As the nationwide manhunt for Andrew Cunanan grinds on, an almost palpable discomfort is growing in the hills of La Jolla. Not only is Cunanan the son of a Prospect Street stockbroker who purportedly swindled thousands of dollars from his clients, but in newspaper accounts from Houston to Minneapolis, the 27-year-old Bishop’s School track star is being linked to some of the village's wealthiest and most influential denizens, both living and dead.
Many of Cunanan’s old friends and acquaintances have fled the city, reportedly because they fear the return of a man now suspected of torturing and killing his four victims in a weeklong orgy of terror. Some fear the Cunanan case because it has focused a laser beam of publicity on the hidden practice of male prostitution among some of the older gay men who inhabit many of La Jolla’s oceanview condos and elaborately decorated hillside aeries.
“At discreet private parties, attended by very wealthy men of a generation and prominence that keeps them in the closet, Andrew Cunanan was a regular,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The San Diego gay community can be particularly secretive, even from the inside. Gay military men and women based in San Diego fear their careers will be destroyed if they are discovered, as do wealthy retirees still active in political circles.”
As reporters from across America have descended on the village that carefully guards its secrets, even Bishop's, the $12,000-a-year prep school on La Jolla Boulevard that has produced such local lights as Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner, has not been spared. “Cunanan had been openly gay since his days at the Bishop’s" the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “When his schoolmates teased him, he gave it back to them with a jaunty, ‘Come on, you want some?’ Even then, he had liaisons with older men who had money. When classmate Stacy Lopez complimented a red leather jumpsuit that he wore to a school dance, he told her, 'My boyfriend, Antoine, bought it for me.’ After dropping out of the University of California at San Diego, he hung around Hillcrest and La Jolla, apparently living off the largess of one wealthy patron or another."
Cunanan also was said to have frequented the high society haunts of Scottsdale, near Phoenix, Arizona, where many La Jollans go to spend the winter. “The youngish Cunanan regaled his audience about a jet-setting life and an aristocratic background, the former made possible by Norman Blachford, an arts supporter who counted the Phoenix Symphony as one of his causes," the Arizona Republic reported last week. “Cunanan, who disliked the climate and allergies he encountered in Phoenix, persuaded Blachford in 1995 to move to La Jolla, California, Blachford’s friends say. The two continued to fly into the Valley for art shows and fundraisers, according to Blachford’s pals."
The paper went on to add that “Blachford belonged to an informal group of about 20 Valley residents who patronize and contribute to the symphony, Arizona Opera, Arizona Theatre Company, and other performing-arts organizations. 'Andrew and Norman were involved for about a year, much to the distress of Norman's friends,’ said a Blachford acquaintance who asked to remain unidentified. 'Andrew knows me and knows I live alone.' the source said, explaining his reason for anonymity. ’I've been cautioned by friends to keep my doors locked.' "
Records show that Blachford owns two residences in La Jolla, one at 100 Coast Boulevard, valued at $922,000 and which Cunanan once listed as his address, and the other, valued at about $1.3 million, on Pepita Way. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported last week that Blachford had been one of the attendees at Cunanan's last big San Diego fling at Hillcrest’s California Cuisine restaurant. The paper added that Blachford left La Jolla two weeks ago and shortly afterwards neighbors saw “two young men they didn't recognize" leaving Blachford’s house “with big satchels" and getting into a car. (Blachford did not respond to requests for comment left on his answering machine.)
Blachford, who once owned a firm that made sound insulation for use in automobiles, has maintained a high profile in the busy world of La Jolla society. Said to be in his 60s, he has been mentioned in the column of Union-Tribune society writer Burl Stiff, regarded as the unofficial scribe to the city's elite and a close friend and frequent companion of David Copley, 45-year-old heir to the U-T fortune.
In May 1996, Blachford was mentioned in a Stiff column about a fundraiser for the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art honoring developer George Pardee. “Here, there, and everywhere, guests beheld an extravagance of dogwood — tall branches in full bloom,” wrote Stiff. “On the dinner tables, they saw white peonies, white lilacs, and white roses in Tiffany crystal bowls." Blachford, along with other local luminaries like ex-Richard Silberman partner Diane Powers, was listed as “taking it all in." (A onetime Democratic power broker who was convicted of money laundering in 1991, Silberman is the ex-husband of Mayor Susan Golding, who recently declared she was running for the U.S. Senate.)
Another of Cunanan's patrons has been identified as Lincoln Aston, who once owned the Pepita Way house that Blachford now has title to. Records show that in 1995, Aston sold the house to a third man, who sold it a year later to Blachford. As reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Aston was regularly seen with Cunanan, who the paper said “was apparently supporting himself by dating and living with rich men. His social life was filled with expensive dinner parties with groups of young men, financed by credit cards and cash provided by his older acquaintances.”
Aston, a wealthy architect who drove a black Mark V Lincoln Continental and had interests in Texas oil, had lived in La Jolla for years and had close ties with many in the local establishment. In April 1987, he was listed in a Burl Stiff column as being a “committee member" for an “Art Alive" floral fundraising event on behalf of the San Diego Museum of Art. Fellow committee members included U-T heir David Copley and KNSD-TV personality Susan Farrell, a Copley friend.
In September 1990, Aston was mentioned by Stiff again, in a column about a La Jolla party honoring Francoise Gilot, the wife of Jonas Salk. Others present included U-T columnist Neil Morgan and his wife Judith, as well as Audrey Geisel, widow of Dr. Seuss. “Audrey's jewelry included an anthropomorphic ‘A’ from the Erte alphabet," Stiff observed.
Interviewed by phone this week. Stiff says he doesn't remember Blachford and only vaguely remembers hearing Aston's name in connection with the sale of a house of some La Jolla friends. “I’ve seen a lot of names over the 20 years I've done the column. I don’t remember them all." Stiff says he never met Cunanan and doesn't believe David Copley ever did either. “I haven't talked to David since I got back from a trip this week, so I don't know for sure, but I never heard his name, discussed him with David, or saw him at any of David's parties."
Aston, 61, was murdered in May 1995 by a 35-year-old drifter whom the architect had picked up in a Hillcrest bar. By then Aston had moved to a $575,000 condo in the 3100 block of Front Street. Details about Aston's sexual preferences surfaced during the preliminary hearing for Kevin Bond, his alleged killer, who eventually plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.
According to testimony by James Michael Hays, who on the night of the murder had accompanied the architect to the Hillcrest bar called the Caliph, Aston was looking for sex.
Prosecutor: Now, the Caliph — is the Caliph...what type of establishment?
Hays: It’s a gay bar where older men can meet younger men.
Prosecutor: While you were at the Caliph, did you and Lincoln Aston meet another person?
Hays: Yes. Lincoln got up and introduced himself to someone, and they talked for a few minutes, and then he brought that person back over, and they sat down beside me.
Prosecutor: And this person that introduced himself as Kevin, did that person talk to you?
Hays: Yes, he did.
Prosecutor: And describe that conversation that you had with that person, or that he had with Lincoln in your presence.
Hays: Lincoln excused himself to go to the restroom at one point, and this guy that said his name was Kevin turned and said something to the effect that Lincoln was very aggressive. And I agreed with him and said that the best way to handle Lincoln was to be honest with Lincoln.
[A short time later, Hays testified about a conversation he overheard between Aston and Bond.]
Hays: Kevin had said that he had been in the military for approximately seven years, I think, and their conversation — the only other thing that I heard was Lincoln asking him the question as to whether — as to his sexual orientation and to what he preferred to do sexually. And the term that Lincoln used was whether or not he was a top or bottom. And the person didn't — Kevin didn't seem to know what that was.
[Later, on cross-examination, Hays was asked to explain the meaning of “bottom.”]
Hays: A person who finds pleasure through receiving anal intercourse.
Defense attorney: And what does a top mean?
Hays: A person who enjoys engaging in anal intercourse, but not receiving.
Defense attorney: What do you mean by that?
Judge: I think it's clear enough. You're either a recipient or a donor, one or the other.
[Earlier, Hays had been asked by the defense to explain his relationship with Aston.]
Defense attorney: You're 20 years old?
Defense attorney: Mr. Aston was 60 years old?
Hays: 60, 61.
Defense attorney: The nature of your relationship with him was one of prostitution, is that right?
Hays: To begin with, yes.
Defense attorney: Mr. Aston would generally pay you $100 for your company for the evening?
Defense attorney: And sometimes that would be just going out to dinner with him?
Defense attorney: And other times engaging in sexual activity?
[The defense asked Hays about the state of his relationship with Aston.)
Defense attorney: Didn't Mr. Aston tell you that unless you wanted to make your relationship more permanent, it was too expensive for him to continue to see you?
Hays: No, that’s not the impression that I got. I got the impression that he was having financial difficulties, and it was from my point of view that I wanted to be friends with him. I did not know that night that's what he intended to do.... I knew that he was falling in love with me.
[Later, Adam Grein, who had been living with Aston at the time of the murder, was called to the stand.]
Defense attorney: All right. How old are you?
Defense attorney: Were you paying Mr. Aston any rent?
Defense attorney: ...to stay at his apartment? He was letting you use his jeep?
Defense attorney: Were you having a sexual relationship with Mr. Aston?
Defense attorney: Was Mr. Aston giving you any money during the time you were staying with him?
Grein: No. I’ve always been taken care of by my family.
Defense attorney: So your family was sending you money?
Grein: Yes, I received basically on a weekly basis sometimes over excess of $300.
[Later, Grein explained why he had decided shortly before the murder to move out of Aston’s apartment.]
Grein: That day, when we were going up to Miramar to retrieve his Lincoln, ’cause he was having new rims put on it, he questioned me as to what — as to a relationship I was in at that time and how I should handle it and what I should be doing. And at that point we both decided my best interest was to go back to Arizona where I originally came from, or at least came from to San Diego. And so I don’t know if his actual motive was to actually ask me to leave, but we both decided that it would be in my best interests to go home....
His words to me were that I should go back to Arizona, pursue my relationship with the person I was in a relationship with, and to see what happens, and to, you know, live life from there, because quite obviously I couldn’t receive work. I had several opportunities for work, just situations didn't work out. but my relationship was — was causing a bit of depression.
Andrew Cunanan's connections to La Jolla society, including his links to Blachford and Aston, have been widely reported in many of America’s most prestigious newspapers, including the Arizona Republic, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and their reports have been picked up by the major wire services. Even the Los Angeles Times' usually circumspect San Diego reporter, Tony Perry, has written that “Cunanan lived off the largess of older men eager for gay companionship but worried about privacy," and that "prominent men in San Diego are said to be worried that their names will surface as intimates of Cunanan."
So far, however, the San Diego Union-Tribune has been silent about the La Jolla angle, telling its readers nothing except the details of the crimes in Chicago, Minneapolis, and New Jersey. One reporter covering the story for a big midwestern paper has noticed. “It’s very strange. It’s their big hometown story, but all they are using is wire copy. It makes you wonder what’s going on."