5 chilling stories that prove the mob business is nastier than on TV

We explore the most infamous accounts of gangland revenge, punishment, and contract killing ever put to print.

Mad Sam Destefano and the Chicago Outfit

In 1962, Antony Spilotro (1938 – 1986) and Charles Nicoletti (1916 – 1977), two hitmen belonging to the powerful Chicago Outfit, executed a pair of thugs who had gunned down a waitress and two brothers with mob connections. Having initially snared only one of the perpetrators – 24-year-old Billy McCarthy – the gangsters locked McCarthy’s head in an industrial vice and tightened it until one of the man’s eyeballs popped out of its socket.

“Billy begged for me to kill him,” Spilotro later regaled to fellow mob man Frank Cullotta (see the book CULLOTTA). “He gave up Jimmy’s [Miraglia – McCarthy’s accomplice] name just before he died.” To add to the interrogation’s vile legend, Nicolleti was apparently enjoying a bowl of pasta when McCarthy’s eye popped free. When the dead bodies of both McCarthy and Miraglia were discovered (the latter strangled), the double slaying would earn instant notoriety in the press as ‘The M&M Murders’. Martin Scorsese later immortalised the interrogation in Casino (1995) with Joe Pesci’s lunatic character inspired by Spilotro.

Yet such improvised sadism almost pales in comparison to the meditated terror orchestrated by their insane boss, the loan shark ‘Mad’ Sam DeStefano (1909-1973), who, according to accounts, would foam at the mouth as he administered punishments that lasted for days. Rumoured to be a Satanist, this sick sociopath built a soundproof torture chamber in his own basement where he often stabbed men in their ears and testicles with an ice pick.

One restaurant owner suffered a heart attack and died during such abuse. In another instance, a debtor was chained to a scalding hot radiator for three days before his badly burned body was dragged out into the middle of a banquet and urinated on in front of the victim’s startled family. Fellow loan shark William ‘Action’ Jackson (1920 – 1961) suffered an even worse fate, reportedly getting stabbed, burned and cattle-prodded to death during a gruelling three-day ordeal in which he was suspended from a meat hook, which may or may not have been impaled through his rectum.

‘Mad’ Sam’s disturbing rampage thankfully came to an abrupt halt when his 1963 murder of real estate man Leo Foreman was brought to trial 10 years later. ‘Mad’ Sam and several accomplices, including Spilotro, had allegedly imprisoned Foreman in Sam’s torture grotto, and smashed in his bones with a hammer and repeatedly ice-picked his most sensitive parts. Sadly for ‘Mad’ Sam, his bizarre courtroom histrionics, which included screaming through a bullhorn and appearing in his pyjamas, proved too much for his employers so they had him whacked. Not many people shed tears. As one former mobster said of DeStefano: “He was sick. Crazy, sick, a sick dog, worse than you can ever think. We didn’t whack him a second too soon!” (Source: AmericanMafia.com).

Richard ‘the Ice Man’ Kuklinski

The most infamous of all Mafia contract killers, Richard Kuklinski (1935 – 2006) was a monster in every sense of the word. Standing at 6’ 5” and weighing 300-pounds, Kuklinski had the imposing physical presence of a WWE wrestler and a heart so icy it could freeze fresh meat. The Ice Man (nicknamed as such for his experiments with freezing corpses), claimed to have killed more than 100 men from the mid-50s onwards (although he was only convicted of six), and uniquely accepted contracts from all of New York’s Five Families and rival New Jersey mobs. And for an extra fee he would make his victims suffer before killing them. And when we say suffer, we mean really suffer.

One of The Ice Man’s most diabolical torture-execution methods involved feeding live victims to rats inside a cave in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He would immobilize his victim with tape or rope, and then leave them to be agonizingly gnawed to death under the watchful eye of a video camera, set-up so he and his (often speechless) clients could watch the horror later.

On one occasion, he was hired to make a ‘playboy’ suffer because he was “having some fun” with the daughter of a New Jersey mobster. So after kidnapping and driving him to the cave, Richard wrapped wet rawhide strips around the naked man’s testicles, arms and forehead, ensuring that it would cut deep inside his flesh and make his scrotum swell up and glow tomato red. The smell of blood would excite the lurking rodents too, and when Richard returned two days later, the only thing that remained of his victim were fragments of a partially nibbled skeleton.

Kuklinski experimented with suffering and death with the level of intensity that a trainee chemist might commit to a PhD paper. He was methodical and inquisitive, but also possessing of incredible brute strength. On one occasion, he tied a Cuban man accused of rape to a tree and literally ripped off his testicles with his bare hands, sliced off his penis, and then calmly spent the next hour carving flesh from the man’s body with a blade. He even threw salt onto the wounds. Finally he pulled out the still conscious man’s intestines through an incision he had made, secured him in a lifejacket and then threw him out to sea to be devoured by sharks.

Kuklinski died in prison in March 2006, aged 70, and a film, starring Michael Shannon and James Franco, is out on DVD/Blu-ray, while the book The Ice Man: Confessions Of A Mafia Contract Killer (from which the above accounts are divulged in methodical detail) was a big seller.

The only crumb of comfort comes from the fact that Kuklinski may have exaggerated the extent of his utterly repulsive deeds. Although as the book’s author Philip Carlo disturbingly observes from his meetings with ‘The Ice Man’, “In my estimation, Richard was always honest and truthful, sincere and forthright.”

Drugs baron Rod McLean

If the previous accounts of extreme inhumanity strike you as disturbing, then the accounts of jungle warfare, observed by Rod McLean in the book Cut-Throat, will deliver an even starker warning to the evil depths that man can apparently plummet.

Scotsman McLean was a major international drugs baron who was sentenced to 28 years in 1996, but after escaping in 2003 was found mysteriously dead two months later. But prior to his life of crime, the felon-in-waiting cut his teeth as a youthful mercenary soldier in Congo during the 1960s where he witnessed what must be some of the most atrocious acts ever recorded in print. These include phosphorous grenades burning off a friend’s face, fellow soldiers masturbating over dying, disembowelled women and – possibly worse still – discovering the corpse of a fellow soldier who had been tied to a tree and literally eaten alive by rebel forces. According to McLean, “only the flesh around his eyes remained.” It’s no wonder that McLean would develop a somewhat numbed exterior when pursuing a life of crime some years later.

After the jungle horrors, McLean returned to Britain and partook in an armed robbery with an ex-army ‘buddy’-turned-henchman, whose nickname ‘Ivan The Terrible’ was well earned. When one of their gang proved a double-crosser, the man was tracked to a grubby flat where Ivan exacted a vengeful one-man “torture show” for the others to unwittingly observe. This involved breaking the man’s jaw, stamping on him, biting him and then using a knife to “scoop out his eye like a boiled egg.” After sweetly caressing the man’s head for some 10 minutes as some kind of warped motherly therapy, Ivan delivered a shocking finale when he taped up the double-crosser’s mouth and violently rammed a lit cigarette up each of his nostrils, ensuring an asphyxiating death while his skull frazzled.

But McLean, hardened by the human atrocity in the jungles, could inflict pain too when required, just maybe with not-so-quite fatal consequences. When an unruly tenant he suspected of being a pedophile had threatened to burn down McLean’s house following a long-running row, the gangster went ape. He caught up with the foolish imbecile at a bus-stop and kidnapped him. The captive was then strapped him into a chair at a discreet lock-up location where McLean, with the help of an accomplice, slowly removed every single one of the man’s teeth, barring the front two, using a pair of pliers and a door wedge to hold open his jaw.

“I snapped them off so he could feel the cold metal constantly rubbing against his jagged stumps,” recorded a fuming McLean. The whole process took an arduous 30-minutes but the victim had apparently stopped screaming after the first 15 of those. Barely still alive and bleeding heavily, the victim was then strapped to a plank of wood at an angle to avoid him choking on his blood, while McLean and his friend popped off for a bite to eat. When they returned, their victim was bundled inside a tea chest and then later dumped on a beach in Fife for him to be found alive. Which he was.

If you can stomach Rod McLean’s dark and dramatic tale – and it is certainly fascinating if very tough reading – then you might pick up Cut-Throat published by Mainstream and which was posthumously constructed from the drug baron’s own diary extracts by his nephew Wayne Thallon.

The Richardson’s torture gang

Widely ‘lauded’ as South London’s answer to The East-End’s iconic Kray Twins, The Richardson Gang, led by smartly-attired brothers Charlie (1934 – 2012) and Eddie (born 1936), were a fearful outfit who operated out of South London during the 1950s and 60s, making most of their (legal) money in scrap metal and fruit machines. Behind the scenes they were grubbying their fingers in extortion, gambling and credit scams. But it was the 1967 Torture Trial at London’s Old Bailey that earned them nationwide notoriety – and gang boss Charlie a 25-year custodial sentence.

According to underworld legend, Charlie was a vicious sadist who nailed wailing victims to the floor with a machine designed to fire nails into concrete, and had their toes and fingers snipped off with bolt-cutters. More famously, his gang would reportedly administer extreme electric shock therapy by wiring a hand-cranked World War 2 field generator to their nipples and genitals, with victims sometimes forced to sit in a bath filled with water to enhance the electrical surge. Gang member Roy Hall was the henchman accused of operating the generator, which – ironically – would once have been used to make SOS calls on the field of battle. He too would be sent to jail for his alleged role in the torture.

Soon, the phrase ‘taking a shirt from Charlie’ became terrifying gangland jargon, referring to how victims would be beaten then given clean clothes to return home in. During the trial Benjamin Coulston claimed he underwent six hours of hell where he was stripped naked, had teeth yanked out with pliers, and was “toasted” on the face by an electric heater. The gang piled on further mental aguish by wrapping him in a sheet tied with weights and making out he was to be plunged in the river.

Yet despite the convictions Charlie and his gang members, including ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, have continued to dismiss the witness testimonies as a conspiracy to get the gang sent down. Star witness Lucian Harris, who recalled his electrocution ordeal in vivid detail at the Old Bailey, was also reported to have since retracted his damning evidence.

Conversely, reformed bank robber John McVicar, who served time with Charlie Richardson in Durham Prison, described the man as “evil” in an article for a national paper last year. He also recalled (to an extent) how gang member Roy Hall had chillingly confessed to the tortures during their prison time together. But for most of us, the 2012 documentary The Richardsons by Fred Dineage sums it up well when it concluded that the truth is something we’ll never know – especially as Charlie Richardson died in September 2012 still denying the convictions. He was aged 78.