While Jeff Trail (played by Finn Wittrock) made a brief appearances in American Crime Story’s fourth episode, “House by the Lake,” before being brutally murdered, the most recent episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace gave viewers a deeper look at the Navy veteran, whose murder marked the first in Cunanan’s 1997 spree killing.
One of the most puzzling aspects of Cunanan’s spree murders was how the relationship between the killer and his victims were each different. He was reportedly obsessed with Gianni Versace and often claimed to have met the designer. Cunanan murdered William Reese solely for his car, and his connection to Lee Miglin is largely unknown, as the Miglin family has long said the two never mer prior to the murders. But while Cunanan’s connections with three of his victims is a mystery, the murderer was well acquainted with his first two victims, Jeff Trail and David Madson.
While Cunanan dated Madson for about six months in 1996 (Vanity Fair called Madson the “unrequited love of Cunanan’s life”) Trail and his killer were good friends for much of the ’90s.
Despite early reports romantically linking Cunanan and Trail, it doesn’t appear that the pair ever dated, although friends revealed that Cunanan was obsessed with Trail. Jon Wainwright, a friend of Trail’s, told Vanity Fair that he found the friendship between the two a bit odd, adding, “My belief is that Andrew was very infatuated with Jeff.”
Trail’s sister, Lisa, reiterated Wainwright’s claim that Cunanan was obsessed with her brother, telling the New York Times that Cunanan would often change his look to emulate Trail’s appearance. She said, “When Jeff got a haircut, Andrew had to have the exact same haircut. When Jeff went to San Francisco and got a certain style of baseball cap, Andrew had to go to San Francisco and get the very same cap. When Jeff grew a goatee, Andrew grew a goatee.”
But whatever friendship the two shared, it appeared the friendship was all but over in Trail’s eyes by 1997. Just before Cunanan visited Trail in Minneapolis, the Navy veteran told a friend that the two had a falling out. A friend named Michael Williams told Vanity Fair that Trail had “a big fallout with Andrew and never wished to see him again.” Another friend, Jerry Davis, added that despite not wanting to see Cunanan, Trail agreed to let him stay at his Minneapolis apartment, saying,“he was like a relative you didn’t like — you had to let him stay.”
Based on the numerous friends who’ve opened up about Madson and Trail’s relationships with Cunanan, it appears that in addition to being a pathological liar, Cunanan was also a manipulative person who preyed on the kindness of people close to him.
While the murders of Madson and Trail are horrifying in and of themselves, there’s an added layer of tragedy in knowing neither victim wanted anything to do with him but relented because they thought they might have been helping him through a tough spot.