MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was 20 years ago when a man named Andrew Cunanan avoided capture in a nationwide killing spree that began in Minnesota and claimed the lives of five people, including fashion mogul Gianni Versace.

A senior special agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who was also a U.S. Marshal special deputy, will never forget his involvement in the chase that lasted into the summer of 1997.

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“It was pretty much my life for 79 days,” Lee Urness, who now lives in the southern Twin Cities, said.

It all started on April 25, 1997, when Jeffrey Trail was found beaten to death with a hammer in a Minneapolis loft apartment, his body rolled up in a carpet.

“I saw it on the Minneapolis police network,” Urness said. “I called Minneapolis homicide and said, ‘Hey, you know, if you’d like some help, if he flees the state, make sure you give me a call and I’ll help you capture him.'”

Four days later, David Madson’s body was discovered on the east shore of Rush Lake. He lived in the apartment where Trail’s body was found. Urness, who had been on the FBI Fugitive Task Force for several years at the time, said there were no early indications that they were investigating what would turn into a series of homicides that riveted the nation.

“Absolutely not. It was another fugitive case. I had hundreds prior to that. We had arrested hundreds of people. So, it was just another normal case, a very challenging one.”

It became even more challenging when Lee Miglin was found dead in Chicago the following week. That made Andrew Cunanan the 449th fugitive to make the FBI’s “most wanted” list. Urness was the point man, taking in thousands of leads and following up on numerous sightings.

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“The case was all-consuming to me. I thought of it all day and all night,” said Urness, whose biggest fear was that Cunanan would kill any police officer who approached him. “Every night I went to bed, I said a quick little prayer. I never got that dreaded phone call that he had harmed an officer.”

Despite stealing three cars, using a cellphone — considered somewhat of a luxury at the time — and his connection to the deaths of New Jersey cemetery caretaker William Reese and Versace, Cunanan was able to avoid Urness and a battalion of law enforcement officials.

“He basically laid low” Urness said. “He rented a cheap room in a hotel in South Beach, and lived by night. He read a lot of books, he watched some TV, pretty much holed up. He was not smart, he just was lucky that he wasn’t captured.”

Cunanan’s body was found July 24 in a Miami houseboat. He had shot himself to death.

“It was on my watch. I was the man in charge,” Urness said. “I held myself personally responsible for capturing Andrew Cunanan before he harmed anyone else.”

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Urness wrote a book on the case, “Death By Design,” which was published in 2006.