Two months before Andrew Cunanan killed Gianni Versace, another murder was already making national headlines—the savage killing of Lee Miglin, a self-made real-estate tycoon. Authorities did not immediately link Cunanan to the killing—his third murder in a spree that spanned from Minneapolis to Miami. Even so, the real-estate developer’s affluence, his position as a philanthropic society fixture alongside his Home Shopping Network empress wife, Marilyn Miglin, and mysterious circumstances made the killing the focus of intense media interest.
On May 4, in the toniest neighborhood of Chicago, Miglin was murdered at the property he shared with his wife while she was out of town on business. The Chicago Tribune reported that Miglin’s body “was discovered in a detached garage, tucked under a car and obscured by a trash can. Miglin’s feet were bound together and his face was carefully wrapped in masking tape, except for a hole for his nose, sources said. The masking tape was soaked in blood, as were Miglin’s shoulders and chest, sources said.”
“The murder was brutal and had grisly, ritualistic overtones: Miglin’s hands and feet were bound, and his body was partially wrapped in plastic, brown paper, and tape,” wrote Vanity Fair contributor Maureen Orth. “His ribs had been broken, and he had been tortured with four stabs in the chest, probably with garden shears. His throat had been cut open with a garden bow saw. According to friends, however, the autopsy revealed no sexual molestation.”
When Miglin’s 96-year-old mother, Anna, heard these details, she told press that her son had “died a worse death than Christ.”
Perhaps even more mysterious than the murder scene, however, was the condition of the Miglins’ home when Marilyn returned to it. According to Orth, the murderer had slept in Miglin’s bed, eaten a ham sandwich in the library, shaved in the bathroom, and bathed in the bathtub. The killer, it appeared, had been in no hurry to leave the duplex—and when he did, he is said to have helped himself to as much as $10,000 in cash and several of his victim’s suits. These details, along with the facts that Miglin did not have defensive wounds and there were no signs of forced entry in the home, suggested that Miglin might have known his killer, or immediately acquiesced to a threatening intruder.
In her book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, Orth included more details about the crime scene: that a tube of hydrocortisone cream was found under Miglin’s body; he was wearing Calvin Klein bikini underwear, jeans (with an open zipper), and just one Ferragamo black suede shoe. His ankles were bound by an orange extension cord, his chest was weighed down by two bags of cement, and “the wrapping of Miglin’s face resembled the latex masks Andrew seemed so intrigued with from watching S&M pornography.”
Once police found Cunanan’s stolen Jeep parked around the corner from the Miglins’ home—linking Cunanan to the crime—they discovered several other clues inside: a copy of Out magazine and a tourist pamphlet.
With the benefit of hindsight, Orth’s book, and additional research, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story writer Tom Rob Smith views Miglin’s murder as being uniquely reflective of Cunanan’s personality.
“The murder of Lee Miglin is full of Andrew’s monstrous thoughts about how he’s furious with the world and how he’s attacking both the reputation and the successes of Lee Miglin,” Smith told Vanity Fair . “And that again is spoken to by the women’s clothing, the pornography left around the body of Lee Miglin. In the same way that terrorists try to talk to the world, Andrew’s trying to talk to the world through these monstrous acts.”
“Lee Miglin really was an extraordinary embodiment of the American dream,” added Smith. The future mogul sold pancake batter out of the trunk of his car before finding real estate.“I found it very inspirational reading about his journey from being the seventh child of a coal miner who was worth nothing, earning his way into the heights of Chicago society through tenacity and brilliance and the amount he gave back.”
Speaking about the extremely violent nature of the murder, Smith reasoned, “If you can’t communicate to the world through creation, you communicate it through destruction. And that’s how a very clever, genuinely clever young man who had never hurt anyone ended up doing this horrific, horrific thing. The process seems much closer to radicalization and terrorism than it is to the pathology of a serial killer.”
In the aftermath of the murder, reporters and authorities tried to find a link between Miglin, who appeared to have been happily married for nearly 40 years, and Cunanan. Cunanan had a history of being “kept” by wealthy older boyfriends, and was rumored to have worked as an escort. Was Miglin one of the men Cunanan rendez-vous-ed with during his days on the “sugar daddy” circuit?
Authorities also questioned Miglin’s surviving son, Duke, a handsome actor at the time. According to Orth, Cunanan had casually name-dropped Duke—and an unnamed “rich family in Chicago”—on several occasions in his lie-filled conversations with family and friends. There were suggestions that Cunanan could have known Miglin: one of Miglins’ neighbors told Orth that she saw Miglin during the weekend of his murder “with a young man with dark features wearing a baseball hat.” A sex worker also told Orth about being hired twice by a man named “Lee”—whom the worker believed to be Miglin.
Investigators suspected a relationship between killer and victim as well.
“Why would Cunanan go to Chicago, find Miglin, and torture him without some motive?” investigator Todd Rivard of the Chicago County Sheriff’s Department asked Orth, testing the logic of the killing being random. Gregg McCrary, senior consultant of the Threat Assessment Group and former supervisory special agent of the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, added, “I’d say it’s highly probable that [Cunanan] knew Miglin. Would this guy let some stranger in off the street? The answer is no. Either [Cunanan] knew of the guy or knew his son. The idea that he just picked him up off the street and stalked him and tortured him and then killed him is bizarre—not the most likely scenario.”
As recently as last year, however, Duke Miglin maintained that there was no connection between his father and Cunanan before the murder.
“There was no relationship whatsoever,” Duke Miglin told ABC, adding that any reports to the contrary were “very hurtful, very painful, for me personally . . . there were attacks on me as well that I really didn’t appreciate. And I still don’t.”
Even reporters at the time were left stymied, like John Carpenter, the lead reporter on the story at the Chicago Sun-Times. “To me, what everybody always felt was that it was clearly somebody who knew that Marilyn Miglin was away for the weekend,” Carpenter told the Chicago Sun-Times this week. (Miglin’s family has maintained that the killer could have known Marilyn was out of town by listened to a voicemail she left for her husband, alerting him of what time she would return to Chicago on Sunday.)
Though the family maintains that the murder was random, the creators of American Crime Story clearly believed differently—as evidenced by Wednesday’s episode, which suggests Cunanan and Miglin had a romantic relationship.
American Crime Story executive producer Brad Simpsonsaid this week that the episode “dramatize[s] what we believe happened that weekend starting from the established facts of the crime scene. Based on the evidence, we believe that Lee and Andrew did know each other, and [that] Andrew’s attack, as with all his victims except for William Reese, was targeted and specific. We used Maureen Orth’s book and consultancy, as well as the FBI records and the statements from witnesses inside the records for research and background.”
When asked whether she felt any conflict over the series depicting Lee Miglin as gay—in direct contradiction to the message the Miglin family has stuck with since his death—actress Judith Light who portrayed Marylin in the episode told Vanity Fair’sStill Watching podcast: “I don’t contradict it. That’s not my business. That’s for other people to talk about and to discuss. . .I would never, ever add anything to a dynamic of people who are suffering through a tragedy.”
Actor Mike Farrell, who plays Miglin, said that “a further manifestation of the horror of” the murder is “a kind of inability or unwillingness to accept what I think is a very real and very natural part of this man’s life.”
In the aftermath of the murder, Miglin’s wife, Marilyn, worked through her grief by throwing herself back into work—appearing on the Home Shopping Network just three weeks after the funeral.
“I just agonized over it, but I was determined to not let adversity affect my life, so I got on that plane feeling more alone than I ever felt in my entire life. . . I decided that I would hide in front of the camera,” Marilyn told press in 1998, explaining why she returned to work so quickly.
A former model and dancer who built a $50 million cosmetics empire and earned the nickname “the Queen of Makeovers,” Marilyn was firm in her refusal to believe the rumors about Lee, saying, “We don’t even think about it. We know who we are and what we stand for.”
Speaking about her unwillingness to let her husband’s murder destroy her, she told the paper, “I will not let one evil force run my life . . . I won’t acquiesce to that.” As for the fact that—like Donatella Versace in the aftermath of her brother’s murder—she did not show the world she was mourning, Marilyn said, “Weeping publicly wouldn't have been good for me or my family . . . someone had to take charge.”
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Versace: American Crime Story Cast and Their Real-Life Counterparts
Édgar Ramírez as Gianni Versace
The Emmy nominee stars as the limited series’s namesake, the flamboyant designer murdered in Miami at the peak of his career.Photo: Left, by David Lees/The LIFE Images Collection; Right, by Rachel Murray, both from Getty Images.
Penélope Cruz as Donatella Versace
The Oscar-winning actress goes blonde to play Versace’s sister, who took over the creative aspects of her brother’s fashion empire after his murder.Photo: Left, by Catherine McGann; Right, by Samir Hussein/WireImage, both from Getty Images.
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan
Criss has come a long way from his Glee days; he plays serial killer Cunanan, who ended his cross-country murder spree by killing himself before the police could apprehend him.Photo: Left, by Jamie Scott Lytle/Sygma; Right, by Mike Windle, both from Getty Images.
Ricky Martin as Antonio D’Amico
The Latin pop sensation shows off his acting chops as Versace’s longtime partner, an Italian designer with a fraught relationship to the Versace family.Photo: Left, by Alberto Roveri/Mondadori Portfolio; Right, by Venturelli/WireImage.
Finn Wittrock as Jeff Trail
The Ryan Murphy-verse regular plays Jeff Trail, a stalwart military man who becomes Cunanan’s first victim.Photo: Left, from The Star Tribune/A.P. Images; Right, by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic.
Mike Farrell as Lee Miglin
The onetime *M.**A.**S.*H. star plays Miglin, a Chicago society fixture murdered by Cunanan.Photo: Left, by John Reilly/Sygma; Right, by Alberto E. Rodriguez, both from Getty Images.
Cody Fern as David Madson
The Aussie star plays Cunanan’s lover turned victim, the second man killed during the murderer’s spree.Photo: Left, from A.P. Images; Right, by Amanda Edwards/WireImage.PreviousNext
Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair’s website.