By virtue of their high-profile lives, celebrities are often no stranger to crime, but it’s usually stalking or Bling Ring situations. Few of them get entangled in serial killer cases, but Ashton Kutcher, of all people, became a literal star witness in the trial of Michael Gargiulo, A.K.A. the Hollywood Ripper, whose Los Angeles killing spree was more horrifying than any of Kutcher’s movies (yes, we’re including Guess Who).

Tricia Pacaccio

Fingernails

(allison christine/Unsplash)

In 1993, Tricia Pacaccio, the older sister of a friend of Gargiulo, was stabbed to death in the middle of the night outside her home, and the only clue to the identity of her attacker was DNA from her fingernail that initially turned up no match. She was probably Gargiulo’s first victim, but there’s no way to be sure, on a few levels. Gargiulo fled to L.A. a few years after her death, when the police began investigating him, so that doesn’t look great.

Ashton Kutcher

Ashton Kutcher

(TechCrunch/Wikimedia Commons)

Ellerin actually had a date with Ashton Kutcher the night she was killed, but she was dead by the time he showed up. He knocked on her door, tried to open it, and even looked in the window when she didn’t answer and saw what he assumed was red wine spilled on the floor. Spilled wine plus refusing to answer the door equals a person you do not want to talk to when you’ve shown up late for a date, so Kutcher just left, unaware that his presence was about to become a whole situation.

A Break in the Pacaccio Case

Police

(Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash)

Fortunately for Kutcher, his movements are extremely documented and he was quickly ruled out as a suspect in Ellerin’s murder, but just when Los Angeles police started looking at Gargiulo, they were contacted by Chicago police asking for help to track him down and get DNA samples from him. It turned out Gargiulo, who had been ranting to acquaintances about the Chicago police trying to get his DNA, wasn’t just being paranoid.

Not Charged?

Hospital gloves

(Clay Banks/Unsplash)

Together, they did manage to track Gargiulo down and even drag him to a hospital against his will to collect DNA samples, which doesn’t seem super legal, but they matched the DNA found on Pacaccio’s fingernails. Incredibly, this wasn’t enough to charge him because it wasn’t clear whether the DNA was under or on top of her fingernails, which meant it could have been picked up by the brush of a hand or something. Arguments that she’d showered since she could have had any contact with Gargiulo and partied with a bunch of friends who left no DNA on her didn’t change the decision, to pretty tragic results.

Linking It All Together

See, the only useful evidence found at Bruno’s home was a blue medical bootie that turned out to be the same kind Gargiulo was carting around, and it also had his DNA on it, so that was bad, too. By that point, police investigating Ellerin’s murder went ahead and charged him, too, because why not at that point?

Hollywood Court

It took more than 10 years for Gargiulo to be tried because he kept firing his lawyers, and he was sitting in jail all that time, so he must have known how bad things looked for him. His trial finally began in 2019, and it was pretty straightforward except for the testimony of Kutcher, which didn’t really tell the jury anything because all he did was knock on Ellerin’s door and leave, but if you can get Ashton Kutcher to testify in a murder trial, why wouldn’t you?

Sentencing the Hollywood Ripper

Gavel

(Wesley Tingey/Unsplash)

It only took about three months from the start of the trial for Gargiulo to be found guilty of Ellerin’s and Bruno’s murder and Murphy’s attempted murder, but then COVID-19 happened, so it was two more years before he was sentenced to death. It’s a strange choice because capital punishment is currently banned in California, but the jury is apparently hoping for a comeback.

He Kind of Confessed to More Murders

Door

(Joaquin Paz y Miño/Unsplash)

In the meantime, Gargiulo will likely be tried for Pacaccio’s murder, and that may not be the end. When he was arrested, he argued that he’d left DNA in thousands of homes in his role as an HVAC technician, so the fact that 10 women in those homes wound up dead didn’t mean he killed them … which was weird because police only knew of four women he might have attacked. If those other possible victims are ever identified, his own mouth might leave him with a sentence of even more death.

Top image: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office/Wikimedia Commons

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