In 2011, Maureen Maher reported on a series of murders for 48 Hours. Soon after that broadcast, two key witnesses came forward, which helped lead to the eventual conviction of Michael Gargiulo, aka the Hollywood Ripper. In a follow-up episode, Maher went inside the investigation and the trial, at which actor Ashton Kutcher testified because one of the victims was his then-girlfriend.
Ahead of the 48 Hours rebroadcast of the follow-up episode, here’s what you need to know about the case and Kutcher’s testimony.
Gargiulo Was Charged in California for Two Murders and Attempted Murder
In 2001, Ashley Ellerin was stabbed nearly 50 times as she got ready to go out on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher. He testified at the 2019 trial that he came to Ellerin’s Hollywood Hills home to pick her up but he was late and she did not answer the door. When he peered through a window, he saw what he thought were wine stains on the carpet and left, assuming she had gone out without him.
According to Courthouse News, when Kutcher heard about Ellerin’s roommate finding her body the next day, he freaked out and went immediately to the police.
“I remember the next day after I heard about what happened and I went to the detectives and said, ‘My fingerprints were on the door’ and I was freaking out,” Kutcher testified. He also said that he spoke to Ellerin on a friend’s cell phone around 8:30 p.m. that night and brought the phone to the station for police to examine.
Then in 2005, Gargiulo killed a woman named Maria Bruno by stabbing her to death and slicing off her breasts. But it wasn’t until he attacked Michelle Murphy in 2008 that investigators got a break in the other cases. At the scene of Murphy’s attack, which she survived, the attacker knicked himself and left blood behind. That blood matched Gargiulo’s DNA, who was living nearby at the time.
It also matched DNA found on a shoe-covering bootie found near Bruno’s apartment and DNA found under the fingernails of a fourth victim, an 18-year-old woman in Chicago. There was never any DNA tying Gargiulo to Ellerin’s murder, only circumstantial evidence and a pattern that fit with the other crimes, according to E! Online, who reported that Gargiulo crossed paths with Ellerin and her friend outside of her apartment, asking them if he could help them fix a flat tire and giving them a business card for his air conditioning repair service.
The Case Actually Begins in Chicago in 1993
In August 1993, Tricia Pacaccio, a recent high school graduate, was stabbed to death outside of her Glenview, Illinois, home in suburban Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported that detectives believed the killer to have been waiting for Pacaccio to return home from a night out with her friends. Her father found her body in the morning.
At the time, then-17-year-old Gargiulo was not suspected by the authorities of being involved, though her family suspected him. Gargiulo was friends with Tricia’s younger brother, Doug. At Gargiulo’s trial in Los Angeles, Doug described the defendant as impulsive, with a “bad temper” who could “suddenly turn violent and savagely beat up classmates without provocation,” according to Courthouse News.
Gargiulo has not yet stood trial in Illinois for Pacaccio’s murder. The State’s Attorney’s office told CBS Chicago in August 2019 that when Gargiulo is finished with his California trial, they hope to extradite him to Illinois to stand trial there.
“After the conclusion of Gargiulo’s trial in California, the State’s Attorney’s Office intends to seek Gargiulo’s extradition to Illinois for further proceedings,” Tandra Simonton, the chief communications officer for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, said in a statement.
In March 2020, Gargiulo’s sentencing hearing was delayed after the defense team argued that prosecutors did not turn over evidence they said would have raised questions about the credibility of a key witness, according to the New York Daily News. Nothing has been rescheduled because on March 23, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye suspended all criminal and civil trials in the state for at least two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
48 Hours airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.