History doesn’t have to be dull! As a matter of fact, our ancestors were just as messed up and said and did just as many embarrassing things as we do today, in modern times. To prove this point, Reddit users on a recent AskReddit thread shared the funniest fact they know about history, and as usual, they did not disappoint. Discover some of the silliest historical facts you’ve probably never heard of.
Ben the Prankster
“The founding fathers wouldn’t let Benjamin Franklin work on the Declaration Of Independence because they were afraid he would slip a joke into it.” JasonYaya
This is more urban legend than historical fact. It is true that Benjamin Franklin was well-known for his sharp wit and satirical writing, but this did not stop him from working on the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Ben Franklin did have a hand in the creation of the famous document, serving on the committee to draft the Declaration alongside John Adams, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Livingston. According to historian and biographer Ormond Seavey, Jefferson often consulted Franklin about the draft as he was composing it. As for jokes in the Declaration, Seavey tells ThoughtCo, “our modern notion of jokes would not have made sense to these Eighteenth-Century people.” Back then, satire and irony were used often as very serious rhetorical tactics.
They Did It All for the Booty
“Notorious Pirate/Pirate hunter Benjamin Hornigold once attacked a ship just to steal all of the crew member’s hats. His men had gotten drunk and lost their hats during a party the night before and decided to board a ship to get replacements.” SalemWitchBurial
It’s true! Historian Peter Earle backed up this admittedly outlandish claim in his book, The Pirate Wars, stating that one of the captured passengers later recounted, “They did us no further injury than the taking most of our hats from us, having got drunk the night before, as they told us, and toss’d theirs overboard.”
Putting the ‘Mal’ in Malpractice
“In 1847, Robert Liston performed an amputation in 25 seconds, operating so quickly that he accidentally amputated his assistant’s fingers as well. Both patient and assistant later died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known surgical procedure with a 300% mortality rate.” Montuvito_G
The 19th-century physician Robert Liston was famous for his speedy surgeries, often lasting only around 30 seconds. In his book “Practical Surgeries,” published in 1837, he emphasizes the importance of quick surgeries, arguing that “these operations must be set about with determination and completed rapidly.”
Among the many stories of Liston’s surgeries, the one described above is the most famous, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Matt Soniak at MentalFloss calls it “possibly apocryphal” and it’s almost certainly exaggerated.
Even if Liston did have his mishaps, his overall mortality rate was actually impressive compared to his peers. According to historian Richard Hollingham, of the 66 patients Liston operated between 1835 and 1840, only 10 died — a death rate of only around 16%.
Just Go With It
The Pentagon wasn’t built that way for any defense reason — in fact, it’s not even a regular pentagon. It was designed to fit nicely into the empty field between five major roads, but then later there was some reason why they had to build it somewhere else, I think it was too close to some city or something. Anyway, they’d already paid someone to design this five-sided building so they just said f**k it, it’s a pentagon now. nupanick
This one’s true, but there’s more to it than this. In July 1941, a group of Army officers met at the War Department in Washington to discuss building a new headquarters. There were a number of parameters to consider, but once they narrowed the location down to a plot of land that the government already owned in Arlington, Virginia, they then had to figure out how to cram 40,000 people and 10,000 cars into the tract of land they had to work with. They weren’t allowed to build a tall building due to building ordinances and a shortage of steel, so they came up with the rough pentagon shape that exists today.
According to The Washington Post, “The Arlington Farm tract had a peculiar asymmetrical pentagon shape bound on five sides by roads or other divisions. Finally, guided by the odd shape of the plot, they designed an irregular pentagon.”
Let’s Cut to the Chase, Shall We?
“The first thing said to the Pilgrims by Native Americans, specifically by Samoset:
“Do you have any beer?” In perfect English.
By the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, European trade routes to North America already existed for generations. Trade diplomats and fishermen traveled extensively to and from Europe.” TheSpanishImpostion
History backs up the fact that Samoset was the first Native American to greet the pilgrims. As for whether or not he requested everyone’s favorite frosty brew, many authors seem to think it’s not only probable, it’s true.
Yeah, we know; this sounds far-fetched, like something out of a Monty Python movie… but it’s true. According to Mental Floss, the emperor had requested that a rabbit hunt be set up for him and his men. Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier was in charge of setting it up, so he had men capture up to 3,000 rabbits to be released during the hunt.
“When Napoleon started to prowl—accompanied by beaters and gun-bearers—the rabbits were released from their cages. The hunt was on. But something strange happened. The rabbits didn’t scurry in fright. Instead, they bounded toward Napoleon and his men. Hundreds of fuzzy bunnies gunned it for the world’s most powerful man.”
Speaking of Napoleon…
“After Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, his priest-confessor (Vignali) allegedly cut off Napoleon’s penis. This was later sold as part of a collection and ended up in the possession of Dr. Abraham Rosenbach.
Rosenbach took Napoleon’s penis on tour; it was displayed on a small velvet cushion in New York’s museum of French art.
Apparently it’s now owned by the Lattimer family in New York.” gegg1
Oh my, this one is not very flattering for old Napoleon. Not only is this true, but now the record shows that Napoleon’s “little Napoleon” was just as famously small as the man was. According to The Independent:
“Apparently, it was cut off during his autopsy by his somewhat cruel doctor, Francesco Autommarchi, in front of 17 witnesses, before it was then acquired by priest Abbé Anges Paul Vignali who gave the leader his last rites. It passed through Vignali’s family before it was eventually bought by American rare books dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1924 and then displayed at the Museum of French Art in New York in 1927.”
On Second Thought, I’ma Go Home With Them….
In 1866, Liechtenstein sent out an army of 80 men to participate in the Austro-Prussian War. They came back with 81 men, suffering no casualties and having made one friend along the way. yesilfener
Yep, this actually happened! The best part? This was the last battle the tiny country ever engaged in. Like, ever.
Be right back; moving to Liechtenstein.
Castro Liked Ice Cream. Like, a Lot
“Fidel Castro really likes to drink and eat dairy products, so he made a giant ice cream shop and it’s still functional. He mixed two breeds of cows to create a super cow that would stand up to heat and give out lots of milk and her name is ubre blanca.” Imnotgaymike
Yeah, this is true. Castro loved dairy products, particularly ice cream, so much that he had arguments about it with other world leaders. There are countless stories about Castro’s obsession with milk and the cows that produce it. You can read a few of them here.
All That Math Didn’t Amount to a Hill of Beans
“Pythagoras, the man who made one of the most iconic mathematical discoveries in history, had a phobia of beans.”
Ironically, it was his fear of beans that caused his death. When attackers chased him into a field of beans, he refused to enter and was killed instead.
Yes and no. Yes — Pythagoras was kind of a strange dude. Around 530 B.C., he and some of his followers settled in Crotona in South Italy and started living by his very unique set of life rules. Some even think they were kinda-sorta a cult, but that’s neither here nor there. One tenant of the Pythagorean society was that they weren’t allowed to eat beans. No one is certain why beans were off-limits, but historians have theories:
“A strange side note of the Pythagorean diet is that they were forbidden to eat beans. The reason behind this is not entirely known. A funny anecdote tells us that Pythagoras believed that a human being lost a part of his or her soul whenever passing gas.” – Classical Wisdom
There are other theories out there too, but most scholars agree that this wasn’t as much as a “phobia” as it was a belief. As for his death, it wasn’t exactly “death by bean dip,” but it was close:
“Suddenly Pythagoras came to a stop. A vast bean field stretched before him. He stood frozen, uncertain what to do. His eyes focused on a single bean dangling inches from his papyrus-covered feet. So true was he to his ideals that, even at the risk of losing his own life, he was unwilling to trample upon even a single bean. Staring down upon that vibrant bean, the sun low in the sky, he imagined it to be blossoming into a divine ripeness before him. And as he stood there, hesitating, contemplating his next move, his pursuers caught up with him. They lifted their weapons, and bringing the knifes down hard, spilled Pythagoras’ blood on the plants – ending his life for the sake of a bean, and for the deep wisdom immersed in that diminutive cosmic object.” – Philosophy Now
Psst… I Need to Tell You Something….
“The Pope Saint Leo once convinced Attila the Hun to just turn around and leave, and no one knows how he did it.
Then, years later, he encountered a dude called Gaiseric just South of Rome. Convinced him too to turn around and leave. NO ONE KNOWS HOW.” – username omitted.
This is an accepted truth in Catholicism, and the best explanation they seem to have is that there were only two popes known as “The Great,” and he was one of them. The Catholic Herald explains:
“Leo’s strength of personality was also evident in his confrontations with secular power. In 452 he encountered Attila the Hun near Mantua, and persuaded him not to proceed to the sack of Rome. Again, in 455, he met the Vandal Gaiseric outside the walls of Rome and succeeded in preventing the city’s wholesale destruction.”
The “B” Stands for Big. *Wink Wink*
“Ah, Things Are Looking Up. Oh, Crap.” – Aeschylus
“Valerius Maximus wrote about Aeschylus’ death.
Basically, the Dramatist Aeschylus heard of a prophecy that he would meet his demise by a falling object, because of this he went outside of the city in order to avoid his death, little did he know that an eagle with a turtle flew over and dropped the turtle on his shiny bald head, mistaking his head for a rock.” King-Shakalaka
This is both true and false. Sources confirm that he did die in an usual way:
“He returned to Sicily for the last time in 458 BCE and it was there that he died, while visiting the city of Gela in 456 or 455 BCE, traditionally (although almost certainly apocryphally) by a tortoise which fell out of the sky after it was dropped by an eagle.”
But there’s no word on whether or not he heard a prophecy before heading to Sicily.
“What Do You Mean ‘The War Is Over?'”
“There was a Japanese soldier named Hiro Onoda who never realized ww2 was over until 1974. He was sent to a small island in the Philippines to spy on the American forces. He evaded capture and remained in the jungle to carry out his mission for the next 30 years. His former superior had to come out of retirement to convince him the war was over.” morethan1problem
Absolutely true. Onoda lived on the island in the Philippines where he’d been stationed, all by himself, for 29 years. He returned to Tokyo a hero, dying at the age of 91 in 2014.
World’s Slowest (And Stickiest!) Death
“Molasses flooded Boston on an unseasonably hot January day in 1919. For decades after, you could allegedly still smell the molasses during the summer. Unfortunately, 21 people died and 150 people were injured as a result of the flood… which makes it more absurd, in a rather morbid way.” Daringineer
As funny as this may sound, picture a 15-foot tall wave of sticky molasses flooding the streets, crushing houses, and swallowing everything in its path. Not so funny now, is it?
This disaster occurred when a 50 foot-tall steel holding tank on Commercial Street in Boston’s North End burst open. The tank had been used to create alcohol, and prior to the accident local residents reported hearing “rumbles and metallic creaks emanating from the tank.” – The History Channel.
Must Have Smelled GREAT in There
“At the palace of Versailles, there were no restrooms. people would just crap in the corners. It would be cleared out every few days.” zandy2z
Yup, lots of parties and no indoor plumbing lead to pretty disgusting conditions in the opulent palace. Visitors often complained about the awful smell inside the palace, and out — people often used the gardens as a toilet, too. It got so bad that King Louis XIV ordered that the hallways be cleaned of feces at least once a week, and they brought in orange trees planted in vases to mask the stink.
“Pull Mein Finger!”
“Hitler suffered from the most horrendous gas complaints. His extreme diet, recurring stomach problems (likely psychosomatic) and reliance on quack drug pushers like Morell made life at his dinner table terrible for his guests. Speer writes about it in Inside The Third Reich. I guess that’s why he had a dog?” StandUpForYourWights
True. By all accounts, Hitler was a gassy guy.
“According to the medical records, which were commissioned by the U.S. military, Hitler regularly took up to 28 different drugs to attempt to restrain his farting. This included pills containing strychnine, a poison, “which probably explains his stomach pains,” said Bill Panagopulos, president of Alexander Autographs.” – MNN
Only the Nose Knows
“Danish astronomer, alchemist, nobleman and all-around weirdo Tycho Brahe lost his nose after challenging another scientist to a duel to settle once and for all whose mathematical formula was better. He wore a metal prosthetic nose for the rest of his life.
He also had a pet moose that died when it drank too much beer and fell down a flight of stairs. In 1601 Tycho attended a party during which he held himself from going to the bathroom, subsequently suffered a burst bladder, and died 10 days later.” magdaahw
There’s a lot to unpack here… but it’s all true. First of all, Brahe did indeed lose his nose in a duel: “In 1566 at the age of 20, he lost part of his nose in a duel with another Danish nobleman named Manderup Parsbjerg. The duel is said to have started over a disagreement about a mathematical formula.”
And yes, he did have a pet moose who liked to drink beer. That party scene went down just as described above, believe it or not.
The thing about Brahe’s death is that rumor had always stated he died of a ruptured bladder after holding his urine for too long, but when the body was exhumed in 2010, researchers found high levels of mercury in his system. For a while, they thought we’d gotten it all wrong, and he’d died of mercury poisoning… but then, upon further examination, they backed up the initial claim. He did indeed die from a ruptured bladder, after all. Whaddya know.
The Original Hat-Wearing Hipster
“John Hetherington is a presumed apocryphal English haberdasher, often credited as the inventor of the top hat, which is said to have caused a riot when he first wore it in public on 15 January 1797.
Reportedly he had ‘appeared on the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people)’ and the officers of the Crown stated that ‘several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped and a younger son of Cordwainer Thomas was thrown down by the crowd which collected and had his right arm broken.'” nicokeano
People used to get really worked up about stuff like hats! In 1797, Hetherington was charged with breaching the King’s peace, found guilty, and ordered to pay a £50 fine. Why? He went out rocking a top hat, that’s why. People had never seen one before so they were scared and started rioting. Whoa.
Well, It’s Not Going to Lick Itself!
“Mozart once wrote a six-piece canon titled Leck mich im Arsch, literally Lick/Kiss My Arse.” Random-Rambling
It’s true! Listen to it here on YouTube.
He Did It All for the Nookie
“Thomas Jefferson, writer of The Declaration of Independence, 3rd president of the United States, and founding father, broke his wrist trying to jump over a fence in Paris to impress a girl.” Puffinator-0
It’s no surprise that Jefferson was a bit of a hound dog, and this story is 100% true. After surgeons set his wrist bones, he suffered pain in his wrist for the rest of his life. Because of this injury, he wrote many of his famous love letters with his left hand.
Mona Lisa Loves Watching People Wee
“After Leonardo da Vinci died ownership of the Mona Lisa went to King Francis I of France, who hung her in his bathing room.
In the 1982 version of Annie there’s a bit where Daddy Warbucks is deciding whether he wants to keep the Mona Lisa and says, ‘There’s something interesting in that woman’s smile. I might learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom.’ The first time I saw that movie after learning this fact I laughed my head off when I heard this line!” revchewie
Well, sort of. After da Vinci died he left the painting to Francois I of France. According to PBS, the king hung the painting “in a prominent place in the Apartement des Bains in the palace at Fontainebleau, where she was admired by visitors from all of Europe.”
So yes, it was technically a bathroom, but “it is said that the Louvre museum was born in the French king’s bathroom. He had so many paintings in his private quarters that the area was converted to a semi-public art gallery.” So, it was not exactly in the crapper.
Louis XIV later moved the French court to the (super stinky) palace of Versailles, and Mona went with them. His son Louis XV did hate the picture and ordered it to be removed; it bounced around a bit from there before ending up in the Louvre, where it remains today.
He Wrote ‘Twilight’ Before It Was Cool
“Benito Mussolini wrote a romance historical fiction novel called The Cardinal’s Mistress and it’s about as bad as it sounds. It’s funny to think that the guy who literally invented fascism was also a connoisseur of shitty fanfiction.” KingAlfredOfEngland
It’s true, and you can even buy it on Amazon.
“This Is My Horse, Potato”
“One of the three greatest race horses who ever lived and one of the three foundation sires of thoroughbreds as we know them today was named potooooooo or pot8os because the stable hand got to name him and he didn’t know how to spell potato”. elcasaurus
As far-fetched as it sounds, this is true! Many famous thoroughbreds alive today have Pot8os in their family tree. According to Horse nation, “Legends differ somewhat, but the gist of the story remains the same: Potatoes, as the colt was known, was bred by Willoughby Bertie, the fourth Earl of Abingdon, out of Sportsmistress by the legendary Eclipse and born in 1773. The story goes that a stable lad, misunderstanding the horse’s name (or intentionally being a goofball) broke down the word “potatoes” into “pot”… plus eight O’s. So the horse’s feed bin sported the name “Potoooooooo” which gave all the boys a good laugh and apparently also amused the Earl of Abingdon greatly. The horse actually ran under the name “Potoooooooo” for a few starts until it was finally shortened to “Pot8os.”
Um, He Died Doing What He Loved?
“Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt died while swimming and they commemorated him with the Harold Holt memorial swimming pool.” Leygrock
On December 17, 1967, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming off the coast of Cheviot Beach near Melbourne. He was never heard from again. They held a memorial service for him, but his body was never found.
Since Holt was such an avid swimmer, the people of Australia decided he’d be best remembered for something that he loved. So they built the Harold Holt Swim Centrein Stonnington in his honor. Which is weird, but oh well.
Jimmy Hoffa was the controversial boss of the Teamsters Union when he became nationally famous for sparring with John and Robert Kennedy during televised Senate hearings in the late 1950s. He was always rumored to have substantial organized crime connections, and eventually served a sentence in federal prison.
When Hoffa first became famous, he projected an aura of a tough guy who was fighting for the little guy.
And he did get better deals for the truck drivers who belonged to the Teamsters. But rumors about his links to the mob always overshadowed whatever legitimate accomplishments he had as a labor leader.
One day in 1975, a few years after his release from prison, Hoffa went out to lunch and disappeared. At the time it was widely believed he was planning a return to active involvement in the Teamsters, and it was widely assumed that he was the victim of a gangland execution.
The search for Jimmy Hoffa became a national sensation and searches for his body have periodically popped up in the news ever since. The mystery about his whereabouts spawned countless conspiracy theories, bad jokes, and enduring urban legends.
James Riddle Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana, on February 14, 1913. His father, who labored in the coal industry, died of a related respiratory disease when Hoffa was a child.
His mother and Hoffa’s three siblings lived in relative poverty, and as a teenager Hoffa left school to take a job as a freight worker for the Kroger grocery store chain.
In Hoffa’s early union days he showed a talent for exploiting an opponent’s weakness. While still a teenager, Hoffa called a strike just as trucks carrying strawberries arrived at a grocery warehouse.
Knowing the strawberries wouldn’t keep for long, the store had no choice but to negotiate on Hoffa’s terms.
Rise to Prominence
The group Hoffa represented, known locally as the “Strawberry Boys,” joined a Teamsters local, which later merged with other Teamsters groups. Under Hoffa’s leadership, the local grew from a few dozen members to more than 5,000.
In 1932, Hoffa moved to Detroit, along with some friends who worked with him at Kroger’s, to take a position with Teamsters locals in Detroit. In the labor unrest during the Great Depression, union organizers were targeted for violence by company goons. Hoffa was attacked and beaten, by his count, 24 times. Hoffa picked up a reputation as someone who wouldn’t be intimidated.
In the early 1940s Hoffa began to establish links with organized crime. In one incident, he enlisted Detroit gangsters to run off a rival union from the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Hoffa’s connections with mobsters made sense. The mob protected Hoffa, and the implicit threat of violence meant his words carried serious weight. In return, Hoffa’s power in the union locals let mobsters intimidate local business owners. If they didn’t pay tribute, the truckers who made deliveries could go out on strike and bring business to a standstill.
Connections with mobsters became even more important as the Teamsters amassed a vast amount of money from dues and payments into pension funds. That cash could finance mob ventures, such as the building of casino hotels in Las Vegas. The Teamsters, with Hoffa’s help, became a piggy bank for organized crime families.
Sparring With the Kennedys
Hoffa’s power within the Teamsters grew in the early 1950s. He became the union’s top negotiator in 20 states, where he famously fought for the rights of the truck drivers he represented. The rank and file workers came to love Hoffa, often clamoring to shake his hand at union conventions. In speeches delivered in a gravelly voice, Hoffa projected a tough guy persona.
In 1957, a powerful U.S. Senate committee investigating labor racketeering began to hold hearings focused on the Teamsters.
In dramatic hearings, Hoffa tangled with the senators, parrying their questions with streetwise quips. And nobody could miss the particular dislike Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa had for each other.
When Robert Kennedy became attorney general in his brother’s administration, one of his priorities was to put Jimmy Hoffa behind bars. A federal case against Hoffa finally did convict him in 1964. After a series of appeals, Hoffa began serving a federal prison sentence in March 1967.
Pardon and Attempted Comeback
In December 1971, President Richard Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence and he was released from prison. The Nixon administration included a provision with the commutation that he not become involved with union activity until 1980.
By 1975, Hoffa was rumored to be exerting influence within the Teamsters while officially having no involvement. He told associates, and even a few journalists, that he was going to get even with those in the union and the mob who had betrayed him and helped send him to prison.
On July 30, 1975, Hoffa told family members he was going to meet someone for lunch at a restaurant in suburban Detroit. He never returned from his lunch date, and he was never seen or heard from again. His disappearance quickly became a major news story across America. The FBI and local authorities chased down countless tips, but actual clues were scant.
Hoffa had vanished, and was widely assumed to have been the victim of a mob hit.
As a peculiar coda to such a tumultuous life, Hoffa became eternally famous. Every few years another theory of his murder would emerge. And periodically the FBI would receive a tip from mob informant and send crews to dig up backyards or remote fields.
One supposed tip from a mobster grew into a classic urban legend: Hoffa’s body was rumored to be buried under the end zone of Giants Stadium, which had been built in the New Jersey Meadowlands at roughly the time Hoffa had disappeared.
Comedians told jokes playing on Hoffa’s disappearance for years. According to a New York Giants fan site, sportscaster Marv Albert, while broadcasting a Giants game, said a team was “kicking toward the Hoffa end of the stadium.” For the record, the stadium was demolished in 2010, and no trace of Jimmy Hoffa was discovered under the end zones.
Richard Kuklinski was one of the most diabolical self-confessed contract killers in American history. He took the credit for over 200 murders, including the murder of Jimmy Hoffa.
Kuklinski’s Childhood Years
Richard Leonard Kuklinski was born in the projects in Jersey City, New Jersey to Stanley and Anna Kuklinski. Stanley was a severely abusive alcoholic who beat his wife and children. Anna was also abusive to her children, sometimes beating them with broom handles.
In 1940, Stanley’s beatings resulted in the death of Kuklinski’s old brother, Florian. Stanley and Anna hid the cause of the child’s death from the authorities, saying he had fallen down a flight of steps.
By the age of 10, Richard Kuklinski was filled with rage and began acting out. For fun he would torture animals and by the age of 14, he had committed his first murder.
Taking a steel clothing rod from his closet, he ambushed Charlie Lane, a local bully and leader of a small gang who had picked on him. Unintentionally he beat Lane to death. Kuklinski felt remorse for Lane’s death for a brief period, but then saw it as a way to feel powerful and in control. He then went on and nearly beat to death the remaining six gang members.
By his early twenties Kuklinski had earned the reputation as being an explosive tough street hustler who would beat or kill those who he didn’t like or who offended him. According to Kuklinski it was during this time that his association with Roy DeMeo, a member of the Gambino Crime Family, was established.
As his work with DeMeo advanced his ability to be an effective killing machine was recognized. According to Kuklinski, he became a favorite hitman for the mob, resulting in the deaths of at least 200 people. The use of cyanide poison became one of his favorite weapons as well as guns, knives and chainsaws.
Brutality and torture would often precede death for many of his victims. This included his own description of causing his victims to bleed, then tying them up in rat infested areas. The rats, attracted to the smell of blood would eventually eat the men alive.
The Family Man
Barbara Pedrici saw Kuklinski as a sweet giving man and the two married and had three children. Much like his father, Kuklinski, who was 6′ 4″ and weighing over 300 pounds, began to beat and terrorize Barbara and the children. On the outside, however, the Kuklinski family was admired by neighbors and friends as being a happy and well adjusted.
The Beginning of the End
Eventually Kuklinski started making mistakes and the New Jersey State Police were watching him. When three associates of Kuklinskis turned up dead, a task force was organized with the New Jersey authorities and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Special Agent Dominick Polifrone went undercover and spent a year and a half disguised as a hit man and eventually met and gained Kuklinski’s trust. Kuklinski bragged to the agent about his proficiency with cyanide and boasted about freezing a corpse in order to mask his time of death. Afraid Polifrone would soon become another of Kuklinski’s victims, the task force moved quickly after taping some of his confessions and getting him to agree to do a hit with Polifrone.
On December 17, 1986, Kuklinski was arrested and charged with five counts of murder which involved two trials. He was found guilty in the first trial and reached an agreement in the second trial and was sentenced to two life sentences. He was sent to Trenton State Prison, where his brother was serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl.
Enjoying the Fame
While in prison he was interviewed by HBO for a documentary called “The Iceman Confesses,” then later by author Anthony Bruno, who wrote the book “The Iceman,” as a follow-up to the documentary. In 2001, he was interviewed again by HBO for another documentary called, “The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With a Killer.”
It was during these interviews that Kuklinski confessed to several cold-blooded murders and spoke of his ability to detach himself emotionally from his own brutality. When on the subject of his family he uncharacteristically showed emotions when describing the love he felt towards them.
Kuklinski Blames Childhood Abuse
When asked why he had become one of the most diabolical mass murderers in history, he cast blame on his father’s abuse and admitted the one thing he was sorry for was for not killing him.
Authorities do not buy everything Kuklinski claimed during the interviews. Witnesses for the government who were part of DeMeo’s group said Kuklinski was not involved in any murders for DeMeo. They also question the number of murders he claimed to have committed.
His Suspicious Death
On March 5, 2006, Kuklinski, age 70, died of unknown causes. His death came suspiciously around the same time he was scheduled to testify against Sammy Gravano. Kuklinski was going to testify that Gravano hired him to kill a police officer in the 1980s. Charges against Gravano were dropped after Kuklinski’s death because of insufficient evidence.
Kuklinski and the Hoffa Confession
In April 2006, it was reported that Kuklinski had confessed to author Philip Carlo that he and four men had kidnapped and murdered union boss Jimmy Hoffa. In an interview aired on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Carlo discussed the confession in detail, explaining the Kuklinski was part of a five-member team, who under the direction of Tony Provenzano, a captain in the Genovese crime family, kidnapped and murdered Hoffa in a restaurant parking lot in Detroit.
Also on the program was Barbara Kuklinski and her daughters, who spoke about the abuse and fear they suffered at the hands of Kuklinski.
One telling moment which described the true depth of Kuklinski’s sociopathic brutality was when one of the daughters, described as Kuklinski’s “favorite” child, told of her father’s attempt to get her to understand, when she was 14, why if he killed Barbara during a fit of rage, he would also have to kill her and her brother and sister.
The Story Of Richard Kuklinski — The Most Prolific Hitman In Mafia History
To his family and neighbors, Richard Kuklinski was the all-American man. To the mafia and his victims, he was the “devil himself.”
“Do you liken yourself to an assassin?”
“Assassin? It sounds so exotic,” said Richard Kuklinski with a hint of amusement and a small smile. Then his face turned serious. “I was just a murderer.”
That was an interaction between Kuklinski and a reporter interviewing him. And his use of the word “just” may just be the biggest understatement.
Richard Kuklinski, also known as the “Iceman,” was convicted of murdering five and, a little later, a sixth person. However, he claimed to have killed hundreds, and the prosecutors didn’t doubt it.
Kuklinski liked killing. Sometimes he did it for fun, sometimes he did it when a person angered him. What he was best at was murdering for money.
Richard Kuklinski was born on April 11, 1935, in Jersey City to an aggressive alcoholic dad and a religious mom. He said he got a kick out of killing neighborhood cats and in the eighth grade, Kuklinski dropped out of school.
Kuklinski reportedly committed his first murder at age 14 when he beat the town bully to death. He’d go to carry out his first professional hit when he was age 18.
A young misanthrope turned into a giant of a man. Richard Kuklinski grew to be 6 ft. 5 in. tall and weighed around 300 pounds.
In the 1950s, Richard Kuklinski got involved with the mafia, and initially, he felt stifled by them because they’d relegate him to lesser crimes. So he fulfilled his own personal lust for murder on the side.
Starting in 1954, Kuklinski would make periodic trips from Jersey to New York City, prowling the streets for people to kill. It could be someone who he sought out or just a random person who minorly annoyed him.
His methods of killing were just as random as his victim selection as he would most often shoot, stab, or bludgeon. His weapon selection also depended on his mood with him using everything from ice picks to even hand grenades. According to a statement he once made, a nasal-spray bottle filled with cyanide was his favorite.
Kuklinski’s reputation eventually spread to the elite of the organized crime world, particularly the notorious DeCavalcante family, who hired him for his first major gang killing.
He also became associated with high ranking member of the mob Roy DeMeo. It started out as an indebtment to DeMeo. But Kuklinski’s knack for criminal activity and his ability to consistently gain cash while working for the DeMeo crew earned him the respect of Roy. By association, it also earned him the respect of the Gambino crime family, of which DeMeo was a part of.
Kuklinski continued to carry out assignments for DeMeo and the Gambinos. Kuklinski’s willingness to murder anyone without hesitation made even members of the mafia refer to him as the “devil himself.”
Richard Kuklinski took whatever steps he needed to not get caught. He’d remove the fingers and teeth of his victims and sometimes he’d throw them in the Hudson River or dispose of their bodies in mine shafts.
At the time, the police thought it was homeless people attacking and killing each other. They didn’t suspect that there was a ruthless and impeccable killer from New Jersey coming into the city to murder randomly.
They say you never know what goes on behind closed doors. In the case of Kuklinski, that couldn’t be truer. Although, even the people on the other side of the closed doors, his family, didn’t know what was going on either.
In 1961 Richard Kuklinski married his wife, Barbara. She didn’t know by the time they met he had allegedly already committed about 65 murders. They had three children together and Kulinski described them as the “all-American family.”
And to their New Jersey suburban neighbors, that’s exactly what the Kuklinski’s were. They lived an affluent life with Kuklinski even sending his kids to expensive private schools. They’d host barbeques in their backyard by the pool and take trips to Disneyland. Kuklinski was also an usher every Sunday at Mass.
Eventually, when the police did wind up finding and surrounding him, armed in unmarked police cars, Barbara would have no idea what her husband did to break the law.
He was, however, abusive to Barbara. She said that he had hit her many times. “I used to call it anger – it was way beyond anger. He was sick,” she said. Still, she claimed to be oblivious to the extreme criminal life he led on the side.
In an interview that would happen later on, Barbara said, “I’ll be the first one to say, maybe I was naive, because I never saw anything like that, my family never did anything like that.”
Though she may not have seen it, it was happening. All throughout their marriage, Kuklinski continued to murder. He was kept in constant employment by the seven families of the East Coast Mafia. Whoever owned the mob money, or insulted them, or just became a nuance. He took care of it.
But Kuklinski was unlike other members of the mafia. He reportedly wasn’t prone to drinking or gambling. Despite his admission that he had killed hundreds of people, he said he’d never murdered women or children.
Most notably, he was able to keep up the family man facade by thoroughly compartmentalized his life. He didn’t tell members of organized crime anything about his personal life, his family, or where he lived. He looked at them as his employers, never socializing outside of work.
And for a quantified psychopath, Richard Kuklinski had random recollections of specific moments. In one case, after he was caught, he spoke of a man he was about to kill who was begging and praying. Kuklinski told the man he could have 30 minutes to pray to God, to see if God could come and change the circumstances.
“But God never showed up and he never changed the circumstances and that was that. It wasn’t too nice. That’s one thing, I shouldn’t have done that one. I shouldn’t have done it that way,” Kuklinski said.
By the 1980s, after 25 years of working as a hitman for the mafia, Kuklinski started his own crime ring. This was when a trail of mistakes leading to his arrest began.
The biggest mistake that led to his undoing was Phil Solimene, a local Mafia man and the closest thing Kuklinski had to a friend. Solimene helped in a sting operation, during which he recorded a conversation with Kuklinski about a conspiracy to kill.
The manhunt operation that began in 1985 concluded in 1986, on that day when the unmarked cars surrounded Richard and Barbara Kuklinski. The cops pointed guns at their heads. The couple was on their way to breakfast. Pat Kane, the lead investigator, approached Barbra in the midst of her confusion over what was happening and said plainly, “He’s a murderer.”
He was charged with five murders the following day and in 1988 was found guilty of four of them. He was later convicted of two more and given consecutive life sentences.
Pat Kane believed he killed as many as 300 men saying, “He killed who he wanted, whenever he wanted.”
After his arrest, it became evident that Kuklinski’s love of being in the public eye was on par with his love of killing. He gave interviews to prosecutors, psychiatrists, reporters, criminologists, and newscasters. He participated in two documentaries about his life and spoke candidly about the things he did and why. He claimed to have killed the notoriously corrupt Jimmy Hoffa, for which he was paid $40,000.
In a TV interview done from prison, he said, “I’ve never felt sorry for anything I’ve done,” before adding, “Other than hurting my family. I do want my family to forgive me.”
After 25 years in prison, Kuklinski’s health started getting bad. In 2005, he was diagnosed incurable inflammation of the blood vessels.
Richard Kuklinski was eventually transferred to the hospital where Barbara would go to see him one last time. In and out of consciousness, in a moment of wake, he asked doctors to revive him if he should flatline.
However, on her way out, Barbara signed a Do Not Resuscitate form. A week before he died they called her to see if she had changed her mind. She hadn’t.
Richard Kuklinski Died on March 5, 2006.
If you found this story interesting, you may want to read about the real-life mobsters behind Goodfellas next. Then check out these photos that capture life in the 1980s mafia.http://allthatsinteresting.com/
Married to The Iceman
As The Iceman, a film about the serial killer Richard Kuklinski, is released, his widow Barbara tells her true story to Adam Higginbotham
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.
Winona Ryder as Barbara Kuklinski in ‘The Ice Man’. Credit: Anne Marie Fox
Today, Barbara Kuklinski lives in a small flat in the basement of a white shingled house in suburban New York State, which she shares with her younger daughter Christin and her boyfriend, and three dogs. At 71, she 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. Until recently, her story was being developed as part of a film scheduled to star Mickey Rourke as her murderous former husband; but when the financing fell apart, a rival project broadly based on Kuklinski’s life, The Iceman, went ahead, starring Michael Shannon in the title role, and Winona Ryder as the killer’s loyal wife. The film will be released this June, but Barbara won’t receive a penny from the production and has no intention of seeing it. “Never. I won’t. I don’t like anything violent. And I understand it’s extremely violent.” It is also, she says, “far from the truth… and who is that Winona Ryder? Are you kidding me?”
When the film was launched at Cannes, Barbara says she was furious to hear the actress comment of the character she plays in the film, “I’m as guilty as he was.” Recalling this, the widow of the Ice Man casts a sardonic eye around the tiny living room, her crochet and the framed family portraits clustered on the TV set. “Yeah,” she says. “Can’t you see how I’ve benefited?”
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.
Barbara Kuklinski. Credit: Mark Mahaney
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.
Richard Kuklinski with daughters Merrick and Christin. Credit: Courtesy of Barabara Kuklinski/ Mainstream Publishing
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.
Richard Kuklinski being escorted by police from a court room, Dec. 17, 1986. Credit: AP Images
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, at 64 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 Iceman is released today