There is an ongoing debate as to whether Richard Kuklinski was a serial killer or a hitman – it’s usually agreed upon by professionals that an individual can not be both.
Before we get into Richard, let’s quickly establish some of the differences between a hitman and a serial. I’m sure most of you reading this don’t need any clarification on this subject, but there’s always someone who doesn’t know – and that’s okay! A hitman is a contract killer, it is his job to murder. His (or her) victims are chosen for him, their motivation is financial, career advancement, or duty. A serial killer, on the other hand, murders for his/her own personal reasons. They want to feel powerful, they enjoy the excitement, there may be a sexual perversion which they need to fulfill, and sometimes it’s for financial gain. Serials often carefully choose their prey, and there are cool down periods between kills – an amount of time before their killing cycle begins again.
As a child Richard Kuklinski exhibited all of the earmarks of a budding serial killer, including the MacDonald Triad (bed wetting, fire starting, and animal cruelty). He came from an extremely violent family, so very violent that when Richard was only 5 years old his alcoholic father beat his 7 year old brother, Florian, to death. Mom covered for her man, police were told that the boy had died of an accidental fall. Soon after this, Richard’s father abandoned the family, and the kids were left to be raised in poverty by their abusive mother.
In 1948, 13 year old Richard claimed his first victim; Charlie Lane was a neighborhood bully and a gang leader of sorts. One day, after a particularly brutal beating, Richard found Charlie while he was alone and beat him to death with a wooden dowel. Now, keep in mind Richard’s young age when this happened; after the beating this young killer knocked all of his victim’s teeth out with a hammer, took a hatchet and chopped off distinguishing body parts such as fingers, then Richard stole a vehicle and dumped his victim’s corpse off a bridge. Charlie’s body was never recovered – this killer always did have a knack for disposing of his victims. You’d think that this would’ve been enough to satiate the young man’s need for revenge, but Richard still wasn’t done; he grabbed a metal pole, hunted down the rest of Charlie’s gang, and tried his damndest to beat all of them to death as well. Luckily they survived, and nobody ever picked on Richard Kuklinski again.
By the time he hit adulthood it is believed that Richard was already responsible for dozens of deaths; he was a 6’5″, 300 pound sociopath with complete disregard for the lives of those around him. Richard was a force to be reckoned with. This killer attacked those who insulted or annoyed him, or simply made him feel bad in some way; if you bested him in a friendly game of pool, there was a decent chance that he was coming for you.
It wasn’t until he was an adult that Richard met Gambino crime family member Roy Demeo. People in the area knew of Richard’s predilection for murder, and the mafia decided it would be great to have this guy on their team. One day Roy took Richard for a ride, and he picked out some poor random guy who was walking his dog. Roy instructed Richard to kill the man, and without giving it a second thought, Richard did as he was told. In January of 1983, Roy’s bullet riddled corpse was discovered in the trunk of an abandoned car; Richard later claimed responsibility for his buddy’s death.
One interesting thing about Kuklinski is, while he thought nothing of murdering a person, he claimed to never have taken the life of any woman or child. When asked to do so, he flat refused. That said, his wife, Barbara, and children definitely claim to be among his victims. Contrary to popular belief, Richard was very abusive. Yes, he loved his family as much as he possibly could; Richard provided for, protected, and spent all of his free time with them, but that does not mean he wasn’t abusive as all get out. He was a domineering man who at one point actually stabbed his wife, Barbara, in the back. Richard was such a tyrant that his own children had concocted a plan to murder their father using poison! The kids later admitted that the only reason they never went through with this plan was because Dad usually shared his food with the family dog, and they didn’t want their beloved pet to die.
Richard was finally arrested in 1986, after going on a killing spree which left many of his associates dead. Though it’s believed this killer’s true body count could total 200-300, Richard was convicted of only 6 murders; he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
During his incarceration Richard allowed HBO to interview him for a special called “The Iceman Tapes” (available also on YouTube). When they inquired as to whether Richard held any regrets, the killer told this story: “There was a man, he was begging and pleading, and praying, I guess. And he was ‘Please God-ing all over the place. So I told him he could have a half 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.” Richard also stated that he liked to kill because it made him feel something; when asked if he thought of himself as an assassin, Richard stated, “I’m just a murderer”.
Richard Kuklinski passed away on March 5th of 2006, at age 70; he died under mysterious circumstances. Though Richard had been in the hospital at the time of his death, many wonder if somehow the mafia finally got their payback. Despite the fact that Richard was killing for his own reasons long before he was ever hired by anyone, he is officially listed as an assassin.
While we’re on the subject, I want to mention Richard’s big brother, Joseph. When he was 25, Joe raped a 13 year old girl, then threw both the girl and her dog off a roof. Both died, and Joey was sent to prison. When asked about his brother and what he thought of Joey’s crime, Richard simply stated that they both came from the same father. Richard obviously blamed his childhood for the way that he’d turned out, and he’d always resented his father for it – he despised the man. And if psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made by horrific childhood abuse (which is what is believed) then it’s very possible that the Kuklinski boys could’ve rightly blamed their upbringing for their sociopathy.
*It must also be said that Kuklinski was one hell of a story teller. While we know he was a killer, that’s not in dispute, but some of his stories may have been just that – mere stories. He claimed to have been involved in even Jimmy Hoffa’s murder. And maybe he was, who knows?