Fresh off its Emmy sweep, Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story has been renewed for a third season before the second season has even aired, and they have a new celebrity murder to focus on. Season 3 of American Crime Story will reportedly focus on the murder of designer Gianni Versace by the serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
Taking a slightly different route than The People vs. OJ Simpson, instead of a celebrity alleged murderer and camera-heavy trial, American Crime Story Season 3 tentatively called Versace/Cunanan is about a celebrity victim. Now, if you weren’t around in 1997 when Versace was shot in front of his home in Miami Beach, Florida, you probably have a lot of questions. Here’s everything you need to know about the Versace murder before the show starts in 2018.
The shooting of Gianni Versace
First, the facts: Gianni Versace, famed designer of the Versace brand, was shot and killed on July 16, 1997, on the front steps of his home in Miami Beach. He was 50 years old and killed by two gunshots to the head.
Early on in the investigation, suspicion turned to Andrew Cunanan, a man already wanted by the FBI for four murders. Eight days after Versace’s murder, Cunanan was found dead in a hotel room of an apparent suicide. Cunanan never stood trial; he never confessed or defended his actions, but he was identified by witnesses as Versace’s shooter.
Andrew Cunanan was 27 when he went on a cross-country killing spree and captured the attention of reporters around the nation. It’s not every day a serial killer turns his gun on a famed fashion designer, and Cunanan quickly became as much of a story as Versace himself.
A smart young man with a reportedly genius level IQ and photographic memory, Cunanan was slightly down on his luck. Growing up, Cunanan developed a taste for extravagant things, something he desperately chased in his adult life. He worked as a gay gigolo in San Diego, where according to reports by Vanity Fair reporter Maureen Orth, whose book on the subject, Vulgar Favors, is providing the basis for Versace/Cunanan, he was known for seeking out rich older clients. This, for some, has provided a theory as to why he targeted Versace: Versace was a rich gay man who had everything Cunanan wanted.
A serial killer with the FBI on his tail, Andrew Cunanan could probably be the subject of his own television show. Before killing Versace, Cunanan had made his way across the country from California, killing two ex-lovers, David Madson and Jeff Trail in Minneapolis; a 73-year-old realtor, Lee Miglin, in Chicago; and 45-year-old William Reese in New Jersey. Other than Madson and Trail, there appeared to be very little motive for Cunanan’s killings, though he did steal Reese’s pickup truck.
Versace appeared at first to have no connection to Cunanan, which, of course, only made the serial killer more intriguing. It was later reported that Cunanan had met Versace years earlier in Los Angeles, but the accuracy of these reports have been called into question. In the end, police found no official motive for the crime. “We would all like to know, especially in a high-profile case like this. Unfortunately, the real answer to that went down with the ship, so to speak,” Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto said in 1997.
Was it a mob hit?
Despite the absence of a motive, ever since Versace’s murder, rumors have spread that he was killed as part of a mafia hit. The year before Versace’s death, his brother Santo was found guilty of bribery, and some alleged that Versace’s brand was built on ties to the mafia. The fact that Versace was shot at the base of his head execution-style only fueled the rumors. And in 2010, Giuseppe Di Bella, a former member of the Italian mafia, claimed that Versace was killed because he owed debts to the mob.
A secret illness
In Vulgar Favors, Orth revealed that Versace had been diagnosed as HIV-positive in the years leading up to his murder. Versace’s HIV status had been kept top-secret; only his family knew of his condition, but Orth learned of his status from a Miami detective, who read his autopsy report. According to an article in the NY Daily News, the detective had originally theorized that perhaps Cunanan had killed Versace for infecting him with HIV, but Cunanan was not HIV-positive. Orth wrote that Versace had likely kept his HIV status a secret because he feared what it might do to his business, which he hoped to take public before his death.
It’s hard to imagine the Versace family supporting this upcoming season of American Crime Story, especially if they plan to delve into Versace’s personal life and his HIV status. In 1999, when Vulgar Favors was released and Versace’s HIV status was revealed to the public, a spokesperson for the Versace family called it a “mercenary invasion of their privacy.” It’s unlikely that their feelings have changed much since.
American Crime Story: Versace/Cunanan won’t hit airwaves until 2018. But, don’t worry. The next two years won’t be completely void of American Crime Story. Season 2 of the acclaimed drama will focus on Hurricane Katrina and air sometime in 2017.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.