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Barbara Kuklinski: Life married to the Iceman in the early years.

Barbara Kuklinski: Life married to the Iceman in the early years.

Married to The Iceman

Married to the Mafia’s most feared hitman…and didn’t know it

Her life sounds like an episode of The Sopranos, but for Barbara Kuklinski, being married to a Mafia killer was a drama she could never switch off.

Barbara refuses to enter her daughter’s bedroom. “That room is cursed; I never step in there,” she shudders, indicating the closed door. Her distress is palpable. For that bedroom, from which her daughter, Merrick, rarely emerges, contains something Barbara would prefer to have seen swimming with the fishes at the bottom of the ocean – her late husband’s ashes.

“Merrick, who has a number of health problems, is so good hearted. She loved her father so much, she insisted on bringing his ashes home after he was cremated; I wish they weren’t in my house, but unfortunately they are,” she sighs.

Barbara is the widow of one of the most notorious professional assassins in the history of American gangland crime. Richard Kuklinski, was a Mafia contract killer who worked for all five New York crime families, and the two New Jersey mob families, becoming one of their premiere killers. It’s estimated he murdered more than 200 people in one of the most sustained killing sprees ever recorded.

He boasted: “I beat them to death for exercise.” He was called “the Ice Man” by New Jersey’s Organised Crime and Racketeering Bureau investigators because he froze some of his victims, before dumping them so that forensics teams could not tell when the murder took place. For an additional price, Kuklinski would torture victims for hours, then leave them half-alive to be eaten by rats.

The true story of the Ice Man shocked America because Kuklinski led an extraordinary double life, apparently a loving husband and doting father who hosted friendly neighbourhood barbecues in suburban New Jersey, ushering at his local Catholic church every Sunday. “We were the perfect all-American family,” says Barbara, her voice laden with sarcasm. “We were so perfect it would make you sick. The way we lived was surreal.”

The Hoboken-based DeCavalcante crime family, hired Kuklinski as their in-house executioner on many occasions, as did crime lord John Gotti and the Gambino family, as well as many other very bad “goodfellas”. Following a long and intricate police investigation, Kuklinski was finally arrested in December, 1986.

When Barbara heard the charges against her husband, she was appalled, though she knew only too well how easily he could fall into psychotic rages.

“There were two Richards, and I never knew who would be walking in the door – the good Richard or the bad Richard,” she recalls, who was married to Kuklinski – and by implication to the mob – when she was barely 20 years old and with whom she had three children – daughters Merrick and Christin, and son Dwayne.

Kuklinski and wife Barbara.

Kuklinski and wife Barbara.


“I didn’t want that here in my home either – but Merrick, who has never held anything her father did against him, insisted,” says Barbara, pointing to a large framed black-and-white photograph. It’s a portrait of Kuklinski, his wide Slavic features impassive, his eyes soulless. “Honestly, I hate that picture!” For more than 45 years she lived with a man who, behind closed doors, abused and beat her black-and-blue, despite the fact that he called her his “Lady”.

Richard Kuklinskie was 6 feet 5 inches tall, 300 pounds, mostly muscle, and did not have a conscience to speak of.

“Richard was dangerous, cruel and charismatic,” says Philip Carlo, who wrote The Ice Man, telling Kuklinski’s awful story. Brooklyn-born Carlo, who grew up next door to one of New York’s bloodiest crime families, spent hundreds of hours interviewing the killer in Trenton State Prison, where he was serving multiple life sentences. Carlo was determined to “shine light on the dark violent phenomenon that was Richard Kuklinski’s life”.

Jersey City-born Kuklinski – was the son of an Irish mother and a Polish father. Richard was born into violence and his father Stanley was a killer who battered his son as a child.

Born in 1935, Richard was the second of four children, to an alcoholic, abusive railroad brakeman father and a fanatically Catholic mother who  laboured in a meat  packing factory who also administered beatings freely. Richard Leonard Kuklinski dropped out of the eighth grade to become a full-time hoodlum, stealing cars and robbing houses in Jersey City and Hoboken.

His parents were physically violent to Richard and to his brothers, beating them constantly. In 1940, the beatings resulted in the fatality of Richard Kuklinski’s elder brother, Florian. His parents hid the cause of the child’s death from the police, saying he had slipped down a flight of stairs. His alcoholic father ultimately deserted the family, leaving them to fend for themselves.

He committed his first murder at 14, avenging several beatings he had suffered from a teenage bully named Charley Lane. He surprised Lane on the sidewalk one day and beat him to death with a wood club, then knocked out all his teeth, cut off his fingers, and dumped him over a South Jersey bridge. He then stalked and beat the rest of Lane’s gang within an inch of their lives, bludgeoning one of them in the groin until his ruptured testicles were shredded by his shattered pelvis.

Kuklinski’s extremely short, raging temper roused the attention of the DeCavalcante family of Newark, who hired him as a hit man. While working odd jobs for the family, he devoted his leisure time to stalking and killing random civilians, always grown men, in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. His methods always changed, and thus the police could never draw a bead on him. He used guns, knives, his bare hands (“for the exercise”), cyanide (his favorite), strangulation, Molotov cocktails – anything that took his fancy as lethal. These people he killed in Hell’s Kitchen were total strangers to him, most of them street-walking bums not particularly missed by anyone. The police assumed they were killing each other. Kuklinski considered it perfecting his trade, since he was now working in the big leagues.

By the time he came to the attention of the New York Mob in his mid-20s,Kuklinski was an expert hitman. He’d practised on tramps, learning the best ways to kill them, and taking out anyone who crossed him or embarrassed him. He started to work for feared mobster Roy DeMeo, an associate of the Gambino crime family, who wanted to test-drive his new hired gun by demanding he kill a random man out walking his dog in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Kuklinski calmly strolled past the man and shot him in the back of the head.
“You’re f  cold like ice. Well done,” chuckled DeMeo.

DeMeo would pick the Ice Man for special jobs and Kuklinski let his imagination run wild, often inspired by violent scenes from cartoons like
Road Runner and Popeye. He shot one victim in the buttock with a tranquilliser dart before taking him to rat-infested caves.

The man awoke to find himself alone, staked down with his arms cut and bleeding and a video camera pointed at him. When Kuklinski returned two days later, there was only a stain on the ground where the man had been.

The rats had even taken the bones. He videotaped the ordeal to prove to his bosses the job had been done.

“I enjoy seeing the lights go out,” said the mob monster who earned his nickname not only for his ice-cold temperament on the job but also becausehe once froze a victim’s body to disguise the time of death.

His only rule, he said, was: “I don’t kill women and I don’t kill children.”

As the murder spree continued, he kept up his devoted dad routine at home. But while his family or neighbours suspected nothing, he was still susceptible to violent outbursts.

Often after committing a heinous murder, Kuklinski treated Barbara to the best restaurants, arranging for roses to be at their table, her favourite wine to
be chilling.

On DeMeo’s orders, Kuklinski hit Mafia boss Carmine Galante in a Brooklyn restaurant in 1979. He calmly ate a sandwich before walking in and emptying two guns into Galante and his bodyguard.

The following day he drove his family to Disney World in Florida, singing The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, without a care.

Carmine Genovese of the DeCavalcante crime clan, wanted a car salesman killed for upsetting a pal’s wife. He wanted him to suffer — and he wanted a souvenir. Kuklinski kidnapped the salesman on a test drive, drove him to a wood and tied him to a tree before chopping through his ankles and knees with a hatchet.

Kuklinski hacked off his fingers one at a time, initially planning to make them the souvenir. Later he strolled into Genovese’s home with a plastic
bag. Inside was the salesman’s head. Kuklinski was also in a team that killed crime family chief Paul Castellano, and his bodyguard Tommy Bilotti, in 1985 — a chilling photo of which made the front of New York’s Daily News.

Paul Castellano (body on sidewalk) and Thomas Bilotti (body in street ), lie dead in front of Sparks Steak House. Photo Getty Images.

Paul Castellano (body on sidewalk) and Thomas Bilotti (body in street ), lie dead in front of Sparks Steak House. Photo Getty Images.

Kuklinski With His Young Family.

Kuklinski With His Young Family.

Today, Barbara, Merrick and two of her three grandchildren live anonymously – Barbara has changed her name – in a modest timber-frame house, hidden in lake and mountain territory, a world away from the opulently furnished North Bergen, New Jersey home she and her privately educated children shared with her husband.

“Look at me,” says Barbara. “Once, I shopped at Bloomingdales. We had a pool. I had the best of everything; I had a cleaner and a housekeeper. I wanted for nothing. If I wanted it, Richard saw that I got it. Now, I worry about the price of paper towels. But I’ve never been happier. My husband’s dead and gone, thank God!” She sits on a big, cosy battered sofa and she sparks up the first of the pack of cigarettes she smokes while she talks, her hands trembling as she speaks of her regret that she ever met Richard Kuklinski.

The daughter of an Italian-American Catholic family, Barbara Pedrici met the swaggering Kuklinski, who was seven years older than her, in 1961 at the New Jersey trucking company where she was working as a secretary. The bright, only child of divorced parents, she had led a sheltered life, being raised by her mother, grandmother and aunt, while spending time in Florida with her father, who had remarried. “I was a spoilt brat. Life was a bowl of cherries. If I wanted something and my mom wouldn’t give it to me, I just called my dad. I loved life!”

Already unhappily married, Kuklinski had became besotted with the black-haired, hazel-eyed 19-year-old. He charmed her, at first. “He was very good looking, but I only went out with him as a favour to my girlfriend – we had a double date. He was kind, very flattering. Nice, so soft-spoken.” It was to prove a fateful meeting. Kuklinski was intent on making her his, telling her repeatedly how much he loved her. “He was obsessed with me.

“He would say over and over again, ‘I love you, Lady’. I would just say, ‘Me too. Me, too’, I never loved him and I never told him I loved him,” she says flatly. “Do you want to see the scars he gifted me? Love? Never! I despised him. But he loved me until the day he died, although by then we’d been divorced many years. His last words were to say how much he loved me.”

Soon, though, she was terrified of him as he courted her, especially after he stabbed her in the back with a hunting knife when she tried to break up with him. “He said it was an object lesson for me, that I was this Italian princess, that my family thought me too good for him.”

Finally, she agreed to have sex with him because she was so afraid of his Jekyll and Hyde moods. She got pregnant, escaping to her father’s home in Florida. Kuklinski pursued her – by this time he was divorced from his first wife, whose nipples he claimed to have sliced off when she was unfaithful to him.

Under great duress, Barbara agreed to marry him. He threatened to murder her father, whom she adored. “And I knew he meant it,” she sighs, her hand shaking as she lifts her coffee mug. “He did unspeakable things to me.” When he caught Barbara smoking, he made her sit outside on a hard metal stool all night. She lost the baby the following day, and later miscarried a second time. When she was five months pregnant for the third time, Kuklinski turned on her. He broke her nose, beating her so violently she began bleeding from her vagina. She went into premature labour – their son was born dead. “He beat those babies out of me,” she says.

Everyone asks her why she didn’t leave him. She says wearily, “I believed him when he told me he would hurt the people I loved the most. There was no doubt in my mind. I had no choice but to marry him. It was the most miserable day of my life. But I was young and naive. I thought I could change him, but he was a jealous, jealous man. I knew if I tried to escape, he would hunt me down and tear me limb from limb.”

With his daughters, especially Merrick, who was born with bladder and kidney problems, spending a lot of time in hospital, Kuklinski was deeply affectionate, but Barbara recalls how jealous he was of their son. “Dwayne was maybe three weeks old and I was in the nursery rocking him in my arms. Richard came in and put his huge hand over my baby’s face and said, ‘That’s how easy it’ll be’.

“I scraped his face with my nails. He went and broke a number of things in the living room, so I always knew he’d be intensely jealous of my son. I was only allowed a certain amount of my time with my boy. But he never laid a hand on my children because I told him if he did, I’d kill him.

My children knew how he abused me; he tried to run me down in his car and he broke my nose three times.

“If I told you the number of times I woke in the middle of the night with a pillow on my face, with him saying I was going to die . . . Then he would have a change of heart. Sick! Sick! I never said, ‘Stop!’ He never brought me to my knees. He was a coward; I was stronger than he was because I’m a better person.”

As for his business, which gave them such a good life, Barbara knew nothing. “I rarely asked questions. He was a wholesale distributor, registered in Hackensack. He had an accountant. I didn’t have a clue what his real business was. He was a good provider – we had a lot of expensive vacations, for instance. There were good times, great times with my cousin and his family. But he was always watching me. He never took his eyes off me, smothering me with love.”

On December 17, 1986, the task force set up a road block and arrested Kuklinski. It took five people to restrain the huge man and put him in a vehicle.

On December 17, 1986, the task force set up a road block and arrested Kuklinski. It took five people to restrain the huge man and put him in a vehicle.

Richard Kuklinski.

Richard Kuklinski.

Richard Kuklinski- Contract Killer & Mob Hitman.

Richard Kuklinski- Contract Killer & Mob Hitman.

When they finally came for him, in their unmarked cars and their helicopters, with their machine guns at the ready, Barbara Kuklinski still had no idea how her husband might have broken the law.

It was a cold morning in the week before Christmas, 1986, and the couple had just pulled out of the driveway of their split-level home on Sunset Street, a quiet road of comfortable middle-class houses in Dumont, New Jersey, where they lived together with their three children. Barbara, a tall, delicate-looking Italian-American, and Richard, 51 – a colossal slab of a man with a fondness for a Meerschaum pipe – had been married 26 years, and were well-regarded by their neighbours. They were on their way to breakfast at the Seville in nearby Westwood, where they ate together most mornings. But when Richard saw the column of black vehicles bearing down on them, he turned sharply into the curb; armed men swarmed around the car; one leapt on the bonnet; another tore open the driver’s door and held a cocked automatic at Richard’s head: “Don’t f—— move,” he said.

Barbara was pulled out and thrown to the ground by policemen, a foot planted in the middle of her back. Hands cuffed behind her, she was bundled into a car for the journey to the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack. There, as state troopers fought to subdue her enraged husband – according to Barbara, despite being shackled hand and foot, he shrugged and tossed three of them down the stairs – she struggled to grasp what was happening.

Finally, detective Pat Kane came to her and said simply, “He’s a murderer.” Abruptly, all the odd things she had noticed about Richard over the years, the incidents she had been too terrified to tell anyone about, tumbled into alignment. “And all of a sudden it was like, ‘I knew that,’” she says now. “I knew he was a murderer.”

Throughout their marriage, Richard Kuklinski had used the façade of the suburban family man – an usher at Mass every Sunday, barbecues by the pool in the summer, annual trips to Disneyworld – to conceal a litany of killing. There were murders committed in anger, others just for fun and still more for profit. For 20 years, he had made his living as one of the most proficient and prolific contract killers in the history of organised crime, a professional hitman whose claims of freezing his victims’ bodies to outfox forensic experts led the media to nickname him the Ice Man.

These days, Barbara at 74, suffers from arthritis of the spine and a cluster of other chronic illnesses she believes stem from the years she spent living in the shadow of her husband. A nurse visits once a week. Outspoken and direct, Barbara prides herself on her intelligence and strength of will: “Don’t ask my opinion,” she says, “if you don’t want the truth.”

Once accustomed to the expensively upholstered trappings of suburbia, her husband’s arrest left her with nothing and she was forced to look to her children for support.

Barbara first met Kuklinski when she was just 18, fresh from high school and newly employed as a secretary at Swiftline, a New Jersey trucking company. A clever, popular girl with a sarcastic sense of humour, her idea of living dangerously was taking a flask of rum out on a Saturday night so she and her friends could spike their Cokes before going for Chinese food and a movie. Barbara had wanted to go to art school, but when she accompanied a friend to an interview at Swiftline and ended up being offered a job herself, she took it. Richard worked on the loading dock there. He was seven years older than Barbara, married with two young sons but, nevertheless, she agreed to go out with him on a double date.

“He was the perfect gentleman,” she says. “We went to the movies and then we went for pizza, and he got up and played Save the Last Dance for Me on the jukebox.” The next morning he turned up at her house with flowers and a gift, and she agreed to a second date. “And that was the end,” she says now.

Barbara had never really had a boyfriend before, and she was flattered by the attention: when she left work in the evenings, she would find Richard waiting for her with flowers; he was charming and courteous, constantly at her elbow. And although he wasn’t Italian, her family came to like him. Yet as the months passed, Barbara gradually realised she had become isolated from her friends, and rarely saw anyone but Richard. Sitting in his car one day after work, she gathered the courage to tell him how she felt: that she was only 19 and wanted the space to see other people. Richard responded by silently jabbing her from behind with a hunting knife so sharp she didn’t even feel the blade go in. “I felt the blood running down my back,” she says. He told her that she belonged to him, and that if she tried to leave he would kill her entire family; when Barbara began screaming at him in anger, he throttled her into unconsciousness.

The following day, Richard was waiting for her again after work, with flowers, and a teddy bear. He apologised, and told her he wanted to marry her. He would get a divorce from his wife. He had threatened her because he loved her so much it made him crazy. Young, inexperienced and credulous, Barbara believed him.

“I don’t consider myself a fool, by any means,” she says now. “But I was raised a good little Catholic girl. I was protected. I had never seen the ugly side of anything.” In fact, by the time Barbara had caught her first glimpse of true darkness in Kuklinski, he had already done things more terrible than she could possibly have imagined.

Born to a violent alcoholic father and a religiously devout mother, Richard grew up in a Polish enclave of Jersey City. During prison interviews conducted by the writer Philip Carlo in 2004 Kuklinski admitted he killed for the first time at the age of 14. He beat a neighbourhood bully to death with an improvised wooden club and buried his body in the remote Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

Over the next 10 years, as he embarked in earnest on a criminal career, committing robberies and truck hijackings, he began murdering with increasing frequency: an off-duty policeman who accused him of cheating at pool, members of his own gang, homeless men whom he killed simply because he enjoyed it. On the instructions of Carmine Genovese, a member of the local Mafia family, he carried out his first professional hit at 18. A true psychopath, he frequently tortured his victims before killing them, and concealed the evidence of his crimes by disposing of bodies in mine shafts or removing their fingers and teeth. According to Carlo’s The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, by the time he met Barbara in 1961, Kuklinski had already committed 65 murders, most of which Carlo went on to verify with either Mafia contacts or police sources.

But if Barbara initially stayed with Richard out of naivety, that ignorance was soon overwhelmed by fear. After his first apology, he continued to be as charming and attentive as before, but also flew into rages in which he struck her or grabbed her around the throat. Convinced she could never leave him, she agreed to get married. Their first child, a daughter named Merrick, was born two years later, in 1964.

At first, Richard apparently tried to go straight and took work in a film lab, but after a while he started staying late to print bootleg copies of films, first Disney cartoons and later pornography. Then he began making extra money hijacking trucks. With one of his first big scores – a shipment of stolen jeans he fenced for $12,000 – he bought a new car, a TV set and things for the house. Kuklinski’s illegal proceeds allowed the couple to expand their family – they had Christin and a son, Dwayne – and move into the big house on Sunset Street. Yet Barbara never asked where all the money came from. Richard didn’t like questions and was savage and unpredictable even when in an apparently good mood. The idea that he was involved in anything illegal never occurred to her, or, if it did, she won’t admit it.

“I’ll be the first one to say, maybe I was naive, because I never saw anything like that,” Barbara says. “My family never did anything like that.” And it wasn’t long before Richard returned to what he did best: killing men for money. By the mid-Seventies, his reputation for cruelty and efficiency had spread across the United States, and he was kept in constant employment by the seven families of the East Coast Mafia: including the DeCavalcantes in New Jersey and the Gambinos, the Luccheses, and Bonannos in New York. He claimed that he would never harm either women or children, but otherwise murdered those who owed the mob money, and others who had slighted or insulted its soldiers and lieutenants, or simply become inconvenient. When the organisation required that senior members die, they called Kuklinski: in 1979, he was responsible for the daylight assassination of Carmine Galante, head of the Bonanno family; in 1985, he was part of the hit squad who shot down Gambino Don Paul Castellano outside the Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. Kuklinski even claimed to have been the man who did in Teamsters union head Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared without trace one afternoon in 1975.

Yet Kuklinski meticulously compartmentalised his life, never socialising with his employers in organised crime, taking care never to reveal anything to them about his family or where he lived. This isolation from the daily relationships of the Cosa Nostra both helped him avoid detection for his crimes, and to maintain his hometown identity as the hearty paterfamilias.

Here was a man who could never do enough for his children – who sent them all to expensive private schools; who enjoyed feeding the ducks on the pond in nearby Demarest; who charmed the guests at the family’s weekly barbecues, to which everyone on the block was invited. Immediately after the assassination of Paul Castellano, Richard ditched his coat and gun, caught the bus back to New Jersey and settled down at home to watch his wife and daughters wrapping Christmas presents. The neighbours never suspected a thing: “They thought he was great,” Barbara says. “Everybody that met him thought I was the luckiest person in the world. The flower truck there once a week, I had new jewellery, he bought me a $12,000 raccoon coat…”

Throughout their years together, Richard’s obsessive attachment to his wife never diminished, and, as befitted a dedicated country and western listener, he was both feverishly jealous and mawkishly romantic. He nicknamed Barbara “Lady” and, when they went out to dinner together, often phoned ahead to ensure that the Kenny Rogers song of the same name would play in the restaurant as they walked in.

But his mood could switch in an instant. During their marriage, he blackened her eyes, broke her ribs, shattered furniture and – with almost superhuman strength – tore the fabric of the house apart with his bare hands. Often, the murderous rages came upon him for no reason at all: they might have a wonderful dinner together, he would bring her a cup of tea before bed, “and the next thing I know it’s two o’clock in the morning,” she explains, “there’s a pillow on my face: ‘Tonight’s the night you die!’” Kuklinski’s violence against his wife caused two miscarriages, and the children eventually began to intervene when they feared that he might otherwise kill her.

“I used to call it anger – it was way beyond anger. He was sick. And there were times when I begged him to seek help,” she says. Unsurprisingly, he refused to take medication or see a psychiatrist. When Christin was 16 or 17 she and Barbara plotted to poison her father. Eventually, they realised they just couldn’t do it. For one thing, Kuklinski often handed scraps of his food to the family’s beloved Newfoundland to eat; but it gave them both hope for a while. “I wished him dead, every day,” Barbara says. “During the best of times, I wished him dead.”

Kuklinski was finally undone by the closest thing he had to a friend: Phil Solimene, a local Mafia fence whom the hit man had known for more than 20 years. In that time, Richard and Barbara had dinner with Solimene and his wife just once, but it was a mark of the degree to which Kuklinski trusted him. Solimene proved instrumental in a police sting operation that trapped Kuklinski into discussing a conspiracy to kill on tape. In the hours after he and Barbara were arrested, police entered the house on Sunset Street with a warrant, expecting to discover stashes of weapons; they found nothing. “Believe me, there were no guns in my house,” Barbara says, with something like pride.

The next day, Kuklinski was charged with five murders. In 1988 he was found guilty of four of them. Later, he was convicted of two more; in interviews he gave later in prison he claimed responsibility for 250 deaths. But Pat Kane – who led the investigation that led to Kuklinski’s arrest – believes he may have killed as many as 300 men before he was caught. “He killed who he wanted, whenever he wanted,” says Kane, now retired from the state police. “He didn’t have a full-time job. That was what he did.”

Kuklinski revelled in his infamy and never expressed any remorse for his victims. “I’ve never felt sorry for anything I’ve done,” he said during one of the TV interviews he gave from prison. “Other than hurting my family. I do want my family to forgive me.”

But Barbara remained terrifed he would reach her, her children or other relatives and for 10 years she continued to visit Kuklinski in prison. She took his reverse charge phone calls at home and sent food parcels. But as the children grew up, her personal visits became less frequent. Eight years after his arrest, she got a divorce and began dating again. And when a pair of cable TV documentaries made Kuklinski a kind of celebrity, she had his calls patched through the film production office. Finally, during one telephone conversation with Barbara, he said something ugly about the children and she put the phone down on him. The fourth time he called back, she picked up the phone with a curt, “Yep?”

If you ever do that again – he began, and she cut him off. “What are you going to do about it, Richard? Do you realise now that there’s nothing you could do? If you ever say anything against my children again, I will never accept another call.” “But that,” she says now, “took a long time.” In October 2005, when Richard Kuklinski was 70 and had spent 25 years in prison, his health began to decline and, diagnosed with a rare and incurable inflammation of the blood vessels, was eventually transferred to hospital. In March the following year, Barbara took her daughter to visit him there; he told them he was the victim of an assassination plot. As he lay in intensive care, he wanted to confide one last thing to his ex-wife.

“You’re such a good person,” he told her. “You were always such a good person.” Barbara left the room without replying. But as she walked down the hallway to leave she turned to her daughter. “I will regret for the rest of my life,” she said, “that I didn’t just tell him the bastard he is and how much I hate him. I wish the last words he’d heard had been how much I hated his guts.”

In the days that followed, as Richard Kuklinski’s life finally slipped away, he became conscious long enough to ask doctors to make sure they revived him if he flatlined. But before she left, Barbara had signed a “do not resuscitate” order. A week before his death, in the early hours of March 5 2006, the hospital called Barbara to ask if she wished to rescind the instruction. She did not.

The day after he died, charges against one Sammy “the Bull” Gravano were dropped. Kuklinski had given evidence that Gravano had ordered the killing of an NYPD cop, which Kuklinski carried out.

Given her straitened circumstances, Barbara would like to buy a house, where she could live and read – something she does voraciously – but large enough for her family to share with her whenever they wish.

Nonetheless, the nightmares won’t go away. Kuklinski’s legacy to his family is like Macbeth’s – he has murdered sleep. Barbara and her children all have nightmares. She said that just a few nights ago she woke in a cold sweat, convinced her arms were drenched in blood.

Barbara clings to her Catholic faith. “It’s helped me so much; I’d never have survived without it. And I’ve survived because I had the best first 19 years any girl could have had. I was a carefree girl, much loved. Now, I give all my love to my children and grandchildren – they’re the reason I’m still here. They’ve kept me alive. I’ve got good children, very good children, the kindest, sweetest daughters. I’ve a son who is brilliant. A genius! I was cursed in my marriage, but I’m blessed with my family.”

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