Shortly after Andrew Cunanan shoots Gianni Versace in the first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, a white dove is shown laying beside the fashion designer's body. Seemingly killed by the shrapnel from the same bullets that killed Versace, the dove later appears when the medical examiner collected the bullet fragments as evidence. But what does the white dove mean on The Assassination of Gianni Versace? It's definitely a bizarre detail to include.
Doves can often carry symbolic meaning, and are released at weddings or funerals to represent love and peace. Doves have been messengers in Biblical stories, specifically standing in for the Holy Spirit. The show could be using it as a symbol of Versace's passing, his soul moving on from his body, or even the shocking senselessness of his death. Doves can be symbols of purity, and Versace was the wholly innocent victim of Cunanan.
There can be plenty of metaphoric meaning attributed to the white dove in "The Man Who Would Be Vogue," but the simple truth seems to be that the dead dove was actually a real thing that happened. Its symbolism is almost beside the point. There was actually a dove found beside the body of Gianni Versace when he was killed. Odd as it may sound, the truth can often be stranger than fiction.
The second season of American Crime Story is based on the book Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth, who seems to have reported on the existence of the dove. A New York Times book review cites "the shards of bullet that hit the eye of a mourning dove found near Versace's body" as one of many "terrific details" in the book. CBS Miami reported that the "bullet passed through Versace, struck the metal gate, splintered and one of the bullet fragments struck and killed the dove." According to CBS Miami, former Miami Beach police chief Carlos Noriega remarked of the dove, "Talk about bad timing."
Perhaps the show did exercise some creative license by using a white dove, when it was reported both by Orth and the Topeka Capital Journal that a mourning dove was found beside Versace. (Mourning doves appear to be mostly light brown in color.) One could argue white doves are more visually evocative, which is why the show chose to use one. That tends to be the type of dove that is released at important or ceremonial moments.
The randomness of the killing led some to speculate that it was a mob hit, and the dove was left behind as a calling card. However, that theory was quickly dismissed when it became clear that Andrew Cunanan (who had no connection to the mafia) was the perpetrator. According to the Daily Mail, two mafia hitmen named Giuseppe Di Bella and Filippo Barecca claimed Cunanan was framed and that the murder was the work of the mob and the dove was left behind to indicate as much.
But when taking a closer look at the details of Versace's death, there doesn't appear to be any indication that the mafia was at all involved. CNN reported in the months following the murder that Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto said that "Andrew Cunanan is the subject responsible for the homicide," though his motive was unclear. Cunanan was spotted at the scene by witnesses, including Versace's neighbor Merisha Colakovic, and he later killed himself using the same gun he shot Versace (and two other men) with. Investigators determined that Cunanan did kill Versace and did not appear to have any accomplices.
Strange as it may be, the dove had no greater significance than to be, like Versace himself, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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