What links three killings and one attempted murder that happened in different states and occurred years apart? According to the detectives and prosecutors who were closest to the case, each murder bore the very distinct markings of a disturbed individual.
Convicted serial killer Michael Thomas Gargiulo, perhaps better known as the "Hollywood Ripper," was found guilty by a California jury last year of two murders and one attempted murder, and is set to be tried in Illinois for another killing that took place more than 20 years ago, in 1993.
Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was stabbed to death on the back porch of her family’s home in Glenview, Illinois in August 1993, but the case eventually went cold. Almost 10 years later, in February 2001, 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin was found brutally murdered in her Hollywood home, having been stabbed multiple times.
Maria Bruno, a 32-year-old mother, was found murdered in her El Monte, California home under similar circumstances in December 2005. The fourth and last victim, Michelle Murphy, was a 26-year-old Santa Monica resident and lived to tell the tale: In April 2008, she woke up one night to find a man on top of her in bed, stabbing her. She fought back, saving her life, and the assailant fled.
Authorities and prosecutors have alleged that all four horrific incidents were perpetrated by Michael Gargiulo, and that he repeatedly targeted a specific kind of woman. As Garret Dameron, Assistant D.A. for Los Angeles County, pointed out during Gargiulo’s California trial concerning the murders of Ellerin and Bruno and attempted murder of Murphy, all of Gargiulo’s victims were “young, attractive, and outgoing.”
Gargiulo’s attacks themselves also had a lot in common, according to law enforcement officers who worked the cases. Tom Small, a retired detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, described the attacks on Ellerin and Pacaccio to “Snapped” as a “late at night attack, a blitz style attack, overwhelming control, multiple stabbings in vital areas — the chest and breast area, the sides, the back, the neck.”
“Both the victims were young, both very attractive, both very petite girls,” he continued. “Nothing was taken from these girls. There was no sexual assault on either one.”
Ellerin was stabbed an astonishing 47 times. Pacaccio, who lived in the same neighborhood as Gargiulo growing up, was stabbed 12 times, The Chicago Tribune reported in 2011. Gargiulo stabbed Bruno 17 times, and slashed her neck to the point that she was almost decapitated, just as he had with Ellerin, according to a 2011 Chicago Magazine story.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, also noted that Gargiulo allegedly attacked his victims in the same way.
“These were knife attacks that were perpetrated at very close proximity, as though he could look right into the face of the victims,” she told “Snapped” of Ellerin and Pacaccio’s murders. “Those commonalities speak volumes.”
The murders were "pre-planned," with Garguilo, who lived in the same neighborhood as each of the victims at the time of their deaths, making sure he “could get in and out,” according to Small. He also used the same type of weapon — “always a large knife” — and the killings were all carried out by an assailant who was left-handed.
Prosecutor Dameron pointed to those commonalities during Garguilo’s trial, commenting that not only were the killings similar in the way the victims were wounded, but the killer also took the same precautions to prevent himself from getting caught.
“Each victim stabbed multiple times. Significant force resulting in deep penetration. Wearing booties. Not leaving fingerprints. Evidence disposal,” he remarked, as seen on “Snapped.”
Gargiulo, also known as the “Boy Next Door Killer,” was found guilty last year of Ellerin and Bruno’s murder, as well as the attempted murder of Murphy. Despite his teenage son’s courtroom plea for the jury to spare his father’s life, a jury recommended a death sentence for the 44-year-old serial killer. However, that decision was delayed earlier this month due to the defense’s request for a new trial.
Officials are also hoping to try Gargiulo in Illinois for Pacaccio’s murder, with the State Attorney’s office stating in August that they planned to extradite Gargiulo following his California trial, according to CBS Chicago.
Pacaccio’s family are eagerly awaiting their shot at justice.
“I have joy in my heart that Michael has been held accountable for his actions,” Douglas Pacaccio, the victim’s brother, told WLS after Gargiulo’s conviction. “The bitter part about it is that I don't feel like it's done yet.
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