The versace killing: Men in black herald the end for Cunanan

Phil Davison tells how he joined Miami police for a slow assault on America's most wanted man

It was a far cry from the SAS, more of a slow-motion assault. But it had the desired effect: America's most wanted man, alleged killer of Gianni Versace, was found dead, his face blown apart by a single gunshot.

The official version: killed by his own hand, using the .40 calibre pistol he allegedly used to murder the fashion designer eight days earlier. Not everyone believed that version. It didn't seem to fit the character of the man who had appeared to be teasing police and basking in the publicity, some said.

When Florida police got a tip-off that a man resembling suspected gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan was on a river houseboat, they opted against rushing in. Instead, they sweated it out for four hours, tossing in a cellular telephone and calling on him to surrender. In all probability, he was already dead.

It was shortly before 4pm on Miami Beach, on the main Collins Avenue thoroughfare which links the city with Fort Lauderdale. The square two- storey houseboat was berthed on what they call Indian Creek, a canal-like waterway across the avenue from the beach and its high-rise condominiums. It also happened to be across the road from my apartment.

The first thing I heard was the clatter of helicopters, from the Miami Beach and Florida police and four local television stations. Police had blocked off the avenue, but a detour along the beach, over a fence and through a basement brought me opposite the houseboat alongside a heavily- armed Swat team from the Dade County police. They were not happy to see me but there was nowhere left for me to go.

"Get down. Stay down," one of the officers told me as we huddled behind a low wall. "The houseboat was supposed to be unoccupied, but a caretaker who went in to clean it said he saw an intruder, a young white male fitting Cunanan's description, and heard at least one gunshot. The caretaker's OK , we don't know who was shooting at who, or whether the suspect is still in there. But we're going in."

They did it painstakingly slowly. Protected by black flak jackets from neck to groin, some carrying riot squad shields, armed with shotguns, M-16 automatic rifles or stubby machine pistols, dozens of Swat men ran across the avenue, between the palm trees, and took up positions on the quay. Some crawled on their bellies towards the ramp leading to the houseboat. Others squatted behind a red and white four-wheel drive parked beside the houseboat.

They maintained those positions for four hours, once tossing a cellular phone up the ramp towards the houseboat door. "Talk to us. Talk," I heard one Swat man shout.

There was no response. As time wore on, the policemen looked increasingly relaxed as though they believed there was no one inside, at least alive.

"Come out, come out now!" the lead Swat man yelled from behind a shield with a slit for his eyes. He repeated it several times, but there was no response. Just after 8pm, as the sun went down in that unique Miami pink, Swat men fired three bursts from what appeared to be tear gas grenade launchers. Then five more bursts, sending smoke up from a corner of the houseboat. That was when the lead man moved in, up the ramp, followed by five other officers in single file.

They pushed the door open and burst in. The houseboat had been shuttered, but the open door revealed that the place was lit. They moved around slowly, almost casually. Within minutes, I was allowed to move on to the avenue where a policeman's walkie-talkie crackled: "Negative on the initial search." Miami Beach police spokesman Al Boza showed up at the police cordon and told reporters: "It appears no one was inside."

Curious sightseers began to go home. But around 10pm, FBI Special Agent, Paul Phillips, showed up in dinner suit and bow tie and helicopters began whirling overhead. Miami Beach mayor, Seymour Gelber, told reporters that he believed Cunanan had been found dead inside. A police officer told me, yes, they had found a body after a second search and, yes, it looked like Cunanan. How they had missed the body on the first search, he did not explain.

On the street, people expressed relief but many expressed scepticism over the official version. Some wondered whether police may have shot Cunanan. I heard no shots other than the dull thud of what appeared to be tear gas grenades.

"Now we'll never know why he killed Versace, if indeed he did," said Antonio Avila, a cab driver based outside the Fontainebleau Hilton, a few hundred yards from the houseboat. "Still, he's off the streets. That's what matters. We can all breathe more easy now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor