“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” spent much of its second episode dealing with Andrew Cunanan’s time on the run from the law. He arrived in Miami, ostensibly to stalk and kill Gianni Versace, but wound up spending a lot of time in the city before the eventual murder.
Cunanan (Darren Criss) is being hunted by the FBI and the Miami police in second episode of “American Crime Story,” “Manhunt.” His first stop in Miami is the Normandy Plaza hotel to rent a room to lie low. In the show, Cunanan strikes up a rapport with Miriam (Peggy Blow), the front desk clerk, and then talks his way into a new, better room. He soon meets Ronnie (Max Greenfield), another man staying at the hotel, who Cunanan asks if he knows where to score drugs.
At this point in the story, Cunanan already has committed four murders, and authorities call him a “predatory escort,” one who will target “wealthy, older, closeted gay men.” In a later scene, Cunanan picks up a man on the beach just as the FBI described.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is largely based on the book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History,” by journalist Maureen Orth. “American Crime Story” leaves out a lot of what Orth wrote about Cunanan’s time in Miami before Versace’s murder. Specifically, Orth writes that Cunanan spent a lot of time feeding a habit for crack cocaine, something shown only briefly in the episode.
In the book, Cunanan spends weeks in the first room he rented in the Normandy Plaza, staying inside during the day to avoid being recognized. Cunanan first meets Ronnie when he mentions that Cunanan could make money as a prostitute, and in the book, it’s Ronnie who helps facilitate for Cunanan as a sex worker.
Ronnie also introduces Cunanan to Lyle, a local drug dealer, in “Vulgar Favors.” As in “American Crime Story,” Ronnie said in the book he was aware that Cunanan was hiding, but didn’t know from what, and Ronnie helped him score drugs so Cunanan wouldn’t have to leave the hotel much. That didn’t mean Cunanan wasn’t seen around, though: he reportedly shopped at a local book store and was a regular at a porn shop.
The scene in which Ronnie and Cunanan smoke crack in his room is likely pretty similar to what actually happened, but “American Crime Story” leaves out Lyle, who said in the book he met Cunanan a dozen times while he was in Miami. Lyle also helped connect Cunanan with men for prostitution, in order to help maintain him as a client. Lyle told Orth that he connected Cunanan with two other male sex workers, and together they started stealing things like jewelry. According to Lyle, Cunanan was performing burglaries in addition to prostitution to keep money coming in.
In “Vulgar Favors,” Orth writes that Cunanan also reportedly tried to become a model as a way to make money, something not seen in the episode. Orth wrote that Jack Campbell, the wealthy Miami bathhouse owner who hired male models, had met Cunanan at some point earlier in San Diego. In Miami, Campbell says, Cunanan contacted him for a job, but Campbell turned him down because Cunanan wasn’t attractive enough.
A lot of what is shown about Cunanan was accurate, though. He really did pawn a gold coin and use his own name, although the address he wrote down on the pawn slip was for Ronnie’s room at the Normandy Plaza, not his own. Pawn shops turn those slips over to police so they can use them to check for stolen goods. In those days, though, the slips were mailed to police, and slips were piling up there, so no one noticed Cunanan’s.
As in “American Crime Story,” Cunanan also really was spotted at the Miami Subs Grill, where an employee did call 911 — but police arrived too late to catch him.