On August 14th, 1993, a teenage girl was found stabbed to death on her own doorstep in Cook County, Illinois.
Seventeen year old Tricia Pacaccio was found by her father as he left the house that morning on his way out to work. As he opened the door, coffee in hand, he was met with a sight no father should ever have to see- his daughter had been stabbed to death in a frenzy and her lifeless body was slumped over the steps. Her shirt was saturated with blood and it looked as though she had just been about to put her key in the door when an unknown assailant mercilessly attacked her where she stood. She had been out to a party that night with her friends and returned home at around 1AM. Her father attempted to revive her but tragically, it was much too late.
Officers working the case would later admit that they did not secure and process the scene to the best of their abilities at the time, for example, a single swab was used to collect potential DNA from several areas of the victim’s body and not enough care was taken to properly and carefully collect and preserve the findings.
At the time of the murder a young man named Michael Gargiulo lived next door with his family. He began gifting the slain teen’s parents with flowers, clothing and gift cards for meals so the two could out to dinner, a fact that the Pacaccio family found strange as they were not close to Michael, nor had he ever been friends with Tricia.
He was the prime suspect in the case until he pointed the finger of blame in the direction of a friend who lived in the neighborhood. He told police that not long after the murder this friend contacted him to ask for assistance in concealing evidence- a bag that he believed contained the murder weapon, which he hinted was a knife. Police shifted their attention from Gargiulo for a while and concentrated on their new suspect while Gargiulo left town and headed straight for L.A.
Like many people who move to Hollywood, Gargiulo wanted to try his hand at acting. He boxed as a hobby and managed to get a role in an amateur film playing the role of a boxer in 1999 but nothing more came of it and he supported himself working as a general handyman thereafter.
Ashley Ellerin was another young adult who was attracted by the Hollywood lights. She was a fashion student who relocated to Hollywood from a small town in Northern California to enroll at the Fashion Institute in L.A. She had aspirations to work in the fashion industry and enjoyed socializing and partying in her free time. She found herself a close group of friends with whom she shared a house. On the night of February 1st, 2001, Ellerin was scheduled to get picked up by actor Ashton Kutcher as they had planned to attend a Grammy party together that evening.
At 10:45PM Kutcher showed up to Ellerin’s residence and knocked on the door but the young woman neglected to answer. He cupped his hands around his face to look into the window and saw what he originally believed to be a large pool of spilled red wine. After Ashely failed to answer the door the young actor left and proceeded to go to the party without her, likely wondering why she had changed her mind or if she had forgotten all about it.
The next day one of Miss Ellerin’s friends made a traumatizing discovery when she entered the house. It was there, strewn across the steps near the bathroom that she found Ashley Ellerin encircled in a pool of her own blood, her clothes heavily saturated in red, her skin cold and blue. It was obvious on sight that she had been stabbed in a complete frenzy, much like the Cook County victim several years earlier. Ellerin had been stabbed over 47 times. Since there was no sign of forced entry to the residence police theorized that her killer was either someone she knew or someone she had given access to the home by her own volition.
Her friends were devastated and racked their brains to think of anyone who would want to so violently attack and murder such a beautiful, vibrant and well-liked girl. One person quickly came to mind- a strange and awkward repairman who lived in the area and seemed to be fixated on the young fashion student.
His name was Michael Gargiulo.
One friend recalled an incident where he noticed Gargiulo sitting outside of the house in his car. He seemed to be surveying or watching the property during the early hours of the morning. The following day when confronted about his strange and unnerving behavior Gargiulo reportedly responded with: “My best friends girlfriend was murdered back in Chicago so I can’t go home because the FBI are waiting there to take some samples from me”. He allegedly produced a knife during this conversation just to show he had one.
Gargiulo was asked to leave and never return, but he did return one final time- to put a violent end to Ashley Ellerin.
By 2005 Michael Gargiulo was living in the El Monte area in L.A.
It was there on December 1st that a young mother of four named Maria Bruno was stabbed to death as she slept in her bed. She had recently split from her husband and had moved into a small apartment alone when tragedy struck. And the location of her apartment? Right opposite Michael Gargiulo’s place, so close in fact, that he could probaly look out of his window and watch the 32 year old mother go about her daily life.
There was evidence of a break-in at the scene in the form of a screen that had been ripped from a window in order to gain entry to the apartment. A knife had been casually picked up from the kitchen as the attacker passed through to unlock the front door, making sure they had an easy exit. The attack on the sleeping victim was so violent and excessive that investigators working the case would never forget it.
The bed sheets were soaked in red, and just like the others, Bruno had been stabbed over and over and over again in crazed attack. There was also evidence of post mortem mutilation. Police found a blue boot cover in the parking lot that they believed the killer dropped as they fled. They kept it as evidence in the hope that it would aid them in a future arrest.
The murders would end in Santa Monica, California in 2008 when a young woman named Michelle Murphy fought off an attacker who began stabbing her as she slept in her bed. She had retired to her room 20 minutes before midnight when she was suddenly awoken by a series of sharp pains across her arms and chest. She opened her eyes in shock to see a man above her, sinking a knife into her upper torso. She reached out to defend herself only to be stabbed in the arms and hands. In a final desperate attempt to survive she used her legs to kick her attacker and he fled, saying “I’m sorry” as he left.
Murphy survived the attack and relayed the traumatizing ordeal to the police. They followed a trail of blood that lead outside and realized there was another DNA profile that did not belong to the victim. Officers ran the DNA and found a match: Michael Gargiulo. From there they liaised with other states and counties and began connecting the dots and linking the Gargiulo to his previous crimes. The matching blue boot cover to the one found at the scene of Bruno’s death was found in the apartment Gargiulo rented.
Gargiulo, who is now 43 years old and more commonly known by his media moniker, “The Hollywood ripper”, was recently found guilty of first degree murder for the slaying of Ashley Ellerin and is looking at the death penalty
Another trial awaits Gargiulo back in Cook County for the murder of Tricia Pacaccio in 1993.