Loading...

The Chiller Killer 

Michael Gargiulo, accused of killing Ashton Kutcher's girlfriend and other L.A. beauties, got close as the helpful air-conditioning repairman

Thursday, Nov 25 2010
Comments

In the fall of 2000, Christopher Duran and Ashley Ellerin were outside her yellow bungalow behind Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood when a good-looking guy offered to help Duran fix his flat tire. The friendly stranger, Michael Gargiulo, paid special attention to blond beauty and part-time Las Vegas stripper Ellerin, a student at L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Ellerin had attracted dates and boyfriends including Ashton Kutcher, then starring in That '70s Show as hunky dimwit Michael Kelso; Vin Diesel, who'd just starred in the 2000 cult hit Pitch Black; and Jeremy Sisto, later of Law & Order fame, who reportedly flew Ellerin to a set in Toronto, where he was filming 2001's Angel Eyes.

Gargiulo, 24, an air-conditioning repairman recently arrived from Chicago, gave Duran and Ellerin his card. He lived nearby with his girlfriend in the Armor Arms on Orchid Avenue, and began visiting the bungalow where 22-year-old Ellerin lived with roommate Justin Peterson. He offered to fix their heater, and even persuaded his lover — a doctor his girlfriend Alison didn't know about — to write Ellerin a prescription for medication for her carpal tunnel syndrome.

click to flip through (6) ILLUSTRATION BY MATT MAHURIN
  • Illustration by Matt Mahurin
 

Related Stories

  • Cops Swarm DTLA 15

    There will be a massive police presence at the Made in America festival downtown this weekend.  Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Rick Stabile says there will be about 270 city officers dedicated to patrolling the perimeter outside the two-day concert that starts Saturday. Another 200 Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department...
  • Death in L.A. 2

    When police officers arrived at a two-room apartment just south of USC last fall to investigate complaints of foul odors, they found a body decomposed beyond recognition. Something else caught their attention, too — the black electrical cord knotted around the man’s neck. A Los Angeles Police detective declared the...
  • Was Made in America a Success? Depends on How You Measure It

    Mayor Eric Garcetti beamed victorious following the Made in America festival over the weekend. He "aggressively pursued" the event, his office says, despite objections from some neighbors and general sense that the event on city streets was ramrodded past the public-comment process. See also: Made in America Festival: The Best and...
  • LAPD Militarization 10

    This week, much of the public has been aghast at images of police in Ferguson, Missouri, wearing camouflage, driving armored vehicles and aiming assault rifles. This "militarization" of police has been decried and blamed on an influx of cash from the federal drug war and Iraq-era surplus gear. But the issue of...
  • L.A. Cops Knew Miley Cyrus' VMAs Date Was a Wanted Man 3

    Los Angeles authorities were previously made aware that Miley Cyrus' American Music Awards date, 22-year-old homeless man Jesse Helt, was wanted in Oregon, said Martin Silbernagel, Community Corrections director for Polk County. When asked if the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department were notified that Helt had a...

But the cute air-conditioning guy gave some of Ellerin's friends, and her roommate, Peterson, the willies.

When Gargiulo attended a bash of young Hollywood glam types thrown by Ellerin in December, her pal Anthony Castellane later told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, "[Gargiulo] kept his eyes on her the whole time."

Then Gargiulo began parking outside Ellerin's and Peterson's bungalow in his green Ford pickup at odd hours. When Peterson confronted him, Gargiulo insisted he was merely laying low, telling him a story that would have prompted a lot of young urbanites to cut him loose. But among this group of gorgeous go-getters, Gargiulo's dark-edged tales, which he had told to many, were met with bemusement, disdain — and continued admission to the group.

He claimed he had been linked to a murder near Chicago, that police and FBI were showing up, and that the FBI wanted to test his DNA. Peterson later told the judge Gargiulo had shown him a hunting knife strapped to his ankle. Peterson and Ellerin had heard his weird tales before, but this one freaked Peterson out. "I rushed him out of the house and told him I didn't want anything to do with his business. ... I didn't want any part of it."

This group of beautiful young people were The Hills before anyone invented The Hills for reality TV. They were naive, living a life that college-age kids in Midwestern towns could only dream about. Sunset Boulevard. Studio parties. Clubs.

They were without a care and felt safe. So carefree, in fact, that Ellerin made love with her hunky, muscled young landlord, a Frasier bit actor, one afternoon, and casually made plans to date another dreamy boyfriend the same night — Kutcher.

But that evening, she was brutally murdered — just a few months after she pooh-poohed Peterson's warning that, beneath his too-charming surface, Gargiulo was a threat.

She "probably thought I was being dramatic about it," a sorrowful Peterson would say later. "Ashley knew I had 'an occurrence' with him and she knew how I felt. She didn't seem concerned. She was an amazing person who would make friends with everyone."

Her naïveté about the danger lurking so near tragically put Ellerin in harm's way. But the same youthful naïveté ended up protecting Kutcher, who was a biochemical-engineering student before he moved to Hollywood. His innocent outlook saved him from finding his date dead on the evening of Feb. 21, 2001. As Kutcher peered through her bungalow window, wondering why she didn't answer to his repeated knocking, the That '70s Show heartthrob mistook a trail of blood he could clearly see on her floor for spilled red wine. It was Grammy night. Mayhem never crossed the young man's mind.

Remarkably, the media largely left Kutcher alone through the pretrial hearing in June. In the decade since the tragedy that befell Ellerin, he has rarely commented on it. Kutcher went on to wed actress Demi Moore, and to star in What Happens in Vegas opposite Cameron Diaz and Killers with Katherine Heigl. He can be seen hawking Nikon's newest digital camera, and he's become a Twitter sensation, with more than a million followers.

Some of that will change at the trial, for which no date has been set, when he probably will have to testify against Gargiulo, the father of two accused of killing Ellerin and Maria Bruno, 34, who was hideously butchered 10 days after she moved into Gargiulo's gated El Monte apartment building in 2005.

Detectives found a blue surgical bootie that had been worn by Bruno's attacker outside her El Monte apartment, and theorize that the killer wore booties so he wouldn't leave forensic evidence behind. It didn't work — forensic evidence was recovered.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets