It's Been Over 20 Years Since Gianni Versace Was Shot, But The Killer's Motive Is Still A Mystery

The 1997 murder of Gianni Versace has been thrust into the spotlight once again thanks to Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, but viewers of the show looking for answers as to why this fashion icon was cut down in his prime may still have questions even after finishing the series. Versace’s murder at the hands of 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan, an incredibly charming serial killer, is a look into the oblique mind of a murderer who finished his killing spree with a very public exit.

Despite being known entities throughout their lives, famous people who were murdered were rarely killed because of their fame. Gianni Versace, quite possibly the most famous fashion designer in the world, was murdered seemingly at random, struck down at the height of his power for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time — or for perhaps just being a legendary figure that the young killer wished he could emulate, but couldn't.

  • The Morning He Was Killed, Versace Did Something He Never Did - Left The House To Buy His Own Newspaper

    Gianni Versace never went to get his own paper. It just wasn't something that he did. Usually he sent his assistant out for the paper but on the morning of July 15, 1997, he decided to run the errand himself. When Versace returned home with papers in hand he arrived at the same time as Andrew Cunanan. As soon as Versace put his key in the lock he was shot once in the face and once in his neck at point blank range. 

    Versace died in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his villa. His partner of 15 years, Antonio D’Amico, was drinking coffee on the patio nearby when he heard the gunshots. He and the butler went to investigate and found a horrific scene. “I saw Gianni lying on the steps, with blood around him. At that point, everything went dark. I was pulled away, I didn’t see any more," he said.

  • Police Thought Versace's Death May Have Been A Mob Hit

    Immediately after Gianni Versace was gunned down at his own front door, a passerby Martin Weinstein arrived at the scene, having heard the shots. He described the clinical nature of the killing as "execution style." Next to Versace's body was a dead dove. Police believed that the bird was the sign of a mafia hit, but shortly afterwards they dismissed that theory as a far reach and chased their leads down to Andrew Cunanan. 

    Years after the fact, two mobsters, Giuseppe Di Bella and Filippo Barecca, said that Cunanan was framed and that the police were correct in their initial assumption. According to Di Bella and Barecca, Versace was helping launder money for the mob and that's how he ended up dead at his front door. 

  • Cunanan Began His Murder Spree By Killing His Ex-Lover

    Prior to killing Versace, Cunanan had been on a country-wide killing spree. In doing so he'd become a known entity to the FBI as a serial killer who preyed on gay men and stole their cars after he finished his attacks. Between April 27 and May 9, 1997, Cunanan murdered four men with nothing in common other than the fact that they had the bad luck of coming in contact with the killer. 

    Cunanan's first victim, Jeffrey Trail, was selling propane in Minneapolis when Cunanan invited him to Cunanan's alleged former lover David Madson's apartment. Aside from neighbors claiming to hear an argument no one knows what happened that night. Trail's body was later discovered rolled up in a carpet in Madson's closet. He'd been bludgeoned to death. A few days later, fishermen found Madson's body on the shore of a lake 50 miles from Minneapolis with two bullet holes in his head. It's still unclear as to whether Madson helped Cunanan kill Trail or if the former lover spent the last few days of his life in captivity, waiting for death. 

  • Cunanan Committed Four Brutal Murders Before Driving To Miami

    Cunan's killing spree didn't follow guidelines that have been created to attempt to rationalize how serial killers develop. There are no reports of him displaying the controversial McDonald Triad and it doesn't look like he eased his way into his lifestyle or had any particular ties to his victims. He just started killing people. After his first two kills — Jeffrey Trail adn David Madson, respectively — Cunanan drove to Chicago where he ran into Lee Miglin, a 75-year-old real estate maven. No one knows if Cunanan or Miglin hooked up or if Miglin was simply in Cunanan's way, but the Miglin family are thorough in their defense of the patriarch's sexuality.

    Regardless of what occurred between the two men, Miglin's body was found in his garage wrapped in plastic and brown paper tape. Cunanan had stabbed Miglin in the chest with garden shears, broken the elderly man's ribs, then cut his throat with a bone saw. After the murder, Cunanan left plenty of evidence for the police. He even shaved and left his trimmed hairs in the sink.

  • Versace And Cunanan Had Met Previously

    In an odd occurrence that seemed to give a glimmer of meaning to an otherwise senseless murder, Versace and Cunanan tangentially partied with one another on October 21, 1990. Predator and prey were both in attendance at Colossus, a club in San Francisco. Versace was in town because he designed costumes for the San Francisco Opera and Cunanan simply had the gift of timing. An eyewitness claims that Versace saw Cunanan and asked, “Lago di Como, no?” He'd either misremembered seeing his killer at Lake Como or the two had come in contact before and never mentioned it. Cunanan replied, "Thank you for remembering, Signor Versace.”

    Versace likely forgot the encounter, but the story continued to grow for Cunanan. He would later claim that he and Versace went out on the town with socialite Harry de Wildt. But de Wildt would refute these claims to Vanity Fair after Versace's death.

    “I categorically deny Mr. Versace, Mr. Cunanan, and I were in the same car. I have never had the pleasure or displeasure of meeting Mr. Cunanan.” 

  • Cunanan Worked As An Escort

    It's ambiguous as to whether or not Cunanan slept with all of his first three victims or if they were only acquaintances — only the second victim, David Madson, was reportedly a former lover. But 27-year-old Cunanan certainly had a penchant for older, wealthy men, and he worked as an escort as a way of metting them. The the skills Cunanan gained through his work in Southern California and Florida gave him the skills to find his victim's vulnerability and attack. In his time working as an escort, Cunanan was able to pick up social cues from the wealthy men he aspired to be and learned how to use them to his advantage. It also helped set him up to be in the "right place at the right time."

    San Diego restaurateur Michael Williams told Vanity Fair, "Andrew did his homework. He would investigate older, wealthy gay men who didn’t have families, and he would place himself in those circles. And that was his living.”