Cunanan Doesn’t Fit Serial Killer Mold
He is smart, resourceful, bold, sophisticated, egotistical, and he has eluded a manhunt involving hundreds of FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel, leaving gay communities from New York to San Francisco terrified that a psychopathic killer may be stalking them.
Andrew Phillip Cunanan, 27, the Catholic altar boy and prep-school graduate turned “gigolo” and “party boy” and now suspected in five murders in four states, has defied the easy categorizations that experts use to describe multiple-murder suspects as either serial or spree.
Instead, the individual who emerges from law enforcement documents and interviews with friends and authorities has led some to worry that he is a new, hybrid kind of killer, slaying sometimes for revenge or jealousy, sometimes for theft, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly and sadistically, and sometimes for the sheer thrill and notoriety of assassinating an international celebrity in a public place.
And along the way he has seemingly taunted police by leaving “calling cards” at the murder scenes and then hiding in plain sight. He is also known to be following the increasing media coverage.
“His ego is not allowing him [to stop killing],” said Bill Hagmire, chief of the FBI’s child-abduction and serial-killer unit. “He seems to have a procedure with his victim selection and what some might call a signature.”
On Friday, the FBI escalated its efforts to find Cunanan, activating a central command facility in Washington used during another top-priority case of domestic horror: the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Beginnings of a National Chase
Twice daily, agents in five cities--Minneapolis, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego--will confer by conference call to assess progress in finding the young man with the warm brown eyes, the smooth, glib manner and the well-groomed appearance. Plans are to continue the procedure until Cunanan is run to ground.
What has become a national pursuit with international overtones, since the murder here Tuesday of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace, began on April 29 in Minneapolis as a routine request.
Co-workers of architect David Madson, 33, asked the manager of the Harmony Lofts Apartments in the city’s warehouse district--a once-grimy industrial spot now gentrified with galleries, cafes and theaters--to check on Madson. Their cheerful, punctual colleague had failed to show up for work for two days.
The manager entered Madson’s apartment and was shocked to find a fully clothed corpse in a large, blood-soaked Oriental rug. He retreated quickly and called police.
Police found a claw hammer near the body. Blood was everywhere, some of it smeared as if someone had been attempting to wipe it away. A nylon gym bag was found with a name tag for Andrew Cunanan of San Diego. Inside the bag was an empty gun holster.
Identification on the body indicated it was not Madson but Jeffrey Trail, 28, a propane company engineer, Naval Academy graduate and Persian Gulf War veteran.
Second Victim Was First Suspect
Initially, police suspected Madson in Trail’s death. Suspicion deepened when neighbors reported seeing Madson at the apartment building and walking his beloved Dalmatian even after the time that medical authorities had determined was the likely time of Trail’s murder.
“Here’s a professional who doesn’t show up for work, who doesn’t call anybody, and yet he’s moving about of his own free will in the apartment for a few days,” said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bob Ticich. “It didn’t appear that he was coerced.”
A neighbor heard shouting and scuffling in the apartment the night of April 27 but did not call police. Madson’s friends told police that he had been expecting a weekend visit from a former lover from California--Cunanan.
“Cunanan told people that Madson was the love of his life,” said San Diego Police Lt. Jim Collins. “Madson felt differently.”
Cunanan arrived April 25 on a one-way plane ticket. The bartender at the trendy Caffe Solo where Madson was a regular recalled that Madson and Cunanan had come for drinks on April 26, seemingly happy and relaxed.
Cunanan had told friends in San Diego at a farewell dinner on April 24 that he was moving to San Francisco but that he first planned to visit Madson and Trail.
Cunanan and Trail had met in San Diego when the latter was stationed at the amphibious-warfare base in Coronado. Cunanan, the son of a retired Navy officer, liked to frequent gay bars where military officers congregate, and he sometimes introduced himself as Cmdr. Andy Cummings.
Any past heartaches between Cunanan and Madson seemed forgotten that night. Cunanan sat on Madson’s lap at Caffe Solo. The next night they went dancing at the Gay ‘90s Bar.
At Trail’s apartment, police found a message from Cunanan on the answering machine. Please come over to David’s apartment, please try to come over, please let us know if you can’t come.
Ticich also found a box for storing a handgun. It is that handgun--a .40-caliber that Trail bought when he was in training to join the California Highway Patrol--that authorities now suspect was used in the murders of Madson, cemetery caretaker William Reese and Versace.
Looking back, Ticich now feels that both Madson and Cunanan may have been nearby when the manager used his passkey to open the door to Madson’s apartment. For one thing, the Dalmatian had been freshly fed, watered and walked. For another, Madson’s wallet and credit cards were there.
“They intended at some point to get rid of the body,” Ticich said. “They may have been surprised. It’s very possible they were in close proximity while we were searching.”
Sketchy Past Slows Investigators
On May 3, fishermen on East Rush Lake in rural Chisago County, 45 miles north of Minneapolis, found a corpse lying on its back near some Jeep tracks in the grass. Near the body were shell casings from a .40-caliber gun.
Madson had been shot once in the back between the shoulder blades and once in the eye. A bullet had also grazed his cheek.
“He knew it was coming,” said Chisago County Sheriff Randall Schwegman. “He knew he was going to get it. He had defensive wounds on his fingers.”
With Madson and Trail dead, and Cunanan missing, Minnesota authorities immediately notified local and federal authorities in San Diego for help. They now admit “stretching” the truth about the amount of their evidence in order to get a federal fugitive warrant.
Even veteran manhunters, who find hundreds of fugitives each year, were immediately frustrated by chasing a suspect with no criminal history and no past indications of violent behavior.
“We were behind from the beginning with Cunanan,” said Bill Sorukas, deputy U.S. marshal in San Diego and coordinator of a multi-agency fugitive detail. “Usually these guys have a history, a probation officer, a court file, a list of previous contacts. This time we had nothing. We had to start from scratch to figure out who Cunanan was.”
San Diego police watched Cunanan’s modest apartment in Hillcrest, the city’s gay neighborhood. Cunanan, whose only known employment was as a pharmacy clerk, moved to the apartment after the end of his two-year affair with a much older, wealthy businessman who patronized the arts, took Cunanan to Europe frequently and sold equipment to the movie industry.
Police were using standard procedure for capturing murder suspects. A surprising number of such suspects get panicky and run home to hide, even though it is the first place police will look.
But nothing about the Cunanan case was to fit the usual pattern. Cunanan did not return. From his terrified roommate, authorities were given a collection of photos showing Cunanan’s range of expressions and hairstyles, the photos now seen in news broadcasts worldwide.
Even with two dead, police felt the case would wrap up quickly. “I figured he’d be caught in a few days or maybe go off and kill himself.” said Collins. “No way did I guess he would continue.”
Now that Cunanan was branded a fugitive, the FBI was called in. The Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Task Force in Minneapolis provided information gleaned from the gay community about Cunanan.
The information was sketchy, contradictory and of little use. He had told different stories about his background. One friend said Madson had been unhappy about picking up his former lover at the airport, but others talked of the two being happy together. The hunt for Cunanan spread to the Internet. Web sites catering to the gay community posted his picture and a warning about his “chameleon” personality. Police put out a bulletin for Madson’s missing red 1995 Jeep Cherokee.
On May 4, the Jeep was found in the most unlikely of spots, a location that police had not anticipated, another indication of the frustration of tracking a suspect with so little “history” with law enforcement.
The Jeep was outside the ritzy Gold Coast home of Lee Miglin, 72, a wealthy Chicago land developer. Miglin is said to have “left his mark” on the Chicago skyline, and to be influential in political, philanthropic and artistic circles. His wife, Marylin, a former model, owns a successful cosmetic firm and appears on the Home Shopping Channel.
Returning from a business trip, Marylin Miglin found her husband’s body in the garage of their posh three-story brownstone. He had been bound mummy-like with masking tape with only a slit for his mouth. His throat had been slashed and his body mutilated with a gardening saw.
There are indications the killer coolly fixed himself a ham sandwich and shaved with Miglin’s razor before fleeing.
Police took the presence of the Jeep as a taunt, a dare, a “signature” of their killer. Inside the Jeep were pictures of Cunanan.
“Why did he do that?” asked Ticich, his voice rising. “He’s not stupid. He speaks five languages fluently. He has a photographic memory and is well-educated in the arts. He wants people to know!”
With three dead and the FBI involvement in the case increasing, San Diego police searched Cunanan’s home, looking for dental charts that might be used to connect Cunanan with bite marks on victims or with the half-eaten food at the Miglins’ home.
No dental records, or name of a dentist, could be found, but police did find something more ominous: two videos stashed under Cunanan’s bed produced by a West Hollywood firm and showing homosexual bondage and sadomasochism, including one episode in which a man is forced to wear a hood on his head while he is whipped and beaten.
“It looked like a training film for the Miglin incident,” said one law enforcement official.
Miglin’s green 1994 Lexus was missing, along with $2,000 in cash, some rare coins and upscale clothing. On May 8, authorities told the press that they had tracked the cellular phone in the Lexus to a location in Pennsylvania--a release of information that investigators now deeply regret.
“I know we would have been able to find Cunanan,” said an incredulous Schwegman. “Then he found out we knew and the signal stopped.”
On May 9, according to a federal indictment, Cunanan committed a murder with no overtones of revenge or rage or psychosexual abnormality, a murder simply to cover the theft of a red 1995 Chevrolet pickup truck owned by cemetery worker William Reese, 45, a Civil War buff who left a wife and 12-year-old son.
Suspect’s Trail Grows Cold
Police suspect that Cunanan picked the Finn’s Point Cemetery in Pennsville, N.J., because it was isolated and it might be several hours before the theft and murder would be discovered. Reese was killed with a single gunshot to the head, with the same .40-caliber Golden Saber hollow-point shells used to kill Madson and later Versace.
When police recovered Miglin’s Lexus at the cemetery, they found a Bank of America check with Cunanan’s name imprinted on it, Cunanan’s passport, and newspaper clippings about the killing spree.
With four dead, the FBI, needing the public’s assistance more than ever, put Cunanan on its most-wanted list. “You newspaper types laugh at that, but it helps keep it in front of the public, and that helps,” said one law enforcement officer.
The case was also taken up by the television show “America’s Most Wanted.” Dozens of tips were phoned in, and Cunanan sightings spread from New York to Washington to New Mexico.
Gay groups redoubled their efforts to post warnings. A ranger at a national park thought he spotted Cunanan and federal agents quickly executed a military-style raid. It proved to be mistaken identity.
As summer wore on, the trail grew cold. The story was “old news” except in the gay press, which speculated whether the first two murders were the product of a love triangle and whether Cunanan might be HIV-positive and thus out for revenge.
Versace Slaying Undermines Theories
FBI analysts seeking to categorize Cunanan, and thus provide a lead on his next move, theorized that he was a “serial” killer, not a “spree” killer. The latter kills in rapid succession; the former can often wait weeks or months before the irresistible urge to kill again strikes.
The murder of Versace, outside his palatial manse in the glamorous South Beach section of this coastal enclave, undermined both the serial and spree definitions.
As pointed out by Edna Buchanan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who rose to acclaim for her accounts of Miami murder, not since Charles Manson has a serial killer targeted a celebrity. Celebrity killers tend to have a fixation on their victims or a desire to earn notoriety in a single burst.
Although Cunanan may have met Versace--at the San Francisco Opera House, a San Francisco gay nightclub, or a party in San Diego--there has been no suggestion that they had anything approaching a relationship, although Cunanan was known for wearing Versace clothing.
Jack Levin, a murder expert and sociologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said Cunanan has been difficult to catch because of his lack of predictability and the fact that he fit none of the accepted patterns that law enforcement depends on.
Abandoned Cars Become a Trademark
The one pattern that Cunanan is suspected of following is distinctly his own: leaving a car near the murder scene. The stolen pickup was found in a parking lot just blocks from Versace’s home.
What’s more, the pickup (with stolen South Carolina plates) had been parked for weeks, sometimes illegally, outside the Normandy Plaza Hotel in South Beach, which caters to a gay clientele and where clothing is optional. Cunanan, under an alias, had apparently been living there since May, paying $240 a week, in cash.
He was secretive but not afraid to venture out, to allegedly pawn some of Miglin’s coins (and sign the ticket under his real name), to buy some grooming aids at a Walgreen’s store (he once worked at a Walgreen’s in San Diego) and to peruse the wares at a South Beach store stocked with gay videos and sexual paraphernalia.
“We knew him as soon as we saw the photo,” being circulated by police, said Jeff Walter, a clerk at the Pleasure Emporium. “He was very well-dressed, very well-spoken, very nice.”
The FBI has said that upward of 400 agents are working on the Cunanan case, most in Southern California. Numbers alone, however, do not protect against missteps.
When agents found receipts in the red pickup that indicated Cunanan had lived at the Normandy Plaza, they unsuccessfully searched numerous rooms, at one point startling a man and woman. Later, reporters, with the help of a desk clerk, found Cunanan’s former room, still brimming with fashion magazines (some with ads for Versace clothing) and sexually explicit material.
Police theorize that Cunanan is still in South Florida, possibly trying to meld anonymously into a gay community outside Miami or hunkering down in a “safe house” or sleeping in a stolen car. A nationwide bulletin has gone out to officers who patrol the nation’s freeways.
That warning raises the frightening specter for law enforcement that Cunanan could be capable of yet another kind of killing: killing to avoid capture, the last desperate act of the fugitive.
“I’m worried about that patrol officer in Wyoming who might stop Cunanan’s car without knowing who he is and what he’s capable of,” said Sorukas, coordinator of the fugitive task force in San Diego.
“I’m praying we get that one phone call that tells us where he is.”
In San Diego, where Cunanan is known and feared most, organizers of next Saturday’s Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade, expected to attract 85,000 people, are concerned that Cunanan could return to his hometown with murder on his mind.
For a short while, Cunanan assisted the gay health coalition in San Diego in encouraging gays to practice safe sex. The gay men Cunanan once tried to help are now afraid of him, and some are expected to stay away from the parade.
Collins notes that many of the participants and spectators at the parade, a tradition for 22 years, wear costumes and theatrical makeup, making it easy for Cunanan to return in disguise.
“He could be walking in the crowd and nobody would know it,” Collins said. “That’s what we have to contend with.”
Perry reported from Miami Beach and Pasternak from Minneapolis. Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington and researchers Anna M. Virtue in Miami and John Beckham in Chicago contributed to this story.
* ELUDING POLICE
Cunanan may be posing as a woman. A20
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The FBI has named Andrew Phillip Cunanan as a suspect in the Gianni Versace slaying and in four other murders around the nation.
Jeffrey Trail bludgeoned; FBI says he knew Madson.
Rush City, Minn.
David Madson shot near lake.
Millionaire Lee Miglin stabbed.
Caretaker William Reese shot.
Miami Beach, Fla.
Gianni Versace shot in back of head.
WANTED BY THE FBI
Andrew Phillip Cunanan
DOB: Aug. 31, 1969
Weight: 160-180 lbs.
Alias: Andrew Phillip DeSilva