Jeff Trail & David Madson’s Relationship In Real Life Is Shown In ‘The Assassination Of Gianni Versace’ Through Andrew Cunanan’s Eyes
Spoilers through the episode "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The past two episodes of American Crime Story (executive producer: Nina Jacobson) Season 2 have introduced Darren Criss's Andrew Cunanan's first two victims. But given the backwards chronology of the show, some viewers may still be confused about the real life history between the three men. In The Assassination Of Gianni Versace, Jeffrey Trail and David Madson are depicted somewhat ambiguously as having been in a relationship with each other at the time of their deaths. The episode "House By The Lake" seems to imply that jealousy over this relationship is what motivated Cunanan to murder both men. But is this really what happened?
In the opening moments of the Feb. 7 episode, Andrew invites Jeff over to David's apartment with the intention of murdering him. As David and Jeff are on the way up in the elevator, David nervously tells his friend, "He knows about us." A few moments later, Jeff is dead. Given that the real Cunanan took his own life before he could be interrogated by police, the world may never know his true motives for allegedly killing his five victims. As such, Versace writer Tom Rob Smith is forced to take some creative liberties to fill in gaps in the heavily researched narrative of Maureen Orth's 1999 non-fiction book Vulgar Favors, on which the season is based. But the idea of a relationship between David and Jeff might be one of Smith's biggest inventions, according to other sources.
In an article published four days after Versace's 1997 murder, The New York Times quoted Trail's sister Lisa as saying, "Jeff had just started a new relationship." Lisa alleged her brother was uncomfortable over Cunanan's impending visit to Minneapolis: "Her brother, she said, feared Mr. Cunanan might insinuate himself in a way that would make trouble for Mr. Trail and his partner," the article states. Although the piece never names Trail's partner, it's clear that it wasn't Madson, since the article explains that Cunanan had to spend the night at Madson's apartment because "Mr. Trail had gone out of town with his partner." Ergo, Trail's partner and the person Cunanan was staying with couldn't have been the same person.
Indeed, Orth's 1997 Vanity Fair article "The Killer's Trail" — which formed the basis for Vulgar Favors — names Trail's partner at the time of his death. "Trail had made it clear that he wouldn't be around much the weekend of Andrew's visit," Orth wrote. "His boyfriend, Jon Hackett, a student at the University of Minnesota, was celebrating his 21st birthday, and Trail was taking him out of town Saturday night." In fact, Orth's account of the murders implies that Trail and Madson weren't even that close; she states that the pair had only "casually" befriended one another after meeting in Minneapolis and realizing they both knew Cunanan.
But just because Trail and Madson weren't dating — or reportedly even particular close — doesn't mean Cunanan knew that. In fact, Orth claimed in her piece that a large part of the reason for his visit to Minneapolis was his paranoia over their relationship. "Cunanan had told a friend that he was uncomfortable having the two people he cared most about living in the same faraway city without him," she wrote, getting up to who knows what in his absence.
So why does Versace (executive producer: Alexis Martin Woodall) include the line where David worries that Andrew "knows about" him and Jeff? Well, the Feb. 14 episode, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," might clear that up. Despite seeming to imply that they were in a relationship only a week before, the show makes no mention of such a connection between Jeff and David while exploring Trail's backstory and the events leading up to his murder. In fact, David is shown inviting another man over to his apartment — although no mention of Hackett is made.
There are two possibilities that explain the "he knows" line in retrospect. One is that the scene is Andrew's imagined version of events of what happened after David went to let Jeff in; he feared that his two closest friends were in a relationship, so that's what the viewer sees. The other is that David simply wasn't referring to Andrew knowing about some secret relationship — but rather, that he knew both he and Jeff were planning to cut Andrew out of their lives after that weekend, as is revealed in the opening moments of the Feb. 14 episode. Either way, the line seems designed to instill the same paranoia in the viewer that Andrew was feeling at the time, while clearing up the truth of David and Jeff's relationship in the following episode.
Ultimately, Smith isn't writing Versace to serve as a factual tell-all of the people involved in Cunanan's killing spree, but rather to serve as a parable to highlight how life in the closet damages gay men in various ways. "If you look at the crimes themselves, they express various facets of homophobia," Smith told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. He continued:
"You have the murder of Jeff, which is clearly about someone who should have had this brilliant military career. He was the perfect soldier, utterly dedicated, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell was just such a travesty. You have people who went to give their lives for their country and to say to them, 'We don't want your life,' or, 'Your life is meaningless to us'… It seems to me irrational and cruel, and it destroys people. And then you have a very different facet of homophobia with the second victim, David. You had this brilliant young man caught up in a murder, and so ashamed of who he is that he just can't say to Andrew, 'I need to go to the police now.' Why doesn't he break from that guy much sooner? It's because he just knows, 'If I go to the police, they won't believe me.' That's heartbreaking."
Versace will continue to explore the various ways in which homophobia contributed to the tragic events of this story in the season's remaining four episodes.