Richard Kuklinski: “The Iceman”

Katherine Kearney

Richard Kuklinski: “The Iceman”

Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski (April 11, 1935 – March 5, 2006) was the most dangerous contract killer in America, employed by the crime families of New York and New Jersey.  Although accounts vary, Kuklinski claimed to have murdered over one hundred fifty individuals during his thirty-year career, including a New York Police Department Detective and Jimmy Hoffa.  He earned the nickname “Iceman” by his employers after his method of freezing the victims’ bodies to conceal their time of death.  After his arrest, the nickname “Iceman” quickly gained popularity among the public for a very different reason; the emotionless descriptions of his victims, killings, and methods of operation while under contract with the major crime families.

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“Richard Kuklinski: The Iceman.” Image courtesy of Crime & Investigation Network.

Built to Kill

Like many serial killers, The Iceman experienced severe abuse in his youth from both his mother and father.  Upon witnessing his father murder his brother, Kuklinski fell victim to severe anger rampages.  In response to these rampages, he began beating, torturing, and killing animals for stress-relief and enjoyment.  The Iceman claimed to have murdered his first victim before the age of twenty.  Charley Lane was the leader of a small teenage gang who frequently bullied young Richard.  Fed up with the victimization, Richard beat Lane to death and disposed of his body.  Instead of stopping and reconciling the murder of Charley Lane, Richard gained the mentality “it is better to give than receive” and furthered his violent spree by nearly beating to death other members of Lane’s gang.  When interviewed about Lane’s murder, Kuklinski described the experience as “empowering.”  After this encounter, he described needing very little reasoning needed to justify the injury or torture of another person or animal.

The Career

The Iceman began his official criminal career upon employment with the DeMeo crime family. His talent and skill of murder was quickly recognized and tested.  This test was to kill a random individual in broad daylight.  Upon receiving the orders, Kuklinski exited the vehicle, calmly walked past the man and shot him.  This test marked the beginnings of a long thirty-year career of contract killings. Although fluent with several different lethal weapons, Iceman’s favorite murder weapon quickly became cyanide and torture.

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“Richard Kuklinski”. Image courtesy of Norman Y. Lono for the New York Times, 2003.

After thirty years of work, Kuklinski began to get sloppy and fell victim to an undercover operation, befriending an undercover detective posing as a hit man. Conversations were recorded and enough evidence collected to finally end Kuklinski’s career.

The Iceman’s freedom ended on December 17, 1986 when several law enforcement agencies came together for the arrest.  He admitted to his crimes in court and justified the actions by stating, “It was business.”  Convicted on all five murders he was charged with, The Iceman was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.  He remained incarcerated until his death on March 5, 2006..

 Not the Average Serial Killer

Richard Kuklinski baffles psychologists and criminal profilers because he is not driven to kill by drugs, sexual desires, fame, or necessity, like the average murderer or serial killer of society.  To him, murder became strictly business and he approached it as a job.  No feelings.  No emotion.  Nothing more than strict business.

In the documentary “The Iceman Takes: Inside the Mind of a Mafia Hit Man,” Dr. Park Dietz sits down with Kuklinski and tries to decipher what it is that makes Kuklinski so different than any other murder in the world.  While speaking with the hit man, it became clear to Dr. Dietz that two personality warps had combined in a rare condition, making him the fearless, emotionless killer he had become.  The first of these disorders is “Anti-social personality disorder,” which is commonly diagnosed by the symptoms of having no conscious, no feelings of remorse or guilt, and the characteristic of violent or impulsive behaviors.  The second detrimental disorder Dr. Dietz believes Kuklinski suffered from is “paranoid personality disorder,” characterized by distrust and anti-social behaviors.  Dr. Dietz explains that the combination of these disorders allow him to complete tasks every other human being fears.  The issue with these diagnoses is that it does not explain how Kuklinski was able to be such a cold-hearted murderer and a loving husband and father of three at the same time.

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“Richard Kuklinski with his daughters.” Image courtesy of CrimeShots (2007).

In a separate documentary “The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer,” Kuklinski is questioned about a different aspect of his life, his family.  He explains how nothing in the world made him happier than when he was home with his family.  The picture shown here visualizes Kuklinski holding the hands of two of his children; one of them smiling, the other leaning against her father’s body out of shyness.  This image perfectly depicts the love the young girls share with their father.  In a rare scene, the thought of his family and how he has hurt them so badly, makes the Iceman himself cry during the interview.  He describes that the only people he wants forgiveness from is his family, no one else.  With this rare showing of emotions, one can see that the Iceman seemed genuinely remorseful for hurting his family. 

Throughout the chilling interviews, Kuklinski smiles and almost jokes about his killings as if he is proud of what he has done in his life.  He describes feeling nothing as he watched a man die or dismembered him. Even Jeffrey Dahmer was unable to dismember the bodies of his victims and needed to drink excessively to cope.  The Iceman, however, describes no problems whatsoever with dismembering a body and describes eating pizza while doing so on several occasions.

If Kuklinski really was a victim to the disorders claimed, he never would have been able to balance his murderous lifestyle with loving a family they way he claimed to have.  Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski is nothing more than the most cold-hearted and dangerous psychopath ever to stray from the norms of society and partake in a profession as being the worse nightmare of his targets.

Suggested Readings & Videos

Bertels, R., & Parsons, C. (2009). The social construction of a serial killer. Feminism & Psychology, 19(2), 267. doi: 10.1177/095933509102224

Ginsberg, A. (Director) (2003). The iceman interviews [DVD].

Martin, D. (2006, March 09). Richard kuklinski, 70, a killer of many people and many ways, dies. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Nevins, S. (Producer) (1992). The iceman tapes: Conversations with a killer [VHS].

Richard, K. (Performer) (2002). The iceman – confessions of a mafia hitman [DVD].

White , J. H., Lester, D., Gentile, M., & Rosenbleeth, J. (2011). The utilization of forensic science and criminal profiling for capturing serial killers. Forensic Science International, 209(1-3), 160-165. doi:


This entry was posted by kakearne.

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