The Hollywood Ripper: Who Is He, and How Was Ashton Kutcher Involved?
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).
Gargiulo led a pretty average life, aside from the serial murder. He was an HVAC technician from the Chicago suburbs before he tried his hand at acting in Los Angeles, and the most that could be said about him was that he was a “short-fused bully with a violent, volatile temper.” It’s always the bullies, isn’t it?
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.
By 2001, Gargiulo seemed to become fixated on Ashley Ellerin, his neighbor in Los Angeles, showing up to her house uninvited, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes just sitting in his car in the parking lot. On February 21, she was found stabbed to death in her home, but weirdly enough, not by the first person who stopped by.
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
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.
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.
By 2005, Gargiulo had found a new neighbor/obsession. Maria Bruno told friends that she was being followed by some “weird guy,” who eventually got bold enough to follow her into her apartment before she caught him and he bolted. Later that night, she was killed in much the same way as Pacaccio and Ellerin.
Finally, in 2007, Gargiulo moved into the same apartment complex as Michelle Murphy, and a year later, she was stabbed in her sleep. She managed to fight her attacker off, however, and he cut himself before fleeing, leaving both a literal and metaphorical bloody trail right to Gargiulo.
Catching the Hollywood Ripper
Gargiulo’s DNA was in every database at that point, so it didn’t take long to match it to the blood found in Murphy’s apartment. Gargiulo was arrested two months after the attack in a drugstore parking lot, where he was still carrying a supply of blue medical booties around in his car, apparently in case a murder came up, but his forethought brought him down even harder.
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?
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
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
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.