Andrew Cunanan in the houseboat
with the bloody Versace scarf

by Matthew Soar

from Jump Cut, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 48-55
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 2000, 2006

"Are there individuals who are intrinsically dangerous? By what signs can they be recognized, and how can one react to their presence?"
— Michel Foucault, "The Dangerous Individual" (in Kritzman, 1990, p. 149).

By the time Andrew P. Cunanan, 27, took his own life on July 23, 1997, he had been linked to the deaths of five other men, including the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace[1][open notes in new window] eight days earlier.[2] The events were thus presented collectively to the public by the police and the media as an incidence of serial killing.[3] Cunanan was gay, and so were at least three of his alleged victims. This fact alone might not have been of much import were it not for the startling ease with which the media conflated these two factors: Cunanan's "identity" as "gay serial killer" became the single most pervasive frame through which the events were reported.

The title of this paper is a non-too-subtle reference to the way in which stories about Andrew Cunanan's murder "spree" accumulated in the days leading up to, and after, his suicide.[4] During this time, the police and the media promoted a number of "leads," which often amounted to little more than unfounded rumor, bald innuendo, or egregious stereotyping In sum, these clues can be seen as teleological in that they present us with a trajectory of accumulated pathologies. This begins with a precocious gay party boy, who quickly "becomes" an overly serious sadomasochist, then an AIDS-carrying revenge-seeker, then a homicidal transvestite and, finally, a suicidally sad young man.

To provide a provisional answer to Foucault's question, cited above: Yes, there are "individuals who are intrinsically dangerous." Furthermore, the signs by which they can be recognized appear to have much in common with the signs by which gay men are continually (mis)recognized in a homophobic culture. Furthermore, our reaction to their presence need only be to make claims about these "common" characteristics — albeit in a state of barely contained hysteria. The most likely result of over-determined moments such as these is, of course, an entrenchment of existing prejudices and an apparent legitimization of the rhetorical and physical violence routinely directed at gay men.


Richard Dyer has recently noted the centrality of the pattern in fictional renditions of the serial killer trope (Dyer, 1997). Indeed, the very notion of predictable seriality provides a compelling frame through which the public might imagine their own potential victimhood. Even those occasional plots involving a lack of pattern in the killer's modus operandi rely on the very centrality of pattern, as a staple of the genre, for their purchase on the reader's or viewer's imagination. However, there is a vital distinction to be made between fiction and reality. Making his comments in the context of Jeffrey Dahmer[5], Philip Jenkins says:

"Contrary to the impression that may be gained from fictional works, the nature and dimensions of such cases may be far from obvious, and interpretations will depend on processes of social and bureaucratic construction" (Jenkins, 1994, p. 23).

The media's and the FBI's evocation of murder-by-numbers is to me reminiscent of the board game Clue, in which an enigma is finally revealed to be something else entirely: a prescribed denouement in which murderer, weapon and scene-of-the-crime have always been "known." The over-riding conceit of the game is, of course, that it should take more than merely a modicum of common sense — and the manual dexterity required to roll a dice — to "solve" the crime (and thus beat one's opponents).

The analogy has further application: in Clue the victim is utterly absent. Although it would be unfair to characterize the media coverage of Cunanan as entirely victimless, it would certainly be true to say that the overwhelming emphasis was on the suspected serial killer. Furthermore, when certain journalists did take it upon themselves to counter this trend[6], they also tended to draw extraordinarily sharp distinctions between the murderer and the victims: the former being demonized, the latter uniformly canonized, and often for precisely the same reasons. To wit: one victim's gayness, when articulated to wealth, would be seen as thoroughly innocuous, if not innocent. By contrast, the murderer gayness was treated as uniformly and overwhelmingly problematic, the core factor in his descent (see Orth, 1997).

My initial claim, therefore, is that the public presentation of the Cunanan story and, indeed, our own associated impressions of the facts of the case, have operated at the nexus of two factors: first, the drive to find a pattern, i.e. a simple (read simplistic) explanation of "who?, with what?, and where?" (and, by extension, "what next?" or "who next?"); and, second, the ultimately unknowable motive — "why is he doing/ has he done this?" The latter, it should be noted, is conspicuously absent from Clue: the game's simple premises obviously cannot cope with the complex psychological questions that might make light of, for example, Colonel Mustard's wielding of a lead pipe in the library. So, too, the media's overall coverage of this series of events: rather than working towards a more sophisticated analysis, far from recognizing complexity and seeking to make light of it, news reporting about Cunanan centered, instead, on the daily provision of titillating "clues" (which often turned out to be as vacuous as those in the board game itself).

One media source paused briefly to wonder if Cunanan's actions had "social meaning" or whether they might "simply be blamed on the actions of a sociopath" (Robinson & Vest, 1997). However, the conspicuous lack of any discernible "meaning" (at least in terms of a broad consensus) did not halt the flow of conjecture, as this sense/ nonsense binary suggests it might. Quite the opposite: the singular lack of any concrete explanation for Cunanan's actions — which could only conceivably only have come from him — gave the media the freedom to make all manner of claims. The coverage of another recent murder serves to illustrate: Given the lack of new evidence in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year old beauty pageant queen, the National Enquirer in particular has made it its business to tirelessly deliver assertive speculations about the case in its weekly headlines. This holds true eleven months after the child's murder.

My point here is that as long as the media coverage of a news story retains any value as a focus of (morbid) fascination, new "evidence" will continue to be published even where there clearly isn't anything new to say. In Cunanan's case, the stories that passed for news in the interstice between Versace's death and Cunanan's suicide had a particularly titillating aura; here was sex(uality), celebrity, and murder all in one ongoing event. Thus seriality also becomes a trait of the media. It might even be argued that the media, too — with the blessing of the FBI — can be accused of serial killing:

"The [FBI] listened to its psychological profiling unit, whose unorthodox advice was not to worry about catching the killer, but to let nature take its course. Cunanan, the profilers said, was a classic paranoid, and paranoia is an illness that intensifies when a person undergoes stress, often unbearably so. Their advice was to keep the press briefings bland — no macho talk that might provoke him into going out in a blaze of glory — and keep reiterating that there was no escape. The subliminal message was supposed to be that if he was giving any thought to doing away with himself, better sooner than later" (Porter, 1997, p. 77).

In this general context, we might then ask what did pass for news in the latter half of July 1997 and, more ambitiously, exactly whose interests were served in the telling of so many stories about Cunanan?


If Cunanan had killed all five men at once, his actions would have classified him as a mass murderer. If he had killed them within a few hours or a day or two of each other, he would have been known as a spree killer. As it was, he became a serial killer with his fourth victim, who died on May 9 — twelve days after the first. Paradoxically, this notional and somewhat arbitrary category has massive cultural resonance. Indeed, as Jenkins notes,

"There is abundant evidence that serial killers and similar figures have long played a significant role in popular culture."

As for the realm of pure entertainment,

"The idea of using a serial killer as a fictional villain…has expanded enormously over the last two decades" (Jenkins, 1994, p. 81).

Perhaps because of the dramatic license exercised in such artistic ventures, many misconceptions about the nature of serial killers exist. For example: they are not always men; they are not always white; they "do not generally 'roam.'" And, they are, statistically, rather insignificant:

"Mass, spree, and serial murders combined represent at most 2 percent of all American homicides" (Jenkins, 1994, pp. 45-46).

Regardless of these facts, the firm grip that serial murder has on our collective imagination has ensured that it remains a ripe issue for political exploitation. Many of the most ill-founded rumors about Cunanan were illustrative of — and will most likely serve to fuel — a broadly homophobic agenda. It is these maneuvers that I discuss next.


"Even S/M, once the privileged preserve of a wealthy male class, has become a typical postcamp pop fantasy, and a conventional, if not entirely common, practice in middle-class culture." — Andrew Ross (1989, p. 191).

Common references were made about Cunanan as the "gay serial killer" — for example, in Vanity Fair (Oral, 1997) and the New York Post (Crowley, 1997) — and even as a "homicidal homosexual" (Tom Brokaw quoted in Crowley, 1997). These kinds of labels were emblematic of a slew of claims that articulated Cunanan's sexuality with his violent actions, often through conspicuous references to sadomasochistic sex. An immediate, and valid, response might be to question the likelihood of anyone ever using the term "heterosexual serial killer" to describe Ted Bundy or Peter Sutcliffe, for example.[7] In addition, since "gay" is always readily — and vividly — articulated to sex (and to specific sexual practices), speculations about Cunanan's own mores were tirelessly circulated.

I will focus here on a lengthy Special Report in Vanity Fair, which appeared just three weeks after Cunanan's suicide, and is, to some extent, a microcosm of the media coverage more generally. The author of the article, Maureen Orth, was widely quoted and even interviewed on television (NBC's TODAY Snow on July 16, for example) for her opinions about the case. In particular, her assertion that Cunanan had met Versace in 1990 provided the link — and the knowing wink — that seemed to help explain this last murder.[8] The coincidence of their sexual orientation made this "meeting" all the more loaded. As one widely quoted wire article put it: "Versace was gay, but investigators said they didn't know of any previous link between Cunanan and Versace."

Orth's thirteen-thousand word article is, in some senses, a triumph of journalistic conflation which nevertheless maintains a sheen of authority and integrity — at least on first inspection. In it, we are presented with a vivid example of the kind of pathological trajectory I have already outlined:

Cunanan first appears in the Report as "just a gay gigolo down on his luck" (p. 270), yet by the end of the article (and his life) Orth quotes an ex-FBI agent describing Cunanan as a "pathological, sexually sadistic offender" (McCrary in Orth, 1997, p. 335). Orth's best evidence is a repeated reference to Cunanan's apparent interest in sadomasochistic sex (hereafter S&M). Anecdotal reinforcement is provided through interviews with former friends, dates, and lovers, Orth's emphasis all the while being that Cunanan didn't know when to stop; that his sexual proclivities were marked by a lack of understanding of other people's boundaries (so profound a lack, apparently, that ultimately he was unable to recognize their desire not to die).

An old roommate confirms that Cunanan "liked S&M…He was more the tying-up-and-whips type — just the degradation, not the asphyxiation." Regardless, in the very next sentence, Orth adds that "signs were mounting that he was spiraling out of control" (p. 270). The next witness is "an old friend" of Cunanan's, who states that, during an argument, Cunanan had started to choke him: "Something had snapped in him…He had stepped over the edge" (ibid). This is certainly worrying behavior, but the S&M connection Orth forces is utterly unconvincing: all we are told is that Cunanan had earlier "show[n his old friend] a flyer for an S&M party he was planning to attend the next night."

The roommate's story is the first to be quoted, and, being the most innocuous comment, must appear at the beginning of the article if Orth's contrived trajectory is to make sense. However, he makes further appearances, and here he is rather more equivocal: Cunanan

"had such extreme taste in sex S&Mwise — he'd need privacy…It was way past normal. Whether it'd be whips or make him walk around in shackles — who knows? He always had bondage videos…He was a dominator" (p. 330, emphasis added).

It is fairly obvious that this statement is largely speculative ("who knows?"), not to mention potentially inconsistent: if Cunanan is indeed "a dominator," why then would he want to "walk around in shackles"? There is no evidence in the quote — as Orth presents it — that the roommate's description refers to anyone but Cunanan, which implies that he was interested in being both "dominator" and submissive partner. This point is an important one because a link is being forcefully made by Orth between relatively innocuous sexual role-play on the one hand and murderous inclinations on the other. A liking for the masochistic, i.e. submissive, role in S&M provides little promise as a motivating factor for non-consensual violence when compared to domination (or sadism) as the alternative role. Regardless, Orth's portentous reading of Cunanan's behavior continues.

In reference to Cunanan's one-time lover (and second victim) David Madson, Orth asserts that almost from the outset, "their sex became rough" (p. 330). Does this mean that Cunanan was physically abusive? Apparently not: one friend commented that Cunanan

"had wrist restraints, and they'd [Madson and Cunanan] been trying it. David wouldn't let him go as far as he wanted, but he thought it was a lot of fun" (ibid).

The old roommate adds: "David enjoyed it just as much as Andrew did" (ibid). So, their sex life appeared to be "rough" only in the sense that they both liked S&M.

Cunanan's supposedly rough side emerges again in an anecdote which is, unfortunately, risible in its "me too" breathlessness. Before any of the murders, Cunanan had returned to his hotel room with a man he had just met at a gay bar (Cunanan had also just revealed that he had access to drugs). As Orth explains,

"Schweger's memory of what took place is hazy. 'I think I was drugged that night, or I had too much to drink,' he said. 'But lately I've had these memory flashbacks of trying to fight him off during the night. I wasn't attracted to him sexually. I woke up with three hickeys on me.' Schweger said he went to sleep in his underwear. 'When I woke up, I had nothing on. After that night, I knew he had a rough side to him.'" (p. 330)

Why would Orth deem this kind of comment useful or interesting, if not merely to underscore her point about the significance of S&M in Cunanan's sex life? It also provides reinforcement for the persuasive notion that, in the interest of apparently monstrous desires, innocence is forever under threat. In this frame, we have no recourse but to further identify with potential targets and victims alike. Meanwhile, the suspect is simultaneously rendered more remote, more worthy of suspicion than before. The Michael Jackson controversy[9] — in which a young boy claimed he had been assaulted by the popstar while they shared a bed — is a case in point. Regardless of whether the accusation was true, the boy's notional loss of innocence was enough to make it clear that it was his interests that should invite identification. By the same token our view of Jackson could only deteriorate.

Most telling in this respect is the discussion of Cunanan's third target, Lee Miglin, whose mutilated body was found in Miglin's garage. Orth writes that the autopsy report "revealed no sexual molestation" (p. 334, emphasis added), which would not be so peculiar a choice of words were it not for the fact that Miglin was in his seventies. After all, such a description is far more likely to be used in the context of an assault on a child as opposed to a septuagenarian.

Orth continues:

"Miglin's hands and feet were bound, and his body was partially wrapped in plastic, brown paper, and tape. His face was taped except for two airholes at the nostrils" (p. 334).

Immediately after this she introduces yet another friend's anecdote about Cunanan and S&M in order to make a specifically sexualized connection where none might otherwise be inferred:

"He expressed to me his interest in sadomasochistic sex…He was into latex, face masks with just the nostrils showing through" (p. 335).

Third, this conflation bolsters the opinions of several "experts" on serial killers, whose authoritative comments, towards the end of Orth's Report, make the final damning connection between homosexuality, S&M, and murderousness. This is achieved most effectively through the comments of Gregg McCrary, "senior consultant of the Threat Assessment Group and former supervisory special agent of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit"[10] (p. 335). His comments are worth quoting at length. Orth says:

"Sex is often a strong element in these crimes. The offenders need to act out their sadistic fantasies, says McCrary, and they repeat them till they get it right. 'Typically, they have compliant victims — they begin with sex partners who were complying with their fantasies. They get someone to go along with bondage and torture until the victim won't go along anymore, so the sadistic offender is not satisfied. By the time they reach their late 20s and early 30s, they've developed their sadistic fantasies. They're really vibrant at this point, and they need to act out these things, and they can't find people to go along with them. So now they find an unwilling victim to abduct, rape, or murder. There's a much higher rate of homicide if torture is acted out against the will of the other individual" (p. 336).

Does this description have anything to do with Cunanan? There is nothing to suggest that any of Cunanan's victims, with the possible exception of Lee Miglin, were killed for sexual gratification, or that a "sadistic fantasy" was being "repeatedly" carried out. It would appear that Orth considers McCrary's description strongly reminiscent of S&M. The vital difference is, of course, intention: the practice popularly known as S&M, though much misunderstood and maligned, almost exclusively refers to a mutually pleasurable pursuit carried out in a "safe and sane" environment (as Ross suggests, above), and not to sexualized murder.

It might also be added that Orth's expert witnesses directly contradict one another, although she seems to be unaware of this dichotomy. Sergeant Tichich of Minneapolis Homicide declares, "For all I know, this violence came out of the blue" (p. 335). Meanwhile, Tom Cronin, a police captain in Chicago and "a graduate of the F.B.I. Behavioral Sciences Unit," states, "The first killing he probably fantasized for years. These people are very good at planning things out" (ibid).

The final point I would like to make here is that the articulation of homosexuality and violence in this case is not at all unique. In the context of the Jeffrey Dahmer case, Martha Schmidt has noted,

"From the outset, the primary focus in the construction of the discourse on the case was homosexuality. Gayness and the gay and lesbian community were used by both police officials and the press to explain why the crimes had occurred" (Schmidt, 1994, p. 85).

Schmidt argues that this happened in part because of a separate but recent trial involving the murder and dismemberment of one man by another. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner had sought to explain the murder by using the term "homosexual overkill." The Examiner was quoted thus by a local gay newspaper, The Wisconsin Light:

"the perpetrators reacted angrily out of deeply repressed homosexual feelings and attacked their lovers in a frenzied rage" (quoted in Schmidt, 1994, p. 85).

It transpired that not only had the Examiner "made it up," but that "the term had become part of Milwaukee's legal vernacular" (ibid, p. 86).


"HIV now possesses a personality, an agenda, and even preferences." — Erni (1994, p. 113)

Schmidt underscores these egregious conflations with an excerpt from a fanciful report in Newsweek about gay nightlife entitled "Secrets of a Serial Killer" (a reference to Dahmer). She comments:

"The press equated sexual identity and homosexual sex with danger and death, in much the same way that accounts of AIDS equate the two" (1994, p. 87).

Unfounded claims that Andrew Cunanan was HIV+ or had AIDS (the media habitually conflate the two) were met with anger, if little surprise. Although it is difficult to locate the precise source of these rumors, the experts on serial killers appeared to play an important part. According to an article in The Washington Post on July 19, described in the gay press as "one of the few tempered, smart analyses of this story" (Crowley, 1997),

"Jack Levin, a serial-killer specialist at Northeastern University, told the Associated Press, 'It's possible that he has contracted HIV, and he blames older, successful gay men like his clients for his illness.' Serial-killer profiler Robert Ressler has said, 'I suspect this guy probably contracted AIDS and is suicidal" (Achenbach, 1997, p. F01).

Suggesting that this widespread conjecture in the media "may be simply an explanation of convenience" (ibid), Achenbach is hinting at a pervasive problem in relation to sexual representation: It is precisely a lack of effort and imagination on the part of the media that promotes the specious, exclusive link between gay men and/or HIV and/or AIDS. When this is combined with the similar conflation of homosexuality and homicidal violence, the resulting, multiple articulation is quite insidious. Indeed, I would like to suggest that we might think of the figure of Cunanan-as-serial-killer as a metaphor for AIDS; that in the panicked, popular imagination the serial murderer "became" — that is, took on the stereotypical characteristics of — a killer virus.[11]

John Emi (1994) makes a similar point in his work on the "Cultural Politics of "Curing" AIDS":

"In the popular lexicons of Star Wars, serial killing, perversion, and deception, the HIV has proved an ideally comprehensible subject. As the preceding listing suggests, the virus has become a coherent character, perfectly endowed with (malignant) intentions, purposes, schedules, targets, and even preferences" (pp. 41-42).

It is my contention that the media's rhetoric on HIV and AIDS bears a striking resemblance to its representation of Cunanan as the "gay serial killer." A TV program that Emi discusses also serves as an illustration here: This British production, called AIDS Now, uses the classic genre of the detective story to make its point. HIV is the mysterious killer on the loose in a story called "The Case of the Promiscuous Parasite." A sampling of headlines and text referring to Cunanan also bears out this description (all references are from 1997). On promiscuity: "a gay gigolo" (Maclean's, July 28, p.22; Orth, p. 270); "a gay socialite", "a flamboyant gay playboy" (Newsweek, May 19, p. 52). On being a parasite: "He tracked possible sugar daddies" (Orth, p. 270); "He targeted people he wanted to meet" (Orth, p. 274); "his pattern [was]…to be witty and entertaining enough to live well without working" (Orth, p. 275). And, on both counts: "a male prostitute who serviced affluent clients" (quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle, July 16).

The B-movie connotations of a killer virus can be sensed in other, more obvious ways.

  • "It" is omnipresent (between July 19 and July 25, The New York Times ran at least five articles specifically about supposed sightings of Cunanan; one headline read "Jittery public sees Cunanan in all the wrong places").
  • "It" is ingenious in its methods and seemingly complex in its pathology — "crafty" (The New York Times, May 12); "elusive" (ibid. July 16); "The FBI, on the defensive about its failure to capture him, says he is "very intelligent" (The Irish Times, July 17); "genius-level I.Q." (Orth, p. 270); "changeability foils hunt" (The New York Times, July 24)).
  • "It" has reached epidemic proportions ("he was spiraling out of control"; "The whole country was on alert" (Orth, p. 270)).
  • Finally, "it" is, of course, lethal ("Modus Operandi: He kills": The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 16).

It is also consistent with this parody to find that once Cunanan-as-killer-virus was dead/ defeated, three rather predictable things happened. One, those on the front line of defense heaved a collective sigh ("After a suicide, relief and some normalcy": The New York Times, July 25). Compare this with the atmosphere eight days earlier, when "Foreboding hover[ed] over gay area" (ibid. July 17).

Two, there was a momentary ripple of upset — was "it" still alive after all?"[12] ("even as police were searching the houseboat, sightings…were being called in from New Hampshire and other states" (Orth, p 270); in a widely reported gaff, the police's initial search of the houseboat resulted in some confusion as to whether there was actually a body in it.)

Three, the perceived threat had been overestimated ("In the end, Cunanan proved neither cunning nor brazen": The New York Times, July 27). These remarkable parallels — between media coverage of Cunanan's activities, coverage of HIV/AIDS, and hackneyed film plots about killer viruses — beg the question: Is the media actually capable of presenting vastly different notions in appropriately distinct ways?


"Erik, I'm unhappy." — Cunanan (quoted in Orth, 1997, p. 336)

Richard Dyer (1993) uses the phrase "sad young man" to describe a particular stereotype most often found in fiction (books, films, pornography, theater), but also encountered "in probably all representational media" (1993, p. 74). Of the seven or so categories in the "lineage" of this young, gay (and, most often, white) figure, one in particular stands out as being relevant here: Dyer defines,

"urbanism as 'alienation'…[as] the tradition of perceiving the city as a world of loneliness, loosened moral order, fleeting, impermanent contact and love for sale" (ibid, p. 79-80).

His description resonates uncannily with the Cunanan of Maureen Orth's Special Report.

This "terrible, miserable way of being" (simultaneously "an erotically desirable one" — Dyer, 1993, p. 84) permeates Orth's article. An unidentified "older companion" is quoted as saying that Cunanan was

"sad on two levels: He's got a lot going for him…He doesn't need all this sham…He was also a young man ultimately with no career ambitions in any direction. He pretty much said he was interested in older men for their financial situations" (Orth, 1997, p. 275).

At an April dinner he was "somewhat somber" (p. 332).

In addition (at least according to Orth) Cunanan "rarely told — or faced — the truth about himself" (p. 275); he "never acknowledged to [his mother] or his sisters or his brother what they all knew — that he was gay and lived in a world apart" (ibid); "he had so much to hide" (p. 329). It would appear that bravado was his only true ally: he was "the big spender with the loud look-at-me laugh" (p. 273); "the young poseur who constantly claimed center stage for himself" (ibid). One interviewee on a recent edition of A&E's TV show Biography actually claimed that Cunanan was not gay:

"As insane as that may sound, I think Andrew found an act [i.e. "homosexuality"] that was convenient for getting attention and the sexual aspects of his life had nothing to do with that act"[13].

This objective stance (which is remarkable mainly for being so unconvincing) apparently allows "us" to know Cunanan better than he knew himself. It is also true to Dyer's image of the sad young man, a character whose private angst has been laid bare in a number of novels and films (see Dyer, 1993, pp. 91-92).


Indeed, according to Dyer, the

"sad young man image is frozen on the moment before 'becoming' or knowing that one 'is' a queer, and the narrative usually either stresses the inevitable hatefulness of this destiny (from which one may be rescued by a good woman or death) or else allows the fantasy that after all one might meet an ordinary fellow like oneself" (1993, p. 85).

In one account Cunanan is posthumously accused of being closeted; in another it is claimed that he is not gay (and let me add that in Clue suicide itself is not an option). What are we to make of this rather surprising rupture in our (exclusively mediated) understanding of Cunanan? After all, until his death he was emphatically identified as homosexual by the media; and, to use the by now ubiquitous descriptor, "flamboyantly" so. Perhaps, in death, his media persona could be recuperated; perhaps, if he'd lived, he wouldn't have ended up being queer after all:

"The worry was about whether boys would become successful, mature adult males; the possibility that they might turn out queer was one of the dangers along the way" (Dyer, 1993, p. 84).

Alternatively, and maybe more convincingly, Cunanan's queerness was confirmed by his death. In this frame, his sadness had been overwhelming and his homosexuality had guaranteed his demise. What is particularly apt here, albeit in the context of AIDS, is Erni's comment on

"the recondite, pervasive, and almost transcendental regard of homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality) as the morbid center of (self-) destruction" (1994, p. 49).

Or, as Schmidt puts it, "gay means death" (1994, p. 87).

Experience suggests that if Cunanan had been capture and tried, the fallout — given the inevitable spiral of media coverage — might have been significant. Although Schmidt's recollections of the Dahmer case are different for many reasons (the murders took place in one city; the crimes were considerably more abhorrent), the similarly adverse affects on gay men and lesbians can easily be imagined. In fact, the possibility of homophobic responses from the judicial system and the "general" public seems inevitable.

It was left to two writers in the gay press to make a valiant attempt to account for Cunanan's actions in terms of his membership in the gay community, in the aftermath of a media frenzy which had placed his entire life beyond compassion or caring. Dave Hingsburger, writing in Xtra! in Toronto, had this to say:

"Aren't Versace and Cunanan both members of our community? Isn't celebration an odd response to [the] loss of a family member? While I am pleased the danger is gone, I cannot say that I find within me the ability to do anything but mourn. Sure, I met him only for a few hours on a wet and lonely weekend. Sure, he was a man giving birth to a monster. But isn't this what one would expect when the disposable becomes the disposed?" (1997, p. 27).

The tone of this article is radically different to that of the mainstream media, not only because of its refusal to sensationalize, but because of its attempt to struggle towards comprehension rather than slip gracelessly into stigmatization.

Harry Crowley's feature in The Advocate makes the more general observation that

"in the end this story wasn't about a crazed killer and his five victims. For much of the news media, it was about giving Americans a glimpse of a world they've never understood-and perhaps understand even less now" (Crowley, 1997).

If we have learnt anything from this sorry event, it is perhaps that genuinely invested reporting carries infinitely less weight than do half-truths and titillating lies in the service of chauvinism. The media have an appetite for news but a bad sense of newsworthiness.

Michel Foucault, in the speech (1990) I quoted at the beginning of this paper, argues that there has been an important historical shift in the legal notion of criminality. Based on the influence of psychiatry from the nineteenth century onwards, the judicial system has placed increased emphasis on the nature of the criminal as opposed to his or her crime. This worries Foucault greatly: he speaks of

"the dreadful dangers inherent in authorizing the law to intervene against individuals because of what they are; a horrifying society could emerge from that" (1990, p. 151).

Such a future can be glimpsed in the Milwaukee Medical Examiner's frightening assertions about "homosexual overkill" immediately prior to the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer, and, less obviously, in the media's coverage of Cunanan's exploits. At the limit, Cunanan's murderousness was causally linked to his homosexuality: The situation Foucault fears is clearly at work, if not in our legal system, then most certainly in our culture.


1999 saw the publication of Maureen Orth's sentationalized book, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History (New York: Delacorte/Random House), and the gay writer Gary Indiana's rather more reflective Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story (New York: Harper Collins). Unsurprisingly, it was Vulgar Favors that made an appearance in the New York Times bestseller list, and Orth, not Indiana, who was interviewed for an hour on Larry King Live. Most remarkable of all is Orth's on-screen comment that "one of the saddest parts of this whole story" is the lack of communication between gay children and their parents; further, she said, "If there's one thing the book could do," it would be to "stimulate discussion" between them.


Oct. 21, 1990: Cunanan and Versace exchange a few words at a San Francisco nightclub (claim made by Orth, 1997).

1992: Cunanan works for an escort agency in Florida and California (Orth, 1997).

Ap. 27, 1997: Jeffrey Trail bludgeoned to death in David Madsen's apartment in Minneapolis.

May 3, 1997: David Madson's body found at Rush Lake; he had been shot three times.

May 4, 1997: Lee Miglin's stabbed and mutilated body found in his garage in Chicago.

May 9, 1997: William Reese, a cemetery caretaker, is shot once in a basement at his place of work in New Jersey.

July 15, 1997: Versace shot outside his Miami mansion.

July 19, 1997: A report in The New York Times suggests that Cunanan may have been in Miami in May.

July 23,1997: A report in The New York Times suggests that Cunanan may have been in New York in May.

Andrew Cunanan, by now the lead suspect in all five murders, commits suicide on a houseboat in Miami.

Aug 13, 1997: Vanity Fair's September issue features a Special Report by Maureen Orth, entitled "The Versace Murder: On the Trail of the Gay Serial Killer."


My thanks to Lisa Henderson and Ann Johnson for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper, and to Julia Lesage for her encouragement. Thanks also to the organizers of both Interfaces, the graduate student conference held at the University of Massachusetts in March 1998, and Sex on the Edge, held at Concordia University in October 1998, for two valuable opportunities to test these ideas.

1. This paper takes as its emphasis the coverage of Cunanan. However, there is much to be done on the representation of Versace. The most promising focus — apart from the obvious one (i.e. good/ wealthy/ monogamous gay vs. bad gay) — might be to study the casting of Versace's national identity. Coverage of his death appears to have been more centered on this than on his sexuality. Beyond supposed Mafia links and a "Mob-style execution" there is, for example, an intriguing — and troubling — article in The Economist, July 19, p. 30. Versace, the Americanized immigrant with "few roots," is ultimately contrasted with "America's cultural conservatives," whose "roots go deep."

2. See the brief chronology of events at the end of this paper.

3. Jenkins (1994) defines serial killing as "repeat homicide cried out over a period of weeks or months" (p. 2). For the purposes of his own study, he adds that there should be "at least four victims, over a period greater than seventy-two hours" (p. 23).

4. The reference to a scarf in the title is this: In one movie version to be released in December 1997, the director uses a bloody scarf as a fanciful prop in Cunanan's suicide scene: "This is my kind of dramatic license," [Menahem] Golan says, holding the scarf. Did Cunanan really shoot himself covered with a Versace scarf? 'No,' Golan laughs, "but it's in my film." (Levine, 1997).

5. Dahmer was eventually imprisoned for killing, dismembering, and even partially eating seventeen young males in Milwaukee between 1987 and 1991 (see for example Fisher, 1997).

6. The Vanity Fair article (Orth, 1997) discussed at length in this paper is a case in point.

7. Theodore "Ted" Bundy was implicated in the murders of as many as 36 women in the 1970s, some of whom he killed after his second escape from custody. He was executed in Florida in 1989. Peter Sutcliffe, at first only known as The Yorkshire Ripper, was ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of 13 women, mostly students or prostitutes, in England in the mid- to late-1970s.

8. According to Achenbach (1997, emphasis added), "Orth report[ed] that Versace once recognized Cunanan" — in immediate terms this is a rather less loaded choice of words, although it does also suggest previous contact.

9. See, for example, John Erni's recent work (1997) on Jackson.

10. The BSU was "established in the early 1970s, and it rapidly developed an interest in "profiling" offenders. This group popularized the terms serial crimes and serial murder (Jenkins, 1994, p.55).

11. In this discussion, I draw on popular (mis)conceptions rather than attempting to reflect the best — if least widely known, believed, or circulated — information that we have on HIV or AIDS.

12. I have in mind those "surprise" endings in movies such as DELIVERANCE (U.S., 1972), CARRIE (U.S., 1976), and FATAL ATTRACTION (U.S., 1987).

13. This was Matthew Rifat, described on camera as a "Former Classmate."


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