Barbara Pedrin was a naive 19-year-old Italian Roman Catholic girl who lived in West New York and rarely dated – until one night in the early 1960s.
That night, “I did a friend of mine a favor and went on a double date,” she said last week. “He was seven years older and very good looking. He couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. We went to the movies at Journal Square in Jersey City, then for pizza. I never thought I would see him again.”
Little did Barbara Pedrin know that the 26-year-old man she met that night would later become her husband – and one of the most notorious murderers in United States history.
Because on that night, Barbara Pedrin went on a date with Richard Kuklinski, a man who would later be known as “The Ice Man,” the famed Mafia hit man who reportedly killed as many as 200 people over the years, before he was apprehended in 1986 and died earlier this year.
Recently, a new book was released on the “Ice Man” by Philip Carlo: “The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer” (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.
In an exclusive interview last week, Barbara Kuklinski talked about living with her husband.
Date me or I’ll kill your mom
Barbara Kuklinski lived in North Bergen until she was 9. She moved to West New York, and today lives in Dumont in Bergen County.
She still goes by her husband’s name, even though she divorced the serial killer five years after he was convicted of a handful of murders.
One of his murders included a North Bergen ice cream salesman. That man and other victims were subsequently stored into a freezer, earning Richard the name “The Ice Man.”
Barbara Kuklinski said that her controlling relationship with the Ice Man began on the day after the first date.
“On the day after that first double date, my mother came to get me to say that the fellow I was with last night was at the door,” Barbara Kuklinski said in an exclusive interview. “He was there with flowers and candy at about 1 p.m. that next day. We went to Journal Square again, and then all of sudden, he was there every single day. No one ever paid attention to me like that before.”
However, it didn’t take long for Barbara Kuklinski to realize that Richard was not your average paramour.
“He stabbed me in the chest once with a little knife as a way to say that I was his forever,” Barbara Kuklinski recalled. “He said, ‘I know your mother doesn’t want you to go out with me, but you’re going to marry me.’ He said that if I didn’t marry him, he would kill my mother and sister. So I married him out of fear.”
Once they were married, Richard and Barbara Kuklinski made West New York their home in a two-family house owned by her mother. All three of their children (a son and two daughters) were born while they resided in West New York. They moved to Dumont in 1971, where Kuklinski bought a home.
Barbara Kuklinski insists that she never had an idea that her husband was a mass murderer.
“He always worked,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “He always tried to provide for his family. He always had a second job, driving a truck, doing what he had to. He always aspired to make more money. In the early parts of our marriage, I got him a job with Twentieth Century Fox, where he carried a brown bag to work and he brought home the money.”
But she had no idea that he was making extra money as a paid hit man for the Mafia.
“He was extremely private,” Kuklinski said.
Her ex-husband died in a prison hospital earlier this year and is now the subject of a new book, “Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer,” written by Philip Carlo and released by St. Martin’s Press earlier this month.
“No one came to the house,” she said. “He had his own telephone number. When he wasn’t in the house, the door to his office was locked. He didn’t call anyone his friend. When he got up in the middle of the night and left, I never asked him where he was going. He always had legitimate businesses, as a wholesale distributor, as an accountant. When he went to Europe, he said it was to do currency exchange deals. I never knew anything. He definitely kept his home and his family apart from what he did.”
Something’s not quite right
But Barbara Kuklinski knew that something was not right with her husband.
“He was a raging psychopath,” Kuklinski said. “That pretty much covers it. He would constantly abuse me, slashing me, throwing things at me. He was so huge, strong and frightening. But he loved me. I have no doubt about that. He never hurt my children. He was insane. Someone asked me why I didn’t leave him early on, but there was no leaving. I wish there was some magic that would have made him go away. I know there are thousands of abused women who walked in my shoes and didn’t walk away.”
Added Kuklinski, “With Richard, it wasn’t so much rage. It was control. He wanted to control everything. He was just a sick man and I have the scars to prove it.”
Kuklinski said that she never had a clue that Richard Kuklinski was carrying out the assortment of murders, both for his own enjoyment and the paid ones for the mob, according to Carlo’s book.
FBI swoops down
“I didn’t have a single hint that was going on,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “Not a clue.”
However, Barbara Kuklinski got clues soon enough when federal officials moved in. Kuklinski was allegedly taped by an undercover police officer while trying to set up another contract killing.
In December, 1986, Richard and Barbara Kuklinski were grocery shopping after having breakfast, when the federal officials moved in to make the arrest.
“We were driving down the street when a van came right at us,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “I think they wanted to make sure I was in the car, so this way, he wouldn’t do anything crazy. They came out of the van, some 30 or so officials. They jumped on the hood of the car and pointed guns through the windshield and each window. They got him out the car and put leg shackles on his wrists. They pushed me to the ground.”
At first, Barbara Kuklinski was taken into custody as well, because there was a gun inside the car.
“He remained silent while we were being arraigned,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “He never said a word. I then heard from one of the detectives that he was being held for $2 million bail. I kept saying, ‘What for? What did he do?’ And one of the detectives said, ‘Murder. We have him for murder.’ I saw Richard as he was being brought to [Bergen County] jail and asked him what was going on and he said, ‘Don’t even worry. I’ll be home soon.’ ”
But Richard Kuklinski never came home.
Sentenced to life
He stood trial and was convicted for two murders and was sentenced to life in Trenton State Prison. While in prison, he confessed to the string of hired murders, complete with gruesome details that have been written about in Carlo’s book.
“Richard never told me anything,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “At first, he never admitted to anything. But when I heard the transcripts in court, I was mortified and couldn’t believe them. I then asked him, ‘Did you do those things?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I did things they’ll never know.’ Once I heard his voice, that’s when I believed him.”
Barbara Kuklinski said that she divorced the “Ice Man” in 1993, after he was in Trenton State Prison for six years.
“Actually, he divorced me for money reasons,” Kuklinski said. “Money is a wonderful thing. I actually [had] wished he had dropped dead when we were together. I still would go to see him in prison, but after we were divorced, I only went like once a year with my daughter.”
When two HBO documentaries came out on the “Ice Man,” with Kuklinski being interviewed about some of the gruesome murders he committed, Barbara Kuklinski was stunned.
“It was incomprehensible to me that he could talk about all those things with no feeling and no remorse,” Barbara Kuklinski said. “I really couldn’t believe it.”
‘We’re treated like dirt’
She still keeps his last name. “I’m not going to change my name,” she said. “Neither will my children. But we’re known as Richard Kuklinski’s family and now we’re treated like dirt. My e-mail address starts ‘Just me’ and that’s who I am and still who I am. I’m just me. I don’t like confrontation and I don’t like the publicity.”
She added, “Am I ashamed that I was married to him? No. I didn’t do anything wrong. I wish people had sorrow for me and my children. Believe me, we cried for all his victims.”
Barbara Kuklinski has not remarried since her divorce to Richard. She still resides in Dumont and has been trying to get on with her life.
“It’s taken a long time to heal,” Kuklinski said. “I’m not totally over it and I still can’t believe it. I still have nightmares about him. But I’m doing fine and the kids are all doing OK. I’m not afraid anymore, that’s for sure. He’s dead. He’s gone. It’s over. He can’t hurt anyone else anymore.”