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Before FBI could get its man, Cunanan did it for them

July 25, 1997

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Andrew Cunanan called someone he knew in a desperate effort to obtain a false passport _ and failing that, he stuck a .40-caliber handgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, the FBI said Thursday.

The suspected serial killer claimed his last victim _ himself _ late Wednesday, in the upstairs master bedroom of a houseboat in which he was holed up, 2 1/2 miles from the spot where fashion designer Gianni Versace was gunned down.

Nine days after Versace’s murder, after one of the most intense manhunts in the nation’s history, authorities had Cunanan’s body. What they lacked were answers.

Why, in the course of three months, did Cunanan kill five men? Why did he kill THESE five men?

How did Cunanan elude one of the FBI’s most ferocious dragnets? And why did so clever a man stay close to Miami Beach after Versace’s murder?

When the end finally came, Cunanan didn’t explain.

``There was no suicide note and no correspondence to reflect why he committed the crimes,″ Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto said.

It is clear that he wanted to escape. William Esposito, deputy director of the FBI, said at a Washington news conference that a nervous and agitated Cunanan was in touch with ``an associate″ within 48 hours of the Versace slaying. They discussed who on the East Coast might have passports.

``He was trying to reach out to these individuals for the purpose of obtaining false identification, especially ... a passport, so that he could flee the country,″ Esposito said.

Cunanan, a 27-year-old described by his own mother as a gay gigolo, was the FBI’s most-wanted fugitive, the prime suspect in the slaying of Versace and four other men in Minnesota, Illinois and New Jersey. He managed to elude capture even though his picture was plastered on television, newspapers, the Internet and wanted posters.

After the Versace slaying, Cunanan abandoned a stolen pickup truck belonging to the New Jersey victim in a parking garage and vanished. But he didn’t go far.

``He was out of places to run,″ said Doyle Jordan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. ``There was absolutely no other place to go.″

Residents in the area of the houseboat said they may have seen Cunanan roaming the neighborhood in the days after Versace’s slaying. One man said his boat was burglarized a week ago. He said police took fingerprints from the boat, but never said if Cunanan was involved.

On Wednesday afternoon, police got a break.

Fernando Carreira, the caretaker of the houseboat owned by fugitive German businessman Thorsten Reineck, dropped by to check on the home along the Intracoastal Waterway and he saw the door partially unlocked.

As Carreira looked around inside, he saw slippers and a pillow and then heard a gunshot. Carreira quickly retreated across the street and called police, never taking his eyes off the front door.

``I heard a boom and ran like hell. I thought the shot was for me,″ Carreira told WSVN-TV in Miami Thursday night. ``I thought it was some bum; I didn’t know who it was.″

Dozens of police and SWAT officers converged, closed down busy Collins Avenue at rush hour and tried to communicate with the man inside. Then they fired tear gas inside and entered the home, quickly finding the victim’s body on a bed in the upstairs master bedroom.

Investigators didn’t say exactly when Cunanan shot himself, but said he did it with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, the same type of weapon linked with Versace’s death and two other murders.

The FBI reported it found several items that might be used as evidence in some of the five slayings. A small safe was found near the body and the affidavit said ``there is probable cause to believe the safe may contain more evidence related to the five homicides.″

The Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office will test the body for the AIDS virus.

``That’s the normal procedure,″ said investigation supervisor Gwen Shorter. Prior reports have Cunanan learning he was HIV-positive several months ago, but authorities haven’t been able to confirm he had the virus.

Barreto noted the death of Cunanan, strongly believed to be Versace’s killer, does not close out the murder investigation.

Police initially reported Wednesday afternoon that no body was found inside the houseboat, a mistake attributed to miscommunication between police agencies.

Even after the body was found, hours passed as investigators struggled to identify the body because the face was largely blown off. Fingerprints confirmed it was Cunanan.

While Cunanan didn’t leave an explanation on why he gave up the chase, one of the nation’s leading serial killer experts offered a theory.

``Yesterday, he may have felt he had done what he had set out to do. He had evened the score against particular people or society as a whole and it was over, he was satisfied,″ said James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

Fox said Cunanan’s self-destruction fit in with his forceful and manipulative personality. The flamboyant Cunanan, he said, wasn’t the type to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

``He was still calling the shots, literally and figuratively,″ said Fox. ``He maintained control to the end. He became his own executioner rather than the state of Florida.″

The death of Cunanan brought relief for a tense Miami Beach and for numerous communities that had a Cunanan connection.

``It takes us out of the business of tracing a killer and back to welcoming tourists,″ said Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber. ``I hope that Sylvester Stallone and Madonna enjoy their stay. That’s what we thrive on.″

The FBI signaled the end of its search by placing a diagonal red ``Found Dead″ banner across Cunanan’s picture on the agency’s ``Ten Most Wanted″ list on its World Wide Web site.

The FBI said agents had located Reineck, owner of the houseboat and a fugitive on fraud charges, and were interviewing him to find out if he had any relationship with Cunanan.

In Milan, Italy, Versace company headquarters released a statement from the designer’s family offering ``gratitude and sorrowful thanks to those who contributed to resolving the terrible killing of Gianni.″

But a world away, in Minnesota, where the killing spree began with the deaths of Jeffrey Trail and David Madson, there was frustration. Cunanan’s death apparently had taken away any chance of answering the question, ``Why?″

``There are a lot of mysteries,″ said prosecutor Jim Reuter. ``Unfortunately, they’re going to remain mysteries.″

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