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Crime

The Day Gianni Versace Died: Why Did a Serial Killer Target the Fashion Icon at His Miami Mansion?

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Nearly 20 years after designer Gianni Versace was shot to death outside his mansion in Miami Beach, Florida, it’s still unclear what made him the target of serial killer Andrew Cunanan — who had already killed at least four other people in a spree that spanned several states, from Minneapolis to Florida.

Days after Cunanan, 27, took Versace’s life with two gunshots, he took his own on a local houseboat as authorities closed in. But key questions lingered about his crimes, as there did not appear to be any consistent m.o. or connection among his victims.

“He was killed almost instantly,” Miami crime scene investigations technician Berta Valdez, who helped process the scene, says of Versace, 50.

“The other victims weren’t so lucky.”

A case that has already generated years of attention will be featured in the next season of Ryan Murphy‘s anthology drama American Crime Story, on FX. Starring Darren Criss, Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramírez, it is set to air in 2018 and is previewed in an exclusive first look in this week’s Entertainment Weekly.

• For more on Versace’s shocking murder and Cunanan’s deadly spree, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

Gianni Versace in 1993
© Marice Cohn Band/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com
Alexei Hay for EW

The morning of Versace’s death began like many others: He woke early on July 15, 1997, and later headed to a local cafe to pick up some magazines.

He returned home about 8:45 a.m. and was just unlocking the front gate of his 10-bedroom mansion when he encountered Cunanan. Though it’s never been confirmed what exactly happened between them, Cunanan almost immediately shot Versace twice in the head before fleeing.

Years later, investigators are still unable to establish a definitive link between them.

Cunanan knew at least two of his other victims, an ex-lover and his friend, but his relationship to the third victim, a Chicago millionaire real estate developer, remains uncertain. The fourth killing, of a caretaker in a New Jersey cemetery, appeared to be a random crime of opportunity.

Gianni Versace’s home
Dave Allocca/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Andrew Cunanan
AFP/Getty Images

Cunanan and Versace had not met before Versace was murdered, and the FBI never believed that there was any sort of relationship between them — or that Versace even knew Cunanan’s name.

“Investigators really didn’t have what they felt was a concrete motive,” says John Kelly, a criminal profiler and serial killer expert.

Cunanan “was looking to be famous,” Kelly says, “and by killing Versace, he got what he wanted: He became infamous.”

• With reporting by CHRIS HARRIS