When Gianni Versace walked down the street in Miami Beach, he had every reason to think he had created the world. If fashion has joined Hollywood and sports among the great public spectacles of our time, Versace was one big reason why. And if Miami Beach is now a laboratory of instant gratification, full of clubs and in-line skaters and muscle guys with deltoids like the gas tanks on a Harley--in some measure that was Versace's doing too. Six years ago, when the city was threadbare, he fell in love with it, and soon began converting a hotel and a crumbling apartment building into his comically scrumptious mansion, one of his four homes around the world. And where Versace went, the models and movie stars soon followed.
Andrew Cunanan created his own worlds too. They just didn't work out. For years he had insinuated himself into the lives of well-off, older gay men. An adroit and tireless liar, he told friends in San Diego he was Andrew DeSilva, a man with a factory in Mexico, or wealthy parents in the Philippines, or a wife and daughter--the ones in the photo he would pass around that he got from who knows where. But by last April, when police say he started a cross-country killing spree that climaxed in the fatal shooting of Versace, all his worlds were collapsing. His last rich guy had dropped him. He was gaining so much weight that few would give him a second look. He might have discovered he had the AIDS virus.
The worlds of Gianni Versace and Andrew Cunanan may have first intersected in the early 1990s, when both were in San Francisco--Versace to design costumes for a production of the San Francisco Opera. Erik Gruenwald, now a Los Angeles attorney, remembers that Cunanan approached him at Colossus, a local gay club, with exciting news. "I just met Gianni Versace," Cunanan told Gruenwald. "I said, 'Sure, and I'm Coco Chanel.'"A forthcoming article in Vanity Fair reports that Cunanan, now 27, had encountered Versace among a crowd backstage at the opera, and that Versace spoke to him, apparently thinking they had met at Lake Como in Italy, where Versace has a home. FBI agents told TIME that Cunanan and Versace probably did meet in San Francisco, though the nature of their relationship, if any, is still a mystery.
By the time their paths began drawing ominously closer two months ago, Cunanan's aggressively social personality, authorities say, had turned murderously sociopathic. The first victims in his path were two gay friends in Minnesota, a Chicago businessman and a New Jersey cemetery caretaker. Just days after the New Jersey murder, on May 12, Cunanan apparently resurfaced in Miami Beach and began working his way into Versace's world. A friend of Cunanan's has told FBI agents that Cunanan had a crush on someone in Versace's entourage, perhaps a boyfriend. They suspect jealousy might have set off his next violent explosion.
Versace lived directly on busy Ocean Drive, a 15-block strip of Art Deco hotels and sidewalk cafes facing the oceanfront. He didn't even like the mansion's security videocameras to be recording. In the Versace household, everybody had regular routines that would be easy for a killer to know. One of those routines was Versace's morning walk to the News Cafe, four blocks from his home, to buy magazines and a coffee.