DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

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Andrew Cunanan thought Pulp Fiction was the best movie ever made. A friend remembers how he was "all animated and yelling" when he saw the film at its San Diego premiere, finding particular delight in the scene where a man gets his head inadvertently blown off in the back of a car. It is thus a minor enigma, one of the many Cunanan has left behind, whether his final, apparently desperate act was also an attempted coup de theatre, in which the fugitive of a thousand faces--seen everywhere and nowhere--tries to destroy the only one he has left in order to remain forever masked in mystery.

If so, the penultimate scenes of the drama, before he finally put his overused .40-cal. revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger, were rather desultory. Right after the murder of Gianni Versace on July 15, Cunanan broke into a 25-ft. sailboat docked in Miami Beach, sneaking in not only a bag of pita bread to eat but also newspapers to read, including Italy's Corriere della Sera. Cunanan, never averse to attention, could have had no doubt he was known all over the world--and wanted in the worst of ways.

Escape was paramount. When the owner of the boat returned on the afternoon of July 16, Cunanan fled. But where could he hide? In the first 48 hours after he shot Versace, Cunanan phoned a friend in California and asked for help obtaining a passport and false identification so he could leave the country. About 10 mutual acquaintances came up in the discussion. FBI agents who had been methodically contacting his known associates found the man Cunanan called, forcing him to divulge the potential sources of false paperwork. And before Cunanan could reach those people, the FBI was waving them off and thinking of setting a trap for the fugitive. The law-enforcement squeeze play limited Cunanan's options even as intense publicity peeled away his once infinitely varied faces. He would not get two miles beyond the crime scene.

In the end, Cunanan found refuge in an unoccupied two-story houseboat that was still supplied with electricity but was without water. Belying reports he was dressed as a woman, he had a few days' stubble on his face. And then, at 3:30 p.m. on July 23, caretaker Fernando Carreira and his wife came by to check on the houseboat. They noticed that the wrong lock was secured, and Carreira drew his gun. He then heard a shot, ran out and, while watching the door, eventually got his son to call the police. They descended in force, complete with tear-gas-launching SWAT teams. Bullhorns brayed, "Andrew, come out, the whole world is watching!" By then, he probably couldn't hear the message. His body lay lifeless in the houseboat, the revolver by his groin. As for his face, one source said it still bore a resemblance to the photos in his wanted posters.

With his death, the portraits of Cunanan only seem to multiply. His last roommate, Erik Greenman, has sold a story to the National Enquirer alleging that Cunanan had a sadistic obsession with the actor Tom Cruise, one that included fantasies of sexual torture and the murder of Cruise's wife Nicole Kidman. Other acquaintances tell tales of Cunanan's dealing in such prescription drugs as Demerol, Vicodin, Xanax and Percocet, earning thousands of dollars to supplement the gifts already bestowed upon him by older "benefactors" in the exclusive San Diego suburb of La Jolla. Cunanan allegedly courted others as well. Steven Zeeland, who writes books about the gay subculture in the military, says he and Cunanan, the son of a Navy man, were rivals for the attention of Marines and sailors in San Diego, including Jeffrey Trail, the former naval officer who would become the first of Cunanan's five victims.

Then there were friends who remembered Cunanan as charismatic, others who thought he was nuts and kinfolk who recalled the quiet boy who locked himself up with encyclopedias. It was a multifariousness he cultivated in life. Says Zeeland: "He had an amazing memory. He would absorb details from stories that people told him and recycle them as his own."

And the trigger for his spree? Again the stories are varied. The alleged dealer in prescription drugs is said to have become addicted first to crack, then to methamphetamines, which can produce extremely violent behavior in some users. Or was it AIDS rage that caused him to run amuck? The tabloid Star claims to have retrieved a backpack belonging to Cunanan that contains an empty envelope from the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, a firm that provides HIV testing. As for Cunanan's actual HIV status, that remains for the coroner's office to disclose. Florida law imposes strict privacy rules even for the dead.

As for the victims, there is still a temptation to impute to them some original sin that attracted catastrophe, rather than the risks taken for friendship, helpfulness or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only thing certain is that Cunanan wanted them to die. Cunanan had parked the red Jeep Cherokee of his murdered ex-lover David Madson near the Chicago home of real estate developer Lee Miglin and could well have seen Miglin working in an open garage, his green Lexus clearly visible. Cunanan killed Miglin, stole the Lexus and abandoned it when he heard radio reports that the Philadelphia police were tracking Miglin's cell phone. Frantically, he ripped the ceiling lining of the car in an attempt to stifle the antenna. Then he killed William Reese, a cemetery caretaker in New Jersey, to take his Chevy pickup. Gianni Versace may have met Cunanan before the killing, but the murderer may also have been targeting other celebrities. Sylvester Stallone told TIME, "I was notified by the FBI that Cunanan had spoken to some bartender, inquiring about 'Stallone's' and Madonna's habits in Miami."

If there was any overpowering imperative in Cunanan's life, it was envy: of someone else's money, lover, looks, friends, life, happiness. If he saw things he wanted, he would worm his way toward them, through charm, intrusion and lies, traversing divergent worlds to possess or, as it turns out, to destroy. A flamboyant presence in Hillcrest, San Diego's gay district, he was also once "employed" by a member of Gamma Mu, the exclusive and discreet fraternity of rich gay men. Even as he mingled with closeted military men at San Diego's naval base, he knew how to deal drugs: give a client a first batch free and make them feel welcome to more, at a price. Cunanan had an astonishing range of knowledge: of the way the U.S. military command is structured--and of the hierarchy of chimpanzees. Zeeland recalls that Cunanan would jokingly refer to his friend Trail, in the lingo of chimp studies, as an "alpha male," adding that subordinate chimps paid homage to alpha males by displaying their genitals. He would then proceed to do so, remaining fully clothed. It was Trail, the alpha male, who would be bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer in the apartment of Cunanan's ex-lover Madson on April 29.

Why was Madson not killed till four days later, near a lake 30 miles north of Minneapolis, Minn.? Why did Cunanan decide to torture Miglin to death the next day and not just take his Lexus? The ingredients that went into these cruelties may never be detected. In any case, there was private elation at the news of Cunanan's death in La Jolla among the rich, closeted gay men for whom respectability requires a veneer of heterosexuality. Here Cunanan had lived with businessman and arts patron Norman Blachford. Before Blachford, Cunanan had been known as the companion to two other local "benefactors"--one of whom was reportedly so nervous that Cunanan would name names if apprehended that he considered suicide himself.

Now the panic has eased. Cunanan is a name that echoes only in nightmares, like Bundy, like Dahmer, another lesson in how a monster can put on a pretty face.

Find more about Cunanan and Versace on our Website at time.com/daily/versace