By Steve Twomey and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 23, 2002
The skeletal remains of Chandra Ann Levy were found scattered on a steep, forested slope in Rock Creek Park yesterday, more than a year after her disappearance touched off an investigation that captivated the nation and ended the career of Rep. Gary A. Condit of California.
Drawn by the sniffing of his dog, a man on a morning outing in the Northwest Washington park swept away loose debris and uncovered a skull that the D.C. medical examiner's office identified late yesterday afternoon as Levy's, using dental records provided by her family months ago when the search for the former federal intern was at its peak.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, standing in Broad Branch Road NW about 100 yards from from where the skull, other bones and personal items were found, said there was no indication how Levy, 24, died or whether her remains had been at the site since her death or moved there some time later.
"There certainly is more work to be done by the medical examiner," Ramsey said.
But the accidental discovery was a breakthrough in a missing-person case that stymied investigators, and occurred in a sector of Rock Creek Park that was searched by police last summer after Levy's computer files showed that she looked up the park's Klingle Mansion on the day she disappeared.
"It is news I had hoped I would never have to share with Dr. and Mrs. Levy," said Billy Martin, the attorney for Chandra's parents, Robert L. and Susan Levy, adding that the couple would not make a public statement immediately because Susan Levy is "in such a bad emotional state of mind that we need time for her to grieve."
The case has garnered interest well beyond the borders of the District because of the tie between the young woman and the congressman, a relationship that family, friends and police have described as romantic and that Condit has publicly called merely a close friendship.
Police have never said Condit is a suspect and have interviewed more than 100 people in connection with Levy's disappearance. Condit, 54, has been interviewed at least four times, and police have said that he told them he had an affair with Levy. They also searched his former apartment in Adams Morgan, and he has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating Levy's disappearance.
His involvement in the case, particularly allegations that he was not forthcoming with authorities initially and might have obstructed justice in the probe, was the principal reason he lost his bid for reelection in a Democratic primary in March, after having represented the Modesto, Calif., area since 1989.
In a statement prepared by attorney Mark Geragos and faxed to the news media last night, Condit said he and his family "want to express their heartfelt sorrow and condolences to the Levy family. The Levy family will remain in our prayers."
The site where the remains were found, an area of heavy foliage bounded by Broad Branch, Grant and Ridge roads west of Rock Creek, will become what a law enforcement source called "an archaeological dig" in the next several days as investigators probe "layer by layer" for evidence of how Levy died and who, if anyone, might be involved. The police department borrowed lights from the National Guard to continue working at night.
Detectives believe the body was not in any kind of grave, but was simply left on the forest floor, where dirt and leaves eventually covered it, said law enforcement sources who spoke on condition that they not be identified. Police found "less of the body than more," they said, possibly because of animals.
The bones were very deteriorated and had no tissue or hair, the sources said. The skull, which was not complete, was cracked, although the cause was unclear. All the bones that were discovered were found within five yards of the skull.
Police would not identify the man who led them to Levy's remains, but said he was hunting for turtles about 9:30 a.m. when he noticed his dog sniffing vigorously at a spot on the side of a bluff that, while not far from Broad Branch Road, is "very inaccessible," Ramsey said.
"The man rubbed some earth off it, saw it was a skull and walked over to a nearby construction site to call," said Sgt. Scott Fear, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police.
Investigators, joined by top officers of the department, quickly found other bones, as well as a jogging bra, panties, tennis shoes, sweat pants and a portable radio.
Police recruits last summer searched 1,700 of Rock Creek Park's 2,820 acres, including the area where the remains were discovered. The park was a focus then because investigators checking Levy's computer records had learned that on May 1, 2001 -- the last day she was heard from -- she looked up the location of Klingle Mansion. The mansion, a three-story Pennsylvania Dutch-style farmhouse that was built in 1823, is a popular destination for dog walkers, bikers, hikers and joggers.
It is about a mile and a half from where her remains were found.
"It's possible to search and not find," Ramsey said.
Condit's attorney suggested on CNN last night, however, that the police had not done a thorough enough job searching for Levy. He noted that the remains were found near a jogging path that is on a direct line between Levy's Dupont Circle area apartment and Klingle mansion.
"Obviously, given some of the initial information, they have been in this area, they have been in this park before," Geragos said, referring to the police. "I'm sure there will be a lot of second-guessing whether or not they could've done something earlier, whether or not they missed a lot of things."
Although police cannot tell yet how long Levy's remains had been at the site, Ramsey said it looked as if the skeleton had been there for considerable time. The skull and other remains have been exposed to almost every type of weather, but experts in dental forensics said that has almost no impact on their ability to identify someone.
Teeth are "the hardest mineral in the body, harder than bones," said Jeffrey Burkes, chief dental consultant to the New York City Office of the Medical Examiner, who has been involved in the identification of World Trade Center victims.
Burkes said that teeth "are very distinctive and very individualistic" and that identifying a body by comparing dental X-rays taken both before and after death is as accurate as DNA samples, which take much longer to process.
Jonathan L. Arden, the D.C. medical examiner, said that his examination of the remains would continue today, and that he would seek the help of forensic anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution. Such specialists can look at fissures, cracks and other trauma, he said, to determine a cause of death.
"We said all along that a break in the case would come with someone diming someone out or finding the body," said Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "Now, finding the body has given us the potential of a mine full of information."
In a statement issued last night, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said that the city had shared the hope of Levy's parents "that somehow Chandra would be found alive and well" and that now the city "shares the pain and loss."
In an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show yesterday, before the remains were discovered and identified, the Levys said from their home in Modesto that it was unlikely their daughter would be found alive. But Robert Levy said, "As parents, we have to maintain that hope."
Both parents said they believe Condit knows what happened to their daughter.
Chandra Levy arrived in Washington in the fall of 2000 to begin an internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons as part of her quest for a master's degree at the University of Southern California. A short time later, she allegedly told an aunt who lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore that she had a new boyfriend, the congressman from her home town of Modesto.
She told her landlord in the District in January 2001 that she might break her lease to move in with a boyfriend. But the following month, Levy told the landlord that the relationship had not worked out and that she would not be moving in with anyone, the landlord has said. Her internship ended April 23. She was preparing to return to California to attend her graduate school commencement when she left a message on her aunt's answering machine, saying she had "big news."
On May 1, Susan Levy received an e-mail from her daughter with a copy of fares being offered by Southwest Airlines. Police have said that that is the last contact Chandra Levy had with family, friends or other tenants in her Dupont Circle area apartment.
Staff writers Petula Dvorak, David A. Fahrenthold, Marc Fisher, Allan Lengel, Arthur Santana, Debbi Wilgoren and Clarence Williams and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.