Fashion Fatale: The Assassination of Gianni Versace & The Taurus PT-100 & Beretta 92

Among those who care about such stuff, Gianni Versace was a legend.

A guy like me penning commentary on fashion would be like Chuck Schumer discussing ballistic coefficients. However, in the brutal murder of fashion icon, Gianni Versace, we get a peek into a particularly dark and sordid world.

The Victim

Versace grew up in his mother’s dress shop.

Gianni Versace was born in December 1946 in Reggio Calabria, Italy. Italy was clawing its way out of a world war, and Gianni’s family struggled to stay afloat. Versace’s mother, Francesca, was a local dressmaker.

Versace’s fashion empire eventually spanned the globe.

Gianni had three siblings, one of whom succumbed to a tetanus infection at age 12. Versace was consumed with ancient Greek history and began an apprenticeship in his mother’s dressmaking shop at a young age. At 26 he moved to Milan. A year later he released his first fashion line. In 1978 he opened the first of 130 signature boutiques.

I know I’m an unwashed redneck, but I just don’t get it.

To a Philistine like me, high fashion seems a lot like expensive wine—pretentious, over-rated, self-important, and dull. However, some of the commentaries are genuinely entertaining. Fashion folk apparently take themselves very seriously.

Apparently this is “luxurious classicism with overt sexuality.” Who knew?

His aesthetic “combined luxurious classicism with overt sexuality” whatever that actually means. I remember clothes from the 1970s. They could foment blindness.

Gianni Versace’s world was nothing if not flamboyant.

He showed “brazen defiance of the rules of fashion” and once opined “I don’t believe in good taste.” Versace had an ongoing feud with Giorgio Armani. It was said that “Armani dresses the wife. Versace dresses the mistress.” That I can sort of visualize.

Versace marketed lots of stuff other than just clothes.

By 1997 Versace’s fashion empire was worth a cool $807 million. He hawked jewelry, textiles, home furnishings, china, and housewares. Gianni Versace ran with the likes of Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tupac, Eric Clapton, the Notorious B.I.G., and Princess Diana. Versace was credited with inventing the supermodel, something for which I’m not altogether certain we should be grateful.

This is where Gianni Versace hung his hat in 1997. Not too shabby.

In the summer of 1997, Versace was fifty years old and living with his partner Antonio D’Amico in his sprawling mansion in Miami Beach, Florida. Aside from having developed a form of ear cancer Versace was, in the eyes of the world at least, living the dream. Rich, sought after, venerated, and surrounded by sycophants both famous and beautiful, Gianni Versace was at the pinnacle of his uniquely vain profession.

A Darker Form of Chaos

This guy grew up to become a genuine piece of work.

Andrew Phillip Cunanan was born in National City, California, in the summer of 1969 and was clearly just not wired correctly. Andrew had an IQ of 147, higher than 99.9% of the general population. A serial liar with a penchant for changing his appearance on a whim, he was voted by his high school peers “least likely to be forgotten.”

Though they look like normal people, those afflicted with Antisocial Personality Disorder almost inevitably end up in prison or worse, perhaps even seeking public office.

The formal diagnosis for Cunanan’s curious malady is Antisocial Personality Disorder. I saw a few of these in medical school, and they were a wonder to behold. Think of it like the congenital absence of conscience. He once threw his mother against a wall during an argument and dislocated her shoulder.

Andrew Cunanan plied his guile, greed, and good looks into a comfortable life of decadence and debauchery.

Cunanan moved from place to place living off of the generosity of older gay men. When he was between benefactors, he dealt drugs and created violent sadomasochistic gay pornography. Andrew was also known to have a taste for methamphetamine. Cunanan’s mom referred to her son as a “high-class homosexual prostitute.”

The Versace family denies that Gianni and Andrew ever met. However, the two did frequent the same sorts of places.

It is suspected that Cunanan met Versace in October of 1990 in San Francisco, though the details of their encounter are unknown. Both men ran in the same sex-for-hire circles in both Miami and San Francisco. By 1997 Andrew Cunanan had burned most of his bridges and found his life spiraling out of control. He traveled to Minneapolis to meet with a former Naval officer turned propane salesman friend named Jeffrey Trail.

Unleashing the Beast

Jeffrey Trail was an Annapolis graduate and Cunanan’s first victim.

In April of 1997 as Cunanan was making plans to leave California his friends were growing afraid of him. Two days after arriving in Minneapolis, Cunanan had a heated argument with Trail and beat him to death with a claw hammer, leaving the young man’s body wrapped in a carpet in the home of a former boyfriend named David Madson.

David Madson was a former consort of Cunanan’s killed with a gun stolen from Jeffrey Trail.

Six days later Madson’s body was discovered near Rush Lake in Minnesota with .40-caliber gunshot wounds to the back and head.

Lee Miglin’s connection to Cunanan is hopelessly murky. After this particularly gruesome killing Cunanan looted the fridge and kicked back with a sandwich.

Cunanan then traveled to Chicago and kidnapped 72-year-old real estate developer Lee Miglin, a married father of two. Cunanan bound the man with duct tape and tortured him to death, stabbing him more than twenty times with a screwdriver before cutting his throat with a gardener’s bow saw. No one has found any prior connection between the men. Afterward, Cunanan went into the Miglin home and made himself a ham sandwich.

William Reese was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. He died for his pickup truck.

Cunanan stole Miglin’s car but saw it referenced on a television program. He, therefore, shot a 45-year-old cemetery caretaker named William Reese in Pennsville Township, New Jersey, and stole his pickup. Cunanan then drove to Miami Beach and lived under his own name for two months, pawning stolen property and driving Reese’s vehicle.

The Versace Killing

Versace died on the steps of his opulent South Florida mansion.

On July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace left his palatial estate to walk down the street to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast and the local newspaper. As he returned home and ascended the steps of his mansion, Andrew Cunanan approached him from behind.

While the details are disputed, it is clear that Versace’s killing was both close range and pitiless.

Witness reports diverge at this point. Some say the two men argued over a parcel of some sort. Others say Versace never knew the younger man was there. Regardless, Cunanan shot Versace twice in the back of the head execution-style with a Taurus PT-100 .40-caliber handgun he had taken from his first victim, Jeffrey Trail.

The Gun

The Taurus PT-92 has long been considered a less expensive alternative to the Beretta that inspired it.

In 1974 Beretta set up a factory in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to build pistols for the Brazilian military. The Brazilian gun maker Taurus purchased this facility six years later. Taurus then began producing copies of the 9mm Beretta 92. As the original patents had expired they could produce these guns without paying royalties.

The Taurus PT-series comes in a variety of flavors. The squared-off trigger guard found on the military M9 started here.

The original 9mm PT-92 featured the classic Beretta open-slide design along with its single-action/double-action mechanism. The PT-92 introduced the squared-off trigger guard that was subsequently adopted on the familiar Beretta 92F/M9 guns. These pistols fed from 15-round box magazines and featured a frame-mounted manual safety.

The .40-caliber PT-100 is a rugged and effective combat tool.

This gun in .40 S&W comes in two variations. The fixed sight variant sporting 3-dot sights is titled the PT-100. The same gun with adjustable sights is the PT101. Both guns feed from 11-round box magazines.

Taurus pistols have seen widespread use around the globe.

Taurus PT pistols are typically a little cheaper than their Beretta counterparts, yet they seem to be of impeccable quality. The examples I have run would compare favorably to their Beretta forebears. The argument could be made that the thumb-activated manual safety is more practical than the slide-mounted version on the Beretta.

The Death of a Monster

Apparently, at the end Andrew Cunanan still considered escape. He held a passport from Sealand, an odd entity that bills itself as the world’s smallest country.

Police investigating Versace’s murder found Reese’s abandoned vehicle in a nearby parking garage. Inside were some of Cunanan’s clothes, newspaper clippings of his previous murders, and a Sealand passport. Sealand is itself a bizarre place claiming to be the world’s smallest independent country. Established on a disused WW2-era antiaircraft platform in the North Sea, Sealand issues travel documents but is not formally recognized by any of the world’s traditional governments.

This is where Andrew Cunanan met his gory end.

Eight days after the Versace murder, the caretaker of a large houseboat moored not far from the site of the killing reported hearing a gunshot. Police eventually breached the facility to find Andrew Cunanan dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the mouth. He had used the same .40-caliber weapon he had stolen from Jeffrey Trail and subsequently employed in the Versace killing. He left behind no suicide note and scant personal belongings.

Denouement

Gianni Versace had some undeniably rarefied friends. Here he is seen alongside Andy Warhol.

This story was just a wretched mess. Gianni Versace had everything his world could offer. At least from my poorly bred perspective, his profession was vapid and frivolous, and his travails were the very embodiment of first-world problems. In a life populated by supermodels and celebrities, the levels of vanity and self-absorption can indeed be prodigious.

Versace’s funeral was itself an A-list event. From left to right are Sting, somebody I don’t recognize, Princess Di, and Elton John.

2,000 people attended Gianni Versace’s funeral in Milan. Elton John and Sting performed. Princess Diana was there, though she was herself killed just over a month later in an infamous traffic accident at age 36.

Donatella Versace took over the primary design duties.

The Versace fashion empire passed on to Gianni’s family. His brother Santo became CEO, while his sister Donatella became head of design. In his will, Gianni left half of his holdings to his niece Allegra Versace. She formally took control of roughly $500 million in assets in 2004 on her 18th birthday.

We will likely never know for certain what drove Andrew Cunanan to become a cold-blooded serial killer.

Andrew Cunanan was a sociopath pure and simple. Authorities are vexed as regards to what drove him to kill in the first place and then why he chose his victims as he did. Trail and Madson were former lovers, and Cunanan was unambiguously crazy. However, his connection to Miglin was murky, and he apparently killed Reese simply to get his truck. Cunanan took his true feelings toward Gianni Versace with him to the grave.

Throughout his life Andrew Cunanan coveted fame. In death he finally found it. He was briefly counted among the FBI’s most wanted fugitives.

In a world of lust, greed, vanity, and wealth one twisted young man’s unhinged trail of death led to the doorstep of fashion’s greatest modern icon.

Gianni Versace certainly surrounded himself with nice furnishings.
Despite the death of its namesake, the Versace fashion empire lives on.

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About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • gr April 27, 2020, 12:41 am

    I believe the woman you don’t know in the funeral picture is Sting’s wife.

  • Ray March 31, 2020, 11:49 am

    I love telling I am so old jokes but I was a treasury officer in Philadelphia I was assigned to help the F.B.I. hunt down Cunnan and they kept saying “I did not know this street was here.” We did not catch him and the rest is history.

  • Scott March 30, 2020, 2:36 pm

    Sitting next to Sting is his wife.

    I am a huge fan of Beretta/Benelli shotguns and Taurus revolvers. Nice article.

  • CJ Daly March 30, 2020, 2:28 pm

    Hard to believe this was in 1997 – almost 23 years ago. I’ve always been a Sig / Glock guy and was not a big fan of the 92 or the Taurus knock-off. I had heard stories in the late 80’s from law enforcement friends of slides cracking due to service use at the range etc. Unsure if that was urban myth

    The lady next to Sting is his wife Trudie Styler.

  • Stan Mullen March 30, 2020, 10:40 am

    Another well written article by Will Dabbs. Well researched, interesting and informative as usual for this author. Please keep writing!

    Stan Mullen
    Oregon

  • Big Al 45 March 30, 2020, 9:24 am

    I wholly preferred the Taurus over the Beretta, especially after the military changed the safety. I couldn’t get the Beretta safety off except by changing my grip, bad for defense work.
    The Taurus ran all brands of ammo, and was accurate enough for Practical Pistol. It was the best 9mm full size pistol I owned outside of the Poly guns.
    And when my buddies had to ship their Beretta’s back to take care of the slide issue, I was still shooting the Taurus.

    • G.O.A. Patriot March 30, 2020, 2:36 pm

      I own a PT100AFS. It’s my favorite handgun and is deadly accurate. I can put rounds in a ten inch circle from fifty yards with it and I love the ambidextrous thumb safety!

  • Steve Kosovich March 30, 2020, 6:49 am

    I really enjoyed the article, he had a crazy life, but we still have more today unfortunately.

  • Mike Cornett March 30, 2020, 4:50 am

    When this story hit the news it drew my attention because I knew the name ‘Cunanan’.
    As it turned out, I knew Andrew’s dad, Modesto. I served in the US Navy with him.
    We were on the same ship. ….US Navy ship John Willis, DE 1027. This was in 1966 – 1967
    Modesto was a First Class Hospital Corpsman and our only medical person on our small ship.
    For some reason we became friends. Modesto never used the nickname Pete, when I knew him.
    I left the ship in 1968 and headed to Vietnam, on the Battleship USS New Jersey BB 62, never to
    see or hear from Modesto again. After his retirement from the US Navy, it sounds like his life took
    a turn for the bad. You can Google, Modesto Cunanan and see the details of his life.

    • alex March 30, 2020, 10:59 am

      while on the new jersey did you happen to know a guy named bob vargo,he was a friend i worked with in new jersey who was on that ship,he’s dead now,just wondering.

  • Will Drider March 29, 2020, 11:37 pm

    Cunanan: just a waste of air. The best thing he did was finally stop himself.

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