MIAMI BEACH — Trapped on a moored houseboat by his own notoriety, Andrew Phillip Cunanan committed suicide apparently using the same .40-caliber handgun he used in a nationwide murder rampage, Miami Beach police said Thursday.
Cunanan's body was pulled from the houseboat early Thursday after a siege by police that began midday Wednesday, ending a manhunt but leaving open a mystery about the motives of a suspect who became America's most-wanted man.
Authorities noted that the 27-year-old Cunanan, wanted in the murders of five men including fashion designer Gianni Versace, died only four miles from where Versace was gunned down last week.
Paul Philip, FBI agent in charge of the Miami field office, credited a massive police dragnet for keeping the fugitive in the area. "He managed to get 40 blocks--that's the best he could do in all this time," said Philip. "I think that's pretty good."
Police said they are keeping their homicide investigation open because so many questions remain, including where Cunanan stayed in the days following the Versace killing and what relationship, if any, Cunanan had with the owner of the houseboat, German club owner Torsten Reineck, who reportedly is being sought on fraud and tax evasion charges in Germany.
The FBI said Thursday night that agents had questioned Reineck in Las Vegas Thursday afternoon but provided no details of the session. Reineck owns the Apollo Spa, a gay club, in that city.
Contacts With Friends Investigated
The FBI is also interested in reconstructing Cunanan's contacts with friends during the time he was being sought. Cunanan called several friends during his 12 weeks on the lam, including one "associate" on the West Coast within 48 hours of Versace's murder, Deputy FBI Director William J. Esposito said at a press conference in Washington.
The person who received that call, which originated in southern Florida, did not inform the FBI, Esposito said. But in an FBI interview subsequent to the call, he told agents that Cunanan asked about mutual friends on the East Coast who might have a passport that Cunanan could use.
Cunanan, who did not discuss the Versace killing with this person, left no doubt that his intent was to leave the country, Esposito said.
The magnitude of questions left open by Cunanan's suicide was underscored by the lack of a suicide note. "To date there is no suicide note or other correspondence that would reflect on why he committed these crimes he is accused of," said Miami Beach police Chief Richard Barreto.
But there is an inescapable bottom line. "All across the nation, our citizens can stand down and breathe a sigh of relief," said Barreto. "The reign of terror brought upon us by Andrew Cunanan is over."
Cunanan was on the run from four killings in three states before he allegedly assassinated Versace on July 15 as the wealthy celebrity designer walked up the steps of his South Miami Beach mansion. In Minnesota, Cunanan was charged in the death of a former lover, David Madson, and was suspected of killing Jeffrey 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.
Cunanan made the FBI's most-wanted list on June 12, but it was the murder of Versace that prompted a massive nationwide media and police hunt for him. The search for Cunanan involved "almost 1,000 agents" in the FBI alone, which Esposito equated with the intensity of the hunt for the Unabomber.
Until the Versace slaying, the FBI had "no clue at all" on Cunanan's whereabouts, Esposito said.
He was an average-looking man known for his ability to blend in with his surroundings, but in recent days "I think he was a desperate person, in a situation where it would be very, very difficult for him to move about," said Barreto.
Ironically, the man whose image was seen around the world left a corpse that could not be identified by its face. An autopsy performed by the Dade County Medical Examiner said Cunanan committed suicide by shooting himself through the mouth.
The gun was found with the body, which was identified as Cunanan's by matching a thumbprint taken from his California driver's license.
The houseboat where Cunanan took his life is docked on a finger of the Intracoastal Waterway, along famed Collins Avenue, just four miles north of the glitzy Art Deco district of south Miami Beach and the elegant villa where Versace, 50, was gunned down in a bold daylight attack.
The dramatic finale to the saga of a fun-loving male prostitute from San Diego who apparently had morphed into a vicious and feared serial killer lifted a shroud of apprehension from people all across the U.S., but especially from those in the gay community.