Who Murdered Our Daughter?

A harrowing tale of three murders, inconclusive evidence, and the 18-year search for a serial killer.

By Bryan Smith | from Reader's Digest Magazine

Michael Gargiulo

Gargiulo is implicated in three murders.

Portrait of an Accused Killer
Born in 1976, the lean, dark-haired Gargiulo lived with his parents and siblings five houses away from the Pacaccios. Like many neighborhood kids, Gargiulo, a friend of Tricia’s brother Doug, spent time at the Pacaccio house.

In 1997, as new detectives on the case, John Reed and Mark Baldwin 
interviewed some of the same people that detectives had approached four years earlier, including Gargiulo.

Reed and Baldwin say they suspected Gargiulo might have been involved in the crime, but they did not delve deeply enough into his background to uncover his dark, explosive temper. “If he had something he wanted to do and something got in his way, he would go completely nuts,” said Scott Olson, who played in a band with Gargiulo.

In 1998, five years after losing her daughter, Diane Pacaccio heard a knock at her home’s side door. When she opened it, Michael Gargiulo was standing there. “Is Mr. P. home?” he asked. Diane told him her husband was still at work, and Gargiulo asked if he could wait.

“He sat down in the kitchen and waited for over an hour,” says Diane. When Rick arrived home, he was hopeful that Gargiulo might have some information about their daughter’s murder. Just as Gargiulo began to speak, however, his father and sister burst through the door. “They didn’t knock or anything,” Rick recalls. “They just came in and grabbed him.”

Soon after that encounter, Gargiulo moved to Los Angeles. No one was charged in the murder, and Reed and Baldwin became the latest detectives to leave the case.

West Coast Victim
Ashley Ellerin, a sweet and fun-loving 22-year-old had enrolled in L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, hoping for a career both creative and glamorous. In 2001, she was dating Ashton Kutcher, a rising Hollywood star.

Struggling to change a flat tire in front of Ellerin’s house one day, Ellerin and a friend welcomed the help of a good-looking dark-haired stranger. The man introduced himself as Mike and gave the two of them his card, saying he was a furnace and air-conditioning repairman. Soon he was showing up, often unannounced and uninvited, to parties at Ellerin’s house.

On February 21, 2001, after having arranged to meet, Kutcher swung by Ellerin’s split-level Hollywood bungalow at around 10:45 p.m. He knocked on the door, and when she didn’t answer, he tried the handle. Locked. He then peered through the front window. The place was in disarray, but that was to be expected since Ellerin was in the midst of remodeling. Kutcher also saw a dark red stain that looked like someone had spilled wine near the entrance to her bedroom. Assuming she had stood him up, he left.

When Ellerin’s new roommate, Jennifer Disisto, entered the bungalow the next morning around 8:30, she saw Ellerin sprawled in a pool of blood on a landing leading to the bedrooms. She’d been stabbed 47 times. Tom Small, the Hollywood detective assigned to investigate 
the case, noticed something else at the murder scene: The position of the body seemed odd, as if “the victim was moved, possibly posed.”

Next: A Break in  the Case

Santa Monica Police Department/AP Photo

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