To view original article click here
July 27, 1997
Author: Joel Achenbach, Roberto Suro; Washington Post Staff Writers
Even acts of mayhem are supposed to follow some logical pattern, but the strange saga of Andrew P. Cunanan was terrifying precisely for its apparent violation of that rule. Cunanan is believed to have killed with a hammer, a gun, a gardening saw. Police say he killed friends and strangers, killed the obscure and the famous alike.
Even by the bizarre standards of homicidal maniacs, Cunanan didn’t seem normal.
And now he is gone, to be remembered by history only as an “alleged” serial killer, because you can’t put a dead man on trial. And because he evidently left no note explaining his actions — a note did surface late last week, but it was postmarked a day after Cunanan’s death, and police dismissed it as a hoax — there may never be a definitive explanation of Cunanan’s actions.
Even so, new details offer a very different picture of Cunanan than the one that emerged after the July 15 murder of fashion king Gianni Versace. It now appears that the widespread image of Cunanan as a brilliant predator, a master of disguises, was unfounded. The idea of a “catch me if you can” criminal simply doesn’t square with the facts. Authorities now say that Cunanan didn’t even know how to obtain fake identification, that he was, if anything, a sloppy and desultory killer, scared and desperate — hardly a victor in his war with the law.
“He did what he had to do to survive, and that was about it,” the FBI’s deputy director, William J. Esposito, said.
Based on scores of interviews in six states with police sources and people who knew Cunanan, a more simple explanation for Cunanan’s actions has emerged: A long-troubled man simply fell apart, did something terrible, and then ran.
The conditions for catastrophic personal collapse were all present in Cunanan when he left the gay precincts he had long haunted in San Diego to visit Minneapolis on April 25. He had a history of drug abuse and pathological lying. He had run out of money and lost the “Sugar Daddy” lover who had lavished money, an expensive car and exotic vacations on him. Cunanan, at age 27, had suddenly become a gay gigolo in decline. He had also been rejected by a close friend and former lover.
In visiting the friend and former lover in Minneapolis, something triggered what appears to have been a spontaneous homicidal rage. It began just two days after Cunanan’s arrival, on the night of April 27. In the city’s fashionable downtown warehouse district, a neighbor heard yelling and thud-like noises. Then someone shouted, “Get the . . . out.”
From that night on, Cunanan seemed to do everything he could to elude capture. He didn’t kill for thrills; he killed — in most instances, apparently — for cars. Cunanan’s next three alleged murders — near a lake north of Minneapolis, in a quiet garage in Chicago, and in a New Jersey cemetery — all now appear to have been opportunistic crimes that simply advanced Cunanan’s desire to flee from justice.
It is the final killing, of Versace, in Miami Beach, that remains the most inexplicable. But by that point, Cunanan may have devolved into a desperate assassin, having been on the run for months, so far at the end of his rope he tried to cadge a dollar from a pizza man so he could buy some dinner.
No brilliant criminal predator after all; just an unusually catastrophic life.
That Cunanan had rage in his soul was never a secret. One day in September 1995, he went to the beach with a friend named Jay. The tale is told by Steven Zeeland, Jay’s roommate, and something of a rival of Cunanan’s. Jay and Cunanan found a sea anemone, and Cunanan decided it needed to eat something. He spied a small crab in a seaside crevice nearby. He tried to dig it out, but it wouldn’t budge.
Cunanan pulled out his car keys. He jabbed the crab, and jabbed, and jabbed. The creature turned to mush. Then he fed the fragments of the crab to the anemone as Jay — whose goal in life was to become a marine biologist — looked on in horror.
“He didn’t go to the beach with Andrew anymore,” says Zeeland.
Then there was the time on April 19 of this year, when Cunanan tooled around San Francisco on a motorcycle with his longtime pal, Steven Gomer. They were having a blast. Cunanan rode behind Gomer on the Yamaha Virago as they hit the gay bars of the Castro district, then went to Cafe Flore for coffee, and finally landed at Baghdad Cafe, a 24-hour restaurant with a cowboy theme and a few bleached cow skulls on the walls. Cunanan told wild, preposterous lies that night about a company he had just bought that used Mexican factory hands to make Hollywood sound stages.
After they left the cafe, walking down the sidewalk, Cunanan suddenly brought up a topic he’d never broached with his platonic friend: sexual fetishes. Cunanan told Gomer he liked sadomasochistic sex, dominating a partner wearing a latex mask with air holes for the nostrils. He described yet more elaborate forms of sex that Gomer to this day won’t discuss. “Too much information,” Gomer told Cunanan.
Says Gomer now: “It just surprised me that this gentle-appearing, yuppie-appearing preppy guy was interested in such things. I had to go to other people to explain to me what the different devices were that he mentioned to me.”
A week and a day after the conversation with Gomer, the killing began.
A Promising Life’
Andrew Cunanan’s childhood is not known to have been particularly troubled. His godfather and father have described him as an intensely religious child, an altar boy whose later homosexual behavior was shocking to his devout Catholic parents. An unconfirmed report from Chicago has raised the possibility that Cunanan was sexually abused as a youth, citing a call made by an “Andrew DeSilva” to a hot line for victims of abuse by Catholic priests. DeSilva was an alias Cunanan frequently used. TheDiocese of San Diego immediately issued a statement Friday saying officials “are not aware of any misconduct by priests in reference to Andrew Cunanan.”
Delfin Labao, Cunanan’s godfather, described Andrew as “an affectionate child. He was lovable and charming, always smiling. He loved to read. He would read information books, the classics, anything.” He added, “Nothing but a promising life was expected of Andrew.”
Robert Arends, 28, a freelance photographer in San Diego, remembers Cunanan as an unusually poised 7th grader at Bonita Vista Junior High. Cunanan thrived as a member of the scholarship club and the citizenship club. He easily bridged the gap between the more socially outgoing kids and the nerdy ones.
Teachers loved Cunanan.
“He had a very preppy way about him,” Arends said. “Back then, a lot of us hadn’t developed a style yet. But he had. The polo shirts, the argyle vests, the chinos. Everything just a little bit better than anyone else. He was the type of guy who put dimes in his penny loafers.”
Cunanan betrayed no uneasiness about his homosexuality. Friends found it one of his most admirable qualities, his lack of shame for having an alternative sexual orientation. Less admirable, though, was Cunanan’s use of drugs. After he graduated from the private Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Cunanan’s days of scholarship were numbered. He bombed out of college a couple of times, taking a job as a drugstore clerk for a while.
Then he started playing freelance pharmacist, selling prescription drugs to friends.
According to Steven Zeeland, the author of a book called “The Masculine Marine” and an article about Cunanan in the alternative Seattle paper, the Stranger, Cunanan would sell Xanax for anxiety, Prozac for depression and Vicodin for pain.
Cunanan became addicted to Vicodin, said Zeeland, who said he got free samples of Xanax from Cunanan to help him sleep. When Cunanan went to the beach during the past couple of years or so, he’d take a Xanax himself to ease his anxiety about having developed a slight paunch, Zeeland said. Cunanan never lost his youthful boisterousness, but he did begin to lose his looks.
“Gay middle age comes early,” an acquaintance said.
Cunanan cultivated ever-changing circles of friends, sometimes freezing out old chums for no apparent reason. That, in fact, was the only hint of a creepy side: He would suspend the usual greeting — a warm hug and kiss on the cheek — and “flatly ignore” people, says Todd McDonald, a San Diego friend: “One day you were in, the next you were out. He seemed to work in segments. As the persona changed, so did the friends.”
Still, he didn’t seem like a killer in the making.
“Even the word killer, it’s amazing,” said McDonald. “I can’t imagine that someone I’ve hugged has killed all these people. It’s a big awakening for all of us.”
Ex-Lover’s 6th Sense
Before he left San Diego for Minneapolis, Cunanan threw himself a lavish going-away party. He was moving to San Francisco, Cunanan told friends, but first he would go to Minneapolis to take care of some “business.”
He was, in fact, visiting Jeffrey Trail and David Madson. Both men had already had intimations that something sinister lurked within Cunanan. Madson, who studied architecture at the University of Minnesota, had been Cunanan’s boyfriend and possibly one of the few genuine loves of Cunanan’s life. Cunanan reportedly bought him a ring at one point. Traveling in Europe with Norman Blachford, the wealthy older man who had bought Cunanan a car and provided a $2,500-a-month allowance, Cunanan reportedly sent romantic notes to Madson, signed “Truest Love.” But Madson broke off the relationship, he told a friend, because he sensed something “shady” about his lover.
“Do not call here anymore. I have nothing to say to you,” Madson told Cunanan over the phone, according to a published interview with Madson’s sister.
Cunanan did not have the same intimate relationship with Trail. They had been close platonic friends in San Diego, by some accounts. Trail subsequently moved to Minneapolis.
Trail’s older sister, Lisa Stravinskas, said she first met the “incredibly articulate” Cunanan in April 1995 and heard his wild stories about growing up in Israel, being the son of Russian immigrants, having a wife and daughter (he even had photos), and so on.
Two Aprils later, Cunanan’s arrival in Minneapolis had apparently become something to dread for Madson and Trail. Stravinskas said Trail had agreed to let Cunanan stay in his apartment, but he refused to stay there with him. Trail had apparently become tired of Cunanan’s showboat persona and the deceptions about how he made his money.
Cunanan, Madson and Trail spent much of the weekend together. But on Sunday night, April 27, something snapped. Jessie Schedoan, told police he heard yelling in Apartment 404, Madson’s flat. A furious fight ensued, and Schedoan said the walls shook for 30 to 45 seconds. He went into the hallway, but no one came out. Then, Schedoan said, he heard running water inside 404. Someone was washing up.
Inside the apartment, Jeff Trail, 28, was dead, his watch stopped at 9:55.
Trail’s murder still raises questions. Cunanan’s later actions imply that he was responsible, but investigators have considered the possibility that Madson was an accomplice. Madson and Cunanan were seen walking Madson’s dog the next two days. Madson’s family has argued that Madson must have been a hostage.
A co-worker who noted Madson’s absence from work called police, and they entered Apartment 404 on Tuesday, April 29. Inside they found a body rolled up in a rug. They assumed it was Madson, but it was Trail, bludgeoned with a claw hammer. No attempt had been made to cover up the crime. The hammer was still there, but a gun was missing from a holster along with 10 bullets, and someone had left a nylon gym bag adorned with the name “Andrew Cunanan.”
He quickly became suspect No.1.
In the few days Cunanan had spent in Minneapolis many people had seen him with Trail and Madson. Trail’s boyfriend called Madson’s apartment, looking for Trail, even as police were first acquainting themselves with the corpse.
But the police had no immediate leads on Cunanan or Madson. It was not until May 2, three days after Trail’s body was found, that the two men were spotted driving north of Minneapolis in Madson’s red Jeep and later eating lunch in a bar. Both ordered beer and cheeseburgers.
The bar owner told the Los Angeles Times that Madson seemed nervous, looking over his shoulder every time someone came in the restaurant. The next day, fishermen found Madson’s body in the grass along East Rush Lake. Madson, 33, had been shot three times.
Cunanan took Madson’s red Jeep Cherokee and hit the highway, heading south to Chicago. A map later found in the Jeep guided Cunanan to a popular nightclub area at Rush and Division streets; he still knew where to find a party. A witness saw someone sleeping that night in the Jeep, right on the street. Cunanan presumably knew he needed new wheels if he was going to stay ahead of the police.
What happened next is something that has been widely misreported. Chicago real estate tycoon Lee Miglin lived a block from the nightclub area. His two-car garage is separated from his house by an alley. He was sweeping out the garage when Cunanan, police believe, surprised him. Once again, Cunanan didn’t want to leave any witnesses. Nor, police say, did he want to use the 10mm gun he had removed from Madson’s apartment — too noisy. So Cunanan evidently used what he could find: a screwdriver, a gardening saw, and a heavy bag of cement mix.
After he finished killing Miglin, police say, Cunanan left the body covered in brown paper, lying in a corner of the garage. He then moved a bulky garbage bin inside to hide the corpse from view.
The murder scene was so grisly that it quickly spawned an image of Cunanan as a demented serial killer, enacting some kind of ritualized murder fantasy. There was speculation that Miglin had been one of Cunanan’s “Sugar Daddies” and that this was an act of revenge, speculation that has remained without a shred of evidence.
Steve Gomer, Cunanan’s friend from San Francisco, was struck after reading an account of the murder that Miglin’s head had been taped up like a mummy, with air holes for the nostrils. It appeared to echo Cunanan’s sadomasochism fantasy with the latex masks. Gomer contacted authorities in Chicago.
In fact, though, investigators had found no evidence that Miglin had been sexually assaulted. Rather, said Cook County medical examiner Edmund Donoghue, the wrapping of Miglin’s head was purely utilitarian. “This was all purposeful to keep him quiet and to keep him from moving around,” Donoghue said. “I don’t know that it’s reminiscent of any bondage video. The press is sensationalizing this unnecessarily. It didn’t appear that there had been ritualistic torturing.”
While analysts were theorizing, Cunanan was driving. He headed east in Miglin’s 1994 Lexus. On May 3, he wheeled it into lower Manhattan.
In four days in New York, Cunanan shopped at a Levi’s store, watched “Liar, Liar” and “The Devil’s Own” and flopped in a $14-a-day gay health club. He is not known to have preyed on anyone.
It was after he left New York that disaster struck for Cunanan. Investigators had been able to track Miglin’s Lexus when Cunanan activated the cellular phone in the car. Police announced the news to the press, and Cunanan evidently heard about it and decided he had to ditch the luxury car and get a new vehicle.
That did not bode well for William Reese. A bearded Civil War buff who worked as a cemetery caretaker, Reese could not have lived a life more removed from the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Cunanan’s world. Authorities assume that Cunanan drove south out of Philadelphia on either the New Jersey Turnpike or I-295 and took the first exit, which leads to the sleepy community of Pennsville. Along the road to Pennsville are signs for Fort Mott State Park, and investigators believe Cunanan followed the signs, realizing he would find a secluded area. Finn’s Point National Cemetery, where Reese worked, is in the same complex as the state park, about 14 miles from the exit ramp from the turnpike. The five-acre graveyard holds bodies from theplace,police say.
Cunanan shot Reese as Reese was finishing his work and about to head home. The cemetery caretaker was 45.
“This thing was like a tornado coming over a hill — it’s not heard, it’s not felt and all of a sudden this thing appears on your doorstep,” said Craig Platania, Reese’s brother-in-law.
Leaving grief in his wake, Cunanan appears to have gotten what he came for, abandoning Miglin’s Lexus for Reese’s red pickup truck. He pointed it south down I-95, stole a license plate in South Carolina and slapped it on the bumper, and continued on to another gay enclave, South Miami Beach.
By now, Cunanan was a national story. On June 21, his name was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office was tracking leads and reported sightings of Cunanan on a computer program called Rapid Start. The program allows investigators to sort and collate thousands of bits of seemingly unrelated information of the type often generated in big, fast-moving investigations.
But one of the lessons of the Cunanan case is that even in the age of computers, police still rely heavily on old-fashioned paperwork that must be processed by hand, and on basic detective work by local police agencies. When a pawn shop manager in Miami Beach filed a report that an “Andrew Cunanan” staying at the “Normandy Plaza” hotel had pawned a gold coin — stolen, as it happened, from Chicago murder victim Miglin — the information was overlooked by Miami Beach Police, literally lost in the shuffle.
The FBI believes that Cunanan’s habits in Miami Beach were not much different from those in San Diego. He slept until 3 or so in the afternoon, then hit the city, and stayed out late at clubs.
Cunanan’s life in Miami Beach appears to have had little to redeem it. The FBI believes he had little cash. The night before Versace’s murder, Cunanan went to Cozzoli’s Pizza at 71st Street and Collins Avenue, near his hotel. He had gone there frequently over the past two months, sometimes twice a day. He had the same routine, said Rolando Infante, the owner. He’d always order two slices from the pizza maker and then buy himself a Coke.
“He never engaged in any conversation, sometimes he would come in and not speak at all,” Infante said.
This time, Cunanan, looking unkempt, asked the pizza maker for a dollar — low on funds, he said. Infante gave Cunanan a buck and never saw him in the place again.
Cunanan’s options had clearly narrowed. The FBI noted that he lacked many of the elementary skills of a true criminal, such as the ability to change his identity.
But how and why he came to murder Gianni Versace still perplexes investigators. Some speculate that Cunanan acted like a political assassin, picking Versace because of his fame. Others say Cunanan may have thought of Versace as a rich gay man, and thus a stand-in for other sugar daddies who slighted him in his gigolo days.
Versace’s death, just outside his oceanfront mansion, looked to police at first like the result of an execution-style slaying. The gunman pumped two bullets into the back of Versace’s head, then ran. He changed clothes at the red pickup truck, which he had parked weeks before in a nearby garage. Then he fled on foot again, leaving behind identification.
This prompted still more theories that Cunanan was taunting police. But the FBI’s Esposito and other experts believe Cunanan was simply rushed and careless.
“There are a variety of things he did which may appear to have been done by design to leave clues behind as to his identity, but were probably just the result of serendipity,” said William Tafoya, a former FBI profiler who is now a visiting research associate at the University of Illinois. “The temptation with this kind of person is to see him as an automaton who is carrying out some kind of master plan, but that is not necessarily accurate.”
The FBI learned that Cunanan had tried desperately to obtain a passport so he could get out of the country, calling a friend on the West Coast. The “agitated and nervous” Cunanan, in Esposito’s words, seemed to be rummaging through his memory of East Coast friends, trying to think of someone who could help him. There was no one.
Cunanan may have hidden first in a sailboat on Indian Creek, which feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway. But at some point he upgraded his hideaway, setting up camp in a big houseboat nearby. The houseboat’s owner, a German named Torsten Reineck, claims to be a citizen of the Principality of Sealand, a minuscule former gun installation just off the English coast that is not recognized diplomatically by the United States or most other countries. No connection between Reineck and Cunanan has been established, and after questioning Reineck in Las Vegas late last week, FBI agents let him go.
If Cunanan had one advantage during his three hectic months on the run, it was his ordinariness. Of average build and height, Cunanan’s features were not striking in any way. But after the Versace killing, even Cunanan could no longer blend into a crowd.
He was trapped, and he had little experience with the sensation.
The FBI’s Esposito said, “I think, if you look at Mister Cunanan’s lifestyle, his lifestyle was that of person who was out quite a bit. . . . He was a very visible person. He was not a recluse. He was not a shut-in.”
But he had become one on the houseboat. He needed social contact to survive. At one point during his fugitive days, the FBI said, he had a long, gossipy call with a friend in which he discussed 10 mutual acquaintances.
“Cunanan is not the type of guy who can operate on his own for very long,” said Tafoya, the former FBI profiling specialist.
Criminologist James Alan Fox wonders if Cunanan’s conscience caught up with him at the end. His life, gone so disastrously awry, had harmed half a dozen families on two continents.
That final day, Cunanan’s close friend, Elizabeth Cote, taped a plea for him to surrender. Cunanan was the godfather of her two children.
“Andrew, wherever you are, please stop what you are doing. . . . You still have a chance to show the entire world the side of you that I and your godchildren know . . . D.D. loves you, Schmoo. I bring with me a special message from our Papoose. Grimmy says she loves her Uncle Monkey, and hopes that you’ll remember that always. . . . ”
By the time the FBI distributed the tape, it was too late for Uncle Monkey. He had been seen by the houseboat’s caretaker, and soon he would be surrounded. Andrew Cunanan’s long run was over. He put the gun in his mouth.
When police found him, Cunanan was on the bed in the master bedroom, on the second floor. The gun was in his lap. He was wearing only a pair of off-white boxer shorts. Cunanan had shaved his head and begun to grow a beard. The wound from the gunshot was massive. As a result of the wound, the beard and the haircut, Andrew Cunanan had finally achieved what had seemed nearly impossible just days earlier: He had become unrecognizable.
Staff writers Tom Kenworthy in Minneapolis, William Claiborne in San Francisco, Richard Leiby and Sue Ann Pressley in San Diego, Cheryl W. Thompson and Jennifer Ordonez in Chicago, Audrey Gillan in Miami, Dale Russakoff in New Jersey, special correspondents Catharine Skipp in Miami and Cassandra Stern in Los Angeles and researchers Alice Crites and Bobbye Pratt in Washington contributed to this report.
Cunanan was found dead of a self-inflicted wound on a houseboat in Miami Beach Wednesday.
Correction: THE FBI ADDED ANDREW P. CUNANAN TO ITS 10 MOST WANTED LIST ON JUNE 12. THE DATE WAS MISSTATED IN AN ARTICLE SUNDAY. (PUBLISHED 07/
Serial Murderers and Media Circuses
To view book excerpt click here
By Dirk Cameron Gibson
Page 130: …”Scott added that Cunanan lived off rich older men, smoked expensive cigars, and was a generally generous and friendly person. That was the public Andrew. The darkness in his soul involved leather straps, pornographic videotapes and black latex masks with only a nose opening for bondage. He moved in with Norman Blanchard at 100 Coast Drive of San Diego in summer 1995 as a “kept man”.
He sold drugs. Erig Greenman, Cunanan’s former roommate, told police investigators that Cunanan sold stolen pharmaceutical drugs. Scott agreed, noting that Cunanan sold prescription drugs on the street, such as Prozac and Xanax. According to Michaud and Hazelwood, Cunanan dealt and consumed a variety of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, and the male hormone testosterone.
He used drugs, too. He was known in San Diego for his use of recreational drugs. In Miami, prior to the attack on Gianni Versace, he regularly bought crack cocaine from a street dealer named Lyle.