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Houseboat caretaker who found Versace's killer looks back 20 years later

Fernando Carreira, 91, recalls 1997 encounter with Andrew Cunanan

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Fernando Carreira was just a houseboat caretaker 20 years ago when he stumbled upon serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Now, the 91-year-old reflects on his role in one of South Florida's most notorious murder manhunts.

It was one afternoon in July 1997, during a routine check on a closed-up houseboat docked off Collins Avenue and 54th Street, that Carreira would discover the man who killed fashion icon Gianni Versace on the steps of his South Beach mansion more than a week earlier.

"I remember everything," Carreira recently recalled from his home, just blocks from where Cunanan killed Versace.

Carreira, then 71, said he noticed immediately that the lock on the houseboat was broken.

"When I seen the lights on, I told my wife, 'Somebody (has) come here already," Carreira said.

He saw the sofa moved. Then he saw shoes.

"I pulled the gun, did one step to this side to check it out," Carreira said, reenacting the encounter. "I hear, 'Boom.' I thought it (was) somebody (who) tried to shoot at me and missed."

Carreira still has the gun used at the houseboat. He called it the gun that saved his life.

"I'm supposed to be dead because Cunanan killed five people," he said.

Police, the FBI and even the International Police Organization arrived. What was first considered a standoff became Cunanan's apparent suicide.

It wasn't until the next day that police announced the hunt for Cunanan was over. Police kept Carreira with them until dawn.

"Police found the body because I called them," Carreira said.

Carreira collected considerable reward checks from grateful organizations. It was money Carreira said he lost in bad business investments.

"No more ring. No more chain," Carreira said. "Nothing. No money. Nothing. Everything's gone."

He still shakes his head at rumors and gossip he hears about Versace's death. He also remembers when detectives initially scoffed at the notion that Cunanan had been found.

Carreira said he believes police wanted all the credit.

As the 20th anniversary of Versace's death soon approaches, so does the spotlight.

The story of Versace's death is being retold in an FX series titled "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," which is currently in production. Filming took place in and around South Beach, including the old Versace mansion, renamed the Villa Casa Casuarina.

ABC's "20/20" is also profiling the events of that summer.

Carreira said all he really wants now if for people who tell the story about what happened to do so truthfully and factually.

About the Author:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."