Versace suspect may have been set on HIV revenge

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The Independent Online
The FBI and police in the United States launched a nationwide manhunt yesterday for the alleged gay serial killer Andrew Phillip Cunanan, now the prime suspect in Tuesday's Miami Beach murder of the Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Florida police searched cars and hotel rooms and issued detailed wanted posters, describing the 27-year-old Californian as "armed and extremely dangerous". Cunanan is wanted for five murders in four states over the past three months. He has been called a high-flying rent boy, well-spoken and extremely bright, who may have embarked on an orgy of murder against wealthy homosexuals after being told he was HIV-positive.

An FBI spokesman appealed to the large gay population of Miami Beach to watch out for the suspect but not to approach him. "Everybody's got to help us get this man off the streets," said spokesman Paul Philip. A Florida police spokesman also warned: "Anyone who has had previous contact with this individual should be concerned."

Late last night a Miami Beach police spokesman said they had received "very important" information in their hunt for Cunanan. "Right now we are looking at things we believe are very important but unfortunately what's taking place right now cannot be made public because it's very sensitive.But we believe we are moving forward."

He said the information could include videos from surveillance cameras at Versace's mansion or nearby establishments, but declined to be specific. There was no confirmation of reports that Cunanan may have met the 50- year-old designer before.

The key evidence was a scarlet lightweight Chevrolet pick-up van abandoned in a public car park two blocks from the Versace murder scene with bloodstained clothes dumped around it. Almost 12 hours after the murder Miami Beach police revealed that the van was thought to be one stolen by Cunanan from a cemetery attendant he is suspected of murdering in New Jersey in May.

It also emerged yesterday that reported sightings of Cunanan in the Palm Beach area, north of Miami, caused the FBI to issue wanted posters of him two weeks ago. The steps of Versace's oceanfront mansion were turned into a shrine yesterday as curious sightseers left bouquets, sweets, trinkets or lit candles on the spot where the designer fell to the pavement after being shot twice in the head.

Meanwhile fashion designers in Lucina, Italy, prayed for Versace at a special mass in his honour. Versace shops in Rome, Milan, London, New York and Paris will re-open today, the company said in Milan.

Vendetta, pages 10 and 11

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