Barbara Kuklinski had been happily married to her husband Richard for 26 years when policemen spilled out of unmarked police cars, threw open her car’s doors, and thrust guns at her husband’s head.
It was a flurry of inexplicable, unrelenting chaos. It was the week before Christmas in 1986, and their sleepy street in Dumont, New Jersey, had erupted with foreign noise. The couple was on their way to breakfast; the cafe they frequented every week.
“If he never had to leave the house he would have loved it. He hated to travel, he hated to go away. He came back as soon as he could, he wanted to be home all the time, he wanted to be with us all the time,” she would explain to the Conversations With A Killer documentary crew five years later.
“We were perfect. My children were never in trouble – we were perfect… I mean, we had what seemed to be the perfect life, they were wonderful times.”
Well, not everything was perfect. The lives the pair led with their three children – daughters Merrick and Christin and son Dwayne – were gentle and quiet, except in the moments the patriarch was challenged. Richard’s volatile temper was something Barbara referred to as “Jekyll and Hyde”; when he wasn’t a doting dad, he transformed into a cold and hard man. Another decade would pass before Barbara would tell journalists her husband broke her nose on several occasions.
His career as a businessman had seen them transition from a life of endless bills and struggle to one of middle-class affluence. While the details of his work were never shared – Richard strictly kept the office and family separate, never introducing a colleague to his wife – Barbara knew not to ask questions.
“I never questioned him. And you just knew, don’t do it. Don’t ask. If he got up at two in the morning, or during dinner and put on his shoes and walked out the door, you said ‘bye’, you didn’t say ‘where are you going’ or ‘why are you going?’. It was just understood that that’s the way it was. You only knew what he wanted you to know.”
Still, on that December morning, when Barbara’s rather ordinary life evaporated into blaring sirens and screams, she never would have guessed what her husband’s job actually entailed.
“Richard’s a murderer,” detectives told her simply.
That morning's interrupted breakfast date was the culmination of an 18-month-long undercover investigation into her husband.
Despite her disbelief, the moment Barbara heard those words, the little things - the things she ignored for decades - all started to make sense.