Richard Kuklinski: The Analysis of Motives

Any manifestation of the human activity, including the criminal one, is an act of communication with the other people, as well as the element of social experience. It is performed through behavior of an individual that is developed and established in the course of historical practice. A particular type of behavior is usually an expression of the relationship of a certain type of personality and the activities of a person that possesses it. For example, criminal activity, as a socially dangerous behavior, expresses the connection of the offender with other people, as well the historical conditions that result in crime and contribute to its preservation (Hagan, 2011).

The primary characterizing feature of any action is its motive. It is the key element, through which it is possible to reveal the nature of an inherent connection between the human being and its deeds. The motives contain the elements of encouragement, the internal base, and target orientation of activity. Moreover, their structure characterizes the development of an individual through its rich content, i.e. the assimilation of particular elements of social environment and relations with other members of the society (Welsh & Farrington, 2011). As a result, to understand the nature of social and psychological characteristics of a criminal, it is important to identify and analyze the motivational sphere of its socially dangerous activities. This analysis helps reveal the social content of the offender’s personality traits, the determinants of the deviant behavior, and the most common means of the socio-psychological mechanism of criminal activity. The following work focuses on the analysis of the motives of Richard Kuklinski through the application of criminological theories to his case. He was a killer who was working for several Italian-American mafia families and claimed to have killed more than a hundred people.

The Killer

Richard Kuklinski was born on April 11, 1935, in New Jersey at the family of Polish, Irish, and American descent. However, his childhood was not a happy one. In particular, his father, Stanley Kuklinski, was an alcoholic and the home tyrant that often beat his children. When Richard was five years old, his father beat one of his sons, Florian, to death. However, the whole family, being afraid of the punishment both from the side of the law and Stanley, told the police officers that the boy killed himself, accidentally falling into the stairwell (Carlo, 2008). Furthermore, Richard’s younger brother, Joseph, was a pedophile, being imprisoned for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl (Plaza, 2015).

Therefore, it is obvious that Kuklinski was growing in the unfavorable social conditions, observing the acts of violence and crime on the constant basis. In this regard, it is possible to refer to the differential association theory to explain the reasons and motives for his behavior. Being developed by Edwin Sutherland, it focuses on the fact that criminals are a socialized group of people that demonstrate deviant behavior and define it as absolutely normal and adequate. The name of the theory reflects the idea that people behave in a certain way under the influence of their environment (Schmalleger, 2014). In particular, the deviant behavior does not differ from other forms of human activity, since a person becomes a criminal only due to his/her ability to learn. It should be noted that a childhood is always the first stage of development as a person. For the overwhelming number of people, it determines their further road in life and is characterized by active programming of the human mind by its external environment. By considering that Richard has been observing the acts of violence since the early childhood, it is possible to say that deviant behavior has become an integral part of his personality (Straus et al., 2014).

Additionally, the theory states that the criminal training includes the perception of criminogenic attitudes, habits and skills, which are formed as a result of negative social influences and the imitation of a bad example, which are the basis of criminal behavior. In the case of Kuklinski, it is possible to speak about the so-called parental programming of a personality, namely an automatic (unconscious and conscious) copying of the beliefs, habits, reactions, and ways of life of the parents. It is possible that such programming was of a direct nature, i.e. Richard considered his father an authority. However, it is also possible to assume that this feeling was born from the fear before him as the boy was too afraid to resort to the opposition-based imitation (i.e. when the child does not respect a parent and acts in the way that is completely different from the behavior considered normal in the family) (Straus et al., 2014). This statement is supported by the fact that Richard considered Stanley Kuklinski to be the one that made him choose the way of murder. In particular, when being asked about the crimes committed by his brother, he stated that they both were children of the same father (Carlo, 2008).

Finally, according to the differential association theory, a person learns antisocial behavior not because he/she has the makings to it but rather because the examples of it are observed more frequently. For example, in case a person has been included in another social continuum since childhood, the way and results of its development will be different from those observed in the normal conditions (Straus et al., 2014). In case of Richard, it is possible to say that due to the violent nature of his father, he has observed criminal behavior frequently, eventually starting to perceive it as a norm. Moreover, considering the atmosphere of tyranny that dominated in his home, it is unlikely that he communicated with peers and the representatives of other social groups that could have a positive effect on his development as an individual.

Thus, it is not surprise that Richard has become a moral monster, just like the people that surrounded him. The social training he has received as a child had early results as Richard has performed the first act of homicide when he was only thirteen years old. Being accustomed to cruelty and violence since childhood, he did not perceive killing people a bad thing. Therefore, when he started working as a hired killer for the Mafia, he had no moral obstacles for the murder. In other words, for Richard, violence was a normal behavior rather than a deviation. As a result, Kuklinski turned to the life of crime, starting to work for one of the Mafia families. However, the payment for the execution of orders was comparatively low. By striving to live in a grand style, an aspiring killer started owing Roy DeMeo, a mobster from one of the clans. Once, when Richard was unable to pay on time, DeMeo beat him up severely. However, Kuklinski stoically endured it (Carlo, 2008), which can also be perceived as a result of the differential association he has undergone during his childhood. The atmosphere of fear created by Stanley Kuklinski could eliminate the oppression against the head of the family. By taking into account that under his influence the wife and children concealed the fact of a murder of their relative, it is possible to say that Richard acquired his stoicism together with his indifference to the value of a human life.

The described event earned Richard some respect from Roy, since Mafia valued such behavior implicitly. Mafiosi offered him a job preceded by a challenge. He pointed at the random person in the street out of the car window and offered Kuklinski to kill him/her. This episode in Richard’s life clearly demonstrated his attitude towards murder. He did not argue, stepped out of the car, and, walking past the passer-by, shot him in the head. Since that time, Kuklinski took orders for the murder from all the five largest Mafia families in New York. Most often, his customer was Roy DeMeo (Carlo, 2008).

As a result, it is obvious that for Richard killing was nothing but routine work, with his only concerns being regarding its efficiency. Thus, being a diligent worker, he was constantly improving his skills and murdering techniques. To do that, Richard practiced on the defenseless homeless people in Manhattan. Consequently, when the police forces found the bodies, they were not very zealous in solving such crimes, considering them results of quarrels between the homeless. Moreover, Richard tried to maintain the variety of his arsenal, including poison and the other tools of the indirect murder. Due to such improvements of skills, the deaths of his victims were usually blamed on natural causes, and no one was looking for the killer (Plaza, 2015). Richard could poison the food of his target or spray the toxin in its face. After two hours, it was difficult to define the signs of poisoning. However, he also had to shoot some of his marks. In this case, there was a need to hide the bodies. Sometimes, he dismembered the dead, with the body parts being packed and transported to different landfills or simply buried them (Carlo, 2008). As a result, he was very methodical in his work, striving for the maximum efficiency, which, again, can be perceived as a result of the differential association that was connected to his past.

The statement regarding Richard’s specific attitude towards murder is also supported by the tutoring he was receiving from other killers to improve his skills. In the criminal circles, he was nicknamed the Ice Man as he often chose to freeze the corpses of his victims. Kuklinski has adopted this method from his teacher on the bloody craft, Robert Pronge, also known as Mr. Softee. Pronge rode through the streets in an ice cream van. It was an excellent cover, since the vehicle always provided enough space to hide a corpse. Moreover, the low temperature slows down the process of decomposition, making it more difficult to find the body. In addition, Robert taught Richard to use poisons and explosives as tools of murder (Carlo, 2008). The described cruelty and lack of any moral obstacles make it possible to assume that in his own eyes, Richard Kuklinski was not a criminal but a simple working man, trying to support his wife and children.

The Family Man

It is interesting to note that despite his twisted moral norms, Richard Kuklinski was a family-oriented person. The unhappy childhood has left its mark on his personality and the character. Having witnessed his tyrannical father regularly beating his mother and even killing his brother, Kuklinski did not want to repeat such a terrible fate for his children. He married Barbara Pedricci, who bore him two daughters and a son. Richard genuinely loved them and tried to keep his house full of family comfort. None of the friends, neighbors and, of course, relatives did not even know about what he did for a living. For them, he was a successful businessman and an exemplary family man (Carlo, 2008). No one would have thought him to be a person that makes the other women widows and leaves the children without fathers. Due to the orders from the Mafia, Kuklinski often had to leave his home any time of day or night to deal with an urgent contract. He was following the commands of his superiors unquestioningly. At the same time, he often complained that he hates his job, but not because it was of a criminal nature. Instead, Richard disliked when it interrupted him to attend family dinners on weekends and especially when it was not allowing him to spend Christmas with his wife and children (Carlo, 2008).

As a result, Richard has demonstrated a case of the so-called split personality being both a ruthless killer and a loving father and husband. Such behavior can be explained by the social bond theory, which was developed by Travis Hirschi. From the historical point of view, it has been a way of approaching and explaining various problems that arise in the society. Its elements include a person’s attachment to the family, its commitment to social institutions (e.g. school and the place of work), and the involvement in the activities of the different social groups (Schmalleger, 2014). According to the theory, the weaker are the individual’s ties to these elements (i.e. the less he is dependent on them), the higher is the chance that he will ignore the rules and norms of the society to benefit his personal interests (Hagan, 2011). In case of Richard, his bond with the family was very strong. As a result, he did not allow himself to demonstrate any violence or cruelty outside of his job. It is possible to assume that he was able to retain some of the moral norms and values that were considered to be lost many years ago. Despite all the crimes he committed, as well as his indifference to the value of a human life, he was still capable of loving the other people and caring for them. Moreover, it was not a pretention, which can be supported by the following fact. After Kuklinski was finally caught, his wife was arrested together with him. The police agents treated her roughly enough, which made the murderer so angry that a whole group of officers was required to manhandle him.

Arrest, Detention, and Death

The police have long been aware of the crimes of Kuklinski but could not directly accuse him of them. Richard has repeatedly been detained on suspicion of murder, but he was always released due to the lack of proof. In particular, when experts examined the bodies of his victims that have long been stored in the refrigerators, it was very difficult for them to determine the exact time of death. Due to such fact, the investigation could not develop a clear version of the crime and indict the suspect (Plaza, 2015). As a result, detectives decided to use another strategy. They recruited a close friend of Kuklinski, Phil Solimene, and he agreed to help them. According to the instructions of the police, Phil contacted Richard and informed him of the new order, with their conversation being recorded. On December 17, 1986, Kuklinski was finally caught when he bought the cyanide for the upcoming murder of a person that turned out to be a federal agent. After the arrest, police officers found a gun in his car, which was a major piece of evidence. In 1988, the New Jersey court sentenced Kuklinski to five life sentences (Plaza, 2015). After realizing that he will never leave the prison, Richard decided to confess another crime. In 1980, he killed an NYPD officer named Peter Calabro. At the same time, the killer described this event in great detail, saying that he spent a long time lying in the snow and waiting for the detective. Once again, he has shown no remorse for his actions. This confession has further cemented his reputation as the Ice Man and added thirty more years to his prison sentence (Carlo, 2008).

At the same time, Kuklinski has managed to become famous as one of the most ruthless killers working for the Mafia. Moreover, he was willingly giving interviews about his career and personal life to the television producers and writers without being afraid to tell about his past. By taking into account the differential association mentioned before, it is possible to assume that his stoicism allowed him to remain calm even at prison. However, the value of a human life was still low for him. In fact, the level of details in his stories demonstrates that he perceived murder as a part of his daily routine and as a work with the opportunities for improvement and career growth. The interviews with Kuklinski provided enough material for several documentaries, as well as books (Carlo, 2008).
However, the famous killer could not remain still for a long time. After Richard has testified that he received the order for the murder of a police officer from the Gambino mafia clan, he was seriously worried that even behind at prison he can be eliminated any day. In this regard, it is possible to assume that fear was also a major driving factor of his attitude towards the family. Due to the strong social bonds with it, he was afraid of losing the people he loved, thus deciding to keep them away from his work. Moreover, Richard felt that the poison will be the weapon of choice to dispose of him. Therefore, when Kuklinski died in prison on March 5, 2006, his wife insisted on defining the cause of his death. However, the pathologists have found no evidence that he was poisoned (Carlo, 2008).


Crime is not only a legal phenomenon but also a social one. It is composed of human actions directed against the society as a whole or its certain part. Thus, it is advisable to consider the damage that crime does to people not only from the standpoint of their physical or material manifestation but also the social one. In particular, it may provide a strong basis for the emergence of the new criminals as it was demonstrated by the case of Richard Kuklinski. Moreover, the formation of a human personality involves a huge number of factors, from the genetic structure to the social position of an individual. Nevertheless, its external environment often plays a decisive role in the development of a delinquent or criminal behavior. For Richard, it was the tyranny of his father and the atmosphere of violence that he was surrounded with during his childhood. Therefore, the motives of his crimes can be explained through the use of the differential association theory. He killed not because he enjoyed it, but because he considered it normal. Moreover, for him, killing people was a way to earn money. At the same time, his case is of particular interest due to the radical difference in his attitude towards murder and family. Consequently, strong social bonds with the latter supported the low moral standards and values he had, making him a family-oriented person.