Whether you’re a fan of fashion or not, you will have undoubtedly heard the name Versace. The celebrated Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, was at the height of his powers in the mid 1990’s – styling some of the most iconic red carpet gowns in the world (including the infamous ‘safety pin’ dress worn by Elizabeth Hurley) and throwing parties for the crème de la crème of Hollywood at his gorgeous Miami mansion.
Sadly, the scene of Versace’s wild parties and carefree lifestyle would also be the place of his sudden and brutal murder on July 15th, 1997. One of the most well-known and beloved designers in the game was shot dead at aged 50 on the steps of his villa in South Beach by 27-year-old serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Versace was returning home from his usual morning walk when his life was cut short in an instant and more than 20 years later, one large mystery is still attached to his murder – what was the motive?
According to Versace’s family and those close to him, his killer Andrew Cunanan, supposedly never met him before and the authorities have never been able to establish a link to the two men. So what could have possibly possessed Cunanan to kill Versace? His loved ones and the fashion world have been asking this question for the past two decades and a dramatization as part of the American Crime Story series is due to shed light on the subject next year. For now, though, the case is still shrouded largely in mystery. Until we know more, here are 15 tragic and surprising details about the murder that shook the fashion world.
15. Gianni’s Killer Murdered 4 Others Just Months Before
By the time 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan opened fire on Versace, he already had a string of murders to his name – 4 others to be exact – and had miraculously been able to evade capture for nearly 3 months. His first of four victims before Gianni Versace was a former lover Jeff Trail, who Cunanan tricked into a rendez-vous before bludgeoning to death in April 1997 (apart from an alleged argument between the two former lovers, the motive for this murder remains a mystery too).
Cunanan continued his killing spree with the murder of David Madson, another ex-lover of his who had broken off their relationship after 6 months after feeling that Cunanan “had a dark, shady side”. No kidding. By the time nearby fisherman found Madson’s body on a lake shore near Minneapolis, Cunanan had already killed his third – 72-year-old real estate developer Lee Miglin. In making his getaway from Miglin’s horrifically sick murder (keep reading), Cunanan killed cemetery caretaker William Reese and stole his car.
14. Losing Her Brother Triggered An 18-Year Coke Addiction In Donatella Versace
When many people think of the name and the brand Versace, they immediately think of Donatella Versace, Gianni’s sister and this pays her a great compliment. The now 62-year-old fashion icon has worked hard in her brother’s absence to keep the brand alive for the last twenty years and she has certainly achieved that. But carrying on her beloved brother’s legacy was not always plain sailing and within the first five years of her brother’s untimely death, she admits “I was lost”.
The grief combined with the massive responsibility of carrying on Gianni’s business led Donatella down a destructive path of partying and worsened a lingering cocaine addiction that would continue to plague her for 8 years after her brother’s death (18 years in total) until she was eventually admitted to rehab in 2005. Ever since, Donatella Versace has been determined to carry on her brother’s work as the vice president of a fashion house worth nearly $600 million a year.
13. Killer’s Suicide Before Capture Robbed Versace’s Family Of Closure
Versace’s killer Andrew Cunanan committed suicide just days after the murder – leaving the authorities and the world with a lot of unanswered questions. Cunanan’s sudden death while Gianni’s murder was still raw also left the Versace family without a feeling of closure. Why did Cunanan target Gianni? Did they ever know each other and was Cunanan out for some kind of revenge? Unfortunately, without any hard evidence, these questions may always be floating in the air.
Of the five men Andrew Cunanan killed in 1997, two of them had been former lovers, which made authorities question whether Versace was somehow involved with him. In the meantime, the world and Versace’s family can only guess why he may have been a target. Gianni was adored in the fashion world and at home, and was in a committed 15-year relationship with his partner Antonio D’Amico, at the time of his death. Sadly, Versace’s family are still trying to process it more than twenty years on.
12. It Took Police 9 Days To Finally Track Down Cunanan
After killing the iconic fashion designer in cold blood on the morning of July 15th, 1997, 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan was chased through the streets of Miami by witnesses before vanishing into a crowd of people. From there onward, Cunanan sparked a manhunt that would take authorities 9 days to find him. His body was eventually discovered in a houseboat that was moored only 2 miles from Versace’s South Beach villa and it was apparent he had killed himself.
Police and a SWAT team arrived at the houseboat and fired tear gas during a four-hour stand-off. Cunanan was responsible for the lives of five people in the space of three months, so the authorities rightly didn’t want to take any chances, but when they eventually entered the houseboat, they discovered Cunanan lying dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He had used the same gun he used to kill three of his other victims – including Versace, but left no suicide note or clue as to his motive.
11. Killer Andrew Cunanan May Have Been A Rejected Admirer Of Versace
Since Gianni Versace’s tragic murder more than twenty years ago, people have been trying to search for some kind of plausible motive held by Cunanan for wanting to kill him. Could they have ever known each other? The authorities – back then and now – seem unconvinced of this and Versace’s own family dispute that there was any prior relationship with the two men. However, when you consider Andrew Cunanan’s track record before murdering Versace, a possible motive does present itself.
As a young gay socialite, Cunanan spent his adult life around sugar daddies who let him live out his luxurious fantasies and wow the gay community of Florida. Not all of these sugar daddies were lovers of Cunanan – some were simply people he traveled with to enjoy the finer things in life, so there’s a chance that Cunanan may have set his sights on Versace, but was rejected. If this was true, the psycho stalker motive does have some credibility.
10. Versace’s Boyfriend Said His “Blood Turned To Ice” Upon Hearing The Fatal Gunshots
When the beloved fashion designer was brutally murdered on the steps of his Miami villa, his boyfriend of 15 years, Antonio D’Amico was the first person to hear the dreadful gunshot sounds. D’Amico was enjoying his morning coffee on the veranda of the South Beach mansion they shared together when he heard the shots that had killed his other half. D’Amico recalls feeling that it “felt as if my blood had turned to ice.”
D’Amico and the couple’s butler rushed outside the gates to find Gianni lying on the steps in a pool of blood. Unsurprisingly, D’Amico’s world crashed around him in an instant. “At that point, everything went dark, I was pulled away, I didn’t see anymore.” Promotional images released ahead of the American Crime Story re-telling of Versace’s murder (due to air next year) angered D’Amico for their inaccurate portrayal of that morning. D’Amico (played by Ricky Martin) is seen holding Versace’s body in his arms, mimicking Jesus at the crucifixion. “Maybe it’s the director’s poetic license, but that’s not how I reacted. It’s ridiculous.”
9. Andrew Cunanan Was A Child Genius And Was Given Everything
Growing up in a wealthy part of San Diego, Andrew Cunanan had a happy and privileged life – very far from the stereotypical ‘broken home’ image of a soon-to-be serial murderer. He was also adored by his parents and his brother Christopher even admitted that Andrew was singled out as the ‘favorite’ by their father. As the youngest of four siblings, Cunanan was seen as “the chosen one” and the one they had picked to succeed in life, owing to his high IQ of 147.
In an ABC interview shortly after his death, Andrew’s family revealed that by the time he was 10 years old, he had apparently read an entire set of encyclopedias and had memorized every fact. Andrew’s older sister Elena, also told ABC that he was “given everything” he needed (and more). His father gave him a sports car and the master bedroom. Growing up surrounded by the finer things in life may have triggered a belief in Cunanan that the world owed him everything – whatever the cost.
8. Cunanan Killed A “Humble” Cemetery Caretaker To Steal A Car
During his killing spree in late April 1997, Andrew Cunanan killed four men within days of each other, but the first three murders were thought to be calculated, owing to the fact Cunanan had a previous relationship with them (in addition to the state that one of the men’s bodies was discovered – see below). But his fourth and penultimate victim before Gianni Versace was the 45-year-old caretaker William Reese.
Reese worked at the Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, looking after the site for more than twenty years. He was described by friends as “a humble guy who took people at face value”. Sadly for Reese, he couldn’t have predicted the kind of man Andrew Cunanan was. While trying to evade the police, Cunanan stole William Reese’s red pickup truck and shot Reese in the head. His body was later discovered in the lodge near the cemetery.
7. Cunanan Explored His “Bondage Fetish” In Lee Miglin’s Murder
Versace’s serial killer Andrew Cunanan may have ended the fashion designer’s life quickly with two gunshots to the head, but he chose a very different method for one of his previous victims. While on his killing spree towards the end of April in 1997, Cunanan headed to Chicago to kill his third victim, Lee Miglin, a 72-year-old real estate developer. Those who knew Cunanan in his early years on the gay scene in San Diego and Florida knew he had an S&M fetish and by the look of things – he chose to act out this fantasy when he murdered Miglin.
Lee Miglin’s wife Marilyn, discovered Lee’s dead body in the garage of their Chicago mansion. His throat had been slit and his head, hands and feet had been bound with masking tape. Police later discovered that whilst Cunanan had Miglin tied up, he stabbed the real estate mogul over 20 times with a screwdriver (breaking all of his ribs) before slicing his throat with a hacksaw. Police believe Cunanan was living out his sexual fantasy in killing Miglin: “He didn’t have to tie him up the way he did – render him helpless. But, it enhances the experience for them.” Messed up.
6. There Were Hints That The Murder May Have Been A ‘Mafia Hit’
At the time of Versace’s murder, authorities on the scene initially believed that his murder had something to do with the mafia and they based this on one sign in particular – that there was the body of a dead bird found next to Versace’s body. In mob circles, witnesses who are found to have testified against the mafia are labeled “stool pigeons” or are referred to as a person who “sings like a canary”, so a dead bird is seen as a threat to never cross them.
Upon closer inspection, though, it seems the dead bird next to Versace was just hit by a fragment of the bullet that killed him. Still, there could be some truth in the mafia connection to Versace’s killing, based on a claim made by former member of the Calabrian Mafia, Giuseppe Di Bella. Di Bella claimed that the mafia used Versace to launder criminal money and that he may have been killed over “debts” to the mob. Again, the claim lacks hard evidence, so we may never know the real reason behind Versace’s murder.
5. Some Believe Cunanan Murdered Out Of Petty Jealousy
Andrew Cunanan’s true motive for killing Gianni Versace has been the subject of fascination for the last two decades. For a while after the murders, there was a lot of speculation in the press that tied Versace’s murder to the fact that Cunanan had discovered he was HIV positive, sending the media and the public into a furor that he could have been a spurned lover of Versace. However, this soon turned out to be a rumor when Cunanan’s autopsy revealed him to be HIV negative.
Another theory emerged soon after that Andrew Cunanan was simply jealous of Versace’s glamorous lifestyle – something Cunanan attempted to emulate his entire adult life. Versace’s killer spent most of his time around older men with genuine career aspirations but Cunanan wanted nothing more than to live the life of a rich young socialite who partied wildly and had cash to flash. Inevitably, when he lost this status, this may have sparked petty jealousy and violence in him that led him to the killing spree.
4. Others Believe Cunanan Killed Versace Simply “To Become Famous”
Andrew Cunanan was obsessed with the finer things in life and made it his passion to surround himself with people of high society. After living with his divorced father in a less than glamorous place, Cunanan embarked on a string of love affairs with wealthy older men and this was his ticket to a supposedly better life. He would travel with his ‘sugar daddies’, stay in million-dollar homes and party with the California elite. But one by one, each of these relationships ended – mostly because Cunanan’s lovers realized his dark, volatile nature.
With his glittering social circle narrowing and his lavish celebrity-like lifestyle fading, some believe Cunanan murdered the man behind one of the biggest fashion houses on the planet simply to go down in history. The former host of America’s Most Wanted, John Walsh, believes that Cunanan wanted to kill someone who represented the lifestyle he wanted, assuming his thinking to be: “I’m going down some time. I want the world to remember me.”
3. Cunanan’s High School Yearbook Quote Foreshadowed A Disturbing Future
Andrew Cunanan came from a very privileged background and attended the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. This was the kind of school that diplomats and other rich and powerful people would send their kids. But despite being given the best possible start in life, Cunanan was a troubled young student and nothing hinted at this more strongly than in the quote he chose for his high school yearbook. Some students might make a joke or say what they wish to accomplish in life, but Cunanan’s was dreary and morbid and served as an eerie hint towards his future self.
Before we even get to his yearbook quote, an equally creepy thing about Cunanan’s yearbook was that his high school peers had named him “Most Likely to be Remembered”. He got this alright, but for all the wrong reasons. Cunanan’s actual quote beneath his photo was: “Apres Moi Le Deluge” from King Louis XV, which basically translates as: “After me, the flood”. Pretty apt considering that, after graduating, Cunanan’s parents divorced and he got involved with drug dealing and theft before becoming a gay gigolo.
2. Killer Cunanan Kept Up A Double Life
It goes without saying that Andrew Cunanan was a disturbed young man – most serial killers tend to juggle different personas – but long before he embarked on his killing rampage in his late 20’s, the young Californian college graduate was already perfecting the art of living two very different lives and his desire to make his fantasy life a fully-fledged reality was ultimately his downfall. After his parents divorced at age 19, Cunanan went from living in a luxurious family home to living in squalor in the Philippines with his Dad.
When Cunanan returned the States, he vowed to shake off his background by inventing a rich new persona for himself – lying to friends that he was of Philippine royalty. Whatever lies he fed his social circle must have worked because before he knew it, Andrew was dining in the best restaurants and dating older men who bought him everything his heart desired. He soon started to believe that his fortune was his own and these delusions of self-worth probably led him to a string of jealousy killings.
1. Versace’s Mansion-turned-Hotel Is Occasionally Visited By Ghost Hunters
Twenty years on from Gianni Versace’s death, the Miami villa he was killed on the steps of has since been transformed into a grand hotel that is frequented by many celebrity guests. Back in the day, Versace’s mansion – now the Villa Casa Casuarina – boasted overnight guests like Princess Diana, Madonna and Elton John and now, as a hotel, the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber have been the party guests.
Some people who visit the hotel, however, believe there could be guests of a supernatural kind living in the mansion. In addition to celeb guests and tourists, the Versace hotel has attracted a few ghost hunters who believe that Gianni’s spirit lives on in the villa. Perhaps the second season of the American Crime Story will shed more light on Versace’s former home-turned-hotel in the planned 2018 episode Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.
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