Since this season of American Crime Story is told in reverse chronological order, the specifics of characters' timelines can be difficult to keep track of. But for a few minutes on this episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, some major characters converge in one place: Andrew Cunanan’s 26th birthday party. With a stunning Pacific coast backdrop, Cunanan (Darren Criss) poses for a photo with Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), David Madson (Cody Fern), and Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock) — three current friends, and future victims. Given the format of the show, the effect of this single photograph is devastating. We know what’s coming for the individuals in this photo. We’ve seen it.
There’s a fifth man in the photo, too. He’s the person responsible for the birthday party’s stunning location, and Cunanan's lavish lifestyle. Though Norman Blachford, played by Michael Nouri in the show, does not become one of Cunanan’s victims, he’s an essential part of the spree killer's story.
Cunanan met Blachford in mid-1994. By that point, Cunanan had made a name for himself among the wealthy gay elite of San Diego, California. Cunanan was known for being a cerebral and exciting bon vivant. He told his new friends the same set of lies: His name was Andrew Da Silva; he was half Jewish-Portuguese and half Italian; he was once married and had a daughter; he served in the Israeli army.
Cunanan met Blachford, a 58-year-old businessman based in Phoenix, at a party. In her book Vulgar Favors, upon which American Crime Story is based, Maureen Orth describes Blachford as “reserved, soft-spoken, extremely conservative, and very, very rich.” In the show, he has grey hair — in real life, it was red.
Blachford’s partner of 26 years recently died from AIDS, so he was newly single. After discovering Blachford was worth millions of dollars, Cunanan decided to ingratiate himself into Blachford’s life. He impressed Blachford, a lover of art and music, with his extensive knowledge of the arts. Cunanan organized a trip to Europe for them, and astounded Blachford with how much he knew about cities and architecture. Blachford also liked that Cunanan gave him an all-access pass into La Jolla and San Diego society.
At the start of their relationship, Blachford still lived in Phoenix, an hour’s plane ride away from La Jolla. In between visits, Cunanan continued to deal drugs, date men, and socialise. Blachford also balked at handing over money, which became more of a problem as their relationship went on.
Eventually, Cunanan convinced Blachford to relocate to La Jolla. Cunanan even picked out a house on Mount Soledad for Blachford to purchase (Cunanan's friend, Lincoln Aston, lived there before he was murdered — in the house). The extravagant purchase made Cunanan’s friends suspicious of the nature of his relationship with Blachford. There's a discrepancy as to whether Cunanan and Blanchford had a sexual relationship. One of Cunanan’s friends, Shane O’Brien, remembers seeing Blachford and Cunanan’s bedroom. They slept in adjoining twin beds. Though Cunanan denied having sex with Blachford, another friend, Robbins Thompson, told Orth he believed they were sexually intimate.
What we do know is that Cunanan wanted material gifts from Blachford — namely, money to redecorate the house and a Mercedes 500SL. Blachford, as you’ll see in the show, preferred to put his money towards Andrew’s education. He still gave Cunanan an allowance of $2,500 a month to do as he pleased, and access to his beach house.
One of the things Cunanan did with his money was woo David Madson, whom he met in December 1995. Blachford was under the impression Cunanan was traveling to San Francisco frequently to visit his ex-wife and young daughter, when he was actually visiting Madson.
Blachford and Cunanan’s arrangement fell apart by September 1996. Cunanan walked away with the Infiniti Blachford bought him, and moved into his friends’ condo. He stayed in San Diego until April, when he left for Minneapolis to visit Madson and Trail. You know the rest.