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Crime News Snapped

How Was The ‘Hollywood Ripper’ Finally Caught By Investigators?

Michael Gargiulo, otherwise known as the “Hollywood Ripper,” targeted multiple women in Los Angeles before his 2008 arrest.

By Benjamin H. Smith
Don't Miss Oxygen's 12 Dark Days of Serial Killers!

From 1993 to 2008, serial killer Michael Thomas Gargiulo, known variously as “The Hollywood Ripper,” “The Chiller Killer,” and “The Boy Next Door Killer,” savagely murdered two women, tried to kill a third, and is suspected of killing a fourth.    

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He was a person of interest in two murders as early as 2003, but it would take another five years — and two more victims — before he was finally arrested. “Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper,” streaming now on Oxygen, takes a look at the detailed investigation that finally ended this vicious killer’s reign. 

Law enforcement first became aware of Gargiulo following the vicious stabbing death of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio in 1993. She grew up a block away from Gargiulo in Glenview, Illinois, one of Chicago’s northwest suburbs.  

"He was just part of the neighborhood kids who ran around, and we were all friends, and I was friends with him," Tricia’s younger brother, Douglas Pacaccio, told ABC 7 in Chicago.  

On the morning of Aug. 14, 1993, Tricia’s father, Rick Pacaccio, opened the front door to his house and found her dead on the steps. She had been stabbed a dozen times, with wounds puncturing her heart, lung, abdomen, and back. Her left arm had been twisted so hard it snapped, according to monthly periodical Chicago magazine. 

Although DNA was collected from underneath Tricia’s fingernails, there was limited forensic technology at the time, and investigators could not identify a suspect through the samples.  

Authorities learned that Gargiulo had driven Tricia to a friend’s house two days before her murder. When questioned by investigators, he implicated another area teen, but they found no evidence linking him or Gargiulo to the crime, reported CBS News.  

The case soon went cold, and in the ensuing years, Gargiulo moved west to Los Angeles, California.  

On the morning of Feb. 22, 2001, the body of Ashley Ellerin, 22, was discovered in her Hollywood home. She had been stabbed 47 times, one wound nearly severing her head.  

The night before, she had plans to attend a Grammy Awards party with actor Aston Kutcher. He didn’t arrive at her house until almost 11 p.m., however, and when he knocked on the door, Ellerin didn’t answer, reported NBC News.  

Detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department spoke with Ellerin’s loved ones, who told them about a suspicious acquaintance they called “Mike the furnace man.” Investigators did some digging and learned the man’s name was Michael Gargiulo, who lived several blocks away from Ellerin.  

At the same time, detectives from the Cook County Sheriff’s had arrived in L.A. and were asking the LAPD for help locating Gargiulo. They had retested crime scene evidence from Tricia’s murder and were gathering DNA samples from those who had been in contact her before her death.  

Gargiulo was eventually tracked down, and in 2003, his DNA sample came back as a match to the genetic material found underneath Tricia's fingernails.  

The Cook County State Attorney's office, however, declined to indict Gargiulo for the murder, citing that his DNA could have been transferred to Tricia through “casual contact” when they were in the car together before her death. 

With no physical evidence linking him to the Ellerin murder, Gargiulo remained a free man, and he went on to kill one woman and brutally attack another. 

In December 2005, he murdered Maria Bruno, 32, who lived in the same apartment complex as him in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte. Bruno had been stabbed multiple times, and her breasts were removed.  

Again, Gargiulo left little evidence behind, save for a single blue surgical shoe slipper containing a drop of Bruno’s blood, which was found outside her apartment.  

Gargiulo struck again on the night of Apri 28, 2008. Michelle Murphy, 27, was asleep in the bedroom of her Santa Monica apartment when Gargiulo attacked her, repeatedly stabbing her in the chest.  

Incredibly, the 5-foot-1-inch Murphy was able to fight him off. Running out the door after being knocked from the bed, Gargiulo turned and said, “I’m sorry,” according to The Washington Post.  

While struggling with Murphy over his knife, Gargiulo cut himself, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Santa Monica Police Department investigators ran the blood sample through a national database, and it came back as a match to Gargiulo. 

After locating his address, authorities realized he lived across an alleyway from Murphy and had a direct view into her bedroom.  

Garguilo was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in June 2008, reported the Los Angeles Times. While searching his vehicle, police discovered a bag of tools and blue shoe slippers, according to Chicago magazine. 

Recalling the Bruno murder from three years earlier, Santa Monica investigators contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, who discovered Garguilo had also lived in the same complex as Bruno. During a search of his old apartment, detectives discovered a blue bootie that matched the one found at the 2005 crime scene, according to CBS’ “48 Hours.”  

Garguilo was formally charged with the murders of Ellerin and Bruno in September 2008, reported the Los Angeles Times.  

Michael Gargiulo

Following the 2011 premiere of a “48 Hours” episode covering the “Hollywood Ripper” case, two men reached out to CBS with a tip about Garguilo. 

Temer Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo, two bouncers who worked with Garguilo in Hollywood, alleged that he admitted to killing Tricia. 

“He's like, ‘You guys ever kill anybody?’ And he’s like, ‘I have’,” DiLorenzo told “48 Hours.” “He goes, ‘Yeah, I buried a bitch... I left the bitch on the steps for dead.’” 

After alerting authorities in Cook County, Illinois, Gargiulo was charged in July 2011 with the 1993 murder of Tricia, according to CBS 2 in Chicago.   

Gargiulo went on trial in California in 2019, and he was found guilty of the two murders and attempted murder, reported NBC News. The jury recommended he be sentenced to death. 

A superior court judge set a formal sentencing date for Feb. 28, 2020, but it has since been delayed after a defense motion was filed seeking a new trial. 

Gargiulo’s trial in Illinois for the murder of Tricia has yet to be scheduled.   

To hear more about the case from the investigators themselves, watch “Snapped: Notorious Hollywood Ripper” on Oxygen