‘She Was Pretty Much Decapitated’: Investigator Describes ‘Gruesome’ Crime Scene Of ‘Hollywood Ripper’ Victim

Ashley Ellerin was stabbed more than three dozen times, creating a crime scene that one detective will never forget.

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Det. Tom Small Talks 'Hollywood Ripper' Case
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Det. Tom Small Talks 'Hollywood Ripper' Case

Retired Los Angeles Police Department detective Tom Small sits down with the former prosecutor and investigator Beth Karas, the host of "Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper," to discuss the case of Michael Gargiulo. Gargiulo was convicted of killing two women, attempting to kill another and is suspected of killing a fourth.

Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion student pursuing her dreams in Los Angeles, had her life cut short when Michael Thomas Gargiulo, a man who would go on to kill again, brutally murdered her in her apartment one fateful night in 2001. The scene the killer — the “Hollywood Ripper” — left behind would was described by one detective as particularly “gruesome.”

Tom Small, a retired detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, recalled what it was like responding to the scene of Ellerin’s murder for the 90-minute special, “Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper,” streaming now on Oxygen as part of the network’s “12 Dark Days of Serial Killers” event.

“It was about 9:15 when we got the call, and when I got into that crime scene, and I saw the condition that she was left in, it was probably one of the more gruesome crime scenes that I have seen,” Small said. 

Ashley Ellerin

Ellerin was preparing for a date with actor Ashton Kutcher when she was attacked. The bathtub was “still damp,” her hair dryer was sitting on the counter, and her curling iron had been left on the toilet seat, according to Small, but all around were signs that something horrific had happened to Ellerin that night.

When authorities found her, her hair “looked as if it had not been dried yet,” and there was “blood all over the place,” including the doors, walls, and floors, and it had “saturated” the carpet, according to “Snapped.”

“She was stabbed front, back, neck, back of the head. She had defensive wounds on her hands, on her arms. She was stabbed over 47 times, and her throat was cut. She was pretty much decapitated,” Small recalled. 

Exterior Of Ellerin House

Small also said that Ellerin’s body had been “moved, possibly posed,” according to a 2011 Reader’s Digest story.

What detectives didn’t know then, but what they would eventually find out, was that they’d stumbled upon the horrific work of a serial killer. Gargiulo killed Ellerin in the same manner that he is alleged to have murdered 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, almost 10 years before, in August 1993.

Pacaccio, who was the sister of a friend of Gargiulo’s, was found dead near the back entrance of her family’s Glenview, Illinois home; her arm had been broken and she was stabbed 12 times, The Chicago Tribune reported in 2011.

Gargiulo would later kill another woman, 32-year-old Maria Bruno, in a similar way in 2005, stabbing the single mother 17 times and cutting her neck so severely that she was almost decapitated, Chicago Magazine reported in 2011. He cut off her breasts and placed one of them in her mouth and, as with Ellerin, posed her body before leaving the scene.

Years later, Gargiulo would try and fail to murder 26-year-old Michelle Murphy; his fourth and final victim managed to fight off the attack and live through the vicious stabbing. Her survival led to the eventual capture and, later, conviction, of the man who would become known as the “Boy Next Door Killer.”

Gargiulo, 44, was convicted last year of the murders of Ellerin and Bruno and the attempted murder of Murphy. A jury sentenced him to death, though whether that sentence will be carried out remains to be seen.

Officials in Illinois have previously stated that they are hoping to extradite Gargiulo and try him for Pacaccio’s murder, potentially putting to bed a cold case that’s spanned decades, according to local outlet CBS Chicago.

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