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Fugitive's Death Leaves a Trail of Contradictions

July 25, 1997|JUDY PASTERNAK and TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Even in death, Andrew Cunanan eluded police.

When the 27-year-old fugitive took his life in a houseboat moored at Miami Beach, he took with him the best chance that a cross-country string of murders will ever be explained.

The suicide, foiling the quest for answers, was a fitting denouement to a case that left five other dead men scattered over four states while the suspect openly taunted pursuers.

The 2 1/2-month series of killings is over. But frustration lingers.

"We would prefer that he would be taken alive, he would be prosecuted and gone to jail, and maybe over time cooperated and told us why he did the things he did," said Deputy FBI Director William Esposito.

"Nobody will be able to ask him," said Stanley Trail, an Illinois professor who is the father of Jeffrey Trail, believed to be Cunanan's first victim. "Nobody will be able to tell me why this happened."

Oddly, in a case where the suspect's name, weapon and often even his vehicle were known, Cunanan apparently killed and fled, and killed and fled again.

What triggered Cunanan's rage? Was he insane? On drugs? Vengeful? Ill? And how did he choose his victims--a curious melange of close friend, former lover, prominent Chicago businessman, obscure cemetery tender, and Gianni Versace, the internationally-known fashion designer?

Did Cunanan methodically plan his crimes and route, or career from scene to scene, taking chances as they came?

Numerous Clues, Contradictions

He littered the landscape with clues, but even more contradictions, as he moved from a frivolous existence as a highly visible playboy in San Diego's gay precincts to a new role as a brazen murder suspect haunting the nation.

While tips--most of them false--poured in from New Hampshire to New Mexico, Cunanan sometimes drove great distances overnight. Yet he also holed up in one spot for days, even weeks. He slept with impunity in a victim's Jeep parked on a Chicago street and later at a cheap Manhattan hotel. As the death toll mounted, Cunanan supped in a construction workers' bar near a rural Midwest lake and at a pizza parlor by the Atlantic shore.

This was not the natural habitat of the aspiring socialite, but in one important respect, Cunanan was well-suited for a life on the lam.

He had long been a changeling.

Ask his old friends from San Diego: When he left town on April 25, he was puffy and had gained weight; he looked healthy and fit. He'd just started drinking alcohol; he'd always indulged in champagne and fine wine.

He showed no stereotypically gay mannerisms; he spoke with effeminate inflections. He was considerate and polite, loud and controlling.

He was the last person who would harm anyone. He pushed people to the ground during disputes. He was increasingly drawn to rough, sadomasochistic sex.

Look at the collection of photographic portraits gathered by police: A classic nerd with glasses and a bad haircut. A polished man about town with a brushed-back coiffure. A thick-set, glowering macho guy.

A Man of Many Identities

Cunanan, of course, cultivated the many images. He introduced himself as Andrew DeSilva and Lt. Cmdr. Andy Cummings--and used aliases Drew Cunningham and Curt Matthew Demaris as well, investigators would later say.

He attributed his apparent wealth at various times to his parents, his acting career, his success in industry.

In fact, he was supported by rich older men. For two years, he lived in a La Jolla manse with Norman Blachford, a businessman and arts patron. Blachford took his young boyfriend to Phoenix and to Europe.

But in 1996, Blachford and Cunanan broke up. The younger man moved into a modest garden apartment with a platonic friend, a waiter.

Cunanan made his mercenary leanings clear. He told restaurateur Michael Williams that "he was not going to return to Norman until he bought him a Mercedes."

No Mercedes was forthcoming. Another friend, a Naval officer named Jeff Trail, told Williams he worried that Cunanan, who had last been employed as a pharmacy clerk, was supporting himself by dealing drugs.

Certainly it was widely noticed that he was consuming them. Cunanan took many more prescription painkillers than any legitimate ailment would warrant.

Still, Trail laughed when yet another man in their social circle warned him about Cunanan's dark moods. "I thought Andrew was bad news and told Jeff that," said the man, who asked to remain unidentified in print. "I said, 'Watch him.' "

Trail changed his mind after inviting Cunanan to join him on a trip to Texas for a job interview. When they returned, "Jeff had really had it with Andrew: his flamboyancy, his loudness," Williams said.

But the friendship, though faltering, continued, even after Trail moved to a Minneapolis suburb to work for a propane gas company.

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