It was a brilliant hideout for an audacious killer. A man on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list went to the most obvious place, the place law enforcement agents would seem most likely to look.
Miami Beach was the safest place for Andrew Phillip Cunanan.
Cunanan, wanted in the slaying of designer Gianni Versace and four other men, apparently moved about freely -- at least once using his real name -- for two months here.
Now people in Miami Beach are beginning to remember a handsome 27-year-old in their midst and wonder why he had not been discovered in this renowned mecca for the rich and gay who provided sustenance for Cunanan's gigolo lifestyle.
"It's not surprising that he'd come here. It's surprising that he has been here for two months and nobody found him. You would think this would be one of the top three or four places in the country to look for him," said a Miami Beach resident, Veggo Larsen.
According to accounts now emerging, Cunanan used his real name -- and passport -- at a pawnshop just two weeks ago. He made only minimal effort to hide his tracks elsewhere. For two months, he had been registered using a French passport at a hotel under an alias not much different from one he had used in the past.
Before Tuesday's slaying of Versace, Cunanan apparently parked a red pickup truck stolen from his last murder victim -- a truck clearly being sought by authorities -- openly on the street and then in a city parking garage. He left clues to his whereabouts in the truck.
An adult book store owner says he thinks Cunanan was the man who stopped by weekly to buy gay magazines. A pizza store clerk remembers Cunanan as the fellow who tried to borrow a dollar. The hotel maid got to know him as the man who never said "Hi." Except for a small goatee, he did little to disguise himself, say those who saw him. However, late last night, police in Miami Beach issued a statement saying that Cunanan may have shaved his facial hair and be posing as a woman.
Yet the intense manhunt for Cunanan still has failed. Local and federal authorities on Friday swarmed to a swank Fort Lauderdale apartment complex 30 miles north of here after a report that a nervous man who looked like Cunanan had asked for directions to an apartment address on a driver's license.
There is no indication they found Cunanan's trail, and they acknowledge they still do not know where he is. But they are gradually learning more about where he was. For two months, that was Miami Beach.
"This is such a destination for gays, no one is surprised he came here," said a man in a gay bar who gave his name only as Dave.
For Cunanan, who reportedly made his living from seduction, charming his way into the bedrooms and bank accounts of older men, this was an obvious hideout. Miami Beach lives on seduction: the seduction of the sun, of the beach, and of preening people.
It is a town where the beautiful body reigns, where slinky models come to be seen, where muscled, gay men strut about with oiled chests and even the tourists get a kick out of playing the part in sleazy clothes they would never dream of wearing in public at home.
"It's new, it's young, it's a lot of pretty people, it's a lot of flesh," said television producer Robert Schenkel, 58, watching the crowd on the beach. "There's an overtone of sex, drugs, gay life, fast life, music. It's a place to have fun."
This same allure brought Versace, who created a fashion capital out of Miami Beach. The place took on an image that was from his world: super models, tan skin, sashay and swish; air kisses, cell phones and chiffon.
"It's definitely not a part of mainstream America," said Larsen. "It's a place where someone can reinvent themselves."
This was Cunanan's element. There is money here in Miami Beach: One needs only watch the slow crawl of Porsches and stretch limos to envision the opportunities for a gigolo and con artist, the description of Cunanan delivered by his own mother.
For two months, Cunanan stayed in a $36-a-day hotel, an aging pink deco building a few miles north on the Miami Beach strip from Versace's own renovated hotel-cum-mansion. Police found a business card among material recovered from a red pickup truck that had been abandoned on the third-level of a city parking garage two blocks from Versace's oceanfront villa. The truck had been stolen from a New Jersey cemetery caretaker Cunanan is charged with killing.
Room 205 was written on the back of the card. Miami Beach police got a search warrant for that room, and a SWAT team burst in Wednesday evening, surprising its occupant, Fannie Redmond, an employee of a nearby fast-food restaurant who has shared the room for the last year with her boyfriend, Ronnie Holston.
"They thought we were hiding him," said Holston, 43, an unemployed floral designer. Later, hotel manager Miriam Hernandez went through the hotel's registry and found that a room had been rented to a man who used a name similar to Andrew DeSilva, an alias Cunanan has used. The guest had changed rooms twice, ending up in a third-floor corner apartment.
The Normandy Plaza also was the address Cunanan gave July 7 at Cash on the Beach, a pawn shop around the corner from the hotel. The man brought in a rare $50 American coin. Federal agents, who now have the coin, are trying to determine if it was stolen from Lee Miglin, the Chicago businessman who is believed by federal agents to be the third of five Cunanan victims.
Surprisingly, Cunanan gave his real name -- and produced his U.S. passport -- to pawn the coin. Manager Vivian Oliva gave him a pawn ticket that would allow him to retrieve the coin in a month, she said today.
"He said he was going to come back, but I don't think he will," she said.
Police also have received reports that Cunanan met a customer of Liquid, a nightclub, and stayed at the club all night the night before Versace was gunned down outside the gate of his beachfront mansion.
Police have ruled out Cunanan's participation in Thursday's slaying of a Cuban-born physician. They said today they have arrested another man in the case.
Up and down busy Collins Avenue, where the Normandy Plaza hotel is located, employees at a McDonald's, Miami Subs and other shops and restaurants now say they recall Cunanan, though none of them reported those sightings to police.
At a newsstand within sight of the hotel, a photo of a smiling Cunanan peered out from the front page of the New York Post today, accompanied by the headline, "Catch Me If You Can."
A Miami Beach resident, Jack Donahue, wondered how possible that is.
"What's it take to blend in here but a pair of sunglasses and swim trunks," he mused. "This is a place where people are 80 percent naked."