The Iceman Knew How to Spin a Cracklin' Yarn

Richard Leonard "The Iceman" Kuklinski was born on April 11, 1935, and died on March 5, 2006. He was considered by law enforcement to be a hit man for the Mafia, a charge the 6-foot-5, 300-pound, bearded bear of a man did not dispute and actually seemed to revel in.

The Iceman, so named for his modus operandi -- at least one of them; he had several -- of freezing the bodies of victims for years. When found, the internal organs of at least one of the corpses still had frost on them. This was owing to the hit man's failure to wait for the bodies to properly thaw out before dumping them from his Cadillac. He supposedly worked for Newark's DeCavalcante crime family and New York City's Five Families, and claimed to have notched between 100 and 250 hits. Law enforcement doesn't dispute these figures, but remember: the more evil the man, the more angelic his captors appear.

But Kuklinski was not all business. He still found time to find the love of his life (a mass murderer can find a wife, yet a certain still-single, law-abiding editor/blogger can't even get a date for Saturday night these days -- thanks, LL!). In fact Kuklinski was married with children, and lived with them in Dumont, N.J. at the time of his arrest on Dec 17, 1986, after he had met with an undercover federal agent to buy cyanide for an upcoming "job." Kuklinski was charged with and convicted on five counts of murder, six weapons violations, attempted murder, robbery and attempted robbery. He died behind bars, needless to say.

Kuklinski launched his career doing professional hits for the DeCavalcantes in the mid-1950s. Nearly 20 years later, he claimed he became affiliated with the Gambino family, the largest, strongest Mafia family at that time, with Paul Castellano having just succeeded his brother-in-law, the legendary mob boss Carlo Gambino, as head of the family.

Despite Kuklinski's claims that he was one of DeMeo's key shooters, it is difficult to believe him. For one thing, no DeMeo crew members ever admitted Kuklinski had been involved with them. As for law enforcement evidence, there is only a single photograph of Kuklinski at the DeMeo crew's HQ, the Gemini Lounge (and the "horror hotel" one-bedroom apartment attached to it). That visit was reportedly to purchase handgun.

In his famous HBO interview programs, Kuklinski provided terse, colorful descriptions of various murders he had committed, some as mob hits, others seeming more like "thrill kills."

"He made me mad," he'd say on HBO, the librium thickening his tongue, making it difficult to speak clearly, though he did a pretty good job anyway. He should've put pen to paper and tried fiction instead of murder; it can pay better and you probably won't end up in prison.

It would seem Kuklinski better fits the profile of  a serial killer, perhaps one with mob connections in need of the odd favor. But with the Mafia inducting psychopaths like Tommy "Karate" Pitera it is difficult to parse. There is no application form or W2s indicating the Gambino family employed him, know what I mean?

The Iceman seemed to go too far on a couple of occasions, and shot himself in the foot, damaging even more his already fragile credibility. First, he claimed to have killed DeMeo himself -- although the available evidence and testimony point to the DeMeo crew associates Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter, as well as DeMeo's capo, Anthony Gaggi, as the hit team, with the order coming down from Castellano.

But when Kuklinksli claimed he had also killed Jimmy Hoffa -- in my view, that is when HBO should have packed up its cameras and said, "Howdy doo!" I mean that declaration, by itself, should right there end any further discussion of his involvement with Cosa Nostra.

[Any "family men" out there reading this? Any of you ever see Kuklinski sharing a cannoli with DeMeo, or sipping espresso with Castellano or another Gambino? Please comment below -- anonymously, of course.]

My take on the Iceman seems to hold up, according to comments I got from a Mafia source (the anonymous kind), who told me: "I believe you are right on target. I was close with Fatso [Roy DeMeo] and some of his guys; didn't like too many of them.

"Personally, I always figured the Iceman was full of shit. Roy, especially, had a network of guys who would do 'work' for nothing, as he would for Paul [Castellano] for just a pat on the head; a couple of his guys for pleasure or stupidity. Mob guys don't part with money, especially for what they can get for nothing. Roy wore Thom McCann-style shoes; think he would part with that kind of money for things he and his crew could do themselves?

"If I'm not mistaken, Klunkhead also said Fat Tony parted with cash for him to do 'work.' Fat chance. Mob guys, regardless of how wealthy they are, rob cigars on the way out of diners. They don't pay for what guys would blow them for a chance to do; prove themselves and get Brownie points to help move upward in the future. Finally, not a chance of the Hoffa thing being true. Stick that one in the bullshit file with the guy who dictated 'I Heard You Paint Houses,' who set Hoffa up but wasn't the shooter."
FOOTNOTE: According to Wikipedia, which uses Philip Carlo's bestselling book about the Iceman as its basis, "Kuklinski died at the age of 70 at 1:15 a.m. on March 5, 2006. He was in a secure wing at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey, at the time, although the timing of his death has been labeled suspicious; Kuklinski was scheduled to testify that former Gambino crime family underboss Sammy Gravano had ordered him to murder NYPD detective Peter Calabro. Kuklinski had admitted to murdering Calabro with a shotgun on the night of March 14, 1980. He denied knowing that Calabro was a police officer, but said he would have murdered him regardless.

"At the time Kuklinski was scheduled to testify, Gravano was already incarcerated for an unrelated charge, serving a 19-year prison sentence for running an ecstasy ring in Arizona. Kuklinski also stated to family members that he thought "they" were poisoning him. A few days after Kuklinski's death, prosecutors dropped all charges against Gravano, saying that without Kuklinski's testimony there was insufficient evidence to continue. At the request of Kuklinski's family, forensic pathologist Michael Baden examined the results of Kuklinski's autopsy to determine if there was evidence of poisoning. Baden concluded he died of natural causes."


  1. Also demeos car was seen at kuklinskis house. Police think he borrowed his car at that time. I believe he was demeos special weapon but he didnt kill him or jimmy hoffa. but who knows, all we know is that he was the real deal. highly dangerous.


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