Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Gargiulo: Alleged Hollywood Ripper

The Heater Guy

Through the accounts of the dozens of people that Small interviewed, one constant kept popping up: the heater guy. It seemed like most of Ellerin's friends had something to say about a mysterious heater repair man who had kept inserting himself into the model's life.

It had started a year before her death. She had been standing in front of her house with friend Christopher Duran, who was fixing a flat tire on his car. A man walked up to help.

"He was a heating and air conditioning man and he gave us a card," Duran would later testify.

Ashley Ellerin
Ashley Ellerin

Soon, the stranger was showing up at Ellerin's house for unannounced visits or phoning her. He said he lived about a block away and walked his dog at a park across the street from her home. One incident in particular stood out.

"He showed up at the door out of breath, sweating, and told us about--there were cops at his house asking him about his ex-girlfriend in Chicago that was killed, and he was avoiding--"he was avoiding the police," Duran said. After Ellerin's death, Duran said he saw the man in front of her house just staring at it.

Justin Peterson, who had lived with Ellerin briefly, testified later that he once had given the man a ride home from an art gallery opening they'd both attended. While in the car, the man had grabbed Peterson's arm and squeezed very hard.

He dropped the stranger off at a green Ford pickup around 10 p.m. Peterson returned to the home he shared with Ellerin around 3 a.m. and saw the truck parked in front, the motor running and lights off, a person sitting inside.

The next day, the man arrived to fix Ellerin's heater and Peterson demanded to know what he was doing outside their house.

"He started stuttering and he eventually tells me he couldn't go home," Peterson said. "He said that the FBI was there waiting to collect DNA samples from him. He continues to tell me his best friend's girlfriend was murdered."

The man put his foot up on a table and his raised pant leg, revealing a hunting knife with a jagged edge strapped to his shin.

A month before Ellerin died, she had thrown a party, and the mysterious stranger had been invited. He sat on a couch, didn't socialize, and stared at Ellerin the whole time.

"She thought he was a nice person and that's why she didn't fear him," Peterson said.

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