In the middle of the night, excruciating chest pain jerked Michelle out of her peaceful slumber. When she opened her eyes, she saw how a hooded man stabbed her repeatedly while she tried to defend herself with her hands. Although the young woman received several more stab wounds, she managed to get away from the attacker by kicking him out of bed. Such was Michelle's resistance that the individual cut himself with the weapon and fled, leaving a trail of blood along the way.
A few days later the worst omens were confirmed: the blood belonged to an acquaintance of the victim. It was his neighbor Michael Gargiulo, a harmless-looking young man who enjoyed stalking and stabbing young women. The police had just discovered that they were up against a dangerous serial killer, the Hollywood Ripper.
Michael Thomas Gargiulo was born on February 15, 1976 in Glenwiew, a quiet suburb northwest of Chicago, into a family of seven siblings about which no information has been released. The verified data only points to the aggressiveness that our protagonist, already being a child, exercised in his neighborhood. A neighborhood that suffered from his bad temper and his bad manners, which earned him a reputation as a thug.
In just a few seconds, the boy went from having a normal behavior to a vehement and aggressive attitude, which baffled those close to him. One of them, Scott Olson, assured the press that Michael became "inhuman", as if someone flipped a switch and suddenly went "crazy".
In his teens, Michael channeled that excess of negative energy and violence through sports. More specifically American football and boxing. Added to this was his fondness for crime and serial killers: he was fascinated with the story of Ted Bundy, the murderer of university students, and everything related to forensic medicine.
From those readings he gained enough information to become a born stalker and spend the next 15 years of his life stalking, surveilling, harassing and hunting young girls to fulfill his most gruesome fantasies. That was how he carried out the same modus operandi.
Michael chose young, attractive and outgoing victims, mainly residents close to his home, who he could easily control and spy on. As soon as he knew their routines, he interacted with them, and even tried to establish some kind of bond, either sentimental or friendly. He liked to be a part of their lives, to control them, which gave him great sexual excitement.
Regarding the victims, they only saw in him the typical boy next door, a harmless neighbor, although with a somewhat strange look. However, none of them felt threatened by his presence and they never suspected him.
The greatest satisfaction for Michael was exercising power and control over his prey without the need for any sexual contact. For this reason, he never raped any of them, because their game and his pattern had to do with an even greater domain, that of observation. Hence, when he already had everything under control in his mind, the criminal went to the next phase: that of murder.
He did it in the middle of the night, hooded and with a large knife. And, once inside the bedroom of the victim he was sleeping in, he brutally stabbed her to mutilation. Hence the nickname of him, the Hollywood ripper.
His first victim was Tricia Pacaccio, a neighbor and sister of one of his classmates, who lived around the corner from his Glenwiew home. That night of August 13, 1993, Michael followed Tricia, who was returning home from a party, when the teenager unexpectedly stabbed her up to twelve times. Her father discovered her body the next morning.
For years, investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses, friends and relatives of the victim, collected all kinds of evidence, kept the remains found under Tricia's fingernails... but no clue led them to the culprit. It should be remembered that, at that time, technology was not advanced enough to analyze and match DNA samples. It took almost twenty years for the police to find the murderer.
For his part, Michael continued with his life and kept a low profile until 1998, the year in which he moved to Los Angeles: he wanted to try his luck in the world of acting. However, that did not give him a living, so he ended up working as a nightclub bouncer in Hollywood.
At this time, Michael became inseparable from Temer Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo, fellow club members, to whom he ended up confessing in the year 2000 that he had murdered a girl in Chicago. "I left the fox for dead on the steps," he told them. A statement that no one believed to be true. Until 2011 and the broadcast of a documentary on television.
Between 2001 and 2008, Michael committed two more crimes and an attempted murder. Disguised as a quiet, attentive neighbor who worked as an air conditioner repairman, his victims never saw him as a potential threat. They were wrong: Mike, as they called him, had a tragic fate in store for them.
On the afternoon of February 21, 2001, Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion student, was preparing to go on a date: she had met a well-known budding actor, Ashton Kutcher, and they were going to a Grammy party. But Michael spoils her romantic plans. He sneaked into the house while she was showering and, as he left, he stabbed her 47 times.
Two hours after the last conversation between Ashley and Ashton, the actor went to look for his appointment around 10:45 p.m.: the young woman was somewhat late. Upon arrival, Kutcher did not understand anything, because the lights were on, but no one opened for him. Just as he was about to leave, he looked through a window and saw what he thought was spilled red wine on the floor. It was not wine but blood. The interpreter left without knowing that Ashley had been murdered.
The next morning, her roommate Jennifer Desisto found the body, and the police began an investigation. However, no test led them to a particular individual. Michael was getting away with it again.
Something similar happened with the murder of Maria Bruno, a 32-year-old woman and mother of four children, who died on December 1, 2005 after receiving 17 stab wounds inside her bedroom. Among the evidence collected: a blue surgical boot with a blood stain found in the patio in front of the victim's apartment. DNA tests confirmed that it was Maria's blood, but did not locate any clues about her killer.
After living in the Hollywood Hills and El Monte, Michael moved again, this time to Santa Monica beach, where he would commit his last attack.
On April 28, 2008, 26-year-old Michelle Murphy was sleeping peacefully at home when she felt someone stab her. When she opened her eyes, she saw a hooded man with whom she began a fierce fight to survive. So it was. The woman managed to hit him, kick him out of bed and cause him to injure himself profusely. Thanks to the trail of blood that she left in the escape, the police were able to identify the attacker.
The DNA corresponded to Michael Gargiulo, whose sample was already in the system when it was collected for the Pacaccio case. His arrest took place on June 6 and, at first, he was charged with attempted murder. A few weeks later and already in jail, the police discovered evidence linking him to the murders of Ashley Ellerín and Maria Bruno. They had hunted down the Hollywood Ripper.
However, the crime of Trizia Pacaccio remained unsolved. A CBS television program entitled 48 Hours with her special The Boy Next Door had to arrive for two new testimonies to point to Michael as the author of the young woman's murder. They were Temer Leary and Anthony DiLorenzo, her former co-workers.
Seeing Trizia's story recounted and her parents completely devastated on television, the men decided to tell what they knew: Michael's confession to them that year 2000. With this information, the show contacted investigators and, 18 years later, Michael Gargiulo was charged with a third, first-degree murder.
"My truth is to be one hundred percent innocent, to be unfairly accused... The only thing I can do is be calm and fight for my innocence," declared the defendant from jail before coming to trial.
After 11 years of delays, the court hearing against the Hollywood Ripper was finally held on May 2, 2019 in Los Angeles Superior Court. He was charged with the murders of Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy.
Three months, 79 witnesses, and 350 pieces of evidence later, the jury found Michael Gargiulo guilty on all counts. It was useless that his defense alluded to a mental alienation during the events. The evidence was irrefutable: the testimony of the survivor and the blood of the defendant at his home, the blue booties used during the assault on Maria Bruno and found both in an alley and in the criminal's house, and up to twenty similarities between the attacks of All the women.
They were “carefully planned murders. His hobby was planning the perfect opportunity to attack women," prosecutor Dan Akemon said of Gargiulo.
On August 15, Judge Larry Paul Fidler called the crimes "depraved and terrifying" in sentencing, acknowledging the pattern of the killer's victims, who always turned out to be his neighbors. "In this case, wherever Mr. Gargiulo went, death and destruction followed," he wrote.
For his part, the ripper received the guilty verdict without showing any emotion. Two years later, in August 2019, Judge Fidler had to choose between the death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole. It took him another two years to finish the trial penalty. Ultimately, Michael Gargiulo was sentenced to death. It was July 16, 2021.
Now, the prisoner still has a pending account to settle with the judiciary: the trial for the murder of Tricia Pacaccio. To do this, the state of California has to extradite him to Illinois to face her first murder. If found guilty, the sentence would go from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.
For three decades, the Pacaccio family has only asked for one thing: justice. "That's what my daughter deserves," says her mother Diane, a woman who never lost hope of finding her little girl's murderer.