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This article is written by Gursimran Kaur Bakshi, a student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. This article explores one of the most peculiar murder mysteries of famed Italian Fashion Designer and gay icon, Giovanni Maria Versace who was assassinated by Andrew Cunanan, one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.


History is peculiar in ways mankind cannot fathom. We are supposed to read history to be able to understand what went wrong and what shall not be repeated by humans. But not everyone reads history to not repeat it. Some read history to execute their atypical fantasies. One such person was Andrew Phillip Cunanan (‘Cunanan’), an intellectually gifted person with the high Intelligence Quotient(‘I.Q’) of 147, who majored in American History only to become America’s most notorious serial killer. 

There is a saying, ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. Cunanan was different. He did not want to live long enough to see himself become a villain. He became a villain in the short period he lived. History knows this man by various names. He was gay and a prostitute who consumed drugs, suffered from delusion grandiosity throughout his life, became a spree killer, and ultimately committed suicide on an infamous gay beach. 

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Cunanan – the becoming of a pathological liar 

On 15 July 1997, Cunanan shot dead at the point-blank range a renowned Italian Fashion Designer Giovanni Maria Versace (‘Gianni’) in the mid-afternoon on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion Casa Casuarina. Gianni was one of the known fashion designers of the 1980s and 90s. He was the founder of the famous luxury international fashion house, ‘Versace’. He was known for his vitality in his designs and often designed clothes for high-profile figures like Princess Diana, Elton John, and Madonna. He also authored several books in his name such as ‘The Art of Being You’, ‘Do Not Disturb’, ‘Vanitas Design’, and ‘Men Without Ties’.

Recently in 2018, Versace Fashion brand has been acquired by another luxury group Michael Kors Holdings, which soon will be renamed as Capri Holdings Limited upon closing of the acquisition, in a $2.1 Billion deal. This deal was finalised in consideration of Versace family receiving €150 million of the purchase price in shares of the Capri Holdings. 

Gianni lived in the Miami mansion with his partner Antonio D’ Amico. He was in a same-sex relationship at the time when coming out of the closet was not considered as common in America because of the homophobic atmosphere. Versace came out gay during an interview with The Advocate 1995 edition where he introduced his long-time boyfriend Antonio. The interview was for the release of his book ‘Men Without Ties’.

Cunanan’s murdering Gianni was something no one had ever speculated. However, it was not entirely unknown that Cunanan was capable of ruthlessly killing people. Before killing Gianni, he had already murdered a 28-year-old Jeffrey Trail, a former naval officer;  his former lover David Madson; 72-year-old wealthy businessman, Lee Miglin; and then a 45-years-old William Reese, a cemetery worker in New Jersey. 

But none of these incidents caught media attention as that was Gianni’s. This incident created a hue and cry in the United States (‘U.S’), where Cunanan by then, had become the most famous fugitive featuring in the top 10 Most Wanted List of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’). As the manhunt continued, he was eventually found dead at the infamous Miami Beach’s boathouse. Cunanan shot himself dead with the same gun he used for killing Gianni.

So, what went wrong? Why did the law enforcement repeatedly fail to catch him despite his notoriety? Let’s read further to understand the whole mystery with the help of Investigative Journalist Maureen Orth’s book ‘Vulgar Favours: The Assassination of Gianni Versace’. 

Cunanan’s childhood and his parents’ unhappy marriage 

Cunanan belonged to a mixed heritage as his father was from the Philippines and his mother was from Italy. He was the youngest of all his siblings and thus, got the most attention from both his parents. But they did not devote their attention to him because he was the youngest, but because he was the only reason for them to sustain their unhappy marriage. He was a gifted child with a strong photogenic memory. He could easily recite encyclopedias, fit everywhere, and talk about anything from celebrity fashions to popular labels, unlike other children who were learning basic education at his age.

However, as the youngest, he failed to develop a coherent adult personality due to his parents’ unhappy marriage. Often, the youngest child seeks the most validation. He too strived for attention but failed, probably because his father, Modesto Pete Cunanan, consistently accused his Catholic mother, MaryAnn, of being unfaithful. The constant strife between the parents suffocated him, at the same time, he got utmost attention from both the parents individually. 

Cunanan’s boisterousness and flamyobancy was a gift from his parents 

MaryAnn, whose whole life was dominated by her husband, found affection in his son, who she adored but overwhelmingly. His mother did not let him enjoy his life like a regular kid and always kept him close to herself. She was the reason why he developed some kind of superiority trait in his personality as he started thinking he is smarter than the rest of the children and that is why she does not let him play with others. He eventually became a loner, often devouring books and encyclopedias. 

His father suffocated him too. He made sure Cunanan could recognise images, labels, and clothes of expensive brands by their names. This made him develop a fake sense of grandiosity because his parents in reality were not rich and could not afford such clothes and expensive things. Cunanan eventually became a boisterous child who wanted attention wherever he went so that he could show off this knowledge or pretend to be rich. Even in school, he spoke in a harsh and loud tone to attract attention. This is where the so-called grandiosity became inherent in his personality. He maintained a similar image of himself in school competitions. 

His ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude embarrassed other children of his age 

The flamboyant characteristics he developed because of his parents made him a pathological liar too. In one of the instances, as written by Orth, Cunanan once asked one of his friends’ father if he could take Jennifer (his friend) out for a lobster lunch. His father refused. Cunanan, with the help of her mother, invited Jennifer to the same lunch but in school. This is concerning because the other students were eating out of their brown bags and Cunanan was eating an expensive lunch in front of them and which their family in reality could not afford (Vulgar Favours, chapter 2). 

Further, he also attended Bishop’s school in La Jolla, a community of San Diego. It was a private school and he consistently pretended to belong from a wealthy family to fit in with other students. It was his father who enrolled him in this school. So, both his parents were responsible for what he ultimately became because all the things he learnt, consciously or unconsciously, became a part of his personality and reality. 

How and when did Cunanan identify himself as gay and became a prostitute

With time, his sense of superiority increased. His conflict with religion also became apparent as he found himself attracted to same-sex but this was not something easy to confess in a strict Catholic household. After his father abandoned his family and fled to the Philippines on the accusation of embezzlement charges, his sexuality became more apparent as he started spending most of his time in gay clubs. He was no more Andrew Cunanan. He went on to impersonate Andrew De Silva, a Hollywood CEO. He continued to have a conflict with his mother who disapproved of his sexuality and he went on to abuse her. 

He left his family and shifted to Castro District of San Francisco which used to be a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (‘LGBTQI+’) centric place. He befriended wealthy men and chased their lavish lifestyles; something he thought was due to him. Cunanan portrayed himself as a son of a rich Israeli millionaire to them. He indulged himself in violent pornography and ingesting crystal meth, cocaine, and various other drugs. He went on to become a prostitute in homophobic America. However, there was a lot of conflict over this as some refer to him as Gigolo, an escort who used to live and pleasure wealthy men and often sold drugs to them. 

What motivated Cunanan to kill Gianni and the failure of law enforcement to catch him- the speculative theories

This case revolves around a lot of circumstantial evidence that was mostly ignored by the law enforcement and the failure of which disabled them to catch Cunanan even after he murdered Gianni. There were a lot of theories, which are mere speculations, on Cunanan’s motive to kill Gianni. 

However, none of it is confirmed because the killer had already committed suicide, making this case a mystery. However, it’s important to discuss certain of these speculations which also highlight the lackadaisical attitude of the law enforcement agency during the 1980s in America as most of them did not have any clue that he was gay and his victims were his former lovers. This was because they simply did not recognise the existence of gay persons.

The HIV aids and jealousy theory 

One of the most common theories on why Cunanan became a murderer was because he wanted to take revenge on the people who had infected him with the human immunodeficiency virus (‘HIV’). The killer somehow knew the four persons he killed as they were his ex-lovers. But he did not have any direct connection with Gianni except that they had met once in a club and that Gianni had recognised Cunanan on some occasion. 

Whether Gianna was H.I.V positive and whether they had personally known each other has not been revealed. Now, if that part was unsure, then it does not make sense that Cunanan killed Gianni because the latter was H.I.V positive. Orth’s book does reveal that Gianni was in fact HIV positive but Cunanan was not. However, as he was not sure of his infection, this was speculated that he developed hatred against wealthy gay men who had infected him with the disease and went on to kill them. 

Law enforcement were oblivious that Cunanan was a gay and failed to find his hideouts 

Most importantly, this case reveals the sheer negligence on the part of the law enforcement agency because they were unable to find out that Cunanan was gay and that his other targets were gay men too. During the 1980s, law enforcement was ignorant of gay rights as was the rest of America. Like black people, those of other gender identities too suffered during that time in America. Homophobia was also one of the reasons why they failed to catch Cunanan. The law enforcement was not aware of the hideouts where gay men would socialise or take drugs, or indulge in illicit sexual activities. That’s exactly why they failed to find out Cunanan’s hideout at the infamous Miami gay beach.

Law enforcement failed to collect evidence against Cunanan because of their sheer negligence 

Another important issue, in this case, was the burden of proof. During that time, another murder case had caught the attention of everyone in America. It was the 1995 infamous trial case of O.J. Simpson, the famed football player who was accused of murder charges of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. This was one of the most-watched trials of that era in which OJ Simpson was held not guilty by the jury on murder charges as the defence succeeded in creating reasonable doubt in the testimony of the prosecution. Even though he had to pay compensation to the victims’ families in a civil case that found him guilty on the preponderance of probability.

Recently, one of the defence lawyers’ of OJ Simpson’s, F. Lee Bailey died. He played an integral part in the acquittal of Simpson as he was the one who cross-examined Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman and challenged the veracity of this testimony and investigation by introducing a reasonable doubt that he was racially biased towards the accused. After the OJ Simpson Trial, the rules of evidence had changed especially, because of the large-scale media attention and coverage the case received. 

Most of the black community too supported Simpson because of the possibility that the investigation was biased as he belonged to a black community and that he was being falsely accused. It was revealed that detective Mark used the N-word against him in court frequently. Apartheid during that time was apparent in every corner of America. 

The evidence that was available in Giann’s murder was a red pickup truck parked at his garage, which was identified by a witness to belong to Cunanan. It was the same truck that was linked to another murder of the cemetery worker in New Jersey.This was also the reason that the law enforcement in Cunanan’s case made sure that they had sufficient proof beyond reasonable doubt to bring a murder charge against him. However, they missed the point that he was someone who left traces of his crime as if he was unbothered from being caught. He used the stolen gun of Trail’s to murder David and then went on to steal the coin collection from the care of Lee Miglin. Further, he dumped his car and stole the red truck by murdering the caretaker of the cemetery. So, he did leave substantial evidence that would have allowed the law enforcement agency to suspect his involvement in the previous four cases before he went on to kill Gianni. Unfortunately, that did not happen. 

Analysis of the case

This case might not be very important in trying to understand the criminal law perspective. However, this case holds utmost importance in trying to dissect the motive of the criminal. In all criminal cases, such as those of serial killers and psychopaths, it’s mostly the case that the killer is motivated due to events that have happened in his life as a child, teenager, or as an adult. In Cunanan’s case, throughout his life, beginning from childhood, he suffered trauma and abuse. He was not a different and strange child from the beginning. However, he went on to become a loner and narcissistic child because of his parents, who constantly fought and searched for stability in their marriage through his existence. The psychodynamic theory also approves that the child’s environment is often influenced by events taking place around him. He saw his father abusing his mother regularly, he saw his mother being used as a doormat to his father, and how both his parents contributed, individually, a sense of fake grandiosity in him. 

The social learning theory suggests that you grow up becoming what you see as a child. Albert Bandura’s social condition theory suggests that not always one learns from the direct experience of others. Some learning takes place by observing the actions of others. Cunanan did the same. He inculcated the violent and masculine behaviour of his father, which led him to believe that he could potentially abuse anyone, seek attention the way he wanted to, and pretend to be rich when in reality he was not. This was because all this gave him internal satisfaction/motivation. Further, his internal conflict with his sexuality was bottled up because his mother, being a strict catholic, did not approve of it but she kept on fulfilling his wealthy desires because well she was used to being that way.


It is an interesting case that shows how a common man is capable of becoming a serial killer just because his upbringing was not done properly, his conflicts with himself were not resolved, nobody inculcated in him the sense of what is right and what is wrong, and that is why he needs to understand the difference between the two. As for now, this case is a mystery but holds an important place in criminal and psychology textbooks to understand that crimes are often motivated by factors that are linked to various aspects of our day-to-day lives.  


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