For a mesmerized public, the bizarre, bloody tale of Andrew Cunanan ended along a sleepy Miami Beach canal. For five sets of families and friends, though, Cunanan’s suicide closed only a chapter in a story of grief: empty beds, canceled vacations, unrealized dreams and decades-old romances chopped down like trees.
To William Reese’s 12-year-old son, it means no more horsing around in the treehouse with Dad. To Jeff Trail’s sister, it means explaining to her three small children what murder is.
To all of the victims, it means wounds that Cunanan’s death cannot heal.
“This thing was like a tornado coming over a hill - it’s not heard, it’s not felt, and all of a sudden this thing appears on your doorstep,” Craig Platania, Reese’s brother-in-law, said of the New Jersey cemetery caretaker’s slaying. “Now we can see the tornado way off in the distance and the clouds starting to clear, and everything that was in its place is now in another place.”
Unlike most people, friends and family of Cunanan’s victims spent their earliest days of mourning in the public eye, answering questions from police and reporters and seeing the faces of their loved ones on the nightly news alongside Cunanan’s.
“What we really wanted was for the killing to end, because every time a killing was linked to (Cunanan), it was like Jeff had been killed all over again, and the nightmares and the sleepless nights would start again,” said Lisa Stravinskas, one of Trail’s four older siblings.
Like Cunanan, and murder victims Gianni Versace and David Madson, Trail was gay and his sister said he dreamed of finding a lifelong partner and adopting children.
Instead, there are only memories and little mementos of Trail, who was a close friend of Cunanan: Jeff’s Looney Tunes drinking glasses, his favorite T-shirt with a William Wegman Weimaraner, his collection of sunglasses.
“He had a sunglasses collection to rival that of Imelda Marcos’ shoes,” laughed Stravinskas, an attorney in Elgin, Ill. “I have those tucked away. Right now they’re too painful to look at, but I will.”
While witnesses described the death of fashion czar Versace as quick - with the killer approaching quickly, firing and running - details of the other four murders blamed on Cunanan will probably never be known. For some of those left behind, it’s better that way.
“I know, like my father said, that the good Lord had David when he fell,” said Diane Benning, Madson’s sister.
Benning, a bookstore owner in Hartland, Wis., called her little brother her “soul mate.” Madson, a 33-year-old architect who had just moved to Minneapolis, had told her about Cunanan and his aggressive courting. While police say the two men were lovers, Benning says Cunanan hounded Madson and she is glad to be free of him.
“I can’t look at that man’s picture anymore,” she said. “I can’t look at that man’s eyes anymore, because all I see is him looking into my brother’s eyes and doing what he did.”
For Versace’s family and friends, whose fame and glamour brought the search for Cunanan to the world’s attention, Cunanan’s suicide was “a tombstone on the entire affair,” said Versace lawyer Vittorio D’Aiello.
“There won’t be any more need to continue to talk about this tragic story.”