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Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History

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Two months before Andrew Cunanan murdered Gianni Versace on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion, Maureen Orth was investigating a major story on the serial killer for Vanity Fair. Now the award-winning journalist and Vanity Fair special correspondent tells the complete story of Cunanan, his unwitting victims, and the moneyed, hedonistic world in which they lived and died, culled from interviews with over 400 people, and details from thousands of pages of police reports.

In chilling detail, Maureen Orth reveals how Andrew Cunanan met his superstar victim...why police and the FBI repeatedly failed to catch Cunanan...why other victims' families stonewalled the investigation...controversial findings of the Versace autopsy report, and more. Here is a late-century odyssey that races across America from California's wealthy gay underworld to modest midwestern homes of families mourning their slaughtered sons to the celebration of decadence that is Versace's South Beach. It is at once a landmark work of investigative journalism and a riveting account of a sociopath, his savage crimes, and the mysteries he left along the way.

560 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

Maureen Orth

9 books35 followers
Maureen Ann Orth is an American journalist who largely covers stories pertaining to pop culture. Before beginning her career in journalism, she served in the Peace Corps in Medellín, Colombia, from 1964 to 1966. In 1983 she married the political journalist Tim Russert, whom she met at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Russert died on June 13, 2008. They have a son, Luke, (b. 1985.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 317 reviews
Profile Image for Erin .
1,280 reviews1,200 followers
March 26, 2018
I probably would have loved this book more had it been updated. Vulgar Favors was originally published in 1999 and it shows. The way "The Gay Lifestyle" (its actually placed in quotes like that in the book)is discussed in this book is very dated and insulting. Maureen Orth seemed to be obsessed with the fact that gay men have sex with other men and that some of those men even have wives and children. She just seemed fixated on the sexual aspects of the gay community. Maybe in 1999 this was shocking information that was deemed important to understanding Andrew Cunanan. It just seemed a little obsessive to me but that's just my opinion.

Now on to the actual review.

I don't know what it was about the 1990's but to me looking back on it, '90's crime cases just seemed more "fun". We obviously had The O.J. trial and JonBenet Ramsey. The 90's just seemed built for cases like that, but strangely enough the murder of Versace has always been kinda ignored. I mean its understandable since just a few weeks later Princess Diana died in a Paris car accident and that really sucked all the air out of the room.


The Versace murder case is the craziest case maybe ever. It had everything love triangles, drugs, prostitution, mental illness, fake identities, money, fame, and incompetent law enforcement.

Andrew Cunanan probably never had a chance. Raised by a mentally ill mother and a con man father. Andrew never learned right from wrong. The only things he was taught were how to lie to get money without actually working. Andrew lied about his families background, where he lived, where he went to school, what he did for a living, what celebrities he knew, and what he's name was. Andrew spent his life living as a prostitute and grifter and when he could no longer maintain that lifestyle he snapped and went on a multi state killing spree, that took the lives of 5 men including Gianni Versace.

After reading this book I'm left with more questions than answers, I still don't understand why Andrew started killing. The official version is what I stated in the previous paragraph, he couldn't maintain his lifestyle and snapped, but that doesn't make sense because he totally could have maintained his lifestyle. I don't know maybe there is no reason. Maybe he just wanted to kill. Maybe the first murder(a love rival) was planned and everything after that just got out of control.

Vulgar Favors is almost too researched I at times felt like I was in information overload. Maureen Orth does detail in frightening fashion the ways in which all levels of law enforcement from the local police up to the F.B.I completely bungled the cases and manhunt. Andrew Cunanan may have shot Gianni Versace but the F.B.I is responsible for his death.

Despite the problems I had with it I would still recommend Vulgar Favors since it is the definitive book on the case.

P.S. The entire time I was reading this I was picturing Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan and not the actual real Andrew Cunanan.

Book-Riot 2018: A Book of True Crime.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
576 reviews7,779 followers
February 17, 2018
I wish there were more serial killers like Andrew Cunanan. You always hear of killers being described as loners or introverts or just weirdos, but Cunanan broke that stereotype. He was a preppy guy who loved reading Vogue. He'd make up amazing lies about himself and his past in order to impress those around him. In the midst of his murder spree he used to go clubbing and tell his fellow clubbers that he was a serial killer. They all laughed.

Vulgar Favours is a fairly in-depth account of the life and murders of Andrew Cunanan. Maureen Orth was the media's go-to journalist for all the info on Cunanan when he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. She knows this case inside out so there was no better person to write this book. However, as much as Cunanan's murders were tabloid fodder, Orth's book reads as nothing more than tabloid journalism.

My main gripe with this book is the same gripe that every other reviewer on Goodreads points out. Orth is such a prude. There are pages and pages dedicated to descriptions of the 'gay lifestyle' and how (omg!) many people in the gay community take drugs. Orth also goes on about Cunanan's addiction to S&M and pornography, which was essentially nothing more than just a kink, never mind a motive for murder.

There are sections of this book which made me think, is Orth trying to make a connection between Andrew's queerness and his penchant for shooting people in the head? Many of her observations on the gay community are, at best, laughable and, at worst, staggeringly offensive.

At one point, Orth enters a gay bar and states that a man started grinding on her so vigorously that she could feel his 'protrusion'. That had me howling. It's like this whole book was written by your homophobic grandmother and Orth thinks she's some sort of queer John Howard Griffin.

Looking past Orth's prudishness, if you can, she also could have benefitted from a good editor. Sometimes you find yourself deep in a chapter and you realise that what you're reading has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Even many of the interviewees are, at best, stretches at relevancy. A lengthy chapter on the ins-and-outs of the exclusive gay club that Andrew was briefly a member of was the icing on this bulging cake.

What this book is actually good at is showing the sheer incompetency of the entire investigation. There's a reason why the book's original title referred to the attempt to find Cunanan as the 'largest failed manhunt in U.S. history'. Cunanan was always ten steps ahead of the FBI and they essentially did nothing. The most basic of mistakes such as failing to even hand out flyers with Cunanan's picture and details on them just shows that everything that could have gone wrong with this investigation eventually did go disastrously wrong.

It is not egregious to say that if the FBI had actually did their job, Versace would not be dead. The fact that after killing four people, Cunanan was able to stay in a hotel, make friends, go clubbing, and do all this for several weeks just shows what a mess this all was.

Orth's book isn't great. But the absolute outrageousness of the Cunanan case almost makes you forget that. Earlier on I said that this book is nothing more than tabloid journalism, but in many ways, that fits. Cunanan was a tabloid murderer. He used to buy all the newspapers and magazines that wrote about him when he was on his killing spree. He loved the attention. And he probably would have adored this book.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,823 reviews12.9k followers
January 7, 2019
Seeking to begin the year with some learning opportunities tied into my reading, I turned to my iPod to find a decent audiobook. Maureen Orth’s book about the manhunt to find the killer of Gianni Versace caught my attention, as I do remember when everything appeared in the press over two decades ago. Orth opens her piece giving the reader a long and drawn-out depicting of the life Andrew Cunanan lived, including parents who could not process the uniqueness their son possessed. Born into a mixed-race family, Cunanan’s Filipino father was as straight laced as they came, while his Italian mother professed a strong connection to the Church, but found ways to accept her son’s obvious flair for the dramatic. Andrew grew up with little, though always wanted to up his social status, forcing him to create falsehoods on which others would be expected to build their image of the lanky Cunanan. Concocting quite the story, Cunanan convinced his friends that his father had money and power, which led him to gain entry into some preparatory schools well above his family’s financial abilities. Not scoring high enough to earn him top honours, Cunanan relied on his wit and ability to spin tales in order to create a strong social circle. He sought to define himself, feeling a turn towards homosexuality, something neither parent would have condoned or permitted at the time. When Cunanan left home, he established himself in the San Diego scene, finding solace in a gay community that chose to live under the radar. There, Cunanan’s tales took on a new level of intensity, as he not only dropped names, but also constructed a lavish lifestyle full of celebrity encounters and connections. Cunanan not only embraced life in gay bars and attending swanky weekends, he wanted to find a ‘sugar daddy’ to fuel his ever-growing expensive way of life. Cunanan turned to hard drugs, including crystal meth, which he would sell with abandon while climbing his social ladder. Little did he know—or perhaps care—but those around him found his antics odd and very off-putting. While he could party well into the night and fuel his life with hard drugs, he would also made comments and inject himself into situations where his ideas gave everyone chills. Pushing for more drug-filled parties and harsher sexual experimentation, Cunanan was no longer the happy-go-lucky person he had once been. Now, people on all sides steered clear of him and tried to find reasons not to hang around. As things intensified, Cunanan appeared to snap and ended up murdering Jeff Trail, after a trip to Minnesota, during a heated argument. While he used the home of his former lover, things appeared to spiral out of control. Cunanan realised his error and began a set of spree killings as he evaded authorities for months. Each step saw him take another victim of chance, all in an effort to evade arrest. Orth depicts a bumbling FBI and state officials as they fought over jurisdiction and how they could corner Cunanan, who continued to dodge the authorities, leaving more bodies in his wake. Towards the latter chapters, Cunanan was living right under the noses of the FBI, his face plastered across their Ten Most Wanted, but was not fingered or captured for months. Things culminated for Andrew Cunanan when he murdered Gianni Versace, famous fashion designer, by shooting him in the head. Orth remembers reporting on their first meeting back in 1990, though the authorities could not find any long-term connection the two men shared. It would appear that Cunanan knew his days were up and the bumbling manhunt might eventually catch him, so he turned a gun on himself, committing suicide after a bloody trail of victims lay at the feet of authorities. Without a strong motive, other than to stay one step ahead of the law, Andrew Cunanan etched his way into the history books as a horrific spree killer whose final victim likely catapulted him to infamy. An interesting read that helped lay the groundwork for a detailed analysis of the Versace murder, Orth uses her great investigative techniques to portray a man who wanted it all but ended up with nothing. Recommenced to those who like true crime, particularly when it has been turned into a television sensation.

Maureen Orth was a senior writer for Vanity Fair and has a long history of investigative journalism, which she ensures is known early in the story she presents. The detail she injects into this piece is truly fascinating and disturbing, most of all because the reader is left to feel they are living the life and can almost sense Andrew Cunanan’s presence. Orth offers up long narratives about the life and times of Cunanan, from an early age until he became the obsessed young man who wanted nothing more than to be seen as a celebrity. However, as Orth persuasively argues, his ability to alienate those around him is a major red flag in a short life of racing to be at the top of society’s ever-changing mountaintop. Orth goes into great detail about Cunanan’s immersion in the homosexual lifestyle, particularly in San Diego and Minnesota, while also exploring how drug use fuelled the life. There will be some readers who may shy away from this, as it can get quite intense, but Orth’s detail drives home the argument that Cunanan was deeply involved and would not be able to extricate himself with any ease. Orth also uses many interviews to develop her fine-tuned narrative, following the discussion where things took her and leaves the reader wanting to know more about this man who never seemed to fit into where he found himself. The spree killings are handled with as much depth as possible, though I was left wondering if Orth was as baffled as the authrorities, trying to piece together the details as Cunanan bounced across the country, fleeing those who sought to lock him into their crosshairs. As the title suggests, it was a bungled affair and one that Orth could not have crafted in her mind. How the chase to locate and arrest Cunanan could have gone so wrong will baffle the reader though, in an odd twist, Andrew Cunanan got the notoriety he sought when media caught up to the story and Versace was eventually found dead. What a mess in this intense story of life, sex, drugs, and the search for stardom.

Kudos, Madam Orth, for such an intense read. I knew little about anything you had to tell, so I was fully enthralled and will likely check out the television interpretation of this book in short order.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books194 followers
September 26, 2015
This is an incredibly well-researched and gripping story of a serial killer on the run. It held my interest to the very last page, even if Maureen Orth is a frightful prude and almost comically judgmental about celebrity culture and the gay lifestyle.
Profile Image for David.
497 reviews70 followers
February 23, 2018
I read this because it came up in a conversation with one of my bffs - he was reading it to supplement episodes of the Ryan Murphy-produced 'The Assassination of Gianni Versace'. I don't lean toward books of this sort - in fact, I don't think I've read one like it since Capote's 'In Cold Blood' (which I got around to reading about 15 years ago). Basically, I read it so I could talk about it with said bff.

Maureen Orth's book has received some unfair criticism at this site. She has, for example, been accused of being homophobic (as well as prudish about gay-related issues) when the book shows zero evidence of that. The book has been called "dated" simply for taking place in the late '90s (some people should look up the definition of "dated"). At least one person bemoaned the fact that the book isn't lighter in nature (like the work of Armistead Maupin) - but how light is a book about a serial killer supposed to be? There is also the charge thrown that the book is full of typos (when it isn't; I didn't find any).

If anything, Orth's extremely well-researched document is pro-gay, in the sense that it realistically brings to light the difficulties this manhunt faced due to (at the time) the tendency on the part of police squads to be squeamish or standoffish or what-have-you about gay-related crimes. Orth makes a point of revealing that this crime spree resulted (at least to some degree) in the recognition of the need of better cooperation between the police and gay task forces.

As for the subject of the book...Orth (who obviously interviewed tons of people and as many as possible who were key elements) successfully answers just about every question laid before her in this endlessly frustrating labyrinth. Even though a significant number of truths are likely to never be unraveled, the author manages to connect enough dots for commendable closure.

Early on in the read, it's fairly evident that (in large part due to having volatile and unstable parents), Cunanan was a time-bomb with a long fuse. (The possibility also lurks that some people are simply born bad.) As he reached his 20s, the killer was often fairly sloppy about showing just how unhinged he really was - yet, with the largely-clueless environment he chose to inhabit, he was surrounded by people who were simply too superficial and too self-involved to really notice.

The book's subtitle looms large in a number of its concluding chapters; calling the manhunt 'disorganized' is putting it mildly. The search stretched over a considerable number of US states and each state had its own mandates for protocol - the result was chaos from lack of cooperation, with an unfortunate number of missed opportunities.

The professional aspect of the story aside, this mental-split tale of unbridled narcissism is one that overflows with envy, shame and secrets upon secrets.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,641 reviews2,159 followers
February 3, 2019
2.5 stars
I do not read much true crime at all, as a genre I find it more troubling and exploitative than useful or beneficial. I made an exception here because after watching the season of American Crime Story that follows these events it seemed that a lot was left out. The television show was very good, but had virtually nothing about the investigation and I was curious about how Cunanan managed to avoid capture for so long. I also wondered how much of the show was accurate and how much was made up. (I'll note later with a spoiler tag.) The book filled in a lot of the gaps, but I can't say that I recommend it. This was written immediately after the events of the book and it is very much a product of its time. It isn't just that most people in this book are terrified of gay people and think that being called gay is a smear on your character, it's that Orth herself sees her many gay subjects as other.

As a work of nonfiction it's hard to call this definitive. Much of that is due to Cunanan himself, who lied constantly about everything to everyone, meaning retracing the steps of his life is going to give you more noise than signal. And much of it is due to the heightened media coverage, which led to anyone who ever knew or thought they knew Cunanan trying to get their money's worth. Orth certainly tries to give you as much as she possibly can. Unfortunately, she throws much of this at you without context, some portions of the book feel as if you've been thrown a stack of notes with no central theme or narrative to tie them together. At other times, Orth treats a hypothesis as truth even though the evidence is contradictory. So even without the highly problematic elements of the book I can't say it's a particularly good example of true crime. It appears to be very well reported with so many sources it's hard to keep track of them, but it feels like almost nothing got left out, it's often full of tangents and digressions that seem to have no actual relationship to the central story. Orth doesn't give you much guidance as to the demeanor or potential trustworthiness of her sources much of the time, though honestly I'm not sure how helpful her opinion would be.

The homophobia of the book and the times it's written in are very difficult to get past. If you want a time machine to how people talked about the gay community in the 90's, this is a prime example. Orth calls people "gays" rather than "gay men," she straight-splains gay culture in ways that are so stereotypical they'll give you a headache from the eye-rolling, and much of what she says sounds like the kind of hysterical fearmongering you'd hear from a tabloid. Orth posits that it isn't just Cunanan's well-documented narcisstic personality issues that led to violence, but she throws in pornography, kink, and drugs for good measure, it's homophobia bingo (the only thing missing is pedophilia, which thankfully there's not a hint of). I'm not saying she's definitely wrong, these could be contributing factors, but the evidence is mixed and the idea that pornography leads people to violence is... well. Partaking in S&M isn't the same as being a violent killer, though television would certainly have you think so.

It's strange to read the book after the show because the show is about crime but it is in large part about the closet and how damaging it is. The writers of the show seem to understand that the most important thing after the physical violence is the damage and psychological violence caused by the closet and being gay in a society that hates gay people. This never seems to occur to Orth, though it is on constant display in the book. Several people are outed during the course of the crime spree by overzealous media reports, while others insist their friends or family members couldn't possibly be gay (because being gay is bad and wrong).

I didn't get what I wanted from the book. Orth lays out several elements of the many investigations of Cunanan's crimes, but again she throws so much at you and doesn't provide much in the way of context. It's clear that major possible leads were blown because of incompetence and a refusal to cooperate, but it's also not clear how many errors were actual violations of expected procedure. The investigating departments continually make logical leaps based on gay stereotypes or refuse to acknowledge how outreach to the gay community could be helpful. (Orth at one point notes that a department's handling of a case with a gay victim should be just fine because they had several openly gay officers. Just like how I guess police departments can't be racist if there are Black officers?) Without context of what a proper investigation should have looked like, it's hard to know just how egregious the mistakes are. On the one hand it would be nice for Orth to have a clearer narrative, on the other hand every time she does so it hurts the book so you can't really win.

If you're curious about accuracies of the show, a few notes after a spoiler tag (since I'm not recommending the book).
Profile Image for Jules Goud.
1,126 reviews6 followers
November 20, 2017
I found this book disappointing. I originally picked up this book because it was the material for the second season of "American Crime Story". However, I had 3 major problems with this book.

Problem #1: The Title.
I realize about halfway through that this title is not on the original book and I can see why. The title to me is very misleading, because it makes you think that you are getting a book on the assassination of Gianni Versace. However, this is not what the book is about. The book is about Andrew Cunanan, the serial killer responsible for Versace's death. Therefore, I think that titling the novel like this is almost using the name to buy the book, which is very disappointing.

Problem #2: The Organization.
I didn't agree with the way that this book was organized. I thought that we got information about certain people and places at the wrong time. I did not understand the significance of the information that we were getting into later on into the book. I wish that Orth had given us the background information on certain things when the significance came into play.

Problem #3: The Sources.
It is quite obvious that Orth has done her research. There is lots of evidence of this. However, my problem with this is that she has so many sources to comment on behavior or eyewitness accounts. Some of those people are only really mentioned once. My issue comes with the idea that with all of these people, how I do know that these are reliable sources to comment on these things.

If you are looking for information on this crime, Orth definitely provides a thorough background into the life of Cunanan and the murders that he commits. however, those 3 problems I had with this book made it take a long time for me to read, and I did not enjoy reading it (I hate saying that, especially with true crime, but I don't know another way for me to say that). Definitely shines a light on the awful crimes of Cunanan and potentially how he escalated to them.
Profile Image for Sarah.
102 reviews9 followers
October 17, 2008
Many pages about a psychotic narcissist can be wearying, and Maureen Orth does a lot of pearl clutching about some fairly benign gay sex stuff.

Only OK.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews122 followers
September 8, 2018
You know those police shows like LAW AND ORDER or C.S.I. where early on, one of the investigators says of the deceased: "Since he was a cop (gay man, immigrant, rich European), I wonder who remembers him down at the Seventeenth Precinct (local bar scene, barrio, Gold Coast) . . . I've got a contact there; let me check it out." Well, this is exactly what did NOT happen in VULGAR FAVORS, an engrossing if at times overwrought true-crime story about what happens when one of Europe's most celebrated and "hip" fashion designers is shot in cold blood and local law-enforcement just can't seem to get a handle on it.

Miami and Miami Beach, even in the 1990s, were no strangers to rich and media-aware celebrities from Europe, but what the cops could not take in stride was an out gay Italian man -- they just didn't know what to do about investigating his death. So they went through the motions and looked every place but the right one. They seemed to be barely aware that the rich and successful Versace, slain at age 50, was not only a renowned designer but friends with the likes of Duran Duran, Eric Clapton, the late "Lady Diana" and other such influential types. The irony (spoiler alert!) was that almost anyone who frequented Miami's numerous gay bars could have given the cops insightful leads to the likely assassin.

We used to talk about American "success stories," and among true-crime accounts I'd consider IN COLD BLOOD a success story on the part of author Truman Capote for his excellent reportage and writing. This even though the Clutter murders were relatively easy to solve and it was the murderers who seemed doomed to failure. HELTER SKELTER, although written by Vincent Bugliosi, lead prosecutor and by definition showing his point of view, proves that skillful detection and, later, extensive trial prep can pay off. In the bestselling MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, the question is not what happened (a tweaked-out hustler was shot to death by Savannah's leading "bachelor" socialite), but why -- and what exactly happened -- and why it may not may not have constituted murder.

VULGAR FAVORS is of a newer subgenre, one that unfortunately has taken its place alongside "Success" true-crime stories: the "Fail" story. The story of how, if law enforcement doesn't know or care much about the victim, it isn't likely to stretch itself outside of its normal procedures unless it has to, or unless there is some ramrod boss who insists that his detectives get out of their comfort zones and "look under every stone." But at that point, we may be back into the realm of pulp fiction and TV fantasy rather than the province of the average beleaguered big-city police force. I think VULGAR FAVORS should be read, and not because the story is over 20 years old (Versace was murdered on July 15, 1997 in fact), but because it forms kind of a sorry template of what happens when the established law-enforcement structure just does what it is used to be doing, sending a signal, whether accurate or not, that it cannot be bothered to be innovative, much less determined, in its methods. (For the record -- and here's another spoiler alert! -- let me state that although the Wikipedia article about the murderer has the police "hot on his trail," he was never brought to justice and in fact killed himself eight days later.) Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History is too long, but is reasonably well-written. I expect the new paperback re-release, timed to coincide with a cable-TV presentation of the story, to sell well.
Profile Image for Dorie.
696 reviews
February 21, 2018
Very detailed and in depth look at the sick monster named Andrew Cunanan. It is well written and researched and really shines on the emotionless and drug fueled murders by this spineless creep.
Profile Image for Michael Armijo.
Author 2 books28 followers
November 2, 2010
A Story of a Guy who could NEVER get enough...

I remembered reading several articles about Andrew Cunanan when he was WANTED by the FBI. I was so interested in the story that I was happy to stumble on this book to get all of the facts by such a devoted writer (who wrote the inside scoop article for Vanity Fair). It's a very revealing story and it is TRUE which made it all the more eyebrow raising. I never knew that Gianni Versace was HIV+ and that he & his boyfriend utilized the services of male escorts. It's sad that such a creative man, Versace, had to die in such a random & thoughtless way.
Profile Image for Jesse.
761 reviews7 followers
January 31, 2018
It’s well researched but the homophobia is a tad distracting. Also jumps around quite a bit which is distracting considering the timeline is important.
Profile Image for Wendell.
Author 40 books60 followers
April 5, 2018
Maureen Orth’s Vulgar Favors is trash. Not the provocative hilarity-inducing trash of a John Waters film or AbFab, but rather the kind of slimy, mean-spirited, exploitative, contempt-for-the-reader trash that you’d expect more in a supermarket tabloid than in a nonfiction title that purports to tell the true story of a series of puzzling murders.

In fact, though Orth never lets the reader forget she was on the Cunanan beat for Vanity Fair even before Versace was killed, the quality of her prose, the toxic levels of lead in nearly every paragraph, the repetition of catch phrases and clichés all belong to the style of The National Enquirer and not to serious crime journalism, which is where Orth appears to believe her book should place her.

To put it more bluntly: what is true in Vulgar Favors comes largely from newspaper clippings and the public record, and what is false is the other 9/10 of the book.

For those interested in a badly plotted novel starring a character based on Andrew Cunanan, Vulgar Favors may do the trick. But Orth has virtually no independent knowledge about the case (though it must be admitted that she solicited an astonishing amount of gossip), or about Cunanan or Versace, which leaves her to her powers of fantasy. To be sure, sustaining invention, even at the dilute level of Vulgar Favors, is a challenge, and yet Orth is so singularly bad at it.

Given that all but nothing is known about why Cunanan did what he did, his motives and motivation can only be ascribed. Orth, however, demonstrates no detectable ability to enter into the psychology of her main character (or any character, including Versace), leading her to populate her book with cardboard cutouts painted with the deft hand of a Jerry Springer or a Maury Povich.

One of the most spectacularly galling features of Vulgar Favors, however, is Orth’s fulminant, reprehensible homophobia. Or perhaps that is the second most galling aspect of this book, and the first is Orth’s habit, just as she is about to serve up some distasteful, titillating "truth" regarding “homosexual culture,” of announcing that the tidbit in question came from a gay journalist or a gay informant, or a gay friend of Cunanan’s. In other words, Maureen Orth wants you to know that she is an objective reporter of inconvenient truths and has certainly not included such details in her book solely for the pleasure of insinuating something too deliciously filthy to leave out—or because her credentials (such as they are) as a journalist provided the ideal cover for a low-tech gay-bashing.

Her credulousness about gay men’s lives in the United States, and in particular in cities like San Francisco and Miami, would be painful if it reflected naïveté, but this is no act of naïveté.

Rather, it is Orth’s deliberate, malicious, all-engulfing desire to draw every raunchy, seamy detail out to the limits of the fervid homophobic imagination, embellish it, and repeat it at studied intervals as a strategy for reinforcing the idea that there was something insidiously, darkly “queer” about Cunanan’s murder spree—and to imply that all but one of his victims, and especially his most famous victim, were, if not deserving of their fates, at least (amorphously) complicit.

The fact that Orth continuously harps on a supposed seconds-long meeting between Cunanan and Versace in a San Francisco club at some ill-defined moment in the past, which Orth manages to parlay into “met several times,” is an important example. Of course, Orth allows no one to forget it was she who “confirmed” this “fact,” although, in fairness, what she calls confirmation is little more than hearsay. Even if Cunanan and Versace had met, it isn’t clear what relevance that would have to the murders—unless the reader believes, as it is quite clear Orth wishes the reader to believe, that Cunanan was provoked to murderous fury because Versace had infected him with HIV.

Now, Cunanan did not have HIV at his death (though he may have thought he did at one point), and it remains a point of controversy whether or not Versace was HIV-positive, a question that will never be resolved thanks to the legal shenanigans of a flotilla of high-priced lawyers mobilized by Versace’s bloody-minded, image-besotted siblings.

Having introduced the concept, however, it becomes possible for Orth to hint, both subtly and not—that the murder of Versace was a revenge-motivated assassination. (Note the book’s subtitle.) If it wasn’t HIV, then perhaps it was that Versace had involved Cunanan in some sort of circle of boy- or drug-procurement that turned sour, or perhaps it was that Versace had promised Cunanan fame and fortune and then reneged, or maybe it was just that Cunanan was psychopathically jealous of Versace’s success and ostentation and needed to murder the designer as the symbol of everything he desired but could never attain.

Yes, the analysis is just that deep.

Vulgar Favors was written twenty years ago, which still provides no excuse for Orth’s delight in salacious detail and sexual innuendo, nor for her distorted pronouncements regarding gay men’s lives, which she delivers with anthropological, Meadian certainty. Perhaps at this distance, she has developed the strength of character to be ashamed of her book, but one tends to doubt it.

In any event, what becomes clear is that delivering these dispatches from the exotic, repellent—and yet endlessly fascinating tribe of the sex-mad, fetish-driven, drug-addled homosexual underground, of the depraved and soulless super-rich—was Orth’s real purpose in writing Vulgar Favors.

Because this is the space that Orth occupies as a writer—a world in which she deploys words like “lifestyle” and “jet-setting” in blissful ignorance that she is trite, unconscious of her evident envy of those who enjoy great fame and great riches even as she condemns them for moral corruption and shallowness. (For more examples of Orth’s style, look no farther than the breathless, voyeuristic hack job she committed on Michael Jackson in her reportage for Vanity Fair between 1994 and 2005; or her most recent book, The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex, Orth's slavering exposé of “the big room where the rules that govern mere mortals don't matter.”

Vulgar Favors is, to be sure, offensive and scandal-mongering, vacuous and devoid of insight, smutty and sneering, but what elevates the book to the level of tragicomedy is Orth’s clear belief that, in writing it, she was practicing genuine journalism.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Laurie Hoppe.
224 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2018
Andrew Cunanan's story is compelling in that he's not a Charles Manson. He's not a loner -- I don't think he could stand being alone. He's bright and had an easy time making (if not keeping) friends. He had natural gifts: intellect, looks, imagination, and a photographic memory. And yet, his life went spectacularly off the rails and he destroyed five very nice men on the way down.

This book is very sympathetic and respectful of Jeff Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, William Reese and Gianni Versace. I appreciated Orth's decency in the way she handled the victims and their stories.

The book is also exhaustive and brutal in its treatment of law enforcement. The last two murders may not have happened if the authorities had coordinated and been more focused in their handling of the first three. That's a tragedy that tugs at the heart as Andrew makes his way down south.

While highly readable, it's a far from perfect book. Orth is very hard on those who exploit Andrew's tragedy, all the while reminding us that she was first on the story, even before he murdered Versace. She wants it both ways: she wants to establish this case as her career-making story while sitting in judgement of others who profit from it.

And the book is ultimately frustrating because there's no real explanation as to why he did all this. Until he went on his murderous spree, there is no real evidence that Andrew had a penchant for violence. Orth breathlessly keeps returning to his fondness for porn and drugs. Even in the pre-internet 1990s, porn was easily accessible. So were drugs. And yet somehow, South Beach wasn't crawling with serial killers.

There was one passage that stayed with me, that went further toward an explanation than any of her tsk-tsk-ing about gay porn and tweaking. His killing spree may have begun because his life of lies was about to be exposed. " ... the two men that he cared for most (Jeff and David) were turning their backs on him, banishing him to struggle alone, insecure, depressed and overweight. It was all their fault. They were forcing him to expose the sham of his grandiosity like a mangy peacock."

He had no faith, no sense of values, no sense of self. All Andrew Cunanan had was grandiosity. Perhaps that final, pitiless exposure was simply too painful for him to bear.
Profile Image for Justine Teplycky.
87 reviews7 followers
March 14, 2018
As a journalist, I read this book in awe of the depth and the detail in every paragraph, from the first page to the last. The amount of research it would have required is mind-boggling.

As a reader, I was drawn in by the way Maureen Orth made a long list of dates and facts flow like a scripted crime show.

The life of Andrew Cunanan seems especially relevant in Toronto today, where police are investigating their own high profile case of an alleged serial killer connected to the city's gay community.

Orth provides an exhaustive account of Cunanan's relationship with his parents, the relationships he tried to control in his young adulthood, and his obsessions. She also details what went wrong with the police investigation after the murders started, what can be learned from the case.
Profile Image for Veronica.
80 reviews23 followers
April 3, 2019
Obra que serviu de inspiração para a série. Aborda com mais amplitude a vida de Andrew Cunanan, sobretudo o que veio a cimentar sua personalidade narcisista e limítrofe. Outro ponto interessante é notar como os erros cometidos pela polícia em outro caso famoso - o de O.J. Simpson -, contribuiu para o fiasco do caso Cunanan. O assassinato de Giani Versace poderia ter sido evitado, se a polícia não fosse tão despreparada e preconceituosa.
Cunanan é uma personagem fascinante, do tipo que você pensa existir só na ficção, talvez por isso, ele foi dono do seu destino do começo ao fim.
Profile Image for Leslie.
140 reviews20 followers
February 5, 2018
This book is a true crime narrative about the ugly underbelly of gay life as told by the journalist for Vanity Fair, Maureen Orth. Orth wants the reader to know how the seamy gay culture in Southern California and South Beach, Florida led to the deaths of the five people murdered by Andrew Cunanan.
To start, the cover is annoying, depicting the lavish mansion of Versace and the title, Vulgar Favors: The Life and Death of Gianni Versace, both lead the reader to believe that the book is about his death. This book is not about Gianni Versace; who is barely mentioned until the end, so if you think you're getting the scoop on him, you will be disappointed. The book is an in-depth look at the very tragic, "vulgar" life of Andrew Cunanan. A neurotic mother and a narcissistic father, Andrew's parents expected him to become a wealthy leader in society. Andrew spent his whole life trying to live up to this ideal, though not for his parents, but for his own pathological needs. He was a sociopathic liar, a leach, and a male prostitute. At the end of his life, he was a drug dealer and abuser. In the beginning of the book, Orth connects Andrew's early life to his later problems, but she goes much more into detail about the ugly side of gay culture: men who prostitute each other, abuse drugs, ignore warnings about HIV and deliberately participate in S&M with blood and urine. She discusses it so much, that she makes it seem as if all gays participate in it. For example, Orth states, "Drug use is commonplace throughout various sectors of gay life--a dark secret not much publicized in the community," however, the gay men Andrew killed were not into drugs. In fact, David, the man Andrew wanted to marry, tried to help him. Jeff, the other gay man Andrew killed, didn't even want to be around marijuana or any other drugs. Many people tried to help Andrew get off drugs and get a "real" job, including the wealthy, millionaire who "kept" Andrew. Unfortunately for them, Andrew's victims, the men who befriended him and loved him, become lost in Orth's descriptions of the gay swamp of pornography, drugs, and prostitution. In addition, Orth makes much of the media hype surrounding the murders. She seems to forget she is also part of the media. She makes a big deal about how all the people "secondary" to Andrew tried to make money off him. Really? How much money is she making?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kelsie Donaldson.
203 reviews25 followers
November 15, 2018
I wanted to read this book after watching the FX series, and it was interesting to compare the two. Orth provides a lot of interesting detail, especially since she was reporting as the story unfolded back in '97.
My first issue with the book is that it could have used a better editor. The organization felt off at times, and she would give information about characters or situations after their storylines seemed to have ended and she'd already moved on. Additionally, I think you could probably cut 30-50 pages from the book. Not all at once, but by chopping repetitive or irrelevant sentences here and there.
My second and smaller issue is the climax seemed a little underwhelming. SPOILER, but she literally just writes that they went into the houseboat and found Andrew's body with a gun in its hand. You literally spent 400 pages building up to Andrew's capture after the "world's largest failed manhunt!" A little more zest would have given this critical moment more excitement-- an "I can't put the book down" moment. Instead, it felt like just another chapter.
Again, the first issue is really what lowered the star count, but it was still an interesting non-fiction read with colorful characters and an inherently intriguing plotline.
Profile Image for Sansriti.
221 reviews11 followers
April 19, 2021
Eh. Way longer than it needed to be, and a little bit too sensational imo
Profile Image for Angel (Bookn.All.Night).
1,480 reviews31 followers
September 19, 2019
This is a very well written account of Andrew Cunanan and the murder of Gianni Versace and multiple others. What a crazy, strange world he lived and grew up in (mostly inside his own head). I was in my early 20s when this was going on and never even heard of it. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who is interested in true crime.
Profile Image for Leigh.
946 reviews
December 15, 2018
In July 1997 I had just turned 16 and was enjoying time off from school enjoying the freedom that most kids do when they don't have many adult responsibilities. I was a nerdy kid aware of current events but I don't remember being gripped by the story of a serial killer making his way across the country. I only remember the murder of Gianni Versace from the pictures of the blood stained steps of his Miami home and because he was friends with Princess Diana who sadly would also been taken too soon just weeks later. It wasn't until I was older and started to watch various documentaries that I learned more about the story. Unfortunately in an hour long TV show the focus was always on Cunanan and Versace and the four other victims were largely glossed over. Then along came this book. Written by Maureen Orth who followed the story before Versace entered into it finally Cunanan and all five of his victims become fully fleshed out. The youngest in his family Andrew was spoiled rotten and it showed as he grew into a selfish sociopath. He was an openly gay man and lived as a male prostitute always with money to throw around. Then one day he seemed to snap. His best friend and the man he loved moved to Minnesota, tired of Andrew and his games. Jeff Trail and David Madson were both good guys who sadly trusted and befriended the wrong person. Andrew murdered them both, took Jeff's gun and his vehicle and ran to Chicago. There the story becomes murky as his third victim Lee Miglin a wealthy real estate developer rumoured to be gay, may or may not have been acquainted with Andrew. The famiky maintains that it was a random killing while investigators say Andrew was far too comfortable in the Miglin house for this to have been a random crime. There were also stories that one of Andrew's sugar daddies was a man named Duke, from Chicago. Duke was the name of Lee Miglin's son. From Chicago Andrew takes the Miglin's Lexus and once again is on the run. This is nearly his downfall as a car phone allows police to track his movements. After the press gets wind of this Andrew panics and this will seal the fate of William Reese. A caretaker at a civil war cemetery, loving husband and father, William is shot dead just so Andrew could steal his truck. Then he heads to Miami where he hides in plain sight for weeks before murdering Versace and hiding out in a houseboat before taking his own life. What a story, from the bungling of the investigations, to police agencies that refuse to cooperate or speak to each other and insensitive cops who can't talk to grieving families, Andrew Cunanan could've and should've been stopped long before his last two victims had to die. There are still so many mysteries surrounding this case due to investigators who closed the case as soon as Andrew fired the shot that killed him and we will probably never know the real truth. Did Cunanan and Versace know each other? How well did they know one another? Did Cunanan and Miglin know each other? Did he know Lee or Duke or both? It's a sad frustrating story but this book goes behind the superficial and digs deep to learn the truth about Jeff Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, Wiliam Reese, Gianni Versace, and the man who took their lives.
277 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2018
An excellent book which has served as the basis for the quite good FX show The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
It's an in depth look at the crimes of Andrew Cunanan. You get his mindset, his issues, his blooming problems. It humanize his victims.....and brings them to life. It deals with the mishandled investigation and the law enforcement communities problems in dealing with the gay community,
An most important of all, it brings context to the show
A great and worth it read......
Profile Image for Deb.
115 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2018
An insight into the life of Andrew Cunanan

From the title of this book, one might expect it to be mostly about the famous fashion designer, Gianni Versace. Think again. This book delves into the life (and eventual death) of the man who shot Versace in cold blood. It takes the reader from Andrew's early days growing up in a subsection of California, attending the prominent private Episcopal school, Bishops School, in exclusive La Jolla, and moving on to trying to live the fabulous gay life he believed he deserved. Andrew learned early on how to be cared for by rich gay older men, and he relished that life. Eventually what he had wasn't enough ..... Nothing was enough. He fell into the life of S and M sex, overabundance of drugs, and still wanting more. When he felt those closest to him (in his mind) were deserting him, he decided that needed to change. This began the start of the downhill road that killed two friends, a millionaire, an innocent life in an historic cemetery, and then his final "masterpiece" . Shooting Gianni Versace outside his own home in South Beach, FL.
Having been raised in San Diego, I know many of the areas Andrew hung out at. So picturing him there was fairly easy. I found this book interesting as it gave me more of an insight into who Andrew was and why he did what he did. I am anxiously awaiting the FX series that will be out soon.
Profile Image for Angela.
227 reviews2 followers
December 11, 2017
I was gripped and mesmerized from the very beginning. Maureen Orth paints a picture of Andrew Cunanan that will shock you until the last page of the book!

It was important that I read this as the upcoming season of "American Crime Story" will feature the Versace assassination. Knowing that the 10 episode season will be based on this book makes me even more excited to see it played out on the small screen.

Dive into this book and be prepared to find yourself inundated with details you never knew you didn't know (some details were a bit overkill however, in my opinion).

Andrew was crazy, plain and simple. And I found myself appalled and the mistakes and fumbles committed by the FBI and various police forces along the way. Had even some of the smallest details been taken care of (i.e, the posters of Cunanan handed out to the gay community in Miami), Versace's death could have been prevented. This truly was the largest failed manhunt in US history.
Profile Image for F..
63 reviews
February 9, 2018
Definitely not a light read, but if you are interested in crime stories, especially ones including famous persons, this is a book for you.
I found the research that Maureen Orth made remarkable. She interviewed so many friends, family members, acquantainces and policemen, that she definitely needed a person to organize her notes (as she stated in the Acknowledgement section).
The biggest flaw of the book is its homophobic rhetoric, but given the fact that it was written in the late 90s (although I don't want to dismiss the fact, that new editions should have been rewritten in a more, let's say, enlightened manner) it is not a big surprise.
Also, the title can be misleading, it is a book about the serial killer, not Gianni Versace.
Profile Image for Heather.
203 reviews12 followers
April 11, 2018
Ick. Whatever your sexual preference, I don’t want to learn about and explore this level of detail of prostitution, the drug-world, hyper-sexualized city club world, the degrading counter-culture and the focus on the external beauty/fashion/wealth/brands/status persuasive in “pop culture”. I only made it through a couple chapters. DNF

Perhaps I am too old and conservative-but I don’t want to know that people choose this lifestyle. I much rather read about how we can stop child trafficking and how to restore integrity back into our culture. Need to take a shower.

Profile Image for Laura.
678 reviews144 followers
March 13, 2018
Exhaustively researched, well written account, detailing the events leading up to the murders of serial killer Andrew Cunanan's victims. The story culminates with his assassination of Versace. Ending in death at his own hand. The book has little of the lifestyle of Versace, but is the basis for the American Crime Story limited series.
Profile Image for Theresa.
1,069 reviews18 followers
February 6, 2018
It read like the Enquirer on steroids. She spent too much time being enthralled by gay porn and S/M. I found it boring and offensive in places. I admit that I read about two thirds of it but didn't finish it.
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