Stolen cars, bloody bodies point to killer Motive: Investigators hunting a gay gigolo linked to five slayings speculate on his reasons as a way to guess where he might strike next.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To connect the dots on the trail of 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan, follow the stolen cars and the bloody bodies.

Begin April 29 in Minneapolis, where a Naval Academy graduate is found hammered in the head at a friend's apartment.

His stolen Jeep Cherokee is seen heading upstate, where four days later a fisherman at East Rush Lake finds the body of the friend, shot in the head.

The Cherokee turns up a day later in Chicago near the home of a millionaire, who is found stabbed, sawed and taped around the head.

That victim's Lexus turns up five days later at a New Jersey cemetery near the body of a caretaker, whose red Chevrolet pickup truck has disappeared.

Then, all is quiet for 67 days, until Tuesday, when the red pickup is found in a parking garage on South Miami Beach.

Down the street is the body of fashion designer Gianni Versace, who has just been shot in the head.

And all across America, investigators who've been tracking Cunanan draw another line on their maps and wonder where to look next.

A wealth of other clues also connects the dots, clearly implicating Cunanan in all five killings.

But missing from the diagram is a motive that would lend the picture a grand design, or would at least explain why a dapper, well-read young man who'd cultivated the lifestyle of a gay gigolo in California would suddenly begin killing people all over America and, once he had started, be unable to stop.

One investigator suggested weeks ago that Cunanan might be on a vengeful rampage against former lovers and their relatives, perhaps after discovering he was infected with the AIDS virus.

Another suggested he might have cracked under the pressure of a sudden financial crisis, only to find that he liked to kill.

Neither theory would seem to account for Monday's shooting of the world-famous Versace.

Not only did Cunanan have more than two months to cool down after the initial 10-day, four-victim spree, but he apparently had never been a close friend of Versace, although the two seem to have crossed paths socially.

That prompted an acquaintance of Cunanan to suspect the emergence of a new motive: a lust for the limelight.

"I don't believe that he knew Versace intimately or that they were even close friends," said Nicole Ramirez Murray, social columnist for the Gay and Lesbian Times in San Diego, where Cunanan lived until late April.

"But I do believe he went after that name and that notoriety, for the headline. He's become a celebrity killer, and now he's probably seeking the next headline, the next person."

It certainly didn't start that way, investigators say.

Both of the first two victims in Minnesota were believed to be among Cunanan's ex-lovers, and the spree began with what appears to have been a crime of passion, the sort of murder that occurs in a moment of rage, according to a Minneapolis homicide detective, Lt. Dale Barsness.

The victim was Jeffrey Trail, 28, an engineer and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. The tape found in his telephone answering machine had a message from Cunanan inviting him to the Minneapolis apartment of mutual friend David Madson, 33, an architect who had met Cunanan in California and had also been his lover.

Police found Trail wrapped in a carpet at Madson's apartment. "He had been struck 25 to 30 times with a claw hammer," Barsness said. "This was someone who was very angry."

The motive? Nothing solid beyond the mere fact of their former relationship, Barsness said.

From there, the killings seemed to become progressively more calculating. Cunanan and Madson apparently drove north together in Madson's red Jeep Cherokee.

A few days later, Madson was found on the shore of a lake about 50 miles north of Minneapolis. He'd been shot three times. Cunanan has been charged with murder in this slaying.

The Chicago killing, discovered a day later, was a slow, tortured affair, police said. Real estate developer Lee Miglin, 72, whose son might have been another of Cunanan's friends (although the family says not), had been stabbed repeatedly with a gardening tool and sawed across the throat. His head was taped like a mummy's, except for a breathing hole at the nostrils.

The cemetery caretaker, 45-year-old William Reese, seems to have simply been Cunanan's means to get another vehicle. New Jersey police charged Cunanan yesterday in that slaying.

Those cases put Cunanan's name into a flurry of newspaper and television stories. He was even featured on "Geraldo."

But that's small-bore publicity compared with what the killing of Versace has unleashed.

"Knowing Andrew, he is probably enjoying all of this," Murray said. "He has always wanted attention, and now he has the attention of the world.

"Probably his only anger is that they've shown some of these pictures of him that he doesn't like because they don't make him look good, or they're from the wrong angle."

By all accounts Cunanan has always strived to look good, beginning with his days at the Bishop's School, an exclusive prep school in La Jolla, Calif., where he led an openly gay lifestyle and was dubbed Least Likely to Be Forgotten by a vote of his classmates.

As the prep school background suggests, Cunanan grew up wealthy, although he told friends that the family's finances collapsed when his father, a stockbroker, fled the country to avoid charges of diverting funds.

The downfall sent his mother into public housing in Illinois and helped launch Cunanan into a lifestyle in which one survives on the strength of looks and charm.

His mother described him in May as a "high-class male prostitute," but Murray says Cunanan's chosen role requires far more finesse.

"Prostitutes go from john to john," Murray said. "He was more of an 'American Gigolo.' "

Murray watched Cunanan operate in this way for years in San Diego, hooking up with well-heeled men who would offer their credit cards and checkbooks in relationships that would last up to a year. She described the way the society was structured to provide such opportunities: "You've got to understand, if you're a closeted gay man and very wealthy, you simply cannot go to gay bars or clubs. So what you have is these wealthy private parties, and that's where Andrew would meet these men."

Murray said that Cunanan "studied the gentlemen who he wished to attract. He knew all the fine wines, his grooming was impeccable and he kept up with things. He could talk the talk.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he was a subscriber to the National Review and read William F. Buckley religiously."

And when the local social scene grew too narrow, Murray said, there was always the wider world of circuit parties, weekend events around the country in such locations as New York, Miami and Palm Springs, Calif.

For each party there would be a sub-party for an ever more elite crowd, and at these Cunanan rubbed elbows with the likes of Versace, Murray said.

Maureen Orth, a writer who researched Cunanan for an article to be published in the September issue of Vanity Fair, said on NBC's "Today Show" yesterday that friends described an encounter between Cunanan and Versace a few years ago, backstage at the San Francisco Opera.

The designer said, "I remember you," Orth said, although she believes they were acquaintances, not lovers.

This lifestyle didn't always provide a steady income, and when one of Cunanan's relationships ended earlier this year, "obviously that was the end of the financial assistance as well," Murray said.

It was also the end of the carefully groomed Cunanan, said his friends in San Diego.

"He was letting himself go," Murray said. "He wasn't going to the gym as much. People were commenting that he didn't look as good, and obviously when you're a gigolo that's important.

"Maybe he was realizing it was the end of the road for his lifestyle, so what was next?"

Next was a farewell dinner in late April, then the trip to Minneapolis, where the killings began.

Since then, investigators believe, Cunanan has avoided capture with the help of the veil of discretion that prevails in gay social circles. It is an atmosphere that lends itself to false names and identities (Cunanan sometimes called himself Andrew DeSilva in San Diego, for instance), and that makes some people unwilling to risk exposure by going to the police, even when faced with personal danger.

"The biggest fear right now of many of these wealthy people [in San Diego] is that he's going to be caught and will write a book," Murray said.

But as long as Cunanan remains at large, there will also be the fear of who could be next.

According to Barsness, the Minneapolis homicide detective, it's a valid fear.

"At this point, he's a rather desperate individual, so what's he got to lose?" Barsness said.

"I think everyone is at risk with Andrew Cunanan, whether you're gay or straight. Everyone."

Pub Date: 7/17/97

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
34°