20 years after murder, former houseboat caretaker remembers finding Versace’s killer

(WSVN) - A week from Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the death of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace. His murder put a South Florida man in the world spotlight after he helped crack the case. 7’s Brian Entin is live on Miami Beach with his story, you saw first on 7.

There is still so much mystery and so much intrigue that comes to the former Versace mansion. Twenty years ago, Gianni Versace was shot and killed on his front porch. Out of the limelight is the caretaker of the houseboat who discovered Versace’s killer.

It’s a murder that sparked a national manhunt, July 15, 1997, 20 years ago.

911 Operator: “How did he get shot, sir?”

Caller: “I don’t know, he was walking in front of his home. It’s Gianni Versace.”

Famed designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed on the front steps of his South Beach mansion.

File sound, woman: “It’s just like, a tragedy, I think for South Beach, for, I guess, the fashion world.”

The suspect was quickly identified as Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer on the FBI’s most wanted list. The 27-year-old had already been connected to the murders of five people.

Fernando Carreira: “So as soon as I took the gun, I heard ‘boom!'”

Fernando Carreira, a caretaker for a Miami Beach houseboat, found Cunanan hiding out and heard the gunshot when the killer killed himself.

That discovery would launch Fernando from obscurity to fame overnight.

Craig Stevens: “The first question a lot of people want answered, how does it feel knowing you helped police put this guy’s murderous reign to an end?”

Fernando Carreira: “Well, I feel good!”

That was Fernando then, and this is the 91-year-old now.

Fernando Carreira: “Here are the pictures of Versace. See this is Versace.”

He lives in a small studio apartment in Miami Beach with his wife and dog.

His walls are covered with newspaper clippings and memorabilia.

Fernando Carreira: “This is Cunanan, this is Cunanan, ’cause he has a lot of faces.”

Fernando still carries the same gun he had on July 23, 1997. The day he found Versace’s killer.

Brian Entin: “Is this the same gun you had that day?

Fernando Carreira: “It is the same one, yes.”

Brian Entin: “And you still carry it everyday?”

Fernando Carreira: “Everyday. At night, I put it under my pillow.”

The houseboat was docked in the intracoastal along Collins Avenue and 53rd Street, and this is the spot where Fernando made his discovery 20 years ago.

File: “The fact is if it wasn’t for Carreira, we would still have a killer on the loose.”

Fernando quickly became a hero and a local celebrity. But at first, authorities did not want to give him the reward money.

Fernando got a lawyer, got petitions and the public rallied around him.

He eventually collected about $50,000.

Fernando Carreira: “You see, I have the check in my hand.”

But the money didn’t last. He says he made bad investments and friends used him.

Fernando Carreira: “Everything is gone. Zero I got left.”

Brian Entin: “So you have very little money now?”

Fernando Carreira: “40 dollars.”

Brian Entin: “40 dollars to your name?”

Fernando Carreira: “My name. In the bank, 40 dollars, and my wife about the same.”

Now, Fernando says he’s struggling to get by. His ceiling has a hole in it from the heavy rain.

Brian Entin: “It’s not good.”

Fernando Carreira: “No. There a lot of things not good.”

He says he had to sell his car because he couldn’t afford the insurance, and it’s tough for him to pay for all his medicine.

Fernando Carreira: “It was supposed to be good, but it turned out bad.”

In 1997, Fernando Carreira was on top of the world.

Twenty years later, his fame has faded.

Fernando Carreira: “I am not too happy. I am not supposed to be here. I am supposed to be living in something a little better. This is not good. This is not good for me.”

The 91-year-old is out of the spotlight and out of money but surrounded by memories of one of South Florida’s most infamous murders.

Fernando says he has never been contacted by anyone in the Versace family. As for the late fashion designer’s former home, it is now a boutique hotel.

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