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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Dark Veil Of Murder Death Of ‘Gay Killer’ Leaves The Homosexual Community Relieved, Torn.

By Carol Morello Knight-Ridder

The fear is gone, but the mystery remains.

Andrew Cunanan’s suicide has put an end to the dread being felt throughout the nation, particularly among gays in San Diego, where he was a well-known gigolo and male prostitute before he set out on his deadly cross-country journey.

For them, there would be no more speculation that he might return here this weekend to go out with a final bang at the massive Gay Pride Festival. No more hiding out for one-time associates concerned he would seek them out for revenge. No more fears he would be caught alive and name names of the prominent, closeted gay men he had met at the discreet private parties he had trolled for benefactors.

But Cunanan’s death has left investigators wondering what prompted his alleged killing spree. And it has left people here concerned that his actions have left a stain on gay communities around the country.

“He was kind of a dark link to the gay and lesbian community we wanted to rid ourselves of,” said Frank Sabatini, an organizer of the San Diego Lesbian and Gay Pride festivities due to begin tonight. “Cunanan was labeled a gay killer. I feel he was an aberration who lived on the fringe of gay and lesbian society. But it’s a safe assumption some people look at him as a reflection on the gay and lesbian community. We’re eager to dissociate ourselves from this dark saga and move on.”

That is unlikely to happen any time soon in San Diego. Unless a suicide note or other explanations materialize, the only clues to Cunanan’s motives are likely to be found in his hometown.

Police assume that some trauma or dramatic change in circumstances set Cunanan on a killing spree that spanned four states. And they assume that trauma, whatever it was, struck him here.

They assume, but they do not know.

Thursday, the FBI’s Web site slapped a red “found dead” banner across Cunanan’s picture.

Cunanan reportedly had been living in the plush oceanside condominium of a prominent businessman and art benefactor in the rich suburb of La Jolla - until his patron dumped him late last year.

On April 25, Cunanan told friends who feted him at a going-away dinner that he was heading to San Francisco to begin a new life after first stopping to “take care of some business” with a friend in Minneapolis.

He went to Minnesota. And there, Jeffrey Trail, who had been stationed in San Diego while in the Navy, was found bludgeoned to death in the apartment of David Madson, one of Cunanan’s former lovers.

Then Madson was found shot in the head a few days later beside a lake. Chicago millionaire Lee Miglin was found bound and tortured a few days after that. Pennsauken cemetery caretaker William Reese was the fourth victim Cunanan was suspected of killing.

Though he was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List in May, Cunanan shot to national prominence only last week with the slaying of Versace outside his Miami Beach villa.

At least while Cunanan was still at large, his closest associates were not always forthcoming with information. Law-enforcement officials in San Diego have said many of his good friends were reluctant to come forward, either from fear of what he might do to them or fear of being publicly identified with him.

Many in San Diego’s gay community have suspected that men who knew Cunanan were so afraid of public disclosure that they either concealed information that would have been helpful to investigators and, perhaps under threat of extortion, may have helped finance Cunanan’s flight.

Employees of the Miami hotel where Cunanan laid low for two months have said he made numerous telephone calls, both local and long-distance. On Thursday, during a briefing in Washington, FBI Deputy Director William Esposito said investigators were aware of a call Cunanan made to an associate 48 hours after the Versace killing asking about getting a false passport and other forms of identification.

“These men, I think, are more fearful of being outted than being killed,” Brenda Schumacher, a San Diego gay activist, said earlier this week.

Clues to Cunanan’s motives may have died with him.

“Nobody will be able to ask him,” Stanley Trail, whose son was Cunanan’s first victim, told the Associated Press on Thursday. “Nobody will be able to tell me why this happened.”

One of the most predominant theories is that Cunanan discovered he was HIV-positive and that ignited his rage. A man who identified himself as an AIDS counselor at a San Diego coffee house called David’s Place has claimed Cunanan talked to him shortly before he left town and vowed revenge.

The counselor’s account is disputed by Rick Osborne, founder and proprietor of David’s Place. Osborne described David’s Place as only a quiet haven for AIDS sufferers and said it has no counselors. He said the man making the claims occasionally volunteered to work at David’s Place, but regular volunteers say they never saw Cunanan there.

What’s more, Cunanan volunteered for a project to pass out condoms and lead safe-sex discussions. In the bars he frequented, he was known to order fruit juice instead of alcohol, evidence to some that he wasn’t prone to let down his guard and have unsafe sex as people are more likely to do when inebriated.

Another theory is that he became involved in drugs and started his killing spree when he bludgeoned the clean-cut Trail in an argument over his drug dealing. One rumor sweeping the gay community in San Diego is that Cunanan had been selling narcotics and prostituting himself for months because he planned to leave his wealthy benefactor, who found out about Cunanan’s activities and kicked him out, instead.

If Cunanan, who tended to spin fantasy stories about his background, confided the truth in anyone, that person hasn’t come forward yet.

“Unfortunately, when a manhunt ends this way, the alleged criminal takes all the answers with him,” said Sabatini. “I think we’re going to have a vigorous exchange of theories, nothing more or less than that. I’ll be surprised if we ever find out what made Andrew Cunanan tick.”

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