In the explosive season premiere of the second season of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, American Crime Story, we watched as spree killer Andrew Cunanan (played by Darren Criss) murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace (played by Édgar Ramírez) outside his Miami mansion.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace, largely based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors, is a dramatized examination of Cunanan’s months-long murder spree in 1997, leading up to his murder of Versace. The premiere episode, “The Man Who Would Be Vogue,” largely follows the immediate aftermath of Versace’s murder, from his longtime partner Antonio D’Amico (played by Ricky Martin) discovering the shot designer outside the gates of their home and the arrival of Donatella Versace (played by Penelope Cruz) to the public’s reaction to the murder.
But like the best of dramatizations before it, the season of ACS is based on actual events and people, while also adding additional details to serve the purpose of the story. In short, Murphy and writer Tom Rob Smith took a few creative liberties.
Luisa Yanez, a member of the Miami Herald editorial board and former reporter covering the murder for Florida’s Sun-Sentinel in 1997, talked Vulture through the premiere episode, revealing which details the series got factually right and which didn’t actually happen. Yanez told Vulture that details like the dead bird, Versace’s morning walk, and the police failing to follow up on an official tip from pawn shop employee concerning a sighting of Cunanan prior to the Versace murder are all accurate. But while the FX series largely captured Versace’s final morning correctly, there were aspects that aren’t actually true. For instance, she said that the bystander snapping a shot of Versace being loaded into an ambulance and later trying to sell the photo to the highest bidder never happened. She added that while Versace is shown turning to face Cunanan prior to being killed in the series, in reality, he was ambushed from behind.
However, there is one detail in the episode based on a real news report — but Yanez remains a bit skeptical about its validity.
A July 1997 Newsweek article reporting on Versace’s murder and the timeline of Cunanan’s spree documented the scene outside the fashion designer’s home, where mourners had gathered to pay their respects. It included this passage, “…one fan ripped Versace ads from a glossy magazine and daubed them in the designer’s blood, as a keepsake.”
Yeah, that apparently happened. In the episode, a tourist couple asks Versace for his autograph and he politely turns them down. Later, following his murder, the woman tears a Versace advertisement out of a magazine and dips it in the pool of blood as a keepsake. While Yanez told Vulture that Versace did turn down an autograph the morning he was killed, the nature of the crime scene would have made it impossible for a bystander to approach the spot he was killed.
“That area was sealed off for days,” Yanez said. “I remember hearing vaguely of [the fan], seeing it in a local newspaper. That might have been lore or something that happened late at night, but that house was sealed off immediately. They couldn’t get to those steps if they wanted to.”
While we would hope the report of a fan dipping an ad in Versace’s blood for a keepsake is just a rumor, people have been known to do some pretty shocking things — especially in the wake of a celebrity death.