How Did The Police Track Down Andrew Cunanan?

The final episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story culminates in the moment we always knew was coming: the capture of Andrew Cunanan. Hours after Gianni Verasce is murdered outside of his Miami mansion, Cunanan is named the prime suspect. In the show, Cunanan watches as his own manhunt grows more intense — his biography is pored over on the TV, his parents and his victims' parents are interviewed, and his friend Elizabeth begs for him to turn himself in. Nine days after the murder, Cunanan is surrounded by police in the houseboat where he had taken refuge. Cunanan takes his own life using the same gun he used to murder victims David Madson and Gianni Versace.
But why did it take so long for the 12 law-enforcement agencies, including 1,000 F.B.I. agents, allegedly working on the case to catch Cunanan? After all, Cunanan had been in Miami for weeks, roaming freely, before killing Versace. He even used his real name and signature at a pawn shop. The pawn shop owner submitted paperwork to the F.B.I. — but the department never followed up.
"Whomever was in charge of the paperwork had been called up, I think, to work on the Cunanan chase, and then they didn't turn in the paperwork because it was a long weekend and the guy had an extra day off, or something," Maureen Orth, the author of the book upon which ACS: Versace is based, explained to the The Hollywood Reporter.
Part of the trouble stemmed from the fact that the search for Cunanan was based in Minnesota, where his first two victims were murdered, and not in Miami. All tips and information were processed through the Minneapolis office. As the search became more extensive, the Minneapolis office — far from where Cunanan was, at that point — became strained. Over 1,000 tips were called in.
Aside from the pawn shop debacle, another missed opportunity to catch Cunanan came on July 11, when a cashier recognized Cunanan from American's Most Wanted and called the police. The police conducted a short search, and missed Cunanan in a hotel nearby. A similar occurrence happened on July 16, when sailboat owner Guillermo Volpe called the police to report that someone who resembled Cunanan had broken into the boat. Volpe told the Chicago Tribune that the investigators arrived two days after the call, and waited six days to collect any relevant evidence.
There might have been more factors at work than agency bloating and disorganization. In the finale of American Crime Story, Cunanan's acquaintance, Ronnie Holston, blames homophobia and apathy for law enforcement's delay in catching Cunanan prior to Versace's murder. "The other cops weren't searching so hard, because he killed a bunch of nobody gays," Ronnie criticizes. Now that Cunanan had killed a celebrity, Ronnie says, the manhunt had begun in earnest. The show provocatively implies that Versace died as a result of homophobia. "Had the victims been straight, in all likelihood, [Cunanan] would have been caught much sooner, and Versace would never have died," Nina Jacobson, an executive producer of ACS: Versace, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ultimately, Cunanan probably wasn't caught on July 23, 1997 because the 1,000-person F.B.I team finally figured out his whereabouts. He was caught on July because a 79-year-old home caretaker, Fernando Carreira, was making routine rounds with his wife, Luz Rodriguez, and visited a blue houseboat on the Indian Creek canal — the same blue houseboat in which Cunanan was hiding. The houseboat had been empty since Christmas; its owner, Torsten Reineck, was in Germany, and was trying to sell his boat.
Twenty years after the fact, Carreira recalled the events of that day in detail to the Sun Sentinel. When Carreira and Rodriguez approached the houseboat at 4 p.m., they found the door open, and a pair of sandals was in the living room. Immediately, Carreira knew someone was in the houseboat. Carreira took his gun from his holster — and that's when he heard a gunshot from within the boat. Carreira and Rodriquez ran outside, and Carreira immediately notified the authorities of the break-in.
Minutes later, SWAT and F.B.I. forces, helicopters, and police boats swarmed the houseboat at 5250 Collins Avenue. A mile-long stretch of Collins Avenue was blockaded, leaving many civilians stranded. Essentially, Cunanan was trapped. Police tried to goad Cunanan out of the houseboat by firing eight rounds of tear gas into the boat, and shouting "Come out!" They even tossed in a telephone, and demanded Cunanan speak to them. Five hours later, an eight-person team stormed the houseboat. They found Cunanan already dead.
Carreira is more than happy to take credit for Cunanan's capture. “The police found Cunanan because I found him,” Carreira told the Sun Sentinel. Carreira received $50,000 in award money, which he later lost due to bad investments. Still, Carreira prizes his intervention in the case. Frames filled with newspaper clippings from 1997 line the walls of his home, proof of his role in the capture of a killer who had been roaming freely for over three months since the murder of his first victim, Jeff Trail.
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