Why Versace's killer might have found other outlets today

Image: Italy, Milan: Gianni Versace and Franca Sozzani
Maule/Fotogramma/Ropi / Zuma Press

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By Melissa Holzberg

Before Andrew Cunanan killed Gianni Versace in Miami Beach, there was a nationwide manhunt going on for the man who seemed to target those who had what he didn’t: love and companionship. But the police weren’t the only ones tracking Cunanan, author and special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine Maureen Orth was watching Cunanan before Versace was ever shot.

“I ran across an article in the Sunday New York Daily News one day in the early spring of 1997, which said that the police were looking for a serial killer who was a social butterfly, with a very high IQ who had graduated from a posh private school in Southern California,” said Orth. “I thought, wow that doesn’t seem like the usual serial killer, so let me go find out about this story.”

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Orth’s 1999 book, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, is now the backdrop of FX’s nine-part series, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”. But while the TV show may shine the spotlight on Versace, Orth’s book dug deeper into the complex mind of Cunanan -- why he killed, how he hid in plain sight and why he targeted Versace. She spoke to Chuck Todd in the latest episode of 1947: The Meet the Press Podcast. The book also shone a spotlight on the secretive gay community of the 1990s. When read with hindsight, the book shows how so much has changed in so little time.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 08: Author Maureen Orth attends the premiere of FX's "The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" at ArcLight Hollywood on January 8, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)Kevin Winter / Getty Images

“[Cunanan] really wanted to be famous, and he was extremely angry that Versace was a gay icon who seemed to have everything that Andrew coveted. You know, [Versace was] very flamboyant, [he had] wealth, any boy he wanted any time, a beautiful relationship with a partner Antonio, and he existed on the highest levels of you know, kind of celebrity chic,” said Orth.

Despite a police tip from Cunanan’s friends that he would probably show up in Florida, and Cunanan hiding in the middle of Miami beach for a week after Versace’s death, the police never found Cunanan – a failure that Orth attributes to rifts between the gay community and the police in the 1990s.

FILE PHOTO: The main entrance hall is seen in a South Beach mansion formerly owned by fashion designer Gianni Versace in Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Gaston De Cardenas/File PhotoGASTON DE CARDENAS / Reuters

“Where the gay community was very well organized, like in San Francisco or in New York, there was a lot more cooperation. But South Beach, Miami Beach was a hedonistic playground. It wasn’t just the Gays that didn’t want the cops around, nobody wanted the cops around,” said Orth. “Compared to today, it’s just absolute night and day of the political sophistication of the gay community and how well organized it is.”

The FX series emphasizes supposed homophobia in police jurisdictions during the manhunt, according to Orth. But Vulgar Favors readers should be aware that the miniseries isn’t a literal adaptation of Orth’s book. One supposition that both the show and book share is the belief that, in today’s world, Cuanan wouldn’t have had to kill to become a household name.

“One wonders if he would’ve had another outlet. One wonders if he could’ve become an Instagram star. After all, don’t forget the Kardashians started out with a sex tape,” said Orth. “You don’t have to kill anybody to be famous anymore.”