Facing Death

ANDREW CUNANAN was a great and gaudy pretender. He improved upon his breeding, his education, his employment (he had none), even his name. He created, out of his imagination, a flamboyant persona, the rich homosexual playboy who waves a fat cigar and always picks up the check. He bragged that he was the scion of a Filipino plantation owner, when his father is actually said to be a failed stockbroker on the lam. His public manner was fun-loving and generous. In private, his fantasies, pursued with leather straps and latex masks, were darker and more insistent. Cunanan's bright side craved attention. His dark side discovered that he could get it by killing.

Cunanan was a skillful fraud. He knew enough, was practiced enough, to fake his way into glittery worlds far beyond his means or station. In 1990 he was standing in a crowd of partygoers in the VIP room of Colossus, a San Francisco club, when the fashion god Gianni Versace, in town to be feted for the costumes he designed for the opera ""Capriccio,'' made his entrance. Spotting Cunanan from a distance, Versace walked over and greeted young Cunanan, who was then 21. ""I know you,'' said Versace. ""Lago di Como, no?'' Cunanan, flattered, answered, ""Yes. It is good to see you again, Mr. Versace.''

To be known by Versace! Or was it just a mistake, a confusion of attractive young men? Last week, after Cunanan had allegedly put two bullets into the back of Versace's head, the dead man's family denied any kind of prior involvement between the great designer and the small-time gigolo. The FBI is not convinced. NEWSWEEK has learned that a source told authorities that Cunanan had been at a small party inside Versace's palazzo in Miami Beach the weekend before the designer was murdered. It is not clear how Cunanan might have entered Versace's world, and the family continues to deny that he ever did. Still, law-enforcement authorities have learned not to underestimate Cunanan.

Cunanan, who liked to wear Versace label underwear, was a wanna-be in a wondrous kingdom of make-believe. Its viceroy, purveyor of $500 million a year in high fashion known for glitz, was Versace. The designer's much-mourned death last week brought attention to a funky world he helped create, the gay life of South Beach in Miami. It provoked outraged homosexuals to charge that the FBI was so indifferent to their fate that the Feds didn't bother to warn the South Beach community that Cunanan might be in their midst. The killings also brought unwanted attention to a fraternity of wealthy gay men who are not all out of the closet. Meanwhile, high-profile homosexuals from Venice Beach to Fire Island have begun looking over their shoulders at night. They may be right to be worried: late Saturday Cunanan remained at large, the target of a vast manhunt.

It may be that Cunanan began killing out of passion. Police say his first two victims were a friend and a former lover; the next two were men unlucky enough to offer, by their deaths and their car keys, a means of escape as Cunanan fled across the country. But by last week, it was clear that Versace's murderer regarded killing as a kind of performance art. Crowds formed outside Versace's house to mourn the fallen icon. Police asked local TV news stations for videotape of the scene in the days following the killing to see if Cunanan returned to admire his handiwork. As tourists gawked and transvestites wept, one fan ripped Versace ads from a glossy magazine and daubed them in the designer's blood, as a keepsake. The Feds believe Cunanan is enjoying his killing spree, taunting them with a trail of telltale evidence he is leaving behind on purpose. The growing tension of the chase may just heighten the thrill for Cunanan - and increase his determination to strike again.

To catch Cunanan, the FBI and police from San Diego to Miami are trying to understand him. There is no shortage of clues: Cunanan has flaunted his personality ever since he showed up at a high-school dance in a red leather jumpsuit. And police know he has kinky tastes: investigators found the boxes for S&M videos with titles like ""Target for Torture'' and ""Pushed to the Limit'' under his bed. Cunanan may have believed that he was infected with the AIDS virus. Michael Dudley, a part-time AIDS volunteer, told reporters that Cunanan, during a conversation about safe sex last February, jumped up, kicked the wall and exclaimed, ""If I find out who did this to me, I'm going to get them!'' But it was unclear if Cunanan really was sick or just showing off. Cunanan's life has been a psychodrama played for maximum applause - or horror. It has been one long divide between reality and fantasy, a widening and now fatal chasm.

Homosexuality, so painfully concealed by some teenagers, was showtime for Cunanan. The only openly gay student in his class at the tony Bishop's School in La Jolla, an upscale San Diego neighborhood, Cunanan was ""flaming,'' says a former classmate. He was at the same time a good student and a cross-country runner, voted ""most likely to be remembered.'' Yet his laugh was nervous, and though the reverse snobs at Bishop ""almost competed to look poor,'' Cunanan did not advertise his own modest middle-class background.

Cunanan's mother claims that her son had read the Bible by the time he was 6, but it's likely that a more powerful inspiration was his father, Modesto. A former navy man who had been born in the Philippines, Modesto had become a stockbroker, but allegedly a crooked one. Accused of scamming his clients, he fled the United States in 1988, leaving his wife and four children basically broke. Cunanan, then 19 years old, followed his father - but soon returned, appalled, says his mother, by the squalor in which his father was now living.

There are hints of a family rough streak. Modesto's neighbors outside Manila told NEWSWEEK that Cunanan pere had recently burned the clothes of his live-in girlfriend after a fight. Cunanan fils once shoved his mother so hard that she dislocated her shoulder. But the Andrew Cunanan who emerged on the gay scene in San Francisco and San Diego in the late '80s was neither crude nor middle class. He was not even Andrew Cunanan. He was Andrew De Silva, a Hollywood CEO with a mansion on the Riviera. Or Lieutenant Commander Cummings, of Choate and Yale, importer of antiques. He wore blazers and ascots and smoked Cohiba cigars.

To pay for them, he seduced older men. He was not a cheap hustler, not even a ""high-class prostitute,'' as his estranged mother bitterly describes him. He was something more subtle and refined: a worthy companion. ""He knew about the arts, the right kind of fork to use, the right cognac to drink,'' says Nicole Ramirez-Murray, a San Diego social columnist. ""I remember one time people were talking about what Henry Kissinger was up to, and Cunanan jumped right in. He was in a class of his own as a gigolo.'' One target of opportunity was Gamma Mu, the exclusive fraternity of wealthy, mostly gay men who could bestow nice gifts, like the $30,000 Infiniti that Cunanan drove about town - before he had to sell it to raise cash.

The fun never lasted. And after Cunanan reportedly fell out in the fall of 1996 with an elderly gentleman who was a San Diego arts patron, the easy money dried up. Cunanan had begun selling drugs and, increasingly, consuming them. A lapsed jogger, he began putting on weight, while moaning to bartenders that he couldn't get dates. To barkeep Nigel Mayer at Flick's, a gay hangout in San Diego, he seemed tired and despondent. He was moving to San Francisco, he said one night last April, and, he insisted, ""I'm not coming back. People don't know me. They think they do, but they don't.''

Days before, he had been up in San Francisco, talking to an old friend, Steve Gomer, about ""the perfect relationship.'' Cunanan said that he had found it with a man he knew in Minnesota. ""Because,'' as Cunanan explained, ""he lets me do anything I want.'' He meant sexually: the conversation turned to a discussion of sex toys like latex masks used for bondage. ""The ones with the noses and mouths cut out?'' asked Gomer. ""Just the noses,'' answered Cunanan.

THE MAN IN MINNESOTA WAS presumably an architect named David Madson. But Madson had distanced himself from Cunanan, partly because he suspected his lover of ""shady dealings.'' Before leaving for San Francisco, Cunanan attended a farewell dinner (ostrich and Veuve Clicquot champagne). He told friends that he was flying out to Minnesota for the weekend to ""settle some business.'' Maxed out on his credit cards, Cunanan begged forbearance from his creditors to buy a one-way ticket to Minneapolis - first class, of course.

Madson took Cunanan to dinner the first night with some friends, whom Cunanan put off by bragging loudly about driving a Rolls-Royce convertible. Two nights later, Cunanan invited a mutual friend - Jeff Trail - over to Madson's apartment. Just before 10 p.m., neighbors heard someone in the apartment scream, ""Get the f--- out!'' followed by loud thuds. Two days later, police discovered Trail's body rolled up in a carpet. He had been beaten so savagely around the face and arms with a claw hammer that his watch had stopped.

What had happened? And why? Police are still not sure. But the best guess is that Trail, an upright graduate of the Naval Academy, strongly disapproved of Cunanan's drug use. Though Cunanan was obsessed with Trail - a former navy lieutenant and lecturer on safe sex at a local AIDS foundation - they were not lovers. Trail was a ""big brother'' to Cunanan, Trail's last boyfriend, Jon Hackett, told NEWSWEEK. ""He tried to straighten him out.'' But a week before he died, Trail told his old roommate, Michael Williams, that he had had a ""huge falling out'' with Cunanan and that ""I made a lot of enemies this weekend . . . I've got to get out of here. They're going to kill me.''

Madson's role remains hard to figure out. He apparently made no effort to leave; neighbors saw the two men walking Madson's dog the day after Trail's murder. Four days later, Cunanan and Madson drove to a lake north of Minneapolis. Using Trail's .40-caliber pistol, Cunanan shot Madson in the head and back. His body was later discovered by fishermen.

Cunanan fled southeast in Madson's red Jeep. Police later found a map with the route underlined from downtown Chicago to a neighborhood of gay bars on the North Side. The journey, authorities believe, took Cunanan near the Gold Coast, home of Chicago's well-to-do, including real-estate mogul Lee Miglin. There is no evidence that Cunanan had ever met Miglin, though he may have heard of him. But when police discovered Miglin's body in his garage, his head had been wrapped in masking tape, with holes for his nostrils - not unlike Cunanan's bondage fantasies. The millionaire was riddled with shallow wounds from a gardening tool - perhaps tortured to reveal the whereabouts of his cash and car keys.

After eating half a sandwich and shaving in Miglin's empty row house, sources say, Cunanan bundled up some of Miglin's fine clothes - useful for wear or barter - collected a briefcase with $2,000 in cash and drove away in Miglin's Lexus. He headed east. Listening to the radio for news of his exploits, Cunanan heard that his attempts to place calls on Miglin's car phone were being tracked. He ripped out the cellular unit and abandoned the car at a lonely Civil War cemetery in southern New Jersey.

On May 9, according to the Feds, Cunanan left another corpse when he traded in the Lexus for the red pickup truck of the cemetery's caretaker. And a clue: the shell casings from the .40-caliber bullets used to kill the caretaker, William Reese, match the .40-caliber shells used to kill Madson.

Of average height and weight (5 feet 9, 160 to 180 pounds), lacking any obvious distinguishing features - a large nose, say, or buck teeth - Cunanan is easy to mistake or miss. Though he was put on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list after New Jersey, he seemed a phantom: there were Cunanan sightings from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania, but no real leads. All this time, in fact, he was living in a dumpy hotel in Miami Beach, a few miles north of Versace's mansion. He drove straight from New Jersey to Florida, police believe, stopping in South Carolina to steal a new license plate for the red pickup truck. On May 11, he had to use one of his IDs to pawn some valuables, possibly some gold coins stolen from Miglin. He left a thumb print on the receipt, NEWSWEEK has learned - a precious clear print for the FBI. In early June, he parked the red pickup in a South Beach parking garage only two blocks from Versace's villa on Ocean Drive. The truck just sat there, unnoticed. The authorities did not wake up to Cunanan's whereabouts until late June, when a series of sightings around West Palm Beach convinced the Feds that the real Cunanan had finally surfaced.

Still, the FBI was curiously lax about spreading the word. The FBI said it put out 2,000 leaflets with Cunanan's picture in south Florida, but gay activists say the warnings weren't enough to alert the hip scene at South Beach. This apparent sloth is now the source of considerable anger. Laughing bitterly even as he mourned Versace, Paul Galluzcio, a well-known Manhattan restaurateur, told NEWSWEEK, ""The thing is, Cunanan's not even being careful, and the FBI can't catch him. We feel as though it really has to get serious before the FBI gets serious. To them, it's like, "Eh, another faggot gets killed.' It took someone like Versace to get killed to get their full attention.''

Other gays, however, note that South Beach is an insular enclave, a wonderland sometimes heedless to care. AIDS-awareness activists complain that talking about high-risk sex is considered bad form in South Beach. Even after Versace's death, some nightclub owners did not want to prominently display Cunanan's poster for fear of driving off customers. Max Blandford, the manager of a popular gay dance club, the Warsaw Ballroom, is an exception. He told NEWSWEEK that he was planning on enlarging Cunanan's photo and plastering it across his outside window. ""For me, it's bad business to have a dead clientele,'' he explained.

It is possible that Cunanan struck as soon as he arrived in Miami. On May 12, the day Cunanan checked in to the Normandy Plaza, a 41-year-old gay man named Casey Patrick Sigler was beaten to death by a man he apparently met in nearby Flamingo Park, a gay pickup spot. Murders of gay men, while extremely rare, are not unprecedented in Miami Beach, and there is no evidence that directly implicates Cunanan. Police say their prime suspect is black, but witnesses say a man matching Cunanan's description entered the apartment building that same night. And some details of the murder resembled Cunanan's other handiwork. The victim's face had been brutally beaten, and his car (a Toyota Celica) disappeared after the killing.

AT THE NORMANDY, CUNANAN would often leave late at night and not return until dawn. Otherwise, he lay low. Its lobby adorned with photos of celebrated guests, including John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, the Normandy has seen better days. The clientele now runs to low-budget tourists and down-on-their luck drifters. Cunanan checked in without a suitcase, using a French passport and an ID with one of his aliases. (Police asked the hotel not to say which one.) ""He always wore that cap and very, very dark glasses,'' says hotel manager Miriam Hernandez. He paid $35.73 a night for room 116 for a week, then moved up to room 201 and started paying the more economical weekly rate of $230.50. After another week, he decided to save a few more bucks and paid the monthly rate, $690.50, and moved into room 322.

He was biding his time. In his darkened room, with its pink velvet chairs and pink-and-blue polyester bedcover, he always kept the curtain closed, never opening it to look at the ocean view. ""He was always quiet but very polite,'' Hernandez told NEWSWEEK. ""Sometimes the guests make me feel afraid. This guy didn't.'' Cunanan never made a phone call. ""He didn't argue, he didn't get drunk, he came and went on his own,'' says Roger Falin, the hotel's owner. ""He was like a ghost.''

Dinner was takeout pizza and subs, but not too much; Cunanan slowly shed the weight he had put on in the gourmet restaurants of San Diego. He kept his room so immaculate it barely needed to be cleaned, says Georgia Mae Escoe, the cleaning lady. He left his dirty towels in a bag on the doorknob so she would not have to come in. When Escoe changed his bed, she would find the linens rolled up in a tight ball. ""It was as if he was having a bad sleep,'' she recalled.

He may have been dreaming of Versace. The FBI believes that Cunanan had been obsessed with the fashion designer for years. FBI agents in San Francisco have interviewed several Bay Area witnesses who say that he frequently ""bragged'' about his relationship with Versace. Given Cunanan's propensity for tall tales, his boasts may have been idle. Still, one FBI witness in California, NEWSWEEK has learned, told investigators that Cunanan often talked about having a crush on one of Versace's boyfriends. Despite the vast gulf between them, Versace and Cunanan may have crossed paths, and not just for a moment at the opera party in San Francisco in 1990. One of Cunanan's former keepers owns a house in northern Italy not far from one of Versace's homes. Cunanan may have traveled to Italy with him; it's not inconceivable that the gigolo and the fashion czar made an acquaintance.

Versace's family and friends recoil at the idea. For all the flamboyance of his fashion, Versace was shy and temperate in his private life, say his friends. At parties he arrived late and left early, if he came at all. He drank nothing stronger than soda and wine. If Versace did bring young men into his 20,000-square-foot villa, with its gymnasium and pool and custom-designed shower large enough to accommodate a dozen bathers at a time, Cunanan was not one of them, the designer's friends insist. Cunanan was ""a five out of 10,'' says one. ""And you can find 10s all over South Beach.''

The FBI has one tantalizing lead that undercuts the denials. NEWSWEEK has learned that shortly after the Versace murder, a senior Brazilian law-enforcement officer contacted the FBI with a startling piece of information. A Brazilian woman had told local authorities in Sao Paulo that she had attended an informal get-together at the Versace mansion in South Beach the Sunday night before the murder. She claimed Cunanan was at the gathering - and she said she had still photographs and video to prove it. A Portuguese-speaking FBI agent has been dispatched to Sao Paulo to interview the woman and collect her photos and video for examination.

Cunanan came within a few minutes of getting caught just five days before Versace died. On the evening of Friday, July 11, G. Kenneth Benjamin, a cashier at Miami Subs Grill, a sandwich shop three blocks north of the Normandy, found himself looking right into the face of a man he had seen identified on the TV show ""America's Most Wanted.'' Before giving Cunanan his order (a Junior Tuna Combo), Benjamin whispered to his boss, who told him to call 911. The police operator told him to stall. But another cashier, unawares, gave Cunanan his sandwich - and the suspect walked out, heading south on Collins Avenue, minutes before police arrived.

The police didn't check out the Normandy Plaza for five more days. By then, Cunanan had made his move. On Monday, a source at the hotel says, he slipped out the door of the Normandy without paying his bill. Police later found fashion magazines in the room - along with an electric hair trimmer. Falin, the hotel owner, later recalled that Cunanan had been going to the beach more often (to get a tan?) and that he had cropped his hair close.

In the small hours of Tuesday morning, Cunanan was sighted three times, once in the wood-paneled gay bar Twist and twice at the tri-level nightclub Liquid. Dressed in a clean white T shirt and black jeans, Cunanan approached a pair of the club's performing drag queens and tried to strike up a conversation. Most patrons ignore the drag queens or tease them. Cunanan earnestly told the transvestites that he was a political-science major new in town.

But Cunanan was apparently there for something else, and Versace made relatively easy prey. In Milan, the Versace homes and offices are fortresses, with steel doors and bodyguards. In South Beach, however, Versace walked about alone. He loved the freedom. He felt, with justification, that he had discovered a once seedy neighborhood of rundown hotels and dope dealers and helped transform it into a gay festival that revolved around La Casuarina, as he renamed the rundown seaside mansion he had bought for $3.7 million in 1992 and lovingly restored. He relished the easiness and informality of the place. He dismissed the guard who once stood by the wrought-iron gate where he would later perish. On the day of his death, none of the eight security cameras at La Casuarina was working.

That Tuesday morning, July 15, dawned like most summer mornings on South Beach - blue skies, a light breeze, a warm sun. Exhausted from a blur of European fashion shows, Versace that week had been lazing about his villa, watching videos and reading. Versace had a morning routine. At about 8:30, while the streets were empty, the late-night revelers still asleep, he would wander down to the News Cafe to buy magazines. He liked to see photos of celebrities sporting his fashions. On this morning, Versace plunked down $15.07 for copies of People, The New Yorker, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly and the Spanish-language version of NEWSWEEK. Then he wandered back down Ocean Drive.

The police think Cunanan knew Versace's routine. NEWSWEEK has learned that the security cameras at the News Cafe recorded Cunanan scoping out the cafe the day before, about a half hour before Versace made his usual rounds. On this morning, a man believed to be Cunanan - dressed in the typical South Beach uniform of gray muscle T shirt, black shorts, black cap and tennis shoes - walked up to the fashion designer just as he was putting his keys into the lock of the black iron gate of his villa. Two shots rang out. Versace collapsed, blood puddling around him and trickling down the pink coral steps. Inside the mansion, Versace's boyfriend, Antonio D'Amico, heard the shots, looked out and screamed.

THE MURDERER WALKED quickly down the avenue, then dashed down an alley. He darted into the parking garage where the red pickup, stashed since the cemetery murder, was parked. Police later found a pile of clothes - the gray T shirt, the black shorts - near the truck. Inside they found a folder of newspaper clips about the hunt for Andrew Phillip Cunanan - and his passport.

The killer was gone, again. Hundreds of police and federal gumshoes fanned out across Miami, looking for the fugitive. Undercover agents went to a memorial service for Versace, eyeing the crowd to see if Cunanan was brazen enough to show up. At the Warsaw Ballroom, police arrived at 1:45 a.m., about 36 hours after Versace's murder, to pass out posters with Cunanan's picture. Inside the VIP room, friends of Versace were mourning, while a chunky man stripped down to his G-string and gyrated on the bar. Warsaw's manager, Max Blandford, was incensed that it took the cops so long. ""They can get 400 cars ticketed for parking infractions, yet they can't tell us there is a serial killer in the area?''

The FBI is worried that Cunanan is now working down a hit list of wealthy gays and arts patrons. Late last week, agents quietly informed possible targets they should take extra precautions. Warned FBI deputy director William Esposito: ""This person could show up on your doorstep.'' On Saturday there were a pair of possible Cunanan sightings in the rich retirement community of Ft. Lauderdale. (He posed there as a Versace model named ""Julian''; police say he may now be posing as a woman.) Bill Hagmaier, the chief of the FBI's Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit, told NEWSWEEK that Cunanan had began as a ""spree killer'' - murdering his first victims in a rush, motivated by rage or vendetta. But now he has evolved into a ""classic serial killer.'' After the first few times, killing gets easier, says Hagmaier. The killer begins to feel ""absolute power over human beings.'' Serial murderers become intoxicated by their celebrity and have to kill again to maintain the ""euphoria of murder.'' Like addicts, they eventually become strung out - and make a mistake. But Cunanan hasn't made one yet, at least not a big one.

Cataloging all the different ways Cunanan is alleged to have killed - friends and strangers, with guns and tools, quickly and slowly - Thomas Epach, the chief of criminal prosecutions for Cook County, Ill., said: ""It's like watching a weather map. This killer is the consummate criminal storm.'' All across the country, there are lot of other watchers, nervously wondering where the storm will strike next.

MAP: U.S. - A trail of Blood, Bodies--And Evidence

A chain of incriminating evidence points to accused spree killer Andrew Cunanan. To stay ahead of the law, he stole cars, money and a license plate and lay low in a cheap hotel. To taunt police, he left behind calling cards of bloody clothes and even his passport. The cross-country trail that seems to have led Cunanan to South Florida--and Versace:

San Diego - April 25: Cunanan leaves for Minnesota, has drinks there with David Madson

1. Minneapolis

2. Rush City, Minn.

3. Chicago

4. Philadelphia (May 8: Chicago police monitoring Miglin's car phone pick up activity near Philadelphia)/Pennsville, N.J.

Florence, SC, May 9-10: During the night, a license plate is stolen from Scott Watts's 1984 Toyota

5. July 19: Cunanan spotted in Ft. Lauderdale

The Victims

1. April 29: Cunanan's friend Jeffrey Trail is found bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer, his body rolled up in a carpet in David Madson's apartment.

2. May 3: Madson, Cunanan's former lover, is found on the shore of East Rush Lake. He's been shot three times, and his red Jeep Cherokee is missing.

May 4: Real-estate developer Lee Miglin is found in his garage, his throat cut with a bow saw. Madson's Jeep is nearby, and Miglin's Lexus is missing.

May 9: Cemetery caretaker William Reese is found shot to death in his office. Miglin's Lexus is left behind, and Reese's red Chevrolet pickup is gone.

5. July 15: Gianni Versace is murdered at the gates of his oceanfront mansion. Reese's pickup, with a stolen license plate, is found in a nearby garage.