By Allan Lengel and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 1, 2006
Five years after the killing of Chandra Levy, authorities have come up with plenty of theories but no results in solving one of Washington's most-publicized cases.
The FBI and D.C. police say they still are pushing to turn up a break that will lead to the killer of the 24-year-old federal intern. Levy's family, meanwhile, tried to rejuvenate the probe recently by launching a Web site, http://whokilledchandra.com/.
Longtime FBI agent Brad Garrett, who has solved other high-profile crimes, said he has done a lot of legwork in the past year. He has scoured phone records and court cases, gone to prisons to investigate or interview inmates and even put people under surveillance. He also has spent time at Rock Creek Park, where Levy's skeletal remains were found more than a year after she disappeared.
Garrett said he has gone himself or enlisted the aid of other FBI agents to follow leads in four states. He said he has particular interest in a handful of people, including some who knew Levy and strangers who have criminal records. He's not naming names, and he's not saying much about where he thinks the case is headed.
"Do I lean toward a stranger or somebody who knew her?" he asks. "I do, but I'm not going to voice that opinion. But having said that, I don't have a strong leaning. New information can either change or adjust what you're doing."
The case has taken many turns since May 1, 2001, when Levy left her apartment in the Dupont Circle area of Northwest Washington for the last time. It was about 1 p.m. that day that she used her home computer to look up Klingle Mansion, the National Park Service's headquarters in Rock Creek Park.
Her disappearance set off a maelstrom of speculation that endures today, fueled initially by revelations that she was having an affair with her hometown congressman, Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.). Police have said repeatedly that Condit is not a suspect. Condit, who later lost a bid for reelection, has said he knows nothing about Levy's death.
"This case boils down to a couple of things," said Garrett, who will retire in August and hand off the case unless he gets a break soon. "One is that someone spurned her either in taking her to the park, leaving her at the park or some version thereof. Or a stranger harmed her after she got to the park."
Garrett is working with D.C. police on the investigation. The department lists the slaying as one of about 6,000 "cold cases" dating as far back as the early 1980s. But one official said the probe is in the top 10 in terms of priority, and one detective is assigned to work on it full time.
"It's very important to us. . . . We want to figure out what happened just as much as anybody else," said Lt. Guy Middleton, who heads the cold case squad.
He said his unit follows up on tips, which trickle in at a rate of about two a month via phone, e-mail and letter. So far, all have proved fruitless, including one last year that seemed intriguing enough to send a detective to Wisconsin. A woman claimed her ex-husband was an assassin hired to kill Levy. There was nothing to the claim.
Authorities believe that Levy was killed in the park, several miles from her apartment, and possibly in a sexual assault. They said they remain interested in a man who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for attacking two joggers in Rock Creek Park shortly after Levy disappeared. But they have been looking into his activities for more than three years and have not developed evidence tying him to Levy's death.
The forensic evidence from Rock Creek Park, where Levy's body was discovered May 22, 2002, by a man who was searching for turtles, has not yielded anything of significance. Because Levy's remains were in such a punishing environment for so long -- humidity, wind, rain and snow alternately cleansed and contaminated the crime scene for a year -- some officials believe that only a tipster will lead them to the killer.
"It's going to take a break," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "But I'm optimistic it's going to be solved."
Levy vanished shortly after completing an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Washington and just before she planned to move back to her hometown of Modesto. Authorities interviewed Condit four times in 2001, subpoenaed his bank, phone and credit card records, took a DNA sample and searched his condominium. Every step generated enormous media attention, locally and nationwide.
"They looked at him. They determined pretty early on that he likely had nothing to do with it," Middleton recalled last week.
Now living in Arizona, Condit and his wife, Carolyn, are trying to find a new life away from politics. But the family still faces fallout from the Levy case. The couple's children, Cadee and Chad, were sued in January by the Fair Political Practices Commission, a California state political watchdog agency. The suit claims they took $226,000 from Condit's political action committee for a documentary examining news coverage of Condit during the Levy case but generated no discernable work.
Mark Geragos, a Los Angeles attorney representing the Condit family, said that the agency's lawsuit is unfounded and that the documentary eventually will be made public.
Meanwhile, Susan and Robert Levy, Chandra's parents, remain haunted by her death. Susan Levy said there are no plans for a vigil or a memorial to commemorate the anniversary. "I do it every day, all week," she said. "I think of her, remember her."
She suggested that everyone who has had a family member or friend slain make a public statement by placing purple ribbons on their clothes, their mailboxes or their cars. "It would make more people aware of crimes and how many victims are out there," she said.
The Levys hope someone will respond to their Web site.
"We want the right people to respond," Susan Levy said. "The people with some answers."
Staff researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.