Go to Main Story


Go to Today's Top News
Spacer

Spacer

Five Lives Cut Short

By Elizabeth Kastor and Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 17, 1997; Page B01

An architect and a gas company manager in Minneapolis. A millionaire in Chicago. A cemetery groundskeeper in New Jersey. A fabulously successful fashion designer in Miami.

Five men are dead, and investigators are seeking the fugitive Andrew Cunanan in the slayings. One reportedly was his former lover and one was a friend, the others either acquaintances or strangers.

A serial killer, it appears, has been wandering the country. People are grasping at theories, trying to explain away the seeming randomness of the violence. Surely there were connections between the men. Surely there was a way to make sense of all this — and, in doing so, keep it at a distance.

But whatever connections the police may eventually uncover ultimately do not matter. The meaning of lives is not in their end, even when that end is a major media event. People should not be reduced to a step in a trail of murder, a clue in the story of a manhunt.

Jeffrey Trail
Jeffrey TrailIn the late fall of 1996, Jeffrey Trail, 28, made a big change. He moved from San Diego to Bloomington, Minn., to take a job as district manager for Ferrellgas, a propane delivery company in Inver Grove Heights.

"He was really nice," said Lisa Pilot, 27, a customer service representative who worked for Trail. "He didn't know a lot about propane. He was hard-working and always willing to learn from the rest of us.

"He never got mad. He was always caring," she added, "He wasn't here all that long. We didn't get to know him very well."

Born in De Kalb, Ill., Trail was the youngest of five children. His father, Stanley, is a retired mathematics professor who taught at Northern Illinois University; his mother, Ann, a retired public elementary school teacher.

"It sounds trite, but he was a wonderful son and we're going to really miss him," said Ann Trail.

While in high school, Jeff Trail ran track, his father said. The son attended Westminster Presbyterian Church and worked at the local airport, his father said, "to be around fliers and airplanes." Jeff Trail graduated from De Kalb High School in 1987.

Trail's acceptance by the U.S. Naval Academy was a very big deal "for Jeff and for me," said Stanley Trail. After graduation in 1991, he was stationed in San Diego. For a short time after he got out of the Navy, said his father, Jeff was a trainee in the California Highway Patrol.

In San Diego, Jeff Trail and Cunanan became friends. "Jeff was the kind of guy who was always trying to help people out," the elder Trail said.

"He was kind, caring. He had very few bad habits," he continued. "He went out of his way to be helpful to people."

He said this was not just a father's pride. "This is what I've gleaned from people."

David J. Madson
Jeffrey TrailHe lived a conspicuous life in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. He owned a Dalmatian named Prints and walked him through his urban-artsy neighborhood. He drove a 1995 red Jeep Cherokee. He dressed well. He liked to dance. He ate out often at upscale restaurants such as the Monte Carlo Bar and Cafe and hip places across the river such as Nye's Polonaise Room. He was outgoing and friendly. So when David J. Madson, 33, didn't show up for work April 28, or the next day, his co-workers became concerned.

He had only been working at the John Ryan Co., an architecture and design firm that specializes in banks and financial outlets, since the early spring of 1996.

"He had sweeping design skills," said his boss, John Ryan. "He was in the process of designing banks that would go into supermarkets when he was murdered."

He labored long hours, said a company spokesman.

"He usually would come in around 10 p.m. to lift weights . . . for about an hour," said an employee of Arena Health Club who asked not to be identified. The club is only a few blocks from the Harmony Lofts Apartments, where Madson lived.

The son of a hardware-store owner, Madson was raised in Barron, Wis. He was one of four children. In high school, he was on the honor roll and student council. He won the state Quiz Bowl in 1981 and 1982 and nine medals in statewide debating competition. He played varsity baseball and varsity golf. As a senior, he high-kicked to trombone music as Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man."

After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Madson earned a master's degree in architecture from the university's main campus in Minneapolis and he won the President's Award for a traveling exhibit on AIDS. In 1994 he was a guest lecturer on assisted living for people with AIDS at Harvard. Somewhere along the way, he and Andrew Cunanan reportedly became involved in a sexual relationship.

Madson was "enormously charming," said Ryan, "full of energy and enthusiasm and joy of life. He was a conciliator and a peacemaker. He attempted to bring people together whenever there was conflict."

Lee Miglin
Lee Miglin Lee Miglin was a high-powered, hard-charging Chicago builder, a guy who made a bundle in the real estate business during the go-go '80s boom, but somehow he never fit the stereotype.

"He was not the typical real estate developer," says Stanley Tigerman, an architect who worked for him on the creation of the Chicago Bar Association building. "He was a terrific, gentle, sweet guy. Lee was very self-effacing. He was never the type to blow his own horn."

"He was definitely not anything like Donald Trump," says Mark Jerasek, who worked with Miglin for 12 years. "He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word."

Murdered in May at the age of 72, Miglin was a classic American success story. Son of a Lithuanian immigrant coal miner, he became a giant in real estate, a man who changed the skyline of Chicago. He was widely credited with inventing the business park — developments that combined office and warehouse space.

Miglin and his partner, J. Paul Beit ler, built several skyscrapers and created millions of square feet of office space, but they were best known for a project that never happened. It was going to be the world's tallest building — a slender, sleek 125-story tower called the "Sky Needle" — and it got a lot of publicity in 1989, chiefly because Beitler hyped it to the heavens. Miglin, characteristically, preferred to stay in the background, working on the financing. But when the building boom went bust the following year, the project faded away.

Miglin remained a major figure in Chicago business circles, however, and so did his wife. Marilyn Miglin was probably more famous than her husband — at least among the women of Chicago. A model before marrying Miglin 32 years ago, she became a successful businesswoman, owner of a cosmetics and perfume company and a popular Chicago makeup salon. As flamboyant as her husband was shy, Marilyn, 59, pitched her Destiny and Magic perfumes on TV's Home Shopping Network. It worked: Her company, Marilyn Miglin L.P., reported sales of more than $25 million in 1994, earning her the nickname "the Queen of Makeovers."

Her husband was impressed. "He was very proud of her and very much in love with her," says Tigerman. "He always talked about her."

Together, the Miglins were active in Chicago's social and charity scenes, raising money for the University of Chicago Hospitals and the Museum of Science and Industry, among other causes. Miglin was, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said, "a tireless contributor to Chicago's charitable and cultural communities."

The couple, whose two children are grown, lived in an elegantly renovated three-story brownstone in the posh lakefront neighborhood known as the Gold Coast. Marilyn Miglin arrived there Sunday, May 4, perplexed that her husband had not met her at the airport after her business trip to Toronto. She found their home unoccupied, the gate unlocked, whiskers in the sink, dirty dishes and a half-eaten sandwich in the kitchen. She called the police. They found her husband dead in the garage, his throat slit, his face covered with masking tape. His family has said Miglin and Cunanan did not know each other.

His green 1994 Lexus was missing. It was found a week later in a New Jersey cemetery, not far from the body of another murder victim, cemetery caretaker William Reese.

William Reese
William ReeseIt is a quiet, isolated place, a few acres of grass and cedars and somber stone markers. Finn's Point Cemetery in rural Pennsville, N.J., is surrounded by marshlands. Foxtails taller than a man spread out from the walls.

People found their way to the place looking for their past, and William Reese was waiting. He worked alone in the quiet. For more than 20 years, he had been the cemetery's caretaker, but the job meant much more to him than just keeping the grass trim and the old lodge in good repair.

When strangers arrived with an aging death certificate, or just some family legends, he was the one who helped them find their name on the Union or the Confederate monument. When strangers brought an urn holding the ashes of a dead veteran, he was the one who dug the small, discreet grave.

One of Reese's ancestors fought on the Union side in the Civil War and was buried at Finn's Point, along with a few hundred other Northerners and more than 2,300 Confederate prisoners of war who died while imprisoned in an island fort in the Delaware River. Reese was one of the founders of the 14th Brooklyn Society, a group of Civil War reenactors, and he loved the history of Finn's Point.

On his days off, he drove to the cemetery to raise the flag, went home and drove back to lower it when evening came.

The place, said Bob Shaw, a friend of 30 years, "fit him like a dress glove."

Reese died at Finn's Point. On Friday, May 10, he was late coming home, and his wife, Rebecca, went looking for him. She saw his red pickup truck was gone. In its place was a green Lexus with Illinois plates.

When the police arrived, they found Reese in the lodge. He had been shot in the head.

"Bill was a man of his word," said Shaw. "He was a humble guy, too. He would take people on face value, and I think that was probably his downfall. Who looks for a crazy man to show up at a place like that?"

Cunanan, investigators believe, was in Philadelphia in early May. The Delaware Memorial Bridge is an obvious route to 95, and Pennsville the first exit.

Reese grew up in Vineland, in the heart of rural southern New Jersey, and lived for years in nearby Bridgeton. He trained as an electrician, but grew weary of spending the day in his car traveling from job to job. He ended up at Finn's Point.

"I think his incredible respect for life, as well as what had passed, shows in how he had cared for the cemetery," said Alicia Bjornson, historic preservation specialist at the adjacent Fort Mott State Park. Her voice grows quiet, it trembles. "Everything just basically sparkled.

"I think what I find so disturbing, as the reports keep coming out with the latest victim . . . " She stops for a moment, stumbling as she tries to explain what it is like when the death of a private man becomes tangled up with the death of a celebrity and a national manhunt, when an admired friend becomes someone strangers refer to as "Reese, 45."

"To people here, he was known as Bill," says Bjornson. "I don't think anyone who lives is more important than any other."

He had a 12-year-old son, Troy. His wife is a librarian at an elementary school. Whenever you saw him, people say, you saw her. They traveled for Civil War reenactments. For a while they did puppet shows together, then took up another hobby, making whimsical country crafts (he built them; she painted) that they sold at fairs. They were very involved in their United Methodist church.

Reese had been fascinated with history since high school, but recently he had cut back on the reenactments a bit. The sun was too hard on him, and he found he was less steady on his feet. One month before he died, he confided in Shaw that he had MS. He wasn't complaining, just wanted Shaw to know.

The disease might make it impossible for him to work someday, but he tried not to think about that.

Reese is buried not in the cemetery where he spent his days and where he died, but one closer to home. On his grave his friends put up a simple wooden cross, something you might have seen near a battle field 130 years ago. They draped some laurel around the wood.

"He was a common guy and a humble guy," says Shaw. "And it's the way a soldier would want to be buried."

In all his years in the Civil War group, Reese chose never to rise to officer's rank. He wanted to be a common soldier until the end.

Gianni Versace
Gianni VersaceEarly Tuesday morning, Gianni Versace, 50, the glitzy king of high fashion, took a walk in the Florida sunshine. He was opening the gate to his Miami mansion when a man, suspected by police to be Cunanan, shot him in the back of the head two times.

Among the families and friends of other victims linked to Cunanan, there is hope that the investigation of Versace's death may help explain their tragedies.

Staff writer Peter Carlson contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top


Spacer

WashingtonPost.com
Navigation image map
Home page Site Index Search Help! Home page Site Index Search Help!