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.
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.
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.
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.
His aesthetic “combined luxurious classicism with overt sexuality” whatever that actually means. I remember clothes from the 1970s. They could foment blindness.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.
Six days later Madson’s body was discovered near Rush Lake in Minnesota with .40-caliber gunshot wounds to the back and head.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.