David McCue was off duty when he got the call that iconic fashion designer Gianni Versace had been shot in cold blood on the steps of his Ocean Drive mansion July 24, 1997. At first, the Miami Beach detective thought it must be a mob hit. But when he learned of the prime suspect, he cringed — he recognized the name.
McCue had first heard about Andrew Cunanan from a federal agent a week before the murder. Cunanan was suspected of killing four people in 11 days, and the agent wanted information about a secret gay organization he believed Cunanan might have been a part of in South Florida.
McCue recounts the early days of the investigation in the first episode of his new true-crime podcast, South Beach Detective Stories. After retiring from the Miami Beach Police Department two and half years ago, he started the podcast for his young daughter, who had few memories of her dad as a police officer, he says.
"It was really just to create a little library for my daughter, and even my [21-year-old] son," he says. "As I started to do it, I thought I wanted to have it be kind of educational as possible... It's for anyone who is interested in hearing about some police experiences and to give people an idea of what we do."
With the Versace murder nearing its 20th anniversary and soon to be featured on the TV series American Crime Story, McCue says he wanted to give a behind-the-scenes look at the case. In a frustrating conclusion, he says better communication from the feds might have prevented the internationally grieved tragedy.
"I strongly believe if the latest information about Cunanan had been shared with my department before the murder and we had participated in his search, Gianni Versace would be alive today," McCue says in the episode.
Though it falls within the popular true-crime genre, South Beach Detective Stories also gently tackles controversial topics within law enforcement, like police-involved shootings. In the third episode, McCue tells the story of a four-day search for a murder suspect accused of killing an 18-year-old movie theater employee. But halfway through the episode, he reveals that the manhunt ended when he took the fugitive's life. McCue says he hesitated before recording the story but ultimately wanted to provide some context to the shooting and offer his perspective.
"Most cops end up in a shooting situation just like I did, when you least expect it," he says. "I tried to humanize it so people understand that it's not just bang-bang and we go on to the coffeehouse. It's not like that at all."
After years on the force, McCue says he believes most of the recent controversial police-involved shootings could be avoided with better and more consistent training. And he wishes more police departments were willing to review those shootings and own up to — and correct — their mistakes.
"It's one of my biggest criticisms of law enforcement that we don't critique ourselves and go back and review," he says. "The egos, I don't know what you want to call it, can prevent people from admitting they were wrong, because when you're critiquing, you're basically saying, 'Hey, I was wrong there, there, and there.'"
McCue says he'll also be reviewing other agencies' case files for future episodes on questionable convictions. In Episode 6, he discusses the case of Amanda Lewis, a mother of two in the Florida Panhandle who was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly drowning her daughter in an above-ground pool.
"I don't call them wrongful convictions, just questionable ones," he says. "My intent is to review it and let people decide for themselves."
As of now, McCue has released a half-dozen episodes and is working on the next six.
"People always ask what it's like when you're a cop, especially in Miami," he says. "The average person either knows police work through TV shows or from reading stories in the media, but they don't always know the behind-the-scenes stories or how difficult it is to get from point A to point B."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.