For years, a killer dubbed the "Hollywood Ripper" stalked young women in Los Angeles, attacking them in their homes with a knife, leaving a bloody mess and questions as to who was responsible. One victim was nearly decapitated; another had her breasts sliced off.
The man authorities say is responsible for that string of grisly killings, which included the girlfriend of actor Ashton Kutcher, is now on trial. Michael Gargiulo is facing two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for attacks police say he carried out over a span of seven years — between 2001 and 2008 — according to The Los Angeles Times. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty — and they’ve labeled him a “serial sexual thrill-killer.”
Gargiulo’s bloody resume allegedly traces back to the Chicago area in August 1993, when police believe he stabbed 18-year-old high school graduate Tricia Pacaccio to death on her doorstep as she returned home from hanging out with friends. A decade later police learned that DNA found under the young woman’s fingernails matched Gargiulo’s.
By the time police in Illinois made that discovery, Gargiulo was living in Los Angeles, where authorities say he met 22-year-old fashion student Ashley Ellerin while she was changing a flat tire, according to the Times. Ellerin was dating Kutcher, who at that time was acting on "That '70s Show." Gargiulo helped her with the tire, then later fixed a heater at her apartment. After that, he'd allegedly show up at her residence, without warning, often at strange times. One night in 2001, prosecutors say he entered her home and stabbed her 47 times, nearly cutting off her head.
Kutcher told investigators he had showed up at Ellerin's home that night to take her to a Grammy Awards after-party, but left after she never came to the door. Kutcher is among a pool of more than 200 potential witnesses the prosecution may call upon during the trial, the Times reports.
Prosecutors believe Gargiulo's next victim was Maria Bruno, a 32-year-old who lived in the the same apartment complex as Gargiulo in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte. Authorities say he lurked outside her home and around her windows, before killing her and cutting off her breasts while she slept one night in 2005. Authorities say Gargiulo “quite literally butchered her.”
According to police, Gargiulo left behind a surgical bootie that contained his DNA. The same kind of booties were later discovered at his home by detectives, the Times reported.
His final alleged attack in 2008 was a failure. His neighbor Michelle Murphy, 27, was sleeping when he barged into her bedroom and allegedly began stabbing her chest and arms. But Murphy fought him off, and in the scuffle, police say Gargiulo cut his wrist and fled. They found Murphy's bedspread, covered in Gargiulo’s blood, in a nearby alley.
Police arrested Gargiulo shortly after, and soon linked him to the murders of Bruno and Ellerin. But police believe there could be other victims, including a woman who’s pictured in photographs found on Gargiulo’s computer hard drive who detectives have never identified, according to People Magazine.
The accused serial killer’s trial is expected to last six months. Gargiulo is then expected to be extradited back to Illinois, where he hasn’t yet appeared in court since being charged in 2011 with the killing of Pacaccio.
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