America’s Deadliest Hitman – The Iceman Killer

“How many people have you killed,” an
interviewer asks the prisoner known as the Iceman, a one time alter boy, a family guy
and a prolific hitman. “An approximate guess…” He pauses, then says, “more than a hundred.” His face shows no remorse, no sign of emotion
other than perhaps a veiled bitterness aimed at life itself. “How do you feel about killing,” asks
the interviewer. “I don’t…it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t have a feeling one way or the other.” He’d be asked the same question in another
interview, and that time he would reply, “Nothing haunts me, no murders haunt me.” This is the story of Richard Kuklinski, a
man associated with frozen water not only for the total lack of feeling, or fear, that
he was known for, but also for the way in which he disposed of the many people whose
last sight on planet Earth was the Iceman’s 6 foot 5, 300 pound body bearing down on them. How did an altar boy turn into America’s
hitman with the biggest body count? How does one become so impassive to murder,
other people’s pain? Richard Leonard Kuklinski was born on April
11, 1935. Many years before he became known to some
mobsters as “the devil himself”, Kuklinski shared a New Jersey apartment with his Polish-American
father and a mother who was born to Irish immigrants. It’s a story we all know, the tough neighborhood,
the hard-knock life, with his mother eking out her days in a meat-packing factory and
his father working on the railroad. From interviews with Kuklinski, an inference
we can make by looking at his dysfunctional family, these parents were a long way from
the type that would have picked up good parenting guides. It’s said the father was a hostile drunk,
and someone who took sadistic pleasure in beating Kuklinski and his siblings. The mother, who he called an overly strict
God-fearing woman, was no better. In fact he once called her “cancer”, saying
she destroyed everything she came in touch with. “He’d just come in and give you a whupping
‘cos he felt like it,” Kuklinski said in an interview when talking about his dad. These weren’t ordinary beatings, even in
a time when a smack on the backside was seen as fair play for parents. No, this maniac of a man was said to have
broken household objects while beating his kids. The attacks were so vicious that this resulted
in one of Kuklinski’s bothers being beaten to death. The parents told the cops he had fallen down
the stairs. Shortly after that, the tormented father left
the family and never returned. There is no doubt such a childhood had a profound
effect on what happened later, with the Iceman’s brother, Joseph, also living a dissolute life
that ended with sadism and tragedy. It’s a familiar tale in the circles of forensic
psychology; the abused children, when no hand is held out to them, turn to hurting and killing
themselves. We might also ask if a violent gene is passed
on, perhaps those frontal lobes don’t work as other people’s work, perhaps there is
no self-control; nurture, nature, or a bit of both, but we’ll let you decide later. If you’ve watched the movie The Iceman,
brilliantly played by Michael Shannon in the starring role, you might know a few things
about our guy. Like most renditions of reality, it stretches
the truth, but also skirts close at times. Growing up with his mentally impoverished
mother Kuklinski was bullied. He was one of those kids that virtually smelled
of victimhood. But he was a big person, and it wouldn’t
be long until the Iceman-to-be realized that with enough willpower you can break people,
and when broken, they don’t bother you again. “If you hurt somebody, they’ll leave you
alone,” he told an interviewer once, relating to the time in his teenage years when he made
those bullies disappear once and for all. “I’d heard it was better to give than
to receive,” he said, a wicked play on a cliché relating to altruism, not revenge. One time six boys had been beating on him. He took the beating, but then went home and
found an iron bar. He returned to the group and viciously attacked
them. They left him alone. He was right about that. In fact, most people would stay out of his
way from then on. If you got in his way, you were going to get
hurt. He told the interviewer that even a tiny infraction,
someone maybe looked at him the wrong way, and he would beat them mercilessly. Here is the making of a hitman, a nascent
killer that would do things most people could never imagine. He was also a pool shark, and it was said
that if you bothered him it would end in tears, blood, or the grave. He murdered at least one person he had called
a bully. Speaking of that first murder when he was
in his early teens, Kuklinski said in an interview, “I didn’t mean to do it. I felt sadness, but after a while I felt something
different. Some sort of rush.” If enemies or perceived enemies weren’t
around to hurt, it’s said as a teen he’d take his anger out on neighborhood cats. But there was another side to him, because
Kuklinski was fond of women and was said to have been romantic at times. How romantic, how caring, is something of
a divided issue. The movie portrays him as a loving, doting
husband and father, but he already had two kids with a much older women when he met his
wife-to-be Barbara Pedrici. While the film depicts a wonderful early romance,
replete with bouquets of flowers and awkward dates, Pedrica would later tell the British
press that when she once told him she wasn’t ready for a full-on relationship and might
want to date others, he jabbed her with the sharp end of a hunting knife. “I felt the blood running down my back,”
she told the press. Kuklinski then told her in no uncertain terms
that she was his, forever, and if she left him she and her entire family were dead. It’s said he then throttled her until she
lost consciousness. This is somewhat different from the sweethearts
in love we see in the movie. Nonetheless, she would never leave him, out
of fear, or love, well that’s open to interpretation. They had three kids, two girls and a boy. The family understood that here was a double
personality, they even called him the Good Ritchie and the Bad Ritchie. The good version was a hardworking, committed
father who would do anything for his family. The bad version disappeared for weeks on end,
he broke noses and handed out black eyes. He even killed one of his daughter’s dogs
as a punishment because she came home late. This was a man with an almost inhuman rage,
but also a man who could be a wonderful father and husband. Soon he was returning home with large amounts
of money, which may have helped ameliorate those fears they all had of him flying into
dangerous frenzies of anger. Nonetheless, they had barbeques, visited theme
parks, made home videos (a lot of home videos), ate Turkey at Thanksgiving. They were an average working-middle class
American family, mom’s apple pie and church on Sunday. But then more money was coming in, and that’s
because Kuklinski had started working for the American mob. Apparently, some mob bosses had got word that
there was a giant Polish-American man in town who showed little or no fear. If you did wrong by him, you lost your teeth
or went missing. He was quite the asset for those kinds of
people. As the kids were growing up, Kuklinski was
“taking care” of people for the Genovese crime family. He also worked as a human disposal man for
Newark’s DeCavalcante crime family and the Gambinos of New York City. How did he dispose of people? Well, you name it, he had many methods. He later said in interviews he liked to be
creative. One time he bought a crossbow, and because
he really wanted to use it he shot a random guy in the head with it. “I just wanted to see if it would work,”
he later said in an interview to the consternation of the reporter. He liked to hone his trade it’s said, with
one author once saying, “Murder, for Richard, became sport. The New York police came to believe that the
bums were attacking and killing one another, never suspecting that a full-fledged serial
killer from Jersey City was coming over to Manhattan’s West Side for the purpose of killing
people, to practice and perfect the craft of murder.” We can’t talk about every hit he did as
that would be tantamount to writing an encyclopedia, but we can discuss some of his more nefarious
actions, well, they were all dark. He told the media later he enjoyed disposing
of people in different ways. Icepick, knives, his hands, hammer, but he
liked nothing more than using a nasal spray containing cyanide, not hay fever remedies. It didn’t unblock people’s noses, it undid
their existence. This made less mess, you offed them anywhere
you wanted and the cops just thought they had a heart attack victim. When he wasn’t leaving bodies in parks or
down alleys, he was taking them to a place where he could chop them up and refrigerate
the parts. Sometimes he’d just freeze the whole body
and then some time later dump it. This was particularly smart, because then
the authorities could not determine the time of death. Hence the name, The Iceman, although others
will tell you he got this name because of his frigid demeanor. There is more ice to this story, too. How did Bad Ritchie know about cyanide? He got this from a man known as Mr. Softee,
real name Robert Pronge. Ponge was ex-military and very familiar with
bombs and poisons and guns. He actually drove around in a Mr. Softee ice-cream
van, hence the nickname. Kuklinski would later recall his friendship
with the hitman, saying, “He’d go around the neighborhoods and sell ice-cream to the
kids, and maybe kill one of their fathers.” But after teaching Kuklinski many methods
of murder, Mr. Softee ended up being found in his van shot several times in the head. Another notch for the iceman. He did this, police suspect, because he was
tying up loose ends. The cops at this time were on to him. It’s also said, perhaps not true, that Mr.
Softee had offered his services to take out Kuklincki’s family if Kuklinski took out
his family. Lots of loose ends could be tied up if there
were no families left. We are told that things had started to turn
awry. For a long time the Iceman had been in the
services of mob boss Roy DeMeo. DeMeo had not only once handed a beating to
Kuklinski (with his cronies of course), and humiliated him on several occasions, but there
were rumors DeMeo was beginning to lose it and might end up ratting other mob bosses
out. Kuklinski didn’t need much encouragement
to take his boss out. DeMao was another victim, or at least this
is what the police thought; he never actually admitted to that. The movie depicts a couple of instances that
are apparently true. One was when DeMao first met Kuklinski and
was impressed at how well he could take a beating – like a man! We are told Kuklinski was later taken out
for a ride in a car, and at some point the mobster said kill that man over there walking
his dog. Kuklinski got out and did it, no problem,
not a big deal. He was hired. But the “Polak” never had a great relationship
with DeMao, and we might think he was very happy to get rid of him if of course he did. Surely he couldn’t hide all this killing
from his wife? Well, she later said in an interview, “I
never questioned him.” He would go out at all hours, money would
flood in, but she knew better to be too inquisitive. As for his friends, they all went missing,
too, in the end, except just one according to the Iceman. “Anyone you killed you liked?,” asked
an interviewer. “All my friends are dead,” was his sardonic
reply, hinting that he had killed them. It’s a long story, but his friends started
to know his business, and that was dangerous. He actually did say there was only one friend
he didn’t take out, but the rest were fair game. As these tales of gangs and murders often
end, people got paranoid and started removing their fears one by one. The mob were doing it, and Kuklinski was doing
it. But the cops weren’t far behind, and when
one undercover agent got the Iceman to talk about fast and convenient ways to kill someone
over the phone, and to sign up for another contract, they swooped in. He was arrested in December of 1986 of many
charges including multiple murders and robbery. He was eventually sentenced to two life sentences,
getting 30 years for killing a cop. It later turned out he had killed another
mob boss, too. He ended up in prison on the same wing as
his brother, Joey. As we said earlier, Joey Kuklinski had gone
the wrong way, too. He was serving time for assaulting and then
strangling to death a 12-year old girl. He then threw her off a roof along with her
pet dog. Did he regret any of the murders? Well, he usually said no, then in one interview
he said perhaps one regret was killing a man who had prayed to God in front of him to save
his life. In his own words Kuklinski said, “So I told
him he could have a half an hour to pray to God and if God could come down and change
the circumstances, he’d have that time. But God never showed up and He never changed
the circumstances and that was that. It wasn’t too nice. That’s one thing, I shouldn’t have done that
one. I shouldn’t have done it that way.” His daughter, Merrick Kuklinsk, later did
some interviews with the press, saying the film was not close to reality in terms of
their home life. She said she had loved her father, and was
shocked to find out he had killed more than 100 people (some say close to 200). The large woman, standing almost 6-feet tall,
said she has her dad’s ashes. She showed the interviewer a card she had
sent to her father while he was in prison, “Remember dad, you always left a light on
for me. That warm light still shines in my heart,”
the card reads. “He denied us nothing,” she said about
her father. “He wanted his life to be like it was on
television. He just didn’t know how to get there.” She said her mother was no angel herself,
but her dad could fly into rages and they knew to stay away when that happened. She said he even told the kids once that if
he ended up killing their mother in a rage he would have to kill them, too. She said they knew he wasn’t kidding. But he also confided in Merrick when she was
just a kid. He told her about what happened with his abusive
parents, and even told her he had killed people. “He told me about the time he used a wooden
clothing rod to beat to death another teenager who had been bullying him,” she said. She concluded, saying she had loved him, but
later knew he was a sick, demented man who had been abused and had not come to terms
with that. “Maybe if he’d gotten treatment some or
all of this could have been prevented. That thought haunts me every day,” she said. During those many prison interviews Kuklinski
seems entirely impassive, smiling and laughing at some murders, but then there is one time
when he eventually looks upset, and that’s when, once again, he is asked if he regrets
anything. “I do want my family to forgive me,” he
says, and you almost see a tear, some internal, emotional distress. “I aint gonna make this,” he adds, meaning
maybe he can’t carry on with the interview, but he does. “You see the Iceman crying. Not very macho. But I’ve hurt people that mean everything
to me, the only people that meant anything to me.” Richard Kuklinski died aged 70 in a prison
hospital. He thought he had been poisoned, although
he had been diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an inflammation of blood vessels. He had told doctors they should revive him
when he was out, but that didn’t happen. His wife Barbara had already signed a “do
not resuscitate” order. That is some story, a chilling tale, with
a message in there along the lines of violence often begets violence. We are now going to ask you what you think.. Also, be sure to check out our other show
This Is A Real Life Hitman. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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