The Iceman: A Commentary on The Interview of A Hired Killer and His Mind

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Published: 28th April 2008
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My initial reaction to the Iceman Interviews was that the murderer, Richard Kuklinski, was suffering from some deep seated mental illnesses in order for him to be able to commit what he estimated to be 200 or more murders without remorse. I was gratified later that the psychologist who interviewed him agreed. I was amazed that he had such a knack for killing. Without any apparent forethought he was able to carry out successful hits on anybody he wished without leaving any evidence behind or witnesses to the crimes.

I was disgusted that it took almost thirty years for this prolific killer to be finally caught. It makes me wonder how many people like him are in our society free to kill as they please. People who the criminal justice system has absolutely no knowledge of.

It was frightening how easily he was to anger and how little it took for him to decide to kill someone. When the psychologist began to criticize a statement Richard had made, Richard warned him that he was becoming annoyed. Often that was all it took for someone to die.
The slow manner of his speech and certain statements he made that were not consistent with each other indicates that he was not so cold and unfeeling when he made his first few kills. When he spoke about his first murder in a bar fight where he beat a man to death with a pool cue he became visibly upset and confessed that the guilt over what he had done had plagued him for days. This indicates his first use of coping techniques for managing the stigma of having committed murder. In this case he simply claimed it was an accident that couldn't be helped.

Later in Richard's life, he often worked out of the Gemini Lounge in Brooklyn. This is an example of manipulating the physical setting. By making it look like a business he created the feeling that what he was doing was legitimate. He also divided the social world, in which a small group of people knew what he did for a living and everyone else he came into contact with simply didn't know.

The technique of stigma management he most strongly subscribed to was appealing to higher loyalties. This technique states that a person commits deviant or criminal acts because it is service to someone or some cause which the deviant holds in higher regard than the rest of society or the criminal justice system. He claimed that since he had no education or other job skills, the only way to support his family was to work for the mafia as a hitman. He spoke many times of how much he cared for his wife and kids. They were the only thing in his life that mattered. As he saw it as the only way to make enough money to care for his family, he had no trouble rationalizing his acts from that point onward.

There are two types of violence which Richard committed in his criminal career. The first is expressive violence which is defined as acts that vent rage, anger, or frustration. A good example of this would be all of Richard's murders before he met the woman who would become his wife. He killed people because they angered him or in retaliation for some perceived slight. He recounted one such murder in which he was stalking a man who had insulted him. He followed the man to a bar. When the man stepped into the alley outside the bar to urinate, Richard walked up behind him and strangled him to death with a clothesline hanging from a nearby window. Once the man was dead the insult had been avenged and he simply walked away.

The other type of violence Richard displayed was instrumental violence which are acts designed to improve the financial or social position of the criminal. All the hired hits Richard had completed for the mafia were of this type. He was paid very well to kill someone, and when he did so it increased his social standing within the Gambino crime family. When he did his first job he was given a picture of the man to be killed and the locations where he was known to frequent. He drove up beside the man at a stoplight, confirmed he matched the picture, and shot him in the face with a shotgun. He then drove off.

Despite these motivations for continuing his violent behavior, the question of why he was so violent to begin with still stands. I believe he acted the way he did because he fits the criteria for the creation of a "dangerous violent criminal", which should not be mistaken for violent criminal. A dangerous violent criminal commits heinous acts without provocation. The creation of a dangerous violent criminal takes four stages. The first is called brutalization in which the subject goes through abusive treatment at the hands of others. We know for a fact that Richard was beaten viciously by both his parents as a child as a form of subjugation and coercion. He also witnessed his father beating his mother on many occasions. It is likely he was coached at one time or another that violent behavior is not only acceptable, but required in certain situations.

The second stage is Belligerency. This describes the state of mind of someone who has gone through stage one. They are angry, hostile, and belligerent. At this point they begin to see that they too should be violent. At the end of this stage the subject makes a "mitigated violence resolution" where they accept they can and will use violence if provoked.

Stage three is violent performances in which a person starts to act out violently, but only when there is some form of provocation. Around this time the subject customarily gets into their first real fight. The outcome of this is critical. If the subject losses his first fight he/she may consider ceasing all other acts of violence. If the subject wins the first fight they will have increased self-confidence and are more likely to use violence to resolve potentially dangerous situations. Richard recounts a story of when he was fourteen and there were six other boys in his house that were going to pick on him and ridicule him, as was common. He went upstairs, retrieved a metal clothes rod and beat them all senseless. This prompted him to continue on to stage four.

Stage four is known as virulency. The subject is confident they can take care of themselves in most violent situations. This indicates they've finally obtained a violent self-concept where other people see them as capable of violent crime. The result of this is an "unmitigated violent resolution" in which the subject now commits violence without reason or provocation. I believe that given Richard Kuklinski's history and slow graduation to killing people, this is likely the process that resulted in his current behavior.

There are many parallels between Richard Kuklinski's story and the study performed by Jeremy Wright and Christopher Hensley which looked at ties between cruelty to animals in childhood and serial killing. Though Kuklinski is not defined as a serial killer as his motives and choice of victims were structured rather than random, he shares many of the developmental experiences that it is believed serial killers go through.

Kuklinski freely admits to having tortured and killed small animals as a boy. As early as age ten he would tie cats' tails together and let them rip each other apart or throw them in an incinerator. He would throw dogs off the roof of the apartment building he lived in or tie them to busses and let them be dragged along. The article claims that young children would channel their aggression from the people abusing them, often their parents, and instead strike out against groups unable to retaliate, such as animals. Kuklinski did the same thing. His parents beat him constantly, and as his anger and hatred for them grew he acted out, but unable to hurt those who had hurt him, he instead took out his anger on animals.

The graduation hypothesis voiced in the article states that serial killers slowly work their way upward from animals to human beings. The reason being is that the rush or feeling of relief that they initially get from hurting animals doesn't ease their anger and frustration after a while. They have become desensitized to the experience so they graduate to killing people in order to regain those feelings. Kuklinski's experiences corroborate this theory. Though later in his career he repeatedly claims that he got no gratification from killing people, he claimed that after his first few murders when he was younger, he experienced a great sense of relief.

It occurs to me that had Richard Kuklinski never met the woman who would become his wife and had a family, he would be one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. When he met her he realized that he could use the skills he had to build a life for him and his family. This altered his motivations for killing and created a pattern that he could follow, ultimately allowing him to be caught.

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