Michael Gargiulo: Alleged Hollywood Ripper
El Monte is a small, working-class suburb of Los Angeles where someone like Maria Bruno could blend into the landscape while going about her daily life. It's a lower-income area where residents eke out a living in the shadow of their wealthy Los Angeles neighbors 15 miles west; a place that has been seen an influx of prostitution, drugs and gang crime over the past several decades. But there are pockets where people like Bruno, 32 and single, lived in safety and relative comfort. That is, until the night of Dec. 1, 2005.
On that night, a Jack the Ripper-style killer struck inside Bruno's apartment in a frenzied attack that left the vivacious aspiring model looking like she'd been drained of half her blood. Like the final Ripper victim, Mary Kelly, 107 years before, the killer had the benefit of an enclosed place where he could spend time systematically mutilating her body.
"I've been a homicide detective 17 years, and this was one of the most gruesome crime scenes I've ever seen," said Los Angeles Sheriff's Detective Mark Lillienfeld. "There was a massive amount of blood. It's amazing what type of damage one person could inflict on another."
The killer had entered Bruno's apartment through a kitchen window after she had gone to bed. He took a butcher knife from a sealed package in the kitchen and used it to slash her throat all the way down to her spine and stab the petite woman 17 times in the chest, arm, and abdomen. The killer also cut off both of Bruno's breasts, placing one of them in her gaping mouth.
Bruno had once commented to friends that there had been a "weird guy" at her building who had been seen watching her. About five days before her death, the man had followed her from the parking lot into her home and then exited about 10 seconds later. When asked about it, she told neighbors: "Oh, he's OK."
The killer had stalked Maria, knew her routine and knew she lived alone. "It's someone who planned it, was methodical, systematic, organized and knew what they were doing," Lillienfeld said in 2005. "He obviously spent some time at the scene a minimum of 15 minutes and perhaps several hours."
The detective found a blue hospital-style paper bootie in front of Bruno's apartment. It contained Bruno's blood and skin cells around the plastic that weren't large enough to get a DNA match.
The witnesses who saw the man stalking Bruno worked with police to produce a composite drawing, which Lillienfeld distributed around Los Angeles. Six months after the attack, Gargiulo was in a Pasadena restaurant with his girlfriend when she saw the bulletin in the women's restroom.
Back at her table, girlfriend Kwak Na Hyun remarked about the composite in passing. Gargiulo responded that he knew the woman and she was very beautiful with big breasts, according to court files.