Fugitive's Death Leaves a Trail of Contradictions

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Even in death, Andrew Cunanan eluded police.

When the 27-year-old fugitive took his life in a houseboat moored at Miami Beach, he took with him the best chance that a cross-country string of murders will ever be explained.

The suicide, foiling the quest for answers, was a fitting denouement to a case that left five other dead men scattered over four states while the suspect openly taunted pursuers.

The 2 1/2-month series of killings is over. But frustration lingers.

"We would prefer that he would be taken alive, he would be prosecuted and gone to jail, and maybe over time cooperated and told us why he did the things he did," said Deputy FBI Director William Esposito.

"Nobody will be able to ask him," said Stanley Trail, an Illinois professor who is the father of Jeffrey Trail, believed to be Cunanan's first victim. "Nobody will be able to tell me why this happened."

Oddly, in a case where the suspect's name, weapon and often even his vehicle were known, Cunanan apparently killed and fled, and killed and fled again.

What triggered Cunanan's rage? Was he insane? On drugs? Vengeful? Ill? And how did he choose his victims--a curious melange of close friend, former lover, prominent Chicago businessman, obscure cemetery tender, and Gianni Versace, the internationally-known fashion designer?

Did Cunanan methodically plan his crimes and route, or career from scene to scene, taking chances as they came?

Numerous Clues, Contradictions

He littered the landscape with clues, but even more contradictions, as he moved from a frivolous existence as a highly visible playboy in San Diego's gay precincts to a new role as a brazen murder suspect haunting the nation.

While tips--most of them false--poured in from New Hampshire to New Mexico, Cunanan sometimes drove great distances overnight. Yet he also holed up in one spot for days, even weeks. He slept with impunity in a victim's Jeep parked on a Chicago street and later at a cheap Manhattan hotel. As the death toll mounted, Cunanan supped in a construction workers' bar near a rural Midwest lake and at a pizza parlor by the Atlantic shore.

This was not the natural habitat of the aspiring socialite, but in one important respect, Cunanan was well-suited for a life on the lam.

He had long been a changeling.

Ask his old friends from San Diego: When he left town on April 25, he was puffy and had gained weight; he looked healthy and fit. He'd just started drinking alcohol; he'd always indulged in champagne and fine wine.

He showed no stereotypically gay mannerisms; he spoke with effeminate inflections. He was considerate and polite, loud and controlling.

He was the last person who would harm anyone. He pushed people to the ground during disputes. He was increasingly drawn to rough, sadomasochistic sex.

Look at the collection of photographic portraits gathered by police: A classic nerd with glasses and a bad haircut. A polished man about town with a brushed-back coiffure. A thick-set, glowering macho guy.

A Man of Many Identities

Cunanan, of course, cultivated the many images. He introduced himself as Andrew DeSilva and Lt. Cmdr. Andy Cummings--and used aliases Drew Cunningham and Curt Matthew Demaris as well, investigators would later say.

He attributed his apparent wealth at various times to his parents, his acting career, his success in industry.

In fact, he was supported by rich older men. For two years, he lived in a La Jolla manse with Norman Blachford, a businessman and arts patron. Blachford took his young boyfriend to Phoenix and to Europe.

But in 1996, Blachford and Cunanan broke up. The younger man moved into a modest garden apartment with a platonic friend, a waiter.

Cunanan made his mercenary leanings clear. He told restaurateur Michael Williams that "he was not going to return to Norman until he bought him a Mercedes."

No Mercedes was forthcoming. Another friend, a Naval officer named Jeff Trail, told Williams he worried that Cunanan, who had last been employed as a pharmacy clerk, was supporting himself by dealing drugs.

Certainly it was widely noticed that he was consuming them. Cunanan took many more prescription painkillers than any legitimate ailment would warrant.

Still, Trail laughed when yet another man in their social circle warned him about Cunanan's dark moods. "I thought Andrew was bad news and told Jeff that," said the man, who asked to remain unidentified in print. "I said, 'Watch him.' "

Trail changed his mind after inviting Cunanan to join him on a trip to Texas for a job interview. When they returned, "Jeff had really had it with Andrew: his flamboyancy, his loudness," Williams said.

But the friendship, though faltering, continued, even after Trail moved to a Minneapolis suburb to work for a propane gas company.

Cunanan had another Twin Cities connection; a lover, architect David Madson, lived in a downtown loft there. Some of Cunanan's friends in San Francisco say he reveled in the great sex he said he enjoyed with Madson. He went on to confide details of his proclivities that made his friends distinctly uncomfortable.

Madson may have ended the relationship on the weekend of April 19, said Philip Horne, an attorney who intended at the time to become Cunanan's roommate. And yet, said Steven Gomer, another friend, Cunanan seemed "more exuberant than he was normally"--which was exuberant indeed--at the upscale bar where they all hung out.

A Lavish Farewell Party

The following week, Cunanan threw himself a lavish farewell party in San Diego because, he said, he was moving to northern California.

First, he traveled to Minneapolis.

Cunanan's charge cards were maxed out; he had to beg for special approval to pay his airplane fare. He was extended enough credit to travel round trip, according to Minneapolis homicide investigators. But he chose to buy only a one-way ticket.

The ticket agent was surprised; Cunanan explained that he wanted to go on later to see friends in New York.

By this time, Trail was brooding. He told Williams on the telephone that "he and Andrew had had a huge falling out and he said he would never speak to him again." When Williams asked why, Trail was evasive, saying only that "he was sick of all the lies, all the b.s., all the stories."

He wanted to return to San Diego; he was sick of the harsh weather, he told Williams. And then he added: "I have to get out of here; they're going to kill me."

Why did he say that? The only people who know for sure are dead.

Madson, Trail and Cunanan appeared to socialize easily over several days in cafes, restaurants and gay bars. On April 27, though, a neighbor heard scuffling. Two days later, police found Trail's body in Madson's apartment wrapped in an Oriental rug. Trail's .40-caliber gun was missing; so were 10 .40-caliber Remington Golden Saber slugs from a box in Cunanan's gym bag. The chain of murders had begun.

"They're going to kill me. . . ." What was Madson's role in Trail's death? The architect, an outgoing, cheerful man, seemed unhappy about picking up Cunanan at the airport, Minneapolis friends told local gay anti-violence activists.

But while he didn't show up for work, he was seen walking his Dalmatian and in his apartment building in the days immediately after the killing. Indeed, he was the initial suspect.

On May 2, Madson's red Jeep with the Vail ski area bumper sticker was spotted heading north up Interstate 35.

Shortly after 1 p.m., two young men in khaki pants and open shirts walked into the Full Moon Bar & Restaurant in a speck of a town called Stark, just off the highway. Owner Jean Rosen pegged Cunanan and Madson out of a photo lineup.

Cunanan requested a seat on the deck despite the gray, blustery day. He ordered two Grainbelt beers and a California cheeseburger basket and Madson said he'd have the same.

Madson seemed jumpy. He looked over his shoulder every time the front door opened. But whatever he feared, it didn't seem to be his companion. They sat across from each other at a picnic table and talked earnestly, sometimes smiling, sometimes touching hands, all through lunch.

That night, police believe, Madson was shot three times about five miles away at East Rush Lake. Fishermen discovered the body near Jeep tracks in the grass. The vehicle was gone.

It would surface soon in Chicago, around the corner from another murder scene--that of Lee Miglin, a 72-year-old real estate developer married to a former model who markets her own line of cosmetics over the Home Shopping Channel. Marylin Miglin had been away on a business trip. Lee Miglin's body was discovered May 4 in his garage.

Millionaire's Death Shows Change in Style

The slayer had not used a gun but worked slowly and brutally with a garden tool. The corpse was taped up like a mummy, with only the nostrils showing. This was a new killing style, reminiscent of a bondage video that Cunanan had recently rented.

Why Lee Miglin? Though Cunanan had visited Chicago with Blachford, and Miglin's son Duke lives in California, the Miglins reiterated on Thursday that Cunanan "had no connection whatsoever" to anyone in the family. In Madson's Jeep, Chicago police found a map from a local tourist magazine available in hotel lobbies. A red line was marked from the north end of the Loop to a neighborhood with many gay bars.

A witness saw someone sleeping in the Jeep on the street where it was later found, Chicago police say. Did he tire out on the way to or from a night at the clubs? How did he arrive at that particular spot?

The house was not ransacked, nor had entry been forced. Yet the killer took 10 gold coins that Miglin kept on hand for rewarding good employees. Did Miglin willingly let a stranger in? Was he tortured to reveal where he kept his cache?

Cunanan did go on to New York, as he said he would, at least from May 5 through May 8. But he did not visit friends. By this time, the FBI was staking out his usual haunts, white-table clubs like the Townhouse and Regents, both on the East Side.

A receipt found months later, in Miami Beach, would indicate he'd visited a casual clothing store on posh 57th Street. He reportedly stayed, however, in a low-rent hotel on the West Side. A gay rights group got a call from a man who said he'd met someone on the streets of nearby Hell's Kitchen and the two had repaired to a local club. But the man said he panicked and fled when his impromptu date threatened him. The next day, he saw Cunanan's debut on "America's Most Wanted" and recognized the face on his television screen.

By this time, however, William Reese was dead.

Miglin's Lexus was spotted on the Delaware Memorial Bridge; the driver stopped at a tourist information booth and got a brochure that discussed points of interest, among them a Civil War veterans' cemetery.

Why he chose to go there, no one will find out. When Reese, the caretaker, was shot dead with a single Golden Saber in the office basement, the Lexus was abandoned outside. A photograph of a Cunanan acquaintance was in the car, an arrest warrant notes, and that photograph had been given to Cunanan.

The cell phone, however, was ripped out. Investigators surmise that Cunanan heard news reports that the telephone's signal had been picked up in the Philadelphia area.

Reese's red pickup truck had disappeared.

A day or two later, Scott Watts noticed his South Carolina license plate had vanished, probably while his wife was shopping. The couple would be shocked later to find their tag--SKW 623--on national television, fastened to a red pickup parked in a Florida garage.

Did Cunanan stop off in their hometown of Florence, S.C.? Or did he simply buy the plate elsewhere on the black market?

He apparently high-tailed it to Miami Beach, where Versace was king of the gay-trendy-fashion Art Deco zone. He checked in to yet another cheap hotel, the pink and green Normandy Plaza in mid May.

Alleged Sightings in Boston

Three people in Boston swear they saw him or spent time with him in mid-June, but he was driving a Ford Taurus then. One very nervous man insisted to gay activists that Cunanan admitted his identity, said he needed to pick up cash hustling and then meant to head for Canada.

Was it him? Or did he stay in Miami Beach the whole time?

Whichever, he seemed to be changing again. The coarse intruder who left a hambone and a partially eaten apple in Lee Miglin's kitchen had transformed into a neat freak who left the housekeepers feeling useless. He did not display any personal effects except for a plastic cup on a table filled with loose change.

Once, though, there was sand on the floor in his room. And his sheets were always pulled out, indicating restless nights.

He wore his sunglasses inside, even at night. He always carried a backpack. He was always alone.

He was recognized--at Miami Sub, where police responded to a counterman's call after the suspect had left. And he should have been recognized. He pawned one of Miglin's coins for $190, signing his real name and placing a thumbprint on a form routinely turned over the police.

On the night of July 14, he showed up for the second time that day at Cozzoli's Pizza for his usual order of two slices and a Coke. He asked the pizza-maker to lend him $1 because he was low on cash.

Was he desperate?

Rolando Infante, who was in the process of buying the franchise, noticed that the young man had cut his hair.

Did he do that so he wouldn't be recognized? The next morning, the genial Versace was shot to death at close range on the sidewalk in front of his house, horrifying the world.

Why did it happen?

Times staff writers Mike Clary in Miami, Mary Curtius in San Francisco, Ronald J.Ostrow in Washington, John J. Goldman in New York, and researchers John Beckham, Anna M. Virtue and Lisa Meyer contributed to this story.

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His Miami Trail

Andrew Phillip Cunanan roamed Miami Beach months before killing designer Gianni Versace, authorities say, living first in a hotel that he left just days before the Versace murder, then hiding out in a houseboat where his body was found.

1) Where he was first spotted: Recognized and reported to police at Miami Subs, a sandwich shop, four days before Versace's death.

2) Where he got cash: Pawned stolen gold coin in his name.

3) Where he ate: A regular at Cozzoli's Pizzaria.

4) Where he lived: Normandy Plaza Hotel, from mid-May to July 12.

5) Where he died: Body found on houseboat.

6) Where car was found: New Jersey victim's truck located in parking garage.

7) Where Versace was killed: Designer slain July 15.

8) Where Versace last strolled: News Cafe, where he had bought newspaper just before he was killed.

9) Porn shop: Outlet frequented by Cunanan; last visit July 7.

Researched by ANNA VIRTUE / Los Angeles Times

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