Former neighbor charged in 1993 stabbing death of Glenview girl
BY FRANK MAIN AND MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporters July 7, 2011 12:22PM
Michael Gargiulo (left) is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Tricia Pacaccio. | AP
Updated: July 8, 2011 2:14AM
Three years ago, Michael Gargiulo was charged with fatally stabbing two California women, including a friend of actor Ashton Kutcher, but he avoided prosecution in the 1993 knifing death of Glenbrook South High School graduate Tricia Pacaccio — despite DNA evidence linking him to her.
Then in May, two witnesses came forward after CBS’ “48 Hours” aired a show on the Pacaccio murder. The witnesses said Gargiulo told them he had killed a Chicago area girl and left her dead on the steps of her home, authorities said. Gargiulo and the witnesses had worked together as bouncers at a Los Angeles club in the mid-1990s.
One of the witnesses said he decided to cooperate with authorities after seeing the anguish of Pacaccio’s father when he was interviewed on “48 Hours.”
“I watched the video of Tricia’s dad over and over,” Temer Leary told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. “What happened to that girl — to all of those girls — was terrible. No parent should have to go through that.”
Based on the two witness accounts, Gargiulo was charged Thursday in Cook County with first-degree murder in Pacaccio’s slaying. He remains in California to face trial in the two killings there, but “will eventually be brought back to Illinois,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said.
“For all of us, this is one of those cases that tears at the heartstrings of prosecutors and investigators and one that you often think about after you go home at night,” she said.
Gargiulo’s lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.
Gargiulo, 35, was a longtime suspect in the Pacaccio murder, but a positive DNA test wasn’t enough to charge him, prosecutors said.
Tests found his DNA on her fingernails, but investigators could not prove that it didn’t come from casual contact with her, officials said.
Gargiulo was a friend of Pacaccio’s younger brother. He frequented the Pacaccio home and was in a car with Tricia Pacaccio the day before the killing, prosecutors said.
“Many times, people think DNA is the silver bullet and it’s not,” Alvarez said.
The key evidence in the case came when Leary and another co-worker of Gargiulo appeared before a Cook County grand jury to describe his alleged confession to them, Alvarez said.
“Those witnesses were interviewed and found to be credible,” she said.
But Pacaccio’s parents, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, have been critical of the decision not to charge him sooner.
“It’s just baffling,’’ said her mother, Diane Pacaccio, when the Sun-Times first reported in 2008 that Gargiulo was a suspect in their daughter’s murder. DNA found on her daughter’s body was matched to him in 2003.
In 2008, Gargiulo was charged in the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old Los Angeles fashion student who was stabbed to death in her home the day she planned to attend the Grammy Awards show with Kutcher, who was then a star on “That ’70s Show” and now is replacing actor Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.”
Gargiulo also was charged in the 2005 fatal stabbing of a woman in El Monte, Calif., and with attempted murder in the 2008 stabbing of another Los Angeles woman.
Tricia Pacaccio’s father found her body on Aug. 14, 1993, as he left their house to walk the dog. Pacaccio was stabbed 12 times and died on the steps to her home. She was still holding the door key.
Pacaccio was last seen the night before by friends she dropped off after a scavenger hunt that ended at a restaurant, according to police.
She had just graduated from high school and was going to study engineering at Purdue University. Pacaccio was the oldest child of Rick and Diane Pacaccio. Her brothers Douglas and Tommy were 17 and 12 when she was killed.
Gargiulo was questioned by police at the time, and he told them he saw her the day before — but denied he had killed her.
Leary said he was shocked when Gargiulo allegedly confessed the crime to him and a co-worker in the mid-1990s, but he didn’t think to tell authorities then.
“He was a pathological liar,” Leary explained, adding that Gargiulo called the next day to say he was joking.
Leary, Gargiulo and the other witness were bouncers at the Whiskey A Go-Go club on the Sunset Strip, Leary said. Gargiulo told everyone there that he had moved from Illinois to Los Angeles to train as a boxer, Leary said.
Leary said he was Gargiulo’s boss at the club and once got into an argument over Gargiulo letting underage girls into the bar. When Leary made the girls leave, Gargiulo pulled a knife on him, Leary said.
“I saw the look in his eye,” Leary said. “Every time he got upset, his hand went to his knife.”
One night, Gargiulo told Leary and another man who worked at the bar that he was under investigation for a “body back in Chicago,” Leary said. Eventually, he confessed to killing a girl in Chicago, Leary alleged.
“He wasn’t drinking or doing drugs,” Leary said. “He didn’t do that.”
Leary said he was advised by law-enforcement authorities not to discuss details of what was said that night.
Leary said he eventually moved to Lake Luzerne, N.Y., and forgot about Gargiulo until he was watching TV and saw a promotion for a “48 Hours” show on the case.
Leary said he recognized Gargiulo’s face in the promotion.
“I hopped right up and said, ‘That’s an old friend of mine.’ Then I saw the headline: ‘The Hollywood Ripper.’ ”
Leary said he watched the May 14 show and commented about his knowledge of the case on the “48 Hours” website. Soon, he was contacted by law enforcement and he agreed to travel to Chicago. The other witness, who still lives in California, also was brought here to testify, Leary said.
“This was all by accident,” Leary said. “This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t seen that show.”