For some reason, Philip Carlo has always found himself being interested with what makes a serial killer.
The New York-based author spent hundreds of hours interviewing Richard Ramirez, who had the entire Los Angeles area sitting on pins and needles in the 1980s as he earned the nickname of "The Night Stalker."
"In the process of researching serial killers, Ramirez was fascinating," said Carlo, who wrote the first comprehensive book on Ramirez, entitled "The Night Stalker: The True Story of America's Most Feared Serial Killer," which was published in 1996. "It was an unusual case. Everyone knew what he did."
About five years ago, Carlo came home one night after having dinner and turned on HBO, which was airing the final of its interviews with Jersey City native and former North Bergen resident Richard Kuklinski. The series was called "The Ice Man Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man."
In the documentaries, Kuklinski told how he notoriously performed mob hits throughout New Jersey, including three more prominent murders in North Bergen during the 1980s, earning him the nickname "The Ice Man," for keeping some of his murder victims inside a freezer in his garage on Tonnelle Avenue.
"It looked so interesting," Carlo said. "I had vague recollections of him when the story first broke, but while watching this interview and as he was talking, I was struck by his cold candor. Something about him was unusual. Here he was, coldly talking about feeding people to rats while they were still alive."
Kuklinski, who in his heyday stood an imposing 6-foot-5 and weighed 275 pounds, calmly admitted on camera that he killed as many as 100 people during his lifetime, perhaps more.
As soon as the show was completed, Carlo wrote Kuklinski a letter and addressed it to Trenton State Prison, where Kuklinski was serving two life sentences.
"It was like 3 a.m., but I found it all so fascinating that I had to write to him," Carlo said. "I had been looking for another subject to write about and this was him. I just don't want to write about someone who is killing people. There has to be a story behind it."
Carlo had written to two other serial killers. One was Gary Ridgway, who gained notoriety as the "Green River Killer" by pleading guilty to 49 murders of women in the Seattle area in the 1990s. The other was Dennis Rader, who pleaded guilty to being the "BTK (Blind Torture Kill) Killer" in Wichita, torturing 10 murder victims going back to 1974. Neither man responded to Carlo's requests.
"I'm just fascinated with people who live to kill, who are cunning and hide in plain sight," Carlo said. "I wanted to know when on inside his mind, how he was a family man with three children, yet did all these horrible things."
"Three weeks after I sent the letter, lo and behold, I hear from him," Carlo said. "He was interested. He told me that I should also contact Barbara [Kuklinski's ex-wife]. He wanted to know if I was dedicated to the project. He said that Barbara would be of help."
That was all the inspiration Carlo needed. He then set out to write "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer," which was released recently by St. Martin's Press.
The book has caused some controversy because of Kuklinski's boasts in it, including saying he was involved in the death of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Carlo remembered one conversation that he had with Barbara Kuklinski that really stood out.
"She told me that he could be the nicest man in the world, a loving father with arms filled with gifts," Carlo said. "Or he could be the meanest son of a bitch that ever lived. I interviewed everyone. There were all these stories about him being a good family man, but he also had a really bad temper. He broke things constantly. He once threw a marble table through the front window. Only a man of super human strength could do that."
Carlo vividly recalls the first time he sat down face-to-face with Kuklinski to begin nearly 250 hours of interviews.
"I was sitting there, not knowing what to expect," Carlo said. "The door opens and he walks in and for a couple of seconds, I couldn't believe how huge he was, with his shoulders, his girth. He had a size 15 foot. His arms were huge. But he walked like a cat and moved very quickly. When he reached out to shake my hand, I knew right away that this man was enormous. I felt like a young child."
"As it turned out, he was very soft spoken and rather engaging," Carlo said. "He had a keen sense of humor and would always catch me off-guard. My plan was to learn everything about his life. My initial interest was how he became the way he was."
Carlo said that he used a very different technique to get Kuklinski to open up to him.
"For the first four or five interviews, I talked only about myself," Carlo said. "I grew up in Brooklyn and knew the Mafia names and knew them well. Richard knew that I could do the walk and the talk. It gave me an insight to mob killers, so he understood where I was coming from. He knew I was real."
Carlo said that he was then amazed how freely Kuklinski opened up to him, telling Carlo that the actual number of people he killed was more like 200 instead of the estimated 100 reported in the HBO specials.
"I think he saw that I was so willing to open up about myself that he trusted me and we developed a rapport," Carlo said. "I asked about his mother and father. I asked about his heritage. Little by little, he told me everything."
Kuklinski detailed in gruesome fashion some of the killings that he was either paid to pull off or just did because of a vendetta.
Kuklinski said in Carlo's book that he was born in Jersey City in 1935 to dirt-poor Polish immigrants and that he started his life in crime by bludgeoning a neighborhood bully to death in downtown Jersey City when Kuklinski was only 14.
"He had an abusive alcoholic father who eventually killed Richard's brother," Carlo said. "I was looking him right in the eye and I could tell he was telling me the truth. He ran the gamut of emotions each time we talked. He was sad, angry, filled with rage. He told me that the only regret he ever had was that he didn't kill his father."
According to Carlo's book, Kuklinski was known by his wife and children as a family man, with the Kuklinski family living in virtual obscurity in Dumont in Bergen County No one knew of Kuklinski's secret life as an assassin for the Mafia.
However, because of the HBO specials and the books, like the one written by Carlo, Kuklinski's status almost grew to that of a horror-movie cult figure, much like Hannibal Lechter of "Silence of the Lambs" fame.
Kuklinski told Carlo that killing was a way to cover up robberies and thefts. He claimed to have shot, stabbed, strangled and poisoned many of his victims.
As one of the main enforcers for the Gambino crime family, Kuklinski earned a reputation of killing with such ease that even the biggest Mafia bosses were uneasy around him.
Among the victims Kuklinski claimed to have murdered was Robert Prongay, a North Bergen businessman who owned a Mister Softee ice cream truck. Prongay's bullet-riddled body was found hanging in a garage on Tonnelle Avenue, near where the truck was regularly parked.
It was believed that Prongay was the person who sold Kuklinski the cyanide that he had used for several killings. Kuklinski would later say that cyanide was one of his most popular ways of pulling off hired hits.
"Why be messy?" Kuklinski said while being interviewed for the HBO documentaries. "You do it nice and neat with cyanide."
Kuklinski claimed to put cyanide into a nasal spray bottle. While walking down the street, he would pretend to sneeze into a handkerchief. While doing so, Kuklinski would spray the cyanide into the face of a passerby, killing them almost instantly. Kuklinski said that Prongay was the person who would provide the cyanide.
When Kuklinski believed Prongay was going to tell the police about the association between the two men, Kuklinski killed him.
Another Kuklinski victim, Gary Smith, was killed when Kuklinski apparently fed Smith a poison-filled hamburger. After Smith was dead, Kuklinski apparently jammed Smith's body under a bed inside a North Bergen hotel room. Smith's body went unnoticed in the hotel room for more than three weeks, before the smell of decomposition drew attention to the room.
Another Kuklinski case that involved North Bergen was the murder of local pharmacist Louis Masgay, whose body was allegedly kept in a North Bergen freezer for more than two years - thus Kuklinski's nickname of "The Ice Man."
Kuklinski apparently kept an industrial-sized freezer in a warehouse space that Kuklinski rented on Tonnelle Avenue. Witnesses had seen Masgay near the warehouse before Masgay's disappearance.
Kuklinski later said that he shot Masgay and kept him in the freezer to try to disguise the time of death. Masgay's body was eventually found in Rockland County in New York, wrapped in plastic bags and wearing the same clothes he had on when last seen.
When the medical examiner did the autopsy, it was determined that although Masgay's body appeared fresh, like a day or two, there was ice in the tissues, which proved that the fatal wounds had occurred a long time prior to Masgay's body being spotted.
Following Kuklinski's eventual arrest in 1986, North Bergen police and FBI agents combed the area in search of a freezer that would have been big enough to store a human body. A freezer was never found - although it is believed that Prongay's ice cream truck could have also been storage for victims such as Masgay.
Kuklinski also confessed to have murdered another unidentified North Bergen man while he "conducted business" in the rented warehouse. Once the unidentified man was dead, Kuklinski apparently stuffed the body into a 55-gallon drum, filled the drum with cement and left the drum outside the victim's favorite hot dog stand on Bergenline Avenue.
Kuklinski said that he took "great thrill" going by the hot dog stand and seeing the drum just sitting there, day after day.
"I found great amusement seeing that drum there for so long," Kuklinski said on the HBO special.
Eventually, the drum was removed and was believed to be taken to local landfills with regular trash. The victim's body was never recovered.
In the 1980s, Kuklinski had become one of the leaders of a robbery and theft ring. At first, he was not connected with any of the murders, just believed to be involved with the theft.
So a task force of state, local and federal agents was set up to investigate Kuklinski and a group of others he was associated with.
Dominic Polifrone, who was an agent for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, posed as a mobster looking for drugs and just happened to secretly record Kuklinski admitting to several murders. That was enough evidence to arrest Kuklinski.
However, in Carlo's book, it is written that Lt. Pat Kane of the New Jersey State Police monitored Kuklinski's actions for more than five years.
"Polifone only did it for four months," Carlo said. "Lt. Pat Kane pursued Richard for five years."
In 1986, Kuklinski was arrested outside of his Dumont home. At the time, Kuklinski was only charged with five murders, including the murder of Gary Smith.
In 1988, Kuklinski was convicted and sentenced to consecutive life terms for the murders of Smith and colleague Daniel Dessper. Later that year, he pleaded guilty to the murder of Masgay. But he was never charged with any of the murders that he claimed to have carried out during the HBO series.
Kuklinski was all set to testify that famed mob rat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano hired him in 1980 to kill New York City detective Peter Calabro on a snowy night in Upper Saddle River, N.J. Kuklinski said that he kept in constant contact with Gravano that night and that Gravano was nearby at the time of the killing, as Kuklinski shot Calabro while Calabro was sitting in his car.
Kuklinski pleaded guilty to the murder of Calabro in 2003, two years after the HBO show first aired. Murder charges were filed against Gravano, who is currently serving a 20-year term in federal prison for a drug conviction after turning state's evidence against the mob.
However, the charges against Gravano were dropped soon after Kuklinski died last March.
"If that trial took place, it would have been the biggest story outside of 'The DaVinci Code,' " Carlo claimed. "Richard died March 5 and the charges were dropped March 6."
Of all the claims of murders and hits done by Kuklinski, perhaps the most controversial one mentioned in the book is the claim that Kuklinski was involved with the famous disappearance of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.
Carlo said that he had heard rumors on the street, as well as comments from the now-retired Kane, that Kuklinski had something to do with Hoffa's disappearance.
"Richard never told me about Hoffa," Carlo said. "Lt. Pat Kane did. When I went back to [Trenton State] prison to talk to Richard, I said, 'You know, I might have heard something that you had something to do with Hoffa,' and he snapped at me, 'I don't want to talk about that.' That was it for a while. I asked him three times and he kept saying, `I don't want to talk about that.'"
The persistent Carlo figured that Kuklinski had a story to tell.
"On the fourth time I asked him, he proceeded to tell me a detailed story about Hoffa," Carlo said. "He said that they all met in Union City, but when they met, he didn't know who Hoffa was."
Carlo wrote that Kuklinski admitted to having stabbed Hoffa in the back of the neck in Detroit, then drove his body back to Kearny, where it was dumped in the swamps there.
"It was incredible," Carlo said. "I even asked him at the time about taking the body all the way back to Jersey, some 10 hours or so in the trunk. I asked what that smelled like. He said the smell was bad."
In the book, Kuklinski claims that on July 29, 1975, he was with four other guys who drove to Detroit from New Jersey with a contract to kill Hoffa, but Kuklinski didn't know who Hoffa was.
The book reveals that Kuklinski, a mobster named "Tony P.," a pair of brothers named "Gabe" and "Sal" and "another guy named Tommy," were there when Hoffa was killed.
The men whom Kuklinski tried to implicate are believed to be Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, Gabriel and Salvatore Briguglio, and Thomas Andretta. Those four men were the focus of a grand jury investigation regarding Hoffa's disappearance. However, all four have denied having anything to do with Hoffa's disappearance and have never been charged.
According to the book, the men took the 10-hour drive to from Union City (where Hoffa was last seen alive a day prior) to Detroit and were told to go to the suburban Detroit restaurant where Hoffa was eating.
Kuklinski claimed that Hoffa left with the men in the car. Then, Kuklinski claims to have hit Hoffa in the back of the head with a blackjack, then plunged a hunting knife into the back of his neck.
Kuklinski said that the men put Hoffa's body in a body bag at a rest stop in Bloomfield, Mich., and drove back to New Jersey with Hoffa's body in the trunk. They took the body to a junkyard in Kearny.
In the book, Kuklinski said that once the group got to Kearny, Hoffa's body was placed in a 50-gallon drum and set on fire.
The drum was then sealed and buried in the junkyard. However, feeling the heat about the disappearance, the drum was later dug up and placed in the trunk of a car that was crushed and sold as scrap metal to Japanese car makers.
"He's part of a car somewhere in Japan right now," Kuklinski says of Hoffa in the book.
Kuklinski told Carlo that he received $40,000 for the hit on Hoffa.
Since the book was released, Carlo has been under fire by experts who have stated the story is pure fiction.
"I took what he said at face value, and until someone proves me different, I believe it," Carlo said. "I think he did it. He didn't sound like someone who lives in a fantasy world. Of course, when he first told me, I was a little skeptical. But I still wrote it as he told me. I told that to St. Martin's Press, and they told me to go with it. It really sounded real."
Incredibly, while Carlo's book was being printed and shipped to bookstores for its July release, federal officials were excavating a Bloomfield, Mich. farm, acting on a tip that Hoffa's body might be buried there.
"I was thinking that if they found his body there on that farm, I would have been totally shocked," Carlo said. "It was a little more than coincidence that this search happened when the book was coming out. I honestly didn't attach that much importance to the Hoffa murder. I always thought the story of Richard's life was more important, not just one given incident. There's no way to definitely know if it was true. But what was I supposed to do? Not write it?"
Added Carlo, "I suddenly found myself in a whirlwind of bad intentions. I spent years of my life writing this book. Now they're saying that Richard Kuklinski is a liar, after he's dead?"
Carlo said that he's already begun his next project, on the life of reputed Luchese underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, who spent nearly three years on the lam avoiding the federal agents, until he was caught in 1993 and turned state's evidence against the mob a year later.
"The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer," written by Philip Carlo, is available in all bookstores and via Internet book sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com.