Ashley Ellerin was a beautiful and social young woman with a glamorous Los Angeles lifestyle that appeared to be full of excitement, including dates with up-and-coming celebrities.
It seemed like Ellerin was only at the start of a promising journey that was tragically cut short by suspected serial killer Michael Gargiulo.
Dubbed the “Hollywood Ripper,” Gargiulo is thought to be responsible for preying on and murdering a string of women. In August 2019, he was found guilty of killing two women, Ellerin and Maria Bruno, and attempting to kill a third, Michelle Murphy. He is still facing charges for the murder of a fourth, Tricia Pacaccio.
The shocking case will be explored in the 90-minute special, "Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper," premiering Sunday, April 19 at 7/6c on Oxygen as part of the network's "12 Dark Days of Serial Killers" event.
Gargiulo, 43, is a former air conditioner repairman, who prosecutors said used his job to gain access to victims.
His most infamous victim was Ashley Ellerin, who was was just 22 when she was stabbed 47 times in her Hollywood home.
The night she was killed, Ellerin was supposed to go out with actor Ashton Kutcher, whom she was dating at the time. During Gargiulo’s trial, Kutcher testified that he went Ellerin’s home the evening of Feb. 21, 2001. The lights were on, but nobody answered the door, said Kutcher.
The two had planned on attending a Grammy's party together, but Kutcher was running late.
“I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Knocked again. And once again, no answer,” he said in court, according to The Los Angeles Times. “At this point I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset.”
Kutcher thought he could see red wine on the floor as he peered through a window, Newsweek reported. That wine turned out to be blood. Later, Ellerin’s roommate came home and discovered her body.
While Ellerin's murder has dominated headlines, a 2017 memoir by her childhood friend sheds light on what Ellerin was like growing up, and who she was before she tried to make it big in Hollywood.
Who Was Ellerin?
Originally from Bay Area, California, Ellerin attended a public elementary school in Central New Jersey where she met classmate Carolyn Murnick, who later penned the memoir, "The Hot One: a Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder," which focuses on her and Ellerin’s relationship as well as her murder.
Murnick wrote that she liked Ellerin right away when she met her in fourth grade during the 1980s. Ellerin was the new girl at the school, and she lived in a Colonial-style house on top of a hill with a white picket fence. While her home sounded ordinary, Murnick noted that Ellerin was not.
“She had a confidence about her that I had never seen before, though from my perspective at the time it looked simply like she knew how to have fun,” she wrote. “She enjoyed life in ways I didn’t know how to yet — she could laugh at herself, loudly and often, and not be afraid of befriending someone like me. I wanted to learn from her.”
Ellerin played piano growing up and took after-school art classes. During her sophomore year of high school, she moved back to California, and she and Murnick lost touch.
In a letter Ellerin wrote to Murnick in 1998, she told her friend that she had reminisced about their childhood and that “remembering those times brings back a lot of innocence I know I have lost.”
At the time, Ellerin was just 20 years old.
When they reconnected in person, Murnick noted that Ellerin, then 21, was still confident and “moved through the crowd with a physical ease not unlike that of a dancer or celebrity.” She confided in Murnick that she was working at a strip club and that “occasionally there were arrangements that happened in hotels, too.”
She attended UCLA, but before she died, she transferred to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
Ellerin had a lot of close friends in Hollywood, including her pal Chris Duran, who described her to CBS’s "48 Hours Mystery" as “beautiful, and fun, and spontaneous.”
Her friend, Justin Peterson, said that Ellerin had ambitions “to get into the fashion industry.”
Los Angeles Police Department Homicide Detective Tom Small noted that Ellerin’s friends had noticed that Gargiulo was obsessed with her.
"There was one occasion when he was observed sitting in a vehicle," he told CBS. "The engine was running and he was just looking in the direction of Ashley's house just sitting there and it was early in the morning."
Peterson actually confronted Gargiulo about that creepy incident.
"He started to go on about how the fact that he couldn't go home last night, because the FBI was waiting for him at his home to collect DNA samples from Chicago, some case or some murder, his best friend's girlfriend was murdered, or whatever. And I said, 'Well, what do you have to hide?' And he immediately put his leg up on the couch, and started to pull out a knife that was, like, you know, strapped to his ankle," Peterson said. "At that point, I rushed him out of the house."
What Gargiulo was possibly talking about was the murder of Pacaccio, whom he was — and still is — suspected of killing.
Gargiulo is currently awaiting trial for her Aug. 14, 1993 murder, which occurred when he was living in Illinois.
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