Versace: after the murder, the mystery

Now 'America's most wanted man' is dead, reports Phil Davison, the FBI hopes to learn why he took the lives he did, including - supposedly - his own

Alleged gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan may not after all have taken his secrets with him to the grave. A small portable safe found close to his body could hold vital evidence to throw light on the murders of fashion designer Gianni Versace and four other people.

FBI agents last night sought a separate search warrant to study the contents of the dark blue 15in by 18in safe after removing it from the houseboat where America's most wanted man reportedly shot himself on Wednesday. They were not sure whether it belonged to Cunanan or the houseboat's eccentric owner, Torsten Reineck, a German who owns a gay health spa in San Diego and bills himself as a diplomat from"the Principality of Sealand".

"We believe the safe may contain evidence related to the five homicides," an FBI spokesman said. Since Cunanan appeared to have had a key and to have known the combination, investigators hope he may have left either a suicide note, explanations for his alleged five murders or evidence linking him to the crimes, such as gold coins stolen from one victim. The FBI hopes to study the contents tomorrow.

A purported Cunanan suicide note was received by the Miami Herald newspaper on Friday but police did not appear to consider it authentic. The envelope was postmarked 24 July, the day after Cunanan reportedly killed himself, but the letter carried today's date, 27 July. It contained "somewhat unfocused" references to the crimes, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, the headlines no longer focus on "Cunanan"or "Versace." Now, it is "The Caretaker" who is the lead character.

Fernando Carreira, a 71-year-old Portuguese-born caretaker who says he stumbled into Cunanan on a houseboat last Wednesday was, it turns out, wielding a pistol when Cunanan reportedly shot himself. He supposedly committed suicide after the caretaker discovered him, initiating a massive police siege.

Various changes or discrepancies in the caretaker's story remain the talk of the town here, where many people still question the confused police version of how and when Cunanan's body was found. After assaulting and searching the houseboat based on the caretaker's tip, police announced they had found no one. Two and a half hours later, they said there was a body on the main bed. Only the following morning, 14 hours after initiating the siege, did they say it was the 27-year-old killer - even though the first police detective on the scene said it took him just five seconds to recognise the wanted man.

Some doubted whether Cunanan, after apparently basking in world fame, would have committed suicide merely because a caretaker may have noticed him. Others saw it as further evidence that the Italian mafia was behind last week's killing of Versace - with or without Cunanan's participation - and suggested Cunanan may have been killed to shut him up.

At a news conference here on Friday to claim a $65,000 (pounds 40,000) reward, Mr Carreira for the first time revealed his wife had been with him on Wednesday afternoon when he noticed that the houseboat on a canal off Miami Beach was not locked. He also admitted he himself had not called the police but that he had called his 15-year-old son who, in turn, phoned the 911 emergency number.

He said he and his wife went on to the houseboat and noticed some items had been moved around. "I draw my gun, then I hear 'boom' from upstairs,"he said. That, police say, was the moment Cunanan shot himself but the sudden revelation of another gun - in the hands of a 71-year-old caretaker - thickened the plot.

"For all we know, he could have been a conspirator with Cunanan," said Seymour Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach, explaining why Mr Carreira should not get the reward before the Versace murder investigation is complete.While there was no suggestion he was involved in Cunanan's death, his changing versions are fuelling further doubts among sceptics.

Mr Carreira filed a lawsuit against Miami Beach and Dade County to claim the reward and was massively backed by TV and radio phone-ins, as well as a petition billing him as a hero.

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