The murder of Gianni Versace: the story of the most mysterious crime in the fashion world

More than 20 years ago, one of the most notorious crimes in the fashion world took place: Gianni Versace was murdered on the porch of his own mansion. What made Andrew Cunanan do this right at the designer’s villa and why could the police not get on the trail of a serial criminal for a long time?

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Gianni Versace in his studio in 1985

“I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answers,” Miami Police Chief Richard Borrero said shortly after the murder, and almost a quarter of a century later, his phrase is still relevant. One of the most sensational, discussed, loud and dirty cases in the history of fashion still contains more questions than answers. The most important and controversial are the motives of the crime, in which the investigation is not sure even now.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Gianni and Donatella Versace in New York in 1995

The last day of Versace

On the morning of July 15, 1997, the 50-year-old founder of one of the largest fashion empires got up at 6 a.m. He called Milan, completed his work chores, then slipped out of his mansion and headed to the News Café just three blocks from his house. In South Beach, the designer, whom the locals called the “unofficial mayor of the city,” had been living quietly for five years, but on this ill-fated day Versace went for coffee himself, although he usually entrusted it to his assistant. The owner of the cafe to which he was heading reported that Gianni looked wary that day. He walked past the entrance and made a circle—almost as if he knew he was being watched.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Villa Casa Cazaurina in Miami, owned by Gianni Versace

Taking the local newspaper with him, he headed to his luxurious mansion on Ocean Drive, a 15-block stretch of road filled with respectable Art Deco hotels and impressive mansions. This is where Gianni’s life ended — right at the entrance of his own villa Casa Casuarina. He climbed five marble steps and inserted the key into the lock on the iron gate. At that moment, 27-year-old American Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer on the run, shot Gianni Versace twice at point-blank range and drove off in a parked car with stolen license plates. Gianni’s boyfriend Antonio D’Amico and the manager of the Lazzaro mansion at that time just sat down to breakfast on the veranda. When they heard the shots, they ran out into the street and saw a lifeless body. Gianni was beyond saving — his death was confirmed at the nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital — and his killer quietly disappeared in front of witnesses.

Who is Andrew Cunanan?

Andrew Cunanan was born in San Diego into a middle-class family and was the youngest of four children. His father was a stockbroker and his mother was a homemaker who reportedly suffered from mental illness.

From the age of 12, Cunenen attended the elite episcopal school in La Jolla. There was not enough money for everything, and the parents mortgaged their house to pay for the education of their youngest child in a private school. Cunanen did not advertise his humble origin and told his classmates that he was born into a privileged (and even royal) family. In high school, he did not hide his homosexual orientation and tried to create an image of a carefree bad boy from a rich family. 

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Andrew Cunanan in 1985

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Andrew Cunanan in 1985

Despite Cunanan’s high IQ score — reportedly, he had 147 points, which is statistically higher than most of the US population — he did not shine with good grades. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of California, San Diego, but quickly dropped out and began to have relationships with wealthy elderly people who paid for rent, clothing, club parties and other expenses. He was a charming young man who could easily manipulate people, and was widely known in the gay community.

Cunanan left California in April 1997, a few months before his final murder, and bought a one-way ticket to Minneapolis. Here, as he himself said, he had to “finish one thing” with two friends. These friends are Jeff Trail, a Gulf War veteran, and David Madson, a successful architect whom Cunanan had been dating for a while. They will be the first victims of a ruthless serial killer. 

Victims of Andrew Cunanan or victims of circumstances?

He killed Jeff Trail with a carpenter’s hammer in Madson’s apartment and wrapped the body in a carpet. On the same day, David Madson returned to his apartment, and a few days later was found dead with gunshot wounds to the head. After that, Cunanan went to Chicago — here his third victim was 72-year-old developer Lee Miglin. He was found dead a week later in his own house, there were traces of beatings and cruel torture on the same. Cunanan’s callousness and inhumanity went to extremes: after the murder, the criminal reportedly went to the kitchen and made himself a ham sandwich. Then he stole Miglin’s car and hit the road. 

Before his final and most high-profile murder, the criminal had been hiding in Miami for more than two months: he arrived around May, watching as a mad hunt was conducted for him throughout the city. Neither the police nor the FBI assumed that he was here. In part, the ubiquitous media helped the serial killer to hide so skillfully. When Andrew Cunanan was driving south in Lee Miglin’s car, he allegedly heard a police report on the radio that they were following his car. The criminal decided to abandon Miglin’s car in New Jersey, where he stopped at a cemetery parking lot. Here he committed his fourth murder — the victim was the caretaker William Reese. Cunanan stole his red pickup truck and went to a point from where he would not return alive — to Miami Beach, where Gianni Versace lived at that time.

At that time, the police put the 27-year-old Cunanan on the wanted list: he was suspected of four murders that occurred in three states of America. In June, when an investigator established a connection between the previous victims, the FBI put Cunanan on the wanted list. At that time, sketches of the criminal were made, which were shown in one of the most popular TV shows America’s Most Wanted (“They are wanted in America”). “It was a perfect series of failures, missteps and omissions that helped Cunanan avoid any identification or arrest in Miami,” the policeman said.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

After dealing with Reese, Cunanan arrived in Miami and booked a room for $26.99 at the Normandy Plaza Hotel, a dreary place four miles from the Versace mansion. According to police reports, he idly spent time using drugs, engaged in theft and went to gay nightclubs, where he may have been looking for elderly and wealthy men. The day before he killed Versace, Cunanan ran out of money and left the hotel without paying the bills.

The last resting place of a serial killer

The hopes of the police and the designer’s relatives to catch the killer collapsed on July 23, 1997 — exactly eight days after the death of Gianni Versace, Andrew Cunanan’s body was found in his houseboat off Miami Beach. Cunanan’s suicide ended the nationwide hunt, but marked the beginning of a multi-year search for answers.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

The motives of the crimes are unknown and are unlikely to ever be clear. Cunanan did not tell anyone about the reasons for Versace’s murder and did not leave a suicide note. There were rumors that he went to this to find out who infected him with HIV. However, an autopsy revealed that Cunanan did not have the virus.

“The sick kid pulled the trigger,” said Hal Rubinstein, who had lunch with Versace and his partner Antonio D’Amico shortly before the murder. “Whatever problems he had, he destroyed an incredibly talented person on Earth.”

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Gianni Versace surrounded by models after the Versace Spring/Summer collection show in March 1991

The Versace family believes that the designer did not know Cunanan. Many noted that at that moment in his life Versace was a workaholic, went to bed early and treasured his relationship with D’Amico very much. According to rumors, the two allegedly met once in 1990 in a San Francisco nightclub, but few people believe that there was a real relationship between them. Was there something in the biography of Gianni Versace that caused Andrew, who was passionate about literature and fashion, a murderous rage? Or was it a consequence of his mental illness? As the police noted, feelings of remorse or pity were alien to him, and perhaps that is why he committed all the murders with such composure.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Donatella and Gianni at a party dedicated to the Versace couture collection in 1996

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Gianni and Donatella in 1991

Immediately after Gianni’s murder, the shattered brother Santo and sister Donatella arrived from Milan. They took the body and returned to Italy, where on July 22, 1997, a week after his murder, a grand funeral ceremony was held in the Duomo of Milan. On this day, more than two thousand people gathered at the funeral service, with film crews fighting for places closer to the coffin. Among the guests are those closest to Gianni: Naomi Campbell, his favorite model, Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, as well as his most famous client, Princess Diana.

Убийство Джанни Версаче: история самого загадочного преступления мира моды

Princess Diana at the funeral of Gianni Versace in Milan, July 22, 1997

Elton John and Sting, his closest celebrity friends, concluded the service with the song “The Lord is my Shepherd” — a psalm chosen by the Versace team. When the music stopped, the sounds of crying echoed throughout the church. Versace was killed, his family was left with a huge legacy, and Donatella, who had been idly burning her life for a long time, now has to lead the family business and make the fashion house the way we know it now — a powerful empire that values its history and the big name Versace.

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