Andrew Cunanan, the most hunted man in America, had at least twice eluded detection by police here. But an eel-like ability to slip through the net that was tightening around him at last may have failed the suspected serial killer.
Trapped aboard a powder-blue houseboat 2-1/2 miles from the Versace mansion, Cunanan apparently used his .40-caliber pistol to take his own life.
His death Wednesday ends a nationwide manhunt and calms a jittery public, but it also makes it more difficult to finally determine what sparked a cross-country killing spree that left five men dead over a three-month period.
"There is no evidence he's left a [suicide] note, so the answer may have died with him," says James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston and an expert on serial killers.
It is unusual for such murderers to kill themselves, Mr. Fox says, but Cunanan may have done so out of a feeling his mission was accomplished. "To whatever extent revenge was a motive, he may have felt he settled the score," Fox says.
There is a second theory. "His conscience may have caught up to him faster than the police did," he says.
The biggest unsolved mystery may be why the man described as a high-priced homosexual prostitute who dated older rich men decided to target one of Miami Beach's most beloved celebrities, Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.
"For months to come, there will be an investigation of whether there was any prior contact between the two and whether Versace was specifically targeted," Fox says.
But the killing of Mr. Versace last week triggered a barrage of publicity that made it virtually impossible for Cunanan to flee or move from place to place in south Florida without being spotted, analysts say.
Until then, however, Cunanan had managed to blend in with the Miami Beach crowd for nearly two months. During that period, police missed at least two good opportunities to nab him.
On July 7, one week before the Versace murder, Cunanan pawned a gold coin he is believed to have stolen from one of his previous victims. Before receiving $190 for the coin, Cunanan showed his real passport, signed his real name, and even provided a thumbprint for a routine pawn-shop transaction report. The report, which listed Cunanan's actual hotel address on Miami Beach, was mailed to the Miami Beach Police Department, where it sat in an unsorted pile until long after the Versace killing.
The second opportunity to catch Cunanan came July 11, four days before the Versace killing, when a sub shop worker recognized him and called 911. The suspected serial killer left the shop with his tuna sandwich and disappeared moments before a police officer arrived.
MANY analysts suggest the killing spree may have been triggered by a combination of personal problems and a disagreement or falling out with a friend in the San Diego gay community who moved to Minnesota. That friend and a former Cunanan lover from San Diego were both killed in Minnesota.
Some experts have speculated that Cunanan snapped after allegedly testing positive for the virus that causes AIDS. His life in the posh La Jolla section of San Diego had fallen apart after an elderly millionaire threw him out of his oceanfront mansion and cut off a $2,500 monthly allowance.
At least two other killings, of Chicago real estate tycoon Lee Miglin and New Jersey cemetery caretaker William Reese, appear to have been crimes of convenience, experts say, with Cunanan seeking money or cars to aid his escape from authorities tracking him for the two earlier murders in Minnesota.
The end came late Wednesday, when the caretaker of a houseboat called police to report that a man who looked like Cunanan was aboard his boat and may have fired shots. That tip proved to be the break that led police to Cunanan.
In the end, analysts say, Cunanan probably got tired of being hunted. Rather than surrendering and facing a series of trials and potential death sentences, the broke and frightened fugitive apparently decided that he'd reached the end of the line.
"Cunanan was out of money and desperate. He just got tired of running," says John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," the TV show that has profiled the suspected killer several times. "This was the best possible ending for this story."
Law-enforcement officials say they are grateful that Cunanan was located before he was able to harm anyone else.
As news of Cunanan's discovery swept across south Florida, residents began to breathe easier. Members of the region's large gay community had been particularly concerned after police suggested that Cunanan might attempt to target other homosexuals.
Intense media coverage brought some 1,500 tips to FBI hot lines. At least one tip placed Cunanan on a sailboat not far from the houseboat where he was ultimately found. But investigators weren't sure he was even in south Florida until late Wednesday or early Thursday - after they positively identified his body.