PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY More than six months after a pair of murders shook the otherwise violent crime quiet city, investigators are still digging for clues that they hope will lead to suspects.
Alexander “Sasha” Merman, a 35-year-old Russian immigrant who lived on Montana Avenue, and 21-year-old Juliana Redding, an aspiring actress and model from the east side of town, were both found dead in their homes in March within three days of each other, a shock to a community not accustomed to seeing these types of crimes.
“We’re following up on leads as we have been since we first got the cases and we are working on that diligently,” Sgt. Gary Herman, who is heading the investigations, said.
Authorities discovered Redding’s body in her Centinela Avenue apartment on March 16 after receiving a call from the victim’s mother who had been trying to contact her daughter by phone. An Arizona native, Redding had been taking several classes at Santa Monica College at the time of her death.
Just three days later officers, who were again conducting a check up after receiving a call from a concerned mother, found Merman dead in his condo at 520 Montana Ave., the victim of multiple stab wounds.
No connection has been made between the two murders.
There were no signs of forced entry in Merman’s unit, which is located on the second floor of a three-story complex. The victim was born in Moscow and moved to Los Angeles with his mother in 1985, according to the victim’s Web site that has since gone dark. The site included biographical information, mentioning that Merman enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1992 and received a bachelor’s degree in 1998 from Otis College of Art & Design. He was a teacher at a Los Angeles-area elementary school.
Redding appeared in one movie — “Kathy T Gives Good Hoover” which was released in 2005. She attended Salpointe Catholic High School in Tuscon where she played on the golf team.
Authorities have also not linked the homicides to a Santa Monica air conditioner repairman who last month was charged with the murders of a 32-year-old El Monte woman in 2005 and a Los Angeles fashion student in 2001.
Authorities believe Michael Thomas Gargiulo, 32, killed Ashley Ellerin, who briefly dated actor Ashton Kutcher, and Maria Bruno, who was found stabbed to death in her apartment in El Monte.
Gargiulo had already been in custody for attempted murder and burglary charges for an unrelated case at the time the charges were filed by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. He is accused of breaking into a woman’s apartment in a neighboring apartment complex on the 1200 block of 12th Street, awakening the victim who was home alone and stabbing her several times during the struggle. The suspect fled on foot.
Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty, which will be made after the preliminary hearing and before the trial starts, according to Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office.
Ellerin, 22, was found stabbed to death in her home in February 2001, just one day after Kutcher stopped by her house to take her to a post-Grammy party. When nobody answered the door, Kutcher reportedly peeked through a back window and saw what he thought were red wine stains on the carpet.
Gargiulo was also once investigated in the 1993 unsolved murder of a former classmate in a Chicago suburb. Several Chicago-area newspapers reported in August that Gargiulo was questioned after the death of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio who was killed outside her family’s home in Glenview, an unincorporated section of Cook County.
The victim was stabbed in the chest as she was about to unlock the front door during the early morning hours of Aug. 14. Gargiulo, who was a classmate at Glenbrook South High School, lived just one street away. Reports indicated that Gargiulo was never charged because of a lack of evidence linking him to the crime.
Andy Conklin, a spokesman with the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, could not comment on the case since it’s an open investigation, only adding that no charges have been filed.
It was through the investigation in the Pacaccio case that first set the Santa Monica Police Department on the path toward Gargiulo. Investigators collected DNA at the crime scene on 12th Street and processed it through the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). The national database revealed a matching profile of the suspect that was previously inputted by Cook County officials.
Gargiulo is due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing setting date on Oct. 20 at the Airport Courthouse.