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Michael Gargiulo, The Hollywood Ripper, Linked to 1993 Murder of Neighbor Girl

By Cory Zurowski in cold cases, serial killers
Monday, July 11, 2011 at 8:58 am
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On an August night just months after graduating from Glenbrook South High School, Tricia Pacaccio was out partying with friends. They first hit a scavenger hunt shindig, then went for chow on a night that would be one of their last together before they shipped off for college...

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18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio was repeatedly stabbed to death just moments before entering her home
It was an unseasonably temperate and foggy early morning in suburban Chicago as Pacaccio arrived home sometime past 1 a.m. She walked up to the side door of her family home and stuck her key into the lock. 

The 18-year-old Pacaccio would never make it past the doorstep.

Hours later, as her father Rick headed out the door to his van for work, he spotted a pair of tennis shoes sticking skyward. He walked over for a closer look. 

Rick Pacaccio's cuppa joe dropped to the ground.

There lay his little girl motionless, blood drenching her blouse. It was obvious she had been stabbed too many times to even guess. 

Pacaccio tried to revive his daughter, but it was useless. With her innards in ruin, she had likely bled to death sometime during the darkness of early morning.  

Investigators were soon securing the crime scene. A 17-year-old neighbor and one of the victim's friends, Michael Gargiulo, was parked nearby watching the nascent stages of the investigation unfold.

Described by friends as equal parts awkward and shy -- yet at times driven to the point of being robotic -- Gargiulo, like Pacaccio's other friends, expressed shock at his friend's murder.

Any sniff of a lead for Cook County homicide investigators would lift and disappear into the wind coming off the lake. The case would go cold. 

But roughly a year after Pacaccio's murder, Gargiulo began acting strange and drawing raised eyebrows. He began buying Pacaccio's family members presents: flowers for mom, a shirt for dad, a restaurant gift certificate for the whole family.

The family would soon tell two Cook County Sheriff's detectives what had been happening. 

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Gargiulo's DNA has also been linked to the slaying of Ashley Ellerin, Ashton Kutcher's former girlfriend
When detectives Jack Reed and Mark Baldwin explained what they had learned to a criminal psychologist, the expert told them Gargiulo was likely atoning for his crime through gifts.

But weird behavior didn't warrant a murder charge; the case remained a duck.

The Pacaccio family wouldn't see or hear from Gargiulo for another five years. One day he showed up on their door saying he wanted to talk to Rick, Tricia's father.

Gargiulo would wait for the murdered teen's dad for more than an hour until he returned home from work. 

Rick Pacaccio recalled the scene for CBS News: "I remember walkin' in the garage door... and I looked at him, and he had this look on his face like he was going to say something. 

"The garage door opens, his father and one of his sisters come in, and say, 'We have go leave, Michael,' and they pick him up and whisk him away." 

At that moment Rick Pacaccio knew for certain: Michael Gargiulo had murdered his child.

In the coming years Gargiulo would push westward to Los Angeles, where he labored as an air conditioning repairman. Over the course of Gargiulo's life in Southern California, three women who he either lived by or ran with ended up being stabbed to death, including actor Ashton Kutcher's ex-girlfriend, 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in 2001.

Because he sometimes ran in the same circles as Ellerin, Gargiulo would submit a DNA sample to police. But it wouldn't be of use for some years to come.

The serial killer on the prowl would soon be dubbed the "Hollywood Ripper."

In 2008, officials in Southern California caught a break. It would coincidentally also prove to be the turning point in Pacaccio's cold murder case.

It wasn't much before midnight in early June 2008 in Santa Monica when an intruder gained access to a woman's home through a cracked window. It was believed to be the killer's same method of entry used in the previous trio of lethal stabbings.

Once inside, the intruder staged his escape route by opening the front door. He proceeded into the bedroom, where his female target laying sleeping. She would awake as his knife plunged into her.

Stabbed multiple times all over her body with several wounds covering her hands as she tried to grab the knife, the victim would be butchered -- but not to the point where she would succumb. 

At some point point during the attack, there would be a lull. At that moment, she succeeded in kicking her attacker off her bleeding body so she was able to flee.

The woman later told police her attacker had uttered two words as he was slicing her up: "I'm sorry."    

Investigators would run DNA tests on the blood found at the crime scene. More than three weeks after submitting samples to the crime lab, they scored a hit: Michael Gargiulo.

In less than a day, Gargiulo, who had been living just across the alley from the victim, was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

In addition to the damning DNA tying him to other murders, further inspection of Gargiulo's apartment in the coming days produced physical evidence placing him at the scene of at least one other killing. 

Gargiulo sits in the Los Angles County Jail in lieu of $1.1 bond. He has been waiting trial for the Santa Monica attack for almost three years.

In an interview given to a television reporter long ago, he said: "This is a real nightmare that I'm livin'.... Personally I -- I feel and know 100 percent I don't deserve this.... My truth is being 100 percent innocent, being wrongfully charged."

He is also slated to to stand trial for two of the California murders in 2012. 

Meanwhile, Illinois authorities remain conflicted as to whether or not they should charge Gargiulo in the death of Tricia Pacaccio. While they say they have DNA proving he was in contact with the victim, it's also not enough to prove he killed her. 

They are quick to point out DNA can be left via casual contact -- or it can come via defensive wound. The State's Attorney's Office in Illinois says it can't prove that Gargiulo's DNA on Pacaccio came via graduation party contact or trying to ward him off.

Back in California, police are troubled by believing Gargiulo has many more victims still be be unearthed.

Says Detective Mark Lillenfeld: "We've got evidence, some statements from Mr. Gargiulo and from other statements that indicate... 10 might be the magic number."

See our last story from the Serial Killer file: Sonny Pierce Arrested as Serial Rapist, Murderer and Necrophiliac.


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