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Tom Small will never forget the moment he encountered Ashley Ellerin’s body in her rented Hollywood bungalow.

On the night of Feb. 21, 2001, the 22-year-old had just gotten out of the shower and was about to get ready for a night out. She was stabbed to death.

The California resident wasn’t found until the next morning by her roommate, who had just returned to their residence. Ellerin’s body was outside the entrance to the bathroom.

“I never forgot the brutality,” Small, a retired homicide detective, told Fox News Digital. “I’ve seen a lot of homicides over the years. All types. None of them are pretty. But this one stood out. She was so young, and the way she was mutilated, it was just vicious. It was one of the more vicious attacks I think I’ve seen.


A class black and white photo of Ashley Ellerin

Ashley Ellerin was murdered at her Hollywood, Calif., home Feb. 21, 2001, just before she was to attend post-Grammy Awards parties with actor Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher later told police she didn’t answer when he went to pick up the 22-year-old fashion student.  (Courtesy Los Altos H.S./

“And the way she was positioned, it was apparent that the suspect wanted us to find her. Whoever did this only had one intention — to inflict bodily harm. To inflict pain. That’s all he wanted. He wanted total control.”

Small is speaking out in “Once Upon a Crime in Hollywood,” a true-crime series hosted by Kelly Hyman. Season 2 focuses on the case of Michael Gargiulo, known as “The Hollywood Ripper” and “The Boy Next Door Killer.” It features new interviews with the investigators involved, as well as key experts.

“I wanted the public to know that these kinds of people are out there,” Small said. “In my profession, you see a lot of murders and a lot of stabbings. But the intention of this was strictly to kill and destroy. It was brutal. It sticks with you.”

A photo of Ashley Ellerin shown on TV

Ashley Ellerin’s murder is being explored in the true-crime podcast, “Once Upon a Crime in Hollywood.” (Al Seib/LA Times Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Ellerin was stabbed 47 times. Twelve of the wounds were considered fatal. She had numerous defensive wounds on her hands and right forearm.

“She was hit in the front, back, upper body, lower body and throat,” Small recalled. “This person had to be on top of her, get real close and watch her pass. I didn’t know what kind of person this was except it’s a devil. It’s evil.”

Ellerin, born in Maryland, had dreams of living in “the big city,” said Small. Like many others, she wanted to break into the Hollywood scene. Known for her beauty, Ellerin quickly connected with pals involved in the entertainment industry.


Ashley Ellerins home

Ashley Ellerin’s home (David McNew/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“She had no enemies, but she had a million friends and associates,” Small said. “Some were in the entertainment business. Others were personal friends she grew up with. There were a lot of suspects to choose from. I started looking at parolees because, in that area of Hollywood, especially in those years, we had several crimes. We had street robberies, a lot of rapes. But this didn’t have a sexual component. It was more of the infliction of the pain and control.

“She had several acquaintances,” Small continued. “She was a young, good-looking lady who was desirable to a lot of guys. I remember I gave her landlord a pretty bad time. … We were satisfied that we could rule him out. But it took a while.”

On the night Ellerin was killed, she had plans with Ashton Kutcher. The former “That ‘70s Show” star later testified in court that he arrived late for his date with Ellerin and looked into her house when there was no answer at the door. The actor saw what he thought was spilled wine on the carpet. After noticing her car in the driveway, Kutcher thought she was mad at him for arriving late. Assuming Ellerin was purposely not answering the door, he left.

Ashton Kutcher testifying in court

Ashton Kutcher testified in court. (Frederick M. Brown)

Police were stumped and had no concrete leads. However, some of Ellerin’s friends recalled a “creepy heating and air guy” named Mike. No one knew where he lived. His car was unknown. But, somehow, he would show up at Ellerin’s house parties.

“She could have 60 people there, and a lot of people would look at this Mike and go, ‘Who the hell is that guy? How does she know him?’” Small explained. “[According to friends], Ashley would kind of blow it off and say, ‘He looked at my furnace and thinks he’s a friend. He’s harmless.’”

About a week before the slaying, Ellerin hosted a birthday bash for one of her girlfriends. Pals said “Mike” was there and was “laser-focused” on her.


Ashton Kutcher pointing to an apartment blueprint in court

Ashton Kutcher spotted what he thought were wine stains inside Ashley Ellerin’s home. (Frederick M. Brown)

“One of the witnesses described how he was like a laser beam,” Small said. “If she moved from one room to the next, he would change his position, so he could keep his eyes on her. He also walked throughout the house. It looked like he was seeing the layout.”

According to Small, “Mike” suddenly disappeared after Ellerin’s murder. He was never seen in the neighborhood again despite being a fixture. He had no friends who were curious about his whereabouts. He was just the “weird” guy who suddenly vanished.

According to the prosecution, Ellerin first crossed paths with “Mike” several months before her death, E! News reported. According to the outlet, he lived nearby and had offered to fix a flat tire for Ellerin and her friend. He then gave them his business card for air conditioning repair services.

Michael Gargiulo mugshot

Michael Gargiulo’s mugshot. He was 32 at the time of the slayings. (Santa Monica Police Dept./

After some digging, the Los Angeles Police Department got a name and driver’s license photo. It was Gargiulo.

In Cook County, just outside Chicago, Tricia Pacaccio’s mother was relentlessly hounding investigators. The 18-year-old was discovered in the morning hours of August 1993. She was stabbed repeatedly in the breast, chest and arm. Her case was cold, and the heartbroken matriarch was desperate for answers. In 2002, new DNA technology made it possible for investigators to take a fresh look at evidence that was originally collected from the crime scene.

Detectives still had Gargiulo on their list of suspects. When they learned he had moved from Illinois to Los Angeles, they reached out to the LAPD. A DNA sample was obtained and sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab. It matched the DNA on Pacaccio’s fingernails.


Detectives walking pasting Michael Gargiulos home

Detectives Tom Small (left) and Mark Lillienfeld walk past apartment No. 34, where Michael Gargiulo stayed, during a jury site visit to the scene of the crime in El Monte, Calif., June 20, 2019, in the People v. Michael Gargiulo case.  (Frederic J. brown/AFP)

The Pacaccio family lived near Gargiulo’s boyhood home.

The Cook County State Attorney’s office refused to indict Gargiulo, the Chicago Tribune reported. According to the outlet, prosecutors claimed the DNA could have been exchanged through casual contact. As for the LAPD, it had no physical evidence to connect Gargiulo to Ellerin’s murder.

But Gargiulo wouldn’t be off the radar of police. In 2003, an ex-girlfriend alleged he punched her in the face and threatened to kill her, reported. According to the outlet, the pair met when she hired him to fix her air conditioning unit. She also claimed Gargiulo later stalked her, which prompted her to seek a restraining order.

Michael Gargiulos victims

Victim photos are shown as Michael Gargiulo appears in court for opening statements in his murder trial May 2, 2019, in Los Angeles.  (Al Seib-Pool)

In 2005, Maria Bruno was found dead in her Los Angeles home. The 32-year-old mother of four’s throat was slashed, and she had multiple stab wounds. A blue surgical slipper was found at the crime scene. Small described it as a “thrill kill.”

In 2008, Michelle Murphy was attacked at her Santa Monica apartment. She was repeatedly stabbed in the chest but survived. Authorities said Gargiulo cut himself and left a trail of blood. The DNA tied him to the other cases.

Gargiulo’s attorneys later contended in court that other men committed the murders of Bruno and Ellerin. They conceded their client had attacked Murphy but said he was in a “fugue state” because of his personality disorder and did not know where he was at the time.


The defense attorneys gathered together outdoors

Defense attorneys walking around before the jury arrives to visit an evidence site located at 1229 12th Street in Santa Monica during the murder trial of Michael Gargiulo June 19, 2019, in Los Angeles.  (David McNew/Pool)

The defense also asserted that Ellerin was killed by another man who was romantically linked to her and was jealous that she was about to go on a date with Kutcher.

But the facts were undeniable. Gargiulo lived near Bruno, whom he “watched carefully.” He was known for wearing blue surgical slippers. He was also left-handed. The murders were committed by a left-handed assailant.

Gargiulo’s past also stunned Small.

Michael Gargiulos apartment

Michael Gargiulo’s apartment (David McNew/Pool)

“He beat his father up,” he explained. “He took a banquet table and broke it over his sister’s back. There were only two people in his family that he had respect for. One was his mother. The other was his older brother, who’s a bit of a dirtbag himself. I think his father was afraid of him.”

In 2019, Gargiulo was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. He was sentenced to death in 2021.

Small said he was “relieved.”


Michael Gargiulo looking to the side in a white collared shirt

Michael Gargiulo was sentenced to death. (Lucy Nicholson/AFP)

“He liked to watch death,” said Small. “This guy deserves every bit of what he’s going to get. He only had one intention, which was to inflict pain. … Something like this stays with you. It certainly stayed with me.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Stephanie Nolasco covers entertainment at

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