On This Day in Criminal History: Andrew Cunanan

23 Jul

On this day in 1997, the body of Andrew Cunanan was found in a Miami boathouse, where he had taken his own life. This was eight days after he gunned down famed fashion designer Gianni Versace.


Cunanan was often described as a “high-class male prostitute,” who catered to wealthy older men. He lived and played in a world of wealth and hedonism until late 1996 when his world began to unravel. In mid-April, 1997, he threw himself a going away party in San Diego, telling most people that he was moving to San Francisco, while telling others that he was going to Minnesota to “settle some business.” He then bought a one-way, first-class ticket to Minneapolis.

On the night of April 27, 1997, he used a hammer to beat 28-year-old Jeffrey Trail to death in the Minneapolis apartment of Cunanan’s lover David Madson. The spree had begun. Five days later at a lake some 50 miles away, he shot Madson in the head and fled in the red Jeep the two had taken from Trail’s home.

Cunanan drove to Chicago where he took up with 72-year-old real-estate mogul Lee Miglin. After torturing and killing Miglin with pruning shears and a garden saw, Cunanan headed east in Miglin’s Lexus. On May 9th, he shot and killed William Reese in Pennsville, New Jersey, stole the dead man’s red Chevrolet pick-up, and headed south. Cunanan was now on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

He reached Miami, Florida, where on the morning of July 15th, he shot Gianni Versace twice in the head in front of Versace’s residence, Casa Casuarina.

Versace 2 copy

On July 23rd, police were summoned to a boathouse, where Cunanan was hiding, by its caretaker, Fernando Carreira. As with many spree killers, Cunanan took his own life before police could apprehend him.

Multiple murderers are those that have killed more than one person. They are classified according to the location and sequence of the killings into Mass, Spree, and Serial types. The exact definitions of these types varies from expert to expert and from time to time, but the below definitions are as good as any.

Mass Murderers: Kill more than 4 people in one place at one time. These killers often have a clear agenda and want to send a message. This is the killer that walks into his workplace and shoots several people in a rapid-fire assault. The attack often ends with the killer taking his own life or in a “blaze of glory” with the police killing him in a shoot out. The motive is often some perceived wrong by his co-workers or employer. Examples would be Charles Whitman and the Columbine killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Spree Killers: Kill several people at two or more locations with the killings linked by motive and with no “cooling off” period between. The spree killer goes on a rampage, moving from place to place, city to city, even state to state, leaving bodies in his wake. It’s as if an underlying rage pushes him to act and once he begins, he doesn’t stop or deviate from his goal. As with mass murders, the spree often ends in suicide or a confrontation with law enforcement. Andrew Cunanan is the poster boy of spree killers.

Serial Killers: Kill several people at different times and locations with a “cooling off” period between the killings. The cooling off period, which may be days, weeks, months, even years, in duration, distinguishes serial from spree killers. In serials, the murders seem to relieve some internal stress, at least temporarily, and they “cool off” for a period of time until the demons awaken once again, while in spree killers, the fires continue to burn. The catalog of serial killers includes some very famous names: Bundy, Gacy, Lucas, Ridgeway, Dahlmer, Kraft, Rader, and the list goes on.

Andrew Cunanan: TruTV Crime Library


5 responses to “On This Day in Criminal History: Andrew Cunanan

  1. Karen in Ohio

    July 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you for the distinctions between these designations. I’ve often wondered about them. Is there much research on motivations for the different kinds of murderers? How real is the profiler-type information portrayed on shows like Profiler and Criminal Minds?

    Less than a week ago I was out front of Versace’s mansion, which is now a hotel.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      July 23, 2009 at 2:05 pm

      There is always research on this going on. Google Dr. Katherine Ramsland and see her books and articles on this subject. She’s very good and has a good handle on this stuff. As well as profiling which is not like it is portrayed on TV. It is merely a suggestion as to the type of person who could have committed a particular crime but his face doesn’t pop up on a computer screen as TV is so fond of doing.


  2. Patrice

    July 23, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I remember the day it happened. I was walking through Columbus Circle and all the street vendors were shouting “get your Versace scarves here”. I did no know why they were saying that until I arrived home and put on the news. I have forgotten all the details about his crime spree weeks before his attack on Versace.

    I remember the funeral/memorial service. Princess Di and Elton John sat in the front row. One whispered something in the others ear. The other shook her/his head. Years later Elton John was asked what they said to one another. He said (and I forget who whispered in the other’s ear and who shook the head no) one offered the other a mint and the other replied ‘no thank you.’


  3. Florida Waterfront Real Estate

    July 24, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Funny how all these men had to pay for sex, I wonder how they sleep at night.


  4. Pat Marinelli

    July 24, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I remember this also for a totally different reason. Just a few weeks before a friend and I had set out find to the Civil War cemetery where the dead from Fort Delaware Prison were buried. Even with our own directions and those from the Fort Mott director, we had a difficult time finding the place as it was a long drive down a narrow, wooded road literally in the middle of nowhere on the southern west coast of New Jersey. We met with William Reese, the cenetary caretaker, who was driving his pickup truck and who pointed out the marker where all the Civil War dead were listed.

    I was horrified when my friend called to tell me about the caretaker’s murder. She stqrted with ‘remember that place we couldn’t find a couple of weeks ago…’ My final response was, “How did a guy from Chicago every find that place when two Jersey Girls had trouble finding it?”



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