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Who Shot Versace? The Cross-Country Crime Spree That Ended In The Death Of An Icon

1990s | August 15, 2021

Fashion designers Gianni Versace (1946 -1997) and Donatella Versace on the runway after a Versace fashion show in March 1996 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)

Born in Reggio Calabria, Italy on December 2, 1946, Gianni Versace came from a modest background but was inspired by his dressmaker mother to venture into the world of fashion. After a lengthy apprenticeship, he moved to Milan at the age of 26, opened his first boutique in 1978, and quickly made an impression on the fashion scene with his bold, colorful, and revealing designs. Versace was as innovative as he was controversial, and soon, the whisper around the runway was, "Armani dresses the wife, Versace dresses the mistress."

By the '90s, his fashion house was worth over $700 million and he had over 130 boutiques across the globe, but he was still one of the most open and accessible celebrities around. He moved to Miami in 1992, bought a mansion just off the beach, and was known around town for his kindness, generosity, and lack of pretension. July 15, 1997 seemed like a day like any other to Versace, who walked out of his front door that morning to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe, but what he couldn't have known was that he was about to become the final victim of a violent, cross-country crime spree perpetrated by one of the FBI's Most Wanted.

Collection of FBI photos of Andrew Cunnan. (Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikimedia Commons)

Andrew Cunanan

Andrew Cunanan was a charming, good-looking man with a genius IQ but, despite his many privileges in life, accomplished little in the way of a career and spent most of his years living on the wealth of older men. What exactly set Cunanan on his murder spree is unknown, but on April 27, 1997, he beat his longtime friend, Jeffrey Trail, to death with a hammer and took hostage another friend, David Madson, who is believed to have walked in on the crime scene.

Cunanan held Madson captive for several days before driving him to Rush Lake, Minnesota and shooting him three times in the back. He then drove to Chicago, where he bound 72-year-old Lee Miglan, a real estate developer with unknown ties to Cunanan, with duct tape before brutally murdering him with a screwdriver and hacksaw. On May 9, he wound up in New Jersey, where he shot and killed a stranger named William Reese and stole his Chevrolet pickup truck, which he then drove to Miami.

Jennifer Lopez and Donatella Versace at the Spring-Summer 2020 Runway Show in 2019. (Salvatore Delle Femmine/Wikimedia Commons)

The Death Of Gianni Versace

While it is likely that Cunanan killed his friends and Miglan over personal (and possibly romantic) issues, why he singled out Versace as his final victim is a complete mystery. It's possible that they briefly met at a San Francisco nightclub, but any interaction they might have had would have been minor at best. Authorities and the media have speculated that it was due to Versace's high profile as a successful gay man; perhaps Cunanan was jealous of the world-renowned fashion designer in the face of his own apparent mediocrity.

Whatever the reason, as Versace returned from his morning coffee run, he was approached by Cunanan at the steps to his home and shot at point blank range in the chest. He collapsed immediately and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Jackson Memorial Hospital at 9:21 A.M. Cunanan fled but was eventually found dead in a luxury houseboat on July 23, having shot himself in the head sometime in the days before.

After his death, the Versace brand was taken over by his sister, Donatella, who went on to make one of the most famous dresses ever, Jennifer Lopez's iconic green Grammy dress. Donatella Versace later sold the company to Michael Kors for a whopping $2.1 billion.

Tags: 1990s | fashion | murder

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