Andrew Cunanan: an In-depth Profile of The Versace Killer
It wasn’t one simple thing that turned him into a Killer.
He evaded police across the country for months. After a widespread manhunt in Miami led by the FBI lasting 8 days, all of Andrew Cunanan’s secrets and motives died with him when he put a revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger. That same revolver was used to kill the Italian Fashion Designer, Gianni Versace days before. But Versace wasn't Cunanan's first taste of blood. In fact, he was his fifth, and final victim. Cunanan had been on what experts call a "Killing Spree" - killings at two or more locations with almost no time break between murders.
His killings start in April of 1997 and end with his suicide three months later on July 23rd. Cunanan never left a note or told anyone why he murdered five people, leaving the world to speculate about his motives forever – including me.
After many hours of research and diving into the intricacies of his life, I see Cunanan as someone who wanted anything he couldn't have. In the end, he was unloved and felt betrayed, willing him to act out in violence. It is said that social rejection is the number one source that sparks aggression. For Cunanan, I have concluded that dismissal came from family, lovers, and those who had it all.
I wonder, what made this otherwise brilliant and successful young man snap into violence? Did he want revenge on the gay community, after believing he was HIV positive? Or was he merely acting out for attention to hear his name escape the lips of every news reporter in the nation?
Let’s look at his sheet.
Cunanan grew up in California with everything he could have imagined. He was the youngest of four children, and his siblings described him as the "white sheep" of the family. I see this as them describing him as the exact opposite of a disgrace. He was unique, and everyone knew it. It is said that in as early as third grade, Cunanan's IQ was tested at 147. I am a developing genius: something he must have thought repeatedly. He was memorizing the encyclopedia and eventually excelling in art history.i
When it was time for Andrew to enter high school, he was accepted into a competitive Episcopal school, Bishop's in La Jolla, California. His Filipino father, Modesto "Pete" Cunanan, and Italian mother, Mary Ann Cunanan, uprooted their entire family for Andrew to be closer to the institution. This makes me believe Andrew might as well have been viewed as an only child. When it was time for the parents to make this decision, it was as if the rest of the family didn't exist.
After the move, the new master bedroom was given to Andrew.ii This provides a whole new perspective on the idea that parents always love their children equally.
High School gifted him the attention he wanted. He was openly gay and over the top sharing extravagant stories depicting a lavish life outside of school. Cunanan boasted about seeing older successful men who would shower him with clothes and money. He was voted "Most Likely to Be Remembered" in his 1987 senior yearbook, along with a French quote flanking his photo: "Après moi, le deluge." After me, the flood.
Because of this, I believe the constant praise fed into his young and growing ego. Cunanan learned early on that he was able to get attention by being charming and persuasive with his outrageous behavior. Cunanan realized it was also possible to elicit the reactions out of others that he wanted and take advantage of their perception of him through boasting about a fake fantasy life. I need to gain status.
The First Betrayal and Mental Illness
A few years after graduating from Bishop's, Pete - a stockbroker suspected of embezzling more than $100,000 - fled from California to the Philippines. He took nearly all the money the family had and sold their house out from under them. Cunanan went after his father to track down the money, but when he realized Pete indeed had left them with nothing, he returned to California alone. I will become more successful than my father ever was – an internal vow that kickstarted an unstoppable force. He frequented gay bars and clubs more often, continuing to leach off wealthy, older men.
I want more.
I believe his father's abandonment was too much for Cunanan to handle, and thus the pathological lies began as a coping mechanism.
"Pathological liars may lie to gain sympathy, boredom, or insecurity," Támara Hill, a licensed therapist and certified trauma professional, describes.iii Cunanan was now lying regularly, drawing him deeper into the rabbit hole. "He sometimes used aliases — Andrew DeSilva, Drew Cunningham — and adopted personas as a pharmacist, a former Israeli soldier, a student getting his doctorate in history. He said he had an ex-wife and a 7-year-old daughter."i I am traveling the globe with Gianni Versace, working on costumes for opera shows was Cunanan’s most frequent and specific lie. I can conclude this deception was to gain respect and authority - a pathological liar's recipe for victory.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace depicts the Cunanan family having been tumultuous with abuse orchestrated by Andrew's father against his mother. It is said that Pete repeatedly berated Mary Ann for being emotional and for having been hospitalized with postpartum depression after Andrew's birth. One can imagine that witnessing this kind of constant verbal abuse would have been a lot for young Andrew to observe, so it only makes sense that when Andrew's mother reportedly disagreed with him as he got older over his gay lifestyle, he slammed her against a wall, like an unleashed animal, leaving her with a dislocated shoulder.iv How dare she talk to me that way!
I know this outburst of violent behavior is proof of the Social Learned Theory - that through years of watching how his father treated his mother, he concluded that aggressive behavior was acceptable when having his own interactions with his mother, and even beyond.
Follow the Money
"Former FBI criminal profiler Candice DeLong told ABC News, 'Andrew's self-worth was tied to the finer things in life... Being accepted in high society and by wealthy people was what he expected. If he didn't get them, he was lost.'"iv Because he was terrified of being alone, he did his research and strategically met people with high status. In 1995, Cunanan introduced himself as Andrew DeSilva to Norman Blachford, a wealthy older gay man and eventually moved in with him. Blachford reportedly gave him two thousand dollars a month to do with whatever he pleased. I’m sure that money went to designer clothes, shoes, and fancy dinners to fit his false persona.
Lee Miglin was another man roped into Cunanan’s world. He was a 75-year-old prominent wealthy real-estate figure – just my type. Miglin will become Cunanan's third victim in this story, even though the Miglin family continues to deny that Lee ever knew Cunanan before the murder. Even so, I believe it was possible the two were traversing the same social circles, or even that they were intimate at one point. Cunanan would have been attracted to Miglin’s lifestyle and made advances because of it.
Finally, many say that Cunanan was always obsessed with Versace. His far away dreamy admiration turned into reality when in San Francisco in 1990, the two met at a nightclub. "I know you, Lago di Como, no?" Versace reportedly questioned the then 21-year-old. Cunanan replied, assuredly with a smile, "Thank you for remembering, Signor Versace."ii I’ve got you now.
It is unclear whether the two indeed met before, or to what extent they stayed together for during the night. I know one thing is for sure: Cunanan was enamored with Versace.
But the hunt for fame and success quickly came to a standstill. In September of 1996, seven months before the murders started, Norman Blachford suddenly broke off his relationship with Cunanan. Norman said he had been tracking Cunanan's spending, and discovered that he wasn't Andrew DeSilva, son of a wealthy Pineapple plantation owner as he believed - this young man was Andrew Cunanan, a nobody from California.ii This was the first time Cunanan was ever confronted about his lying, and I’m sure it threw him off guard. How could someone double cross me like this? Doesn’t he know what I’m capable of? These are thoughts that must have raced through his brain.
Cunanan demanded a large sum of money from Blachford to keep him afloat for a while, which Blachford agreed to give. The two left on spiteful terms, and I’m sure Cunanan never got over this presumed disloyalty. Now, Cunanan was on his own, drawing at straws to keep up with the lavish lifestyle he had persuaded everyone, and himself, that he lived.
The party lifestyle caught up with Cunanan when in February of 1997, he reportedly approached an AIDS and H.I.V. counselor, Mike Dudley, and communicated fears that he was infected. Even though an autopsy at the time of his death proved that he wasn't sick, that wouldn't have changed Cunanan's thoughts while he was alive. Who could have done this to me? I will ruin them.
Was Cunanan trying to seek revenge against the gay community that he felt might have done him wrong? I believe it is possible that feeling sick planted a seed in Cunanan's brain to reconnect with old friends because he may have thought his time alive was dwindling. But, instead of warm connections with friends, his interactions ended much differently.
The Murders Begin
In late April of 1997, Cunanan shared with associates and his roommate at the time that he was heading to Minneapolis to visit two old friends for a long weekend. It was there that he reconnected with Jeffery Trail, a former naval officer he met nightclubbing, and David Madson, an architect and Cunanan's ex-boyfriend.i
Cunanan had fallen out of touch with the two primarily because of his lies and erratic behavior. Sources close to both Minneapolis men reported that they were embarrassed to be seen around Cunanan, and were afraid that his pathological lying behavior would reflect poorly on themselves. Trail's sister reported to The New York Times that Cunanan idolized him. "When Jeff got a haircut, Andrew had to have the exact same haircut. When Jeff went to San Francisco and got a certain style of baseball cap, Andrew had to go to San Francisco and get the very same cap. When Jeff grew a goatee, Andrew grew a goatee." It was this kind of consistent behavior that made Trail push away Cunanan.
Madson was also trying desperately to get out from under Cunanan's love grip so that he could start a new relationship.
Both Trail and Madson were determined that by the end of the weekend, it would be made clear to Cunanan that they no longer wanted to be associated with him.
Unfortunately, that's not how the weekend ended.
The two reportedly talked with Cunanan on separate occasions. Trail expressed never wanting to see him again, while Madson outwardly denied wanting to get back together.
Cunanan stayed at Trail's empty apartment on Saturday night. He rummaged through his possessions and stole Trail's .40-caliber revolver along with 10 extra bullets.ii
As the weekend was coming to a close on Sunday night, Cunanan made one last desperate attempt to reconnect with both men at Madson's apartment. He phoned over to Trail's residence and asked him to head over to Madson's so they could all talk.ii I promise, we can make our friendships all work out. Cunanan was already making himself at home over at Madson's place.
Trail was unaware of his missing firearm.
An hour or so later, Madson went down to the lobby to bring Trail up to the apartment where Cunanan was waiting. During those brief moments, Cunanan had acquired a claw hammer from Madson's architecture tools. I believe this is the first piece of evidence to prove there was premeditation.
I’m going to bash his brains in for wanting to abandon me.
The two barely had time to enter the apartment and close the door behind them when Cunanan attacked Jeffery Trail, bludgeoning his face 27 times, disfiguring his head and torso.i Madson must have witnessed the entire act. Other neighbors in the apartment building recall hearing yelling just before Madson's door was closed, but no one investigated further.ii
I want this to hurt him.
I believe the fact that Cunanan chose to use a hammer to kill Trail proves that this was a personal act – he wanted to see Trail suffer. Considering Cunanan stole Trail’s revolver but never used it against him further proves this because Cunanan had the opportunity to make the murder quick. Instead, he actively chose to kill Trail in a violent, painful way. A few days later, police gained entry of the apartment and found Trail's body rolled up in a carpet positioned behind Madson's couch, along with the murder weapon. By that time, both Cunanan and a hostage Madson were long gone.
If you don’t come with me, I’ll pin this whole thing on you.
That following Saturday, May 3rd, authorities found Madson's body. He was killed on the shoreline of East Rush Lake, miles away from his apartment. There were two shots to his back torso and one to the head. Defensive wounds were found on his fingers as if he raised his hands to protect himself against another bullet.ii
You can’t defend yourself from me.
I believe these two murders are not only famous because they were Cunanan's first victims, but they are essential because they give us the first glimpse into his motives. There was jealousy and mistrust involved because he did not want Madson to begin dating again, and he did not like that Trail was trying to sever their friendship. But mostly, Cunanan was personally hurt that the two no longer wanted to see him, making it the ultimate betrayal. Cunanan so desperately depended on other’s consideration.
These feelings of rejection would have been heightened because it is possible that he confided in Madson and Trail that he felt he was HIV positive. If they still expressed feelings of wanting to cut off ties, this would have pushed Cunanan over the edge.
Cunanan was running out of money and social status, so when his friends turned their backs to him, he finally snapped.
Lee Miglin and William Reese
On Sunday, May 4th, police found Lee Miglin's body in his home's garage in Chicago. This time, Cunanan wasn't killing in a brazen, sporadic way. He was ritualistic and calculated.
Authorities found no evidence of forced entry into the Miglin home. Lee was the only one at the residence since his wife was out of town. Miglin's body was found with his hands and feet tied, and most of his body was "wrapped in plastic, brown paper, and tape. His face was taped except for two air holes at the nostrils. His ribs had been broken, and he had been tortured with four stabs in the chest, probably with garden shears. His throat had been cut open with a garden bow saw." There was also reportedly gay pornographic magazines found scattered around his body.ii
If you won’t come out as gay, I’ll do it for you.
As mentioned before, the family denies that there was any possible connection between Miglin and Cunanan, but I believe that just cannot be the case. Cunanan was in the thick of his killing spree, and he must have known the police were going to be close behind after finding the two bodies. Also, Miglin is precisely the kind of man Cunanan got involved with: older, wealthy, and into younger men. Their paths must have crossed in the past, and this murder was Cunanan's way at getting the upper hand he probably felt he never had.
Moreover, Cunanan was close to Chicago after leaving Minneapolis, so Miglin was a logical target.
The morning after the murder, Cunanan stole Miglin's Lexus and headed East. He also took between $8-10,000 in cash along with other valuables from the home.ii
That following week, Cunanan was informed that the police were tracking him through the Lexus car phone. It would send a satellite location out every time the car was started. Once Cunanan heard about this over the radio, he needed to act fast. That afternoon, he followed William Reese, 45, to a cemetery in Pennsville, NJ, where he worked as a groundskeeper. Cunanan presumably forced him into the caretaker's office with the revolver. Authorities found Reese's body on the floor in the basement. He was only shot once in the back of the head.i Reese was a victim of opportunity.
I need a new ride. This man is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For the next two months, Cunanan was living in and around Miami, meeting men, doing drugs, and spiraling into an even dark place.ii
The Slaying of Versace
On the morning of July 15th, Gianni Versace left his Miami Beach mansion to go on his morning walk. Saying hello to the people he passed on his way to a café to pick up new magazines was a routine for Versace. When he returned to his residence, he was walking up the steps to the gate when Cunanan ambushed him, shooting him twice in the head. A fragment of one of the bullets killed a nearby dove, which landed next to Versace. He died a few hours later after being rushed to a nearby hospital.ii
Was Cunanan spending the last two months in Miami for the gay nightlife, or because he knew Versace lived there and was waiting for the right moment to strike?
I am going to make the world remember me.
Versace epitomized everything Cunanan wanted to be: successful, revolutionary, praised in the media and gay community, and loved in the fashion world. Cunanan could only pretend to be like Versace through his elaborate lies. When they met back in 1992, I believe Cunanan was impressionable and most likely made their connection more personal in his mind. So, it makes sense that Cunanan would want his name tied to Versace's forever, and the only way Cunanan saw that happening was to kill him in cold blood.
I am going to make the world remember me.
To this day, you cannot think about Versace’s life without thinking about how it ended, or who pulled the trigger.
The Motives in Summary
Overall, I believe Cunanan began the Spree Killings because even at a young age, he was used to getting what he wanted. Whether it was the master bedroom in his family's home or lavish gifts from older suitors, Cunanan had the world at his fingertips. He witnessed aggression at a young age with his father's abuse toward his mother and acted out in the same way towards her. As he got older, Cunanan grew closer to wealthy men in the gay community for the attention it gave him. But, when he was exposed for lying to Norman Blachford and lost his money along with his social standing, the ball started rolling downhill. Months later, Cunanan believed he was infected with HIV during the same time his friends tried to escape his grasp. The social rejection he felt would have been unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It is that same feeling I believe turned this pathological liar into a killer, over revenge and fame. If I cannot make front page news for being successful, I am going to do it by any other means necessary.
Andrew Cunanan got one thing right - he was a force, a dark force, to be reckoned with. In his wake, he left families destitute without loved ones. Except, the flood he was referring to back in his senior yearbook wasn't water; it was blood.