Richard Kuklinski earned his place in the serial killer hall of fame by killing for the East Coast Mafia as well as killing as his violent temper urged him on. He killed without care. In fact, Kuklinski relished the killing. With a body count well above 200, Kuklinski was a killer motivated by greed with a hair-trigger temper. He thought nothing of killing someone for merely annoying him. Unlike most serial killers, Kuklinski varied his killing methods and means of body disposal. It was his method of disposing of a body by freezing it to hide the time of the murder that earned Kuklinsky the moniker “The Iceman”. Kuklinski, while living as a brutal murderer, had a home, a wife, and loving children whom he adored and would do anything for. Let’s take a look at the family life the killer escaped to, and what happened to his wife and children after his arrest and death.
A Killer is Made in the Typical Way
Richard Kuklinski was born to Polish and Irish parents on April 11, 1935, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Both his mother and his father were physically abusive towards Richard and his siblings. Kuklinski’s father was a very abusive man. He reportedly killed Richard’s older brother by pushing him down the stairs. His mother was fond of beating her son with a broomstick, often until it broke in half. She was a strict woman who believed children should be raised with a strict hand under the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church. Kuklinski turned away from the church as an adult.
Richard Kuklinski stereotypically enjoyed torturing and killing animals as a child. In one interview, he tells the story of tying two cats together by their tails and throwing them over a wire to watch them tear themselves apart in trying to get free. In the interview, he laughs about how much noise the cats made.
Richard Meets His Wife
Richard met his wife, Barbara Pedrici, in 1960 when she was only 18 years old. Kuklinski was 25. At the time, Both Richard and Barbara worked at a warehouse. Kuklinski was married and had a little boy. The problem is, he fell madly in love with Barbara. While things grew more serious between the couple, Barbara worried she was spending all her time with Kuklinski. She felt cut off from her family and friends and considered ending the relationship. When she told Kuklinski of her worries, he drew a knife and stabbed her in the back, saying, "That is an object lesson: never leave me.” Kuklinski left his first wife and soon after he and Barbara were married.
The couple had three children, two daughters, and a son. Life with Kuklinski was not easy. Barbara tells of his two sides, “Good Richie” and “Bad Richie”. He loved being a father and spoiled his children. In interviews, Kuklinski talks about his family life being some of the happiest moments in his life. He felt his wife and children gave him the chance to live a normal, happy life.
Richard Kuklinski was a real Jekyll and Hyde. He adored his family and wanted all the best things for them, however, he suffered fits of anger and rage that led to Barbara being beat. He broke his wife’s ribs, blackened her eyes, and tore their house apart on more than one occasion. His beatings reportedly led to two miscarriages. It got so bad that their children began to try to intervene when things got too violent.
Married to the Ice Man
Barbara enjoyed a financially comfortable life with Kuklinski. He sent their children to the best schools. Money was never an issue. They never struggled to pay bills. Barbara said in an interview that Richard once bought her a “$12,000 raccoon coat”. Richard Kuklinski tried to give his family everything he was deprived of as a child. He said he made at least five figures for every kill he did for the mafia. Barbara knew never to question how they could afford their life.
It has been said that Richard Kuklinski was unusual amongst serial killers. He varied his methods of both killing and body disposal. He didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol. He wasn’t a womanizer. He was very much devoted to his wife and family. He didn’t kill out of lust. He killed because it was his job, or he killed because someone made him mad.
In one interview, he tells the story of a Christmas eve that displayed the good side/bad side of Richard Kuklinski. He was home, like most fathers on Christmas Eve, putting together toys for his children. The call came through telling him his services were needed. He went to do the job, leaving the toys to be finished later. He shot the man while sitting in the car. His victim was the driver. Kuklinski said the shot was so loud, it left him unable to hear for some time after. He said the flash from the gun left him seeing stars. After finishing his grisly work, Kuklinski returned home to do his fatherly requirements so Christmas morning would be joyful.
Kuklinski wanted to be a good husband and father. He hated having to leave the perfect life he built at home with his family. Unfortunately, his criminal life required him to travel, to spend time away from the safety of his family. Kuklinski went out of his way to keep his business away from his home. In an interview, Kuklinski vows to kill anyone who threatened his family, entire rooms of people if necessary. For Richard Kuklinski family was the most important thing.
How Much Did She Really Know
Barbara Kuklinksi’s world came crashing down around her one morning, a week before Christmas in 1986. She and Richard had just left their home and were pulling out of the driveway when helicopters, detectives, and swarms of police officers descended around them to take Richard down. She claimed she had no idea what was happening. She had no idea he had been funding their lavish lifestyle through killing other people for pay. When the detective informed her that her of the reason for the arrest by saying “he’s a murderer”, Barbara said, “And all of a sudden it was like, ‘I knew that,’” she says now. “I knew he was a murderer.”
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Is it possible for Barbara to have spent more than 25 years with this man and have no idea who he really was? Yes. Barbara was abused on a regular basis by Kuklinski. It is entirely possible to imagine she really had no idea or at least didn’t feel safe enough to question her husband. He was faithful. He provided well for his family. And he brutalized his wife. Richard Kuklinski wife was just another one of his victims, only she lived through the abuse.
Richard Kuklinski's Daughters Now
As much as Kuklinski wanted to shield his daughters and son from his violent world, he was unable to keep his rage in check when it came to his wife. Unfortunately, his children grew up in the haze of violence surrounding them. Richard Kuklinski daughters, like his wife, knew to never question where he was when he wasn’t with them. The Kuklinski children grew up understanding this unspoken agreement. Richard Kuklinski family knew to treasure the happy times and never question the bad.
Merrick Kuklinski has done a few interviews since her father passed away in 2006. She is said to be of an imposing height, much like her father was. She is soft-spoken, a quiet listener. She said she has to compartmentalize the pieces of her childhood, the good and the ugly. At the time of one interview, she had a framed photograph of her father on display in her home. She also has his ashes, and a small bag of his worldly goods, including a list of all his favorite songs.
Barbara Kuklinski shares a tiny apartment with her youngest daughter, Christin. Christin and her boyfriend take care of Barbara. Christin publishes a blog that is full of insight into her mind, as well as updates about the remaining Kuklinski family. In one especially poignant post she says of her father, “Yes, you can love and loathe a person”. Growing up in the shadow of such a violent, imposing man took its toll on the children of the Iceman.
Richard Kuklinski caused pain. This was his gift in life. He killed without remorse or regret. At the same time, he loved his family more than anything. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep his rage in check when it came to his wife. Although he never took his rage out on his children directly, they still witnessed some of his worst behavior. Richard Kuklinski's daughters now live with the shadow of his crimes. Growing up with this rage-filled darkness and forced silence left its mark on Richard Kuklinski's family.
Images via bizarrepedia.