By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
But when Small contacted the construction company and lawyers for the Kodak, there was no such accident — and neither entity was being sued.
So Small searched all traffic accidents near the Kodak. He unearthed one in which a dog was struck by a car at Orchid and Franklin avenues. The dog's owner had insisted on filing an accident report.
The owner of the vehicle that struck the dog? Michael Gargiulo.
Detective Small showed Gargiulo's DMV driver's license photo to Ellerin's friends in the fall of 2002. "It really had some promise, and I got to know more and more about him — and found people who had contact with him," Small recalls. "I was open-minded. I didn't know who my killer was at the time."
Then, out of the blue a few days later, Small's partner got a call from Cook County, Illinois, cold-case Detective Lou Sala, who had taken over the Tricia Pacaccio investigation. Sala was collecting DNA from everyone the original detectives had interviewed in the pre-DNA days to again rule them out as suspects.
In a remarkable coincidence, Sala and his partner were in L.A. to DNA-swab Gargiulo. Sala was on the phone, seeking the LAPD's help to track down Gargiulo's location. Gargiulo was tough to find, in part, police later learned, because he never put utilities or leases in his own name.
Small says, of getting a phone call from Illinois police seeking the same man for a different killing: "My partner said the name and looked at me — and my jaw was on the floor."
Small had only just run across the name Michael Gargiulo in the dog-hitting accident. "I said, 'Get them over here!' I was on cloud nine. I didn't want to retire until this one was closed. I showed [Sala] and his partner the [DMV] picture, and they said, 'How do you know him?' That is how the whole thing went down."
The two teams of detectives, from Los Angeles and Glenview, compared the way two female knifing victims separated by substantial time and distance — Ashley Ellerin and Tricia Pacaccio — had been stabbed. Small says: "The similarities were phenomenal."
Small soon tracked down Gargiulo, by then living in West Los Angeles with a new girlfriend. Her name, not Gargiulo's, was on the lease of their Clarke Drive apartment.
In December 2002, detectives obtained a blood sample from Gargiulo. Police say the furious Gargiulo tried to fight off authorities. It would take months before the sample was matched to blood that had been found on Pacaccio's nails.
While that slow process unfolded, in February 2003, Gargiulo began a short-lived relationship with Maria Gurrola, the former wife of a famous Mexican singer who had hired Gargiulo to fix her air-conditioning unit. She told detectives Gargiulo wore blue surgical shoe covers and followed her around her house until she agreed to go on a date with him.
After they began dating, he moved into her Lakewood home with her and her four children. But things quickly soured when he allegedly punched her and asked her for a loan. She filed a restraining order, alleging that he was stalking her. She said he'd threatened to kill her and bragged he'd get away with it because of his "extensive knowledge" of forensics.
In September 2003, 10 months after detectives took a blood sample from Gargiulo, the human DNA found on the fingernails of Illinois high schooler Pacaccio in 1993 was matched to Gargiulo.
Police had their man, detectives say, and two women were dead.
But in a screwup of tragic proportions, Cook County prosecutors declined to file charges against Gargiulo. In a still-unexplained decision, Illinois authorities told the Pacaccio family the evidence was not strong enough — despite the DNA match between the person who slaughtered high schooler Pacaccio near Chicago and the air-conditioning repairman obsessed with women like Ashton Kutcher's girlfriend.
The Cook County prosecutor's office refuses to explain to the Weekly the reasons for its unusual decision, or any other matters involving the Pacaccio murder investigation, which remains open and officially unsolved.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office during the time of those decisions was run by a powerful politician, State's Attorney Richard A. Devine, who held tight control over his office. Devine's special prosecutor, Scott Cassidy, told police not to arrest Gargiulo, dismissing the DNA match by insisting Gargiulo could have left his DNA on Pacaccio innocently. Cassidy did not respond to the Weekly's attempts to reach him. But many witnesses told police that Pacaccio hugged and touched friends and her boyfriend on the day she died, yet did not see Michael Gargiulo — yet only his blood DNA was on her fingernails.
LAPD's Small called the state's attorney's choice a "bunch of shenanigans."
Pacaccio's mother, Diane, tells the Weekly, "I don't know why they didn't arrest him. They claimed there wasn't enough evidence. I said, 'Who else's DNA was on her?' For some reason they must have a low opinion of [a jury] here [in Chicago]. Who wouldn't convict someone from DNA?"
Small says the LAPD's hands were tied. It couldn't arrest Gargiulo because the LAPD found no human trace evidence left by the killer at the Ellerin crime scene, and it can't arrest someone on the basis of evidence in another region — such as the blood DNA found on Pacaccio's fingernails in Glenview.
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