The Hollywood Ripper: How a 'boy next door' killed a series of beautiful women till his last victim fought back

Regardless of Michael Garguilo's history with law enforcement, his friends and acquaintances did not expect him to be a monster in the making

                            The Hollywood Ripper: How a 'boy next door' killed a series of beautiful women till his last victim fought back

A star athlete at the Glenbrook South High School, Illinois, Michael Gargiulo grew up popular amidst his friends in the late 1980s. Gargiulo, however, began exhibiting violent and criminal tendencies early on in his life, as he racked up a series of arrests, including a battery charge in 1996, and an incident of breaking in a car. Regardless of Garguilo's history with law enforcement, his friends and acquaintances did not expect him to be a monster in the making. 

On August 14, 1993, 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio went on a night out with her friends. Pacaccio was everything a parent could want in a child, a star student, a member of the debating society, a non-smoker or drinker, and affable.

Later that night, she was dropped by her friends to her house. As she reached the steps leading to her main door, she was brutally attacked by a person, who stabbed her nearly 12 times. It was a hot summer night, window airconditioning was on inside the house. Her parents realized their daughter was dead only in the morning when they opened the door. The AC was so loud that neither they nor their dog heard any sound resulting from the horrific assault. There was no DNA testing at the time, and the killer had left no other leads for the detectives to follow. They questioned everyone but found no suspects in the case. They would, however, run a DNA test from cells found under Pacaccio's fingernail years later when the technology would be available. Gargiulo, a good friend of Pacaccio's brother, lived just a block away from the victim's house.

Years later, on February 21, 2001, 22-year-old Ashely Ellerin, a young and vivacious fashion student, was getting ready for the date of a lifetime with Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher. Ellerin, a smalltown girl from Los Altos, had dreams of making it big in the fashion industry, and her date with Kutcher suggested that she was going the right way. However, just before the Hollywood star was about to pick her from her house, an intruder attacked her with a knife. Ellerin was stabbed over 47 times; the attack was so brutal that she was nearly decapitated. Unbeknownst of the horrors inside the apartment, Kutcher came to her apartment and knocked on the door. There was no answer. He called on her cellphone, which was left unanswered too. When he peeped through her window, he only saw what he believed was wine spilled on the floor. He left thinking Ellerin was furious at him for coming late, and decided to apologize to her the next day. The crime was discovered by Ellerin's flatmate. There was no DNA left at the scene, and all the possible suspects were ruled out. Gargiulo, an acquaintance of Ellerin, lived just miles away from her apartment.

Ashton Kutcher testifies during the trial of alleged serial killer Michael Gargiulo, known as the “Hollywood Ripper,” at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on May 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Gargiulo is facing murder charges, including the February 21, 2001 stabbing death of Kutcher’s friend Ashley Ellerin. (Getty Images)

On December 1, 2005, Maria Bruno, a 35-year-old mother of twins and a boy and a girl, from the town of El Monte, was beginning to restart her life after separating from her husband. She was moving into a new apartment and had planned to start her own business. On the night of December 1, over a week after separating from her husband, she decided to give him a second chance and they went out for dinner, leaving their children with a nanny at the husband's house. The pair came back to her apartment and around 2 am, the husband decided to relieve the nanny of her duties and went to his house. When he came back to drop Bruno in the morning to her workplace, he found her stabbed to death in her bed. Police found a blue shoe cover — a booty — outside the door, which had a bloodstain on it, the blood was Bruno's. However, apart from that, there was no DNA evidence at the scene. Gargiulo, a neighbor of Bruno, lived across the corridor from her.

The four victims of the Hollywood Ripper Tricia Pacaccio (L), Ashley Ellerin, Maria Bruno, and Michelle Murphy. (Oxygen)

On June 6, 2008, a 26-year-old woman, Michelle Murphy, from Santa Monica, was sleeping alone in her apartment at night when she woke up to a person straddling her on her bed and plunging a knife repeatedly in her chest. However, this attack turned out different than the others - Murphy fought back. The 26-year-old, despite her stab wounds, attempted to fight back, kicking the attacker and inflicting a knife injury on him. With blood oozing from his hand, he looked at Murphy, said "sorry" and fled from the front door. Murphy had seen the assailant's face and there was DNA evidence all over her living room. When authorities ran the DNA sample against the database, they found a match from a 1993 cold murder case - the DNA was of Michael Gargiulo, who lived just blocks away from Murphy's house. Gargiulo, by this time, was leading a double life and had a wife and children. 

Gargiulo, who by this time was being called by the media as the 'Boy Next Door Killer' or the 'Hollywood Ripper', was arrested and convicted on two charges. Authorities from El Monte ran his DNA found in the blue booty, and it came out to be a match. The trial of the case became much-publicized after Kutcher's participation in the testimony. It was because of the actor's star power, the news reached across Hollywood and an anonymous person from the region revealed that Garguilo on a drunken night in a bar told him that he had "buried a bitch" in Chicago, confirming Garguilo's connection to the 1993 murder case. 

Psychologists believe that Gargiulo targeted the victims because of how attractive they were. They theorize that the 26-year-old was attracted to these women, which meant they had a power over him. He wanted to take control back by ruthlessly killing them.
A jury sentenced him to death last year. However, Gargilo's defense filed multiple appeals, and it remains to be seen whether the sentence will be carried out. Authorities believe he has committed more murders than the ones that have been revealed to date. 

A 90-minute special, 'Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper', was released by Oxygen on April 19, detailing how the infamous serial killer went about his murder spree. 

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