December 17

This Day in History

Crime

Dec 17, 1986:

"Operation Iceman" nabs the culprit

Richard Kuklinski, a suspect in several murders, is arrested by undercover agents at a truck stop off the New Jersey Turnpike, marking the culmination of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' "Operation Iceman." Kuklinski had sealed his fate when he showed operative Dominick Polifrone how to poison a person with cyanide.

The first murder authorities were able to link Kuklinski to was that of George Mallibrand, whom he shot over a debt in 1980. He then stuffed Mallibrand's body into a 55-gallon drum in Jersey City. In July 1981, Kuklinski's partner, Louis Masgay, mysteriously disappeared on the eve of an illegal business transaction, but there was no evidence linking Kuklinski to the incident. When his body turned up in September 1983, authorities determined that Masgay had been shot in the head and kept frozen since the day of the disappearance; his body was then dumped two years later.

In 1982, Kuklinski joined Dan Deppner and Gary Smith in a scam to steal cars. But because he apparently believed Deppner and Smith to be inept crooks, Kuklinski decided to kill them in order to protect himself. In a northern New Jersey hotel, Kuklinski poisoned Smith's hamburger and then stuffed the dead body under the bed. Despite the fact that other guests had rented the room in the meantime, Smith was not discovered for four days.

In May 1983, a plastic bag containing Dan Deppner's body was discovered near a tree in northern New Jersey. Because he was believed to have died from cyanide poisoning, police were convinced that Kuklinski was behind the series of murders, and they decided to institute a sting operation. Kuklinski was later taped discussing cyanide's efficacy as a murder weapon, saying "It's quiet, it's not messy, it's not noisy... You can spray it in someone's face and they go to sleep."

At his trial in 1987, Kuklinski argued that Smith and Deppner had not been killed with poison. Indeed, it is difficult to prove murder by cyanide since the poison leaves few traces behind. Nonetheless, the prosecution managed to prove Kuklinski's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He later confessed to killing Louis Masgay.

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