The Murder Of Gianni Versace: 5 Things To Know About Serial Killer Andrew Cunanan

The case made international headlines and sparked a massive manhunt.

July 15, 2019
FBI Wanted poster images of Andrew Cunanan [Wikimedia Commons]

Photo by: FBI Wanted poster images of Andrew Cunanan [Wikimedia Commons]

FBI Wanted poster images of Andrew Cunanan [Wikimedia Commons]

By: Catherine Townsend

On July 15, 1997, superstar fashion designer Gianni Versace was fatally shot on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan — a killing that shocked the world.

Investigators learned that Cunanan, 27, had already murdered four men prior to Versace during his cross-country killing spree.

Here are five things to know about serial killer Andrew Cunanan:

1. He was extremely intelligent and had a genius IQ.

Andrew Cunanan was born in National City, California, on August 31, 1969. The youngest of four children, Andrew had an IQ of 147.

Andrew attended The Bishop's School, an elite private school in La Jolla, California. According to his brother Christopher, Andrew had memorized an entire set of encyclopedias by age 10.

Andrew’s father, Modesto Cunanan, and his mother, Mary Anne Schillaci, doted on him, and nicknamed him “the Prince.”

But Maureen Orth wrote in her book Vulgar Favors that Andrew felt intimidated by the fact that most of the other students came from wealthier families. And the family was hiding darker secrets: Mary Anne had mental-health issues, and alleged that Modesto was abusive.

After working for several brokerage firms, Modesto, a Navy veteran turned stockbroker, was fired after allegedly stealing money from his employer. He fled to the Philippines and left the family in serious financial hardship, which Andrew tried to hide from his peers.

2. Friends say that Cunanan showed signs of being a pathological liar from a very early age.

Even as a child, Cunanan made up stories order to fit in with his peers. Some experts believe that this was an early sign of antisocial-personality disorder. Throughout his life, Cunanan had the habit of changing his appearance to fit what he thought people expected of him.

As an adult, Cunanan continued making up tall tales. He would claim that his father was an Israeli millionaire, or that he owned huge plantations in the Philippines. At other times, he claimed to be Jewish — and told friends that his family had left him a vast inheritance.

Authorities noted that he looked completely different in each of his FBI photographs. Friends interviewed by authorities are quoted in Cunanan's FBI files, which have been made public. They claim, among other things, that Cunanan “would trade his company with other people in exchange for a wealthy lifestyle,” “liked to have a mystique about himself,” and “would often lie to others about being part of the ‘upper crust.'”

In reality, Cunanan had no high-paying job or huge trust fund: His sole source of support was reportedly being bankrolled by a string of older, wealthy men. In 1996, he was in a relationship with Norman Blatchford, a Phoenix resident and multi-millionaire who subsidized Cunanan's lavish lifestyle. Blatchford was allegedly giving him an allowance of $2,000 per month, a car to drive, and taking him on expensive vacations.

3. He killed four people before targeting Gianni Versace.

Cunanan’s first victim was Jeffrey Trail, a 28-year-old former naval officer turned propane salesman.

On April 27, 1997, Cunanan attacked Trail with a claw hammer, beat him to death, and then rolled up his body in a rug that was found stuffed in the closet of David Madson's apartment. Madson soon became Andrew's second victim.

Friends told authorities that Madson and Cunanan had been romantically involved — but that Madson had wanted nothing more to do with Cunanan after catching him in several lies.

When they met, Cunanan did not want Madson to know that he was living with Blatchford. So he wrote Madson letters from various exotic destinations that he was traveling to — some real; some imagined. He always left out the fact that Blatchford was footing the bill.

By 1997, Cunanan's relationship with Madson had gone downhill — and he had broken up with Blatchford, sparking his downward spiral.

Madson's body was found on the shore of a lake near Rush City, Minnesota, on May 3, 1997. He had been shot in the head. After killing Madson, Cunanan drove to Chicago and killed 72-year-old real estate magnate Lee Miglin on May 4, 1997. There has been speculation over the years that Cunanan may have known Miglin prior to the murder, but no definitive connection has ever been found.

After eating a ham sandwich, taking a shower, and resting in Miglin's home, Cunanan stole his car. He drove to New Jersey, where he murdered cemetery worker William Reese. Police later determined that Cunanan killed Reese because, after he learned that the authorities were searching for Miglin’s car, he needed to switch vehicles. So after executing Reese, Cunanan stole his 1995 red Chevrolet pickup truck and started heading south.

4. What happened during the time he spent on the road with David Madson is still a mystery.

Over the years, authorities have tried to piece together the events that occurred after Cunanan killed Jeff Trail. Why, they wondered, would Madson have gotten into the car with him — and what happened between them during that time?

Madson picked up Cunanan from the airport in Minneapolis on April 25. That night, they had dinner with friends, who later told investigators that Madson seemed uneasy. According to Orth, Cunanan instilled fear in Madson. Orth wrote that Cunanan claimed to have connections to the Mob, and that Madson had begun to distance himself from Cunanan in 1996 due to the fact that he suspected Cunanan of what Newsweek called “shady dealings.”

In a 1997 Vanity Fair article, Orth quoted Gregg McCrary, senior consultant of the Threat Assessment Group and former supervisory special agent of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit. McCrary said that Cunanan’s influence over Madson was “to a degree the Stockholm syndrome,” explaining, “these sexually sadistic offenders have that ability to control people — not necessarily physical control. Many times it’s just out of fear.”

5. Even though he was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, Cunanan managed to avoid capture for two months.

Following his fourth murder, Cunanan had become one of America's most-wanted fugitives.

Even though a massive manhunt was underway, he managed to make it to South Beach and live at the Normandy Plaza hotel, completely undetected, for two months. The hotel's night manager claimed that Cunanan paid in cash, and often changed his appearance.

But some experts later criticized the FBI’s inability to work effectively with the gay community — and said that they believed that this could have hampered progress in the investigation.

The second season of American Crime Story, which was based on Orth’s book, showed FBI agents failing to prioritize the distribution of Cunanan's Most Wanted flyers to gay clubs in the South Beach area.

The exact motive for Gianni Versace’s murder remains a mystery: Many experts have speculated that Cunanan targeted Versace because the designer had accumulated everything Cunanan wanted but lacked — including fame, wealth, power, and respect.

But Cunanan took those secrets with him to the grave: A week after Versace’s murder, he was found shot to death in a Miami houseboat in an apparent suicide.

For more on this case, watch the "Murder of Gianni Versace" episode of Investigation Discovery's People Magazine Investigates: Crimes Of Fashion on ID GO now!

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