Well, as we suspected last week, this mini-series is really becoming The Andrew Cunanan Story dressed up as a high-fashion murder. And the thing is, that’s okay: As true crime goes, it’s fascinating stuff. Cunanan’s spree is a solved crime that’s also forever an unsolved mystery. We know who did it, but we can only ever grasp at why. There are so many blanks to fill in with reporting and analysis and extrapolation, but in the end, the only way to finish the puzzle is to guess. And while Versace was Cunanan’s flashiest victim, the story didn’t begin or even end there, and American Crime Story is doing an admirable job trying to make sense of the insensible. Here, it outlines all we know and the best anyone can guess about his first and second victims, who were connected and in quick succession.
Sometimes, of course, that means trying to find something sympathetic in the guilty. It’s almost like we can’t possibly believe that anyone is just simply a psychopath, so we reach and dig and scrape for something to latch onto that makes the person relatably human. Maybe in Cunanan’s case, he was. Or maybe he was just insane.
This episode almost toes both lines. I had just read Maureen Orth’s Vanity Fair piece — dated 2008, but it reads like she wrote it much closer to 1997 — about Cunanan’s spree, which draws in particular detail the deaths of Jeffrey Trail and David Madson. It begins with Cunanan’s flashy days in San Diego as a gigolo and a kept man of sorts with a rich sugar daddy, which is where he met Trail and Madson, both ultimately Minneapolis-based. The show does not clarify Cunanan’s relationships with them, but the article does: Trail was a man Cunanan considered a best friend, and Madson was the love of his life, and both of them — Trail first, then Madson — slowly began to see through Cunanan’s lies and eventually stopped even feeling sorry for all the reasons he might’ve been telling them.
The facts, as Pushing Daisies would say, are these: Trail died in Madson’s apartment by Cunanan’s hand, but remained there for days before he was discovered. Eyewitnesses saw Cunanan walking Madson’s dog with him on what would be the day after the murder, before they dropped out of sight and out of touch. A panicked Madson coworker finally convinced the landlord to let her into David’s apartment to check on him, which is how they discovered both the body rolled up in a rug, and energetic blood spatter. Cunanan had created enough confusion that the cops mistakenly believed he was David Madson’s victim; by the time the coroner identified Jeff Trail’s body, Cunanan and Madson were long gone.
History does not seem to connect Trail and Madson romantically, but the show gives them a scene together in an elevator that hints to a crime of passion or at least of betrayal on Cunanan’s part. It’s not disputed that he loved Madson, and the show alleges he proposed, and that Madson had only stayed in Cunanan’s life because he was still in the stage where he thought hurting Andrew was like kicking a puppy. Trail had hardened to Andrew. Given that Cunanan eventually used Trail’s gun to kill Madson, the theory presented here is that he stole Trail’s weapon as a way of luring Trail to Madson’s apartment, so he could kill him in full view of Madson and thus create a situation in which Madson had no choice but to leave with him. A forced happy ending by homicide.
Considering we know the outcome, the show is really adept at replacing “what will happen” with a palpable sense of dread about when and how. For example, the second Trail enters the apartment, Andrew flies at him so fast with a hammer and bashes his brains in so repeatedly and violently that the viewer wants to scramble away almost as fast as poor Madson does. That one is fast; Madson’s march to death is much slower and more agonizing, even though we know where it’s going. No one really knows how Cunanan worked over Madson. The show posits that he expertly manipulated him, first by claiming he simply lost control of himself, then by nursing him through shock gently enough that he had time to plan his next step. Which was, calmly, coolly elucidating all the reasons why not to call the cops, including telling Madson the cops hate gay people and pretending flight was an act of love: “I’ll get 30 years, but you’ll get 10 years. I can’t let you ruin your life,” this Cunanan tells Madson. He also dissuades Madson from calling his father, claiming it would ruin his life as well. Their final joint escape, the show suggests, was prompted by being afraid the landlord would enter and discover the body with Madson still there looking guilty as sin.
The road trip is all Andrew being completely deluded — cranking “Pump Up The Jam” and eating burritos from the back of Madson’s car — and David looking bummed and scared. Cunanan is shown telling one puffy lie about how they can stop in Chicago and get some money from a business associate, the unknowingly doomed Lee Miglin, and how his business in Mexico will boom and they can live a rich life there together. He goes on and on about how it’s okay if David wants to leave him down there, of course, “and I respect that,” but they wouldn’t have anyone else but each other. “You should really start thinking about your new life. What you want to do with it,” he says. A metastatement about Andrew Cunanan if ever there was one, as this is a man who created tens of new lives for himself, often at the same time.
David is portrayed as being in utter disbelief the entire time, visibly afraid Andrew will kill him despite Andrew’s assurances that he loves him too much to cause him harm. At one point, he rambles about being scared of what the cops will dig up about him, and how it will affect his parents’ lives in his small hometown: “Who’s going to buy anything from my dad’s shop?” he murmurs.
Eventually David appears to realize he can’t win, so he starts challenging Cunanan about his lies — both in Minnesota and in his flashy life in San Diego. “You never worked for anything. It was an act… You loved [Jeff]. It was so obvious. But he figured you out in the end. It took him a few years, but he finally saw the real you, and you killed him for it.” Andrew blinks a few times and the brightly insists they can have that life again in Mexico, but ten times better, thanks to all his fancy business deals. “You can’t do it, can you?” David marvels. “[You can’t] stop.”
And when David finally realizes Andrew planned killing Jeff in front of him all along, he signs his own death warrant. Andrew, the very picture of agony and disillusionment, shoots his former lover in the back as he tries to run for his life.
Is that how it went down? Who knows. They had the bodies, they had the weapons, but they never got to ask the killer any questions. And so he moved on to richer pastures, and bigger murders.