The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
Part V. HOMICIDE SUPERSTAR
The Quiet Before the Storm
Christmas was in the air. Barbara Kuklinski had her shopping list prepared, was buying and wrapping gifts. Most homes on the Kuklinski block had Christmas decorations up already. Barbara was feeling a little under the weather, but the prospect of Christmas cheered and motivated her.
Richard was talking to Remi several times a day. He was most often using stolen phone cards to make these calls. He believed, correctly, that his phones were tapped—thanks to Kane—and was careful about what he said. Remi kept saying that another check was “forthcoming.” Richard said he’d leave when Remi had it, that he didn’t want to sit around in Zurich waiting for it just right now. Richard made several trips to Jersey City and Hoboken, his old stomping grounds, trying to find someone who had access to cyanide; he wasn’t having much luck. He now thought seriously about just making Kane disappear, but that, he decided, would be worse than killing him because the cops wouldn’t rest until they knew what had happened to him. He thought too about giving Kane a flat, killing him with a blow to the head, then putting his head under the wheel and kicking the jack out of place, crushing his head and making it impossible to discern that a blow to the head had done him in. But he knew that to do such a thing he would need more privacy than the bar parking lot would afford.
Barbara was concerned about her husband. He had become more and more distant. He was not the same man anymore. He hadn’t lost his temper or raised his voice once for many weeks. Strange.
It was, she decided, the quiet before the storm. Something was brewing; something was in the air; she just didn’t know what it was. Rather than worry, she focused her energy on preparing for Christmas, shopping, buying gifts—spending money, one of her favorite pastimes.
Again, at Bob Carroll’s insistence, Polifrone contacted Richard and told him he had the coke buyer all set up; everything was “a go,” and the cyanide was forthcoming. Another meeting at the Lombardi rest stop was set up.
Richard’s reservations about Polifrone were outweighed by two considerations: getting his hands on cyanide to properly kill Pat Kane, and taking off this rich Jewish kid, keeping all the money, and finally getting rid of Polifrone and his bad wig once and for all. It all fit together perfectly. To some degree the fact that Polifrone had been laid-back, hadn’t chased Richard, made him believe Polifrone might very well get the cyanide; have access to a rich kid looking to buy coke: after all, coke was the in drug. Almost everyone was doing it, even mob guys, and all the hip, fancy people.
This third meeting between Richard and Polifrone took place on December 12. It had snowed a few days earlier, and the rest stop was pocked with mounds of dirty snow. Richard showed up on time, at 11:00 A.M.
Polifrone said: “Listen to this. The Jewish kid asked me if I can get him three kilos. I said yeah, of course. Eighty-five thousand, cash. Wednesday morning he’s coming. He’ll be here around nine fuckin’ thirty. Now here’s the thing. I’ll pick up the cyanide that morning from my guy.”
“Doesn’t give me enough time. I need a couple of days to get it ready.” Richard went on to describe how he had to have a chemist mix a special liquid—the DSMO—with the cyanide. That would take a few days. Such a thing couldn’t be rushed.
Polifrone, wanting to move this thing forward and finally have Richard arrested, suggested they instead give the coke buyer “an egg sandwich” and kill him that way. He went on to say the Jewish kid loved egg sandwiches, was always ordering them.
“But will the kid eat?” Richard asked.
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Then that’ll work.”
“Guaranteed. It’ll be an egg sandwich. Every time I meet this kid, he orders an egg sandwich. We’ll get him an egg sandwich.”
“We can do that. Do they sell egg sandwiches here? I don’t even know if they do.”
Polifrone took care of this by saying he’d bring the egg sandwich, and the vial of cyanide.
This should have set off alarms in Richard’s head—giving the coke buyer an egg sandwich Polifrone would bring—but it didn’t. He seemed to accept what Polifrone was laying down. For him, none of this really mattered, though: in his mind both Polifrone and the coke buyer were going to die. Simple. He’d shoot them both in the head with a .22 equipped with a silencer, the same type of weapon he had sold to Polifrone weeks earlier.
That evening there was still another meeting in the war room at the attorney general’s office. The task force sat around the large table listening to the most recent tape and debating how to bring the case to a close. The final act of this drama was about to unfold, they all knew, one way or another. The question was what was the best way to finally arrest Richard. Bob Carroll suggested that they use an apartment and get Kuklinski on film actually giving the coke buyer—Detective Paul Smith—the cyanide-laced egg sandwich.
Smith didn’t like this idea at all. “What if he just decides to pull out a gun and shoot me—and Dom?”
He had a point.
It was decided, therefore, that the final act would play out at the Lombardi rest stop.
Polifrone contacted Richard the following day. The deal would go down, it was agreed, on Wednesday, December 17. He would bring the coke buyer to the Lombardi stop. Richard said he’d get a van so they could get the kid in the van. Polifrone said he’d meet with Richard earlier and give him three egg sandwiches and a vial of cyanide (actually harmless white powder), which Richard would use to poison the coke buyer’s sandwich as he saw fit.
For Richard the sandwich had become irrelevant nonsense; as soon as the coke buyer and Polifrone were in the van, Richard was going to kill them. End of story. He planned to borrow a van from Jimmy DiVita, a small-time hustler from New London, Connecticut. He would take the bodies to Pennsylvania and dump them in an abandoned mine shaft.
To humor Polifrone and play out the sting, Richard agreed to meet him early Wednesday morning, December 17, to get the egg sandwiches and cyanide. The cyanide he’d use to kill Pat Kane. That was Richard’s plan.
With a Wiggle
It was December 17, 1986, a day that would live in infamy.
As usual, Richard was up early. He had coffee and toast and sat in the living room staring at the floor, wondering if he should go meet Polifrone or not. He had, he says, an uncomfortable feeling about this whole setup; but he decided he’d see how it went. After all, he reasoned, he’d put so much time into this thing already, he might as well see how it played out. He stood up, put on a waist-length black jacket, and headed out the door. Barbara wasn’t feeling well and was still in bed.
At 8:45 A.M., ATF Agent Dominick Polifrone was standing at the usual spot in front of the bank of the phones at the Lombardi rest stop. It was a bitterly cold day. Frigid winds tore across the rest area. People hurried to and from their cars to one of the six fast-food outlets. The sky was filled with churning, angry clouds that seemed at war with one another; traffic whizzed by; planes roared low overhead.
Polifrone had a white paper bag in his hand. It contained three egg sandwiches. In the pocket of his coat he had a thumb-sized glass vial, the supposed cyanide, which would be used to poison one of the sandwiches. Polifrone was armed to the teeth, wired up. Task-force detectives monitored his every move. Everyone was tense. This was it. This was D-day. This was the day it would go down. Everyone knew Richard was lethal—definitely armed, wouldn’t hesitate to kill. Polifrone looked forward to getting this done once and for all. He’d been on this cursed case now for nearly nineteen months. He was tired of it, tired of the bullshit, tired of the Ice Man task force, tired of walking on the edge. He stared at the access road and spotted Richard’s Oldsmobile Calais with Richard’s unmistakable, huge form behind the wheel.
“There he is,” he whispered, his words instantly transmitted to all the members of the task force. Pat Kane, Bob Carroll, Paul Smith, and Ron Donahue were hidden in a dark Chevy van with tinted windows and had a clear view of Polifrone.
Pat Kane could barely sleep the night before. All his effort, all his sweat and tears and sleepless nights, were finally paying off. He had never believed this day would come, but it was here. Richard Kuklinski would soon be behind bars, or dead. Those were the only two options. Bob Carroll had promised him that when the time came to arrest Kuklinski, he, Pat Kane, could do it—tell him he was under arrest and actually put the cuffs on him. This would be the highlight of Kane’s career, his life. As he lay in bed thinking about what would happen, he prayed—gave thanks for the help he was sure God had given him, given Polifrone and the task force, given Bob Carroll. Kane was sure God’s hand had played an integral role in all this, in all that would happen. Surely God, he believed, had provided Dominick Polifrone. As far as he was concerned, Richard Kuklinski was an instrument of Satan himself, and now, finally, he would be getting his due.
“How you doin’, Dom?” Richard asked as he approached.
“Good. I spoke to the kid last night. It’s all set. Here’s the sandwiches. I’ll go get him and be back in fifteen minutes.” Richard took the bag.
“You sure?” he asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” Polifrone assured. He didn’t like the way Richard was acting; he seemed distant…wary. “I’ll go get the kid and be back in fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. I’ll go get the van. It isn’t far from here. Just down the next exit. It’s just a ten-minute ride,” Richard said.
“What color is it, so I’ll know?”
“Now where are you gonna park it so I can bring him right there?”
“Right here. We might as well do it over here out of the way of everybody. I’ll be sitting in the driver’s seat. You can’t miss it.”
“Okay, I’m gonna bring him right into the back of the van to let him test the coke.”
Polifrone now took a small bag out of his jacket pocket. “Here’s the cyanide,” he said, amplifying the word “cyanide” loud and clear so it would certainly be recorded. Polifrone said there was enough of the deadly poison to kill a lot of people. He asked where Richard was going to get rid of the coke buyer’s body.
“I’m going to put it away for safekeeping,” he said, and laughed. It was an ice-cold laugh filled with malice, no mirth, his breath fogging in the cold. Richard now spotted the task force black van with the tinted windows. Something wasn’t right about it…was hinky, he would later explain.
“Let’s walk,” Richard said, and started across the lot, right to the van. They saw him coming; all quickly got down.
“Where you going?” Polifrone asked, concerned, his hand moving toward his piece.
“Just to walk a little,” Richard said. He got up to the van and actually looked inside. He couldn’t see anything. Now he started back toward his car, Polifrone following him, trying to get Richard to use the word “murder.” Richard opened his trunk and put the sandwiches inside, got in his car, and started the engine. He assured Polifrone he’d be back with the van, said it was two toned, light and dark blue. Richard’s plan was to come back in his car, and if the rich Jewish kid was there, he’d say the van wouldn’t start, the coke was in his warehouse, and they should follow him there. Once inside the warehouse, Richard would kill both Polifrone and the coke buyer. Richard had, in fact, tried to borrow a van the day before from Jimmy DiVita, but his van had too many windows. Anyway, the warehouse would be a better place to do the double homicide. Richard said he’d be back in twenty minutes. Polifrone said he’d be back with the coke buyer in exactly thirty minutes. Richard pulled away. As he went, he passed the bank of phones. In one was Deputy Chief Bob Buccino, making believe he was talking. He’d been listening to every word said. He had a nine-millimeter wrapped in a newspaper, was ready to blow Richard away. The chief truly hated Richard and was looking for an excuse to end it all right there, no long, expensive trial.
They could have arrested Richard there and then, but Bob Carroll wanted Richard to put the white powder on the sandwich and actually give it to Detective Paul Smith; that, he felt, would strengthen the case, tie Kuklinski directly to the murder of Gary Smith. When Richard returned they’d nail him “red-handed.” The parking lot was saturated with attorney general’s people and ATF and FBI agents, all ready to pounce, to bring down this serial killer who poisoned, shot, and stabbed people with impunity, as though he had some divine right.
Richard drove out of the rest stop. He went a half mile down the road, pulled over, put on plastic gloves, and carefully opened the vial. It didn’t look, he immediately thought, like cyanide. He ever so carefully sniffed the air—no distinct scent of almonds, the odor of cyanide.
This is fuckin’ bullshit! he thought, and sat there wondering what was up, more perplexed than anything else. He put the car back in gear and drove a ways, spotted a mangy dog sniffing around a group of garbage pails. He pulled into a restaurant, bought a hamburger, took it to the car, carefully—just in case—put some of the white powder on the burger, and walked over to the large rust-colored mutt. The dog smelled the meat, and his ears perked right up. Richard offered it the burger. With trepidation, as though he’d been tricked before, the dog took the burger and quickly gobbled it down as Richard curiously watched to see what would happen, his head tilted to the left with curiosity.
Happy, the dog moved off down the road, wagging its scrawny tail as it went.
Fucking liar! Richard thought. He didn’t yet know what the hell Polifrone was up to, but he wanted nothing more to do with it, whatever it was. He began thinking that Polifrone was maybe a contract killer who was, in fact, trying to set him up.
“Fuck ’im,” Richard said out loud, and drove to a phone booth and called Barbara to see how she felt. For the last two days her arthritis had been acting up, and she had a slight headache and a low-grade fever.
“I’m okay. I’m lying down,” she said.
“Would you like to go for breakfast?” he asked.
“Sure, I guess…okay.”
“I’m going to stop and pick up some things at the store and then come home.”
“Fine,” she said, and hung up. Richard drove over to the Grand Union and bought some groceries. As always, he bought more than was actually needed; one of Richard’s biggest pleasures in life was providing well for his family. He left the Grand Union with four big bags brimming with groceries, put them in the trunk, slid into his car, and slowly drove home, unaware of the gathering law-enforcement storm.
State detectives Tommy Trainer and Denny Cortez were watching the Kuklinski home that morning. That was their assignment. Every twenty minutes or so they cruised past the split-level Kuklinski residence. It was a damp, very chilly day. The sky was a mass of angry clouds the color of gunpowder. The promise of snow hung in the air. Christmas was just around the corner and all hell was about to break loose on this quiet Dumont street.
Close to 10:00 that morning Cortez and Trainer drove past the house and there was Richard in the driveway, taking the four bags of groceries from the car’s trunk.
Shocked to see him just suddenly there like that, not at the rest stop where he was supposed to be, they called the task force, who were equally shocked to learn that Richard was in Dumont. He obviously wasn’t planning on coming back to the Lombardi rest stop. Richard saw the two detectives cruise by, giving him the hairy eyeball. He wondered why they were staring so intently at him. He did not connect these men to Polifrone—kind of strange, given his suspicious nature.
Deputy Chief Bob Buccino was running the show that morning. He now ordered the strike force to go to Richard’s home and arrest Richard there, and they all started toward Dumont, over fifteen unmarked vehicles, sirens screaming, red lights frantically spinning. More than anything, Buccino wanted to avoid a shoot-out on the residential street. He assumed Richard had all kinds of heavy-duty weapons in the house—assault rifles with armor-piercing rounds, hand grenades, dynamite, God knew what else. Fearing Richard had contacts in the Dumont police force, Buccino did not tell the Dumont police what was about to happen, a courtesy normally given to the local cops when a big bust was about to go down.
Richard put the groceries on the kitchen counter and began to unpack and put them away. Barbara, feeling weak, a bit pale, only hoped she wasn’t sick for the holidays, the putting up of the tree, all the cooking, the joyful opening of presents. As she watched Richard stow the groceries, she thought about how kind and good he could be when he wanted to, how mean and sadistic he could be at other times. There were, she was thinking, more sure than ever, two Richards. She had married two men.
“Ready, Lady?” he asked.
“Ready,” she said.
By now Richard had forgotten about Polifrone. He had washed his hands of him, would never have anything to do with him again. He planned to call Phil Solimene after breakfast and tell him how Polifrone was full of shit, and ask why the fuck he would vouch for such a jive-ass blowhard. Richard used the bathroom. Barbara slowly slipped on a blue goose-down ski jacket Richard had recently bought her. It was nice and warm but had one of those zippers that went diagonally across the front, from left to right. The zipper often became stuck when she tried to close it, as it did now. She asked Richard to close it for her. She didn’t want to get a chill. Using his pliers-like grip, he easily managed to zip the jacket closed. As mean and violent as Richard could be to Barbara, he loved her dearly. She was the only woman he’d ever loved, and he held her in high esteem, thought the world of her.
“After we eat, I’m taking you to the doctor,” he said.
“That’s not necessary. I just need rest, Richard.”
“Yeah, well let the doctor take a look at you,” he insisted.
She didn’t answer. She was in no mood to argue. She just wanted a nice breakfast, scrambled eggs with bacon that had “a little wiggle,” as she put it, not too well done. They headed for the door. He opened it for her.
By now the strike force had reached Dumont and had gathered on the south end of Sunset Street just down the block. Deputy Chief Buccino, the detectives, and the agents were discussing what was the best way to take Richard down. As they spoke, one of the agents spotted Richard and Barbara leaving the house and getting in the car.
“He’s coming!” he shouted. “He’s with his wife!” he added.
They all hurried back to their vehicles and got ready to pounce.
Detective Pat Kane was pumped up. Now, finally, Richard was going down. All his work had paid off. This was it. The moment he’d been hoping for, praying for, was finally here.
Polifrone wasn’t there. He’d gone to the courthouse in Hackensack at Buccino’s request.
After Richard helped Barbara into the car, he got behind the wheel, started the car, and drove right toward the gathered strike force, completely unaware he was driving into the proverbial hornet’s nest and then some. Richard had a .25 automatic under the seat. The strike force was armed with machine guns and shotguns. As he slowly made his way south along the street where he had lived seventeen years, he spotted the strike-force vehicles haphazardly lined up.
“Something must’ve happened,” he said to Barbara—
Suddenly, all the vehicles surged forward and came barreling directly toward Richard and Barbara, no spinning red lights, no sirens.
“What the hell?!” Richard said.
“Watch out!” Barbara exclaimed.
At first Richard thought it was a hit, that he was going to get killed, that all he had done—or something he’d recently done—had finally caught up to him. He veered to the right. The car hit the curb. Agents and detectives burst from the vehicles and surrounded him. One jumped on the hood of the car and pointed a gun in combat position. Richard thought about reaching for the .25, but he was afraid, knowing many shots would surely be fired at him, at the car, and Barbara might get hit.
There was a cocked nine-millimeter pointed at his head—“Don’t fuckin’ move!” he was told. The car door was ripped open. Richard was roughly pulled from the car by Kane and men piled on him, trying to push him to the ground, trying to pin his massive arms behind his back so he could be handcuffed. Barbara’s door was torn open. Deputy Chief Buccino grabbed her and made her get on the ground, physically pushing her down. When Richard saw this, rage exploded inside his head.
“She has nothing to do with this, leave her; leave her be!” he yelled.
“Fuck yourself,” Buccino said, his animus showing, and he roughly pushed Barbara to the ground and put his boot on her back while she was cuffed.
“What are you doing?!” she asked. “Richard, help me!”
Richard went berserk. He got up and made for Buccino, intent on killing him, tearing him apart, not caring if he was shot dead trying.
Eight strike-force members were now fighting with him, struggling with him, wrestling with him, Pat Kane, Donahue, and Volkman among them, all of them amazed by Richard’s superhuman strength. Richard actually made it to the rear of the car, halfway to Buccino. Now the agents and cops lifted him up off the ground and slammed him to the hood of the car. It took four men to get his hands behind his back, but Kane couldn’t get the handcuffs on his wrists, they were so thick. He finally had to use leg irons to shackle Richard’s arms behind his back.
Richard was blind with rage at Barbara’s being manhandled, and even shackled with thick leg irons he resisted and still tried to get to Buccino.
“Calm down, calm down,” Kane told him. “It’s over, Rich, it’s over. You’re under arrest.”
“There’s no reason to involve her!” Richard bellowed. “She’s innocent. You know that!”
“It’s out of my hands,” Kane said.
Barbara was helped up and led to a van. The cops and troopers were still struggling to keep Richard from getting to Deputy Chief Buccino, who was ready to shoot Richard dead. Stunned, people on the block had called the Dumont police, and now two squad cars showed up.
All his life, throughout his long, sordid career in crime, Richard had always imagined he’d go out in a fierce gun battle to the death. He had, in fact, specifically planned that. He would much rather have been killed in a shoot-out than face the music, see the embarrassment, humiliation, and shame his family would surely suffer if who he really was were ever exposed. Of all things, Richard dreaded that—the humiliation of his cherished family. That’s all he cared about.
Now a mob of strike-force members boldly picked up Richard and put him in back of the black van. He was literally fit to be tied.
The Politics of Murder
Attorney General Al Smit, Bob Carroll’s boss, viewed the arrest of Richard Kuklinski as the absolute milestone of his career, and he wanted to get as much mileage out of it as possible. Knowing the arrest would go down today, he had ordered his office to contact the media so they’d be there in full force to cover the bust. The tagline the media was given was that lawmen were arresting “a serial killer who froze people, who killed with cyanide, guns, knives, and who also happened to be a mob hit man,” which, needless to say, caused a media stampede.
Al Smit had political aspirations. He was hoping for a shot at the governor’s office, and what better way to get there than this arrest, this media blitz? There is a long list of crime fighters turned politicians who rode well-publicized cases to higher office: the most obvious examples would be Rudy Giuliani using his prosecutions of Mafia bosses in the Southern District of New York to get himself elected mayor of New York, and Thomas E. Dewey using his highly publicized prosecution of Lucky Luciano to become the governor of New York State.
When, that morning, Richard was on the way to the Hackensack courthouse to be arrested, booked, photographed, and fingerprinted, a call came in that the press was lined up outside the courtroom and Kuklinski should look “presentable for media consumption.” With that the van pulled over, and five detectives helped Richard get out, made sure he didn’t look too messed up, and put him in the back of a black detective’s car. He had calmed down somewhat but was still pissed off that Barbara had been roughed up. He didn’t give a flying fuck what they did to him, but to abuse Barbara, throw her down and cuff her, was unthinkable, unspeakable, an infamy. Until he killed Buccino, he would not rest. If he died doing it he didn’t care; so be it.
“You know my wife is innocent; you know my wife didn’t do anything,” he kept saying, almost more to himself than to any of the detectives in the car, one of whom was Pat Kane.
“Nobody hurt her; calm down, Rich. Calm down,” Kane said.
“She’s sick. There was no reason to treat her like that—no reason!”
Instead of driving the car directly up to the entrance, they parked a good thirty feet away so Richard would have to walk the distance, giving the mob of wide-eyed, stunned reporters, producers, and cameramen a good look at this giant serial killer who killed and froze human beings. Richard did not try to hide his anger; he huffed and puffed and grumbled, seeming as if he might explode into a homicidal rage at any moment.
“How many people did you kill?” a reporter asked.
“Did you really freeze people—how many?” another begged.
“These cops,” Richard growled, his face a twisted mask of barely contained fury, “have seen too many movies.”
Inside, Richard was brought up to a holding area, still bellowing about Barbara’s treatment. That’s all he cared about. On the way to a holding cell, he spotted a bewildered, frightened Barbara sitting in the homicide squad room. She was still cuffed, crying, upset. How could she not be?
“Get those fucking cuffs off her!” he demanded. “She knows nothing, she’s innocent!” He tried to snap the thick chains holding his massive hands behind his back.
“Get those fuckin’ cuffs off her!” he roared so loudly that the reporters heard him all the way outside, the walls reverberating with his angry words. It took a half dozen detectives to wrestle him into the holding cell. Normally, the cuffs are removed from a prisoner at this point, but no one was taking the cuffs off Richard. It was obvious he’d kill anyone he could get his hands on.
Now, like a crazed beast suddenly plucked from a dangerous jungle, Richard paced his cell, cursing every cop he saw, taunting them, daring them to take the shackles off of him.
“I will kill you motherfuckers—I’ll kill you all, you motherfuckers!” he roared.
Back in Dumont an army of police personnel armed with warrants flooded the Kuklinski home. They were sure they’d find a huge trove of weapons, the freezer Richard used to freeze his victims; but they found no arms, no freezer—nothing illegal at all.
That night every six o’clock news show across America reported the arrest of Richard Kuklinski. He was big news. The hot leadoff story. Based on what the police told the media, anchormen and anchorwomen in turn told America that Richard had killed five people—naming George Malliband, Louis Masgay, Paul Hoffman, Gary Smith, and Danny Deppner—that he used cyanide to kill, and that he froze some of his victims to confuse the police as to the time of death, hence the moniker: Ice Man.
Aghast at the thought of such a thing, America watched him being led into the rear of the courthouse, his face twisted into a snarl—over and over again across the country.
The following day the story was reported in sensational large print on the front pages of New York’s three major newspapers—the Post, the Daily News, and the venerable New York Times. The police had given Richard the perfect nickname. “The Ice Man” was evil and sinister and simple all at the same time, ideal for headlines and taglines for opening news reports. From the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between, America heard about the diabolical machinations of the Ice Man, a contract killer like no other. He killed for fun and he killed for the mob. When the media realized that the Ice Man was married with children, reporters and news trucks swarmed Sunset Street in Dumont, trying to get interviews with the Kuklinskis’ shocked neighbors, with the Kuklinski children. Richard’s worst fear had come true in bold living color.
Barbara was released on her own recognizance, but the police charged her with possession of the .25 auto they found under the seat of her car. The police, of course, knew the gun was not Barbara’s, but they filed charges against her, thinking they could use that as leverage against Richard down the road, which is exactly what they did. When Barbara arrived home, her hands were still trembling. A mob of reporters surrounded her. She had to fight her way through them to get inside.
When Richard was finally allowed to make his mandatory phone call, he phoned Phil Solimene.
“Hey, Philly, how you doin’?” Richard asked, his voice dripping with syrupy disdain.
“Rich?” Solimene said, shocked. “What happened—where are you?”
“I just got off Route 80. I’m coming to see you,” Richard said, and hung up.
Solimene ran from the store as if his ass were on fire, his face filled with fear and panic and dread.
Pat Kane was finally at peace. He had done what he’d set out to do. It had taken nearly six years, but he had prevailed. All his hard work and diligence had paid off. Richard Kuklinski was in a cage where he belonged. Though there was still much to do, that night Pat Kane slept like a baby, his wife in his arms.
Life was good.
Life held much promise.
Kane had caught the cunning, very dangerous muskie.
The State of New Jersey v. Richard Leonard Kuklinski
On December 18 Richard appeared in New Jersey Superior Court, in front of Judge Peter Riolina, and was officially charged with nineteen felony offenses. Here for the first time Richard saw his nemesis—Deputy Attorney General Bob Carroll—and Richard did not like what he saw. It was obvious that Carroll knew the facts and details backward and forward, that he had planned and orchestrated Richard’s arrest, and that he would be trying the state’s case. Richard was now formally charged with the murders of Masgay, Malliband, Hoffman, Smith, and Deppner.
After the brief proceeding, Richard was brought back to a cell at the courthouse jail. It would be here that he would wait while the wheels of justice slowly, inexorably turned and the case was adjudicated.
When Barbara heard what the charges were against her husband she was apalled; she didn’t believe them. Daughter Chris wasn’t surprised at all. She felt, in fact, that her father was absolutely capable of what the police were saying. Richard’s son, Dwayne, now eighteen, also felt his father immanently capable of what the police were alleging. For the longest time, Dwayne had felt that sooner or later he would have some kind of life-and-death struggle with his father, and now Dwayne realized that such a confrontation would surely have ended with his being killed.
More than anyone else, Dwayne felt the stigma of being Richard’s son, a Kuklinski. By now both Chris and Merrick were out of school, but Dwayne was still attending school, and he saw the strange, curious stares, the pointing, heard the whispering. Richard’s favorite, Merrick, also wasn’t surprised at what the police said her dad had done, but still she was hurt and deeply troubled that her dad was in jail. No matter what he’d done, what heinous crimes the police said he’d committed, he was innocent until proved guilty. Merrick would love him and support him and be there 10,000 percent for him to the end.
When Richard learned that Dominick Polifrone was a plant, an ATF agent, and that he had taped most of their conversations, he knew he was dead in the water. Unless some kind of miracle happened, he’d never get out of jail, never see the light of day, would more than likely get a death sentence. He was so angry with himself, how stupid and gullible he’d been, that he couldn’t even look at himself in a mirror without getting angry and calling himself names: You idiot, you fool, what the fuck were you thinking? he said over and over again.
He paced his cell. He silently cursed heaven and hell, the world and everyone in it.
Richard often thought about killing Deputy Chief Bob Buccino, how he would torture him and make him suffer. Oh, how he wanted to see Buccino suffer, see the rats feed on him. He believed that Kane and Polifrone were, for the most part, just doing their jobs, but Buccino was another story. The way he had treated Barbara was, he believed, totally uncalled for, was bullylike, and he hated the man with a fiery-burning passion. Even now, so many years later, Richard gets angry, his face pales, his lips twist, when he thinks of Deputy Chief Buccino. I don’t know, he recently said, if the prick is still alive or dead, but if he died I hope it was a painful death. I hope he died of cancer of the asshole.
Shortly after his arrest, Richard decided not even to try to mount any kind of viable defense. His was a hopeless case; once a jury heard him talking, burying himself, he’d get convicted. The only question was whether he would get the death sentence or life in jail. Either way, it didn’t matter. He had fucked up big-time and he knew it, accepted it, didn’t try to blame someone else. Yes, of course, his “friend” Phil Solimene had set him up, but he should have sensed something was up, smelled it in the wind, seen the handwriting on the wall. Richard had never been trusting or easily fooled, yet he had walked into the carefully laid trap, he says, like a wide-eyed schoolkid with no sense at all.
Because of all the extraordinary media coverage of the case, the jury pool, he knew, was irreversibly tainted, and he had less chance than a snowball in hell. Also because of all the media attention he’d gotten, Richard was by far the most notorious prisoner in the county jail. One of his fellow prisoners began taunting him and teasing him everytime he passed his cell. “Ice Man my ass,” he said. “You ain’t shit; you ain’t so tough.” Richard just smiled, knowing sooner or later he’d get his hands on this guy. He was in a foul, homicidal mood, looking to kill someone, anyone. Murder would be like an aspirin for a headache.
Barbara was, in a sense, relieved that Richard was finally out of the house. For the first time since she’d married Richard, she knew a new kind of peace and tranquillity, she explained. For weeks after Richard’s arrest reporters hounded her and her children, but they were coming around less and less, thank God.
Pat Kane woke up every day with a smile on his face. He had done it. It had been a long, bumpy road but he’d done it.
He was ten feet tall.
It Was Due to Business
Thirteen months after Richard’s arrest, on January 25, 1988, his trial began for the murders of Gary Smith and Danny Deppner. The state had decided to have two trials; the second trial would be for the murders of George Malliband and Louis Masgay. Bob Carroll had decided not to try Richard for the murder of Paul Hoffman, because without Mr. Hoffman’s body, the case would be difficult to prove, so for now, he dropped it.
A young lawyer with the public defender’s office, Neal Frank, became Richard’s attorney. Richard was claiming to be indigent, and the state was forced to provide him with counsel. Perhaps out of lack of experience or naïveté, Neal Frank felt there was a fighting chance and told both Richard and Barbara that. But Richard knew better. He didn’t feel he had any chance at walking.
Barbara, however, believed Frank, believed that Richard would beat the charges and come home. She was torn about his return. On the one hand, she was finally free of him, not subjected to his volatile mood swings, his duality, his sudden, extraordinary violence. On the other, she missed the good Richard.
Still, she quickly got used to sleeping alone and liked it, she says.
Neal Frank told Barbara that she and the family should show up in court, to let the jury see them. It was important for the jury to know that Richard had a loving, supportive family. They had to see that Richard wasn’t the diabolical serial killer the press had consistently portrayed him as. This, the Ice Man story, had by now appeared on hundreds of front pages across New Jersey, indeed across the country.
The presiding judge was a stern, forbidding individual who wore granny glasses, slicked his sparse gray hair back, and was known as the “Time Machine” because he had a tendency to mete out the harshest sentences the law provided. His name was Fred Kuchenmeister, and he regularly showed open disdain for defendants. In his court defense lawyers claimed that you were guilty until you proved yourself innocent.
By the time jury selection was completed and the trial actually began, it was February 17. Finding a fair-minded jury had been, for Neal Frank, a Herculean task with all the media attention, but Frank felt he had managed to secure a reasonable jury that would listen to the case with “an open mind.”
Bob Carroll first presented an extremely well-put-together case, tight as a wet drum. Carroll, with co-counsel Charley Waldron, a tall, gray-haired man who knew well his way around a courtroom, put a series of witnesses on the stand, beginning with Barbara Deppner. Also up were Percy House, Richard Peterson, Pat Kane, two pathologists, Deputy Chief Bob Buccino, Jimmy DiVita, Gary Smith’s wife, and Veronica Cisek. Carroll even put on the stand Darlene Pecorato, a stewardess that had rented Richie Peterson’s apartment after he moved out. This was the place where Danny Deppner had been shot in the head by Richard, and Pecorato told about the bloodstained rug when she moved in, and Paul Smith then told how he had discovered bloodstains in the wood floor under the rug. And finally Dominick Polifrone took the stand. When Dominick walked in front of Richard, Richard said, “Hey, Dom, how you doin’?” actually smiling. Dominick was still, to Richard’s amazement, wearing that terrible wig.
Now the jury heard Richard’s own words, words that clearly opened the door wide, everyone knew, to convict Richard. Neal Frank tried to make the jury believe Richard had only been bragging, but this was a hard sell and everyone knew it.
All through the fast-moving proceedings, Barbara Kuklinski didn’t believe what the state was contending until she heard her husband readily admitting to killing people with guns, knives, and cyanide. Until she heard him say that he had frozen a man to confuse the police, she still thought that he had been framed. When she heard Richard tell Agent Polifrone what he had done and how he had done it, she was stunned to numb silence. She had always known Richard to be exceedingly tight-lipped. She hadn’t been able to get anything out of his mouth with a crowbar since she met him twenty-six years before; yet here he was admitting to a cop all that he’d done, how he’d done it, even when and where.
Barbara wanted to run from the courtroom. She had no idea, she realized as if she’d been struck by lightning, whom she’d really been married to for so many years. She felt fooled and duped; she felt like an out-of-touch idiot. She wanted to stand up and yell at him, How could you?! How could you?! But she sat there still like stone, her mouth slightly agape, listening to her husband admit to murder as if he were talking about feeding the ducks or the color of the tie he should wear.
Numb, she left the courtroom, sure Richard would never get out of jail, never be free, shaking her head in dismay. I was married, she recently explained, to a monster and didn’t know it. I mean, I knew he had a bad temper, could be violent, but I had no idea of who he really was and what he was really about. I felt…I felt like I’d been hit by a lightning bolt…was all burned and in shock.
Now, for the first time, Barbara knew whom she had married, whom she’d had three children with. Her head spun with the incomprehensible reality of it all.
My God, she kept saying to herself. My God, suddenly feeling very old and all beaten up.
While Richard had been incarcerated, Merrick had wed her boyfriend Mark (it disturbed Richard to no end that he could not walk Merrick down the aisle). She had a baby, and Merrick religiously showed up in court carrying the child, a boy she named Sean. Neal Frank said it might make the jury “more sympathetic,” if such a thing was possible, but Barbara thought that a real long shot. No jury anywhere would show sympathy, she was sure, to her husband. She could clearly see in the jurors’ eyes the absolute fear they had of Richard. After Barbara heard the tapes she knew Richard would never get out of jail.
After four weeks of carefully orchestrated, damaging testimony, then the summations of Carroll and Frank, and the judge’s charge, the jury began deliberations.
At Richard’s request, Frank did not put on any defense at all. Richard refused to take the stand. He knew, he says, that testifying would only open a can of worms. I got on that stand, he recently said, Carroll would have torn into me—given me a second asshole.
Richard was sick and tired of it all. He knew the inevitable outcome and just wanted to get it over with. It took the jury a mere four hours to find Richard guilty on all counts. They did not, however, recommend a death sentence, to Richard’s surprise. That is what he’d been expecting all along, was ready for. This came about because there had been no eyewitnesses to the murders of Deppner and Smith.
Neal Frank had, he felt, achieved his goal—he had saved Richard’s life. Now, Richard knew, he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, which for him was far worse than any death sentence. For the first time since he’d been a young boy back in Jersey City, he would have to do as he was told, abide by the strict rules and regulations set down by the state, like everyone else. For him this was anathema.
After the trial, Neal Frank, a tall, handsome man with his hair combed to the left, entered into extended negotiations with Bob Carroll and the attorney general’s office. At issue were the charges of a gun against Barbara, and some marijuana-possession charges lodged against Dwayne Kuklinski. Dwayne had been driving some friends home from a party, and a state trooper pulled him over. When the trooper realized Dwayne was Richard Kuklinski’s son, he made Dwayne and his three friends get out of the car, and the trooper found a small amount of marijuana on one of the boys and, incredibly, charged Dwayne with possession, not the boy who actually had it.
To get these charges dismissed against Barbara and his son, Richard readily agreed to plead guilty to the murder of George Malliband and Louis Masgay. He already knew that he’d spend the rest of his life in prison, and by now he wanted to get it the hell over with, wanted his family to get on with their lives.
On May 25, 1988, Richard again appeared before Judge Kuchenmeister. As agreed, he pleaded guilty to the murders of George Malliband and Louis Masgay. When asked by the judge why he had killed Malliband, Richard said, “It was—it was due to business.” Richard now had Frank read in open court a short statement in which Richard apologized to his family—no one else—for what he had put them through. The judge proceeded to give Richard two life sentences—one for the murders of Smith and Deppner, the second for the killings of Masgay and Malliband.
Unrepentant, his head high, his shoulders back, defiant, projecting an air of power and invincibility, of fuck you, Richard was led from the courtroom and taken to the place where he would spend the rest of his life, Trenton State Prison, in Trenton, New Jersey. Coincidentally, Richard’s brother, Joseph, also serving a life sentence for the murder of Pamela Dial, was still housed in the same facility. Stanley and Anna had produced two murderers, and both of them ended up in the same facility with life sentences.
Every newspaper in New Jersey and New York had a front-page story about Richard’s sentencing, with photos of him and grisly summations of his crimes.
The sad, violent story of Richard Kuklinski was over and done with…it appeared.
But the story of Richard’s life, what had been done to him, what he’d done, was only just beginning.
It’s Not TV, It’s HBO
An aspiring film producer named George Samuels learned about the extraordinary case of Richard Kuklinski from a friend in the New Jersey attorney general’s office. Thinking he might be able to get HBO interested in doing a documentary based on Richard’s crimes, Samuels approached Richard’s attorney, Neal Frank, who listened to what he said and ultimately put him in touch with Barbara.
Because Barbara had grown fond of Frank and trusted him, she agreed to meet Samuels and listen to him. Samuels, a short, balding, fast-talking individual, made all kinds of promises to her, and Barbara agreed to be interviewed on camera, tell about some of her life with the now infamous Ice Man.
The problem with Samuels was that he was duplicitous and was also acting as a shill for the attorney general’s office. The authorities believed that Richard had, in fact, committed many more crimes than what they’d nailed him for (how true!) and were hoping Samuels could get Richard to agree to talk about murders they knew nothing of. Richard had nothing to lose, they reasoned; maybe, they hoped, he’d open up and clear some unsolved killings.
By now Richard had already been in jail for four years. For the most part he had learned to accept his fate. He minded his own business, adopted a live-and-let-live policy. In truth, both inside and out, Richard was as tough as rusted railroad spikes. He knew the only way the state could truly punish him was if he allowed his incarceration to bother him, so he wouldn’t allow that to happen.
What did trouble him—deeply—was the loss of his beloved family…his Barbara. His Lady. For the most part he didn’t allow himself to think about them, but when he did, it got to him. He’d sit on his cell bunk and cry. He never did this in front of anyone. Knowing that he would die in jail, only be taken out dead, he suggested to Barbara that they get divorced. This was very hard for him, one of the most difficult things he’d ever done, but he wanted Barbara to get on with her life, he says, and with the help of the Social Services Division at Trenton State Prison, Richard divorced Barbara; it was a terribly painful milestone for him, but he stoically signed the papers and didn’t allow himself to think about it, to think of Barbara with another man. Richard had always had an amazing ability to compartmentalize his emotions, and he did that now. Still, he loved Barbara more than ever. He wrote her letters every single day. He poured out his heart to her. He told her how much he loved her; he told her how much he missed her; he told her over and over how sorry he was.
Barbara rarely wrote him back. He was, she had come to believe, “a monster.” A monster that had fooled her and duped her and used her.
Richard’s cell at Trenton State’s maximum-security facility is six by eight feet, far too small for a man his size, but he has become used to it, he says. In it there is a toilet bowl, a metal bunk bed bolted to the steel wall, on which is a thin mattress, and a sink; that’s it. He has a small television and can listen to the radio with earphones when he pleases. He doesn’t pace his cell anymore, look at himself in the mirror and curse at what he sees. He has accepted his lot in life, his destiny.
Strangely, Richard seems to have thrived in prison. He has never looked better. He grew a thick salt-and-pepper vandyke, is robust and strong, and moves about as if he owns the place, with a bounce in every step. Everyone knows who he is, prisoners and guards alike, and everyone gives him a wide berth. He secured a job in the prison law library, gives out books and checks books in. The routine in all state prisons across the country is always the same. That routine is an essential part of a successful prison—to teach the inmates that there is a preordained schedule, a mandated regimen which they have to adhere to. Breakfast is served at 6:30 A.M., lunch at 11:30, dinner at 4:30 P.M. Prisoners with jobs are allowed to leave their cells to go to work. In the beginning Richard wanted nothing to do with a job, but he quickly came to realize he couldn’t just sit in his cell, stew, and rot, and so he decided to make the best of the situation.
Prisons are notoriously dangerous places, but hardly anyone wants to tangle with the Ice Man. Richard has grown to like his nickname; he feels it quite appropriate, for he really is like ice, he knows. Since he was a teenager he could kill a human being or torture animals and never think twice about it. He still doesn’t know if he was born that way or was made that way, but he knows he is very different from other people, and he likes that. He is proud of it.
Richard still thinks about his father, still regrets not killing him. If any one factor contributed to his becoming the Ice Man, Richard believes, it was surely Stanley Kuklinski. I’m not blaming anyone for anything, but he made me a mean son of a bitch, I can tell you that.
Richard’s brother Joseph slipped deeply into mental illness. By the time Richard arrived, he’d been in prison some eighteen years. He constantly talked to himself, regularly told other inmates and even guards about the girl he killed. He was proud of it. Most of his teeth had fallen out. He had to be forced to bathe and shower. When he did shower, he kept his clothes on. Over the years he had married several men in prison, and he’d had to have operations on his rectum because he’d been sodomized so often, so roughly.
Richard had absolutely nothing to do with his brother. He never forgot what Joseph had done and still held it against him. Once in a while they passed each other, and Richard acted like he were invisible, looked right through him as if he were a glass of water. Joseph had to be kept in the Special Care Unit. He captured roaches, Trenton Prison guard Silverstein recently explained, dried them, crushed them up, mixed them with sawdust and pencil shavings, and smoked them in rolled-up toilet paper. Joseph told Silverstein that he was married to the child he killed, that she had been his wife. When a parole officer came to see Joseph to talk about his release, he pulled down his pants and mooned the parole officer. Joseph did not want to leave prison; he wanted to die in jail, and that came to pass in the winter of 2003. When Richard heard his brother was dead, he was glad. He still thought of his brother as a rapist, a killer of children, and had no use for him. In life or in death, he recently said.
Richard still passionately hates rapists. The first time he had a problem at Trenton State it was because a fellow inmate in his section was a convicted rapist, and Richard told the man to stay the hell away from him, that if he came near him he’d “break every bone in your miserable fucking body!”
To be threatened by Richard is a frightening, disconcerting experience. The rapist ran to a guard and told him what Richard had said, and Richard was punished—put in solitary for a while. He didn’t mind. Nothing bothers him. He has truly become an Ice Man. When he was returned to the section, the rapist was gone, moved to another section. Lucky for him.
Richard agreed to be interviewed by Samuels on camera. Because Samuels was working as an agent for the attorney general’s office (unbeknownst to Richard), he was given unencumbered access to Richard at the prison.
Samuels had never interviewed a stone-cold killer the likes of Richard, and he was out of his element, in over his head. Richard didn’t like him from the moment he set eyes on him. Richard felt he was condescending, supercilious, and judgmental.
Samuels had the camera focus tightly on Richard’s disconcerting face and began asking him questions about his crimes, about murder. Oddly, when one looks at this footage, Richard appears fit as a fiddle, healthy, with good color, rested and relaxed. He looks better now, in fact, than when he was sent away. He looks like he’s been at a country club playing golf, certainly not in an austere maximum-security prison. When recently asked about this he said it was because of his attitude.
I am not, he said, going to let them beat me. Never.
Reluctantly, over several days of interviews—all on camera—Richard talked about murder. However, it soon became obvious to him that New Jersey State detectives were in a nearby room, watching on a small monitor and listening to what was being said, even giving Samuels questions to ask (Richard saw a second cable running from the camera under a closed door), and this really pissed him off. He had known what he was saying was for public consumption; what angered him was that Samuels didn’t tell him there were detectives eavesdropping and feeding him questions. Samuels was trying to hustle Richard, fool him, and Richard’s anger was becoming more and more evident. His lips began twisting off to the left. His face became stonelike. He wanted to throttle Samuels, break his neck, kill him, but he forced himself to stay calm, and gave Samuels, for the most part, what he wanted. Samuels had no idea how close he came to being killed by Richard. Richard told about these new murders because he had nothing to lose, he says.
Samuels then interviewed Barbara. This was done at the pond in Demarest where she and Richard used to go and feed the ducks. She did not like being on camera, was uncomfortable talking about her relationship with Richard, but she did it. She told how kind, considerate, and excessively romantic he had been, said that she’d had no idea of the violence he was committing. She said, “What he’d done is against God and man and I still have a real hard time reconciling it.”
Samuels managed to get Pat Kane, Dominick Polifrone, and Bob Carroll to promise interviews. Then, using the many front-page stories about Richard and several New York Times articles, Samuels managed to secure an appointment with Sheila Nevins, the head of HBO’s documentary division.
Nevins watched Richard’s interviews and immediately saw how unique and promising he was, and she gave Samuels a development deal and attached HBO producer Gaby Monet to the project.
Gaby Monet was a professional documentary filmmaker with a list of acclaimed pieces to her credit. She sat down with Samuels and listened to what he had, and together they put together the “look” of the story and went out into the field and interviewed Bob Carroll, Dominick Polifrone, Pat Kane, and medical examiner Michael Baden (who testified for the prosecution at Richard’s trial); using these interviews and a series of carefully put-together reenactments, Gaby Monet took the footage into an editing room and worked day and night for weeks and put together a gripping, compelling documentary called The Ice Man Tapes: Conversations with a Killer.
When HBO big shots saw what Gaby Monet had done, they were thrilled. It was riveting and compelling and very original. It gave everyone who saw it chills. What made Conversations with a Killer so compelling was the matter-of-fact, truthful way Richard told about the violence and murders he had committed. He didn’t brag or boast; he wasn’t proud of what he’d done. He just told it as it was—the way he saw it and felt it and what had happened—in a calm, detached voice, the camera tight on his face, cold like ice. However, at the end of the piece, when Richard talked about his family, emotion welled up and he struggled to hold back tears. “I hurt the only people in the world that ever meant anything to me,” he said in a strained voice, tears in his leather-colored eyes. This was a part of the Ice Man never seen before. HBO got behind the project and advertised it, and it was aired for the first time in November of 1999.
Overnight, Richard Kuklinski became a homicide superstar. He had told only a very small part of what he’d actually done, but that small part was enough to make Americans stand up and take notice. Conversations with a Killer was critically acclaimed and received overwhelming feedback. The New York Times praised it for “its chilling originality.”
Suddenly, Richard Kuklinski of Jersey City had a distinguished place in the homicide hall of fame. Mail poured into HBO from the public, mostly praising Conversations with a Killer, though some people demanded to know why HBO was “lionizing a cold-blooded killer.”
Gaby Monet’s answer was that Richard Kuklinski was so unique, spoke about violence and murder with such candid sincerity and authority, that it would be, in a sense, a public disservice not to let the world get a glimpse into his life.
Richard received thousands of letters at the prison, from murder groupies, criminalists, and forensic doctors, reporters and news producers. Suddenly, everyone wanted to talk to the Ice Man. Geraldo Rivera went to the prison to interview Richard; Richard refused to see him. Oprah Winfrey tried to get him to appear on her show; Richard refused. He also received, oddly enough (especially to him), many love letters from scores of women from around the world who wanted to have relations with him. Many women even sent photographs of themselves to him. In some of these the women were buck naked, boldly exposing all their charms. Richard was disgusted by these. He immediately threw them away. He recently explained: Any woman that puts a naked photograph in a letter to a stranger is a pig.
Richard didn’t seem to realize that to these women he was no stranger, because he’d been so honest and candid in Conversations with a Killer. He was the ultimate “bad boy,” thus, to some, the ultimate aphrodisiac. Go figure.
One of them had her legs open so wide, you could see her tonsils, he recently said, making a face.
Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man
The Ice Man Tapes: Conversations with a Killer was such an overwhelming success that Sheila Nevins and HBO decided to do a second sixty-minute documentary featuring Richard. This time George Samuels would have nothing to do with it. In fact, Richard refused to even be in the same room with him.
By now Gaby Monet, an intense dark-haired woman with wise, contemplative eyes, had grown quite fond of Richard. They had had many phone conversations since the first piece aired, and Gaby had come to view Richard as an incredibly interesting man who had a lot to say about a subject few people knew as well as he did: murder. He was, in a sense, the Einstein of murder.
Thus, the second set of interviews, now with Gaby Monet asking the questions, was done at the Trenton State Prison. This time, without the assistance of the attorney general’s office, it wasn’t so easy to get a film crew into the prison, but HBO managed to pull some strings, and Gaby Monet sat down and over a six-day period did a second, much more revealing, candid series of interviews with Richard.
This second documentary was entitled The Ice Man: Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man, and in it Richard was far more relaxed and forthcoming, and for the first time told the world about some of the mob-related murders he had committed. The stress and strain he had when Samuels was asking the questions were gone, and a calm, even demure Richard described the shotgun murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro. This was an earthshaking revelation. Richard said that at the time of the killing he didn’t know Calabro was a cop (which was true). “But,” he added, “I would’ve done it anyway.”
Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man was aired December of 2001, and again was greeted with both scorn and praise. For the most part it was received well, though some critics wondered if the public should really be subjected to the dark musings of a stone-cold killer; as one reviewer put it: “Some things are better left unsaid.”
Be that as it may, Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man’s rating went through the roof. It was one of the most-watched shows HBO ever aired. Again, mail poured into HBO, praising the network’s courage for bringing a person like Richard from the dark into the light. Hundreds of pieces of mail arrived at Richard’s cell every week. Even more women wrote him, sent him photographs, asked if they could meet with him.
Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man was such an overwhelming success that the powers that be at HBO decided to do still another documentary featuring Richard. This was unprecedented—no killer in the history of television had ever received this kind of attention—but HBO felt Richard was so unique, so colorful and three-dimensional, so scary, that a third documentary was warranted. This one would feature Richard talking with a forensic psychiatrist and would logically enough be called The Ice Man and the Psychiatrist. HBO hired noted psychiatrist Park Dietz to do the interview with Richard.
Now, however, the New Jersey attorney general’s office had suddenly become interested in Richard Kuklinski again. Detective Peter Calabro was, after all, murdered in New Jersey, and detectives from the attorney general’s office were dispatched to the Trenton State Prison to talk with Richard to see what they could find out.
Detective Robert Anzalotti was a nice-looking, baby-faced young man who, coincidentally, had gone to school with Richard’s son, Dwayne. Anzalotti was a tenacious investigator, but he had a nice way about him, was easy to talk to, never took himself too seriously. Married with two young children, Robert Anzalotti was sent to the prison to see if he could get Richard to tell who had ordered the Calabro hit. Anzalotti’s partner was Mark Bennul, a quiet, introspective Asian American who said little but missed nothing.
When the two detectives showed up at the prison, Richard refused to see them. At this point he wanted nothing to do with cops, especially cops for the attorney general’s office. He was surprised that the police hadn’t come around asking questions sooner. He told the prison guard that came to get him to tell the two detectives to contact his lawyer, Neal Frank, which they promptly did, and Detective Anzalotti told Frank that they wanted to discuss the murder of Peter Calabro; Frank relayed this request to Richard by phone.
“Should I talk to them?” Richard asked Frank.
“It’s up to you, Rich. It’s your call.”
Curious, Richard agreed to see them, and thus a whole new can of worms was opened, and that can of worms was one Sammy “the Bull” Gravano.
By now Richard was the most famous prisoner at Trenton State, indeed in any prison anywhere. Everyone, including the guards, had taken to calling him Ice Man, which he liked. Richard also liked his newfound celebrity. He felt he was finally getting just recognition for the “unusual” man he truly was.
In truth, Richard had become one of the most infamous killers of modern times, thanks to the HBO specials. HBO had aired the pieces they’d done on Richard several times every month, and more and more people were stunned, shocked, and horrified—yet always intrigued—by Richard’s chilling words and chilling demeanor. Now many millions of people across America saw and heard and knew about Richard Kuklinski. His crimes, what he said, were becoming legendary. People around the world were watching Richard, for HBO is aired all over Europe, and in parts of Asia and South America.
Richard Kuklinski, in a sense, became the Mick Jagger of murder.
The Ice Man Versus Sammy the Bull
When Richard first sat down with Anzalotti and Bennul, he was quiet and standoffish. But Rob Anzalotti had a very likable way about him. His boyish face and youth were disarming, and when Anzalotti told Richard that he had been a schoolmate of Dwayne’s, that they had been in the same class, Richard warmed up to him. Richard recently explained, I wasn’t going to tell them a fuckin’ thing, but when I found out Anzalotti went to school with my son, I kind of saw him like my son. I…I took a shine to him and I told him about the Calabro hit.
Stunned, the two detectives sat and listened to how Peter Calabro was murdered on that cold, snowy February night. Anzalotti already had the file on the case, and it was immediately obvious that Richard knew facts and details that only the killer could have known. When Anzalotti asked Richard who ordered the hit, Richard refused to tell him unless he was given some kind of immunity. He knew he could get a death sentence for killing a cop. As much as Richard hated prison, it was, he reasoned, better than death. Anzalotti went back to his boss, who agreed to let Richard plead guilty to the murder of Peter Calabro, for which he would get only another life sentence. Neal Frank became involved, a deal was agreed upon, and Richard again sat down with Anzalotti and Bennul, and for the first time told how Sammy Gravano had contracted the killing; how Gravano and he met in the parking lot and agreed upon a price, how Richard received the shotgun and photo of Calabro from Gravano. Richard felt no allegiance toward Gravano. He knew that Gravano had cut a deal with the feds to testify against John Gotti and many other Goodfellas. Richard viewed Gravano as a rat, a low-life scumbag, and had no qualms about telling cops how Gravano had hired him, thus opening the door for Gravano to be tried for the killing of a cop.
“I realize now,” Richard told Anzalotti and Bennul, “that the little fuck was using me. I mean, he never told me the guy was a cop. He came to me because he didn’t want to kill a cop, because he didn’t want any of his guys to kill a cop. I realize that now, but of course I didn’t back then. Sure, use the dumb Polack to kill a cop. Dumb Polack my ass…
“Truth is I would’ve done it anyway—even if he did tell me he was a cop. I’m not going to lie. But he didn’t and he should’ve.”
Armed with this information, the New Jersey attorney general’s office contemplated bringing charges against Gravano for ordering the killing of Peter Calabro. Calabro might have been a crooked cop, surely worked with the mob, but he was still a cop, and still murdered in Saddle River, New Jersey.
When Sammy Gravano decided to become a witness against John Gotti, the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were overjoyed, wanted to go do a jig in Times Square. They wanted John Gotti so badly that they were willing to cut a deal with Gravano that would enable him not only to serve just a few years, but to keep all the money he had earned from a lifetime of crime. The only problem was that Gravano had admitted to personally killing nineteen people. Gravano was clearly a very dangerous man, a clear and present danger, a true menace to society, a remorseless cold-blooded killer; yet the feds were still willing—it seems anxious—to give him his freedom, let him loose in society, if he helped them nail John Gotti.
For Gravano, this was a sweetheart deal to say the least. He should have had to spend the rest of his days in jail, or at the very least a minimum murder sentence—seven to ten years—but the federal government decided to give him his freedom, and all his ill-gotten gains, if he cooperated with them—an infamy. Surely, if any government anywhere ever made a pact with the devil this was certainly it, in living color, in broad daylight.
Gravano, dressed in a sharp dark blue suit, dutifully took the stand at Gotti’s trial and told the jury and the world in a strong, believable voice the crimes he had freely committed with Gotti—foremost of which was the carefully orchestrated killing of Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti in front of Sparks Steak House.
True, at this point Richard Kuklinski was already in prison, but somehow Gravano neglected to tell the government that Richard Kuklinski was part of the hit team, that Richard had killed Tommy Bilotti at the specific request of Gravano.
Gravano said nothing because Gravano would be accused of direct complicity in the murder of a cop, Peter Calabro. Gravano knew that if he fingered Kuklinski for the Bilotti hit, Richard would tell the authorities how he had murdered Calabro for twenty-five thousand dollars with a shotgun that Gravano had given him.
Gravano knew that if it became public knowledge that he had ordered the murder of a cop—even a dirty cop—there was no way in hell the government could cut him a deal.
It was rumored, however, that Gravano did in fact tell the feds about the Calabro hit, and they opted to keep it quiet, to sweep it under the rug, knowing they could never cut a deal with a cop killer. If they did such a thing there would be hell to pay, a hue and cry that would shake the very foundations of the Justice Department, from both the public and law-enforcement professionals.
“The truth,” Detective Anzalotti recently told an inquiring journalist, “will all soon come out in the wash.”
On September 27, 1998, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano appeared in Brooklyn before federal judge Leo Glasser for sentencing. By now Gravano had testified in scores of trials, causing the convictions of forty wiseguys, most prominent of whom was, of course, John Gotti.
Judge Glasser, approvingly quoting law enforcement officers, praised Gravano to high heaven, said, “You have done the bravest thing I’ve ever seen,” and went on to pass a sentence that essentially amounted to time served—a mere five years all told. This for his admitted part in the killing of nineteen human beings. Many people in law enforcement and the public felt this was a genuine travesty of justice. The families of Gravano’s victims held an angry news conference and bitterly complained about what the government had done. The daughter of Eddie Garofalo said, “This guy took my father away from me, from us. He is a vicious brutal killer and yet the government is letting him walk. It’s outrageous. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a sin. How could they do such a despicable thing? Sammy Gravano is a monster! An animal. He should be kept in a cage like the dangerous beast he is. I can’t sleep at night thinking that Gravano will be free after killing my father and all those others. It’s an outrage!”
Several months later, Sammy Gravano did, in fact, walk out of a federal prison after having served five years. He was never charged for ordering the hit of Peter Calabro. He quickly disappeared into the wide expanses of the federal witness-protection program, where noted author Peter Maas found him and wrote a bestselling book about Gravano called Underboss. It should have been called, many said, The Luckiest Guy in the World.
Gaby Monet and forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, with an HBO film crew in tow, showed up at the Trenton State Prison to do the third documentary featuring Richard Kuklinski. By now Richard had put on weight from his sedentary lifestyle. He did no exercises, didn’t go out in the yard; but he was still as strong as a bull and very dangerous. He’d been in jail now for over ten years. He had become used to prison, had accepted it as his permanent home, the place where he’d die. He wouldn’t let anyone in his family come visit him anymore. He didn’t want his daughters and Barbara frisked by the female guards, so he put a stop to their visiting the prison.
A somewhat kinder, gentler Richard sat down with Dr. Park Dietz, and for the first time ever Richard spoke to a forensic psychiatrist who had interviewed serial killers before. A tall, reserved man with piercing blue eyes, Dietz had worked with law-enforcement outfits across the country, including the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, and had talked with Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and other infamous serial murderers; he frequently appeared on news shows to discuss the little-understood phenomenon of serial murder.
A change had clearly come over Richard. He now joked often, was outgoing, friendly, introspective, and even self-effacing. He was not morose and stone-faced as he had been in the first two HBO specials. Much of this “new Richard” had to do with Gaby Monet’s kind, gentle ways. Richard had grown fond of her. He trusted her and considered her a friend—perhaps the only real friend he’d ever had, he says. Gaby too had grown quite fond of Richard. She recently said of him: “Richard is one of a kind: he is smart, charming, funny, and a mesmerizing storyteller. He has a very likable side, and thank goodness that’s the only side of him I’ve ever known.”
When Richard was sent to prison, he weighed 290 pounds. He was now about 315, but still moved with catlike efficiency and agility. His face was notably fuller, his cheeks and jowls somewhat loose on his face. He also had lines and creases where before there’d been none. Prison had taken a clear toll on Richard.
For thirteen hours, over a six-day period, Dietz asked Richard pointed, probing questions about his violence, which Richard answered with chilling honesty. He was now even more engaging because he was so open and readily shared his true feelings about the murders he committed, about his childhood, the animals he tortured, his cold lack of empathy for the people he killed, tortured, shot, stabbed, and poisoned. He talked about murder like a chef discussing the various ingredients of different perfected dishes. He readily spoke about his father, the violence he suffered at his hands, the violence he suffered at his mother’s hands. He wasn’t, it was obvious to Dietz, looking for an excuse or someone to blame for the path he walked in life—he was just telling the truth about what he’d been through as a boy, what he saw, what he felt, the hatred that lived inside his head.
When Richard told Dietz about the three men he killed in South Carolina while coming back from Florida, Dietz said, “Was that, you think, a capital offense, this guy cutting you off?”
Richard did not like that question or the way Dietz asked it. He was, Richard felt, judging him, speaking down to him, and right there on camera one can readily see the anger Richard felt color his face like a ripe strawberry.
“Now,” Richard said, “you’ve made me angry,” and he stared at Dietz with cold, detached, deadly eyes. If looks could kill, Dietz would have keeled over dead. After some tense seconds slowly passed, they discussed what had upset Richard about Dietz’s question, and Richard acknowledged that it was because Dietz had “spoke down to me”—judged him.
“Perhaps,” Dietz suggested, “like your father had?”
“Just like my father,” Richard readily agreed, and went on to say how he still regretted not killing Stanley.
Many say this third documentary was the most compelling of all because in it Richard was the most open and relaxed, and the world soon got another sixty minutes of Richard telling how he killed people and got rid of bodies, how he dismembered people with knives and saws and threw them down mine shafts, further horrifying and shocking people all over the globe. At the end of the piece, Dietz told Richard he had a lot of pent-up anger because of what his father had done to him—no shit, Sherlock.
Richard sat and listened politely, now the perfect gentleman, a far cry from who he had been when he was sent to prison.
“Interesting,” Richard contemplatively said.
In the course of telling Detectives Robert Anzalotti and Mark Bennul about the hit on Detective Peter Calabro, Richard had grown comfortable and at ease with the two detectives, especially Anzalotti, and he began telling them about more New Jersey murders he had committed that had never been attached to him. He remembered details, times, and places with uncanny accuracy, the detectives realized.
Everything Richard said was checked and rechecked by Anzalotti and his partner, and all proved true, and soon the two detectives cleared twelve unsolved murders thanks to Richard, including the killing of Robert Pronge, a.k.a. Mister Softee.
“For the most part,” Anzalotti recently said, “everything he said was true; where he shot people, the caliber he used.”
In December of 2004 Richard appeared in Bergen County Superior Court and pleaded guilty to the murder of Detective Peter Calabro and the murder of Robert Pronge, and received still another life sentence. That day Peter Calabro’s daughter was also in the courtroom. She had been four when her father had been killed. She wanted to talk to Richard, wanted to know why he killed her father, but Anzalotti wouldn’t let her. Richard, in fact, wanted to talk with her, wanted to tell her it was nothing personal, that if he hadn’t done it someone else would have.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” were Forrest Gump’s immortal words, and what Sammy Gravano—the crime-fighting hero of the federal government, a man who won glowing praise from scores of federal prosecutors—did with his freedom was stupid.
Gravano ended up living in Arizona, where he started a moving business and began selling the popular drug ecstasy to schoolkids. He not only got involved in this sordid business, but he involved his family—his wife and son Gerald. They were all arrested; Gravano went to trial, was found guilty, and was sentenced to twenty years. Gravano had been the poster boy for the federal government’s witness-protection program, and wound up using his ill-gotten freedom to sell drugs to kids.
“Stupid is as stupid does” indeed.
When the New Jersey attorney general’s office felt it had an airtight case against Gravano for his complicity in the shotgun murder of Detective Calabro and had gotten an indictment against him for the murder, Detectives Robert Anzalotti and Mark Bennul flew to Arizona and placed Gravano under arrest for this killing.
Many in the New Jersey attorney general’s office, and certainly Detectives Anzalotti and Bennul believe that the federal government knew about Gravano’s part in the Calabro killing but hid it, and they plan to prove it in open court. Richard will, of course, be the state’s star witness against Gravano. The trial is scheduled, as of this writing, for the summer of 2006, and will take place in the Bergen County Superior Court—the same court where Richard was tried, convicted, and sentenced.
In early April of 2005, Gravano’s lawyer, Anthony Ricco, went to see Richard at the Trenton State Prison. Richard claims that Ricco offered him two hundred thousand dollars not to testify against Gravano.
Conversely, Anthony Ricco claims it was Richard who offered to throw the case for two hundred thousand dollars. As of this writing, who, if anyone, solicited a bribe has not been established. Anthony Ricco, however, had to withdraw from representing Gravano because he is now scheduled to appear as a witness on Gravano’s behalf at Gravano’s trial for the killing of Detective Peter Calabro.
No Sunset, No Sunrise
Today, Richard is still housed in the maximum-security unit at the Trenton State Prison. To control his mercurial temper he is given daily doses of Ativan and Paxil, once in the morning, once at night. These drugs, for the most part, make him placid and easygoing.
At all meals, Richard shares a table with three mob guys, all skippers (captains), all of them are serving life sentences. They regularly share war stories about the days when they were free, the women they knew, the great food they ate, the wonderful places they saw, their appeals, sports, the mistakes they made to wind up in prison.
For Richard there are no sunrises, no sunsets. From his tiny cell at the Trenton State Prison he cannot see outside, cannot see the sky, the sunrise or the sunset. He never goes outside. Life for him is a monotonous regimen that rarely, if ever, varies. When recently asked if he had any regrets he said, “I wish I had taken another path in life, been a good husband and father; but that…that wasn’t in the cards.”
Barbara Kuklinski lives with daughter Chris and Chris’s son, John, in southern New Jersey. Barbara never remarried. She has severe arthritis of the spine and is in constant pain; her condition prevents her from working.
When Barbara talks about her life with Richard, her hands still tremble and she gets angry. She regrets, she says, ever having met Richard. She recently explained: “When Richard was in a good mood, he was the best husband any woman could have had. When he was in a bad mood, he was cruel beyond description. I’ve gotten used to being alone. I have my children, my grandchildren—and they are the only ones in this world who mean anything to me. I’m…I’m very thankful for them.”
Chris Kuklinski still holds what her father did against him. She only wishes he’d been arrested sooner. “I always knew,” she said, “he could be mean, you know, I mean I saw it, I grew up with it, but I never imagined he was…he was a cold-blooded monster, a hit man for the Mafia.” Shaking her head sadly, she continued: “He is where he belongs. I think even he realizes that.”
Richard’s son, Dwayne, doesn’t think much about his father. He is happy. He has a good job as an electrician and is marrying his longtime sweetheart, settling down, and having a family of his own.
Merrick Kuklinski deeply misses her father, still loves him dearly. She is quick to defend him, readily points out how life was stacked against him from the very beginning. “I’m not making excuses for him,” she recently said. “But the truth is my father didn’t have a chance. When you look at what he went through, the childhood he had, it’s not such a big surprise he turned out the way he did. I love him—I love him with all my heart and soul. He was, for me, a wonderful father. I will never ever forget how he was always there for me, how he helped sick children who had nothing in the hospitals where I often was as a child. He couldn’t see a child suffer without wanting to help, running to help—doing something. I saw him bring children he didn’t know food and toys and clothes without ever being asked. No other dad ever did that! He was no Ice Man. He was a caring, giving man with a heart as big and warm as the sun. For me, my father was the nicest, most giving man I ever knew. I will go to my grave believing that! I love him very much.”
A Flying Fuck
When Richard was asked recently what he would like to say for the close of this, his story, he said: “I’d rather be known as a nice man, not the Ice Man.”
Upon reflection Richard added: “I was made. I didn’t create myself. I never chose to be this way, to be in this place. Yeah, I for sure wish my life took another turn, that I had an education and a good job, but none of that was in the cards for me. I am what I am, and the truth is I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about me,” said Richard “the Ice Man” Kuklinski, formerly of Jersey City, New Jersey, the second born to Anna and Stanley Kuklinski.