Like the first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, "House on the Lake" begins with a brutal murder. Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) lures Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock) to the Minneapolis apartment of David Madson (Cody Fern), with whom Cunanan is staying. The moment he walks in the door, Cunanan bludgeons him to death. Following that shocking act of violence, Cunanan manipulates Madson into remaining complicit and running away with him to Mexico. Like almost everything Cunanan says, this, too, is a lie. They only make it as far as Rush Lake, Minnesota, before Cunanan kills Madson with a pistol.
Since American Crime Story: Versace goes in reverse chronological order, it's not immediately clear how Cunanan knows Madson and Trail, and why they, of all people, would be who Cunanan thinks to visit after leaving San Diego. To understand why, we'll have to go back into Cunanan's timeline.
Andrew Cunanan met Jeff Trail, his first victim (who was 28 at the time of his death), in San Diego a few years prior. Trail was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and a former naval officer. By all accounts, he and Cunanan had a very close friendship — Cunanan referred to Trail as "my brother." For fun, they would go target-shooting together.
At the time of the investigation, police believed Trail and Cunanan to be romantically linked, something Trail's family vehemently denies. Instead, the Trail family believed Cunanan had been obsessed with Trail. "'When Jeff got a haircut, Andrew had to have the exact same haircut,'' one of Trail's sisters, Lisa, told the New York Times. If anything, Cunanan helped Trail find other men to hook up with. "Andrew would hook up people for J.T. It was kind of strange, actually. My belief is that Andrew was very infatuated with Jeff.” Jon Wainright, Trail's close friend, told Vanity Fair.
In the fall of 1997, Trail moved from San Diego to Bloomington, Minnesota, to work for a propane delivery company. American Crime Story insinuates that while in Minnesota, Trail became romantically involved with Cunanan's other Minneaoplis-based acquaintance, David Madson, though there is no proof of this actually being the case. The two had met in October without Cunanan, and Trail had told Madson, "You can't believe a word [Cunanan] says."
Unlike Trail, David Madson (who was 33 at the time of his death) was born and raised in Minneapolis. He was a rising star in his architecture firm, which he'd only recently joined. Madson drove a red Jeep Cherokee, had a pet Dalmatian (in the show, he has a mutt), and liked to spend his weekends dancing and partying.
Madson and Cunanan met on a night out in San Francisco in 1995. A friend of Cunanan's described their connection as being "pretty sparky" to Vanity Fair. Madson accompanied Cunanan back to the Mandarin Oriental, though they didn't have sex that evening. They started a long-distance relationship, and began experimenting with S&M, which Cunanan enjoyed.
By the spring of 1996, Madson started to distance himself from Cunanan at his friends' urging. At this point, Cunanan had moved in with a wealthy older man named Norman Blanchford, and was trying to keep his relationship with Madson secret. After Cunanan and Blanchford broke up in fall of 1996, Cunanan was free to win Madson back.
At the start of April 1997, Cunanan invited Madson for another luxury weekend in San Francisco. It had been a year since they had been together sexually. Madson rejected Cunanan's advances in the hotel room.
Two weeks later, Cunanan declared he was leaving San Diego, and threw a going away party for himself. On Friday, April 25, he arrived at the Minneapolis airport, where Madson was waiting. He said he was going back to California on Monday (though in actuality, he had purchased a one-way ticket to Minneapolis).
Neither Trail nor Madson was particularly excited to see Cunanan. “David was apprehensive about Andrew’s visit,” Cedric Rucker, one of Madson's ex-boyfriends, told Vanity Fair, especially since Madson believed that Cunanan was involved in organized crime. But neither felt empowered to tell Cunanan how they really felt. “No one would ever tell Andrew to his face—they didn’t want to hurt him,” Casey Murray, Trail's ex-boyfriend, told Vanity Fair.
Trail was let into Madson's apartment at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday the 26, where he was murdered almost immediately. After a few days on the road, Madson was killed in Rush Lake, Minnesota, on May 3.
American Crime Story is sad from the very first episode, but "House on the Lake" ratchets up the devastation by showing what a threat Andrew Cunanan posed to all the people in his life — even those who were trying to help him.