FBI missed Versace clues

Cunanan ignored manhunt to sign real name on pawnshop receipt
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The Independent Online
Eight days before he allegedly murdered Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, Andrew Cunanan, already on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list in connection with four earlier murders, walked into a Miami Beach pawnshop and asked if he could pawn a gold coin. He pretended to bargain with the shopkeeper, Vivian Oliva, - "You know what I went through to earn this?" he asked her, flashing a smile of perfect teeth - before settling for a reported $190 (pounds 111).

Most wanted or not, the 27-year-old Californian coolly and clearly signed the sales receipt "Andrew P Cunanan", and did not hesitate to give Ms Oliva the legally-required thumbprint for the transaction. It was the first fingerprint of the alleged gay serial killer, now wanted for at least five murders in four US states. And, according to Ms Oliva and her records, she posted a copy of the receipt, complete with thumbprint, to Miami Beach police the following day, 8 July - again, a legal requirement.

Neither the local police nor the FBI, which had been tipped off that Cunanan was in Florida at least at the beginning of July, has so far said whether they had seen the document before Ms Oliva, recognising Cunanan after the Versace murder publicity, called them last week. Versace, the 50-year-old who dressed and befriended celebrities and royals, was shot twice in the head outside his Miami Beach mansion on 15 July, with Cunanan the sole suspect.

Had the police or FBI reacted to the pawn document, they would only have had to walk round the corner from the Cash On The Beach pawnshop on 71st Street, to the Normandy Plaza hotel on Collins Avenue, where it is now known Cunanan lived for around two months before allegedly shooting the designer. He even left the hotel address with the shop.

Now, embarrassed police and FBI spokesmen say the gold coin was one of several stolen from Chicago property magnate Lee Miglin, 72, allegedly Cunanan's third victim in early May, after he was brutally tortured and killed with garden shears and a chainsaw. Hence the black humour of Cunanan's "You know what I went through to earn this" remark.

Admitting the FBI had been tipped in early June that the suspected serial killer was in southern Florida, an FBI spokeswoman, Coleen Rowley, said: "In retrospect, some of the calls received before the last [Versace's] murder were probably accurate."

It is an admission of small comfort to the Versace family, and friends of Cunanan, who have now been warned they are in danger, or to Miami Beach's large gay community, which has been living in fear for the past week.

"We're still going out, but everybody's looking over his shoulder and no-one's walking home alone," said Gary, a 25-year-old homosexual, sipping a beer in the Palace Grill, a seafront cafe favoured by gays only 100 yards from where Versace died.

"We're scared. But we're also angry. The FBI obviously knew this guy was on the loose around here long ago," said Olivier, 40, who was drinking at the Liquid nightclub on nearby Washington Avenue, where Cunanan is now reported to have been drinking until 5am on the day he was killed.

"There's a lot of locksmiths out there making a lot of money out of us right now," added David, a 31-year-old drinking in Twist, a gay nightclub where Versace was seen in the past. "And there's an awful lot of Fed-looking hunks and bulky telephone repairmen doing pathetic gay imitations in our bars."

Miami Beach police now say Cunanan, with posters of his various disguises plastered around the nation, may be dressing as a woman to escape capture. Women's underwear, hair-clippers and dye were said to be among the items he left behind in the Normandy Plaza hotel.

The FBI and Miami Beach police have been trying to deflect criticism from day one of the Versace case, when they withheld Cunanan's name as a suspect for nearly 12 hours, although they suspected him immediately. For the FBI, it has so far been another poor-showing exactly a year after the crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island. The Bureau was heavily criticised by relatives of the victims for its off-on theories of accident-or-sabotage and its failure to come up with a cause or to eliminate the theory that the plane was brought down by a missile.

It was also a year ago that the FBI made its renowned blunder of arresting a security man, Richard Jewell, for the Olympic Games bombing in Atlanta. The Bureau leaked his name as the prime suspect and searched his apartment for weeks before conceding it had no evidence against him and apologising.