The fast pace of change in Chilltown may sometimes seem overwhelming. Jersey City neighborhoods transform frequently with new developments that can be both exciting and alarming. The nostalgia that many feel for old Jersey City does not, however, tend to stretch to the times when mob families made the headlines. Read on to hear how Richard “the Iceman” Kuklinski, Louis “Bobby” Manna, and Joseph “Newsboy” Moriarty came to hold the shared title of Jersey City’s most notorious criminals.
Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski (1935 – 2006) was the second of four children born to Stanislaw, a brakeman on the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, and Anna, who worked in a meat-packing plant. The family rented an apartment on 4th Street in Jersey City. Richard recounted his childhood as a misery of physical and psychological abuse. When his brother Joseph was convicted of the heinous murder of a 12-year-old girl and her dog, Richard explained his brother’s monstrous behavior with: “We come from the same father.”
Though convicted of five murders, committed between 1980 and 1985, Richard bragged in interviews that he had murdered around 200 people including famed labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa. He claimed to have used a crossbow, icepicks, a tire iron, a bomb attached to a remote-controlled toy, grenades, cyanide, and regular old guns to kill his victims. However, only the five murders for which he was sentenced to multiple life sentences at Trenton State Prison were ever confirmed. Richard’s pathological behavior included elaborate lying to further augment his brand of villainy. He was not taken at his word by police when he claimed to have first killed at age 14 and to have murdered homeless people for practice.
Though the Iceman’s pornography and drug trafficking career started in the 1960s, the only crime the Iceman was ever charged with prior to his 1986 arrest for murder was passing a bad check. Then, after years of the Iceman going unnoticed, Pat Kane, an officer with the New Jersey State Police, got a tip from an informant that first connected him to a gang known for committing burglaries throughout Northern New Jersey and then linked him to five men the Iceman was said to be the last person to have seen alive.
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The Iceman, his wife, and their two kids lived in the borough of Dumont in Bergen County when a joint task force of law enforcement officials began “Operation Iceman.” The Kuklinski family recalled him as a loving father and husband, albeit with a violent temper, and claimed that they had been completely unaware of his life of crime.
Why was he called the Iceman? A fitting sobriquet for so evil a villain, the moniker was given to him by the detectives who tracked, trapped, and arrested him after they learned that he had frozen the body of one of his victims in an attempt to disguise the time of death. An undercover team spent 18 months building a plot to apprehend their villain and prove him guilty.
Once in prison, Kuklinski courted the press. He gave interviews to crime writers, journalists, prosecutors, criminologists, and psychiatrists. It was from prison that he tried to build his resume of depravity with elaborate tales of mafia connections he didn’t have and killings that were never substantiated. It is likely that he was pleased to be made the subject of three HBO documentaries aired in 1992, 2001, and 2003 and to have been written about in several biographies. Then, in 2012, six years after his death, his life story was turned into a feature film titled The Iceman.
Louis “Bobby” Manna
Louis “Bobby” Manna, (1929 – ) former consigliere of the Genovese crime family, was born in Hoboken, but Jersey City claims him. He was the head of the New Jersey faction of the Genovese gang and the number two to overall family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. The Chin was tagged with a great bad guy nickname, referencing his youth as a pro boxer. Bobby is the moniker most frequently inserted into stories about Louis, though he was also called Doc and the Thin Man. Despite the fact that the latter two both have more criminal cache, Bobby is what he was best known as and will, heretofore, be used in reference to the infamous mobster.
Prosecutors described him as “dangerous and evil.” One of the prosecutors who took him down, (current US Supreme Court Judge) Samuel Alito Jr, was on Bobby’s hit list – along with Judge Maryanne Trump Barry (sister of the former US president) and Prosecutor Michael Chertoff (Secretary of Homeland Security under George W Bush). But the plan to commit those hits wasn’t what led authorities to him. The sting that took Bobby down happened as a result of a mob turf war he got himself into. In June of 1988, Bobby was charged with racketeering and conspiracy to murder mobster-affiliated NYC businessman Irwin “The Fat Man” Schiff, the Gambino kingpin, John Gotti, and his brother Gene Gotti.
Bobby had a beef with the Gotti brothers because the Gambino family was horning in on his territory in northern New Jersey. He had been placed under surveillance by the FBI in 1987. Crucial evidence of the Gotti murder plot was picked up by electronic surveillance that recorded 12 conversations between Bobby and his associates in a restaurant in Hoboken that the Genovese were known to frequent. The goal of the 13-month investigation by the FBI and regional law enforcement that led to Bobby’s indictment was to ultimately wipe out the Genovese crime syndicate’s operations in New Jersey. Today, that goal has yet to be fully met as demonstrated when Genovese goombahs and their associates, who aren’t behind bars, pop up in the news from time to time. Bobby lives on, too. He’s in a Minnesota medical prison, having reached 93 on December 3rd of 2022, and has 45 years of prison time left to go.
Joseph “Newsboy” Moriarty (1910 – 1979) was a Hudson County mobster who controlled the numbers game. Born in Jersey City, Joseph was dubbed Newsboy when, as a kid, he sold tabloids in the bars and restaurants around the “Horseshoe” section in old Jersey City. The Horseshoe, now the Pavonia — Harsimus Cove — Hamilton Park part of Jersey City, was a working-class Irish area where most folks generally labored in the railroad yards and on the docks. It was a rough area where crime flourished and brawls were constant. Newsboy got his start working the numbers racket throughout his home turf at age 13. By the end of his criminal career, the Newsboy would be arrested 47 times, though only the last couple arrests put him behind bars for any real length of time.
The numbers game was an illegal local lottery run by the mafia. Gamblers — any Joe Shmoe with a bit of change — placed bets with a bookie at all sorts of places: a candy store, tavern, barber shop, or street corner. The bookie’s location transformed that spot into an illegal betting parlor. Runners would then carry the bets (money and betting slips) between the betting parlors and headquarters, which was called a numbers bank. Gamblers picked any three numbers to play. Each day, after the winning number was determined, the outcome could be no winners, one, or many, as luck would have it. The winning number was often the last three digits of the total attendance reported at a specified race track or another tamper-proof number.
This sounds pretty harmless until you hear how many millions of dollars moved through these operations into the Genovese crime family’s coffers. Still, the opportunistic Newsboy is placed in the company of the psychopath Iceman Kuklinski and heartless Bobby Manna because of the notoriety of his crimes.
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The way in which the Newsboy was identified for investigation and eventual incarceration by authorities was a good deal of what made him such a legend. On September 15th, in 1958, a commuter train carrying 200 passengers plunged off the Newark Bay railroad drawbridge, which was open for marine traffic. The engineer hadn’t heeded the stop signal. Both diesel locomotives and the first two train coaches plunged and sank into Newark Bay. The third coach, number 932, was caught by its rear truck, hanging precariously over the edge of the bridge for two hours before it too went into the Bay. Fouty-right people died in the disaster.
When a photo of the numbers 9-3-2 on the side of the doomed train car hit the front pages of the newspapers and THAT number was the winning number the following day, the Newsboy’s numbers game drew unfriendly attention from authorities. That attention led to an investigation into the Newsboy’s activities and more than his previous short-term lock-ups.
Four years later, in 1962, the Newsboy was arrested for possession of betting slips and sent to New Jersey State Prison. He was released from prison in 1965, but then, in 1971, he was kidnapped and tortured by fortune hunters. In 1972, he was rearrested on more betting charges and remained in prison until 1976, when he was given a compassionate release due to a diagnosis of prostate cancer. He died while receiving care at Christ Hospital in Jersey City in 1979.