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[This story contains spoilers from the second episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.]
Andrew Cunanan killed himself a week after he murdered Gianni Versace on the steps of his own home, but the 27-year-old con artist had been on the run for much longer than that — and on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for more than a month before the fashion designer’s death. The second episode of FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story took a look at how, exactly, it was possible that a serial killer like Cunanan could have gone so long without getting caught.
According to creator Ryan Murphy and writer Tom Rob Smith, institutionalized homophobia at the time was partially to blame. Vulgar Favors author Maureen Orth, who wrote the book on which the second season is based (and reported on the hunt for Cunanan for Vanity Fair), told The Hollywood Reporter that simple disorganization also played a role.
The second episode of the season, titled “Manhunt,” focused briefly on the various ways law enforcement bungled their hunt for Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) killer, Cunanan (Darren Criss), despite him having killed four other people before arriving in Miami and eventually shooting the famed fashion designer on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion. The disorganization and the disregard for Cunanan’s gay victims compounded the tragedy of Cunanan’s killings.
“There’s an enormous sense of injustice,” executive producer Nina Jacobson told THR. “Had the victims been straight, in all likelihood, he would have been caught much sooner, and Versace would never have died.”
Said Orth, “One of the biggest changes from today to that time is how gays are politically organized, because today they’re far more powerful politically than they were 20 years ago. In Miami beach, for example, they didn’t want to have anything to do with cops at all. This was a place for hedonism and pleasure, and so I think a lot of it had to do with incompetence, and then in some cases they just weren’t comfortable, they didn’t get it.”
Star Criss, who plays the killer, told THR that he thinks Cunanan was able to evade capture for so long because small instances of homophobia — “fear and misunderstanding on an institutional level within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, within the local police force,” for example — were able to compound into a much larger issue.
“I think a big point of Maureen’s book was how the fuck did this happen? Even by the time he’d killed four men and was on the lam, before he killed Versace, he should have been caught. He was just living out in the open and a lot of that has to do with, I think, homophobia,” Criss said. “There’s just so much fear and misunderstanding that just let this slip through the cracks.”
While Orth is unfamiliar with FBI protocol in 2017, the author did note that after the failures in the Cunanan case came to light, procedures changed.
“To the FBI’s credit, after this happened and they realized how woefully inadequate their outreach was to the gay community, they did take steps to overcome that,” she said.
“Manhunt” centered on Cunanan’s brief friendship with an HIV-positive junkie named Ronnie, whom Orth said was a very real person — he just didn’t bear any resemblance to New Girl star Max Greenfield who portrayed him on Versace.
“They were in the same hotel,” she said. “They stayed on the same floor together. Ronnie was one of these down-and-out druggie guys and hustlers, and it was interesting because … the real Ronnie had long white hair, platinum white hair, and he’s tall and skinny. He doesn’t look anything like the Max Greenfield character, but he definitely was a real person.”
At the end of the episode, a pawn shop clerk called the FBI to tell them that Cunanan had been to her shop to sell a rare coin and used his real name, and she’d submitted the proper paperwork — they just hadn’t followed up, even though he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
“Whomever was in charge of the paperwork had been called up, I think, to work on the Cunanan chase, and then they didn’t turn in the paperwork because it was a long weekend and the guy had an extra day off, or something,” Orth said. “Now, that has been computerized and changed, but the fact [is] that he gave his real name, and used his real passport. Andrew had a very high IQ and was very smart, and a lot of times I was told by some of these police profilers that these guys, they like to taunt police, they like to show how much smarter they are.”
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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