Following the overwhelming success of The People v. O.J. Simpson in 2016, FX’s American Crime Story has returned for a second season, this time centered around the brutal murder of renowned designer Gianni Versace. The Italian fashion visionary was shot and killed on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion by 27-year-old serial killer Andrew Cunanan on July 15, 1997.
American Crime Story’s second season focuses not only on Versace’s assassination, but also on the criminal investigation following his death and the events that led his killer, Andrew Cunanan, to pull the trigger. (Glee star Darren Criss portrays Cunanan in the series, and it turns out, he’s a spitting image of the killer.)
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Here’s a look into the life of Andrew Cunanan before he committed his most infamous crime.
1. Cunanan died by suicide, shooting himself with the same gun he used to kill Versace.
Eight days after Versace’s murder, Cunanan’s body was found in a second-floor bedroom of a houseboat anchored off Collins Avenue, just three miles north of Versace’s Miami Beach mansion. A caretaker, who had heard a gunshot while checking in on the seemingly unoccupied houseboat, immediately notified police. A SWAT team lobbed tear gas into the houseboat and, 12 hours later, announced they had found the body of wanted fugitive Andrew Cunanan. He did not leave behind a suicide note.
2. He had an IQ of 147 and was known as a prolific liar.
Born in National City, California on August 31, 1969 to Modesto Cunanan, a Navy veteran turned stockbroker, and Mary Anne Schillaci, Andrew Phillip Cunanan was the youngest of four children. As Maureen Orth reports in her book Vulgar Favors, Cunanan had an IQ of 147, making him incredibly bright for his age. Cunanan attended The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, a private school where most of the other students came from families that were wealthier than his.
In order to fit in, Cunanan made up stories about his background, which has led many to believe that he showed early signs of—previously referred to as psychopathy or sociopathy. Cunanan would even change his appearance throughout school according to what he felt was most attractive at the time. Later in life, Cunanan would claim that his father was an Israeli millionaire and a Fifth Avenue aristocrat.
3. He memorized the encyclopedia at the age of 10.
4. His family found out he was gay when he was 19.
By the time Cunanan was 19, he had become a frequent nighttime patron at local gay bars and restaurants. During this time, his religious mother found out that he was gay, something other members of his family had known but never acknowledged. It wasn’t long after this that Cunanan left home and moved to San Francisco, where he was a more visible part of the gay community.
5. He dropped out of college and befriended wealthy men.
In 1987, Cunanan enrolled in the University of California San Diego and majored in American History, but he dropped out two years later, eventually moving to San Fransisco. He became a fixture in the nightlife of the Castro district, a gay neighborhood, befriending wealthy older men, and also reportedly took an interest in creating violent pornography.
When news of his killing spree spread, his friends and acquaintances fled the city to avoid running into him and potentially becoming his next victim, according to an article published in the San Diego Reader in May 1997.
6. His life was bankrolled by a wealthy older man named Norman Blachford, who eventually cut him off, sending Cunanan into a downward spiral.
Blachford, one of his wealthy lovers, broke up with Cunanan in 1996. Blachford had allegedly been bankrolling Cunanan’s cushy lifestyle, providing him with a $2,000 per month allowance, a fancy car to drive, and vacations to New York City and the South of France. Then, things went sour. “He was dumped by his latest sugar daddy,” Donna Brant, who was the managing editor of America’s Most Wanted at the time of Versace’s murder, told ABC News. “He was losing his prowess among his peers. He had gotten sloppy and lost his looks, and the star was fading.”
Sources said Cunanan’s mental health suffered when his lifestyle took a hit. “Andrew’s self-worth was tied to the finer things in life, what [people] could do for him,” criminal profiler Candice DeLong told ABC News. “Being accepted in high society and by wealthy people was what he expected. If he didn’t get them, he was lost.” It was during this period of self-doubt that Cunanan took the life of his first victim.
7. He killed four people before murdering Gianni Versace.
Not long before his first murder, Cunanan told his friends in San Diego that he was flying to Minnesota to “settle some business” with old friend Jeffrey Trail, according to an article released by The New York Times a few months after his first murder. While it’s not clear how Cunanan and Trail knew each other, investigators at the time believe they had been romantically linked.
Trail, a 28-year-old propane salesman, was found beaten to death with a claw hammer and rolled up in a rug that was stuffed in the closet of architect David Madson’s apartment on April 27, 1997. Madson, another one of Cunanan’s lovers, would soon become his second victim.
“[Andrew] loved David Madson very, very much…. [But after the breakup,] David didn’t want anything to do with him,” Cunanan’s former roommate Erik Greenman told ABC News in 1997. “I mean, David was Andrew’s life. He said many, many times that he would give up everything to move out to Minneapolis for David.”
Madson’s body was found with gunshot wounds to the head and back on the east shore of Rush Lake nearon May 3, 1997.
Cunanan later drove to Chicago and killed 72-year-old Lee Miglin on May 4, 1997. No connection was ever found between Cunanan and Miglin, a prominent real estate developer, and officials concluded that it was a crime of opportunity while Miglin was cleaning a garage near his home, according to The Chicago Tribune. After the murder, “Cunanan went into the family’s home, ate a ham sandwich, shaved and rested,” according to ABC7Chicago.
He then drove Miglin’s car to New Jersey, where he murdered yet another victim: William Reese, a cemetery worker, who appeared to have been shot to death so Cunanan could steal his 1995 red Chevrolet pickup truck.
8. He was the 449th fugitive to be listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Following his fourth murder, Cunanan had become one of America’s most-wanted fugitives. Though law enforcement and the FBI were on the hunt for him, Cunanan made his way to Miami, eventually taking up residence for nearly two months at the Normandy Plaza hotel, about four miles north of Versace’s mansion.
The hotel’s night manager claimed Cunanan paid in cash and would often change his appearance, possibly even wearing wigs to alter the way he looked, according to Vanity Fair.
9. He met Versace in San Francisco years before the fashion designer’s murder.
In 1990, Versace and his future killer met at Colossus, a San Francisco nightclub, where Cunanan was pleased to find that Versace recognized him from a party at his house on Lake Como. Whether Cunanan had ever actually been to Lake Como is unknown, but he took the recognition and used it to his advantage in his social circles, dropping Versace’s name frequently.
10. He shot Versace on the front steps of the designer’s Miami mansion.
On July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace was shot to death on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion. While a witness and police pursued Cunanan, he managed to escape. That morning, investigators found Reese’s stolen pickup truck, along with a pile of discarded clothes, a personal check, a passport, newspaper clippings about his past murders, and a pawnshop ticket. At the time, Cunanan was wanted for the murders of Trail, Madson, and Miglin.
11. The book Vulgar Favors outlines theories about the motive behind his killing spree.
12. Darren Criss stars as Cunanan in the American Crime Story series.
Criss looks nearly identical to Versace’s killer in the FX series, and he seems to have found common ground with his character as well. “At the end of the day, if you think of the worst person that you know, that’s done the worst things ever, you have more in common with them than not,” Criss said of playing Cunanan in an interview with radio personality Elvis Duran. “The fact is, those differences are big, but they’re small in number … So, what’s kind of been a joy for me is to find as many redeeming things as possible in someone that you fathom as something so horrible and to really get the audience to ask themselves, ‘At what point could this have been me?'”
Gianni Versace is played by Édgar Ramírez; Penélope Cruz plays his sister Donatella Versace; and Ricky Martin plays Versace’s partner Antonio D’Amico. Check out how the cast compares to their real-life counterparts here.
Season 2 0f American Crime Story: The Assasination of Gianni Versace airs Wednesdays on FX.
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