Sunday, July 27, 1997
Let's honor victims,
not the criminals

The Cincinnati Enquirer

We have been reading too many crime novels.

Last week, national news magazines, local newspapers and network television were filled with news of Andrew Cunanan. After fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed at his Miami Beach mansion, Mr. Cunanan was described as a ''master of disguise.'' Television news magazines called him an ''elusive genius.''

Master of disguise?

He got fat and he slimmed down.

He got a haircut.

He tried to grow a beard.

He took off his glasses.

Elusive genius?

The guy drove away from the murder scenes in the victims' cars. He drove a red pickup truck across the country. Then he left it in a parking garage for a month.

He hocked a coin stolen from a murdered man, filling out the required paperwork for police and using his own address. He obligingly stamped it with a thumbprint.

He hung out at a nightclub across from Miami police headquarters and sauntered into a fast-food restaurant and ordered a sandwich. He wasn't wearing a fake nose or a dress.

And still he walked away.

Brainy or lucky?

Would it be unkind to wonder if the police and the FBI might have been the ones to put this particular spin on a series of bumbling near-misses? Maybe they'd rather be outwitted by a master criminal than tricked by just another thug.

The FBI put him on its 10 Most Wanted List. Then, after a ''nationwide manhunt,'' he was found less than 3 miles from the place where Mr. Versace was shot, less than a mile from the place where he pawned the gold coin.

After a tip, more than 100 police officers and FBI agents surrounded the two-story houseboat where the fugitive's body was found. He had shot himself. It took a SWAT team more than an hour to find the body in a 3,000-square-foot space.


While law enforcement officials waited for forensic evidence that would positively identify the body, a crowd gathered to gawk. An enterprising vendor sold pizzas and sodas.

Media invention

The man who wanted to be famous in the end was merely notorious, a predator and social climber. When he needed money he was unable to cadge from wealthy benefactors, he sold drugs.

He told people in San Diego that he came from a prosperous Jewish family that owned a national parking lot company. His real father, a former stockbroker, fled to his native Philippines to escape embezzlement charges.

He studied history at the University of California at San Diego, but he never earned a degree. To be sure, he had some friends, especially when he was picking up the check. But no one has named a single thing of consequence that he managed to accomplish during his 27 years.

Phony drama

Let's not give this little man any credit. Let's not make him bigger than he was. Let's make sure we withhold anything that smacks of admiration and ignore the specious drama of a bungled chase.

Even as Miami Beach cops were stuffing him into a body bag, the FBI was still fielding reports of sightings of Andrew Cunanan. This is not because he was a brilliant and resourceful criminal, a ''master of disguise.'' It is because he was so ordinary. Average height, average weight, average coloring. He looks like a lot of other people.

Jeffrey Trail, the former Navy officer found bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer, was bright and personable.

Lee Miglin, another victim, was a successful Chicago developer.

William Reese, the murdered cemetery worker whose truck Cunanan drove to Florida, was a beloved husband and father.

Gianni Versace was a creative genius.

Andrew Cunanan was a sleazy gigolo who hurt people. And whose luck finally ran out.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.