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Assessment of Psychopathic Traits of Richard Kuklinski


Richard Kuklinski, otherwise known as The Iceman, was a high-profile contract and serial killer for several decades. He was renowned for his brutal killings of over 100 people. After his capture and imprisonment, he was interviewed and assessed by a psychiatrist. Kuklinski exhibited psychopathic traits in his behavior, perspectives, and emotional health. His psychological function was exceptionally contorted. Using the known characteristics of psychopathic behavior and the psychological function of severe offenders, the case of Richard Kuklinski can be carefully analyzed to determine the origins, causes, and experiences of such mental derangements.

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Psychopathic Traits

Psychopathy is a mental impairment that causes the brain to process information differently from a regular person. Psychopaths are unable to sympathize or understand other people’s emotions because their own ability to feel is significantly diminished. This results in antisocial behavior and a lack of emotional development. A common effective characteristic of psychopaths is a lack of genuine emotion and feeling. Any sentiment is shallow and superficial, practically to the point of non-existence. People affected by this disorder show callousness and a lack of empathy. It has a detrimental effect on the ability to connect with others, as any social situation requires at least a modest understanding of another person’s emotional perspective. In turn, the inability to feel fear and anxiety allows psychopaths to commit atrocious crimes without any remorse. Modern brain-scanning technology suggests that the paralimbic system and interconnected systems are responsible for assessing emotion and feelings malfunction in psychopaths (Kiehl & Buckholtz, 2010). Emotion is difficult for psychopaths to express because it requires heightened mental activity in a complex evocation of personality. This is not something a psychopath chooses based on personal beliefs or motivation; the feelings are simply not present.

Psychopathy severely distorts a person’s cognitive balance. There is a constant need for stimulation as they are often unable to focus for prolonged periods of time. These people are forgetful and irresponsible in everyday behavior such as holding a regular job. They exhibit poor planning skills and lack realistic long-term goals. Poor attentivity results in impulsivity, as the psychopath aggressively reacts to the smallest stimuli when bored. In combination with a deficiency of empathy, a psychopath fails to respond to situations and display behavior controls adequately. However, when following an urge, they exhibit tremendous determination. It is suggested that they are unable to process new information when attentively engaged in an action. This is relevant regarding physiological responses as well which allows committing a variety of criminal activities (Neumann, 2012). Anecdotal evidence suggests that a psychopath seeks out any source of action, often exhibited through violence. If such situations are inaccessible, a psychopath creates conflict themselves.

Emotion plays a key role in each person’s social existence. It serves as a compass to connect with people and places of importance. It drives a personal sense of purpose and belonging. Psychopaths lack the emotional factor which results in distorted and unhealthy relationships that are rarely genuine. Often, they engage in promiscuous sexual behavior and short-term marital ties. Furthermore, their relationships may suffer as a psychopath exhibits manipulative and parasitic behavior, acting to achieve personal interests by any necessary means. This is done through pathological lying, failure to accept responsibility, and purposefully deceiving others. However, unlike obvious signs exhibited by people with other mental illnesses, psychopathic individuals masterfully disguise their identity and deficiencies. They can be intelligent, charismatic, and even seemingly empathetic. Showing narcissism, psychopaths demonstrate elevated self-worth and confidence supplemented by superficial charm. However, there is a certain social awkwardness that arises since psychopaths lack the ability to read emotions in others. Therefore, during interpersonal communication, they may seem uncaring or tone-deaf (Kiehl & Buckholtz, 2010). In turn, this leads to socially unacceptable behaviors and criminal activity as psychopaths are unaware of social norms.

Psychological Function of Severe Offenders

Psychopathy causes the inability to evaluate the lawfulness and morality of actions. In addition, impulsive behavior limits self-control and the capability to stop inappropriate action. The majority of psychopaths commit crimes and are held criminally responsible. A major concern is that society lacks the understanding of psychopathy as a mental illness and there are no alternatives for these people other than a criminal conviction. Even if released on parole or probation, the behavioral traits will cause the psychopath to continue breaking the law. The cost of incarceration is a burden for society and the criminal (Baskin-Sommers & Newman, 2012).

According to legal jurisdiction, psychopathy does not qualify as a mental disease based on which criminals can plead insanity. However, legal scholars argue that those lacking a moral compass are logically no more responsible than those lacking cognitive ability. Such legal arguments are based on the fact that insanity is determined by the lack of rationality and accurate perception of the world. Meanwhile, psychopaths exhibit hyper rationality, acting solely in their best selfish interests. However, the perception of social norms differs for psychopaths, who are unable to comprehend the interests of others. Therefore, they perceive any action to be a cost-free benefit as one cannot conflict with something non-existent and non-identifiable (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). The lack of remorse and an emotionless state of a psychopath results in a lack of responsibility for any behavior. A person unable to comprehend emotions, including on a societal level, has trouble understanding the concepts of accountability and obligation. Therefore, the consequences of their behavior become personally irrelevant. Psychopaths utterly reject the idea of social stigmatization and condemnation.

Psychopathy has become a broad term encompassing several mental disorders and erratic behaviors. Psychopathy is closely associated with the antisocial personality disorder, used as the main indicator of the relevant traits. However, psychopathy is a combination of antisocial behavior intertwined with certain interpersonal and affective traits. As the study of psychology and neuroscience progressed, a test known as Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) was created and later revised to determine the prevalence of psychopathic traits in a person. It consists of four facets: interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial. The psychological profile of psychopaths consists of three phenotypic characteristics: fearlessness, disinhibition, and meanness (Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick, & Lilienfeld, 2011). Amongst the difficulties of identifying psychopathy is the fact that the traits are dimensional rather than categorical. While the characteristics are prevalent amongst the incarcerated population, not all psychopaths are inhumane criminals portrayed by the media. An adverse environment and exposure to violence trigger certain psychological responses, in turn, causing psychopaths to inflict violence. Statistically, it may have a domino effect in locations and populations where such behavior is common.

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The Iceman

Scholars agree that psychopaths have genetic and early development predisposition for the mental disorder. However, the full onset occurs when a predisposed individual is immersed in an adverse environment. The biological basis is morphed into the individual traits of antisocial behavior and the lack of conscience by the learning experiences that each person encounters in life (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). This is reflective of the nature versus nurture approach mentioned by the psychiatrist in the interview with The Iceman. The genetic predisposition to fearlessness was caused by violent upbringing and lack of nurture. There are almost always early signs of psychopathy which are exhibited by abnormal childhood behavior and juvenile delinquency. During the interview, Kuklinski indicated that he exhibited sadistic behavior in childhood by abusing animals. He described that his first murders came soon after. Psychopathy cases provide a comprehensive and long-term perspective on the debate of how human behavior forms.

The Iceman showed a variety of psychopathic characteristics in the interview. Psychopaths are chronically violent and tend to have a variety of serious criminal violations on their rap sheet. Kuklinski showed impulsivity as he murdered people over minor disagreements such as a lost bet. His need for stimulation results in participation in a wide variety of crimes ranging from illegal distribution of pornography to kidnappings and contract killings. In his murders, he continuously varied the sadistic methods by which his victims died. Meanwhile, emotionally, The Iceman remained apathetic to his behavior, being neither thrilled nor disgusted by the grotesque actions of murder and body disposal. In addition, he had no personal relationships outside of immediate family. They were unsuspecting of his true nature because of his pathological lying and manipulation. Kuklinski described having no passion, thrill or enjoyment from anything. In line with characteristic psychopathic behavior, sex is the only pleasurable sensation that he felt. The psychiatrist noted that Kuklinski fell into a small group of people that exhibited both the antisocial personality disorder and the paranoid personality disorder. That potent combination allowed him to become a ruthless killer (Ginsberg, 2003). It was a logical diagnosis to make based on presented evidence and descriptions. However, the psychiatrist does not emphasize psychopathy, only mentioning it once in passing. This may be due to certain uncharacteristic traits that Kuklinski displayed. Despite certain apathy to Kuklinksi’s character, he showed care and love towards his family. He did not exhibit sexual promiscuity and short-term relationships that are characteristic to psychopaths. In between fits of domestic abuse, he did everything possible to support them and remained loyal to his wife. Psychopathy is difficult to define, both scientifically and legally, because of its complexity and composition of several mental disorders. Many people may exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but only a select few possess the combination of factors that form in serial killers such as The Iceman.


Psychopathy is a severe mental impairment that leads to impulsive behavior, apathy, and an antisocial lifestyle. In combination, these characteristics cause psychopaths to commit immoral, violent, and criminal acts which result in personal and social burdens. Psychopathy has become a distinct mark of psychological function in severe offenders and serial killers. The Iceman’s description of his life from early childhood allowed for a clear analysis of lifestyle and behavior. Richard Kuklinski exhibited many of these traits in his actions and emotional state which led to a diagnosis of mental disorders that are associated with psychopathy.


Baskin-Sommers, A., & Newman, J. (2012). Cognition–emotion interactions in psychopathy: Implications for theory and practice. In. H. Häkkänen-Nyholm & J. Nyholm (Eds.), Psychopathy and law: A practitioner’s guide (pp. 79-97). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ginsberg, A. (Director). (2003). The Iceman and the psychiatrist [Video file]. Web.

Kiehl, K., & Buckholtz, J. (2010). Inside the mind of a psychopath. Web.

Kiehl, K., & Hoffman, M. (2011). The criminal psychopath: History, neuroscience, treatment, and economics. Jurimetrics, 51, 355-397. Web.

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Neumann, C. (2012). Will the real psychopath please stand up? Web.

Skeem, J., Polaschek, D., Patrick, C., & Lilienfeld, S. (2011). Psychopathic personality: Bridging the gap between scientific evidence and public policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(3), 95-162. Web.

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