The truth about Andrew Cunanan’s life is difficult to sort out. Cunanan worked very hard to make it that way. As his friends put it, “He was a fantastic liar.” But, despite the fact that he alternately told different people that his father was Israeli and leader of the Moussad, or a Filipino general ousted by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the fact stands that the elder Cunanan was a US Navy man who was serving in Vietnam at the time of Andrew’s birth (1969). He became a stockbroker after the war, but was accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars. So, he left his wife, and their four children in order to avoid capture/prosecution. In his wake, Andrew’s mother MaryAnn struggled hard to stay afloat. Though Andrew later portrayed her as “the ultimate spoiled Jewish mother,” MaryAnn was anything but. In fact, the Italian-American MaryAnn Schillaci survived by living off of public assistance. A devout Catholic, she was described as an “emotionally fragile woman.”
However, Cunanan bucked against his own reality from a very early age. By his teens, he was known to craft intricate stories that described alternate events, timelines, and people. All of a sudden he wasn’t an abandoned child being raised by a single mother in distress. She was a Jewish princess who shared spa days with Debbie Harry.
This only went so far though.
Andrew couldn’t deny all truths forever, and when he was 19, it came out that he was gay. During an argument with his mother over it, he reportedly threw her against a wall and dislocated her shoulder. Soon afterward, he dropped out of college in San Diego and moved to the Castro district of San Francisco. It was there that he began living a very different kind of life…one where he aimed to make his lies become reality.
While in the Castro, Andrew began selling himself to wealthy older men and became involved in petty theft and drug dealing (namely pain killers such as the opiate Percocet). He eventually met and began a relationship with Norman Blanchard – a La Jolla millionaire. Andrew was very young and very open about spending Blanchard’s money. In public he even alleged that Blanchard wasn’t generous enough (despite gifts of cars and trips abroad). Even so, Blanchard and his rich friends seemed to like Cunanan. He was full of life and brilliant stories…even though most of them knew that the stories were contrived. And this life appeased Andrew for a time. But, eventually Cunanan tired of it and gave Blanchard the brush-off.
However, instead of finding a new fabulous lover and life, Cunanan found himself lost without a source of income or status. On top of it, he had almost no one to latch onto. His friends had tired of his stories and schemes, and Cunanan scrambled to find a place to belong. This brought Cunanan back to Jeff Trail – a friend he’d met years ago in San Diego.
Trail was a US Navy officer turned propane salesman, and he was described by everyone who knew him as a no-nonsense, stand-up guy. In fact, it often confounded people that Trail “put up with Cunanan” since they seemed so very different. The flamboyant Cunanan was always involved in shady dealings and telling outlandish lies, whereas Trail was down to earth and above board. Trail had eventually moved to Minneapolis and had a falling out with Cunanan that some hypothesized had to do with Andrew’s drug dealing and attempts at smuggling.
By coincidence, another friend of Cunanan’s named David Madson had also moved to Minneapolis. Though both Trail and Madson were gay, Madson held a different sort of fascination for Cunanan. Madson was, simply, the “one who got away.” Though he and Cunanan had had a sexual relationship, it was clear that Cunanan was the one with deeper feelings. When Madson cut things off, it hurt and offended Cunanan.
And now that both Madson and Trail – two of Cunanan’s only long-time friends – were in the same city, it seemed that Minneapolis might be the best place for Andrew to hide out for a while. So Cunanan made his way up north, despite the falling out he’d had with Trail and the broken relationship with Madson. Even at the time people questioned both as to why they’d let Cunanan stay with them and the answer was always the same: they felt sorry for him.
Unfortunately for both, the sympathy and kindness they displayed for Cunanan could not save them from his wrath. On April 25th, 1997, Jeff Trails’ body was found bludgeoned to death from behind with a claw hammer. His body was left in David Madson’s apartment. Thus, the police initially surmised that Madson had been Trail’s killer. Finding Madson’s body on the east shore of Rush Lake on April 29th changed all that. He’d been shot three times in the head and back.
From Minneapolis, Cunanan was on the run to Chicago. There he stopped at Lee Miglin’s house in Chicago’s wealthy Gold Coast area. Miglin was found by his wife (who returned home confused from a trip when he hadn’t picked her up at the airport). Lee Miglin’s lexus was gone, and his body was found stabbed with his throat slashed. How Lee Miglin and Cunanan knew each other is hotly debated (whether they knew each other at all). What is known is that Cunanan was found to have a magazine in his possession that featured Miglin’s architectural work.
From there Cunanan drove to New York and Pennsylvania. This is known because the car phone in Miglin’s lexus was used three times from the Philadelphia area. Sadly, police didn’t have time to catch up with him because the Philly police department let the detail about the car phone slip to the press, and Cunanan was on the run again, searching for a new car.
He found one in New Jersey, belonging to cemetery groundskeeper, William Reese. Reese’s body was found on the floor of the caretaker’s office with a .40 caliber bullet in his skull. Reese’s truck was gone.
On July 15th, 1997, Andrew Cunanan shot and killed fashion designer Gianni Versace on the steps of Versace’s Miami beach mansion. Then, nine days later, Cunanan shot and killed himself in the upstairs bedroom of a Miami houseboat.
Categorizing Andrew Cunanan has been a very difficult task because his case defies a clean classification. Was he a serial killer? A spree killer? A mass murderer?
Let’s go through and dissect:
While Cunanan meets the ‘technical’ requirement of being a serial killer (more than 2 consecutive victims) with some period of time in between, I’m not inclined to categorize him as such. This is mostly because I don’t feel that Cunanan had a “cooling off” period in between the kills. It doesn’t follow the typical pattern of a murder, the satiation from the murder (i.e. cooling off) and a build-up of tension to the next victim. Rather, Cunanan seemed to have one, definitive break at the end of April and he kept going until his suicide. This much more closely follows the pattern of a spree killer.
There are problems with this too, however. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics defines a spree killer as a murderer who who commits killings in two or more locations with “almost no break in between.” Since this definition is nebulous, at best, it’s hard to say whether or not Cunanan qualifies with a spree that lasts nearly 3 months. That said, his actions appear much closer to this definition (a single break and a string of murders).
Lastly, is this a “mass murder” event? While this seems illogical (as mass murders occur in one location where multiple people are killed), Cunanan actually fits the archetype of the mass murderer quite well.
The typical mass murderer is a person whose failings have gotten the better of him somehow. While they show a different face to the world and often try to pretend they have more status/power/money/success than they do, the reality begins to seep in. Once it does, the mass murderer blames everyone else for what went wrong. The rage he feels toward himself is first directed outward at those who he feel betrayed or wronged him in some meaningful way. Then the mass murderer lets loose on this target group before either committing suicide or letting police do the job for him.
This motivation seems central to Cunanan’s case. He was angry at Trail and Madson for ‘teaming up’ in Minneapolis and deciding that they were now above him (i.e. that Cunanan needed help). Though Cunanan had, indeed, approached both of them for assistance, he wasn’t the type that liked to be reminded that he was beholden to anyone. He also wasn’t the type that liked to be turned down when he wanted something (a hallmark of psychopathy). By all accounts, Cunanan wanted more than he got in both of these relationships, and going to Minneapolis when he was reaching the bottom of the barrel may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back…particularly if either of them called Cunanan out on his lies. Then, once the carnage began, Cunanan aimed higher – at an icon that he could be forever entwined with: Versace. In a very twisted way, it makes sense that Cunanan struck out in this way before taking his own life.
He needed to be remembered as famous, as bigger, as better, as more.
Perhaps ironically though, Cunanan can now be seen for exactly who he was: a con man, like his father before him, preferring to hide behind a mask of his own invention rather than face the consequences of the choices in his life.