Best Manhunt Tools: Publicity, Shoe Leather

Investigators turn to the public for help in tracking the elusive killer of fashion designer Gianni Versace

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The hunt for the most wanted man in America - the killer of fashion designer Gianni Versace and possibly four other men - is relying on two potent weapons: Old-fashioned detective work and massive publicity.

"It is a big country and it is tough when you don't know which direction the guy is going," says John Hanlon, a former FBI agent who directed a major serial-killer case in the 1980s. "But somebody has got to have seen this guy."

By broadcasting the suspect's photo nationwide, investigators are enlisting the eyes of the nation to help spot their man.

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Investigators say the chief suspect in the killing, Andrew Cunanan, may have been spotted by patrons of several gay nightclubs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach two weeks prior to the shooting.

Despite such sightings, here and in other parts the country during the past three months, Mr. Cunanan eluded capture. In that way, this case underscores the difficulty of apprehending even the most sought-after criminals. The alleged Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, remained at large for nearly two decades. The notorious Ted Bundy, another serial killer, escaped from a Colorado jail and murdered with impunity for a year. But in the end, they and others were brought to justice in large part due to widespread publicity.

Mr. Hanlon, now a state prosecutor in south Florida, says the FBI's $10,000 reward is too low. He says the money has to rise into the six-figure range to inspire action. "Money buys a lot of disloyalty," he says.

But the single most important tool at this point in the investigation, he says, is publicity. For example, "America's Most Wanted," a television show that enlists the public to help capture criminals, will feature him for the fifth time this weekend. The programs have generated some 450 phone calls about Cunanan.

The problem is that Cunanan, who is described by his own mother as "a high-class homosexual prostitute," doesn't appear to have any distinguishing features and seems to be able to easily change his appearance. The FBI's own wanted photos show a man who could be four different suspects rather than one.

To help make him more distinct, the FBI released added details about Cunanan. They say he has a loud boisterous laugh, likes expensive cigars, and prefers to drink Coca-Cola and cranberry juice rather than alcohol.

Crime expert Steve Egger says that at any given time, there can be several serial killers at work in the US, but police and the public are unaware of them. The big problem, says Mr. Egger, a professor at University of Illinois at Springfield and author of a recent book about serial killers, is that police departments often don't share crime information. That makes it difficult for detectives to spot similarities that could point to the same killer.

The FBI has set up a national computerized reporting system to match up information about murders, but many small police departments aren't tied in.

But in this case, Cunanan apparently wants the authorities to be able to tie the murders to him. A red Chevy pickup truck belonging to a man police believe Cunanan killed in New Jersey on May 9 was found in a public parking garage a few blocks from the Versace shooting. Inside, they found Cunanan's passport and a check with his name on it. Police suggest Cunanan, like other serial killers, may enjoy playing a cat-and-mouse game with police and that he craves the media attention.

But even though the police may know the killer's identity, it doesn't mean he will be easily found and arrested.

Egger agrees that publicity can be an important tool in solving a case, but it can also be a two-edged sword. He says the media spotlight can lead to excessive pressures on investigators and can complicate an investigation.

Eventually, Cunanan will slip up, says Hanlon. The logistics of living on the run make it practically impossible to stay out of public view for long. "He's got to live somewhere. And he's got to generate money."

Now that the warning about Cunanan has been issued worldwide, Hanlon says, agents must check out potentially thousands of tips. Each tip must be treated as if it were the key to solving the case. "It is not going to be some great innovative tactic," Hanlon says. "It is routine grunt work that is going to turn him up."

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