This Real Benefactor May Have Inspired Andrew Cunanan’s Obsession With Gianni Versace

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As American Crime Story Season 2 continues its backward trajectory through time, another strange chapter in its subject's life will be put under the microscope. Andrew Cunanan's relationship with Norman Blachford is The Asassination Of Gianni Versace's next focus, in the Feb. 28 episode, titled "Descent." For those fans wondering what the show would be about now that the entirety of Cunanan's allleged cross-country killing spree has been depicted, don't worry: there's still plenty of tragic material left in Cunanan's life to examine in the season's final four episodes. Spoilers ahead.

What was Andrew Cunanan doing before he flew to Minnesota, murdered Jeff Trail, and abducted David Madson? That's the subject of "Descent," which presents the show's version of Cunanan's time in San Diego, and his relationship with an older, wealthy man, played by Michael Nouri. Viewers have already gotten to know Cunanan's habit for lying about his extravagant lifestyle; but for a while those lies were true. Per the episode, he lived large off the dime of Norman Blachford, a retired millionaire in his 60s, and enjoyed all the excesses and privilege that he so envied Gianni Versace for. But how accurate is this plot?

According to an article in the San Diego Reader published after the first four murders but before his assassination of Versace, Cunanan met Blachford in Scottsdale, AZ, which is typically filled in the winter with citizens of La Jolla, an affluent San Diego neighborhood. In Maureen Orth's 1997 Vanity Fair article "The Killer's Trail" — which would go on to become her 1999 non-fiction book Vulgar Favors, on which Versace is based — she states that Cunanan began accompanying Blachford everywhere under the pretense of being his "decorator."

Blachford himself was a member of Gamma Mu, an "extremely private fraternity of about 700 very rich, mostly Republican, and often closeted gay men," as Orth describes. In 1995, Cunanan convinced Blachford to move permanently to La Jolla (citing "allergies he encountered in [Arizona]," according to the Reader), and enjoyed a lavish allowance given to him by his older consort. Orth reported that Blachford gave Cunanan "$2,000 a month, and provided him with a 1996 Infiniti I30T to tool around in." She added that they traveled to the South of France and Paris in June of 1996 and also to New York City to see shows.

During his time with Blachford, many of the older man's friends and associates seemed to notice Cunanan's penchant for spinning elaborate lies — but the young man was charming enough to get away with it. "He was young and attractive, entertaining, good company — what's not to like?” Orth quoted one acquaintance as saying. But Cunanan was also “sad on two levels: He's got a lot going for him, I thought. He doesn't need all this sham. He was also a young man ultimately with no career ambitions in any direction. He pretty much said he was interested in older men for their financial situations. He made no bones about that, and he would say it in front of Norman."

Eventually not even Blachford's level of extravagance was enough for Cunanan. The young man moved out of Blachford's home, complaining to his friend Tom Eads that his patron was "too cheap," and he was tired of his "nickel-and-diming," according to Orth's article. She also reported that Cunanan wanted an even nicer car, to fly first class more often, and to repaint all the rooms in Blachford's La Jolla home. When he moved out, "Cunanan was astonished that Blachford would let him go," she wrote.

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Ultimately, his separation from Blachford may have been a contributing factor to Cunanan's subsequent downward spiral. It was after this breakup that Cunanan grew even more obsessed with Jeff Trail, becoming the ex-Navy man's "constant companion," according to another article in the San Diego reader published a week after the first.

"I asked Jeff how Andrew was making ends meet after being frozen out by Blachford," the article quoted Michael Williams, a friend of Trail's, as remembering. "Jeff said, 'You know, I think Norman was giving him an allowance for a while, but I know that he's back to his old profession.' And I said, 'Profession? Why? What was his old profession?' And Jeff said, 'Oh, well, he sold drugs.' Cocaine. Crystal meth, ecstasy. And I think that that affected Jeff a lot. I think that if Jeff suspected that, he didn't want anything to do with it. And there became a huge distance between the two at that point, the end of last year." Of course, viewers will already know how that strained relationship allegedly ended.

There is one other interesting wrinkle in Cunanan's story introduced by his relationship with Blachford. According to Orth, the La Jolla house that he convinced Blachford to buy previously belonged to Lincoln Aston, another wealthy elderly friend of Cunanan, who was found bludgeoned to death in his home in 1995 — the same manner of death in which Trail was killed, only this time with a stone obelisk instead of a hammer. Eventually, a young drifter named Kevin Bond pled guilty to the murder, and San Diego police remain "satisfied with his confession," according to the Reader. But some people have their doubts, including someone who was close to Cunanan.

Ray Mickshaw/FX

"I do think it's a possibility," Williams told the Reader. "I think it's very odd that the man was killed in that fashion, and Jeff was killed in that fashion. And Jeff told me Andrew told him he — Andrew — was the one who found [Aston's] body." We may never know whether Cunanan had anything to do with this sixth death… but the question itself is yet another reason why Cunanan's story remains so fascinating 20 years later.