Retracing the Steps of the Serial Killer Who Murdered Gianni Versace in Front of His Miami Beach Mansion

Andrew Cunanan began his killing spree on April 27, 1997 and eventually went on to murder Italian designer Gianni Versace in front of his Miami Beach mansion.
Andrew Cunanan began his killing spree on April 27, 1997 and eventually went on to murder Italian designer Gianni Versace in front of his Miami Beach mansion. (Getty)

It has been 23 years since the beginning of a killing spree that ended with the execution of beloved Italian designer Gianni Versace. But what led 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan to killing five men before his suicide?

Cunanan, who was born to a Vietnam veteran, led a seemingly normal childhood, growing up attending an affluent private school in San Diego. In his early adult life, Cunanan was immersed in the San Francisco gay scene. Some claimed he lived a life of the rich and the famous, jetting off Europe for dinner with a sugar daddy, while others were less flattering, including his mom, who told the Chicago Sun-Times in May 1997 shortly after he began his killing spree that he was he was nothing more than a “high-class homosexual prostitute."

And according to the FBI, he was “highly intelligent” and “spoke two languages." Little did his peers realize, his genius-level I.Q. and propensity to lying may have been early signs of his antisocial personality disorder. He was ultimately put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

Here is a timeline of the case:

October 1990

Cunanan first met Gianni Versace in San Francisco while Versace was in town designing costumes for a production at the San Francisco Opera. While Versace’s loved ones claim the pair never met, many witnesses at the time reported they met in the VIP section of a popular nightclub, according to the book The Assassination of Gianni Versace. They were also spotted on other occasions around San Francisco around that time.

December 1995

Cunanan met Minneapolis architect David Madson, 33, in a San Francisco bar. They began a long-distance relationship, with Madson breaking it off in Spring 1996. Cunanan continued to describe him as the love of his life.

September 1996

After breaking up with a wealthy older man who had been supporting him, Cunanan began encountering financial problems. He reached the limit on his credit cards and began selling drugs, according to a 1997 exposé by Vanity Fair. 

April 24, 1997

Cunanan decided he would leave San Diego and hosted a going-away party with his friends. He asked his bank for a credit extension to buy a one-way ticket to Minneapolis, and planned to stay with Madson as well as their friend Jeff Trail, 28, who was out of town for the weekend.

April 27, 1997

Cunanan had stayed at Trail’s home the previous night, but left for Madson’s home before Trail returned. Police believe Cunanan also took Trail’s gun when he left his apartment.

Trail had reportedly told his boyfriend that he would have a conversation with Cunanan when he left for Madson’s home that evening. Authorities believe Trail and Cunanan had an argument shortly after entering Madson’s home.

Cunanan then “bludgeoned” Trail to death, the FBI said. This marked the beginning of his murder spree.

April 29, 1997

Investigators believe Cunanan and Madson stayed in the home for at least two more days, during which the pair were seen in the elevator or around the building walking Madson’s dog. They kept Trail’s body wrapped up in an area rug, before going on the run.

That afternoon, two of Madson’s coworkers visited the apartment and later called the police. That’s when police discovered the body. There was initial confusion as to who it was, as it was Madson’s apartment, according to Vanity Fair. When police identified the body as Trail’s – his wallet and photo ID was on his body – they began to suspect Madson as the perpetrator.  His family insisted he was a hostage.

May 3, 1997

After days on the run, being spotted driving north on Interstate 35 and at various bars en route, Madson’s body was discovered by fishermen on the grassy shores of Rush Lake. He had been shot three times with the same gun taken from Trail’s home.

May 4 1997

Prominent Chicago real estate developer Lee Miglin’s body was found stabbed more than 20 times with a screw driver and his throat slit with a hacksaw. The 72-year-old’s hand and feet were bound with duct tape.

When police arrived at the crime scene, it appeared Cunanan spent the night in the home. They also discovered there was no forced entry into their home, cash was missing and Miglin's Lexus was also stolen.

Miglin’s philanthropist wife Marilyn insisted this was a random attack, but FBI agents said it was unlikely.

May 9, 1997

Cunanan was tracked through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York for the next several days via Miglin’s car phone before he stopped in Pennsville Township to kill a cemetery caretaker, 45-year-old William Reese.

While Cunanan appeared to have a motive for each of his previous killings, investigators believed he simply killed Reese for his car, which he used to drive to Florida.

May 12, 1997

Cunanan checked into Normandy Plaza Hotel on Miami Beach. He was spotted around town frequently, with hotel workers saying he often left the premises late at night and returned early in the morning. He was also seen at restaurants, and even a pawn shop where he listed his real name to sell a gold coin.

June 12, 1997

Cunanan was listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

But the manhunt was largely unsuccessful, with Cunanan having hidden in plain sight for a month prior. He continues to hide in plain sight for another month until his most notorious killing.

July 15, 1997

Versace was coming home from his daily morning walk to purchase magazines when he was gunned down in front of his Miami Beach mansion at 8:45 a.m. Cunanan, who was the only suspect in the case, had delivered two shots in the back of the head before disappearing into a parking garage, FBI said.

July 23, 1997

Authorities did not find Cunanan until his suicide more than a week later. He used the same gun stolen from Trail’s apartment to take his life on a luxury houseboat in Miami beach.

His hideout was discovered that afternoon by a caretaker, who noticed the door ajar and stumbled in on him.

Authorities found that he spent several days in that same houseboat, owned by 49-year-old German businessman Torsten Reineck, who reportedly owned a gay health spa in Las Vegas, according to The New York Times. There was no evidence Reineck knew Cunanan, nor was he on the houseboat during the time Cunanan was in hiding.

Authorities said Cunanan attempted to procure a fake passport in the time he was in hiding.

Families of the victims largely said were relived no one else would be hurt by Cunanan, but continue to feel the effects of their grief.

LGBTQ communities across the country had been on high alert in the months prior, nervous Cunanan would turn his attention to more members of their groups. They expressed relief that his killing spree was over, especially as San Diego prepared to for gay pride celebrations the weekend following Cunanan’s death.

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