One Good Man
08/11/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
Their meeting lasted only minutes, yet it will haunt Candace Parrott for the rest of her life. Last September she was enjoying breakfast at a Houston hotel with her beloved younger brother Jeffrey Trail—a naval lieutenant who had recently completed a five-year hitch and flown in from San Diego for a job interview—when his traveling companion joined them. Introduced as Andrew DeSilva, the clean-cut young man seemed "charming, charismatic—a great conversationalist," she recalls. "I asked Jeff afterward, 'Gee, what does Andrew do?' and he said, 'He really doesn't have to do anything. He has his own money.' "
That was one of the more innocuous threads in the tissue of lies spun by the man Candace, and the world, would later come to know as Andrew Cunanan, serial killer. In late April, after telling pals in San Diego that he had to "take care of some business matters" with Trail, Cunanan flew to Minneapolis, where Trail, 28, then a propane-company manager, and Cunanan's ex-lover, architect David Madson, 33, were each living. On April 29 the body of Trail, a 1991 Naval Academy graduate and Gulf War veteran, savagely beaten with a claw hammer, was found rolled in a rug in Madson's loft. Four days later, Madson himself was discovered near a rural lake—murdered with the .40-caliber handgun that Trail had bought in 1996 while training to join the California Highway Patrol.
Since then the Trail family of DeKalb, Ill., has had to handle their very private grief against the backdrop of a very public cross-country manhunt. Making matters more difficult was the fact that Trail hadn't revealed his homosexuality to his parents, Stanley, 67, a retired professor of mathematics, and Ann, 69, a retired elementary school teacher. Still, says Parrott, 43, one of Trail's four older siblings by their mother's previous marriage, faith and family have "given us the strength to get through this. "A few days ago, at her home in Austin, Texas, Parrott—a divorced mother of two who is currently a graduate student in nursing—shared her grief, and her memories, with correspondent Joanne Fowler. "Jeff had a goodness to him, a sincerity you just can't buy," she says. "Andrew took a lot away from us, but that is one thing he never will."
ON THURS., MAY 1, MY NEIGHBOR Karen came by and said, 'Candy, you need to call your mom.' I immediately thought something had happened to my younger sister Lisa who had given birth to her third child the day before. But when I called, my mother said, "Candy, there's been a tragedy. The police said they found Jeff in another man's apartment." Then she paused, and I asked, "Is he dead?" And she said, "Yes."
Your heart just hurts. To me, one of the toughest things I had to do was tell my kids. So I know for Mom to have to tell each of us and not only have to deal with her pain but our pain, it just hurt her even more. At the end of that phone call she said, "Candy, something I'll always remember about Jeff—whenever he talked to us on the phone, he always told us, 'I love you.' He knew about the fragility of life, and I'll always be thankful that we said that to each other."
But that's Jeff—he was a good person. What has been so comforting is the hundreds of letters we've gotten from people we never knew telling how Jeff affected their lives. A lot of people when they hear stories like this jump to conclusions like, "Oh, well, it was just a gay situation, and you know those folks. They just do things like that." But Jeff wasn't killed because of high-risk behavior. He was not into drugs. Despite the sensationalism of the case, as a family we want to set the record straight. Jeff was special. He was a good guy. He was hard-working and family oriented. We all loved him.
It wasn't until later the day my mom called that the names of Andrew DeSilva/Cunanan came up, along with David Madson. It was then that things started falling into place. That evening I got two calls from the Minneapolis police asking about my conversations with Jeff about Andrew. Police had already staked out the San Diego airport. I take issue with people who say they weren't on top of their job.
I cannot say enough about the Minneapolis police and the FBI. Our whole family feels very strongly that law enforcement went above and beyond the call of duty. Andrew was put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list on June 12. So they were doing their job long before Versace's death.
Initially I was consumed with the manhunt. My concern became more personal in that I had met Andrew and the FBI found my address in a book in his San Diego apartment. Most likely I gave him my name and number when I met him last year and said, "Call me if you're in Austin." Even though he did not have his address book, and logically it wouldn't have made sense for him to contact me, it still scared me enough to ask for extra patrols to go by my house.
The last time I saw Jeff was back home in DeKalb in mid-April. It was at that time Jeff expressed his concern about Andrew coming to Minneapolis to visit in a few weeks. He said, "I've got another relationship going on, and Andrew has always wanted more." We discussed options like rescheduling the trip or saying, "Come out, but you have to know what the deal is." We never came to any conclusions.
Andrew tried to pattern his behavior after Jeff's. I know from what Jeff's friends told Lisa that when Jeff got a haircut, Andrew had to have the same haircut; when he grew a goatee, Andrew had to grow one. Looking back on it, I think a lot of people would envy and admire what Jeff had—friends he didn't have to buy, a very close and loving relationship with his family, not only having principles but living them. I'm sure Andrew perceived that about Jeff and wanted that. People would ask Jeff why he put up with Andrew. His friends told me Jeff would say, "It's kind of like having a black sheep in your family. You just put up with him and you just love him."
Jeff had a lot of friends. As a manager at Ferrellgas, his hours were 8 to 5. But he told me, "I like to get there about 7 a.m. so I can see my folks go off in the morning and make sure they're okay. And I'll stay there until they come in." That was his style. Jeff and I talked sometimes every other day. He was really supportive during my divorce two years ago. We shared a lot in that I'd call him with my problems, and he'd tell me his.
I know he struggled with being gay for a while, and he was a much happier person when he accepted it. Jeff had not yet confided in my parents about his lifestyle. He wanted to find a good time to tell them. We always told him it doesn't matter—you are loved unconditionally. Now it's almost a secondary issue. They're dealing with his death.
Jeff's last relationship, with Jon Hackett, sounded the most serious of all. They met soon after Jeff arrived in Minneapolis last fall. Jeff talked about how much he enjoyed Jon's company, and that he had found someone he was not only in love with but who was a good friend. Sun., April 27, was Jon's birthday. So Jeff made him a chocolate cake. I'm so happy his last weekend he got to do things he liked to do.
Jeff was relaxed and fun-loving. One time when he came to see me recently, I remember coming home from school and he was cooking chicken Gorgonzola with Frank Sinatra blaring on the stereo. Lisa and I inherited his karaoke machine. But Jeff had his serious side too. At the Naval Academy his friends used to jokingly refer to him as Gramps or Old Man because he was so responsible and conservative. I never realized this, but initially Jeff was turned down for the Academy because somewhere in his medical record they found a notation of asthma. But Jeff persevered and wouldn't take no for an answer. The recruiter wrote us a condolence letter recently and said he still uses that story as inspiration.
Now that Andrew is dead, we all feel relieved. But what we thought we'd feel isn't how we do. My brother Michael said he thought he'd be really happy, but we all discussed that we take no joy in Andrew's death. It's not that kind of situation. Our main feeling is that we're glad he stopped and that no else was hurt. What I've realized, having met Andrew Cunanan, is that there really are monsters out there.
Surprisingly I don't feel consumed by the need to know why Jeff was killed. What I know in my heart is that Jeff was never anything other than what he lived. That is what has provided me with the peace I think I have as far as this whole ugly mess is concerned, and I know that my parents feel the same way. They may not have known about his sexuality, but they take comfort in knowing the kind of man he was.
We all miss Jeff so much. On the first day of summer school, I sat in my faculty adviser's office and cried for an hour. There's a sense that innocence in the world has been lost. But I know Jeff wouldn't want any of us to carry on bitter and morose. It's my hope and my faith that I can recapture that sense of security, get that part of me back in spite of this. But it's a hard lesson to learn.