Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrew Cunanan: After Me, Disaster

First Steps

"In my beginning is my end."

T.S. Eliot

By the time that Andrew Phillip Cunanan was born on August 31, 1969, his parents marriage wavered. The handsome Modesto Cunanan, whom Mary Anne Shilacci had met and had fallen for, looking so elegant in his Navy whites and sporting what she liked to call an Errol Flynn mustache, had not turned out to be the doting partner he had been before marriage. Wed in the naval town of San Diego, their early years were docile. After the birth of their first child, Christopher, in 1961, the couple began to tiff. Filipino-born Modesto was a member of the Fleet Marines that served in Vietnam and had remained in the Navy working for its hospital corps. Away from home quite a bit, he conjured false images of Mary Annes unfaithfulness; when daughter Elena was born in 1963 he claimed the child wasnt his. Nevertheless, his wife and children dutifully followed him to Long Beach, California, thence to New York, thence back to California from one naval town to another. In 1967, their third child, Regina, was born. When baby Andrew arrived the family lived in San Diego.

According to Maureen Orth, news correspondent and author of Vulgar Favors, Mary Anne was unable to properly care for the infant, being under a doctors care for depression. Italian born and a devout Catholic, her husbands accusations of infidelity had scarred her. Modesto, in turn, was selfishly proud of the fact that he was raising this child alone. The boy, he told everyone, "never cried."

Andrews boyhood was neither melodramatic nor comprised of the stuff nightmares are made of. Neighbors who knew them well had no reason to point fingers and yell, "Dysfunctional!" By all appearances, the Cunanans were content; happily, they often bundled together into the family auto to go to the mall or the playground or to McDonalds. When Andrew was four, Grandpa Shilacci died and left the family an inheritance, which they wisely invested into a new home in pretty little suburban Bonita. Here, little Beaver Cleaver-faced Andrew had the toys most kids had and played the games kids his age played.

The spatting between husband and wife became more chronic as the years passed. To Andrew, they were sometimes overwhelming. His fathers crackling boom of a voice and his mothers shrill screeches seared through him like a knife. But he had a medicine for this: He retreated to his upstairs bedroom where the pages of comic books and adventure novels whisked him away into other, happier, more fantasy-like yet more stable worlds. Or sometimes he would merely turn up the volume of his bedroom television to drown out the caterwauling in the rooms below. Andrew loved to laugh and the likes of his favorite sitcom, Mork and Mindy, helped him forget how negative the real world can sometimes be.

Andrew & his father, Modesto
Andrew & his father, Modesto

He rarely complained when his mother forced the kids out of bed on Sunday mornings to accompany her to Mass, nor did he show signs of a brewing rebellion when asked to clean his room and help tidy up the kitchen after dinner. He took his fathers strap for what it was worth something to be avoided.

But Andrew was no automaton. He was learning with every experience, with every discipline. He was taking mental notes of his Bonita home life like a sketch artist would record his surroundings on a pad. He noted his mothers fear of Modesto, and he noted Modestos austere authority over the Cunanan brood. He swallowed the good days and the bad days, but, as any child his age would do, he hoped every morning when he awoke that this would be one of the good days.

Author Wensley Clarkson in Death at Every Stop surmises that Andrews instinctive inner reaction to his upbringing molded the man. Says he, Andrew began to grow bitter about the whole concept of families because he believed that they were all unhappy like his. He promised himself he would stay unmarried...(He) had no interest in repeating history.

Young Andrew seated on cart with mother and siblings (Gamma Liason)
Young Andrew seated on cart with
mother and
siblings (Gamma Liason)

As Andrews comic books staled and his novels lost their inspiration, he took it upon himself to become, as it were, his own hero, more impenetrable than Superman. And what better way to eradicate domestic grief than to recreate those around him as heroes, too? Not squabbling parents, but supportive defenders of his singular crusade. He would brag to friends how rich his father was, how brave, how caring. He rattled off stories, one after another to his friends, how dad bought him this and bought him that.

His friends at first smiled at his imaginings and dreams, but the tales became so constant and they grew so unbelievable that Andrew gained the reputation as, to quote one former school chum, a pathological liar. Bonita School laughed at him behind his back. He may have sensed their skepticism, so, to accommodate his own falsities he would often prove to them just how doting his parents were. Like the time he talked his mother into bringing a hot lobster lunch to him during lunch hour so that he could savor it openly while the rest of the kids scowled over peanut butter and jelly.

In the meantime, Modesto Cunanan had retired from the Navy to upscale himself by earning a business degree. Square shouldered and in search of image, Modesto took stockbroker classes and eventually earned a certificate to practice. As part of the show, he led favorite son Andrew to the finest clothing shops in town and dressed him in label clothes with the flourish of a store mannequin. The boy loved this, for he could saunter through school halls to show off and the best part of the charade was that he didnt have to do any contriving.

His preppy clothes rubbed salt on the wounds of his denim-wearing buddies. They whispered behind his back that he was gay. Perhaps he heard the rumors about himself, but if he did he surely laughed. Image counted more than anything because it brought with it a personality that he felt he needed to erase the confusion of being a nobody. Because his preppiness visibly gave him a foundation, although fake, that is perhaps why his fathers lesson of be somebody, son stuck with him so solidly in later years. It was the only thing he learned from his father that he took to heart.

When he was 12 years old, his dress and demeanor became an oddity at Bonita and his parents enrolled him into the upper-crust Bishops School in nearby San Diego. Ivy League jackets, moderate ties and gray pressed trousers were the norm here and Andrew sported the classic look like a Greek god in apprenticeship. There was even a Gentlemens Club. Tuition in 1981 was $7,000 a year.

Bright and talkative, Andrew stood out at Bishops. Inwardly, however, he felt awkward in his adolescence. Behind the growing party-boy image, there was noncohesion. He felt confused about his emotions towards the boys and girls in his class, Clarkson states. Some of the (pushy) girls scared him...He kept comparing them to his adoring mom and none of them matched up to her...He felt more attracted to the weaker, milder children and many of them were male.

Andrew & friend '84 (Gamma Liason)
Andrew & friend '84 (Gamma Liason)


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