Were Ashton Kutcher's Friend and 2 Other Women Killed by a 'Serial, Psychosexual, Thrill Killer?'

Prosecutors say Michael Gargiulo stalked and stabbed unsuspecting women

Photo: Santa Monica Police Dept./ZUMApress.com

Opening statements begin Thursday in the trial of an alleged serial killer accused of killing young women for his sexual gratification.

Los Angeles County prosecutors allege in court filings that Michael Gargiulo, 43, a former air conditioning repair man and bouncer, is a “serial, psychosexual, thrill killer” who stalked and then viciously stabbed his unsuspecting victims — all young women who lived near him.

In California, Gargiulo faces two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in 2001 and Maria Bruno, 32, in 2005. Both women were viciously stabbed multiple times in their Los Angeles area homes and posed after death.

He is also charged with the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who was attacked in her Santa Monica home in 2008.

Gargiulo also faces a murder charge in Illinois in the death of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, who was found stabbed to death outside her Glenview home in 1993.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, say Gargiulo left a trail of his DNA behind near or at the crime scenes.

Gargiulo has pleaded not guilty.

Over 200 people are expected to testify during the six-month trial, including actor Ashton Kutcher, who had plans to meet up with Ellerin on the night of her death.

In court filings, prosecutors have described Gargiulo as a “serial, psychosexual, thrill killer who engages in systematic slaughter of beautiful woman because he takes pleasure from manipulating, stabbing and killing his victims.”

His M.O. is to “watch, stalk, and hunt down the victim relentlessly as part of his foreplay” and then kill them in “blitz-type knife attacks” — all for his “psychosexual gratification.”

Ashley Ellerin. Courtesy Los Altos H.S./ZUMApress.com
Maria Bruno

Gargiulo moved to Los Angeles around 1997 and worked briefly as a doorman at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip in 1999.

He was a 24-year-old air conditioning repairman when he first met Ellerin, a student at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, outside her home, asking her if she needed help fixing a flat tire.

Ellerin’s friends later told police that Gargiulo, who lived less than a block away from Ellerin, would show up to her house uninvited. Another friend said he saw Gargiulo parked outside her bungalow at odd hours, surveilling her home.

Tricia Pacaccio
Tricia Pacaccio.

Ellerin was found brutally stabbed in her Hollywood bungalow in Feb. of 2001.

The night of her death, Ellerin had plans to meet up with Kutcher for a post-Grammy awards party. Kutcher arrived at Ellerin’s home at 10:45 p.m. but she didn’t answer the door.

Kutcher told police that before he left, he peered through a front window and saw what he believed were red wine stains on the floor.

Prosecutors allege that the stains were blood and that Gargiulo snuck into her home a few hours earlier and stabbed her 47 times while she was getting ready for her outing with Kutcher.

Killings Date Back to 1993

After Ellerin’s death, Gargiulo moved to a gated apartment complex in El Monte, California, where he allegedly stabbed his neighbor, 32-year-old Maria Bruno, a mother of four, just 10 days after she moved into the complex on Dec. 1, 2015.

Her killer had pried a screen loose from her ground-floor kitchen window and slashed her throat and neck as she slept.

Prosecutors allege Gargiulo stalked Bruno days before her murder.

Then, on April 28, 2008, Michelle Murphy, 27, woke up to a man stabbing her in the arms and chest as she was sleeping inside her Santa Monica second-floor apartment. Murphy was able to kick off her attacker, who cut himself during the confrontation and fled.

Murphy told police that in the months prior to the attack, Gargiulo, who lived with his then-wife and mother in law across the alley from her, would greet her outside her apartment.

In court filings, prosecutors allege that blood found at Murphy’s apartment and in a trail of blood leaving her apartment matched DNA found underneath the fingernails of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, an Illinois teen who was found stabbed to death on her porch after she attended a school rally with friends in 1993.

Gargiulo, who lived a block away in the upscale suburb of Glenview, was close friends with Pacaccio’s younger brother.

Gargiulo was arrested on June 6, 2008, by the Santa Monica Police Department and charged with the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy. He was later charged with the murders of Ellerin and Bruno. In 2011, he was charged in Illinois with the murder of Pacaccio.

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