Not that anyone has taken a poll, but the most storied mob hits of the past 30 years, hands down, were the rub outs of a Teamsters ex-president, Jimmy Hoffa; a Mafia boss, Big Paul Castellano; and a cigar-chomping Bonanno gangster, Carmine "Lilo" Galante. A photo of the murdered Galante - his stogie still clenched in his teeth - is so perfectly Mafia-esque that one New York newspaper ran it again this week.
Bearing that in mind, consider the following scenario: A monstrous hulk of a man, who has never been linked to any of the slayings or any of the many well-known suspects, claims to have been at the scene of all three murders, saying he inflicted the fatal blows to Hoffa, Galante, and Big Paul's bodyguard, Thomas Billotti.
More improbable, this wily, heretofore unknown mob assassin also claims to have murdered Roy DeMeo, the prolific kill-crazy Gambino mobster who was so feared by his peers that John Gotti, a few years before he directed Castellano's demise, begged off when Big Paul asked him to whack DeMeo.
To make this story even more improbable, let's say that our Forrest Gump of mob hits - a 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound bearded behemoth - claims to have murdered 200 people for fun and profit during his dark career, including a Queens man who killed Gotti's 12-year-old son in a car accident.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Richard Kuklinski, the star of a new book by Philip Carlo, one that pushes the envelope in the bookstore genre known as "true crime."
Mr. Carlo's "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer" runs more than 400 pages. It is based on hundreds of what can only generously be termed as Kuklinski's mostly demented ramblings.
According to the Kuklinski/Carlo version of events: In 1975, the Ice Man killed Hoffa with a knife, then drove his body to Kearney, N.J., where it was doused with gasoline and set afire in a garbage dump, from a Detroit suburb. In 1979, he used a shotgun to kill Galante just as a mob backup hit team got to Joe and Mary's Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. DeMeo, his best bud at the time, served as his wheelman.
A few years later, it was DeMeo's turn, and the Ice Man blew him away. In 1985, Kuklinski claims to have been part of the most daring mob rub out in recent history, the Midtown Manhattan shootings of Castellano and Billotti at rush hour during the height of the Christmas shopping season. The order came from Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, who had replaced DeMeo as the Ice Man's main mobster.
Wearing a big fur hat given to him by Gravano - it made him "look 7 feet tall" - Kuklinski told Mr. Carlo that he shot Billotti to death and then escaped the city's gridlocked streets by hailing a cab. The breathless account leaves several questions, among them why Kuklinski, who bragged about many of his alleged exploits on an HBO special several years ago, omitted this prestigious hit from his resume.
Unfortunately, the Ice Man won't be supplying any answers. In March, Kuklinski, whose health had been failing since last fall - he'd been in state prison since 1986 - died at 70 from what New Jersey authorities said were natural causes.
His departure wasn't completely unlamented. A Bergen County prosecutor, John Molinelli, had used the Ice Man's fanciful version of history to indict Gravano for the murder of a corrupt NYPD detective. With his key witness gone, Mr. Molinelli immediately dismissed the charges, a move that saved the county the cost - and likely embarrassment - of a public trial.
For Mr. Carlo, however, Kuklinski's death, shortly after his manuscript was completed but pre-publication, appears to have stoked even more fevered speculation. In an epilogue, Mr. Carlo questions the official cause of death and raises concerns that "Richard was poisoned."
In the final pages, Mr. Carlo quotes Kuklinski as telling his wife Barbara - who the publisher notes is available for an interview - that "they're trying to kill me," and stating later in the same visit: "If I don't leave the hospital, it's because I was murdered."
Who knows? Bergen County's prosecutors could yet have a Kuklinski murder trial. Mr. Carlo, who is in southern Italy writing another book, did not respond to Gang Land's e-mail or phone messages to discuss that possible case.
Say this for Jack Weinstein, the veteran Brooklyn federal judge who last week threw out the racketeering conspiracy convictions of Mafia cops Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa: He doesn't play to the crowd.
For those who never heard or read about Judge Weinstein's many pre-trial doubts about the prosecution theory, his bombshell decision was a huge surprise. In a move that stunned the city, the judge ruled that the hit-men-for-hire detectives were wrongly convicted even though they took part in at least eight murders.
The disgraced killer cops still are a long way from beating the case. Their battle for freedom is all uphill. They have to convince the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the judge was right to usurp the unanimous view of a dozen jurors about the facts of the case, not the law, and make himself an all-knowing, all-powerful 13th juror.
Judge Weinstein's ruling hinges on the defense view - rejected by the jury - that any murderous racketeering activity by the Mafia Cops ended in 1996, and that any crimes they may have committed after they left the NYPD and moved to Las Vegas had nothing to do with their prior existence.
If nothing else, Judge Weinstein's decision drove home his earlier remarks that lawyer Bruce Cutler did an excellent job defending Eppolito. The lawyer certainly convinced the judge that the feds had passed off two separate conspiracies as one. And if Mr. Cutler had allowed Eppolito to take the stand, there's little doubt that the violent, racist, rambling ex-cop would have undermined his only defense, and made it next to impossible for the judge to toss out the jury's verdict.
One last point: Judge Weinstein didn't seem overly confident his ruling would survive appeal. In the last paragraph of his 77-page ruling, he noted that if the appeals court "reinstates the jury's verdict on the racketeering conspiracy charge," his previously announced sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine for each defendant would stand.
This column and other news of organized crime will appear later today at www.ganglandnews.com.