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Who Killed Fashion Icon Gianni Versace? 'Dateline' Dives Into Tragic Story
Andrew Cunanan was once living a life of privilege in sunny San Diego before embarking on a dark killing spree that left five dead, including fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Gianni Versace spent his final morning at one of his favorite South Beach cafes before the fashion icon made the short walk back to his carefully restored mansion and climbed the coral steps.
As he fidgeted with his keys to the front gate, a lone gunman fired off two rounds into the back of his head, ending his life at the age of 50.
“I heard the shot. My heart stopped beating,” Versace’s long-time partner Antonio D’Amico told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen, of the deadly gunfire.
Versace was the final victim of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who took the lives of five men during a three-month-long killing spree in 1997.
Eight days after killing Versace, Cunanan would be found dead himself in a house boat in Miami Beach from a self-inflicted gunshot wound as authorities closed in.
The 27-year-old took to the grave his motive for killing Versace or the other men whose lives were tragically cut short.
George Navarro, one of the lead investigators with the Miami Beach Police department, called Cunanan’s sudden death “upsetting.”
“I had a lot of questions for him, you know,” he told "Dateline" correspondent Keith Morrison years later. “A lot of things that were left unanswered.”
Cunanan grew up as the youngest child in his family, attending the prestigious The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California.
“He just had such a big personality,” his close friend Stacy Lopez recalled, describing him as “dynamic.”
Although uncommon in the early 1980s, Cunanan was openly gay at the prep school — although kept the secret of his sexuality from his family for years. While at school, Cunanan began dating much older men and dreaming of a life of luxury.
“Andrew spent time with wealthier men who could help keep him in a life that he aspired to,” Roman Jiminez, a freelance journalist and one-time editor of a gay and lesbian publication in San Diego, told Morrison.
Cunanan’s life began to spiral after high school when his father was accused in a civil lawsuit of embezzling $100,000 and fled to the Philippines, leaving behind his family and selling their home out from under them. Cunanan relied more heavily on his sugar daddies and wove fictional tales about his own past and accomplishments, painting himself as a man interested in the arts and culture.
It was then that some believe he may have crossed paths with Versace. Maureen Orth, author of the book “Vulgar Favors,” told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” that Cunanan went to a party after attending an opera where Versace had designed the costumes, and crossed paths with the fashion icon.
“During the party, he claimed and other people claimed that Andrew met Versace,” Orth said.
However, Versace’s family and D’Amico insist that meeting never took place. Regardless of whether or not they ever crossed paths, Orth said Cunanan idolized the fashion designer, who was one of the first openly gay public figures.
“Versace seems to be somebody that he studied a lot because Versace seemed to personify a lot that he wanted to be,” Orth said.
Rather than work for his own success, Cunanan found a wealthy, older man to help pay his bills and provide him with a beachside condo. At night, Cunanan — who also dealt drugs — was a regular at gay bars, where he convinced others he was a rich kid living off a trust fund, Orth said.It was there he met his friend Jeff Trail, a clean-cut Naval Academy graduate with conservative political leanings.
In 1995, Cunanan fell in love with David Madson and began a clandestine relationship under the nose of his wealthy boyfriend, until the man caught on and dumped Cunanan. It was the start of a downward spiral for Cunanan. Madson broke up with him and Trail moved on, telling friends that the pair had a falling out. He began using more drugs and, according to Orth, slipped into a world of violent sex.
By 1997, a depressed Cunanan headed to Minneapolis, where both Madson and Trail had coincidentally relocated.
While Cunanan was staying with Madson, he persuaded Trail to drop by, who was unaware that Cunanan’s bloody rampage was about to begin.
“Sometime in the next hour or so a neighbor reported hearing somebody yell, ‘Get the eff out of here!’ and heard banging,” Orth said.
When neither Trail or Madson showed up for work the next day, Trail’s boyfriend called police, but they initially dismissed the concerns.
A few days later on April 29, 1997, Madson’s worried friends urged the building manager to unlock his apartment. That’s when they found Trail’s body rolled up in a rug in the middle of the apartment.
He had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer and had 27 blows to the face, head, and chest. There was no sign of Madson, Cunanan, or Madson’s red Jeep Cherokee, which had also gone missing.
Investigators initially believed the pair may have been working together, until Madson’s body was found four days later at East Rush Lake, about 40 minutes outside the city. He had defensive wounds and a gunshot wound to his head.
An alert was issued for Madson’s red Jeep, but by then Cunanan had fled.
Just days later and hundreds of miles away, the body of successful real estate developer Lee Miglin was discovered by a neighbor in his garage behind the Chicago townhouse he shared with his wife Marilyn Miglin, who had a popular cosmetic line on the Home Shopping Network.
“It was like a three-ring circus,” Migler’s business partner J. Paul Beitler recalled. “In the front yard were all the news media with the lights blaring.”
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Miglin was found with his throat slit, wearing an S&M mask, according to Orth. He was covered in stab wounds and bruises from a vicious beating.
Lee’s Lexus, clothes, and more than $2,000 were missing from the house. Investigators found signs that the killer had helped himself to food in the refrigerator and shaved before fleeing the scene.
Authorities were able to link the brutal crime to Cunanan after discovering Madson’s red Jeep parked around the corner from the murder scene.
While there were some rumors that Miglin had been active in Chicago’s gay scene, no evidence ever came out to support that theory and authorities were never able to determine whether Cunanan had known his victim or whether it was simply a random target, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
As the manhunt for the killer continued, investigators made a crucial discovery. They learned that Miglin’s Lexus had a built-in phone that was pinging off cell towers, allowing them to trace Cunanan’s route east.
But the critical clue was reported in Chicago media, alerting Cunanan that the FBI was on his tail. Desperate to unload the vehicle, Cunanan found himself at Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, a quiet Civil War burial ground maintained by 45-year-old caretaker William Reece.
Cunanan killed Reece and made off with his Red Chevy pickup truck, leaving the Lexus in its place.
From there, Cunanan made his way to Miami Beach, where he lived undetected for months in a rundown hotel.
According to Orth, Cunanan supported himself by turning tricks and committing petty robberies — until the morning of July 15, 1997, when Cunanan made that fateful walk up to Versace and pulled the trigger, ending the life of one the world’s most accomplished fashion designers.
“He took somebody away at the height of their career, the height of their happiness. He devastated a family, a close family,” fashion journalist Hal Rubenstein told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
Police scrambled to find Cunanan, eventually tracking him to a blue houseboat along the water. A caretaker had been checking on the houseboat when he noticed someone was inside and heard gunfire as he approached the door.
The stunned caretaker called 911 and police soon swarmed the scene, including the department’s marine patrol which took up posts in the water. Police attempted to make contact with Cunanan — but the fugitive never responded.
A SWAT team eventually forced their way into the property and discovered Cunanan dead in a bedroom from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. For days before his death, Navarro said the man who had once dreamed of luxury, had lived “trapped like a rat” with dwindling food, no money, and no place to go.
“We were very excited that it was over. We actually high-fived each other,” Navarro recalled. “We were happy nobody else was going to die.”
Decades later, there are still no answers about why Cunanan — a one-time golden boy with a life full of promise — decided to kill.
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