Monday, July 17, 2017

That time I was confused for serial killer Andrew Cunanan


On July 17, 1997, I was confused for serial killer Andrew Cunanan. This is my story. 




"I am not a serial killer,'' I repeatedly told a seemingly trigger-happy crush of cops as they surrounded me outside a Fort Lauderdale office building.

It was July 1997 and South Florida's eyes were on the lookout for Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace's killer.

I had gone to interview a gentleman who may have known Cunanan. But the gentleman mistook my trademark crew cut and thick eyebrows for the real killer's.

He called the cops on me.

And before I knew it, I was standing in front of a small army of men in blue.  I remember inhaling deeply, swallowing my heart (gulp!) back down my throat and slowly flashing a bouquet of IDs.

My press pass, my driver's license, my FIU student ID, even my half-filled Subways sandwich club card - anything that would prove that I was Miami Herald cub reporter Johnny Diaz and not a killer masquerading as one.

It was a simple (and overblown) case of mistaken identity. A doppelganger, a double.

I've been continued for other things, too:  Greek, Italian, even for a girl when I was younger (pre-puberty but that's another story for another blog entry or maybe not.)

But a serial killer has topped them all.

At the time of Versace's murder, fear hung over South Florida like a dark cloud. We were under a police and media microscope. Mass hysteria, a Miami manhunt.

Everyone was looking for Cunanan. So was I as a reporter or anyone who may have known him.

It was after office hours that day in July. The Fort Lauderdale office building at 1975 Sunrise Blvd. was closed.

A door in the back was open so I naturally let myself in. (No one was looking.)

Within minutes, I found myself on the seventh floor asking a frightened-looking older gentleman named Cliff Pettit, "Is this Gamma Mu?" (That was the name of the gay men's organization that Cunanan had allegedly tried to infiltrate.)

"They moved!" Pettit abruptly fired back as he showed me the door.

"Um, thank you and sorry to have bothered you,'' I said to him as I left.

Then it hit me: Where did they move to?

Like I soldier, I turned around. I knocked on the door. But there was no answer.

I knocked harder - the knocks drifted in an echo.

Nada.

"I know you're in there, let me in," as I continued knocking.

Still, nothing.

With my head facing down, I rode the elevator back down to the lobby.

As I made my way out of the office building, I found myself greeted by the police.

Once the officers realized I wasn't their man, they broke out in laughs. (At least someone thought this was funny.)

"Johnny, you really shouldn't work on this story. You look too much like the perpetrator,'' said one officer, who was still laughing in the elevator.

"Hey, this isn't funny," I told them. More laughs.

They escorted me back to the seventh floor to reintroduce me to the gentleman whom I almost gave a stroke from the big scare.

Apparently, he had met the real Cunanan earlier that year at a party in San Diego where Cunanan sported a white button-down shirt, blue jeans and a crew cut which was the way I happened to be dressed that day.

A few days later, Pettit called me at work and apologized.

He wanted to make it up to me for calling the police and landing me in the news.

From Jose Lambiet's Sun Sentinel story on July 18, 1997:

       Three patrol cars swooped down on reporter Johnny Diaz of The Miami Herald, who admitted he looks a lot like Cunanan
    ``I was trying to interview someone but when I walked in his office, he kind of freaked out,'' Diaz said. ``I walked out but in the meantime, the person had called the police. I'm about the same height and weight as Cunanan and I got the crew cut and the big eyebrows.''

From Fred Grimm's July 22, 1997 Miami Herald column:

Last Wednesday, someone fingered a shadowy Herald reporter named Johnny Diaz. Poor Johnny was among hundreds of supposed Cunanan sightings investigated by police. At least Diaz looks more Cunanan-esque than... 

And there was the interview on NBC's Dateline about mistaken identities.

But back to the phone call from the gentleman who thought I was Cunanan. He wanted to invite me to an upcoming Halloween bash in Fort Lauderdale's Coral Ridge neighborhood.

Just as long as I didn't dress up as Cunanan.

PS
And the story continues. Steve Rothaus of The Miami Herald added this graph to his new article on the rise of the LGTBQ community in Miami Beach during the Versace years for the 20th anniversary of his death.

Until Cunanan’s death, hundreds of tipsters throughout Florida reported to police they might have seen him on the loose. FBI agents even questioned Miami Herald reporter Johnny Diaz, then 24, after a man he tried to interview decided the young journalist looked just like Cunanan, 27.

My former coworkers at The Miami Herald created this side-by-side comparison image below as a gag for my goodbye page when I left the Herald to go the Boston Globe a few years ago. 



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thank you Miami Herald

This is the surprise I saw when I opened The Miami Herald this past Sunday. A HUGE thank you to my old paper and Steve Rothaus for the lovely story in Sunday's paper. It captures my writing career that began at the Herald when I was 16 and how I shifted into fiction writing in Boston. He also talked about the movie that inspired my new book Six Neckties and why I called it that. There's even a photo of my parents from one of my book readings at Books & Books in Miami Beach. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Here is the online version of the story.






Sunday, May 14, 2017

Six Neckties, "A Summer Page-turner"

A big thank you to Boston Spirit Magazine for recommending my new book Six Neckties as a "Summer Page-turner" in New England.  For more details about the book, follow this link.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Six Neckties is here

My sixth novel Six Neckties is finally here, just in time for the summer wedding season.

The book is a literary postcard to Ogunquit, Maine where it takes place during the summer (along with some Boston/Dorchester and Miami.) 

The book should feel like one of those fun, light and sweet Saturday night Hallmark Channel movies (my favorite) but with gay men and a cute doggie. (I heart dogs too.)

Here's the description:

Now that gays are getting hitched, it seems that everyone is saying I Do. Except for Tommy Perez. 

He's always the best man or groomsman for his friends' nuptials. And with each occasion, Tommy goes home alone with another necktie. He's already on number four. But things seem to improve for the Maine magazine writer when he suddenly meets Danny, a confident freelance photographer who shoots a friend's wedding in Provincetown. Danny is cute enough that he should be in front of the camera rather than behind it. 

And complicating matters is the arrival of a sexy and slightly older guest house manager named Ignacio who begins to court Tommy's heart in their small town of Ogunquit. But is Tommy ready for love again? As he helps his best friends Rico and Carlos prepare for their weddings, Tommy must reexamine his past relationship with his ex Mikey who had issues with the bottle in Boston. And with two potential love interests on the horizon, will it finally be Tommy's turn to walk down the aisle in his own necktie? 

To order the paperback version or ebook, click here




Friday, April 14, 2017



I made a fun little video about donks (those old school Chevys that are customized and lifted) and where you may have seen them on and off the road.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Six Neckties, a preview

Here's a little preview to my sixth novel Six Neckties which takes place in Ogunquit, Maine (with some Boston.)  The book should feel like one of those fun, light and sweet Saturday night Hallmark Channel movies (my favorite) but with gay men.

Now that gays are getting hitched, it seems that everyone is saying I Do. Except for Tommy Perez. 

He's always the best man or groomsman for his friends' nuptials. And with each occasion, Tommy goes home alone with another necktie. He's already on number four. But things seem to improve for the Maine magazine writer when he suddenly meets Danny, a confident freelance photographer who shoots a friend's wedding in Provincetown. Danny is cute enough that he should be in front of the camera rather than behind it. 

And complicating matters is the arrival of a sexy and slightly older guest house manager named Ignacio who begins to court Tommy's heart in their small town of Ogunquit. 

But is Tommy ready for love again? As he helps his best friends Rico and Carlos prepare for their weddings, Tommy must reexamine his past relationship with his ex Mikey who had issues with the bottle in Boston. 

And with two potential love interests on the horizon, will it finally be Tommy's turn to walk down the aisle in his own necktie?

To read the first chapter, visit this preview link.  The book should be released later this month.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Home life in a box


Shipping containers are being recycled into homes in South Florida.  With their iron walls and boxy shapes, these mods are being repurposed as duplexes, Airbnb rentals and homes.

I wrote a story about these modular homes which have been popping up in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach county.

(Photos by Johnny Diaz)

The white home on the upper left was made from three shipping containers (one on top, two  at the bottom.)  It's used as an Airbnb rental in Jupiter (just north of West Palm Beach.)  The dog in the photo is not included with the rental.

The second photo is of a duplex currently being built near North Miami Beach.

And the third photo is of a home by Miami Shores built from three containers.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cuban rafts of the past

I remember in the mid-90s when Cuban rafts washed up on shore almost daily. Some were empty. Others ferried Cubans to the US. Once abandoned, the rafts became symbols of freedom, liberty and new beginnings. Some business owners proudly salvaged them and displayed them outside their property.

With the elimination of the so-called wetfoot, dryfoot policy this month, will we be seeing fewer of these homemade boats?   I wrote a Sun Sentinel story about that and how some local museums and gardens still have some of these rafts/vessels as relics of history.  The Spanish version of the article is here.

The photo above is a raft called the Tio B that was found just south of Miami Beach in 1994 during the rafter crisis.  The raft is on display at HistoryMiami Museum in downtown Miami. The photo below is of a Cuban boat (from the top) used by migrants in 1979 and one used by Haitians (below).  (Photos by Johnny Diaz)