The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo (2006)
The Melting of the Ice Man
March 13, 2006
Richard Kuklinski died at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, on Sunday morning, March 5, 2006 at 1:03 A.M. At this point the exact cause of his death has not been definitively determined, although the timing of his passing is particularly suspect, for the day after he died the charges against Sammy “the Bull” Gravano—that he ordered the murder of NYPD Detective Peter Calabro—were dropped by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. Those in the know believe that this was not a coincidence. The famed medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden, on behalf of the Kuklinski family, has requested toxicology tests to see if, in fact, Richard was poisoned or if he died of natural causes.
Richard’s health began to deteriorate in late October 2005. Supposedly, two doctors at Trenton State Prison each ordered different blood pressure medicines, which were administered to Richard simultaneously, causing Richard’s potassium and electrolyte count to become “dangerously low.” He began passing out and experiencing vertigo. He was removed from his cell and placed in the infirmary. His health continued to decline, and his blood pressure dropped. He was taken to St. Vincent’s hospital for a period of thirty hours, then “signed himself out,” an official at the prison said, and he was returned to Trenton Prison’s infirmary. Richard called me and told me that he believed he was being poisoned, and that I should call the media. I assumed that he was delusional, and told him I’d do what I could. What I did do was discuss this with Barbara Kuklinski and we decided Richard was imagining things. His health, however, continued to decline and he stopped eating. His speech, I noted when he called, was slurred. He was brought back to St. Vincent’s again, and doctors observed that his lungs were congested and that his kidneys were failing. He was tentatively diagnosed as having Wegener’s disease, a rare, potentially lethal malady that, if treated with drugs, is not fatal.
Richard’s health continued to get worse. He suddenly developed a form of dementia, experienced loss of memory, and had a skin rash on his hands and legs; he also refused to eat. Doctor Wong from the hospital called Barbara and told her he was doing all he could, and he first gave a diagnosis of Wegener’s disease. He said that they were also going to do a CAT scan of Richard’s brain to see if he had a stroke…perhaps the cause for his dementia. At this point Richard couldn’t even remember Barbara’s phone number. This was very odd considering that Richard had a very good memory when it came to numbers, as Barbara put it. Doctor Wong also said they were performing a biopsy on Richard’s kidney.
The CAT scan indicated no stroke. The biopsy indicated no cancer. Yet, Richard’s health continued to decline. His blood pressure fluctuated abnormally: first it was high, then low.
The holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, all passed, and Richard didn’t call his family, as he always had done. The family became very concerned. I now tried to visit Richard at the hospital, but was told by a prison official that was not possible, that only immediate family could visit. Barbara and Chris did go to see him and were shocked by his gaunt appearance due to his loss of weight.
“It looked,” Barbara recently explained, “like he lost a hundred pounds. He spoke in little more than a whisper. He told us ‘they’re trying to kill me,’ that we should call the police; ‘call the media,’ he said. At this point I thought—perhaps incorrectly, I’m thinking now—that he was just delusional. The police were there, I mean guarding him, three guys in plainclothes and two uniform cops. He was in a nice room at the end of the hall. We sat there for forty-five minutes. He was drifting in and out. He then said, ‘If I don’t leave the hospital it’s because I was murdered.’”
“‘Why?’ I said. ‘Why are you saying that, Richard?’ He did not answer me. Chris had not seen him in quite a few years, and she was shocked at how thin he’d become; for that matter I was, too. I now asked him why he had signed himself out of the hospital. He said he did not sign himself out, which, of course, I thought was…strange.”
Barbara explained that she absolutely did not love Richard, that any warm feelings she once had for him were long gone, but still he was the father of her children and she wanted to make sure anything that could be done for him was done.
Richard’s health continued to fail. Doctor Wong told Barbara he didn’t think Richard would survive. Barbara and her daughter Merrick visited him again on February 9. He looked still worse. He could now barely speak. Though he did, again, tell Barbara and now Merrick that he was being killed…murdered, he said.
Merrick was very traumatized by her father’s appearance due to his illness. She still very much loved her dad, indeed loved him more than ever, and she prayed for him and tried to tell him he’d be OK, that he should will himself to get better. Again, however, he just managed to say that he was being “murdered.”
“By who, Dad—who?” Merrick asked.
“Them,” he whispered. “If I don’t get out of here alive, it’s because I was murdered,” he said yet again.
Distraught, Merrick held her father’s hand, a once powerful killing tool, now weak and frail, pocked with black and blue marks from the IV needles. That day there were four IVs feeding him different fluids and medications. Barbara was informed that he was also bleeding internally, that blood was in his urine, and issuing from his rectum. Doctor Wong said it was probably an ulcer, which Barbara found kind of odd for Richard had no history at all of ulcers.
Merrick left her father that day crying, upset, and traumatized, remembering how he so diligently cared for her when she was a child, when she was in the hospital. She was heartbroken to see her father, a mere shell of the powerful, omnipotent man he had once been.
Doctor Wong called Barbara on the evening of February 28th and said Richard did not have long, and, in fact, he passed away Sunday morning March 5. Barbara was relieved. “We finally have closure,” she said.
Richard was laid out at the Gaiga Funeral Home in Little Falls, New Jersey. The service was attended by only the immediate family, me, Gaby Monet, and friends of Merrick, Chris, and Dwayne. There was no priest.
Barbara said, “If we had a priest eulogize him, Richard would have sat up in his coffin and said ‘get him the f—out of here!’”
In all the time I spent with Richard, it was hard not to grow fond of him. I know people will be offended by my saying this, ask how I could feel warmly about such a cold-blooded killer. I did not know Richard on the outside world. By the time I’d met him he’d been incarcerated for many years. I found Richard to be warm and considerate and very polite, in a word—a gentleman. He always asked after me and my family and was solicitous and thoughtful when I couldn’t visit because I had the flu. Truth is, he was a hell of a nice guy, and certainly one of the funniest people I’d ever known. He had a keen, dead-pan sense of humor (pun intended), that was very rare indeed. One time, I remember, I told him, “Richard you are the funniest guy I’ve ever known; you should have been a stand-up comedian.”
He said, “Yeah, I’ll come out on stage with my tacky prison garb, say good evening ladies and gents. I got a hundred jokes that’ll kill you, and if they don’t kill you, I will,” laughing as he said this.
My meeting and getting to know Richard Kuklinski so intimately was a unique, sobering experience—an education—and made me much more aware of the nuts and bolts, the wheels and pulleys that make a psychopath work. Regardless of my warm feelings for Richard, however, I have no doubt that he was a particularly cunning, highly motivated psychopath. In all my interaction with him, I never lost sight of the fact that he was a very dangerous man, a human predator the likes of which have not been seen in modern times. Personally, I came to view Richard’s life as a classic case of a severely abused child, filled with seething rage, becoming an abuser, and turning into a remorseless killer. As of this writing the tests to determine if Richard had been poisoned have not been completed.
Rest in peace Richard Leonard Kuklinski.
Detective Pat Kane was promoted to lieutenant before retiring from the New Jersey State Police. Today he is working as a fire ranger and loves being outdoors.ATF Agent Dominick Polifrone is presently retired. He had been training younger agents in successful undercover work.Bob Carroll retired from the state attorney general’s office and today is a practicing attorney; his specialty is criminal law.Stanley Kuklinski died of a heart attack in 1979. Until the end of his life Richard regretted not having killed him.Richard’s sister, Roberta, moved to the West Coast, and he didn’t hear from her in the thirty years leading up to his death.Barbara Kuklinski has severe arthritis, chain-smokes, loves to read, loves her grandchildren. “My whole life,” she says, “is my children and grandchildren.”Charges against Sammy Gravano for the murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro were dropped the day after Richard Kuklinski died.Roy DeMeo’s boss, Nino Gaggi, died in a federal prison of a heart attack.The police never discovered any of the videos Richard made of feeding people to rats.HBO’s Gaby Monet had been planning to do yet another special on Richard Kuklinski, this one entitled The Ice Man Cold Case File, which would have explored more unsolved murders of Richard’s.Detective Robert Anzalotti was promoted to sergeant because he was able to get Richard to talk about murders he committed that the police knew nothing about.Richard’s three children, Merrick, Chris, and Dwayne, are doing very well; all of them live in New Jersey.Author Philip Carlo is living in southern Italy, working on a new book.