In Miami’s pagan, over-the-top South Beach, particularly among the large gay contingent, Gianni Versace had been a tanned, adored idol. Now the emperor lay dead, gunned down almost Mob-style on the steps of his lavish Mediterranean villa, shot in the head and face in broad daylight. The prime suspect, dressed in nondescript shorts and a baseball cap, came in close for the kill and then coolly walked away along Ocean Drive. He knew very well that the act of murdering Versace, the Calabrian-born designer whose flamboyant clothes virtually defined “hot,” who tarted up the likes of Princess Diana and Elizabeth Hurley but whose gowns also made Madonna and Courtney Love more elegant, would instantly catapult him to where he had always fantasized being: at the center of worldwide attention.
Until recently, Andrew Cunanan, 27, was just a gay gigolo down on his luck in San Diego. A voracious reader with a reported genius-level I.Q., he coveted the lifestyles of the rich and famous. He tracked possible sugar daddies with care and would say with a pout that he didn’t know whether to fly to New York or Paris for dinner. He could describe the texture and delicacy of the blowfish he claimed to have eaten at an $850 Japanese lunch. Or he could say of a work of art what year it had been painted, who had owned it through the centuries, what churches it had hung in. His wit was biting, his memory photographic. Cunanan’s story is a singular study in promise crushed.
Wherever he went, he craved the limelight and aspired to the top, whether through charm or falsehood. In the end he reached an exclusive pinnacle that provided him with the celebrity he had always sought: he became America’s most wanted fugitive. More than a dozen law-enforcement bodies, including the F.B.I., were seeking to question him not only about Versace’s murder but also about four others that took place between April 27 and May 9.