By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
He even told Carrillo, with whom he lived periodically, that he'd left Illinois because of a murder he didn't commit.
"He said he knew who did that murder," says Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Joseph Purcell. "He couldn't say who that person was. And he also mentioned his DNA would be present at the murder scene, because the victim was almost family to him and he was always at the location."
In Los Angeles, Gargiulo parlayed his story of fleeing from a dark Chicago past into a selling point of sorts.
Says Small, "I was always amazed that he was really free with that, reciting almost the same thing to people. I don't know if he was trying to create a rise in people, or scare them."
He was convincing, as experts say many sociopaths are. Carrillo had a child with him. And authorities believe this secret second life with Carrillo unfolded without the apparent knowledge of yet another secret girlfriend, who was a doctor, or his ongoing original girlfriend from Chicago, Alison.
When he met roommates Ellerin and Peterson that day 10 years ago near their bungalow, Gargiulo mixed together elements of his phony tales. He told them he was a professional boxer but had been electrocuted fixing an air-conditioning unit. All lies, police say.
He eventually told Ellerin and Peterson his strange story of being hounded by police over an unsolved murder of an "ex-girlfriend" in Chicago. But they were young, upwardly mobile people out to make it in Hollywood. They were dashing off to hot parties, hanging with famous people and having the time of their lives. Justin Peterson did sound the alarm. But Ellerin and others ignored Gargiulo's weird mutterings.
The morning of Feb. 21, 2001, started on the upswing. Ellerin and her father, visiting from the wealthy Bay Area suburb of Los Altos, were doing some remodeling and painting at her place. Later that day the Grammys would be on, and she spoke twice with Kutcher, whom she'd begun casually dating, making plans to meet him for drinks.
Ellerin dropped off her father at the airport in the afternoon and called her handsome landlord, Mark Durbin, who had bit parts on Frasier and, later, Six Feet Under and No Ordinary Family. He agreed to fix her ceiling fan and move some furniture.
The lean, muscular Durbin testified in June that he and Ellerin were involved in a "blossoming" relationship. He stopped by at around 7 p.m. and the two made love. Ellerin was playing the field, having recently broken up with her acting-coach boyfriend.
"She had tons of boyfriends," Detective Small says. "At that time Kutcher was still coming up. He hadn't established his big-time credentials yet. They met through a mutual friend. It was a friendly thing. They went out a couple of times."
A few minutes after Durbin left, Ellerin called Kutcher to ask him if she should come to his friend Kristy's to watch the Grammys. No, he told her, he would meet her at her bungalow later.
Kutcher, interviewed by detectives the day after Ellerin's slaying, said he called her twice that night but she didn't answer. He blamed bad reception and drove over at 10:45 p.m. Ellerin's lights were on and her maroon BMW was in the drive. He knocked several times, and when she didn't answer he peered through a front window.
Kutcher saw what he assumed to be red wine stains leading toward the bedroom. "He figured she was upset" because he was late, and "she brushed him off. So he left," testified LAPD Detective Thomas Shevolek.
It was a fortuitous error by the young actor, although he might not say so were he to comment on the terrible end that befell his beautiful date that night.
Had Kutcher discovered her gruesomely slashed body — sprawled in a hallway near the bathroom just out of his view — there is no way to know what would have become of the buoyant young man's life and career in the years to follow.
But Kutcher sensed nothing amiss. He got in his car and drove away.
Ellerin's body was found by a roommate the next morning. She had been stabbed 35 times. Amidst the carnage, it was clear she had been preparing for her evening out with Kutcher. Her curling iron was found nearby. Her blow-dryer was on the toilet seat. Detective Small can't shake the memories. "I still smell it," he says. "The whole crime scene is vivid in my head."
Clues as to what had happened include the fact that her doors were locked and her windows had bars. "Probably someone came to the door," Small says, "and the rest is history. She knew the guy, and according to the people who knew her, if she knew you, she would let you in."
Small sums up the alleged killer this way: "Gargiulo is all about himself. I think he thought of himself as a major player. A tough guy. He has proven he is as dangerous as hell. He is not the guy you would want to bring home to dinner."
Small and his partner ruled out many suspects, but they were hampered by the lack of DNA evidence. Small heard about "Mike the furnace man," but none of Ellerin's friends knew his last name. Detectives learned that "Mike" had told people a story about being hit by a cement truck when developers were building the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. "Mike" boasted the accident was going to make him rich because he'd filed a lawsuit.