In San Diego, waiting for Cunanan
Richard Price; Maria Puente; Jonathan T. Lovitt
SAN DIEGO -- At night along University Avenue, in this gay enclave called
Hillcrest, tension runs thicker than the mist rolling off the Pacific.
On the sidewalks, men warily search passing cars for the face of a murder
suspect. In bistros and bars, they swap theories about the chances of another
killing, perhaps at this weekend's Gay Pride Festival.
A few, terrified, have fled San Diego or shut themselves in their homes. But they
share the same nightmare: They're waiting for Andrew to come home.
Perhaps nowhere has the alleged killing spree of Andrew Cunanan, the
27-year-old San Diegan wanted for five murders in four states, generated a more
strained atmosphere than here on his home turf. People who thought they knew
him best now believe they have the most to lose.
They have feared for their safety since Cunanan was named chief suspect in the
Minneapolis killings of two men he knew there. At least one was a lover. A
wealthy Chicago real estate developer was tortured and killed next. Then a
cemetery worker was gunned down in New Jersey. Cunanan is the prime suspect
in all four killings since April 27.
When Cunanan became the FBI's sole suspect in the slaying of Italian fashion
designer Gianni Versace, fear ratcheted up. Versace was shot twice in the back
of the head in broad daylight as he unlocked the gates on his Miami Beach
mansion on July 15. It's unclear what relationship, if any, Cunanan had with
Versace, who was openly gay.
The prevailing theory in this seaside city is that Cunanan fears he is infected with
the AIDS virus and is out to take revenge on anyone who might be responsible.
One-time AIDS counselor Mike Dudley says Cunanan implied as much last
Police say they have no evidence that Cunanan was infected. But the FBI is
warning people from his past that they could be targets. They could include
lovers, friends, magnets for his fixations or people involved in his trade as a
prostitute catering to rich, elderly gays.
``He's got a hit list, and he's working down it,'' theorizes Mike Urdahl, 52, who is
HIV-positive and knew Cunanan. David Vaughn, 34, a bartender, nervously
agrees: ``I drank with him a few times, but I was never alone with him. I hope I
didn't make that big an impression.''
But even a potentially fatal disease couldn't explain the complex and frightening
personality that police believe produced this string of terror. That, no one can
really explain. For in truth, it's beginning to look as though no one acquainted
with Cunanan really knew the man at all.
Some recall him as funny and charming with loads of friends. Others remember
him as a loner. He had one life as a drugstore clerk, another as a big-spending
Cunanan is reputed to be brilliant, a top student all through school, an individual
who had read the entire Bible by the age of 7 and mastered four languages.
Friends say he has a photographic memory of uncanny precision. Challenged
once to recall the address of a Los Angeles apartment where he'd gone to a party
six years earlier, he came up with the right answer. And then, he named all 23
other guests, only two of whom he had ever met before or after.
Yet friends say he was phobic about germs of any kind, fanatical about dirt and
dust. He obsessed over diseases and imagined himself contracting them.
Images of the past
Here in Hillcrest, he didn't even go by his given name. He called himself Andrew
``Everyone has their own version of what they think I am. Nobody really knows
the truth,'' Cunanan said at a party just three nights before the first Minneapolis
killing, according to caterer Anthony White.
But one thing does seem clear: Cunanan spent most of his life playing the role of
a misfit everywhere he went. Acquaintances say there were signs all along he
He was raised in an upwardly mobile family, the only son of Modesto and
MaryAnn Cunanan (koo-NAH-nin). His father came out of an impoverished
background in the Philippines to join the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman.
Retiring in 1969, he embarked on a career as a stockbroker, moving his family to
Rancho Bernardo, one of San Diego County's more upscale communities.
But his son seemed uncomfortable with that new station. Socially, he was a flop.
``I really think he was over his head,'' says Bodhishah Russell, now 27, who first
met Cunanan at La Jolla elementary school. ``His parents dropped him into a
scene he just couldn't make. He was really quiet.''
Russell recalls another trait, one that would stick with Cunanan throughout his
life. ``He always projected the image of having money. That was really
important to him.''
By the time Cunanan reached Santa Bonita Middle School in 1981, his
preoccupation with money had become the focus of a new image.
He was the ultimate preppy, wearing polo shirts and argyle vests. Showy and
flamboyant, he substituted dimes for pennies in his loafers.
From Santa Bonita, he moved to Bishop's School, an exclusive private high
school where the tuition ran $6,000 a year (it's double that now). Although he
was a track star and an outstanding scholar -- he taught himself Spanish -- he still
relied on money to build popularity. But it didn't work as well in that more
affluent crowd. Most saw through it and were unimpressed.
His classmates paint two pictures of Cunanan. One was a wild, somewhat loud,
openly gay character. The other was a painfully shy boy who would spend hours
on the cliffs near school just staring off at sea. He never fell into a group. He
didn't invite people over to his house.
He rarely discussed his parents. And when he did, he portrayed his father as far
wealthier than he was.
Whatever their reasons, classmates voted Cunanan ``Least Likely to Be
New life, new persona
Then came disaster. In 1988, his father fell under investigation for an alleged
fraud scheme. On Oct. 2 of that year, according to court papers later filed by
Cunanan's mother, Modesto Cunanan abandoned his family and fled to the
Philippines. He left his wife and four kids to survive on a Navy pension of $900
Stunned, Cunanan flew off to join his father and found him living that December
in relative squalor. It was too much for the 19-year-old. He ran off to San
Francisco, hung out in that city's Castro district and became a fixture in the gay
Two years later, he returned to San Diego and started a new life.
Actually, he started two lives. In the first, he lived with his mother in Rancho
Bernardo, majored in history at the University of California-San Diego (dropping
out in 1992) and worked at a Thrifty drugstore.
The other was extraordinary. Adopting an entirely new persona, Cunanan worked
his way into this city's gay community as a seemingly wealthy, charming
playboy. At various times, he claimed to be an heirloom importer, an actor, an
interior designer, a businessman.
One of his favorite haunts was California Cuisine, where he left tips as high as
50% of the bill. At those moments, ``he was always the center of attention. He
was always like holding court. People have termed it `Dinner with Andrew,' ''
He wasn't a drinker or a drug user. He stuck to mineral water and juices, usually
cranberry or apple. Apparently, he had only three addictions: rich food,
expensive cigars and money, the last of which drove him to his career as a
Quitting his drugstore job in 1995, he became a regular at very private parties in
La Jolla and Point Loma for affluent gay men.
``He was a male gigolo,'' says Nicole Ramirez-Murray, gossip-social columnist
for Gay and Lesbian Times in San Diego. ``He was Richard Gere in American
Gigolo, just not as good looking.''
Friends say it was common knowledge that older men supported him, took him
on trips and bought him clothes and presents. An article to be published in the
September issue of Vanity Fair says he moved in at one point with wealthy La
Jolla businessman Norman Blachford, who gave him $2,000 a month and use of
a 1996 Infiniti 130T. Blachford left San Diego after the killing began; phone
messages to his home and knocks on his gate were not answered.
Yet Cunanan was still a misfit. ``We all knew he was a liar,'' says Tim Barthel,
owner of Flicks bar, another Cunanan hangout. ``He was a very loud guy. No
one ever punched him or anything, although I knew of some guys who thought
Late last year, Cunanan began to deteriorate. He gained weight, his 5-foot-10
frame ballooning from 170 pounds to about 200. He started to drink, ordering
cocktails mixed from vodka. He complained that no one loved him, no one
``He was always whining that men didn't find him attractive,'' Barthel says.
``Actually, he was cute for a portly guy, but he certainly was no god.''
Money may have been a growing problem. For reasons that aren't clear, he
moved from Blachford's luxury home into a small, $795-a-month apartment. He
maxed out a $20,000 credit card. Cutting his hair ``military'' short, he traded
expensive clothes for jeans and T-shirts.
He also showed signs of violence. Vanity Fair reports that he once slammed his
mother against a wall, dislocating her shoulder. He began experimenting in
sado-masochism and grew a reputation for enjoying rough sex.
He often was despondent and listless. He spent his days reading or strolling. He
watched Jeopardy on TV in the evenings. At night, he prowled the restaurants
Just weeks before the killings, Cunanan arranged to move in with San Francisco
civil rights lawyer Philip Horne. Horne says he believed that Cunanan was a
``wealthy businessman with a factory in Mexico. We thought he stayed at the
Ritz the whole time he was here.''
On April 24, Cunanan gave away a wardrobe of expensive clothes to friends in
San Diego. That night, a group hosted a goodbye dinner party for him at
California Cuisine, where they piled up a $220 tab on ostrich, trout, filet mignon
and champagne. During dinner, Cunanan mentioned that he needed to ``take care
of some business'' with old friends in Minneapolis, says White, the caterer.
Cunanan seemed relaxed, confident, laughing. But to buy his ticket for the flight
to Minneapolis the next day, he had to beg his credit card company for approval.
Police then pieced together this picture: Cunanan was picked up at the airport by
David Madson, a 33-year-old architect whom he had met in San Francisco and
who had visited him occasionally in San Diego. The pair had dated on and off
until Madson ended the relationship in 1995.
Friends say Cunanan was still desperately in love with Madson, even buying him
a wedding ring and a gold Cartier watch.
On Saturday, April 27, Cunanan called Jeffrey Trail, a former Navy lieutenant
who had been stationed in San Diego.
Cunanan and Trail had developed a friendship after meeting in a bar, at one point
teaching safe-sex classes together. But in November 1996, not long after his
discharge, Trail moved to Minneapolis and took a job as a manager at a gas
company. It's unknown what romantic relationship, if any, Cunanan and Trail
And then, deterioration
That date coincides with the start of Cunanan's deterioration. Because he had
introduced Trail to Madson in San Diego, some suggest that Cunanan may have
been devastated by a love triangle gone sour. Perhaps, these friends reason,
Cunanan believed that Madson and Trail had betrayed and abandoned him.
But there's no evidence of a romantic relationship between Trail and Madson. In
fact, Trail lived with another man.
In any case, Cunanan invited Trail to dinner at Madson's loft that night. Shortly
before 10 p.m., witnesses told police, they heard loud arguing and a series of
thumps. Trail's body was discovered in the loft two days later. His smashed
watch read 9:55 p.m.
One of the story's oddest turns is that for two days after Trail died, both Madson
and Cunanan were seen walking Madson's dalmatian, Princeton.
On the afternoon of Friday, April 29, Trail's body was discovered in Madson's
loft, wrapped in a rug with a claw hammer. But Cunanan and Madson, along
with Madson's red Cherokee jeep, were gone.
On Saturday, May 3, Madson's body was found in a lake 65 miles north of
Minneapolis. He had been shot several times with .40-caliber bullets like those in
a gym bag that Cunanan left in Madson's loft.
Another body showed up the next day, May 4, in Chicago. Lee Miglin, 72, a
wealthy real estate developer, had been brutally tortured and stabbed, his throat
Police found Madson's red Cherokee parked across the street, but Miglin's green
Lexus was gone. Police found it May 9, outside a military cemetery in rural New
Jersey. They also found another body, that of cemetery caretaker William Reese,
45, who had been shot with .40-caliber bullets.
Then the spree stopped for two months.
One week ago today, Versace was gunned down outside his Miami Beach
mansion, and police found Reese's truck in a nearby parking lot where it had
been since June 10. Cunanan's passport was in the glove box. But Cunanan had
``He's not your run-of-the mill spree or serial killer,'' says Lt. Dale Barsness, an
investigator in Minneapolis, where authorities have been on this case longer than
anyone. ``He's very intelligent, very cunning.''
And very unpredictable. Even his family is mystified. They seemed baffled when
their son was implicated in the first killings, and they've been overwhelmed and
hounded by the media since.
His mother is boarded up in a tiny, $350-a-month apartment in National City
south of here. She won't talk. His father, from the Philippines, contends his son
is innocent. He denies Cunanan ever even sold sex.
``My son is not like that,'' he told police. ``He had a Catholic upbringing. He was
an altar boy.''
PHOTOS, B/W, AP (4); PHOTOS, B/W, Reuters (2); PHOTO, B/W; PHOTO,
B/W,The Bishop's School; PHOTO, B/W,Michael Poche,AP