The assassination of Gianni Versace captivated the nation, but there was much more to serial killer Andrew Cunanan than the public knew.
“I don’t know that we are ever going to know the answers.”
Even 20 years later, the words of Miami Police Chief Richard Borerro still ring true in the horrifying case of Gianni Versace’s death.
It had been a clear morning, as many in Miami Beach are, as Gianni Versace meandered through the streets, toward a local cafe. Though Versace’s presence in the town was not unusual, as he’d called South Beach home for five years, his behavior on that morning was. He usually sent an assistant from his home to retrieve his coffee, though, for reasons that are still a mystery, on July 15, 1997, he decided to go himself.
The hostess of the cafe would later report that Versace seemed suspicious. He had walked past the entrance to the shop and circled back around before entering as if he knew someone was following him.
After getting the local paper, he left quickly, making his way back to his mansion on Ocean Drive, a 15-block stretch of road known for hosting Art Deco style hotels and architecturally unique homes. As he arrived back at his mansion, Casa Casuarina, disaster struck.
The exact details of the Versace’s Murder have been debated.
Some witnesses claim that as Versace was opening the front gate of his home, he was approached by a young man, in his mid-to-late-twenties, who ambushed him from behind and put two bullets in his head. Another witness claimed there was more of a struggle, and that the man and Versace seemed to know each other and were fighting over a bag when a gun went off.
Both stories, however, end the same way; with Giovanni Maria Versace, the creative architect behind one of history’s most famous international fashion houses, lying dead on the steps of his ornate, multi-million-dollar Mediterranean villa.
The only part of Gianni Versace’s murder that can really be called a mystery is the ‘why,’ as the suspect was almost instantly identified.
Andrew Cunanan was a 27-year-old fugitive from California. In the three months prior to Versace’s murder, Cunanan had killed four other men in a cross-country killing spree. One month before the crime, he had been placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Four days before shooting Versace, he had almost been apprehended in a Miami subway shop.
After dropping out of school, Cunanan began making money by befriending wealthy older men who would shower him with expensive clothing, trips to Europe, limitless credit cards, and even sports cars. In San Francisco, he became well known in the gay community as a flashy gold digger, who would use his wealthy older friends’ money to show off to younger, more attractive men in clubs.
His own mother described him as a “high-class male prostitute,” though none of his friends believe he charged for his services. He was simply a charming man, highly skilled at manipulation.
He was also highly unhinged. Many of the men he seduced into a cash flow described him as busy and having a certain “air” about him that suggested he always had better places to be. Men his own age hated him, turned off by his lifestyle, suspicious that he must be doing something illegal to sustain it. When he was dumped by his final lover, friends say it devastated him beyond repair.
He began his killing spree in April of 1997, starting with a Minneapolis former naval officer turned propane salesman whom he had known from California. Following an argument, Cunanan beat the man with a claw hammer and rolled his corpse into a rug.
He then killed another man, a former lover of his, in Rush City, Minn. by shooting him in the head and in the back.
From Minnesota, Cunanan moved to Chicago. There, he brutally killed an old man named Lee Miglin, a prominent real estate tycoon. Miglin was found with his hands and feet bound, his body stabbed by a screwdriver and his throat slit with a hacksaw.
It was after this murder that he became the 449th person added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Five days after his Chicago murder, Cunanan killed a New Jersey man, the caretaker of the Finn’s Point National Cemetery, before fleeing to Miami Beach.
The murders were by all counts messy, and each of them done with increasing carelessness. In the first man’s apartment, police found a bag with Cunanan’s name on it, as well as a message Cunanan himself had left on the answering machine. In Chicago, Cunanan let himself be seen with the murder victims on several occasions leading up to the crime. After escaping to Miami, he seemed to care even less, using his own name to pawn stolen items.
It wasn’t until Andrew Cunanan’s public, broad-daylight murder of Versace that police were able to instigate an active manhunt. One onlooker persued Cunanan, as he fled from the steps of Casa Casuarina, though Cunanan quickly disappeared. A car was found, stolen from his New Jersey victim, with Cunanan’s belongings inside. They searched the city, responding to tips from shop owners and hotel staff, though their searches turned up nothing.
Then, eight days after Versace’s murder, Andrew Cunanan killed himself in the bedroom of a Miami houseboat. Though the houseboat where he died was searched, no note and very few belongings were found. The motive, the ‘why’ of the murder has since remained a mystery.
Rumors swirled that Cunanan had met Versace in the early 90s, at a club in San Francisco. An acquaintance of Cunanan’s suggested that the pair had met briefly while Versace was designing costumes for the San Francisco Opera. Another friend said that Cunanan only knew Versace through one of Versace’s entourage. The FBI admits that a meeting between the pair was likely, but the extent of their relationship remains unknown.
Though Gianni Versace himself is gone, his legacy lives on. His funeral was one of the largest held in Milan and was attended by the likes of Elton John and Diana, Princess of Wales. His sister Donatella has since pushed his fashion empire to the highest heights, turning Versace into a household name. His mansion, Casa Casuarina has been maintained as it was when it was in the Versace family and has since been turned into a boutique hotel.
Today, both fans of his unique fashion and morbidly curious crime aficionados can stand on the very steps where Gianni Versace took his final breath, and walk down Ocean Drive, strolling the Art Deco homes that Andrew Cunanan fled past as he turned into one of America’s most talked about serial killers.