Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Murder of Ashley Ellerin

22 year-old Ashley Ellerin circa 2001
Ashley Ellerin was only 22 years old when she was savagely murdered inside her own home on February, 21st 2001. Prior to her death, Ashley was a dancer and a fashion student who lived in Los Angeles, California. Unfortunately, murders in Los Angeles are not uncommon, and the night Ashley was murdered also happened to be the night of the Grammys. Due to this, most of the media coverage in the following days, especially in Los Angeles, was focused on the award show. Additionally, there were an estimated 15,980 murders in the United States that year, which made it impossible for the media to extensively cover every single occurrence. Sadly, this means the public probably would have never heard about Ashley Ellerin’s tragic death if it weren’t for this one small detail: her boyfriend at the time of her death was famous Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher. (pictured below)


Kutcher in 2001

Ashley and Ashton last spoke on the phone just hours before she was murdered. Ashley asked if she could attend the Grammy viewing party at Ashton’s friend’s house with him that night, but Ashton said no. He promised her that he’d come see her at her bungalow later after the show instead. Ashton told detectives that he left the viewing party around 10:45pm and called Ashley. She didn’t answer the phone, and Ashton thought she was ignoring him because she was annoyed that he didn’t invite her to the party. He then decided to drive to her house to try and sort of what he believed was an impending argument. When Ashton got there, all of the house lights were on, and Ashley’s car was parked in the driveway. He banged on the door, but there was no answer. Ashton then peered through a side window and saw what he thought to be red wine spilled on the floor. He thought that Ashley had gone to bed after having drinks, and decided to go home. Ashley’s body was discovered the following morning by her roommate, Justin Peterson. She was found slumped in the hallway by the bathroom, just out of view from the side of window that Ashton looked through. She had been stabbed 35 times.

Ashley’s friends immediately had a suspect in mind: air-conditioning repairman Michael Gargiulo (pictured below). Michael, who was 24 years old at the time, lived with his girlfriend in the same neighborhood as Ashley and Justin. He approached Ashley and Justin one day after seeing them sitting outside in front of their house and handed them his business card. After that, Ashley’s friends said that Michael began to show up fairly often. Ashley was kind to Michael and even invited him to a few parties at their bungalow, despite her friend’s growing concerns that Michael was obsessed with her. In fact, two months before Ashley’s murder, Justin noticed that Michael was parking his car outside of their bungalow at odd hours of the night. When Justin confronted him about it, Michael said that he FBI was after him in connection with a murder in Chicago. He said that the FBI wanted his DNA and he was hiding from them. Justin warned Ashley to stay away from Michael after this, but Ashley still brushed off any concerns about him.


Michael was inevitably a strong potential suspect very early into the investigation, but police did not have evidence to arrest him at that time. Seven years later, in 2008, Michael was arrested for the attempted murder of another young woman in his neighborhood: Michelle Murphy. Michael attacked the woman in her apartment, but Michelle was able to fight him off and identify him to authorities. It was then that investigators were finally able to obtain Michael’s DNA. Not only did that DNA match the DNA found on Ashley’s body, it also linked Michael to two other murders: 32 year-old Maria Bruno in 2005, and 18 year-old Tricia Pacaccio in 1993. Michael was 17 years old at the time of Tricia’s murder, and it believed that this case is the one that he was referring to when he told Justin he was hiding from the FBI. At this point, police knew they had a serial killer on their hands.

Michael is expected to go to trial for all three murders, plus the attempted murder, at some point in 2019. Though he has currently been charged with killing three women, it is believed that Michael has killed six other women whose murders are currently unsolved. His surviving victim, Michelle Murphy, is expected to testify at his trial. Ashton Kutcher is expected to testify as well. Michael is currently behind bars as he awaits his day in court.
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UPDATE (8/15/19): Michael Gargiulo has been found guilty for the murders of Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno. The next phase of the trial will be the 'sanity phase', in which it will be determined whether or not Michael was sane at the time the attacks took place. Prosecutors are calling Michael a "thrill killer.
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UPDATE (10/19/19): A jury has recommended the death penalty for Michael Gargiulo after being convicted of killing Ashley Ellerin in 2001 and Maria Bruno in 2005. About a week after he was found guilty back in August 2019, the same jury determined that Michael was, in fact, sane during the killings. During the sanity proceedings, the District Attorney acknowledged that Michael's behavior was not what might be considered "normal", but that "evil does not mean insane."Had he been found insane, he would have been sent to a facility rather than prison. Instead, this determination allowed the penalty phase of Michael's trial to proceed. 

Michael is still awaiting trial for the murder of Tricia Pacaccio. 

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