Loads of people I know are obsessed with The Assassination of Gianni Versace (including me and Benn) and I knew that this book was one of the source materials for the programme. I was 13 when Versace was killed; I remember the summer well- Britpop was still on the radio and it was a summer of Big Deaths, with Princess Di and Mother Theresa dying not long afterwards. It was a hot summer with a lot of dying on the news and I have some recollection of the news being on all. the. time. I’d been too young when OJ happened, but I remember this very clearly.
Maureen Orth had been following Andrew Cunanan’s crime spree for Vanity Fair since the murder of Jeff Trail in Minneapolis and this book tries to look at his three-month murder spree in the context of his life and what made him into the killer he became (including the serial killer cliché of troubled childhood and a huge dose of narcissism). It also looks at his motivations and at the backgrounds of his victims: his friend, Jeff Trail; the man he declared was the love of his life, David Madson; Lee Miglin, a wealthy Chicago businessman; William Reese, who was killed for his pick up truck; and Gianni Versace, the fashion designer who Cunanan was obsessed with and who seemed to represent to Cunanan the life he would never have. As a result, it’s a big old book, but one that reads with the fast pace of a well-written tabloid- at times a bit gossipy (and some of the pieces about gay culture in places like South Beach haven’t really aged well in the almost twenty years since the book first came out), but ultimately well-researched. I also found that it helped me follow the slightly jarring backwards chronology of the series itself.
Orth is critical of the police and details in excrutiating, frustrating mistakes made by law-enformcement, of the short-sightedness and small-mindedness of late 90s cops in Florida and of the insanity of the media coverage, including one journalist so desperate for a scoop that he went into Cunanan’s hotel room before the police got there and rifled through his possessions. If you think constant media coverage is bonkers now, you could probably trace it back to this.
Orth details how friends, acquaintances and even his own family attempted to cash in during the aftermath of the crime. Ultimately, not many people come out of this book looking good. Cunanan’s family, with the exception of one of his sisters, are stated as only talking if money is on the table.
This is a classic of the true crime genre and for good reason, even if it does leave the reader feeling a little confused, very frustrated and ever so slightly grubby. It’s an exploration of how the American Dream can get twisted and go very, very wrong.