The attack was frenzied, savage, vicious, monstrous—a blood-soaked onslaught that would give a horror writer pause. Forty-seven knife thrusts into the body of Ashley Ellerin, the 22-year-old California woman who, in that winter of 2001, had started dating one of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, Ashton Kutcher, then the handsome, dimpled star of That ’70s Show and Dude, Where’s My Car?
It took ten years for someone to be charged and arrested in the Ellerin murder; during that time a woman in the El Monte area, Maria Bruno, was slaughtered in an eerily similar knife-slashing frenzy, and a third woman, Michelle Murphy, miraculously survived yet another knife attack that bore the signature M.O.: stalkerish, fetishistic, barbarous knife attacks on attractive, friendly women by a man lying in wait at night.
It took longer still for the person to be charged in the 1993 death of a lovely 18-year-old suburban Chicago woman, Tricia Pacaccio, who was accosted and stabbed repeatedly on her doorstep after a night out celebrating her high school graduation with friends. All were victims, prosecutors said, of a man the tabloids took to calling the “Hollywood Ripper” and whom police describe as a “serial sexual-thrill killer”: Michael Gargiulo.
Since his 2011 arrest, the former Rainbow Bar & Grill bouncer and air conditioner repairman has been awaiting a trial date that seemed like it might never come.
Finally, however, the day is at hand. Opening statements are scheduled in Los Angeles for Thursday morning for a trial at which Kutcher is a potential witness, along with some 250 others. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for Gargiulo, who faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder related to the Los Angeles killings, which occurred between 2001 and 2008. Cook County prosecutors say they will seek to extradite and try Gargiulo in Illinois on the Pacaccio murder after the Los Angeles verdicts. The L.A. trial could last as long as six months, authorities say.
Prosecutors plan to use DNA evidence as well as eyewitness testimony, most dramatically from Murphy, who awoke around midnight in her Santa Monica apartment with a man police would later say was Gargiulo straddling her, stabbing her chest. Murphy was able to kick Gargiulo off of her after he sliced his own hand, according to statements she later gave police. Murphy told detectives that the man said “I’m sorry” as he fled, dripping blood down the alley. DNA tests later identified the blood as Gargiulo’s.
If called, Kutcher, 41, would be used primarily as a timeline witness in Ellerin’s murder. Kutcher, who had been casually dating Ellerin for a short period, had dropped by her Hollywood bungalow the night of the killing, planning to pick up the fashion student for a post-Grammy Awards party. He knocked and after receiving no answer peered inside, where he saw a dark stain on the carpet that he said looked like spilled wine. Witnesses later told police that Gargiulo, who met Ellerin outside her home where he offered to help fix a flat tire on her car, seemed fixated on her to the point of obsession. He began showing up at parties uninvited and unannounced, police say.
In 2005, authorities say, Gargiulo became similarly obsessive with Maria Bruno’s movements and, on one occasion, walked into her apartment unannounced, leaving when Bruno confronted him. Later, according to prosecutors, Gargiulo returned and “quite literally butchered her,” slicing off her breasts and slashing her throat.
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