Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit | Links ]


by Philip Carlo
St Martin's Press, July 2006
432 pages
ISBN: 0312349289

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Richard Kuklinski grew up in a tough environment. Born on April 11 1935 in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Anna and Stanley Kuklinski, Richard was only five years old when his father, an alcoholic railroad worker, beat his 11-year-old brother, Florian, to death. With Florian gone, Richard and his younger brother Joseph became living punching bags for their father. The two boys received little protection from their equally abused mother and soon grew into bullies themselves.

By the time they were teenagers, both Richard and Joseph were dishing out the same kind of brutality on others that they had received from their father. Both turned to murder as a way of solving their problems with Richard’s first killing occurring when he was only 15 years old. Of the two, Richard became the more prolific and inventive killer. His body count numbered over 200 people by the time he was arrested, and he often killed his victims in ways too horrific to mention.

Richard always claimed that he felt no emotion for the pain he inflicted on his prey. As a young man, he honed his killing talents over time by murdering panhandlers and other strangers he met on visits to the back alleys and darkened streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. These murders were committed for practice, not profit, and were never connected to him by the police.

Back in Jersey City, his exploits as a cold-hearted thief and pornography pusher earned him entrance into the world of the Mafia. Known as 'The Polack' in his hometown, he couldn’t become a 'made' member of any of the Mafia families due to his nationality. But his willingness to kill without question and his ability to remain detached from his crimes made him a valuable asset to the mob.

Richard wasn’t long into his 20s when he became a valuable hitman for the east coast families, killing people on contract and receiving up to $20,000 per hit. Most of these murders were committed quickly with a gunshot to the head or heart, but when asked to make the mark suffer before dying, Richard resorted to knives and other means of torture. Again, even when he watched, and sometimes filmed, his victims being eaten alive by rats, Richard claimed he felt nothing for their suffering. His lack of emotion, as much as his use of refrigeration to throw off the time of a victim’s death, is what eventually earned Kuklinski the title 'Ice Man.'

The only time Richard claimed to feel emotion was when he was with his family. In 1961, Richard fell in love with Barbara Pedrici, an 18-year-old Italian American girl who had no idea who Richard really was. Married to Richard a year later, Barbara soon discovered that her loving husband had a dark side to him. He was given to rages, and when he became angry, often at the slightest provocation, Richard would resort to the same behavior as his father. He’d hit Barbara, often in front of their three children, or tear through the house destroying furniture, dishes, anything he could get his hands on.

Barbara later said that Richard had a dual personality: he could turn from a loving husband into a raving lunatic in a matter of minutes. His violence frightened his children. His son Dwayne took to planning escape routes from the house and even kept a knife under his bed in case his father ever attacked him. Richard, though, never did lay a hand on his children. Barbara had warned him that she would kill him in his sleep if he ever harmed their children. It was a warning he took seriously.

Richard Kuklinski’s downfall occurred in 1986, the result of a long police investigation instigated by a young New Jersey detective named Pat Kane. Author Philip Carlo’s report of the investigation is as fascinating as his telling of Richard’s story. His accounts of the murders committed by Kuklinski are often gruesome and certainly not meant for the faint-hearted reader. They are totally believable, though, and often based not only on Kuklinski’s memories but also on recorded police evidence.

Some of the material presented in the book seems redundant, as if the author wanted to cram every murder ever committed by Kuklinski into the book, no matter how alike it was to his previous crimes. The same can be said of family issues concerning Barbara and Richard. While this hammer down approach to the story may diminish the book’s shock value, Carlo’s repeated accounts of Kuklinski’s violent behavior do serve to impress upon the reader the psychopathic nature of The Ice Man.

The author goes a bit too far, though, when he lifts a quote from President Franklin Roosevelt to call December 17 1986 – the day Kuklinski was arrested – “a day that would live in infamy”. The end of Kuklinski’s reign of terror is hardly comparable to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This embarrassing fax paux can be forgiven, though, when one considers the rest of the book. Carlo has made an admirable effort to capture the mind of a killer on paper. It’s a bloody story, but one well told.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, December 2006

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit | Links ]
[ Home ]