End Of The Road

AMONG ANDREW CUNANAN'S fantasies was to be an officer in the military. He posed from time to time as a lieutenant commander in the navy, or bragged that his bloodlines ran back to the high command of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. When he got a trendy buzz cut last year, a friend told him that he looked more like a GI than a gay roue. ""Jarhead,'' teased the friend. No, corrected Cunanan. ""More officer.'' Cunanan liked to read the works of Karl von Clausewitz, the 19th-century Prussian military strategist.

Cunanan may have missed the chapter on retreat. An army disengaging from battle must be deliberate, never hasty or headlong, writes Clausewitz in ""On War.'' But Cunanan, when he fled the scene of Gianni Versace's murder, quickly became a desperate fugitive, without any real means of escape. When police found him last week, he was only 40 blocks from the scene of the crime, with no way out but to end his own life.

He could never be what he wanted to be; his pretense just grew more outrageous, his distance from reality ever greater. He went to a posh school, but his father was accused of petty swindles; raised Roman Catholic, he may have been sexually abused by a priest; he was an aspiring old-money socialite without the trust fund. ""He was a brilliant, charming little boy,'' his god-father, Delfin Labao, lamented to NEWSWEEK. ""He changed when his father left. He just needed a father figure around, and he didn't have one.'' Cunanan's brother, Chris, told NEWSWEEK: ""There's a lot of false information out there. I loved my brother; who doesn't love their family?'' As always, family matters. When Modesto Cunanan, a stockbroker his wife says was accused of scamming his friends, went on the lam, Andrew, then 19, followed him all the way to the Philippines. Appalled by the squalor of his father's new life, young Cunanan returned to the United States and began creating ever more fanciful identities - the naval officer, the Hollywood insider, the scion of landed Filipinos or wealthy Jews. That he was really nothing more than a social-climbing seducer of old men must have corroded whatever sense of self he had left, especially when the old men started rejecting him and the other party boys no longer laughed at his jokes. So he took to the road.

In death, Cunanan has passed into True Crime mythology, but the portrait of his life and last days that emerged last week was at once less sensational and more intriguing. Before he put his gun in his mouth, he was deliciously hyped by the tabs and TV - a natural born killer, master of deceit, evil chameleon; he spoke five languages and wore infinite disguises. In fact, he spoke bad schoolboy French, and his best mask was his very ordinariness. It was daring for him to hide in plain sight, moving about freely in the night worlds of gay New York and Miami, even going to the movies (""Liar Liar,'' ""The Devil's Own'') and buying a new pair of jeans at a 57th Street store in Manhattan when he was wanted for three murders. On the other hand, he didn't have much choice, since he had no way to flee the country. Would a more experienced criminal have used his real name to pawn a gold coin, as Cunanan did a week before he murdered Versace? Cunanan didn't even know how to hot-wire a car - he had to kill two people to steal transportation.

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Still, he puzzles and fascinates. Last week a possible new window opened into the psychosexual twists of Cunanan's mind. In Chicago, the Rev. Thomas Economus, president of Linkup, Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse, held a press conference to announce that in October 1996 his national hot line received a call from one ""Andy DeSilva,'' claiming he had been abused by a priest at ""St. Joe's'' - St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral in San Diego. ""Andy,'' Economus said, had declined to provide details or join a support group. He hung up after warning that priests were preying on children in San Diego's Balboa Park. ""Andrew DeSilva'' is one of Cunanan's aliases. As a boy, Cunanan was confirmed at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Chula Vista. The Diocese of San Diego put out a statement that it was ""not aware of any misconduct by priests in reference to Andrew Cunanan,'' but newspaper accounts show that a priest from St. Joseph's, near Balboa Park, was removed in 1982 for sexual abuse of a child.

If the caller really was Andrew Cunanan, he may have been struggling for some way to get attention, yet perhaps shying away from real help. Certainly Cunanan craved notice. His constant showing-off amused, offended and annoyed. In the run-up to his criminal spree, he was increasingly manic and agitated; one guest at a party he attended in Minneapolis last fall remembers his setting fire to his napkin to see if he could trip the sprinkler system.

Gays have bitterly criticized the FBI and the police for being slow and clumsy about catching Cunanan. When Cunanan used his real name and local address, the Normandy Plaza Hotel, to pawn a purloined gold coin on July 7, the shop owner duly notified police, as required by a law designed to help trace stolen goods. Noticing the unusual $50 coin, a detective asked colleagues on July 10 about the transaction. But nobody recognized Cunanan's name - even though he had been on the FBI's Most Wanted list for a month.

After Versace's murder, Cunanan's notoriety finally focused the cops - and became his trap. For at least a month, the killer had parked his red pickup truck (stolen from the cemetery caretaker he murdered on May 9) in a garage less than two blocks from Versace's mansion. Cunanan presumably intended to use the truck for his getaway, but by the time he reached the garage, he could hear sirens wailing. Police think that Cunanan panicked. He shed his bloody clothes and ran - leaving behind a carload of clues, including his passport and the wallet of one of his victims, Lee Miglin.

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It took the police only an hour to find the red truck and its cache of clues as they fanned out from Versace's palazzo on July 15. By late afternoon, local television was flashing Cunanan's picture. The killer needed a place to hide, and right away.

The area he chose, about two miles north of Versace's mansion, was not ideal. It is populated largely by elderly people with plenty of time and inclination to notice suspicious strangers. On the other hand, tied in the slips opposite Miami Beach's ""Millionaire's Row'' are dozens of pleasure boats left empty by their owners in the hot summer months.

That night, Cunanan apparently selected a 25-foot sailboat docked at a marina on Indian Creek off Collins Avenue. The next afternoon the boat's owner, Guillermo Volpe, sensed that something was wrong when he checked on the sloop. The cushions had been rearranged, and Volpe found two loaves of bread, a red polo shirt and copies of that morning's Miami Herald and the Italian daily Corriere della Sera with their headlines about the Versace murder. A copy of an old navigation book was missing. Volpe did a double take. As he had walked to the boat, he had passed a man sitting on a bench reading a yellowing book that might have been the same one. The man, Volpe realized, had looked like the photos of Cunanan. When Volpe jumped up on deck with his camera, hoping to snap a picture of the fugitive, the man was gone.

Volpe called 911. It took the police two days to respond, but they were extremely busy. Cunanan sightings were being reported by the hundreds. At the airport Hilton, 50 agents and a SWAT team went door to door on one fruitless search; the FBI was briefly excited by a report of a man who had checked into a Ft. Lauderdale hotel and checked out as a woman.

Sometime after Saturday, July 19, Cunanan stole into a two-story houseboat at 5250 Collins Avenue, just 20 yards from the sailboat he had used as his first night's refuge. With metal shutters shielding the first-floor windows, the houseboat made a good hideout. It was also easy to break into, through sliding glass doors under the second-floor canopy.

Police later found no sign of a forced entry. Their suspicions that Cunanan might have had some help were heightened when they learned more about the boat's owner: Torsten Reineck, a shady German businessman who owned a gay spa in Las Vegas. But after questioning last week by the FBI, Reineck seemed to be in the clear.

Hunkered down in the houseboat, with its cheap furniture and shag rugs, Cunanan was desperate to find a way to sneak out of the country. Last week the FBI revealed that the fugitive had called a man described only as ""an associate,'' begging him to help find a fake passport. The man had not come forward himself; a Californian, he had been swept up in the FBI's dragnet. Described as ""nervous and agitated,'' the ""associate'' told investigators Cunanan had suggested that some of their mutual friends ""on the East Coast'' might be able to arrange the necessary forged documents. There was reportedly a threat of blackmail - Cunanan had apparently warned the ""associate'' that he might have to ""out'' any closeted homosexual who refused to help.

Cunanan must have known he was running out of time. To eat, he had to sneak out to fast-food restaurants late at night, always risking exposure. On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 23, the houseboat's caretaker dropped by to make his twice-a-week check. Fernando Carreira, a 71-year-old Portuguese immigrant, carried a cell phone and a .38-caliber pistol. When he entered the houseboat, he saw that the lights were on and noticed a pair of unfamiliar sandals on a footstool. Carreira pulled his gun. Immediately he heard a shot. He ran out, dialing 911.

Within five minutes the first police cruisers were on the scene. Within a few minutes of that, Collins Avenue was blocked off and police were pouring in - FBI agents, SWAT teams. At 6:07 an elite Special Response Team from the Metro-Dade police, decked out in black flak jackets and carrying submachine guns and a battering ram, crept in front of the houseboat. An agent with a plastic shield tossed a telephone through the front door, which had been left open by the caretaker. ""Pick up the phone! We want to talk to you!'' agents yelled. Silence. A sharpshooter set up his tripod a hundred yards to the north. SRT men in gas masks began to crawl closer. At 8:02 they fired their first canisters of tear gas into the upstairs window. Several minutes later they burst in.

They found Cunanan in an upstairs bedroom, naked except for a pair of cream-colored shorts, lying dead in a pool of blood. He had short hair and at least a week's growth of beard. The .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun he had used for three of his five killings rested on his groin. It seems clear now that he had shot himself almost five hours earlier, when he was startled by the caretaker.

Many mysteries remain about Cunanan's motives and his relationship to some of his victims. He was becoming pudgy and dissolute, unable to find a sugar daddy to keep him in Versace underwear, when he began his killing spree in May. He may also have been HIV-positive. But investigators can't understand why David Madson, in whose apartment the first victim, Naval Academy graduate Jeff Trail, was slain, spent five days with Cunanan after the killing - before himself becoming the second victim. Madson, a body-builder, apparently made no attempt to escape. What was his bond to Cunanan? Did it have anything to do with the handcuffs, leg irons and other bondage toys found by Minneapolis police in Madson's loft?

And what of victim number three, Lee Miglin, the Chicago tycoon whom Cunanan tortured to death? Was there any kinky echo in the latex masks Cunanan liked his sex partners to wear and the masking tape he put around Miglin's head? Miglin's grieving family insists that the aging real-estate mogul had never met Cunanan. The killing may have been a fluke; Miglin had the bad luck to be in the alley by his garage on Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast when the killer chanced upon him.

The biggest puzzle remains Cunanan's choice of Versace as a victim. Reports that the two may have met remain sketchy and unconfirmed. Their relationship may have been entirely in Cunanan's Gothic imagination. A literary clue, of sorts, emerged last week from Cunanan's choice of reading. In the shabby hotel room where Cunanan whiled away the days before he shot Versace, police later found Louis Begley's latest novel, ""About Schmidt.'' Begley is also the author of a 1994 novel, ""As Max Saw It,'' which describes the love affair between an older gay architect named Charlie and his young lover, Toby, who is dying of AIDS. The book is set at Italy's Lake Como - coincidentally, Versace's home. In the book's final scene, Charlie bloodies the inside of his mouth with a file before per- forming oral sex on his dying lover. It is an act of self-sacrifice that binds them to the same horrible fate. When Cunanan put a gun in his mouth last Wednesday, was he performing some twisted re-enactment of this scene? Acting had always been Cunanan's escape. With this last act, he was finally free.

While police combed south Florida and the FBI sifted through hundred of sightings from around the country, Andrew Cunanan was running out of places to hide.

Cunanan's Last Stand 1-July 7 Cunanan pawns a gold coin stolen from Chicago victim Lee Miglin at Cash on the Beach 2-July 11 Miami Subs Grill worker identifies Cunanan, but by the time police arrive he has disappeared 3-July 14 Surveillance film shows Cunanan scoping out Versace's regular hangout, the News Cafe 4-July 14 Cunanan slips out of the Normandy Plaze Hotel, where he has been staying since mid-May 5-July 15 Gianni Versace is shot to death on the steps of his mansion 6-July 15 Earlier victim William Reese's truck is found in a parking lot; Cunanan's passport is inside 7-July 16 Guillermo Volpe reports evidence of someone living on his 25-foot sailboat to the police 8-July 23 Cunanan is discovered on a houseboat, shoots himself Death in a Houseboat The police: After the boat's caretaker hears a shot, police descend. They fire nine rounds of tear gas inside, enter, and discover a bloodied corpse upstairs. The body: Cunanan's body is discovered on the bed in the master bedroom. He is wearing a pair of shorts, the .40-caliber pistol used to shoot himself in the mouth resting in his lap.

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