25 years ago: The murder of Chicago real estate mogul Lee Miglin and the horrors of Andrew Cunanan’s murder spree

CHICAGO (CBS) — On May 4, 1997 – 25 years ago Wednesday – Chicago real estate magnate Lee Miglin was found brutally murdered under a car in the garage of his Gold Coast mansion.

The killer was Andrew Cunanan – a spree killer who murdered a total of five people, including fashion designer Gianni Versace, before he took his own life. Cunanan became the most wanted and feared man in America, leaving the nation in a simultaneous state of terror and fascination as his grisly crimes played out over a period of more than two months.

But the day Miglin’s body was found, likely nobody knew Cunanan had been the killer other than Cunanan himself.

CBS 2’s Brad Edwards went back to our archive to watch a Betamax tape of our 10 p.m. news from May 4, 1997 – “News 2 Chicago,” as our news was known at the time – anchored by Lester Holt and Linda MacLennan.

“No place and no one is immune from violence, yet tonight, we begin with a murder nearly as disturbing from where it happened as it is for who the victim was,” Holt read at the top of the newscast.

Cunanan victim Lee Miglin
Chicago real estate tycoon Lee Miglin

Newscom


Miglin’s body had been found that morning in the garage behind the mansion at 25 E. Scott St. where he lived with his wife, cosmetics entrepreneur, “Home Shopping Network” host, and “Queen of Makeovers” Marilyn Miglin.

That Sunday night, CBS 2’s Jodine Costanzo reported police found Miglin, 72, with his throat slashed ear-to-ear and his feet bound with masking tape.

Miglin’s body was found on the floor of the garage behind his home, but there were questions as to whether Miglin was actually killed in the garage. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said his clothes were saturated in blood, but the area around him was clean – suggesting that his body may have been moved.

His wife Marilyn had become suspicious when she arrived home from a business trip to Canada that morning, only to find her husband missing and a handgun in a bathroom – though the gun later turned out to be a replica. Ms. Miglin called 911 and reported her husband missing, and also reported the couple’s 1994 green Lexus missing from the garage.

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The Miglin mansion at 25 E. Scott St.

CBS 2


Police believed Miglin had been murdered between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. the day before. Earlier the same day, he’d gotten a haircut at Cote d’Or Coiffures, 40 E. Oak St.

“He was in a very good mood,” said Cote d’Or owner Delores Kimmel. “We were discussing Marilyn’s fundraising at the Drake, which was very successful, and that they were planning to go to Israel and name a wing in her honor, and he was looking forward to that.”

A night later, it remained a mystery who had so brutally murdered Miglin. But some bizarre details about the crime scene began to emerge. CBS 2’s Geoff Morrell reported that detectives initially believed Miglin did not know his killer or killers – but rather believed it was a crime of opportunity, and Miglin was targeted because he was rich and vulnerable.

An initial theory told to Morrell by sources was that Miglin had parked his Lexus in a garage and walked across the alleyway, and was in the process of opening his back gate when someone stuck what Miglin believed to be a loaded gun in his back – and ordered him into his other garage. Morrell’s source said in that garage, Miglin was nearly decapitated with a pair of five-foot-long pruning shears, which were recovered in the garage.

The source also said Miglin had been covered with a plastic bag, and masking tape wrapped around his throat. However, holes had been cut in the bag so Miglin could breathe. The Medical Examiner found no defensive wounds on Miglin.

Police also noticed the suspect or suspects had helped themselves to a ham in the refrigerator, and left a half-eaten apple behind, before fleeing in Miglin’s Lexus.

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But a day after Miglin’s body was found, it still remained a mystery who had killed him.

Who was Lee Miglin?

Iconic Chicago columnist and longtime CBS 2 contributor Irv Kupcinet had once described Lee and Marilyn Miglin as two of Chicago’s finest citizens.

As noted in published reports, Miglin was born in 1924 in downstate Illinois – the son of a Lithuanian immigrant coal miner. He began his career as a salesman for Arthur Rubloff & Co. in Chicago, as noted by the Washington Post.

As Washington Post writer Edward Walsh wrote on May 8, 1997: “(Miglin) is widely credited for his concept of redeveloping aging warehouse areas into what is known today as upscale business parks, and at the time of his death had built a company responsible for developing several high-rise buildings in Chicago and its suburbs and managing 22 million square feet of office and retail space.”

Notably, Miglin and his business partner, J. Paul Beitler, unveiled plans in 1988 for the Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle, a skyscraper that would have risen 15 stories taller than the Sears Tower to become the new tallest building in the world. The skyscraper was to be constructed at 201 W. Madison St. downtown. But the plan fell through.

Miglin was also known for philanthropic activities, including fundraising for the University of Chicago Medical Center and the Museum of Science and Industry.

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Lee and Marilyn Miglin

Supplied to CBS 2


“What do you say about a man you loved passionately for 38 years – a man who exemplified courage, and honor, and dignity, and a code of ethics beyond any that I think anybody’s ever had?” Marilyn Miglin said on Tuesday, May 6.

A Chicago murder mystery becomes a mushroom cloud

On May 8, 1997, everything changed in the investigation – theories about random street crime were no more. Attention was now focused on a 27-year-old fugitive named Andrew Cunanan.

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Andrew Cunanan

CBS News


The Washington Post noted the link was found in a sport-utility vehicle that had been parked illegally near the Miglin home for several days. The SUV had Minnesota license plates that had been registered to Minneapolis interior designer David Madson, 33, whose body had been found near a lake in Chisago County, Minnesota the day before Miglin’s body was found.

Another man, Jeffrey Trail, 28, had been found beaten to death with a hammer and rolled in a carpet in Madson’s apartment on April 29, 1997. Police had gone to Madson’s apartment after he hadn’t shown up for work, and found Trail’s body there, CBS News reported.

Police also later found a duffel bag in Madson’s apartment with Cunanan’s name and a La Jolla, California address on it.

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Jeffrey Trail (left), David Madson

Lisa Stravinskas, Julie Hovland


Trail was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and a Gulf War veteran. He was described as an upbeat, fun-loving, compassionate man.  He was pursuing a career with the California Highway Patrol before suddenly and unexpectedly moving to Minneapolis.

CBS 2’s Edwards talked with CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger, who has researched and reported extensively on the Cunanan murders. It happened that Schlesinger had interviewed Trail years before he was murdered for a story on gays in the military.

Madson was described an intelligent, handsome, young man with a promising future; he was the entire package. Madson was so driven, he applied to law school and architecture school. He was accepted to both. 

According to Cunanan’s friends, Cunanan considered David Madson to be the love of his life, even though their relationship ended in the spring of 1996.

On the morning of Saturday, May 3, Kyle Hilken and Scott Schmidt were out looking for a fishing spot at East Rush Lake when they stumbled upon Madson’s body in some nearby brush. He was shot in the head with Trail’s handgun. Cunanan would use that weapon throughout his murder spree.

Cunanan then came to Chicago and brutally murdered Miglin. Meanwhile, investigators later learned that after murdering Miglin, Cunanan not only ate some ham and left a sliced ham on Miglin’s desk, but he also hung around at the Miglin home to shave and take a shower.

Cunanan then took off. On Friday, May 9, he shot and killed cemetery caretaker William Reese in rural Pennsville, New Jersey in order to steal Reese’s red Chevrolet pickup truck.

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William Reese

Reese Family


From there, Cunanan drove off in Reese’s truck. He stopped in South Carolina to replace the truck’s New Jersey plates with stolen ones, and found his way to Miami.

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In Thursday, June 12, Andrew Cunanan became the 449th addition to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. But the murder of Miglin, and Cunanan’s whereabouts, remained a mystery until Tuesday, July 15, 1997 – when fashion icon Gianni Versace was shot on the steps of his oceanfront villa, Casa Casuarina, in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood.

Gianni Versace

Foc Kan


The fashion designer was returning home from his morning walk to the News Café, where he went to purchase magazines, when a man approached and fired two shots into his head. 

Witnesses quickly identified someone matching Cunanan’s description at the scene, and a manhunt for Cunanan was under way in Miami that night. As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reported from Miami, police quickly dismissed the idea that Versace’s murder was a random act. Instead, he was targeted by a lone gunman who wasn’t out to rob his victim, but rather fired at point-blank range before running off.

Meanwhile, that red pickup that Cunanan had stolen from Reese was found in a parking garage near Versace’s mansion. Bloody clothing was found nearby.

The FBI also reported there had been sightings of Cunanan in the Palm Beach and Miami areas in the weeks prior.

On Wednesday, July 23, authorities surrounded a houseboat along Miami Beach, in which Cunanan had apparently holed up. After a five-hour standoff, a SWAT team moved in – and there were reports that police had pulled the body of a man who might have been Cunanan.

Miami Beach police and FBI agents surround a house
Miami Beach police and FBI agents surround the houseboat where Andrew Cunanan’s body was later found.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images


CBS News Correspondent Dave Fehling reported the house was about two and a half miles from the Versace villa, but only blocks from the Normandy Hotel, where Cunanan was known to have been staying.

Miami Beach Chief of Police Richard Barreto said later that night that a caretaker had heard gunshots in the houseboat and had called police. After the standoff, police went in and found the body speculated to be Cunanan’s inside – though police were not yet identifying Cunanan at that point.

By the next night, authorities had positively identified Cunanan, and said he had committed suicide. But the mystery of why he went on a killing spree remained baffling.

Why did he do it?

CBS 2’s Mike Parker reported Chicago Police had been aching to talk with Cunanan about the murder of Miglin. Police still did not know why Cunanan had tortured and murdered Miglin – and after Cunanan took his own life without leaving a suicide note, there was no way to find out from him.

“My reaction, of course, is sad, because there are a lot of matters we want to clear up with respect to our case here in the city of Chicago,” said then-police Supt. Matt Rodriguez.

Detectives had said Cunanan murdered Miglin in a crime of opportunity because he needed Miglin’s car.

Miglin’s family said the same, releasing the following statement after Cunanan’s suicide: “(The car) was taken by a complete stranger in a random act of violence who had no connection whatsoever to any member of the Miglin family.”

There has been speculation in the quarter century since. In 2018, the anthology television series “American Crime Story” issued a nine-part true-crime dramatization of the story of the Cunanan murders titled “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” – in which Miglin, played by Mike Farrell, and Cunanan, played by Darren Criss, were presented as having had a furtive personal relationship.

“American Crime Story” executive producer Brad Simpson told the Chicago Sun-Times that he and his team came to the conclusion that Miglin and Cunanan knew each other because all of Cunanan’s attacks were “targeted and specific” except for the one on William Reese.

Simpson told the newspaper that producers for the true crime series studied Maureen Orth’s book, “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History” and also bringing her on as a consultant. The book includes more details about the crime scene and the conditions in which Miglin’s body was found, Vanity Fair noted. Simpson told the paper that producers also studied FBI records and witness accounts.

But in published reports, Miglin’s family has consistently maintained there was no connection between Miglin and Cunanan. Marilyn Miglin died just this past March at the age of 83, and maintained to her death that her husband and Cunanan never knew each other.

There have likewise been questions about whether Versace knew Cunanan. Schlesinger said there was some speculation that Versace and Cunanan had met briefly at an opera performance in San Francisco – but it would have been in passing.

“The problem in this case is the only person who knows – or the only people who know – are dead,” Schlesinger said.

But as to the Miglin case, Schlesinger said when it comes to whether Miglin and Cunanan knew each other, he is “not sure it really matters.”

“In the Miglin case, this was such a horrible crime. The nature of it suggests that it was personal – just as police work 101 – when it’s up close that way, and stab wounds, all of these types of wounds – that’s generally people who know the victim. But you know, who knows?” Schlesinger said, “Cunanan was not a normal guy.”

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