problem?”
“Well, nobody’s going to give you proof of anything like that, my friend.”
“I’m not saying proof. I’m just asking if it’s really been done.”
“It’s been done.”
“This sounds interesting. We gotta fucking go for coffee, break bread over this thing; it sounds good.”
“Well, Dom, you know what they say. There’s more than one way to skin something.”
“I hear ya, I hear ya.”
“It all depends on how determined you are to get it done.”
They both laughed.
“As long as it gets done. Right, Rich?”
“As long as the guy who’s paying you gets it done the way he wants. It’s the finished product that they’re interested in. And I haven’t had any complaints, because as you can see, I’m still around. If I had any complaints, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here.”
“I hear you, brother. I hear you. But getting back to the other stuff with Tim, what should we do? You wanna beep me or should I call you?”
“Why don’t you call me this weekend? But just in case I’m not at that other number, lemme give you my new beeper number.”
“You’ve got a beeper now, Rich?”
“Yeah. This number is for me and Tim, we both use it. Okay?”
“Okay, the number is 1-800-402…,” Richard said, and gave him the number and soon hung up the phone and smiled, not having any idea that he had just hung himself.
Considering all the years Richard had spent on the street, how tight-lipped he’d always been, it was amazing that he talked so openly to Polifrone. He was figuring to rip off Polifrone and kill him. What difference did it make what he said? In his mind he was just further setting up Polifrone and these IRA people to rip them off. The first order of business, thought Richard, was to get Dominick the hit kit—a .22 with a silencer. No problem.
In reality, Richard had just handed the task force a golden opportunity to hang him high and watch him slowly swing.
Dominick Polifrone couldn’t believe that Richard had actually admitted to killing people. Not only that, but using a cyanide mist to do people in. He immediately called Bob Carroll and ran down what he had, and was now hurrying over to the attorney general’s fortresslike offices in Fairfield. Every word of the conversation had been taped, and Polifrone had a copy of the tape in his pocket. The agent had, he knew, hit pay dirt. As he made his way along Route 23 in his big-ass black Lincoln, his beeper sounded. It was Kuklinski. Polifrone was reluctant to call him right back. But Kuklinski was on the hook now, and Dominick didn’t want to give him any slack, a chance to get away, break the line. No, he’d call Kuklinski right back. He spotted a pay phone in front of a restaurant, pulled over, and phoned Richard.
Again, Richard asked if he was at a pay phone.
“Yeah, I’m cool,” the wily agent said, and Richard went on to explain that he had the hit kit.
Richard had had it all along; he had a half dozen of them, kept them in a suitcase at Barbara’s mother’s house. He told Polifrone he could let him have it for eleven hundred, but that was a special “sample price.” Richard again suggested they meet at the Vince Lombardi stop. Dominick agreed. What the hell, it was out in the open, would be an easy place to set up surveillance and a backup team. But he stalled the meeting; they needed time, he knew, to properly set everything up. Richard said he’d bring the hit kit. The meeting was set for the following week. Dominick got back into his black Lincoln and drove on to the attorney general’s building in Fairfield. When he got there Bob Carroll, Pat Kane, Ron Donahue, and Pat Smith were all anxiously waiting to hear the tape. They sat around the same conference room, the eight-by-ten of Richard still on the wall, and, astounded, listened to Kuklinski incriminate, indeed, hang himself. When it was over they all shook hands, gave Dominick high fives.
“Dominick,” Bob Carroll said, “you are the best! Smooth like melted butter. We have him—we have him by the nuts,” he said, a big smile lighting up his full face. Pat Kane hugged Dominick.
“Great job, Dom. Great job,” he said, feeling an elation he’d never known before.
Smiling and proud, Dominick knew he’d done a hell of a job. It had been a long, bumpy road, but the end, he was sure, was in sight. They now talked about setting up a comprehensive surveillance of the meeting at the Lombardi service station.
Even Richard’s daughters, Chris and Merrick, noticed the change that had come over their father. He barely talked. He walked around the house as if he were in a daze. Neither of them had ever seen him like this. Yes, he’d always been moody, had highs and lows, but he’d never been this quiet and introspective for days on end like this. Chris dismissed it as another of her father’s quirks; he was filled with them. But Merrick was concerned. She felt a true change had come over her father—not a good one—and she was worried. Merrick tried to talk with him, get him to go feed the ducks with her, but he wasn’t interested. That alone was reason for concern. Merrick had grown into a very attractive woman with dark hair and large almond-shaped eyes the color of warmed honey. She’d gotten a good job at the Allstate Insurance Company, been promoted and given a raise; she had a new boyfriend, Mark, and was in love with him, and marriage had been discussed though not yet formalized; she was happy, except for the fact that her dad was acting…“weird,” as she recently put it.
Merrick, like everyone else in the house, heard the strange clicks on the phone, but didn’t think much about them. Barbara, on the other hand, suspected they were being tapped, but didn’t give much thought to that. If, she believed, her husband was doing anything illegal, it had to do with knockoff copies of name brands. She still had no idea to whom she was married. Richard had told her about Kane and Volkman’s visit, but hadn’t said anything about their questioning him regarding five murders they suspected him of committing.
The next meeting between Richard and Agent Polifrone happened on October 2, the following week at the Vince Lombardi rest stop. It was eight miles as the crow flies from the George Washington Bridge, had a half dozen fast-food restaurants, restrooms, a gas station; on the left was a grassy area with some tables and benches where people could gobble down fast food. This was a transient place. Those who stopped here did so for a little while and quickly moved on. Richard had suggested this place because it was open and easy to get to, easy to spot a trap. The Ice Man task force had ample time to set up a proper surveillance and backup. Ron Donahue, Paul Smith, and Bob Carroll were all there, as were several other teams, both men and women, sitting in different unmarked cars, heavily armed. Kuklinski was dangerous in the extreme, they knew—cunning and unpredictable.
Agent Polifrone arrived on time, 2:00 P.M. He was armed, wearing a tiny Kel transmitter and a small Nagra tape recorder secreted at the nape of his neck. He sported a baggy black leather jacket to conceal the tape recorder. It was essential that whatever was said was accurately recorded. With the help of an AID radio receiver all the teams would have—and be able to record—what was said. This was a momentous meeting, they all knew; if Polifrone did his job well, got Richard to talk openly, they would use his own words to nail him.
So far, most of what they had, other than the first tape, was circumstantial. Bob Carroll was hoping that would change today. Meanwhile, Richard was late.
After lunch that day Richard was busy on the phones, talking with John Spasudo and Remi. More problems had come up because of the Zurich bank official’s former associates, and Remi was concerned. All these “business calls,” Richard made from phone booths all over Dumont. The calls made Richard late for his meeting with Polifrone. He beeped Polifrone a half hour after he was supposed to be there, and Dominick called him right back; Richard apologized, said he was on the way, and hurried from his home, carrying a bag containing the hit kit. Richard was planning to use the .22 and silencer; clearly an assassin’s weapon, to bait Polifrone further into a bigger sale of such guns. Instead of delivering the weapons, however, he was going to deliver death.
As Richard drove to the Vince Lombardi stop, he thought about feeding Spasudo to the rats. Oh, how he’d enjoy that! He was still intent upon killing Pat Kane, but he needed cyanide to pull that off properly, to make it appear like a heart attack; that was the key, and he still hoped Polifrone could get him the cyanide. If it appeared like a hit, the police would, he was sure, be on him like white on rice.
Richard arrived at the Lombardi service area at nearly 3:00 P.M., unaware of the law-enforcement encampment he was entering. This was very much unlike him. He normally came early to such meetings, hid in a van, and made sure all was clear, using binoculars and his well-honed sixth sense. The fact that he planned to murder Polifrone, he now says, made him drop his guard: he was walking straight to the gallow steps of his own volition. It was a chilly gray day. A cold wind blew across the flat french-fry-smelling expanse around the rest stop. The sounds of cars and trucks whizzing by was constant, punctuated by fleeting truck and car horns. The many planes landing and taking off from nearby Newark Airport passed low overhead, adding to the cacophony of fast-moving sounds. Polifrone was ready. He knew what he had to say and how to say it. After greetings, Richard again apologized about being late. He said he had the hit kit with him, opened the trunk, and showed it to Polifrone. “This is,” he said, “a .22 long barrel, military capacity with a screw-off front. You screw the suppressor on.” He handed it to Polifrone and told him he could let him have it for eleven hundred dollars, but the price would have to be fifteen hundred for a large load; this was, he said, only to get the deal moving. “A sample price.”
Bob Carroll was pleased: they could now arrest Richard and charge him with the sale of this gun and silencer. The silencer was a major felony. But Carroll wanted more, had to have more. His intention was to make sure Richard got serious time, spent the rest of his life behind bars or, better yet, got a death sentence. Tensed, he waited to hear Polifrone draw Richard further into his carefully laid trap. As this was happening Pat Kane was waiting back at the attorney general’s bunker, nervously pacing like an expectant father. He couldn’t be seen here. If Richard made him, all was instantly lost, everyone knew.
Now Kuklinski showed Dominick how to put on the silencer. He handled the gun with knowing familiarity. They were off near a bank of telephones. Richard used the open trunk of his car to block anyone from seeing what he was doing. Polifrone gave him the eleven hundred dollars, which had been provided by the state of New Jersey. This is what was recorded:
“Listen, Rich. Remember you were telling me about how you use cyanide?”
“Well I got this fucking rich Jewish kid I been supplying with coke. He wants me to get him two kilos now, which I can do, but the kid’s a real fucking pain in my balls, you know? So what I’m asking is, you think it’s possible we can dope up the coke with cyanide?”
“What I was figuring, we can make a quick score. Do the kid and go halfsies on the bread he brings for the two keys.”
“Does he always come alone?”
“Yeah, he always comes alone.”
“And he brings cash?”
“The kid’s rich from his old man. He’s rolling in it. Money’s not the problem. He’s the problem. I can’t stand the little fuck anymore.”
“All right. Just tell me when. Dom, you understand that the price of these pieces goes up after this one, right? It’s eleven for this one, but it’ll be fifteen apiece, even in quantity.”
“Without the nose?” (A “nose” is a silencer.)
“No, with the nose. The same as you got here, except it’ll be fifteen hundred, not eleven.”
“I didn’t even ask. Probably .22.”
“Hey, what the fuck do I care? It’s the Irish broad’s money, not mine. I don’t give a fuck. Personally I could give two shits about their cause over there. I’m gonna give you your price today. Whatever it is tomorrow is her problem.”
“Whatever, I’m just telling you, Dom. And as for that other guy, that sounds very interesting, fuck it, I’ll hit a Jew in a minute. Who the fuck cares?”
“Not only that, you say we can make a nice buck off this.”
“That’s what I’m telling you, Rich. You know what we can do? I don’t know if you wanna do this, but I can bring the kid here someday. I’ll meet him here for coffee, and you can come and take a look at him if you want.”
“No problem. Tell him you’ll meet him over by the phones, and I’ll park over there so I can see what he looks like.”
“Good, good. Only thing is, Rich, I don’t want him whacked. His old man’s got money up the ass. He’ll hire private investigators and all kinds of shit. That’s why it’s gotta look like an OD. You know what I’m saying?”
“No problem. I can do it, but you gotta get me the cyanide. I’ll make it up and hit him in the face with it. I can make the—you know, then just one hit, and that’s it. He goes to sleep.”
“Or we put it in the coke. I don’t give a shit really, just as long as he’s gone and it looks like an overdose.”
“My friend, there’s more than one way to do it. You don’t want him shot, we can do it another way. There’s millions of ways.”
“An OD, that’s what I want.”
“Well, we can give him some pure shit and make him really OD.”
“Whatever. I gotta run now, but we’ll talk about this some more later. All right, Big Guy?”
“You got it. See you later.”
Richard and Polifrone walked in different directions. Richard got back into his car and drove out of the rest stop. Carroll was overjoyed. They now clearly had Kuklinski for conspiracy to commit murder. The list of charges, as he was hoping, was lengthening, and because of how Kuklinski obviously trusted Polifrone, Bob Carroll was thinking they could take this even further, build and fortify the case against Kuklinski they already had. Carroll was thinking of using Paul Smith, sitting next to him now, as the rich Jewish kid looking to buy cocaine. Carroll could’ve had Richard arrested on the spot, but he wanted more. He wanted to be sure that when they arrested Richard, they had an airtight case against him, that he would die in jail, either of old age or by execution—preferably the latter.
As the Ice Man task force planned and plotted its next move, Richard left for Zurich again, and again they had no idea he’d gone anywhere. Had Richard known what was going on, how Solimene had set him up, who Polifrone truly was, he would have stayed in Zurich. He still believed Polifrone would buy a huge load of armaments and help set up this rich Jewish kid. He was not yet suspicious. Polifrone was a means to an end—more money, and cyanide. After that he was dead.
Remi and Richard met in a glass-encased café in the center of town, and still again Richard heard how another man in this “gang” was trying to shake down the Asian bank official.
Remi said, “Now, you know, he’s really scared. He’s talking about quitting and going back to Japan, and then we are lost. We must stop that. You have to do your magic thing again. I know you know the right people.”
“I am the right people,” Richard said, his voice low and deadly serious, a slight smile on his high-cheekboned, Slavic face.
Remi blanched. “You…I don’t believe it.”
“Isn’t any big deal,” Richard said.
Remi’s eyes widened. He blinked rapidly. He didn’t know how to handle this…revelation. “My goodness,” he said.
“Okay, listen. Tell the bank official to relax; tell him we’ll take care of everything. What I’m concerned with is more of this gang popping up. You have to find out how many people know about him—and who they are. The right thing to do would be to get rid of all of them at one time.”
“Yes, yes, of course…you…you can do such a thing?” Remi asked, incredulous.
Richard smiled. He was amused. “Of course I can, no problem, my friend. Do you think you can get me a handgun?” Richard asked, and took a bite out of a sugar-powdered almond croissant.
“Yes,” Remi said.
“Okay, you get me the gun, show me where this gang is, and I’ll do the rest,” Richard said.
“Really?” Remi asked, looking at Richard now in a completely different way, with shocked awe. He knew now Richard had killed the first two members of the gang. “You’re, I think, a very rare man, you know.”
“There aren’t too many people like me around,” Richard said.
“My goodness, no,” Remi said.
“Tell the bank guy to get all the members of the gang in one place. That we will take care of this.”
“Sure as shit.”
“I see,” Remi said. “Okay.”
Because Richard was in Zurich, the phone taps on his phone were temporarily useless; Polifrone beeped Richard several times, left messages that went unanswered. Perplexed, the Ice Man task force scratched its collective head.
Remi secured a Walther P .38 for Richard with a full clip and a box of bullets. This was a gun Richard knew well. Now, armed, Richard had Remi rent a van, and from it they watched the Asian bank official meet with two men in a café in town.
The bank official told the two men that he would work with them again, provide them with new checks, but that it would take a week or so. He repeatedly assured them that he would continue doing business with them. After the meeting, Remi and Richard trailed the two men to the same house visited by the man Richard had killed with the cyanide spray. This was a quiet residential street, not good for what Richard had in mind—shooting them in the head. But he’d make it work. Richard now told Remi to leave; he would do this alone. Gladly, Remi got out of the van and hurried away, not looking back as he went. Richard pulled the van right up in front of the house, thinking about the best way to do this.
If he fired the gun the cops would be summoned. He had with him a hunting knife, and he decided to use it. He stepped from the van and boldly walked right up to their door, knocked. One of the men opened it, and with lightning speed Richard stuck the automatic in his face, told him to be quiet, and pushed his way in, quickly, like a tango dancer. He made both men lie on the floor. He cut the lamp cords and used the wire to bind their hands tightly behind their backs. He then stuck socks into their mouths, and killed one, then the other, by pushing the knife, in an upward angle, into the backs of their heads. Concerned that the double murder might in some way reflect on the bank officer, Richard decided to get rid of the bodies. To do this, he took the blankets off two beds in the apartment, rolled each of the bodies in a blanket, picked up one and placed it in the back of the van, made sure he wasn’t being observed, returned, hoisted the second one over his massive shoulder, put him in the van, and slowly pulled away. People who sped drew attention. When he was transporting bodies, Richard never hurried.
As Richard made his way out of town, he passed a hardware shop with ladders and colorful wheelbarrows out front; he turned around, went back, and bought a long-handled copper-headed spade, then continued on. He managed to get on a highway, drove on it for half an hour, pulled off, and went looking for a suitable place to get rid of the bodies, just as he had done when he was a boy back in Jersey City: déjà vu all over again. He hadn’t counted on any of this and didn’t like it, but it had to be done, so he was doing it. However, he would demand a larger share of the money now, and get it. It didn’t take Richard long to find a secluded area in the woods, dig a hole, quickly dump the two men in it, and cover it with dirt, leaves, and branches. He got back in the van and returned to Zurich, called Remi, and told him all was “taken care of.” He also told him to come get the van and return it. That done, Richard took a shower, met Remi, and returned the van—after making sure there was no blood inside it—and they went for dinner in a five-star French restaurant.
Remi was impressed. He couldn’t believe any one man could be so…efficient at making people—problems—disappear. He looked at Richard now with a newfound respect. Richard told him he wanted “a larger slice of the pie.”
“Of course, of course, you deserve it!” Remi said. “Absolutely!”
Two days later Richard returned to New Jersey, went back down to Georgia, deposited the latest check, and returned to Dumont. The task force was pleased to hear him talking on the phone again. Polifrone called him, beeped him, and Richard finally got back to Polifrone on October 8. He called him from a diner. Richard was by now expecting Polifrone to have the cyanide, and he asked him about it right off the bat. Again, however, Polifrone stalled him. Richard asked him about the IRA woman; Polifrone said she was pleased, that he was waiting to hear from her.
“How about this Jewish kid?” Richard asked.
“He moves around a lot, travels a lot. I should be hearing from him soon. You’ll be around?”
“I’ll be around. He who hesitates is lost, my friend,” Richard said.
“You are right about that.”
“Gotta move while the iron is hot,” Richard said.
“I hear you,” Polifrone said. “I’ll let you know when the time is right.”
They hung up. Richard was beginning to think Polifrone was, in a word, bullshit. If he had what he said he had, could get, it would be on the table by now. Polifrone was, Richard decided, just another bigmouthed wannabe braggart. He’d met this kind of man all his life. Nothing new. People who said they had all these contacts, knew all these people, turned out to be as empty as a used paper bag.
Polifrone was thinking Richard was cold and distant, that maybe he had been stringing Kuklinski along for too long. He was right. He knew if he didn’t deliver something soon, Kuklinski would just move on—stop returning his calls altogether.
Which, apparently, is exactly what happened.
Polifrone called, left messages, beeped Richard, without any response. One time “Tim” (Spasudo) called him back, but that didn’t accomplish anything one way or the other; the task force knew Spasudo was just a tool, a shill, for Richard. The situation was becoming untenable. Bob Carroll talked about bringing in Kuklinski on what they had so far, but in the end it was decided they needed more if they really wanted to put Kuklinski away for good. One of the guys taped a mug shot of Richard onto a new bottle of Jack Daniel’s, which they sparingly drank from during late-night brainstorming sessions. It became a ritual. When they truly nailed Kuklinski, Carroll promised, there would be bottles of good champagne.
Finally, toward the end of October, Richard did call Agent Polifrone back. He said he’d been busy, that he had misplaced Polifrone’s number. He didn’t seem interested anymore. He was, Polifrone knew, ready to spit the hook. Polifrone told Richard the rich Jewish kid was back—asking for product, anxious for it—and the IRA broad wanted to place an order…a big one, he said.
Reluctantly, Richard agreed to meet Polifrone again, and a time was set for October 26, again at the Vince Lombardi rest stop, this time inside the Roy Rogers there. There was, as before, enough time for the task force to set up proper surveillance and backup for Polifrone. Jersey plainclothes detectives stationed themselves in and around the Roy Rogers. Rough-and-ready Ron Donahue was sitting inside the Roy Rogers, nursing his second coffee. It was still lunchtime and crowded. The weather had grown much colder. The sky was low and gray and mean, as if a storm were about to strike. Polifrone was on edge. He well knew he’d lost the momentum he’d had with Richard. Too much time had gone by, and he hadn’t delivered anything but promises. Not good. For all he knew, Richard was in fact onto him and was planning to kill him. Polifrone made sure he had quick and easy access to his heat. He was coiled like a rattlesnake about to strike, ready for action, whatever it was.
Polifrone took solace in the presence of Ron Donahue. If Kuklinski had to be subdued, put down, killed, Ron Donahue was the man to do it, Polifrone knew. His toughness was legendary in police circles. There was tension, palpable and real, in the chilled fall air.
Richard showed up on time, at 2:00 P.M. sharp, driving a red Olds, Barbara’s car. He had on sunglasses, which Polifrone didn’t like because you couldn’t see his eyes.
“Hey, Dom, what’s new?” Richard greeted the agent, seemingly aloof, not at all friendly. Polifrone said he was hungry.
“Would you like something, Rich?” he offered, gesturing toward the restaurant.
“Nothing for me…just coffee,” Richard said. Polifrone bought two coffees, fries, and a burger for himself. They took seats. As the agent ate he asked Richard about more hit kits, how many could he get, and when he could get them.
“You can,” Richard said, “get all you want, but they are down in Delaware. I’m not bringing them across the state line.” So there it was—Richard was backing off, clearly not being as congenial as before.
“Sure, I’ll get them, no problem. Just tell me where, okay? Can I get ten?”
“You can get all you want, my friend,” Richard said, the signal word—“friend”—that Polifrone’s days were numbered. All along Polifrone had been talking about a big buy, lots of money; now just ten hit kits. He’s full of shit, Richard thought. Bullshit.
Polifrone again pitched Richard the line about the rich Jewish kid, saying how he wanted two, maybe even three kilos of coke; and again he peppered Richard with questions about how the cyanide works, and again, Richard took the bait and went on to describe how once someone is sprayed in the face it’s all over:
“I’ve used it,” he said. “I sprayed guys and they were dead within minutes.”
“Really?” Polifrone said, wide-eyed. “Wow.”
“Okay, so when we take off the kid, you’ll do him with this, but the body, we gotta get rid of the body,” Polifrone further baited Richard.
“Why get rid of it?” Richard said, gobbling up the bait, his every word being immortalized. “Just leave him there. It’ll look like he’s sleeping…that he died a natural death. All neat and tidy.”
“Okay, sounds perfect. Let’s do it,” Polifrone said, and explained that he’d get the rich Jewish kid to a meeting at the rest stop, and Richard should come and see him and check him out. Richard said he’d be available, to let him know when.
Richard, still oblivious of the fact that Polifrone might be a cop, planned to kill “the Jewish kid” and Polifrone at the same time and take all the money. He had grown to really dislike Polifrone and looked forward to killing him—if there really was a Jewish kid with bucks looking to score. He had his doubts. They made plans to talk again soon, and Richard left.
On October 30 Polifrone spoke to Richard and told him he’d be with the coke buyer at the Lombardi stop at ten o’clock the following morning. Richard said he’d be there.
October 31 was also a particularly cold, gray day, more like mid-February. A frigid wind whipped across the Lombardi rest stop. At 10:00 A.M., Polifrone and Detective Paul Smith, posing as the Jewish rich kid, were sitting at an outdoor table in the grassy area. It was so cold their breath fogged. Teams of detectives surrounded the rest stop. Polifrone feigned giving Detective Smith a bag of coke. The detective feigned looking into it. They didn’t know if Richard was there, watching from afar or not.
This was, in fact, all kinds of ridiculous. Seeing this superficial ruse wouldn’t sway Richard one way or the other. Still, Bob Carroll and Polifrone felt it was worth a try. According to all the surveillance teams, however, Richard was nowhere near them. Finally, after being out in the cold a half an hour, Polifrone and Smith went in different directions, not knowing if Richard had seen them or not.
Richard wasn’t even in Jersey that day. He had a murder contract to fill in South Carolina. Another gambler had borrowed money from the wrong people and refused to pay, threatening to call the police. Richard was dispatched and killed the man as he came home with groceries, shot him dead with a .22 equipped with a silencer as he stepped out of his car. He returned to Dumont and took Barbara shopping. Barbara was already talking about the Christmas holidays, the type of tree she wanted this year, gifts she’d buy, who would get what, even her plans for the window decorations. Silently, Richard listened; he had, she knew, never become excited by the holidays, but he was even more removed from what she was saying now. Richard had changed. What, she wondered, could it be? She asked him.
“Nothing,” he said.
“You feeling okay?”
“I’m fine, just thinking,” he said.
“What about?” she pressed.
“Business,” he said with finality, ending the conversation.
That evening the family had a nice dinner, veal Milanese and mashed potatoes, one of Richard’s favorites, but Richard was silent and withdrawn, just chewed his food and stared at something only he saw. After dinner Merrick asked if he’d like to go feed the ducks.
“No, not now,” he said, and went and watched a game show, thinking about doing away with Pat Kane, thinking about money—making enough money to get out of the life, to go straight. Money was the key. It always had been. He was leaving the following day for Zurich, and he planned to press Remi to get checks more frequently. He looked forward to being away. He didn’t want to be around people, even his own family, now. He wanted to be alone.
The following day, Richard got into his Camaro, drove to the airport unobserved, and boarded a plane for Zurich. One of the first things Richard asked Remi when he saw him was if he knew anyone that could get cyanide.
Again the task force stopped hearing Richard on the phone. Days went by. They held a meeting on the evening of November 13. By now Dominick hadn’t heard from Richard for two weeks.
Polifrone wanted to wait, to not chase Richard. He said that Kuklinski was cunning, that he was staying away to get the mark off balance. Deputy Chief Buccino had concerns: What if Kuklinski killed again? What if he secured cyanide somewhere else? What if it became public knowledge that they could have arrested him but didn’t and he killed someone? “We cannot leave this guy on the street much longer!” he said.
He had a valid point. Ron Donahue, however, agreed with Polifrone: they had to be patient, he said, the first rule of a good hunter. “This guy is big game, and that’s how we have to work him, play him,” he said.
Like this it went back and forth, as task force members took discreet shots from the Jack Daniel’s bottle with Richard’s picture on it.
They discussed sending Pat Kane and Volkman to Kuklinski’s house again “to rattle his cage.” That had seemed to work before.
In the end, Bob Carroll decided to side with Polifrone and give it some more time. The last thing he wanted to do was move prematurely. The case had to be “airtight,” carefully orchestrated. They would have one shot, and it had to be a bull’s-eye.
“Let’s send Kane to go see him again, see what happens,” he said. “It worked last time.”
Two days before Thanksgiving, November 22, 1986, Richard was still in Europe, waiting for the largest check he’d gotten to date. Barbara went shopping for all the fixings of a Thanksgiving feast. Her car was filled with bags of groceries when she pulled into the drive of her Dumont home. Barbara’s mother used to serve lasagna before the turkey, but everyone would fill up on the pasta and not eat the turkey, so Barbara stopped making lasagna.
Daughter Chris was now seeing a guy named Matt. He was the only man she had loved, and being intimate with him was “special,” not any kind of rebellion, as in years past. Daughter Merrick was going to marry Mark, her new boyfriend. Barbara liked him and was pleased Merrick had found “a nice boy,” as she thought of him. When Barbara pulled up in front of the house that day, Matt came out to help bring the packages inside. He was a strapping, good-looking man, always polite. Barbara liked him too. Richard did also. As Matt and Chris and Barbara were bringing all the bags of food into the house, seemingly out of nowhere, Detectives Pat Kane and Ernest Volkman appeared, walked up the driveway.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Kuklinski,” Kane said, “I’m Detective Kane and this is Detective Volkman.” Both of them showed their shiny gold badges.
“We are looking for your husband,” Volkman said. They knew Richard wasn’t there. His car was gone. They were doing this for one reason: to rattle Richard, to cause him to react, to upset him, his family life. The task force knew Richard loved Barbara, was exceedingly protective of her and his family. That was obvious by the phone calls he had with her that they had eavesdropped on.
Startled, Barbara regarded them with surprise, which quickly turned to disdain. “Is something the matter?” she asked, not pleased by this sudden, unexpected presence. Who the hell did they think they were?
“We need to talk with him,” Kane said.
“What about?” she asked.
“He home?” Volkman asked, curt and unfriendly…rude, she thought.
Barbara was still very much her own woman, still had a razor-sharp tongue, a somewhat supercilious attitude.
“You know where he is?” Kane asked.
“No,” she said.
“Can you get in touch with him?” Kane said.
“I just said I don’t know where he is—what’s this about?” she demanded, not asked.
“You have a number where you can reach him?” Volkman put in.
“I don’t. I don’t know where he is, don’t you hear?” she asked.
Now Matt came out of the house. Chris, a worried look about her face, stood at the doorway holding the family dog, Shaba, by the collar. Shaba, a large Irish wolfhound, was barking at the two detectives.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Chris called.
The two detectives moved toward Matt. “Are you Richard Kuklinski?” Volkman asked.
“No,” he said.
“What’s your name? What are you doing here?” Volkman asked.
Really annoyed now, Barbara put herself between Matt and the two detectives. “None of your business!” she said. “Where do you two get off? What’s this about?” she again demanded.
Kane said, “We need to talk to your husband about a couple of murders.”
“What?” she said. “Murders?”
“Murders we think he committed,” Kane added.
Barbara couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. She felt as if she’d been slapped with a red-hot hand. “You have a warrant to be here on my property?” she asked. “No.”
“Then get the hell off it,” she said.
They stood there.
“Chris,” Barbara said, “let the dog loose!”
Chris froze. She didn’t know what to do, holding the huge dog, who was now trying hard to break away.
“I said,” Barbara repeated, venom in her voice now, “let the dog loose!”
If Chris had let Shaba go, Kane would have shot him dead. He was ready to reach for his gun. That, he knew, would surely get Richard’s goat. But Chris had the good sense to hold on to Shaba’s massive collar. The detectives had done what they’d set out to do—upset the apple cart. Kane took out a business card and handed it to Barbara. He said, “Mrs. Kuklinski, when your husband comes home, please have him call me.”
The detectives turned and walked back to their car, got in it, and slowly left, knowing they’d be hearing from Richard Kuklinski soon.
“Tough lady,” Volkman said.
“Gotta be tough to be married to Rich,” Kane said.
Barbara was fit to be tied. These detectives had, she thought, purposely ruined the family’s Thanksgiving.
When Richard, still in the Hotel Zurich, heard how Kane and Volkman had harassed his wife, his precious Barbara, telling her he was suspected of killing people, murder, he was enraged. He punched holes in walls. He broke furniture. He got on the first flight back to the States. Now more than ever he wanted to kill Kane, had to kill him. He had no right talking to Barbara like that, telling her these disgusting things.
This year Thanksgiving in the Kuklinski home was quiet and somber. Richard barely talked, barely ate. He had grown noticeably pale. He was there at the head of the table but seemed to be somewhere else. No one could cheer him up, not even Merrick. A pall hung over the table. After the meal, he went up to his office, sat at his desk, and stared at Kane’s card. He had left Zurich in such a hurry, he hadn’t even gotten the check. This one was supposed to be for seven hundred thousand dollars.
He sat there fantasizing about killing Kane, cutting him up, shooting him, torturing him, hanging him, feeding him to rats. But those things were all luxuries he knew didn’t have. The only way to murder Kane and get away with it clean was with cyanide—a quick spray in his face as he was changing his tire. Hey, buddy, pssst—all over. Case closed. It would look like a natural death; he could get away with it.
Once Kane was gone, he reasoned, the case would fold on itself. No matter what Barbara Deppner and Percy House had said, it wasn’t enough to arrest him, Richard believed (correctly), or he would already have been arrested.
Richard called Kane and told him to stop coming around his home, that he had no right to do that, that if he wanted to talk with him he should let him know and he’d come over to the barracks with his attorney. Richard made it a point to be pleasant, not wanting to alarm Kane in any way. Kane said he understood and would do as Richard asked. He too was polite.
“Thank you,” Richard said, and hung up.
Kane had to go! But he had to get cyanide to pull that off…. His mind went back to Polifrone. As much as Richard believed Polifrone was a bunch of hot air, full of shit, maybe he really could get his hands on cyanide. If you knew the right person, it wasn’t actually that hard. Richard picked up the phone and beeped Polifrone.
Pleased, Polifrone called him back within the hour, and still another meeting was arranged at the Vince Lombardi Service Area. Richard also contacted Solimene and asked him if he knew where he could get some poison, “preferably cyanide,” he said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Solimene said.
December 6, a Saturday, was another cold gray day. The meeting was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. Because it was a Saturday morning, the rest stop was more crowded than usual. Polifrone was waiting for Richard at the bank of telephones, a prearranged spot. On time, Richard pulled up in his gleaming white Cadillac and stepped from the car wearing a blue silk shirt, a suit and tie, and a wool overcoat with a high collar. He looked sharp. Polifrone greeted him warmly. Bob Carroll and other task force members were watching from strategic locations around the rest stop. Carroll had carefully prepped Polifrone on what to say to get Richard to incriminate himself further. The first thing Polifrone did, as though he were Richard’s friend, was tell him that Kane and Volkman had stopped him coming out of the store and asked him a whole bunch of questions about Richard Kuklinski.
“What did you say?” Richard asked.
“Nothing. I told him I don’t know a fuckin’ thing about any fuckin’ body. A guy named Pat…”
“Kane.” Richard spit out the word. “He’s been up my ass since 1980. He don’t know shit. He’s got a couple of rats, but no one will believe their bullshit. If he had anything he’d have booked me already,” he said, and then he went on to describe how he’d gotten rid of Smith and Deppner, and how Percy House was a “pointer” (a rat).
Polifrone was both surprised and delighted, and wondered why Kuklinski was being so forthcoming. Either Kuklinski had a really big mouth (not likely), or he was planning to kill him. He believed it was the latter. Polifrone explained that he had gotten the cyanide and had called him a half dozen times to tell him.
“Great,” Richard said. “I could really use it now.”
“Yeah, well,” Polifrone said, “I brought it back to the guys I got it from. I didn’t wanna fuckin’ be driving around with that shit. But I can get it for ya.”
Richard was obviously pleased; he actually smiled. It was a chilling smile to see.
Now Polifrone again brought up the rich Jewish kid looking for coke. Richard said he was still interested; he’d bring his van, and they’d get the kid in the van, take his money, and kill him. Simple. He talked about murder, Polifrone noted, as if he were discussing the weather.
Ice Man was the perfect nickname for him, Polifrone was thinking.
If, Richard said, they wanted to make the body “disappear,” they could throw the corpse down some abandoned mine shafts he knew about. “They are so deep,” he said, “you don’t even hear them bounce.”
Ice-fuckin’-Man indeed, Polifrone thought. “Good, sounds good. What about his car? Should we leave it or get rid of it?” the agent asked.
“Either or. We could sell it for parts. I know a place—bam, bam, they cut it up and sell it for parts the same day.”
Polifrone asked questions about being able to fool the coroner if, in fact, they poisoned the rich kid and left him in his car, and incredibly, Richard said the ME would be fooled and went on to tell Polifrone how he had once frozen a victim, which had confused the ME. Polifrone knew he was talking about Louis Masgay. Bingo. Polifrone prayed the tape was recording all this; it was far more than they had ever hoped for.
Richard went on to describe, again, the best ways to administer the cyanide, said that putting it in food was much better, easier, and safer to administer. He talked too about retiring, getting out of “this dirty business.” He even said he had set some money aside, “out of the country,” he volunteered.
Why Richard was telling Polifrone all this was strange indeed…perplexing. Even if he was planning to kill him eventually, it didn’t make sense. He barely knew Polifrone, who now wanted to shake Richard’s hand and thank him for being so helpful. After an hour of Richard digging his own grave, the meeting ended. The two men agreed to meet again soon. Polifrone promised Richard the cyanide and said that he’d call him when he had the rich Jewish kid set up and the kid had the money. They shook hands. Richard got back into his shiny white Caddie and took off. Polifrone soon checked the tape. It had been working.
We got him by the balls, he thought, and soon he handed the Nagra tape recorder to Detective Paul Smith.