By Anthony Bruno  

Up Close and Personal with a Killer

When I was finally admitted into the bowels of Trenton State Prison in New Jersey’s capital to interview multiple murderer Richard Kuklinski, a.k.a. “the Iceman,” it wasn’t at all what I had expected.  My assumption was that it would be like the movies.  We’d be separated by a shatter-proof glass barrier.  We’d communicate through telephone handsets.  There would be guards all around watching our every move.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Clarice Starling had more protection when she visited Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector in The Silence of the Lambs.  At least she had bars.  And frankly, as a killer, Lector was downright crude compared to the stealth and skullduggery of the Iceman.  Lector liked to bite; Kuklinski preferred a cyanide solution administered from a nasal spray bottle.  A surprise spritz to the face usually produced a shocked inhalation from the victim, who as a result would die in under a minute.  And unless the body was found right away and a savvy medical examiner knew what to look for, the poison would go undetected because cyanide naturally dissipates in the body after two hours.  But cyanide was only one of the things I was thinking about on the morning of January 16, 1992, when I arrived for my date with the Iceman. 

Richard Kuklinski, police mugshot

The reason for my visit was pretty straightforward.  I was writing a book about the Iceman’s crimes and the efforts to catch him, and I wanted to hear his side of the story.  I had already talked to the investigators who had pursued him, the undercover agent who wore a wire on him, the chief of New Jersey’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau who led the investigation and later prosecuted the state’s case against him, and the judge who sentenced him.  I had even talked to the Iceman’s wife.  But Richard Kuklinski had refused my repeated requests to interview him until I was nearly finished with my first draft.  I think he changed his mind because his wife put in a good word for me, which carries a lot of weight with the Iceman.  You see, Richard Kuklinski, who claims to have killed over 100 people, maintained a normal-as-pie suburban family life in the town of Dumont in Bergen County.  To all the world he was just the big guy in the split level down the street, the guy with the wife and three kids in Catholic school.  As he told me when we met, “I’m not the Iceman.  I’m the nice man.”

But in reality Kuklinski was a lethal scam artist and a freelance hitman for the Mafia.  He had experimented with various methods of killing before settling on his favorite, cyanide.  “Why be messy?… You do it nice and neat with cyanide,” he said to Dominick Polifrone, the highly decorated Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent who went undercover as “Dominick Provenzano,” a Mafia associate from New York City.  Polifrone, who is now retired from ATF, wore a concealed tape recorder during his meetings with Kuklinski. 

One of the many weapons used by Kuklinski
(trial evidence)

But Kuklinski wasn’t adverse to doing it “messy” if that’s what the customer wanted… or if he decided that was what the victim deserved.  Shooting, stabbing, strangling, beating, bombing, and poisoning were all in his repertoire.  Disposal of dead bodies was another one of his specialties.  He kept one of his victims frozen for over two years to see if he could disguise the time of death.  When I met with him, he indicated that he had kept the body in the freezer vault of a Mr. Softee ice cream truck, though the police doubt the veracity of that part of his story.  But no matter where the body was stored, when it was found in a park in Rockland County, New York, in September 1983, the corpse seemed relatively fresh.  But there was just one problem.  Kuklinski had been too diligent in wrapping the body in layer after layer of plastic.  When the medical examiner conducted the autopsy, he found that the heart was partially frozen.  The body hadn’t thawed completely.   This was the murder that earned Richard Kuklinski his nickname, the Iceman.

1. The Interview: Page 1

2. Page 2

3. Page 3

4. Page 4

5. Page 5

6. The Author

- Book Titles

- Richard Kuklinski Feature Story

The Iceman is available from Barnes & Noble
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