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Police Check if Cunanan Had Help

By Donald P. Baker
and Audrey Gillan

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 25, 1997;
Page A01

MIAMI BEACH, July 24—Police removed the body of Andrew P. Cunanan at dawn today from the luxury houseboat where he died. But other than confirming that the alleged killer of five men had shot himself in the face and had left no note, they provided little new insight into what his motives for murder might have been and how he had eluded a nationwide manhunt for so long.

Federal law enforcement officials said they were looking into whether associates of Cunanan may have shielded him from the massive search that ended Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of local police and FBI agents surrounded the houseboat after being alerted by a caretaker.

Cunanan, 27, who had been described by police and his estranged mother as a gay gigolo, was being sought for a series of five killings that began in April in Minneapolis and ended here July 15 with the brazen, daylight murder of Italian designer Gianni Versace. Cunanan called several friends during his 12 weeks on the lam, including one "associate" on the West Coast within 48 hours of Versace's murder, FBI Deputy Director William J. Esposito told reporters today in Washington.

The person who received that call, which originated in South Florida, did not inform the FBI, Esposito said. But in an FBI interview subsequent to the call, he told agents that Cunanan had asked about mutual friends on the East Coast who might have a passport that Cunanan could use.

Cunanan, who did not discuss the Versace killing with this person, left no doubt that his intent was to leave the country, Esposito said.

It remained unclear exactly when Cunanan died in the climactic course of Wednesday's events. The caretaker who ran to telephone police to report that a man resembling Cunanan was aboard the houseboat, docked on the Intracoastal Waterway along busy Collins Avenue, said he had heard a shot being fired -- he thought, at the time -- at him.

After police surrounded the houseboat and launched a fusillade of tear gas, however, some bystanders reported hearing a sound that could have been the suicide shot.

When police finally boarded the boat around 8 p.m., four hours after the siege began, they found a body later positively identified as Cunanan's. According to an FBI affidavit released today, Cunanan, clad only in off-white shorts, was found on the bed in the upstairs master bedroom, bleeding through his mouth, ears and nose with a 10mm semiautomatic handgun lying on top of him.

The weapon is believed to be the same one that was used to slay Versace at his oceanfront villa 3.5 miles south of the houseboat and two of the four other victims.

The owner of the houseboat, a 49-year-old German citizen named Torsten Reineck, was interviewed extensively today by law enforcement officials in Las Vegas, where he owns a health club that caters to a gay clientele, and then released, sources said. According to public records here, Reineck bought several properties in Miami Beach, including the houseboat dock, in 1992. German government officials in Leipzig said that a man named Torsten Reineck was believed to have fled that country in 1992 to escape charges of fraud and tax evasion.

Even though Cunanan was discovered through the chance encounter with the caretaker, identified in court papers as Fernando Carreira, police today praised each other and the public response to the manhunt.

On its Web site on the Internet that displays its 10 Most Wanted List, the FBI pasted the words "Found Dead" across a photograph of Cunanan.

"He managed to get 40 blocks," said Paul R. Philip, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami office. "That's the best he could do in all this time. I think we did a pretty good job."

Added Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto, "I think he was a desperate person with very little room to move about, not only in this community, but everywhere else in the United States."

Still, Philip conceded, until Wednesday night's siege of the houseboat, "we were never that close to Mr. Cunanan."

Although Cunanan sightings were reported coast to coast after the Versace killing, police now say they believe he never left South Florida and may have been hiding in this coastal resort city all along.

In the affidavit filed in federal court here to support a request for a search warrant, FBI agent Keith D. Evans said that shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday Carreira, the caretaker, heard a gunshot as he entered the houseboat's front door, which was ajar. He then retreated -- "wisely," noted Chief Barreto -- and got his son to call police.

When police arrived moments later, Carreira assured them that no one had left the blue-and-white, two-story frame houseboat. Police blocked off a 20-block stretch of busy Collins Avenue, this city's main drag, creating a huge rush-hour traffic jam that prevented thousands of residents of the famous "Condo Canyon" across the street from the houseboat from getting to their homes until after midnight.

After numerous attempts to make contact with someone inside -- at one point police threw a telephone and long cord toward the house, and called out "pick it up" -- a decision was made around dusk to invade the house.

At 8 p.m., the first of nine rounds of tear gas were shot into the house, through an upstairs window. When there continued to be no response, half a dozen heavily armed and armor-protected members of the Metro Dade Police Department's special response team crept up to the front door and then went in.

With hundreds of thousands of Miamians watching the drama unfold from cameras aboard four helicopters operated by local television stations, the officers began a methodical search of the fancy boat, which features twin spiral staircases and 30-foot balconies overlooking Indian Creek, which is part of the East Coast's Intracoastal Waterway. Flashlights could be seen moving from room to room, and eventually lights were turned on.

About one half hour later, Miami Beach Detective Alfred R. Boza, the department's chief spokesman, announced that the initial search had turned up no one inside.

But shortly before 11 p.m., the heads of all the police agencies involved in the manhunt -- Miami Beach police, county officers, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI -- showed up at the scene; the FBI's Philip was wearing a tuxedo. A few minutes later, Barreto announced that the body of a young, white male, whose description was similar to that of Cunanan, had been found dead in a bedroom.

Confirmation didn't come until hours later, and the body was not removed until 6:30 a.m.

Among items of possible evidence uncovered, according to the search warrant, was a small safe, with a keypad and key entry lock. The report said it was not known if Cunanan had access to the safe or its contents.

Law enforcement officials today released no information about the contents of the safe and said no suicide note was found.

"We just don't know what he did," Philip said. "No notes, no videotape, no testament. . . . Maybe it will show up someplace else."

Philip said they had no indication at this point that Cunanan knew Reineck, the owner of the houseboat, and it was unknown how Cunanan gained access to the dwelling. Philip said there was no sign of a forced entry.

Reineck is well known in the large gay community of South Miami Beach, which police had theorized Cunanan might have gravitated toward during the two months they believe he had been in Florida.

"A couple of years ago there was a lot of talk about him going to build a huge spa here, but it never happened," said a hostess at the 11th Street Diner, where a poster outside the men's room advertises deep sea fishing excursions aboard "the Sissy Baby."

Records show that a company called Apollo Health Club Inc. was incorporated here, at a North Miami Beach address that Reineck had listed as his residence. But no one at that small cream bungalow today acknowledged knowing him.

In addition to the houseboat, records show, Reineck owns a condominium unit in the Imperial House, directly across the street from the houseboat. The manager there, Miriam Grossey, declined to discuss him.

In his news conference here this afternoon, Chief Barreto apologized for the initially confusing information about what police had found when they first searched the houseboat, which he attributed to a misunderstanding of "terminology."

The first reports that no one was aboard came after local police reported the site "clear," by which they meant no one was found alive. County officers, he said, interpreted that to mean no one was found.

The confusion illustrated the problems associated with a joint venture by police agencies: The smaller Miami Beach department is primarily responsible for the murder investigation. The much larger and better equipped Metro Dade force was called in only for the search, while the FBI was not officially part of the murder investigation -- its role was seeking Cunanan as a fugitive.

Staff writers Roberto Suro in Washington and Lou Cannon in Las Vegas, and special correspondent Catharine Skipp in Miami contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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