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Andrew Cunanan shot himself in mouth aboart houseboat

July 24, 1997

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The frantic manhunt for Andrew Cunanan ended when the suspected serial killer, hiding in the upstairs master bedroom of a houseboat, stuck a .40-caliber handgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger, authorities said today.

They said it was the same gun he used to kill Gianni Versace outside the Italian designer’s mansion 2 1/2 miles away from where Cunanan hid.

``I think he was a desperate person with very little room to move about,″ police Chief Richard Barreto said at a news conference after authorities confirmed the body they found inside the home was Cunanan’s. `` He was in a situation where it was very, very difficult for him to move about.″

The FBI did not know how long Cunanan may have stayed at the houseboat, agent Keith Evans said in an affidavit today. He had eluded a massive dragnet for nearly three months after the killing spree started in late April.

SWAT team members who stormed the houseboat late Wednesday found Cunanan’s body on the bed in the upstairs master bedroom, the affidavit said. Large amounts of blood were seen coming from the suspect’s ears, mouth and nose and he had a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun lying on his groin.

The Dade County Medical Examiner Department said Cunanan shot himself in the mouth.

The FBI said it found evidence inside the houseboat that may be linked to the five murders, including a blue safe in the bedroom where Cunanan was found. The affidavit said it wasn’t known whether Cunanan had access to the safe, but that it may contain more evidence from the killings.

German authorities say the owner of the houseboat is a fugitive wanted on fraud charges.

Wednesday afternoon, police had rushed to the scene after a caretaker visiting the houseboat reported hearing a shot. Authorities who surrounded the boat for hours after that, calling on the occupant to surrender, now believe Cunanan was dead the whole time.

As the sun peeked over the horizon, Cunanan’s body was removed from the floating home.

Barreto said Cunanan was identified by his thumbprint.

Metro-Dade police disputed earlier statements by Miami Beach police that no body was found on the initial search. Special Response Team members found the body within two minutes of entering the home, Metro-Dade said, but a misunderstanding caused a spokesman to give erroneous information to the public.

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

Stanley Trail of DeKalb, Ill., father of Jeffrey Trail, one of the men Cunanan is believed to have killed, said, ``I’m very glad that he’s been stopped and that nobody else got hurt when he got stopped. But I take no joy in his death.″

He expressed regret that with Cunanan dead, ``Nobody will be able to tell me why this happened.″

Investigators had not found a suicide note as of early today, leaving unsolved the motive for a cross-country killing spree by Cunanan, who had been described by his mother as a gay gigolo.

The 27-year-old Cunanan was charged with or the prime suspect in the slayings of Versace and four other men in Minnesota, Illinois and New Jersey. After the Versace slaying on July 15, Cunanan abandoned a stolen pickup truck belonging to the New Jersey victim in a parking garage and vanished.

``We were probably prepared for something like this,″ said FBI spokeswoman Coleen Rowley. ``A person who is using desperate means and exhibiting this kind of violent behavior, you have to be prepared for a very violent conclusion.″

Residents near the houseboat had reported seeing a man matching Cunanan’s description after Versace was shot to death on the front steps of his mansion. On Wednesday, a caretaker who stopped by the home called police to report he had seen signs there was an intruder and then heard a gunshot as he was leaving the boat.

The houseboat, on a branch of the Intracoastal Waterway called Indian Creek, is about a mile from the hotel where a man fitting Cunanan’s description stayed for as long as two months before Versace’s slaying.

For four hours police waited outside the houseboat. After firing volleys of tear gas, the SWAT team walked slowly in a line into the house.

Barreto said officers never fired a shot.

Records showed the houseboat, which had been vacant for several months, is owned by Torsten Reineck. He is listed as the owner of the Apollo Spa, a gay club in Las Vegas. Clark County (Nev.) Licensing Bureau showed Reineck is a Miami Beach resident. Reineck is not listed in local phone directories in Las Vegas.

According to an FBI agent who spoke on condition of anonymity, there was no immediate evidence that Cunanan ever knew Reineck.

In Leipzig, Germany, today, state prosecutor Norbert Roeger said a Europe-wide arrest warrant had been issued for Reineck, who had lived in Hamburg and Leipzig. He said the charges involved fraud of up to $111,000.

He gave no details, but Germany’s Bild newspaper reported last year that Reineck was under investigation for allegations he evaded nearly $280,000 in taxes. He ran a gaming hall in Leipzig and bought into a local brewery that later went bankrupt, and his whereabouts had been unknown for several years until the paper tracked him down in Florida, the paper said.

Cunanan had eluded an intensive nationwide search that generated hundreds of sightings all over the country. He managed to escape capture even though he was on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list and his picture was plastered on television, newspapers, the Internet and wanted posters.

In Minnesota, Cunanan was charged in the death of a former lover, David Madson, and was suspected of killing Trail, a friend. He also was charged in the death of wealthy Chicago developer Lee Miglin and the killing of New Jersey cemetery caretaker William Reese. Those four killings happened in late April and early May.

In a statement today, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh thanked the public for its help in the manhunt. They said Cunanan’s death ``brings to an end a vicious crime spree.″

Jack Levin, author of three books on serial killers and head of Northeastern University’s Program for the Study of Violence, said Cunanan would probably still be on the loose if he had followed his previous method: kill and run. That he apparently stayed in Miami more than two months is a sign that Cunanan was becoming increasingly confident and arrogant, Levin said.

The suicide indicates ``that he had exhausted his list of enemies, that he had done the work he had set out to do, and that it was time to die,″ Levin said.

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