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Versace Killer Andrew's Cunanan's Bizarre Childhood Depicted In 'American Crime Story'

Episode 8 explores whether pathological lying was a part of Andrew Cunanan's DNA? 

By Eric Shorey

Episode 8 begins in 1957, Italy. Gianni Versace is a child, summoned to show his sketches of dresses to his mother. His mother tells him to follow his passions and pursue whatever career he desires. At school, a teacher insults Gianni after he self-identifies as a pansy. Later, Gianni's mother patiently shows him how to make the dress he's been fantasizing about.

Cut to San Diego, 1980. "Prince" Andrew Cunanan's siblings note his father's disproportionate affection for their youngest family member as they move into a new home. Andrew is given the largest room in the house.

Both Andrew's father, Pete, and Andrew get dressed for respective interviews: Pete for a position as a stockbroker, Andrew for a spot in an elite private school. Pete extolls the virtues of his biography (much to the chagrin of his interviewers) while Andrew lists his most powerful wishes at the behest of schoolmistresses: He wants a Mercedes and a good relationship with God. 

At home, Pete's temper becomes obvious as he chastises Andrew's mother for her frail nerves. Pete reads Andrew a book on etiquette as he falls asleep.

Pete lands the job; Andrew gets into the school. During Pete's first day at work he's shown failing at landing deals, but pretending like he's succeeding. He buys a new car for Andrew (who is far too young to drive) that day. When Andrew's mother is confused about Pete's behavior, Pete pushes her to the ground. In the car, Pete explains that Andrew's mother has been weak her whole life and that Pete is both Andrew's mother and father. He rolls the window up as mother approaches the car.

Seven years later, Andrew showboats (and is called "a f*g") during class photos while Pete works in a much less fancy call center. Andrew's mother asks him about a new beau and Andrew wonders aloud what she'd think if he was dating an older woman. That night, Andrew has a secret rendezvous with an much older man. The man warns Andrew that their relationship must be kept hidden, as he is married. He drives Andrew to a high school party where he reveals an outrageous leather outfit, attracting attention on the center of the dance floor.

Andrew meets a girl named Lizzie who later admits she's a married "grown-up" pretending to be a student because she missed so many opportunities as a home-schooled teen.

"I'm an imposter," she says.

"All the best people are," replies Andrew.

The next day, Pete's bosses confront him about the lies he's been telling at work. They inform him that the feds are aware of the scams he's been running, making up fake stocks and stealing money from clients. He rushes to his desk and begins shredding papers.

He books a flight out of town for the same day. Andrew sees his father drive off into the distance. Andrew's mother explains to her son that they have nothing left: Pete sold the house, emptied the bank accounts, and maxed out the credit cards.

Andrew tells his mom that he's going to Manila to find his father. She warns Andrew that Pete is dangerous but Andrew will not listen.

Andrew manages to trace down Pete in the Phillpenes. Andrew asks where Pete's been hiding the money that he had promised Andrew.

"Out of reach..." says Pete, as Andrew slowly realizes he's been deceived. There never was millions of dollars stored away. It was all a lie. He confronts Pete.

"You were everything to me, Dad. But it's a lie. And if you're a lie, then I'm a lie. And I can't be a lie," says Andrew.

Ryan Murphy has embellished some of the details of Cunanan's childhood, but a few of the more striking factoids are bizarrely true. Andrew, for example, did not cry as a baby — even when injured — according to testimony from Andrew's parents themselves as recorded in Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth. What the young Cunanan's bizarre detachment from reality portended is quite clear now.

Surely Murphy seeks to humanize Cunanan by showing the strains of mental illness running through both his mother and father. And while Teen Vogue may think that sympathetic portrayals of (even objectively abused) serial killers in some ways romanticizes themAmerican Crime Story encourages empathy more than attraction.

What if Andrew had lived in a less dysfunctional home, like Gianni had? What if he wasn't raised with materialism as the core tenet of his morality? Could he have grown up to be another Versace, boundlessly genius in some niche field? Or would his anger have festered anyway — always unsatisfied, always compelled to lie? Was it in his DNA? The lies are what brought Andrew's father down, and perhaps what ultimately destroyed the younger Cunanan, too.

[Photo: Screenshots from FX]

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