Produced by Chuck Stevenson, Ruth Chenetz, and Lauren Clark
[This story first aired on September 14, 2019; it was updated on May 30, 2020.]
Jurors in Los Angeles will consider whether to give the serial killer known as the “Hollywood Ripper” the death penalty. Michael Gargiulo, 43, was convicted in August of a string of brutal attacks on young women — one of his victims was getting ready for a date with Ashton Kutcher when she was murdered.
It’s a sensational case that’s riveted Hollywood. “48 Hours” correspondent Maureen Maher has been on the trail of Gargiulo for more than a decade and helped break the case wide open. She takes a deep dive into the mind of this serial killer – and shows how he got away with it for so long.
Four young women: three murdered, one left to tell the story. Tricia Pacaccio, Ashley Ellerin, Maria Bruno, and Michelle Murphy never saw it coming.
The trial of an accused serial killer has dominated the headlines in Los Angeles. He’s known as the “Hollywood Ripper.”
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: The methodical and systematic slaughter of women … that’s what this case is about.
It is not overstating it to say this is a sensational murder trial. On the witness list: actor Ashton Kutcher, who was scheduled to go on a date with one of the victims the night she was murdered.
But had the so-called Hollywood Ripper killed others? That was the question investigators more than 1,800 miles away had been wrestling with.
For “48 Hours” correspondent Maureen Maher, this story begins near her home just outside Chicago.
TRICIA PACACCIO | CHICAGO, 1993
Diane Pacaccio: We were told that we have to understand that some murders go unsolved … And I was like, there is no way somebody is going to come to my door, outside my door and do this and get away with it.
The murder of Tricia Pacaccio is a case “48 Hours” has been working on since the summer of 2008. It took years to gain her parents trust — that maybe somehow by telling Tricia’s story, we could help catch her killer.
Rick Pacaccio | Tricia’s father: For years Cook County was telling us it may go unsolved.
Diane Pacaccio | Tricia’s mother: Our daughter’s case should not … ever go unsolved … that would be a travesty.
It was not long after sunrise on the morning of August 14, 1993.
Rick Pacaccio: I was going out to my van, and when I saw it was her, I ran over there and — and saw what happened to her.
Rick Pacaccio had just walked out the garage, when out of the corner of his eye he saw his 18-year-old daughter Tricia splayed out on the landing, stabbed to death.
Rick Pacaccio: … I tried to revive her. … that is the worst feeling in your life, when you can’t do nothin’ to somebody you love.
Doug Pacaccio | Tricia’s brother: I remember just waking up to this bloodcurdling scream of my father… and it was “Doug call 911 … Doug call 911! … I don’t really want to describe the details of what I saw. [Maureen Maher: That’s OK] I have nightmares about it all the time.
The police arrived, and Rick had to make a difficult call to his wife Diane.
Diane Pacaccio: He called me at work and said, “you have to come home. Tricia’s hurt.”
Officer Ray Salihovich saw her pull up.
Officer Ray Salihovich: I heard a lady screaming … and the mother had just exited her vehicle … and she was running toward Trish. I basically tackled her. I didn’t want her to see Trish like this and remember her daughter like that.
Diane Pacaccio: Who would do this to her? There is nobody that knew her that would do this to her … my daughter never did anything to put herself in harm’s way. … You — she was the type of girl that you knew where she was, what she was doing, and you never had to worry about her.
Tricia was also the type of girl who made the most of high school. She took calculus, was on the debate team, and played clarinet in the band. At the time of her murder, she was just a few days away from moving onto the next chapter in her young and exciting life as a freshman at Purdue University.
Diane Pacaccio: She had a great attitude about everything … And she knew what she wanted out of life.
Maureen Maher: Were you close with her?
Diane Pacaccio: Yeah [cries].
Karen Jones: Tricia was — an amazing girl. … was probably one of the most energetic and happy people I’ve ever seen.
Tricia’s close friend Karen Jones spent a lot of time at the Pacaccio house.
Karen Jones: Her mom was very caring and treated us all like her children.
Tricia’s younger brothers, 17-year-old Doug and 13-year-old Tommy, often had their friends over.
Diane Pacaccio: I fed the whole neighborhood. … everybody ate there.
Karen Jones: They were just a very warm family.
On the night of August 13, Karen, Tricia, and most of the kids from their senior class went out — one last hurrah for the summer.
Karen Jones: That night, a whole group of us got together for a scavenger hunt … for one of the final parties of the summer before we all went off to college. … We … ended things at the restaurant, and people started getting in their cars to go home.
Police believe it was around 1 a.m. as Tricia walked toward the side door of the house, keys in hand, that the killer grabbed her left arm, twisting and breaking it and then stabbing her 12 times.
Doug Pacaccio: I remember … my chest just sank. The minute I realized that she was gone. And there was nothing I could do to help her.
Detectives interviewed dozens of people. Some parents were too afraid to even let their kids talk. No one seemed to know anything – there were no leads, no arrests.
Rick Pacaccio: To be honest, I think we were zonked out for a long, long time. … people talk about closure. My experience is there is no closure. That void is always there.
Rick Pacaccio also had no idea how to go on living in the same house where he had found the butchered body of his beautiful daughter. The family moved out for four years. Eventually, they decided it was time to come back home. Shortly after, they had an unexpected visitor: former high school football player Michael Gargiulo — one of Doug Pacaccio’s closest childhood friends.
Maureen Maher: Michael you’ve known since he was how old?
Diane Pacaccio: Since probably he was in second grade. … Because he lived on the next street.
Diane Pacaccio: Michael showed up at the door and he says, “I — I need to talk to Rick,” and I said, “Well, he’s at work Michael,” and he said “Well, can I wait?” and I say, “Yes.” … He sat and waited for over an hour for him to come home from work — sat at my kitchen table.
Rick Pacaccio: I remember walkin’ in the garage door … and I looked at him — he had this look on his face like he was gonna say something to me.
But before Michael Gargiulo had the chance to say anything …
Rick Pacaccio: The garage door opens, his father and one of his sisters come in, and say, “We have to leave, Michael.” And they picked him up and whisk him out and the door closed. … and I told Diane, I says, “Golly, that — that was kinda odd.” … but the look on his face, Maureen.
Maureen Maher: At that point, Rick, did you think this kid knows something, or maybe he had something to do with it?
Diane Pacaccio: Yes.
Maureen Maher: You believe, that was the moment — may have had something to do with her death?
Rick Pacaccio: Oh, there was no doubt about it … no doubt about it.
The Pacaccio’s told authorities, but it was too late. Michael Gargiulo had disappeared.
Soon after he left Chicago, Michael Gargiulo turned up in Los Angeles. Like a lot of other dreamers, he wanted to be an actor or a model.
Temple Brown | Director: He was interested in getting into acting and… this was a good little project for him to, I guess, cut his teeth on a little bit.
Director Temple Brown was still in film school at USC when he cast Gargiulo as a boxer.
Temple Brown: What struck me about him was that he actually had boxing experience.
Temple Brown [watching movie on monitor]: “I think he was perfect for that part … He — he looked it. And he performed it very well.
Maureen Maher: He was cut like a boxer … he certainly had the physique of a boxer.
Anthony DiLorenzo: He has some good punches to him, I — you know what I mean?
Temer Leary: Yeah, he does … He does.
Anthony DiLorenzo and Temer Leary worked with Michael Gargiulo in the late 1990s around the same time he filmed the movie scene. They were all bouncers together at a Hollywood nightclub called the Rainbow Bar and Grill.
Maureen Maher: What did he tell you he was doing out here?
Temer Leary: Training to be a pro fighter…
Anthony DiLorenzo: Yeah … Acting and … modelling.
Maureen Maher: Isn’t everybody? [laughs]
Leary and DiLorenzo: Right. Yup
Temer Leary: He’s doing the Hollywood thing.
Maureen Maher: He’s doing the Hollywood thing?
Anthony DiLorenzo: Yeah, he sure is.
Maureen Maher: Did he have a girlfriend at the time when you were all hanging out?
Anthony DiLorenzo: Oh, yeah. He always had girlfriends.
Temer Leary: He always had girls after him. He was a good-looking, clean-cut guy. You know, the waitresses were always after him.
But Gargiulo moved on from the nightclub and began working for a heating and cooling company.
Maureen Maher: Who was the first among you to meet Michael Gargiulo?
Chris Duran: I was.
Chris Duran, Jennifer Desisto, and Justin Peterson spoke to “48 Hours” in 2010. They were the kind of good friends most young people would be attracted to.
Maureen Maher: Really, the connection between this big group of friends was, kinda, partying, and having a great time. Very free-spirited lifestyle?
Jennifer Desisto: Yeah
Justin Peterson: Right.
Maureen Maher: You were young.
Jennifer Desisto: We were young.
Their introduction to Michael Gargiulo started with a flat tire.
Chris Duran: I’m changing my flat tire and this guy comes walking down the street … and he was good looking … and he stopped and offered to help me change the tire.
At the same time, 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin came out of the house she was renting on the street. Michael Gargiulo noticed.
Chris Duran: And Ashley was standing there with me, and … He was good looking and she was beautiful. … And I was like, “No it’s OK. I know how to change a tire.” So, he stood there talking with Ashley. And they were, you know, talkin’ and flirting. … they exchanged numbers, and that was our first meeting.
Maureen Maher: Did you have any feeling about him, one way or the other?
Chris Duran: I mean, he was just, you know, a good-looking guy walking down the street offering to help.
Ashley Ellerin, the young woman Michael Gargiulo had immediately noticed, was a part-time fashion student.
Justin Peterson: She was amazing … I mean, she just had this charisma to her … she could go into a room and just take complete control over the room.
Chris Duran: She was just beautiful, and — and fun and spontaneous.
Justin Peterson: She had a lot of friends.
Jennifer Desisto: Ashley was a 22-year-old, you know, attractive girl living in the Hollywood Hills.
Maureen Maher: And she liked to have fun?
Chris Duran: Absolutely —
Justin Peterson: She liked to have fun —
Chris Duran: — we all did.
Justin Peterson: —we had a lot of fun.
The guy they only knew as “Mike” kept trying to spend time with Ashley.
Justin Peterson: He called the house a lot after their run-in.
He called and had begun just showing up uninvited. The friends say one night he walked into the house during a party, sat down and was laser focused on Ashley. But Ashley was not interested. Back then, lots of men were interested in her.
Jennifer Desisto: Hollywood is Hollywood. … interacting with celebrities … that is how it is. I mean they live here.
One celebrity in particular had started calling Ashley. It was a then-up-and-coming TV actor from “That ’70s Show,” Ashton Kutcher.
Justin Peterson: We had hung out with him a couple of times.
Maureen Maher: Let’s go back to the night that Ashley was supposed to go out with Ashton Kutcher.
Chris Duran: I know that they were gonna be hanging out.
The next morning, Ashley’s roommate Jennifer came home.
Jennifer Desisto: I entered the house and … Ashley was laying there across the two stairs … covered in blood.
NEWS REPORT: The body of 22-year old Ashley Lauren Ellerin was found by her roommate early Thursday morning …
Jennifer Desisto … and that’s when I realized, that “No,” you know? “This is not happening” … “Who could have done this?”
ASHLEY ELLERIN | HOLLYWOOD, 2001
When Jennifer Desisto got home that morning in 2001, she walked into a gruesome and terrifying scene
Jennifer Desisto: At that point — was just — like a sense of trauma just came over me. I thought maybe the person was still there, and I, kind of ran out, hysterical. I dropped that phone and ended up getting to the car… and calling from my cellphone, 911.
Ashley Ellerin had been attacked just after taking a shower. Stabbed 47 times, her body was lying just outside the bathroom.
Maureen Maher: Had you ever seen anything like that before in your life?
Jennifer Desisto: I — I absolutely had not, and … it still traumatizes me to this day.
Police arrived quickly and started asking questions.
Jennifer Desisto: Who could — who could have done this?
Maureen Maher: That must have been one of the first questions that police asked you, though, was … did she have any enemies?
Jennifer Desisto: Yes. Did she have any…? Right, right.
Maureen Maher: It sounds like such a trite question. But you would think that, based on what you saw, only someone who hated another person would do that.
Jennifer Desisto: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. And — in — also, it was a given from the get-go that it was obviously someone she was either familiar with, or knew to let them in. ‘Cause as we had said, the — the house was, kind of, double gated.
Maureen Maher: You believe that Ashley let him in?
Justin Peterson: Oh, yeah.
Jennifer Desisto: Yes.
Det. Tom Small: OK, this is … Pinehurst Road, and this is Ashley Ellerin’s former residence.
Hollywood homicide Detective Tom Small says there was little to go on.
Maureen Maher: … no blood spatter outside, no pieces of clothing, no other— no material that would lead you to one particular individual?
Det. Tom Small: No … We had teams of detectives searching the interior and the exterior. We walked the streets. We canvassed every building, door knocked every house.
Maureen Maher: Were you kind of baffled initially?
Det. Tom Small: Very much so. You know, we were just looking for any type of direction or clues that would – to lead to a suspect. So, we had to start with the victim and worked backwards to find her associations.
They definitely wanted to talk to the person she was supposed be on a date with that night — actor Ashton Kutcher.
Maureen Maher: And what role has he played in this as a witness in any way?
Det. Tom Small: He is a person in a group of Ashley’s friends. He’s one of many … and he was a friend of hers.
Kutcher and Ellerin had plans to go to dinner, but he was running late and kept pushing back his arrival. Kutcher told detectives that at 8:24 p.m., he spoke with Ashley, who told him she’d just gotten out of the shower.
Kutcher didn’t actually arrive at her front door until around 10:45 p.m., at which point, he says, he was confused because the lights were on, but no one answered. Just as he was about to leave, he glanced through a window and noticed what he thought was red wine spilled on the floor. It turns out, it wasn’t wine. It was blood.
Det. Tom Small: It just was a very bad scene. … A lot of anger. A lot of rage. Somebody had isolated Ashley Ellerin to — to kill her and was very, very angry when he did it.
Maureen Maher: Could anyone think of someone who wanted to hurt Ashley?
Det. Tom Small: Not really … Almost to a person, Ashley was considered to be, you know, like the life of the party. … she had a lot of friends from different walks of life. … friends from school, her roommates … celebrity-type folks.
Kutcher wasn’t the only man police were interested in talking to. Mark Durbin, a not-so-famous actor, was also Ellerin’s property manager. Durbin and Ashley were secretly having a relationship. And, he and Ashley had been intimate earlier that evening. But, like Kutcher, he had fully cooperated with investigators and both men were ruled out as possible suspects.
While police had no concrete leads, Ashley’s friends couldn’t shake the feeling that the guy who seemed fixated on Ashley was involved.
Maureen Maher: In your initial conversation with police, did you mention Michael Gargiulo to them?
Chris Duran: Yes. The — I didn’t know his name, but the heating and air conditioner guy —
Maureen Maher: And, did they pay any attention to that?
Chris Duran: I know they took note. I don’t think they took it very seriously. Or that much of a threat.
Det. Tom Small: He was not in their circle of friends. … they were creeped out by him …
Maureen Maher: So, when you hear that … does it strike a chord with you?
Det. Tom Small: Well, I mean, it takes a little bit more than that to get focused on somebody as a suspect in a case like this.
Gargiulo wasn’t really on Detective Small’s radar. Ashley had a large social circle, there were hundreds of people to talk to and he was just the creepy air conditioner guy. It would take months for police to learn his last name and put him on their list.
Det. Tom Small: It weighed really heavy, on me personally this particular case. because everybody has the case, and this one was mine. My frustration was why can’t I get the evidence I need to solve Ashley’s murder.
Back in Cook County, just outside Chicago, Tricia Paccacio’s murder was unsolved for nearly 10 years. Her mother Diane was relentless, hounding investigators.
Diane Pacaccio: At least once or twice a week.
Maureen Maher: And did you feel like anything was being done in that time?
Diane Pacaccio: No, but I kept thinking, maybe I just keep goin’ and talking to them and keep telling them every little thing that came to mind. It was just—
Rick Pacaccio: And it did help some of them.
Diane Pacaccio: —it was— it was— it helped me probably emotionally, because it was almost like I could talk to them. They knew what had happened.
Rick Pacaccio: I have the tenacity to keep goin’ … until it does happen.
Maureen Maher: You’re not gonna give up?
Rick Pacaccio: I’m not gonna give up, no. My daughter is gonna get the representation that she deserves.
Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Lou Sala was assigned to the case in 1999.
Det. Lou Sala: We had the benefit of technology … when we took the case over.
By 2002, new DNA technology allowed investigators to take a fresh look at the evidence collected from the crime scene.
Det. Lou Sala: We were hoping to establish some type of DNA profile — to give us an idea of a possible offender.
Maureen Maher: So … what’s the first big test result you get back, the first new piece of information from this round of DNA testing?
Det. Lou Sala: Well, the biggest thing is when we … got the unknown male contributor from the fingernails.
Male DNA found on Tricia’s fingernails. Now, they had to match it.
Det. Lou Sala: At that point, we began a… DNA … campaign of everybody … Including the Pacaccio family … friends of hers that with her at the road rally that night. … We even tested the dog.
Maureen Maher: You even tested the dog?
Det. Lou Sala: Yeah.
Detectives wanted samples from anyone they had talked to back in the day, and Michael Gargiulo was on their list. Detectives heard Gargiulo was now living in Los Angeles, so they went to the LAPD for help.
Det. Tom Small: I had no knowledge they were even coming… We had just recently identified who Gargiulo was and were conducting our investigation.
By now, Detective Small had begun to take a closer look at Michael Gargiulo.
Det. Tom Small: All of a sudden, we get a phone call … Cook County’s in town. … he says, “Well, who is it you looking for?” And they named Michael Gargiulo.
Maureen Maher: You said, “Hey, that’s — that’s my guy.”
Det. Tom Small: They showed up. … I held up a photo. I said, “Is this who you’re lookin’ for?” And they said, “Yeah. How do you know him?” I said, “Well, right now he’s a potential suspect in — in a murder investigation. What do you guys have?”
Detective Small agreed to help Cook County find Gargiulo and collect A DNA sample.
MARIA BRUNO | EL MONTE, CALIF., 2005
In 2002, almost 10 years after Tricia Pacaccio’s murder, the LAPD caught up with Michael Gargiulo.
Det. Tom Small: We obtained Mr. Gargiulo’s DNA sample. And I—
Maureen Maher: And he was cooperative with that?
Det. Tom Small: Not really, but it — it got done.
The DNA sample was sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab. The results were stunning — a match. It was Michael Gargiulo’s DNA on Tricia’s fingernails. Case closed? Not exactly.
Maureen Maher: Did you think it was enough to move forward?
Det. Lou Sala | Cook County, Illinois: Well, I thought it was. But — I’m not the attorneys. … It was explained to me … and the explanation made sense at the time, that they — they just wanted some type of corroborating evidence.
Maureen Maher: They needed something more than the DNA?
Det. Lou Sala: Something more than that.
Because, they said, Michael Gargiulo’s DNA might have gotten on Tricia in a way that had nothing to do with the murder.
Det. Lou Sala: At the time, he was a friend of the family. You know, and you — one would have to wonder could it have gotten there by casual contact.
Maureen Maher: And had there been casual contact in the hours before, or the day before they — that she was murdered?
Det. Lou Sala: There was the day before.
The day before her murder, Gargiulo was driving with another friend, Scott Olson, when they saw Tricia.
Scott Olson: …we drove past the Pacaccio’s house, who do we see rounding the corner walking away from us? There’s Tricia. … Mike’s driving, and he kind of swerves over, slows down, swerves over. Gets right behind her … and we saw she was crying. So, she’s like “Hey, give me a ride.” Like, “Whoa. OK. Sure. Get in.” So she gets in the car. She said take her to – take me to so-and-so’s house … so we just – we just drove her. … we dropped her off, and that was it.
When “48 Hours” spoke to Jack Blakey from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2011, he confirmed that because of that ride, and because Gargiulo had spent time at the family home, he can’t be sure if Gargiulo’s DNA on Tricia was from the attack.
Jack Blakey: The evidence just hasn’t been there. I wish we could bring closure to her family tomorrow.
So, with nothing else tying him to Tricia Pacaccio’s or Ashley Ellerin’s death, Gargiulo was only a guy who had the bad luck of knowing two different women who had been murdered in exactly the same way. Gargiulo left Hollywood and continued doing what he always did, never staying in one place for too long.
Maureen Maher: How come nobody keeps tabs on this guy?
Det. Lou Sala: I don’t know if they tried, but … my understanding was he kept kind of a low profile. I think he was on the radar.
Over the next few years, Gargiulo had several girlfriends and even became a father. In 2005, he settled in suburban El Monte, 20 miles east of Hollywood. Then, just before Christmas that same year, in that same neighborhood, there was a murder. The victim was another attractive young woman.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: We’re talking about a 90 pound, 32-year-old woman … who’s defenseless, asleep in her bed in her home, where if there’s any one place in the world she should feel most secure … That attack is every woman’s nightmare.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detective Mark Lillienfeld.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld [at El Monte crime scene]: This is the building where the murder happened. Behind me is apartment number 20 is where Maria Bruno lived. … She had—2-year-old twins … and then I believe a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old.
In the months before her death, Maria and her husband had several violent fights, including one where her husband punched her in the face. She left him and found an apartment in a gated complex.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: She had picked that building specifically because it was very secure. … You had to either have a pass code or a key to get through the front door, so it was a pretty secure building.
But someone got past that security.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: The suspect entered … through the kitchen … It appears from the evidence that he obtained a weapon there in the kitchen.
Maureen Maher: A knife?
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: Correct. … Her body was somewhat mutilated. And you just, you know, that’s — that’s crap you see in the movies. In real life that — that is very rare. It just doesn’t happen.
There was very little evidence left behind, except for one blue cotton bootie found in the courtyard outside Maria Bruno’s apartment.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld [at El Monte crime scene]: Just about where we’re standing is where that blue cotton bootie was at.
Maureen Maher: Right here?
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: Yeah, right here. Right here. And it was kind of out of place. … Actually, on the sole of the bootie was a drop of blood. … And DNA testing, proved that, in fact, it was Maria’s blood.
Police immediately took a hard look at Bruno’s estranged husband. There was the history of a turbulent relationship and drops of Maria’s blood were found in his car. But Maria’s husband told police that earlier that evening, he and Maria had decided to rekindle their relationship. They went to a restaurant, where the manager confirmed Maria had cut her finger and was bleeding as they left. And like Pacaccio, then Ellerin, and now Bruno, another vicious murder eventually turned into a cold case.
As for Michael Gargiulo, his romantic life was once again in turmoil. He left his girlfriend and new baby in suburban L.A. and headed to the beach — Santa Monica. And once again, where Gargiulo went, an attack eventually followed.
MICHELLE MURPHY | SANTA MONICA, 2008
On April 28, 2008, in Santa Monica, another break-in, another brutal assault. But this attack would change everything.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: I got the call at about 12:30 in the morning from my sergeant and asked me to come out … and respond to the scene of a stabbing or attempted murder.
Then-Santa Monica Police Sergeant Richard Lewis.
Sgt. Richard Lewis [outside of apartment window]: He gained access into this window, which was open — a few inches.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: And once he got inside there, he then opens the front door and kind of stages it as an escape route. Proceeds into the bedroom… where she is sleeping, and … what awakes her is a knife being plunged into her.
Maureen Maher: He just flat out stabbed her?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Right. … She was stabbed multiple times — in her chest and shoulder and — and right arm. And … suffered several wounds to both of her hands as she’s grabbing this knife as it’s being plunged down upon her.
The victim was 26-year-old Michelle Murphy.
Maureen Maher: What can you tell us about her?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Just an incredible young lady. … And — just someone who’s very resilient and decided to fight.
As Murphy, all of 5’1″, was fighting for her life, the blade is slipping back and forth and somewhere in the struggle the attacker is also cut.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: And at some point, there was a lull in the action … and she was able to get her feet up underneath … and kick him off of her.
The attacker stumbles off the bed and out of the room. Bleeding profusely from her multiple stab wounds, Murphy runs after the hooded man down the hallway to the front door.
Maureen Maher: Did he say anything to her ever?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: “I’m sorry.”
Maureen Maher: He said, “I’m sorry”?
Sgt. Richard Lewis [nodding to affirm]: “I’m sorry.”
Then, he ran out. Murphy immediately called her boyfriend who called 911:
BOYFRIEND TO 911: She told me she woke up and someone was on top of her and she forced them off and they ran out…
911 OPERATOR: OK. We are on our way.
Then, the police call Michelle Murphy:
POLICE: OK. What is your name?
MICHELLE MURPHY: Michelle…
It’s very hard to hear her answers:
POLICE: The fire department is already on the way and we are on our way… What’s this person look like?
MICHELLE MURPHY: He was in pants and like a long sleeve-like sweatshirt kind of thing … Everything was dark …
POLICE: Do you remember how big this guy was? How tall he was?
MICHELLE MURPHY: He was at the most, I dunno, like 5′ 11″ or something.
Maureen Maher [outside of Murphy’s apartment]: So, he comes out this door, and there’s blood — on the steps right outside the front door?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: We have some blood on the steps.
Maureen Maher: OK.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: And then blood on the concrete steps here, leading out— down this walkway, and into the alley.
Maureen Maher [standing in the alley]: So, how significant, in your investigation and when you showed up that night, did you think that blood was gonna be?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Huge. Huge.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: About 25 days after submitting my samples to the crime lab, I’m informed by a … criminalist that … we actually have a hit, a DNA hit.
Maureen Maher: And who does it match?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Michael Gargiulo.
Maureen Maher: Conclusively?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Yes.
They were able to make the match because, remember, Gargiulo’s DNA had been collected for DNA testing in the Pacaccio case and was already on file. And guess where Gargiulo lived at the time of the attack?
Sgt. Richard Lewis [standing in the alley]: It’d be second building down. And the — first window would be just above that black trash can that you see on the left side.
Maureen Maher: He could see right into her bedroom?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: If she were to have the blinds open, that’d be correct.
Maureen Maher: That’s pretty scary.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Within 24 hours of making that DNA match, Gargiulo was arrested for the assault of Michelle Murphy.
Sgt. Richard Lewis: He was taken into custody.
Maureen Maher: And what was his response?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: His response … was “which agency is this?”
Maureen Maher: What did that say to you?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: That tells me a lot. It tells me that he wasn’t sure which crime he was getting charged for.
Maureen Maher: That means there’s more than one out there?
Sgt. Richard Lewis: To me that’s what that meant. Yes.
Sergeant Lewis was reminded of a conversation he’d once had with Det. Lillienfeld about a similar murder that had happened three years earlier in El Monte, just outside of Los Angeles.
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: I got a call from Sgt. Richard Lewis from the Santa Monica Police Department. … he had a case that was very similar … luckily his victim survived… and he had identified a suspect.
And, it turns out, Gargiulo once lived close enough to Maria Bruno to also watch her. She reported to friends run-ins with the “strange guy across the way.”
Maureen Maher: This was her apartment. Where was Gargiulo’s located?
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: If you turn around and look, it’s right over your shoulder. It’s apartment 34.
Maureen Maher: So that is — up just behind that tree? Correct?
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: Correct. Just to right of that tree … so you’ve got a clear view, obviously from his apartment.
Now, the pieces of the puzzle were finally starting to come together. Determined investigators had discovered more evidence. Remember that blue bootie found near Maria Bruno’s front door? In Gargiulo’s old apartment just across the way …
Det. Mark Lillienfeld: And sure enough, in the attic of the apartment, we wound up finding a matching bootie, a blue cotton bootie, just like the same one we found at the crime scene … the same manufacture, same make, same model of bootie.
And, in the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin, Gargiulo lived only a couple of blocks away from her, too. And, he was frequently seen hanging out with his dog at this park directly across the street from Ashley’s home.
Within a month, Michael Gargiulo was also charged with the murders of Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno.
In Chicago, when Tricia Pacaccio’s family heard that Michael Gargiulo had been arrested in L.A., they were certain he would soon be charged with Tricia’s murder; but nothing happened.
Then, in 2011,, “The Boy Next Door,” on the so-called Hollywood Ripper and the unsolved murder of Tricia Pacaccio. Almost immediately after the show aired, .
Temer Leary: I watched the show. … and it was a mug shot of Mike.
Temer Leary was one of Michael Gargiulo’s bouncer buddies from Hollywood.
Maureen Maher: And did you reach out to Anthony?
Temer Leary: I did. I did. I sent him a text. … “Did you know Mike’s a — a serial killer?”
Turns out both Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo had led checkered lives of their own — in and out of jail. But both men were now fathers and seeing Tricia Pacaccio’s father on “48 Hours” moved them.
Temer Leary: I get emotional because I — I love my children. And, when — when I look at him and I see that video and see to this day, I get a pain in my chest that any man would have to miss and love their child like that.
Maureen Maher: So, you’re watching it and we’re telling the story, and you have –
Temer Leary: I already know.
Maureen Maher: You already know. You have pieces of the puzzle that we don’t even know exist …
Temer Leary: Yeah. … I said, “I have — I have to let somebody know what I know …”
Here’s what Leary and DiLorenzo knew: they said back in 2000 when they were working together, Michael Gargiulo told them he had murdered a girl in Chicago.
Anthony DiLorenzo: We were cruising down Sunset … he asked us, w— he’s, like, “You guys ever kill anybody?” And … He’s, like, “I have.” And we’re — we’re, like, “Shut the — you know, shut up.”
Temer Leary [laughs]: Here we go again.
Anthony DiLorenzo: He said he buried this — he goes — he goes, “Yeah, I buried a bitch.” … He goes “I left the bitch on the steps for dead.”
“48 Hours” put them in touch with Chicago authorities and soon Michael Gargiulo was indicted for the murder of Tricia Pacaccio — 18 years after her death.
ANITA ALVAREZ | THEN-COOK COUNTY STATE’S ATTORNEY [to reporters on July 7, 2011]: … this new evidence that has just come forward after the “48 Hour” (sic) episode, really coupled with the DNA, we feel at this point that we have sufficient evidence.
But the Pacaccio’s search for justice was just beginning. There was a long road ahead full of unexpected twists and turns.
MICHAEL GARGIULO [recorded jail conversation]: “My truth is being 100 percent innocent, being wrongfully charged … all I can do is be calm and fight for my innocence.”
THE HOLLYWOOD RIPPER ON TRIAL
Mary Fulginiti | Former federal prosecutor and “48 Hours” consultant: This is not a typical murder case. This is the systematic slaughtering of beautiful women by a serial killer.
Four young women — only one survivor.
Mary Fulginiti: The Hollywood Ripper is one of the most horrible cases I’ve ever seen.
Mary Fulginiti: This is a man who spied on them, who stalked them, and then brutally stabbed them to death … And that’s defendant Michael Gargiulo.
Maureen Maher: What was your reaction when you got a phone call that a witness had come forward to “48 Hours”?
Det. Lou Sala: I was shocked. I —
Maureen Maher: Would you imagine that a television show would be able to help you solve a crime?
Det. Lou Sala: No … but it’s never happened to me.
Mary Fulginiti: Frankly, it’s— almost a miracle that these cases were linked together
Mary Fulginiti: You say to yourself, “Who could do this?” … You think, “Oh, my God. It’s a monster.”
In a town known for keeping secrets,, nicknamed the Hollywood Ripper, could reveal a hidden life.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Tricia Pacaccio, Ashley Ellerin, Michelle Murphy, and Maria Bruno were all young, attractive, and outgoing.
On May 2, 2019, the case against Michael Gargiulo begins. Prosecutors say that he murdered three women and attempted to murder a fourth.
Mary Fulginiti: He staked them out.
Mary Fulginiti: He stalked them. And then
Prosecutor Dan Akemon says Michael Gargiulo is a serial killer — attacking four women, just for the thrill of it, from 1993 through his arrest in 2008.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: What you will hear is that Michael Gargiulo, for almost 15 years, was watching, always watching. And his hobby was plotting the perfect opportunity to attack women with a knife in and around their homes.
During those years, Gargiulo played high school football, boxed, was a wannabe actor and a repairman.
It has taken Gargiulo longer to go to trial than any other inmate in the history of the L.A. County Jail — nearly 11 years. There have been nearly 100 hearings, he’s fired attorneys and even tried to represent himself. But now, with a new high-powered, court-appointed legal team, the wait is over. The prosecution starts with its strongest case and most powerful witness.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Michelle Murphy — in 2008 was stabbed in her bed in her Santa Monica apartment right across the alley from Gargiulo’s apartment.
After showing photos from her brutal attack, Michelle Murphy, the only woman who survived this alleged serial killer, is called to the stand.
There were no cameras allowed in court during Murphy’s testimony, but “48 Hours” wanted to share some of what was said. Her exact chilling words: “I grabbed at the knife. I wrapped my hands around the blade….” And at some point, the 5’1″ Murphy gets her legs up against her chest and shoves the attacker off the bed. She describes how he runs out of the room down the hallway. She goes after him and Murphy says the attacker told her “I am sorry.”
Michelle Murphy never saw his face, but noticed he was left-handed. In the struggle, the attacker was also cut, leaving his blood — his DNA — all over her bedroom.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Gargiulo’s blood and DNA were found on Michelle’s bedspread and sheet and in the blood trail across the alley.
After Murphy testified, the prosecution turned to the other victims to prove Gargiulo’s pattern of stalking and stabbing. Three years before Murphy’s attack, Maria Bruno, a mother of four young children, was stabbed 17 times.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Maria Bruno was stabbed to death in her El Monte residence.
Maria Bruno’s body was discovered by her estranged husband Irving, who called 911:
IRVING BRUNO TO 911: There was a pool of blood.
IRVING BRUNO TO 911 [crying]: I’m looking at her right now. She’s dead. … She just barely moved here about less than — less than a week ago.
Gargiulo lived right across the way.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Gargiulo entered Maria’s apartment through a window, put on blue surgical booties, and mutilated Maria with a knife as she slept.
The prosecution argues that the pattern and direction of the blood drops show that the killer was left-handed, just like Murphy’s attacker, and just like Michael Gargiulo. And this time, the killer left something behind: a blue bootie with critical evidence.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Detectives located a blue surgical bootie right outside of Maria’s front door. … Forensic analysis … showed that there were drops of Maria’s blood on the bootie and Gargiulo’s DNA was around the elastic band.
Four years before Maria Bruno, there was Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion student in Hollywood.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Gargiulo, who lived within a short distance from Ashley’s house and frequented the dog park across from her house, injected himself into Ashley’s life.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: On February 21, 2001, within weeks of Gargiulo fixating on Ashley … surveilling her home at odd hours … Ashley Ellerin was found stabbed to death in the hallway just outside her bathroom. Ashley had been stabbed over 47 times.
As the state lays out its explanation of how Ellerin was murdered, an important witness is about to have Hollywood’s eyes upon him.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: This is Mr. Kutcher. He’s Ashley’s friend.
Ashton Kutcher is used to being a star, but not a star witness.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Mr. Kutcher is part of the chronology of this case that is offered to show you that there was a … very narrow window of opportunity for somebody to get into the house and murder Ashley.
Maureen Maher: Why is Kutcher called as a witness?
Mary Fulginiti | Former federal prosecutor: He’s incredibly important to the timeline here, and when the murder possibly occurred. … and he may have been the last person to actually speak to her before she was killed.
Kutcher is asked about his planned date with Ashley Ellerin on February 21, 2001, the evening she was murdered.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: At 8:24 p.m., Ashley talked to Mr. Kutcher on the phone and they confirmed a plan to go out that night,
Ashton Kutcher was running late, so he called Ashley again at 10:15 p.m. to let her know he was on the way. But Ashley didn’t pick up. He then drove to her home, knocked on the door but still, got no answer.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: He will testify that at 10:45 p.m., he arrived at the residence … and saw what he thought was spilled wine on the floor. We believe now the evidence will show that was actually blood. And Ashley had already been murdered.
A diagram of Ellerin’s home is shown in the courtroom.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: That’s her bathroom, where we believe— she had just exited the shower and was getting ready to go out with Mr. Kutcher when she was attacked from behind. And then there was a struggle … in the … area right outside the bathroom where she was stabbed 47 times.
Kutcher testified that after learning about Ashley’s murder, he “went to the police, I was like, my fingerprints are on this door. Like I was freaking out.”
Although never a suspect, Kutcher was concerned about what he left behind. That’s unlike Michael Gargiulo, who was always careful to cover his tracks.
WHAT MADE GARGIULO TICK?
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: The methodical and systematic slaughter of women … that’s what this case is about.
The prosecution painted a portrait of Michael Gargiulo throughout his life. He was violent towards women, interested in serial killer Ted Bundy, and studied forensic science.
“Mike was a strange guy,” says Mirko Hoffman, a man who now describes himself as Gargiulo’s former best friend.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: … told Mirko he could get away with committing crimes because he studied forensics.
Mirko Hoffman: He would go online, whatever he could find about forensics.
Mirko Hoffman: He would learn from people’s mistakes … other criminals’ mistakes … you know how to get away with a crime … And he told me if he ever got caught committing any crime, he would just lie until he dies. Lie, lie, until you die.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: Michael Gargiulo felt confident, arrogant, dare I say invulnerable…
Prosecutors said Gargiulo also studied a book that taught you how to kill with a knife.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: “The Anarchist Cookbook” talks about knives … the perfect guide to committing some of these crimes. Detailing how you go for the throat.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: We believe the evidence will show that this is what Mr. Gargiulo was doing.
As for Gargiulo’s motive, prosecutors described a serial killer with a sexual bent.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: This was somebody who was going to take pleasure in plunging a knife into their victim over and over and over again.
To better understand that, “48 Hours” askedto explain. He’s a forensic psychologist and expert on serial killers. He is also a consultant to “48 Hours.”
Kris Mohandie: Most serial killers are motivated by power … that’s at the core of everything …
The prosecution points out that Gargiulo never raped his victims, but he controlled them, and say for Michael Gargiulo, that control itself is a sexual thrill.
Kris Mohandie: … It’s control over life and death … So, violence has become sexualized.
According to prosecutors, Gargiulo went after women he found attractive.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: Michael Gargiulo noticed Michelle Murphy, Michael Gargiulo noticed Ashley Ellerin … Michael Gargiulo noticed Maria Bruno.
And he stalked them.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: He watched and waited and collected real-time intelligence on the victims.
Prosecutors say the spying was all part of his power game and his pattern.
Kris Mohandie: You’ve got all this stalking, this watching, surveilling, and fantasizing going on … and the person is doing this repeatedly to try to satisfy their urges. At some point for some of these individuals it’s not enough just to think about it anymore, and they have to move to the next step. They actually have to kill in order to get the same degree of stimulation.
To really make their point, prosecutors took the jury out of court to see where everything happened.
Mary Fulginiti: Bringing the jury to the crime scene is incredibly impactful for them. This brings the case to life. … they actually get to see where … the victim lived, where the defendant lived, how close in proximity it was, see the crime scene.
Jurors saw that Michael Gargiulo lived close to all of his victims — close enough to watch them.
To start with, Gargiulo lived right down the alley from Michelle Murphy.
A few years earlier, he lived within a few hundred feet of Ashley Ellerin. And when he lived in El Monte, his apartment was just across the courtyard from Maria Bruno.
To strengthen their argument and really show how Gargiulo had a clear pattern, they also told jurors about a murder more than 1,800 miles away.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: You will hear that Gargiulo’s killing spree started in Chicago in the summer of 1993, almost 26 years ago, when Gargiulo killed his first victim, his neighbor, then 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio.
While Gargiulo is not being tried for Tricia Pacaccio’s murder in L.A., prosecutors thought it was essential to tell the jury what happened all those years ago outside Chicago.
Mary Fulginiti: Well, it’s introduced here for a very limited purpose … to show that the facts and the pattern in the Pacaccio case in Illinois are similar to the California cases.
It was 1993. Tricia Pacaccio was just 18 years old, coming home late one night in the Chicago suburbs.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Gargiulo, who was athletic and had trained in martial arts and boxing, grabbed Tricia, who was very petite, snapped her arm, and stabbed her repeatedly in the left breast, arm and chest … left her bleeding to death on the doorstep of the family home, and fled.
Rick Pacaccio | Tricia’s father: I was the one who found her… I woke up and I had a cup of coffee and I was going out to my van. And I just happened to see two little tennis shoes sticking up by the side door and when it saw it was her. I dropped the coffee cup.
Rick Pacaccio: I died right then and there.
At the time, Michael Gargiulo was a 17-year-old kid living around the corner. He was one of Tricia’s brother’s closest friends.
When the murder happened, Gargiulo wasn’t even a suspect. And the case went cold for years. By 2003, there was new DNA technology.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: Eventually, Gargiulo’s DNA was found on Tricia’s fingernails.
Back then, prosecutors in Chicago did not think that DNA alone was enough to charge him, and the case stayed dormant.
In 2011, “48 Hours” reported on the case and a witness came forward to Maureen Maher.
Temer Leary: I watched the show.
Temer Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo had once worked with Michael Gargiulo as bouncers in the late ’90s at a Hollywood nightclub. They say Michael Gargiulo confessed to them one day when they were driving. Telling them that he had killed a girl in Illinois. At the time it seemed too crazy to be true. Gargiulo had told them a lot of stories.
Anthony DiLorenzo: He said he buried this — he goes — he goes, “Yeah, I buried a bitch.” … He goes “I left the bitch on the steps for dead.”
“48 Hours” put them in touch with Chicago authorities and shortly after, Gargiulo was charged with the murder of Tricia Pacaccio — 18 years after her death. Now they are key witnesses at Gargiulo’s Los Angeles trial.
Prosecutor Dan Akemon [in court]: In 1997, Gargiulo told his friend, Temer Leary, quote — “I stabbed up the girl” – end quote. … Also, in 1997, Mr. Gargiulo told his friend Anthony DiLorenzo, “I actually left the bitch on the step for dead.”
Maureen Maher: They asked you to identify Gargiulo in the room. Did you make eye contact with Mike?
Anthony DiLorenzo: I did, absolutely. He did not want to look at me. … He knew every word that came outta my mouth was true. And there was just no doubt about it.
Each of the Pacaccio family members were called to testify, retelling the awful details of finding Tricia on the doorstep of their home. They also described their relationship with her alleged killer.
Maureen Maher: What was it like for you to be in the room with him?
Tommy Pacaccio | Tricia’s brother: Oh, it’s — it’s — in the room, it’s very — very hard. … It’s difficult. I mean, it never— something like that never goes away.
The Pacaccios can only hope that this trial will bring justice for Ashley Ellerin, Maria Bruno and Michelle Murphy, but the defense has another take. They point the finger in a different direction and away from Michael Gargiulo.
Mary Fulginiti They just have to poke holes. They’ve gotta raise any doubt. They’re gonna throw everything at it, the kitchen sink, and they’re gonna hope that some of that will resonate, and it’ll raise just— a seed, a kernel of doubt in one of those jurors. And that’s all they need.
That’s something accused serial killer Michael Gargiulo knows:
MICHAEL GARGIULO [recorded jail conversation]: My truth is being 100 percent innocent, being wrongfully charged.
In recorded jail conversations with “48 Hours” between 2009 and 2011, Gargiulo maintained his innocence and a desire to fight the charges:
MICHAEL GARGIULO [recorded jail conversation]: … it’s a matter of waiting and knowing that there will be victory, because I know I’m innocent, and — it’s just now, putting it down. Putting it down in the courtroom, and just being patient.
In the courtroom, his defense attorney Daniel Nardoni has a plan: argue someone else besides his client could have killed these women. He starts with the Ashley Ellerin case.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: There’s not one single witness called by the prosecution … that saw Michael Gargiulo go into the house.
Mary Fulginiti: In the Ellerin case, despite all the efforts they put into scouring that — that crime scene, they came up with zero. Zero DNA, zero … physical evidence linking him, zero trace evidence, no eyewitnesses, no fingerprints. Really, they had nothing.
Nardoni focuses on the prosecution’s celebrity witness Ashton Kutcher. To everyone’s surprise, he saysbecause Kutcher’s account of that evening points to a very specific suspect and it’s not Michael Gargiulo. Instead, it’s the manager of Ellerin’s rented house — aspiring actor Mark Durbin.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: I think there’s suspicion that Mr. Durbin did this murder.
Mark Durbin testified he was actually having an affair with Ashley and admits they were intimate that very evening — just hours before Kutcher arrived. The defense argues that at the time of her murder, Durbin was at Ashley’s house. Their proof? Ashton Kutcher’s cellphone records.
Mary Fulginiti: Ashton Kutcher calls her at 8:24 p.m. ,we know. There’s a phone record.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: He calls her at 8:24 p.m. … Miss Ellerin stated “I just got out of the shower.”
Mary Fulginiti: Mark Durbin testifies that he was there when she was taking a shower.
And while he was there, he says Ellerin got a phone call, then he left. Nardoni insists it must have been Kutcher’s call at 8:24 p.m. And that is critical, because a neighbor testifies that around 8:25 or 8:30 p.m. he heard something.
Mary Fulginiti: He hears horrible screaming coming from Ashley’s home.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: He hears two screams from a woman.
Mary Fulginiti: That puts Mark Durbin possibly right in the thick of it at the time of the murder.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: Mark Durbin was the only person known to have been with Ashley Ellerin — the last person while she was still alive.
But Los Angeles detectives cleared Durbin. He was cooperative and they didn’t believe he had a motive. Still, Nardoni may have succeeded in raising some doubt with the jury.
Maureen Maher: The defense makes a very big deal about Mark Durbin.
Mary Fulginiti: They did a pretty good job, I thought.
And with that, the defense was on to the other case where they saw an opportunity: the killing of Maria Bruno — same argument, thin evidence.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: Not a one single person saw Mr. Gargiulo leaving the house.
But there was that blue bootie with a drop of Maria Bruno’s blood on it and Gargiulo’s DNA on the elastic band. Nardoni reminds the jury Gargiulo, who lived across the courtyard, was a repair man.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: We all know that Michael used booties all the time.
He says the bootie probably dropped out of Gargiulo’s pocket as he was returning from work and picked up a drop of Maria’s blood that was already on the sidewalk.
Maria Bruno’s body had been mutilated, and again, Nardoni offered up an alternate suspect. He pointed the finger at Maria’s estranged husband, Irving.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: The person that did this … what’s it tell you? [making a stabbing motion] “I hate you, I hate you. I hate you!” Whoever did this made it personal.
Nardoni paints a picture of a fractured marriage and details a previous fight between the two.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: Irving Bruno grabbed his wife out of the car, threw her to the ground, and with a closed fist, punched her in the face.
Mary Fulginiti: He’s got a terrible history of physically abusing her that came out. She said she was scared of him.
In fact, Maria Bruno had recently left him, but Irving told the police that on that night she was killed, he and Maria had rekindled their relationship.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: Irving Bruno was the last person with Maria Bruno while she was still alive.
That night, he told police they went out to a restaurant together, returned to her place, were intimate and then he left. A neighbor says she heard crying at around 1:30 a.m.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: And who’s down there at 1:30 in the morning? You know who. Irving Bruno.
And police did find drops of Maria’s blood in Irving’s car.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: They found it on Irving Bruno’s baseball cap, a droplet, they found it on the passenger seat, they found it on the center console.
But a restaurant manager testified he had seen Maria cut her finger earlier that night. Police cleared Irving Bruno. But the defense still tried to persuade the jury.
Mary Fulginiti: The defense, though, is still going to try to raise doubt … Just because they were cleared didn’t mean they didn’t possibly do it.
The defense also drills down on the Tricia Pacaccio case, the 1993 murder outside Chicago. Everyone agrees it was Gargiulo’s DNA on Tricia’s fingernails. But how did it get there? Nardoni says it could have come from casual contact. Gargiulo had been friends with Tricia’s brother and Tricia had been in Gargiulo’s van the day before she was killed.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: I have a theory … and it is this. That Tricia sits in the backseat of the family van, you know, she touches it, her clothes pick it up — potentially Mr. Gargiulo’s DNA.
To find out how likely that is, “48 Hours” asked Nathan Lents, a forensic expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Maureen Maher: Let’s talk about — it’s a leather armrest in a car. I have my arm there. You come and put your arm on anytime afterwards. What’s the likelihood that you are going to pick up some of my DNA on you, and keep it on for 24 hours, 36 hours?
Nathan Lents: So, what we’re talking about now is a secondary transfer. … A day later? I’ve never seen a secondary transfer that would last that long. There’s just not enough cells that would survive, and especially on your arm, which is touching other things, you’re putting on and off your clothes. That rubs off the cells pretty quickly.
And he says casual contact is even more unlikely because, at trial, the scientist who matched Gargiulo’s DNA to Tricia Pacaccio’s fingernails said it was actually a 50/50 mixture of Tricia and Gargiulo’s DNA. And that is significant.
Nathan Lents: Casual contact will leave a few cells here and there. … A 50/50 mixture means, in almost all cases, that there was a lot of DNA, a lot of cells from both parties.
Maureen Maher: That would require contact?
Nathan Lents: That would require extensive contact … It looks to me that the — defendant was scratched by those fingernails. That’s what it looks like to me.
While there may have been some doubt about the power of that DNA evidence, no one disagrees that the DNA in the case of the woman who survived, Michelle Murphy, belongs to Michael Gargiulo.
Mary Fulginiti: His DNA is all over the place. So, they’ve gotta somehow figure out, “OK, what am I gonna do now to defend this particular charge?”
The defense’s argument surprises everyone.
GARGIULO’S STATE OF MIND
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: Michelle Murphy, because of her strength and courage allowed investigators to work backwards and piece this entire case together.
She is the sole surviving victim. And it is Gargiulo’s DNA that is found all over Murphy’s apartment. It’s a problem defense attorneys Daniel Nardoni and Dale Rubin must address head on.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: And we know that the evidence in this — is stronger. It’s much stronger.
Michelle Murphy testified that she never saw her attacker’s face, but she did notice he was left-handed. And there were those words Michelle heard her attacker utter as he ran out the door: “I am sorry.”
Dale Rubin [in court]: Michelle Murphy is the only count in which the prosecution has shown that Mr. Gargiulo was in her apartment and attacked her.
In a surprising move, Michael Gargiulo’s attorneys do not deny that he attacked Murphy but insist that he wasn’t in his right mind when he did it.
Dale Rubin [in court]: She says that she’s fighting off Mr. Gargiulo, when all of a sudden he cuts himself … He stands up, he, like, comes out of a fog … says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” and runs out. … he didn’t know where he was… didn’t know what he was doing.
And to prove it, the defense calls only two witnesses at trial: mental health experts.
Dale Rubin [in court]: Both of them have diagnosed Mr. Gargiulo with a mental disease or disorder. … He can’t premeditate. He can’t deliberate. He can’t have malice of forethought.
The defense says when Gargiulo attacked Murphy, it was as if another personality had taken over as if he was possessed.
Dale Rubin [in court]: … an experience of “possession”.
Michael Gargiulo, they claim, suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
Kris Mohandie: Dissociative identity disorder used to be called multiple personality disorder. … there’s a split … whereby they may not have an awareness of when they’re doing certain things. … this becomes the go-to defense because you can say, “I was there, but I wasn’t.”
Mary Fulginiti: They’re just saying that they didn’t have the mental state to be able to commit … horrible crime.
Maureen Maher: And how often is that true?
Mary Fulginiti: Oh, it’s very infrequently. I mean the only times I’ve seen it actually be successful is when the person was truly like a schizophrenic, had other voices in his head.
The defense can only hope that they have managed to convince the jury. After a three-month long trial, 79 witnesses, the presentation of some 350 exhibits, and that field trip to the crime scenes, closing statements begin.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron again lays out…and the attacks.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: It was four female victims, all young, attractive, and outgoing … These attacks, these murders, took a great deal of strength and athleticism … Each of these attacks … were all extraordinarily cold-blooded, tortuous … Each of these victims were ambushed … no evidence that there was any theft … Knife is the weapon of choice.
Twenty similarities between the attacks of the four women are described.
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: Those common characteristics of these crimes point to one man, one killer, Michael Gargiulo
Prosecutor Garrett Dameron [in court]: You know about the DNA.
Adding to their argument is the forensic evidence, with Gargiulo’s DNA found all over Michelle Murphy’s apartment, on Tricia Pacaccio’s fingernails, and that slight amount on the bootie near Maria Bruno’s home.
Mary Fulginiti: The prosecution is trying to lump these all together. Why? Because they want to show that it was one attacker. That the pattern, the practice, the, you know, everything that was done was similar.
Daniel Nardoni | Defense attorney [in court]: You have to judge each case separately.
Mary Fulginiti: On the other hand, the defense is trying to do just the opposite. They wanna separate these out. They wanna show that, “No, no, no. One’s in Illinois. You know, yes, you may have some in California. But they’re separated by years and time. They’re not just one attacker.
Daniel Nardoni [in court]: You can find him not guilty on all these crimes. Or you can find him — guilty of some crimes and not guilty — of other crimes.
Mary Fulginiti: The defense just needs to plant a seed of doubt in one of those jurors.
The three-month trial of Michael Gargiulo has captured the public’s attention.
For the families of the victims, the wait for justice has seemed endless. Finally, the finish seems to be in sight, as the jury begins its deliberations on August 12, 2019.
Mary Fulginiti: This was — probably one of the worst cases. And I’ve worked in this area for a long time as a prosecutor and defense attorney. … And I’ve never seen anything this horrific. So, for this jury to have to see all this evidence … and day in and day out for three months to think about this case, and what happened to these victims, is really challenging.
But in what might seem like a short time, given such a long trial, after three-and-a-half days of deliberations, the verdicts are in:
COURT CLERK: We the jury in the above and titled action find the defendant, Michael Gargiulo, guilty of the crime of attempted murder…
Guilty of attacking Michelle Murphy.
COURT CLERK: Guilty of the crime of first-degree murder.
Guilty of murdering Maria Bruno.
COURT CLERK: … guilty of the crime of first-degree murder
And guilty of murdering Ashley Ellerin.
sat without emotion, as he heard the verdicts.
Outside the courtroom, Maureen Maher immediately called the Paccacios with the news. “Hi. It’s all done. It’s all done here. And now it’s your turn.”
Maureen Maher [after the phone call]: She’s sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. She’s so grateful that they all got their justice and that now it’s Tricia’s turn.
Remember Tricia’s case was included in California only as supporting evidence of Michael Gargiulo’s criminal pattern. It is up to Illinois officials in Cook County to try the case there.
Diane Pacaccio | Tricia’s mother: We have to make sure that Cook County now does the job that they need to continue to do because they need to prosecute him for what he did to my daughter.
Maureen Maher: Are you confident … that he will be brought back to Chicago and he will stand trial?
Tommy Pacaccio | Tricia’s brother: Talking with the California attorneys and our attorneys in Cook County, I feel confident.
The Pacaccios are cautiously optimistic. As they say, they have been let down by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office before. The family has criticized that office for being slow to charge Gargiulo when there was that DNA match in 2003. When “48 Hours” spoke with Jack Blakey from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2011, he told us that DNA match alone wasn’t enough to charge Gargiulo.
Maureen Maher: If there was a DNA match to Gargiulo why hasn’t he been arrested?
Jack Blakely: The DNA match is consistent with casual contact. … we still cannot establish based on the DNA alone that he was present at the time of the killing as opposed to a different time.
But it came out at the Los Angeles trial that an Illinois forensic scientist submitted her findings to Cook County prosecutors in 2003, that it was a 50/50 mixture of Tricia and Gargiulo’s DNA on Tricia’s fingernails. Remember, the expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice told us that usually signifies extensive contact.
Nathan Lents | Forensic expert: A 50/50 mixture means, in almost all cases, that there was a lot of DNA, a lot of cells from both parties … that would require extensive contact.
In almost all cases, extensive contact. So why not bring charges?
Nathan Lents: A lot of prosecutors are hesitant to bring a case when there’s not at least one other piece of evidence that helps complete the picture of how the DNA got there
Maureen Maher: Does it bother you that the charges weren’t filed?
Det. Lou Sala | Cook County, Illinois: Oh, absolutely. … We — we had him in 2003.
Maureen Maher: You had him?
Det. Lou Sala: Yeah, but it didn’t work out.
For Lou Sala, the lead detective on the Pacaccio case, the focus now is seeking closure to the case that has haunted him through the latter part of his career, and into retirement.
Det. Lou Sala: Now that L.A. is done, they fully intend to … extradite him back here … And I think It has to be done for the Pacaccio family. … Their verdict is still coming.
But the trial in L.A. did give the Pacaccios a chance to meet the men who changed the course of Tricia’s case. Temer Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo, who came forward with Gargiulo statements. Evidence that pushed authorities to finally charge Gargiulo with Tricia’s murder.
Maureen Maher: So, you have both met the Pacaccios now?
Anthony DiLorenzo: Yes.
Temer Leary: Yeah.
Maureen Maher: What was that like?
Temer Leary: I — it was hard. … I see outta the corner of my eye, I see them. And I spun around. And I, like, you know, “Rick?” And he instantly knew who I was. He hopped up and … gave me a hug.
Anthony DiLorenzo: I feel for them so much. Th — you know, they were just sent — through the wringer the whole time.
Diane Pacaccio: It’s always painful. … it will always be. I just tell people it’s something that I have to live with now and deal with now. And try to cope with for the rest of my life.
Tricia’s remembrance book from her funeral provides bittersweet memories.
Maureen Maher [looking at book]: And so there’s family in here obviously, and lots of friends. I mean, hundreds of people.
It’s filled with kind comments about their beloved daughter, but also this:
Maureen Maher: … back here, what is that name?
Diane Pacaccio: Michael Gargiulo signed that.
It has been a 26 year-long journey from when that book was signed by the man the Pacaccios now believe killed their daughter. Gargiulo is now a convicted murderer of two other women — women the Pacaccios, through Tricia, helped to find justice.
Diane Pacaccio: She helped these other girls. She was a very — always liked to help people. … And I just want justice to get done because that’s what my daughter deserves.
Michael Gargiulo’s sentencing has been delayed.