History | Crime

His Murder Spree Made Headlines, But His Final Evil Act Shook The Nation

Miami Herald / ABC News

On January 17, 2018, the anthology series American Crime Story released its second season, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, while simultaneously renewing public interest in one of the largest failed manhunts in the history of the United States.

Who was the fugitive?

Andrew Cunanan, a 27-year-old serial killer, who was responsible for murdering multiple men across the country, including the famous Italian-born designer, Gianni Versace.

Andrew CunananBiography

Versace's story got the television show treatment because he happened to be the most famous of Cunanan's victims, but the dangerous criminal had at least four other victims before ending his murderous spree on July 17, 1997.

Prior to Versace's assassination, Cunanan murdered architect Lee Miglin, gas company manager Jeffrey Trail, millionaire David J. Madson, and cemetery groundskeeper William Reese

Here's a look at Cunanan's victims, what drove him to commit such heinous crimes, and what became of him in the end:

A Teenage Pathological Liar

Cunanan was born on August 31, 1969 in National City, California to a Filipino-American father, Modesto "Pete" Cunanan, and an Italian-American mother, Mary Anne Schillaci. Pete, who was serving in Vietnam War, wasn't around when his son was born, but upon his return, he made sure that his youngest child was always well taken care of.

He enrolled Cunanan, who had an above average IQ of 147, at an Episcopal independent day school so he could receive the best education possible. Aside from his talkativeness and zest for knowledge, there were no signs that indicated Cunanan would someday inflict harm on other people.

"He was my father’s pride and joy," his brother Christopher Cunanan told Diane Sawyer in 1997, according to ABC News. "[He was] very smart. When he was about 10 years old, he had read the whole set of encyclopedias … and memorized it. And you could ask him any question. Pick up any edition and ask him any question, and he would tell you.”

However, things began to take a turn when he entered his teenage years. Cunanan started to build up a reputation as a prolific liar; he faked identities in order to fit in with his peers, and would change his appearance to whatever he felt was most attractive at the time. This is a type of behavior that is often attributed to those suffering from antisocial personality disorder.

When he was 19, his beloved father left his family in order to avoid arrest for embezzlement. Soon after, Cunanan's mother, who was extremely religious, found out that he was gay, a fact that some of his friends and family members were already aware of.

During one of the pair's confrontations, Cunanan threw his mother so hard that she dislocated her shoulder. Experts later claimed that this was a sign of his lack of empathy, which is common in people with personality disorders.

A New Chapter

Cunanan attended the University of California in San Diego to study American History in 1987. Despite his earlier academic success, Cunanan wasn't too keen on staying in school, so he dropped out two years later.

Shortly after, Cunanan packed up his belongings and moved to San Francisco, where he actively frequented gay bars in the Castro district and befriended many wealthy members of the community.

Cunanan made up stories about his past, and was very good at hiding his violent side. However, it was later reported that some of the people he hung out with took notice of his unusual interest in violent pornography.

Many believed that Cunanan lived as a gigolo, and it was during this time that he met most of his victims, including Versace.

Cunanan also met a millionaire named Norman Blanchford, and the pair soon found themselves in a relationship of sorts. According to an article by the Washington Post, the 60-something businessman "paid him $2,500 a month, presented him with a new car, a dark green Infiniti J30, even treated him to vacations in France."

Their arrangement continued for a couple of years, but Blanchard decided to end the relationship in 1996. Cunanan wasn't expecting this sudden change, and it seemed to have triggered the violent side he had been suppressing the entire time.

"He was dumped by his latest sugar daddy," Donna Brant, then-managing editor of America’s Most Wanted, told ABC News. "He was losing his prowess among his peers. He had gotten sloppy and lost his looks, and the star was fading."

The First Four Crimes

Hurt by the end of his relationship, Cunanan's mental health began to deteriorate further.

"Andrew's self-worth was tied to the finer things in life, what [people] could do for him," criminal profiler Candice DeLong told ABC News. "Being accepted in high society and by wealthy people was what he expected. If he didn't get them, he was lost."

Unable to cope with rejection, Cunanan sought out another way to release his anger.

He informed his friends in San Francisco that he was going to Minnesota to visit Jeffrey Trail, a friend he had to "settle some business" with, according to The New York Times. On April 27, 1997, 28-year-old Trail was found dead in an apartment. He was bludgeoned with a claw hammer, rolled in a rug, and placed in one of the closets.

Jeffrey TrailVanity Fair

The apartment where Trail's body was found actually belonged to someone else - Cunanan's second and most personal victim, David Madson.

Madson reportedly met Cunanan in California in 1995 and the two became romantically linked. They dated for approximately six months before Madson ended the affair, citing that he was uncomfortable with Cunanan's unpredictable behavior. The pair kept in touch after their breakup, so when Cunanan decided to visit Trail, he also made it a point to catch up with Madson.

"[Andrew] loved David Madson very, very much.... [But after the breakup,] David didn’t want anything to do with him," Cunanan’s former roommate Erik Greenman told ABC News in 1997. "I mean, David was Andrew’s life. He said many, many times that he would give up everything to move out to Minneapolis for David."

David MadsonCBS News

Unfortunately, their reunion was short-lived. Madson was found with a gunshot wound to his head and back on the shore of Rush Lake in Rush City, Minnesota on May 3, 1997.

Starving for more blood, Cunanan made his way to Chicago, where he killed 72-year-old Lee Miglin just a day after murdering Madson. Authorities were unable to find a motive that would connect Miglin's murder with the first two of victims, so they concluded that it might have been a crime of opportunity.

"Cunanan went into the family's home, ate a ham sandwich, shaved and rested," according to ABC7Chicago.

Lee MiglinCBS News

Cunanan used the victim's car to make his way to New Jersey, where he took the life of another man, a cemetery worker named William Reese. This kill was also considered random, and it is believed that Cunanan went through with it because he wanted to steal the man's pickup truck.

A Failed Manhunt & Versace's Assassination

Cunanan used Reese's 1995 red Chevrolet pickup truck to escape to Miami while the federal authorities launched a manhunt. He became America's 449th criminal to be listed on FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list.

However, their search proved futile.

Normandy Plaza HotelMiami Herald

For two months, Cunanan took up residence at the Normandy Plaza Hotel, just a few miles from Versace's mansion. According to the hotel's manager at the time, the serial killer managed to successfully deviate attention away from himself because he frequently changed his appearance by wearing wigs, and only used cash to pay for his stay and purchases.

On July 15, 1997, he committed his final and most infamous crime: he shot the fashion designer Gianni Versace to death on the steps of his home.

Gianni VersaceOxygen

However, before pulling the trigger, he made sure to dispose of the truck, which contained some clothes, his passport, a personal check, a pawn shop ticket, and newspaper clippings of his past crimes.

Police and witnesses attempted to nab him, by Cunanan was far too quick to be apprehended.

The Versace MansionHarper's Bazaar

Just like his first two killings, Cunanan had previously met Versace in San Francisco. Some say their initial meeting took place when the influential designer was in town to attend Richard Strauss's "Capriccio," which he designed costumes for, at the San Francisco Opera in 1990. While another version of the story states that the two met at Colossus, a nightclub in San Francisco.

Since Cunanan was linked with some of the city's richest men, it's possible that he was introduced to his final victim through one of them. However, he told people that he was at the event as Versace's guest, and that he had previously partied at the designer's house on Lake Como in Italy.

A Second Motive

Although investigators were never successful in pinpointing the exact motive behind Cunanan’s crimes, it is believed that he may have killed Madson and Trail as a form of revenge because he believed that they may have infected him with HIV.

In 2001, it was finally confirmed in a Time article that Cunanan did not have the disease, but he may have convinced himself that he contracted it through some of his partners.

A San Diego-based AIDS counselor later revealed that Cunanan had spoken with him prior to the killings, and asked him a number of AIDS-related questions. He then allegedly said: "If I find out who did this to me, I’m gonna get them!"

Another theory argues that Cunanan, who never revealed his reason for committing the crimes, killed Madson and Trail because he suspected that they were having a secret affair. With Trail out of the picture, it is believed that Cunanan kidnapped Madson to convince him to give their relationship another go, but ended up killing him instead.

Cunanan's Death

Eight days after Versace's assassination, Cunanan's trail of terror came to an end when he was found dead in the upstairs bedroom of a Miami Beach houseboat.

He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple, using the same automatic pistol he used to kill Madson, Reese, and Versace. Cunanan apparently stole the gun from Trail.

The serial killer left no suicide note, and investigators were surprised to find that he also left no valuable possessions behind considering all the wealthy men he had dated up to that point. The items that stood out during police search was his extensive collection of C.S. Lewis books and tubes of hydrocortisone cream.

He was cremated after an autopsy, and his remains are in the Mausoleum at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in San Diego, California. He left a lot of questions in his wake, many of which still remain unanswered.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace is currently attempting to offer another take on the highly publicized story, but many people, including Versace's family, have claimed that the show has sensationalized some parts of the story.

We’ll never truly know what drove Cunanan to kill, and that’s something that will continue to haunt the victim’s families, and the rest of America.