The Assassination of Gianni Versace: Fact-checking Episode Two, ‘Manhunt’

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX

The second season of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, explores the designer’s brutal 1997 murder at the hands of serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Each week, we’re taking a close look at what ACS: Versace handles with care versus when it deviates from documented fact and common perception. The intention here is less to debunk an explicitly dramatized version of true events than to help viewers piece together a holistic picture of the circumstances surrounding Versace’s murder. In other words, these weekly digests are best considered supplements to each episode rather than counterarguments. Below are the results of our digging into the veracity and potency of events and characterizations presented in episode two, “Manhunt.”

What They Got Right

The Normandy Plaza Hotel
Though Andrew Cunanan reportedly changed rooms more than once, ACS can be forgiven compressing time by jumping directly from his first accommodation to fateful room No. 322 with the ocean view. Otherwise, all the depressing details of his final lodging place check out, from the Mylanta-toned décor and decrepit hallways down to the lobby area’s Marilyn Monroe portrait and Cunanan’s affable rapport with manager Miriam Hernandez. The only minor discrepancies? The address shown on the building’s façade in “Manhunt” reads 7436, when the actual listing for Normandy Plaza was 6979 Collins Avenue. Also, all real-life documentation of Cunanan’s Kurt DeMars pseudonym spells on his passport with one “r,” not two.

The FBI fliers
As in episode one, “Manhunt” harps on the fact that FBI agents inexplicably failed to distribute fliers warning that Cunanan was on the loose in the greater Miami area, let alone within the gay community. In a flashback to the days before Gianni’s murder, G-men on hand even tell Miami PD that “fliers aren’t a priority for us right now.” Sadly, as the FBI file on Cunanan (see: page 158) illustrates, their position on that only changed in the hours after Versace had been brutally gunned down.

Donatella’s feud with Antonio
Last year, Antonio spoke publicly about Donatella’s supposed viciousness toward him, telling the Sun, “In public Donatella was crying on my shoulder and in private she was treating me like shit […] I felt she was doing everything she could to get rid of me from the business.” Donatella, for her part, told the New York Times in 1999 that, “My relationship with Antonio is exactly as it was when Gianni was alive. I respected him as the boyfriend of my brother, but I never liked him as a person, so the relationship stayed the same.” (Elton John, for whatever it’s worth, had Antonio’s back.) Their rift, underscored as it is in “Manhunt,” appears to be one of the few things all parties involved can agree upon.

The Versace family’s insecurities
Wall Street Journal writer Deborah Ball gained access to Donatella and brother Santo, among others, for her 2010 book, House of Versace. In it, she confirmed that there was a degree of jealousy and competition between the siblings, as “Manhunt” makes plain. Also, Gianni was definitely kept on his toes by then-upstarts like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. However, if New York Times fashion critic Amy Spindler’s review of all three designers’ spring ’97 runway looks is any indication, Gianni was far from done as a pioneering designer.

What They Took Liberties With

The duct tape scene
It’s not entirely untrue that Cunanan wrapped an older, wealthy suitor’s head in tape and dined on his tab. But Cunanan’s real-life submissive was Lee Miglin, the Chicago businessman whom he killed roughly two months prior to murdering Versace. And he covered Miglin’s face with masking tape, not the duct variety, and left breathing holes in his nose, as opposed to puncturing an oral opening. Also, per at least one account, pruning shears were among his weapons of choice while brutally slaying his victims. And while the show’s portrayal of Andrew gorging on lobster and mic-dropping a champagne flute were dramatic flourishes, he capped off his far deadlier encounter with Miglin by making himself a ham sandwich.

The little girl in the parking lot
According to the voluminous FBI file on Cunanan, there’s little doubt he swapped out license plates on his stolen red pickup truck at a Walmart parking lot in Florence, South Carolina, around the second week of May. (See: page 49 of said file.) This is not to be confused with widespread reports of an anonymous tip that Cunanan had been spotted at a North Carolina Walmart after killing Versace. (That lead was a dead-end.) Still, there’s no evidence of a moment when Cunanan snags those S.C. plates while a terrified little girl stares blankly at him and he grins back like a murdery creep.

The date with Versace in San Francisco
Cunanan’s claim to Ronnie about Versace having proposed to him at San Francisco’s Stars restaurant is very much the kind of story he wanted people to believe. Except this particular fib is lifted from a similarly tall tale that Cunanan spun way back in 1990, one that was debunked by the San Francisco Gate two days after Versace’s death.

The SWAT raid on Ronnie’s room
Whether Ronnie referred to his Normandy Plaza bestie Cunanan as “Andy” is anyone’s guess, but in fairness to American Crime Story, very little about their relationship is clear. For one, a Washington Post piece reported that Ronnie’s girlfriend Fannie, not Ronnie, was occupying the room when SWAT teams burst in. But CNN’s on-scene story counters that Ronnie was in fact the one stirred by their raid. The two outlets also differed on whether law enforcement found Ronnie and Fannie’s room number on a pawn ticket or business card in Andrew’s stolen pickup truck. Minor details aside, there’s not much concrete evidence that Ronnie, as “Manhunt” implies, tacitly abetted Cunanan’s getaway. He was, however, a former florist.

The night before the murder
In “Manhunt,” Cunanan stops by popular Miami Beach gay dance club Twist, nearly crossing paths with Gianni and Antonio, who apparently spent their last night together in the same venue before departing and having an emotional conversation about marriage. In fact, Cunanan did hit the town late on July 14, but it was reported to police that he was seen at rival hotspot Liquid, where he stayed for hours. Also, an employee at Miami Subs was among the many who allegedly spotted Cunanan, according to the Washington Post, but he did not actually phone his sighting into the cops like his counterpart did in “Manhunt.” To be fair, depicting a close call with the law is more dramatically taut than detectives interviewing a would-be witness days later.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: Episode Two Fact-check