He was smart, merciless, and deadly. And it took someone just as tough to bring him down.
A mob contract killer known as “The Iceman” for hiding a body in an ice-cream truck freezer, Richard Kuklinski boasted a personal body count of more than a hundred victims. Using guns, knives, poison, ice picks, tire irons, baseball bats, and bombs, the family man from New Jersey killed for fun, for money, to cover up his own crimes, and to satisfy his inner rage. Law enforcement officials knew all about Kuklinski and had a list of his victims, but couldn’t get near him—until undercover agent Dominick Polifrone posed as a mobster and began a deadly game of cat and mouse.
In this harrowing true-crime account, Anthony Bruno delves into the mind of a cold-blooded killer, chronicling the Iceman’s grisly crimes and probing the bizarre dynamics of Agent Polifrone’s dangerous liaison with him. For as Polifrone carefully built up a case against Kuklinksi, he knew he was running out of time—because the Iceman was planning to kill him too.
“Bruno puts his writing talents to white-knuckle use with a tight focus on a killer with no human feelings.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Excellent . . . [re-creates] the tension and stress Polifrone experienced in fulfilling his risky undercover assignment.”—Publishers Weekly
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.24(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.68(d)|
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JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY—1949
The boy stood in the shadows, leaning against the brick wall, listening to the night. The distant clack of diesel engines from the Hoboken train yards filled the sky over the Sixteenth Street projects. Tugboats on the Hudson sounded their horns as they pushed garbage scows downriver, heading out to sea. The rumble of the incinerator on the other side of the brick wall vibrated the boy’s back. It seemed like they burned garbage all the time around here. He looked up at the stars shining dully through the drifting smoke from the incinerator. For fourteen-year-old Richard Kuklinski, life was all garbage, and he just couldn’t take any more. He’d had it.
The warm bricks heated his back as his breath turned to vapor on the cold air. Down by his side, he held the wooden closet pole. His hand was sweaty as his eyes darted into the darkness and he listened for the footsteps, for that voice. Johnny’s voice.
He glanced up at the projects, the lights in the windows. His apartment was up there somewhere, but he wasn’t sure which window was his. It didn’t matter really. The apartments were all the same here, and they all stunk. The heavy wooden pole came from the hallway closet, the only closet in the whole apartment. It was stupid having a closet pole up there, the way he figured. There were hardly any clothes to move when he took it down. Just about the only clothes he and his little brother and sister owned were the ones they wore. Whenever something wore out and his mother could afford it, they’d just go downtown and replace it, wear it home stiff, sometimes with the tags still on. He felt his frayed shirtfront, ashamed of the way he had to go around. The other kids in the projects teased him all the time, but the most stinging remarks always came from Johnny. “Richie the rag boy.” “Hobo Richie.” “The skinny Polack.”
His mother never listened to him. She always bought his clothes big so he wouldn’t outgrow them too fast, she said. But he was a skinny kid, and he never grew into them. They just flapped around him as if he were some kind of a … hobo.
Might as well be a hobo, he thought. He spent all his time wandering the streets as it was, staying to himself. He didn’t hang out in gangs the way other kids did. He didn’t get along with those kids. He preferred his own company, walking around, seeing what there was to see, watching the sailors getting drunk and picking up whores over in Hoboken, watching the tired factory workers dragging themselves in and out of the Maxwell House factory just to make a buck, watching people arguing with shopkeepers up in Journal Square, going crazy to save a few pennies on a pound of potatoes.
It was all garbage. People going nuts just so they could grab a little piece of something for themselves. But it was all garbage. Couldn’t they see that?
One time he was over on Henderson Street, just walking around, when he spotted this truck parked in front of the Manischewitz factory. The back of the truck was open, and it was stacked high with wooden crates. As he got closer, he could see that there were bottles in the crates, bottles of wine. There was writing stenciled on the crates, but it was all in that Jewish writing, just like in the window of that butcher shop over on Newark Avenue. There was only one word in English: “Kosher.” Richie didn’t know what that meant, but he’d heard that Jews used a lot of wine in their religious ceremonies and Jews had money. They probably didn’t drink cheap stuff because they didn’t have to, so he figured this wine had to be worth something.
He walked around to the front of the truck. The cab was empty. No one was around. His heart started to pound. It was right there for the taking. If he waited, the driver would come back, and then it would be too late. He looked all around as he went to the back of the truck. He let a couple of cars pass, then looked over at the loading docks at the Manischewitz factory. Nobody was there.
Suddenly all he could hear was his heart beating. He reached up to haul down a crate from the top of a stack, but it was heavy, heavier than he’d expected. His hand was on the crate, but the whole stack was teetering, and he was afraid to step up onto the tailgate to get it down. If someone spotted him in the truck, it would look like he was stealing. But he wanted the wine. He’d never even tasted wine, but he knew he wanted it because it was worth something.
With sweat beading on his forehead, Richie put his foot up on the tailgate, hoisted himself up just long enough to get the crate down without toppling the whole stack, and bounced back down to the pavement. The crate was heavy, very heavy. But he had it, and he was standing there at the curb with it, guilty as sin. He lifted it onto his shoulder and started to run with it, his back aching and his heart going crazy, thinking about the Paramount Theater downtown and the cowboy movies he’d seen there on Saturday afternoons, how the good guys always talked about catching the bad guys red-handed. That’s what he was now. Red-handed with red wine.
He ran all the way back to the projects, straight to the incinerators, slamming the heavy metal door behind him. A window the size of an envelope on the face of the furnace sent a fiery glow into the dark room. Richie set down the crate and closed the door. Staring at the fire, he remembered the bullshit the nuns always told him in school about burning in hell. He didn’t believe it. It was just something they tried to scare you with to keep you in line. He pulled out a bottle from the crate and examined it. The wine was so dark even the light of the fiery blast couldn’t penetrate it. He took out the penknife he carried and tried to figure out how to get the cork out. His heart was still pounding, and the heat of the furnace flushed his face. He picked at the cork with the blade of the knife, hoping he could pry it out, but that didn’t work, so he sliced the cork while it was still in the bottle and broke it into pieces. He dug out part of the cork, then jammed the rest into the bottle. His hand was shaking as he lifted it to his lips. The taste wasn’t what he expected. It was thick and sweet, but not a good sweet. But maybe this was what his well-off uncle Mickey had meant when he said something was an “acquired taste.” That meant it was really worth something even if it didn’t seem that way. Richie spit out cork crumbs and took another swig. He wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not. It must take time to acquire a taste, he figured. He drank as much as he could stand, then hid the rest of the crate under some old newspapers in a corner of the incinerator room.
That night he was sick, and he threw up purple. He didn’t get drunk; at least he didn’t think so. He was just sick—worried sick that the police would come to the door and take him away, worried that they knew it was him who took the wine.
His stomach bothered him for a week, but he didn’t say a word to his mother. He couldn’t eat, and he was afraid to go out, afraid that the police would snatch him off the street if he did. But nothing happened. It was two weeks before he finally convinced himself that he’d gotten away with it, and the wine was really his.
But when he went back to the incinerator room to check his stash, the crate was gone. Someone had found it and taken his wine. He figured it was probably Johnny trying to screw him up again.
A train clattered in the distance, crossing the concrete trestle on Newark Avenue, either heading for or coming from the Hoboken yards. Richie’s father worked for the railroad. He thought his father was a brakeman, but he wasn’t sure. The last time he’d seen his old man was when his little sister was born three years ago. The old man had run off when Richie was just a little kid, but he’d show up out of the blue every now and then like a sailor home from the sea. It was no treat when he came around. He had a bad temper, and he liked to beat his oldest son just for the hell of it. He’d come storming into the kids’ room, stinking drunk, yelling and screaming about something, already pulling the belt out of his pants. It wasn’t so bad when his mother was home.
She’d try to stop it, yelling and screaming herself, and the beating usually wouldn’t last too long. Richie had figured out that his old man was like anyone else. All he really wanted was a little attention. That’s why Richie knew that whenever his mother was at work, the old man would take off that belt and do his worst, and there was nothing Richie could do or say that would change his father’s mind because the guy was just looking for attention. All Richie could do was take it and try to think about something else while it was happening.