real life

TRUE CRIME: The puzzling assassination of Gianni Versace.


On the morning of July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace, revered fashion designer, left his abode on the sweeping streets of Miami Beach to grab his morning papers via a walk on the famed Ocean Drive.

A 2001 piece in TIME noted in the Versace household, everyone had “regular routines”. This was one of Versace’s: to walk, every morning, four blocks from his home to buy magazines and a coffee. So predictable was the walk, journalist Richard Lacayo wrote it “would be easy for a killer to know”.

Upon his return, as he reached the gates of his mansion, a man named Andrew Cunanan approached him, a .40-caliber pistol pointed at his head.

Versace, just 50 at the time, was dead before he had an opportunity to open the gate of his property, left to bleed on the steps of his own home.

In the space of seconds, one of the most famous figures in fashion, ear to some of the most powerful people in the world, was dead, a multi-million dollar company left in his wake and a family that would mourn him for years to come.

Gianni Versace had a stranglehold on the fashion industry in the 1980s and 1990s and the clothes and models within it. His glitzy, fabulous, sexy style was far from minimalist. Glamour was his bread and butter and his friends were far from ordinary. His skills were his legacy. According to a 2006 New York Magazine profile of his sister Donatella, Gianni Versace was “famously regimented—early to bed, early to rise—and utterly uninterested in alcohol, drugs, partying”.


But the beginning of his life and the end were marked in their comparison. He was born in Reggio Calabria in Italy in 1946, the son of a seamstress who would later introduce the icon to what it meant to put together a piece of clothing.

The end was the subject of a murder investigation, his name strewn across international headlines, the details of his gory, ugly death fodder for public consumption.

Who killed Gianni Versace? And perhaps more perplexingly, why did anyone kill Gianni Versace?

According to CNN, what followed was “one of the most intense manhunts in the nation’s history”.

Eight days after Versace was murdered, the man police were searching for, the man they knew committed the murder – Andrew Cunanan – killed himself via a self-inflicted gunshot to the head inside a Miami houseboat.

Gianni and sister Donatella. Image: Getty.

He had, it was later revealed, killed before. Four times, in fact, by the time his sights were on Versace.

Coincidentally, on the day Versace was killed, journalist Maureen Orth had just filed a story on the man that was Andrew Cunanan, unaware he was looking to kill again. She had studied him for two months.

She wrote for Vanity Fair this week the 27-year-old was "a witty, lazy, narcissistic con artist and perpetual liar, sometimes a kept boy, sometimes a drug dealer, knew the most refined closeted corners of wealth from San Diego to San Francisco just as well as he knew the roughest leather bars."

Upon graduating school in 1987, Cunanan was voted by his classmates "Most Likely Not to Be Forgotten".

To this day, it's unclear exactly why Cunanan pulled the trigger that July day. It's been widely reported he and the fashion designer had met in social circles before. Orth contends "Cunanan was so filled with rage and so intent on becoming famous that he was willing to kill for it". All Cunanan's victim's were men, many were successful and one was a former lover.


Such was the power of the Versace brand and throne, Maureen Orth noted for Vanity Fair his fame was "allowed to cremate his body and take it back to Italy before the Miami police had a chance to do more than a cursory investigation" while "the police were not allowed to interview any members of the family".

Gianni and sister Donatella. Image: Getty.

Now, the baffling nature of Versace's death will be the subject of FX's upcoming series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.


But don't expect the Versace family to be celebrating its release in the US in the next week.

In a statement, they have denounced the show's storylines and said they never authorised the series' production.

"As we have said, the Versace family has neither authorised nor had any involvement whatsoever in the forthcoming TV series about the death of Mr. Gianni Versace, which should only be considered as a work of fiction," the family said in a statement.

"The company producing the series claims it is relying on a book by Maureen Orth, but the Orth book itself is full of gossip and speculation. Orth never received any information from the Versace family and she has no basis to make claims about the intimate personal life of Gianni Versace or other family members. Instead, in her effort to create a sensational story, she presents second-hand hearsay that is full of contradictions."

The family added Versace "was a brave and honest man, who engaged in humanitarian work for the benefit of others" and that it is "sad and reprehensible that the producers have chosen to present the distorted and bogus version created by Maureen Orth."

Wherever the truth lies, two things can be certain.

The death of Gianni Versace was filled with drama, tragedy and intense loss, and no findings in a TV series will ever repair the hole he left behind for his loved ones.