Gianni Versace and Andrew Cunanan

Gianni Versace was born in 1946 in Reggio Calabria – the largest city in the region of Calabria, in the far south of Italy. He served an apprenticeship in his mother's sewing business, before moving to Milan at the age of 26 to work in fashion design. He opened his first boutique in Milan in 1978, and soon became a sensation on the international fashion scene. His designs employed vivid colors, bold prints, and sexy cuts, which were a refreshing contrast to the prevailing taste for muted colors and simplicity. It was said that "Armani dresses the wife, Versace dresses the mistress." He was one of the first fashion designers to identify with the world of popular music, and counted Eric Clapton, Elton John, Madonna and Sting among his friends – as well as Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Princess Diana.

Versace employed his elder brother Santo as President of his company, and his younger sister Donatella as Vice President. At the time of his death, Versace's empire included 130 boutiques across the world and was valued at $807 million. He'd been in a relationship with the model Antonio D'Amico since 1982, and was said to dote on his two nephews and two nieces.

Versace was shot dead by Andrew Cunanan, on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion as he returned from collecting his morning papers, on 15 July 1997.

Cunanan was 27 years old, and unemployed. He had been living in the San Diego area. Versace was his fifth murder victim.

The first was Jeffrey Trail, a close friend of his. Cunanan beat Trail to death with a hammer on 27 April 1997, following an argument. He left the body rolled up in a rug in the apartment of David Madson, a former boyfriend of his. Madson was shot dead on 3 May 1997, with a pistol that Cunanan had taken from Trail's home. His body was found in a lake in Minnesota.

Cunanan's third victim was 72–year–old Lee Miglin, a prominent real estate developer and philanthropist. Miglin was bound with duct tape, and then brutally tortured and murdered with a screwdriver and a hacksaw, at his home in Chicago on 4 May 1997.

There has been speculation that Miglin (who was married with two grown–up children) was a closet homosexual, and had been in a secret relationship with Cunanan.

Cunanan stole Miglin's car and drove to Pennsville, New Jersey, where on 9 May 1997 he shot William Reese, the 45–year–old caretaker of Finn's Point National Cemetery. He then stole Reese's pickup truck and hid "in plain sight" in Miami Beach for two months.

By now Cunanan was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Following the shooting of Gianni Versace, the police found William Reese's pickup truck, and in it some of Cunanan's belongings (including, bizarrely, a passport from Sealand – the claimed independent state off the coast of Suffolk).

On 23 July 1997, eight days after killing Versace and with law enforcement hot on his trail, Cunanan killed himself on a houseboat in Miami Beach with a gunshot through the mouth. He used the same gun that he'd stolen from his first murder victim, and with which he'd shot his second, fourth and fifth.

Cunanan was known to associate with rich old men, from whom he would acquire money and expensive possessions. He was also known to be obsessed with Gianni Versace, and often bragged about his relationship with him. FBI agents do believe that Versace and Cunanan had met, although the exact nature of their relationship remains a mystery – as does Cunanan's motive for the murder of the designer.

© Haydn Thompson 2019