S1/E6: Andrew Cunanan


August 31, 1969

Andrew Phillip Cunanan was born to Modesto and MaryAnn Cunanan in Rancho Bernardo California, an affluent suburb of San Diego. Modesto was serving in the US Navy in Vietnam when Andrew was born. Along with his three older siblings, Andrew grew up with every opportunity to succeed in life. It seemed like he was on the right track. He was highly literate, had great social skills and displayed an almost photographic memory. Many say he was a charming child that used his wit and clean-cut good looks to his advantage.

But what first seemed like an abundance of self-confidence began to turn into a selfish arrogance.



Modesto enrolled Andrew in the Bishop’s School in La Jolla (La Hoya) California. He was bright and talkative and tested with an I.Q. of 147. While he was a good student and well liked, other facets of his personality began to reveal themselves.


He was prone to telling lies about his family and his personal life. In fact, he seemed to lie more often than not. He also began changing his appearance to suit his moods. These traits, along with his flashy wardrobe and flamboyant behavior, earned him the title of “Most Likely Not to be Forgotten” as voted on by his classmates.


Upon graduating high school, Andrew Cunanan enrolled at the University of California, majoring in American History.


Modesto Cunanan was accused of embezzlement. A charge that was most likely accurate, as he fled America for Manila, abandoning his family and thrusting them into hardship. To make matters worse for Andrew, his mother learned the same year that he was gay; a fact she did not approve of. During an argument over his sexuality, Andrew threw MaryAnne against a wall, dislocating her shoulder.  He warned her not to tell anyone how she received her injury, or he would kill her.

By this time, the teenaged Cunanan was involved in petty theft and drug dealing. It was posited that his drug use led to this violent outburst, but others would say his behavior stemmed from antisocial personality disorder, as characterized by an abnormal lack of empathy.


At age 19, Andrew Cunanan dropped out of school to join his father in Manila. It didn’t last long. Cunanan was disgusted by his father’s living conditions and returned to the United States after a month.

He then moved to the Castro District of San Francisco, where he became a prominent figure in the gay community. Along with the clubbing nightlife came drugs and hedonism.

He continued to play with changing his visual appearance, but it wasn’t enough. He began adopting a variety of identities, such as Andrew DeSilva: a Hollywood socialite with a Riviera mansion. Another favorite character of his was a naval officer Lieutenant Commander Cummings: a graduate of Yale.

Cunanan maintained the charade by living the lavish lifestyle he always coveted. It seemed to work for a while. All his compatriots regarded him as good company. He was intelligent, could hold a conversation about a variety of topics and was generous. His insistence to always pick up the tab was in fact a desperate attempt to prove he was affluent and of a stature far divorced from his reality.


Cunanan was, in truth, unemployed, and relied on the generosity of his benefactors…older gay men that lavished him with cars, money, clothes and other gifts in return for his companionship. Maryanne Cunanan would later call her son a high-class male prostitute, but others called him a gigolo.



Cunanan made the move to San Diego, California. As the years went on, he developed a reputation for his unique combination of preppie charm and a taste for kinky S&M sex. This was appealing to many older men in the area, allowing Cunanan to continue living beyond his means.



Years of drug use, a wanton sexual lifestyle, and dependence on the largesse of his sugar daddies caught up with Cunanan.  Seemingly overnight, he went from living a luxurious life filled with new cars, gourmet food, champagne and a $2,500 a month allowance to living in relative squalor.

One of Cunanan’s elder benefactors suddenly cut him off completely, leaving Cunanan to fend for himself. He began selling drugs.

He had been in what he called a perfect relationship with a Minneapolis architect named David Madson, but Madson grew tired of Cunanan’s involvement in dealing and doing drugs.  He began to distance himself from Cunanan, sending Cunanan into a deeper downward spiral.

Cunanan had always prided himself on his looks. He gained weight, gave up jogging, looked disheveled and was acting despondent.

Mid April, 1997

Cunanan told friends acquaintances that he was moving back to San Francisco. A farewell party was thrown, and Cunanan ate like it was his last meal. He dined on trout, ostrich and beef tenderloin.  After talking his creditor into extending the line of credit on his card, he bought a one way first class airline ticket.  But he wasn’t headed to San Francisco. His destination was Minneapolis Minnesota. He told a friend he was going there to quote/unquote settle some business.

April 25

Cunanan arrived in Minneapolis, where he met with David Madson.  Later that night, Madson took him out for dinner and introduced him to friends.  While a few of Madson’s friends found Cunanan charming, others thought he was pretentious and narcissistic.

April 27

Cunanan invited Jeffrey Trail to Madson’s loft apartment. The 28-year-old Trail was a friend of Cunanan’s that had moved from San Diego to Minnesota in November of 1996. Trail served in the Navy as a firearms trainer and taught Cunanan how to shoot. The two would often go to the shooting range together.  Accounts vary as to the nature of Cunanan and Trails’ relationship.  Some speculated that the two were lovers, while others believed that Trail was more of a big brother to Cunanan.

That night, Cunanan took a claw hammer and struck Trail in the head and face over two dozen times, bludgeoning him to death.  He then rolled his body in a carpet and hid it in Madson’s closet.  It would take two days for his body to be found.  The motive for this murder is unknown. Theories range from Trail being an ex-lover of Cunanan’s to Trail being adamantly against Cunanan’s drugs use and dealing. It is also unknown where David Madson was during the killing.

May 1

Cunanan and Madson traveled 50 miles north of Minneapolis to a lake. Once there, Cunanan used Trail’s .40 caliber Taurus PT100 semi-automatic pistol to shoot Madson multiple times in the head, killing him instantly.   Again, the motive for the slaying remains unknown. But Cunanan …was just getting started.

That same day, Trail’s body was discovered, along with clues to his killer’s identity.  Cunanan was either remiss or apathetic when leaving the bloody murder weapon at the scene of the crime, as well as his personally monogrammed gym bag that held an empty holster and a used box of .40 caliber Gold Saber bullets.

May 4

Cunanan drove Madson’s red Jeep to Chicago, where he had targeted his next victim: 72-year-old real estate mogul and philanthropist Lee Miglin. The connection between the two men remains a mystery, but somehow Cunanan gained entrance to Miglin’s home. Cunanan bound Miglin’s wrist and ankles and wrapped his face in tape, leaving only a small hole under the nose. He then transported Miglin into the garage, where he tortured him by beating him, then stabbing him with a screwdriver and pruning shears. He finally killed Miglin by slashing his throat with a gardening saw. After the murder, Cunanan availed himself of the amenities in the house: eating a ham sandwich, shaving with Miglin’s electric razor, and resting, before he moved on.  He took Miglin’s watch, leather jacket, $2000 in cash and his 1994 green Lexus.

May 9

Travelling eastward, Cunanan stayed off the main roads and felt he needed to ditch the inconspicuous luxury car he was driving. He pulled into Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, where 45-year-old J. William Reese was a caretaker. Cunanan entered the stone house that Reese was occupying and shot him in the head with the same pistol he used to kill Madson.  Cunanan had no ties to Reese. He simply wanted his 1995 red Chevy pickup truck.  Reese died on the grounds he loved and took care of for years.

 May 12

After a quick trip north to New York, Cunanan drove south, stopping in South Carolina to steal a new license plate for the pickup truck he stole from Reese. He arrived at Miami Beach Florida where he checked into the Normandy Plaza: a shabby hotel that was far from Cunanan’s typical high standards.

For the next two months, Cunanan only left his hotel room to go clubbing in South Beach and to pick up take-out food. While holed up, he spent his time reading fashion magazines and watching TV and S&M pornography.


Cunanan moved William Reese’s pickup truck to a South Beach parking garage. This garage was only two blocks away from iconic fashion designer Gianni Versace’s South Beach home, called the Casa Casuarina.

June 12

Andrew Cunanan was added to the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List.  The list began in March of 1950, with each fugitive being designated a number since that date. Cunanan was #449

July 11

Kenneth Benjamin was working as a cashier at Miami Subs Grill, a sandwich shop just a few blocks from the Normandy. Cunanan entered the shop and placed an order. As he stood at the register to pay, Benjamin recognized his face from an episode of America’s Most Wanted he had recently watched. Benjamin asked Cunanan to wait a moment and slipped into a backroom to call 911. The operator told him to try to stall Cunanan while police were sent to the location. When he returned to the register, Cunanan was gone. A co-worker hadn’t realized what was transpiring and had given Cunanan his order. Police arrived minutes later, but Cunanan was in the wind.


July 15

Gianni Versace felt safe in South Beach.  So much so, that he dismissed bodyguards and security details when staying in his Southern Florida mansion. His morning routine was to purchase magazines and coffee at the News Café, just blocks from his home.  Often times he would have an assistant pick them up, but Versace was in a good mood that morning and decided to walk there himself.

It was just before 9:00 AM when he returned home. Unbeknownst to Versace, a young man approached him as he was opening the intricately detailed wrought iron gate at the entrance of his home. The man was Andrew Cunanan. Wearing a white shirt, gray shorts and black backpack, Cunanan walked up to Versace and casually shot him twice in the head with the same pistol he used to kill Madson and Reese.  Versace collapsed in a pool of blood on the stone steps in front of his home.


Almost immediately, Versace’s longtime partner Antonio D’Amico ran out of the mansion and chased Cunanan as he ran onto Ocean Drive. He stopped when Cunanan suddenly turned around and aimed the gun at D’Amico.  Cunanan then did something unexpected. He waved D’Amico off and ran into the parking garage that he had used for Reese’s pickup truck.

While D’Amico was outside, Versace’s chef, Charles Podesta, called 911.

Gianni Versace was dead, at age 50.

Police scoured the area and found the pickup truck Cunanan was using. Inside they discovered the bloody clothes he was wearing when he shot Versace, a passport bearing Cunanan’s photo and name, a personal check, and a ticket to a pawn shop. The ticket was traced to a gold coin that was stolen from Lee Miglin’s house. The coin had been pawned in Miami, where Cunanan used his own name and passport for verification. He even gave his thumbprint. As required per law, the pawn shop submitted the ticket with Cunanan’s information and thumbprint to the Miami police a week before Versace’s murder.

While investigators had Cunanan’s identity, the killer himself eluded them.

As the days went by, the citizens of southern Florida were in a state of near-panic, as a killer was on the loose in their area. There were sightings in every contiguous US State. Cunanan’s name and face was on every TV station and newspaper, but still, he somehow managed to evade authorities.


July 24

The manhunt came to an end, not through good detective work, but by happenstance. Fernando Carreira was the caretaker for a lavish houseboat moored along Indian Creek, about midway between Versace’s mansion and the Normandy Plaza hotel Cunanan had been staying in. The houseboat belonged to Torsten Reineck, a gay spa owner that was said to have fled the area after Versace’s death, fearing that he would be targeted by Cunanan.

Carreira approached the 3,000 square foot houseboat; he noticed the wrong lock was secured. He drew the gun he was carrying. By this time, police and FBI had blanketed the South Beach area, almost certainly assuring that Cunanan was still in the area. Everyone was on high alert.  Before Carreira could determine his next course of action, a shot rang out. He ran to safety and had his son call the police.

Full SWAT teams arrived and, with bullhorns, urged Cunanan to either pick up the phone or surrender. They said “Andrew, come out! The whole world is watching!” There was no response. They launched tear gas canisters into the houseboat and boarded it. They found Andrew Cunanan’s lifeless body in a second floor bedroom. The gunshot Carreira had heard was in fact Cunanan firing the Taurus PT100 into his own head, ending his four-month cross-country killing spree.

In the end, Cunanan got what he wanted. He achieved the attention he so desperately craved all his life. Sadly, it came from villainous infamy at the expense of the four lives he took, and the loved ones that will forever be changed by his actions.


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