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Explainer

Who was Andrew Cunanan, the privately educated compulsive liar who murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace?

Adam Bloodworth March 22, 2018
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Gianni Versace was killed on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion on July 15 1997 – by a man called Andrew Cunanan. But who was he, and what drove him to the horrific attack?

Andrew Cunanan was a notorious killer and has been the subject of recent series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.

The series follows American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson, both of which have been ratings successes.

Eight days after the death of Versace, his murderer, Andrew Cunanan – who was already wanted for three other murders – was found dead on a houseboat a few miles from Versace’s Miami mansion.

But who was Andrew Cunanan in the first place?

Cunanan murdered at least five people throughout his short life. Cunanan’s murders were carried out during an intense three-month period at the end of his life, with his death by suicide on July 15 1997 age 27.

(Cunanan, as portrayed in FX American Crime Story)

An intellectual social climber, Cunanan was well-known on the San Francisco gay scene for befriending older gay men in society and using them to strengthen his social status. He would famously spend other people’s money bankrolling his lavish existence.

California-born, the young man had a wildly high IQ of 147, and at school was known for his tendency to lie, and reportedly made up stories about his wealthy parents to fool classmates into believing he had come from a more privileged background than he had.

Related: American Crime Story used real-life footage of Jeffrey Trail talking about being gay in the military and it’s haunting

When his parents discovered he was gay aged 19, Cunanan moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco where he became a pronounced member of the queer community.

(Versace, as portrayed in FX American Crime Story)

In 1987 he enrolled at the University of California to study American History, but he lasted only two years of his course before dropping out and focussing his attention on harnessing equitable contacts on the queer scene.

One of Cunanan’s wealthy older love interests was a man named Norman Blachford, who bankrolled much of Cunanan’s lifestyle. It is reported to have been when Blachford stopped funding his lifestyle in 1996 that Cunanan became increasingly frustrated, which may have been the seed to his horrific and violent behaviour.

Who else did Andrew Cunanan murder?

Cunanan’s most high profile victim other than Versace was Lee Miglin, a real estate developer and business tycoon, who Cunanan tortured and murdered on May 4 1997 at his Chicago home.

Cunanan also murdered Jeffrey Trail in Minnesota, who is believed to have been an ex-lover of Cunanan’s, who was found gruesomely beaten to death with a claw hammer in April of 1997.

Trail’s body was disposed of in the cupboard of another ex-lover, David Madson who also lived in Minnesota.

Related: Gianni Versace’s lover lashes out at Ricky Martin for portrayal of him in American Crime Story

Madson was Cunanan’s next victim, shot in the head and back fatally on the shore of Rush Lake, Minnesota.

 

(Cunanan, as portrayed in FX American Crime Story)

Veteran businessman Lee Midgin, mentioned above, was Cunanan’s third victim but the first in Chicago, and was the most seemingly random of his attacks, as the two were not known to have been romantically linked.

Cunanan stole Midgin’s car and drove to New Jersey where he shot his penultimate victim, a cemetery worker called William Reese; the murder led Cunanan to be one of America’s most wanted men in May of 1997.

Before Versace’s murder some months later, Cunanan checked into the Normandy Plaza Hotel, Miami where he lived for several months and reportedly assumed various different disguises, and paid for his room in cash.

Related: Ricky Martin signs up for gay American Crime Story role

He went on to murder Versace on the steps of his mansion on July 15 1997. The two had met on the social scene years earlier.

(Versace, as portrayed in FX American Crime Story)

It turned out that Cunanan had used the gun that killed Versace to eventually take his own life eight days later.

Actor Darren Criss plays Versace in American Crime Story, who is visually a pretty creepily spitting image of the murderer.

Gianni Versace is played by Édgar Ramírez in the series, while Penélope Cruz plays Versace’s sister Donatella Versace.

Openly gay musician Ricky Martin plays Versace’s partner Antonio D’Amico.

You can watch American Crime Story on Netflix in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Related topics: explainer, Versace

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