The killer preyed on attractive young women who were outgoing and lived nearby.
Once he decided on a target, he’d lurk around her home, gathering information until he spotted a perfect opportunity. Then he’d strike — always at night, always at their homes.
Prosecutors have called Michael Gargiulo a “serial sexual-thrill killer” who derived pleasure from slaughtering beautiful women. They will seek the death penalty in a trial that’s set to start this week. Gargiulo faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for attacks in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2008.
Opening statements are scheduled for Thursday, beginning what prosecutors expect will be a six-month trial. Nearly 250 people — including actor Ashton Kutcher, who dated one of the victims — are on their list of potential witnesses.
In court filings, prosecutors laid out a chronology of Gargiulo’s alleged series of attacks, which began in the Chicago area in 1993.
One night in August of that year, Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was celebrating her high school graduation with friends before they each headed off to college. She was bound for Purdue University, where she’d earned an engineering scholarship. She dropped a peer off about 1 a.m. before heading home. She walked up to her door carrying her house key, but never made it inside.
Her father found her on the doorstep later that morning with numerous stab wounds to her chest, shoulder and neck.
Just 17 at the time, Gargiulo was a friend of Pacaccio’s younger brother. It wasn’t until a decade later that investigators discovered that the DNA collected from her fingernails was his.
By then, prosecutors say, Gargiulo had moved to the Los Angeles area and killed Ashley Ellerin.
Gargiulo first met Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion student who dated Kutcher, when he walked up and offered to help her change a flat tire. Later, he offered to help fix a problem with her heater, and from then on he’d show up uninvited and unannounced to her apartment.
Some reported seeing him park in front of her home at all hours, staring at her residence for long periods of time. Her roommate thought he was a stalker.
Prosecutors allege he entered Ellerin’s Hollywood home one night in February 2001 and stabbed her 47 times, slashing her throat so severely that he almost decapitated her.
Kutcher went to pick up Ellerin for a post-Grammy Awards party, the actor told Los Angeles police detectives at the time, but she did not answer the door.
Gargiulo later moved to the El Monte area, into the same apartment complex as Maria Bruno, 32.
In 2005, prosecutors allege, Gargiulo attacked her as she slept and “quite literally butchered her,” slashing her throat and slicing off her breasts, which he staged for police to find.
Soon after investigators found her body, they spotted a blue surgical bootie outside her apartment door with three drops of Bruno’s blood. Gargiulo’s DNA matched the profile that was found along the elastic band. The same type of booties, which he wore for work as an air conditioner repairman, were found by detectives hidden in his attic.
Before the killing, Gargiulo had been seen trying to open Bruno’s door and peeping through her window in El Monte.
His last alleged attack, in April 2008, was unlike the others. Michelle Murphy survived.
Gargiulo and Murphy, who was 27 at the time, lived across from each other, sharing an alley in Santa Monica. In the months leading up to the attack, Gargiulo would greet her outside her apartment.
One night, prosecutors say, she woke up to him stabbing her arms and chest. She kicked him off, causing him to cut his wrist and flee. Investigators found his blood on her bedspread and in the alley.
After his arrest less than two months later in connection with the Santa Monica attack, detectives linked him to the killings of Ellerin and Bruno. Gargiulo wasn’t charged in Illinois with Pacaccio’s slaying until 2011. He is to be extradited after the Los Angeles trial concludes.