Up until last night’s episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, we didn’t know much about Andrew Cunanan’s childhood. We knew the lies he told, of course — that his father worked for Merrill Lynch in the Philippines, or that his father owned a pineapple farm. In “Ascent,” we finally get a glimpse of the family dynamics that defined Cunanan’s formative years.
As the show indicates, Andrew was the youngest of four children. In later interviews, his older siblings – Regina, Elena, and Christopher — were open about the fact that Andrew had been the family favorite. When the Cunanan family moved into a new house, for example, Andrew got the master bedroom, and only Andrew was sent to the expensive Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
“He was raised with special treatment,'' Christopher told Diane Sawyer on Primetime Live in August 1997. During the same interview, Elena corroborated Christopher’s account. “He got everything that he needed. My dad gave him a sports car. He had the master bedroom. He had his own bath and everything,” she said.
Andrew’s parents were Modesto “Pete” Cunanan, a Filipino immigrant, and Mary Anne Schillaci, an Italian-American stay-at-home mother. At the time of Andrew’s birth, Modesto was serving in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. Later, when he retired from the Navy after 19 years, Modesto worked as a stockbroker.
Mary Anne and Modesto’s values differed. Modesto emphasized social mobility, and gave Andrew a copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette primer to teach him how to comport himself in order to gain an edge in society. Mary Anne was more conservative, and a devout Catholic. In a 1997 interview, Modesto said that his relationship with his wife deteriorated when Andrew was a boy, but they deliberately stayed together until Andrew was 18.
For most of Andrew’s life, he was the flashy one. Andrew made a reputation for himself at high school for his over-the-top, dramatic nature, and was voted "Most Likely To Be Remembered" in his high school yearbook. But in 1988, the spotlight turned onto Andrew’s father. Modesto was implicated in an elaborate embezzlement scheme, and accused of embezzling $106,000 in stocks. Instead of facing prosecution, Modesto fled to the Philippines, sold the family home, and left his wife and children penniless. He and Mary Anne divorced, and she moved to a smaller home.
Andrew was studying at the University of California San Diego when his father fled. In December of 1988, Andrew went the Philippines to track Modesto down. He found Modesto living in squalor. Horrified at his father’s new life, Andrew returned to the United States after a month. According to the book Anatomy of a Motive by John Douglas (fun aside: Mindhunter was based on Douglas), Andrew worked as a prostitute who catered especially to diplomats in order to pay for his return fare.
Andrew’s parents both struggled to accept his sexuality. Around the time of his father’s fleeing, Andrew came out to his mother, though he’d long been out as gay among his peers. A fight ensued. Andrew ended up slamming Mary Anne against the wall, and dislocating her shoulder. Maureen Orth reports that Modesto always denied that his son was gay.
So, what happened to Cunanan’s family after his death? Two of his siblings, Elena and Christopher, wrote a book, Andrew Cunanan: An American Tragedy. Mary Anne subsisted off welfare and food stamps for the rest of her life; she died in 2012. Maureen Orth, who wrote the book Vulgar Favors, told Vanity Fair that Modesto eventually returned to the U.S. — but before doing so, he joined a survivalist cult and was looking for buried gold that the Japanese had supposedly left during WWII.
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