A Missed Connection

Two months after Chandra Levy went missing in 2001, Ingmar Guandique was arrested for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park.
Two months after Chandra Levy went missing in 2001, Ingmar Guandique was arrested for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park. (Family Photo)
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Friday, July 18, 2008

By Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham & Sylvia Moreno

Washington Post Staff Writers

While D.C. police focused most of their investigative efforts on Rep. Gary Condit and his relationship to missing intern Chandra Levy, they were slow to recognize another lead. It involved a man attacking women in the woods of Rock Creek Park.

The day Chandra disappeared, May 1, 2001, Ingmar A. Guandique, a 19-year-old illegal Salvadoran immigrant, did not show up for his construction job. Around that time, he went to stay with his former landlady, Sheila Phillips Cruz, the manager of an apartment building on Somerset Place NW. Cruz noticed that Guandique looked like he had been in a bad fight, his face battered and bruised. He had a fat lip, a bloody blemish in his eye and scratches around his throat.

Guandique (pronounced GWAN-dee-keh) had come from a hard-scrabble hamlet near the city of San Miguel in El Salvador. His father was kidnapped by guerrillas during the Salvadoran civil war, before Guandique's birth in 1981, and later executed. The son grew up in an adobe house with a dirt floor, no running water and an open pit for cooking meals. The home was decorated with family photos and pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary taped to pink and white sheets of plastic that served as wallpaper.

Guandique wanted a better life in America. A friend of the family lent him $5,000 to pay a "coyote" to smuggle him across the Texas border with more than 50 others. The seventh-grade dropout left home in January 2000, eventually swimming across the Rio Grande, crossing the border near Piedras Negras and arriving in Houston in March 2000. From there, he made his way to Washington to join his half-brother, Huber, and other family friends.

Within a month, Guandique began picking up day jobs on construction sites and sending small amounts of money back home. He also had financial obligations to the family that paid his way. And he had another obligation: his ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant when Guandique left and later gave birth to a boy.

In fall 2000, Guandique met a new girl, Iris Portillo. She was a tiny woman; even though she was a year older than Guandique, she looked 13. In early 2001, Guandique began to live with Portillo and her mother in their apartment on Somerset Place. The young couple took walks near the National Zoo and picnicked in Rock Creek Park. He was enamored with her. He bought her jewelry, including a ring from a Georgia Avenue pawn shop.

Guandique was having a hard time adjusting to living on the bottom rung of the U.S. economy. He barely spoke English. He was not used to the routine: waking up at dawn, getting to the work site on time, spending the day toiling at a menial job. He struggled to pay the bills, send money home and buy the nice things Portillo wanted.

In early spring 2001, Guandique started to spend more time drinking and hanging around Rock Creek Park. He began to carry a six-inch knife wrapped in a red cloth. After finding letters from one of Portillo's old boyfriends from El Salvador, he struck her. He once bit her hard above her breast, leaving a scar, and he warned her not to stray. He would later say that Portillo broke his heart.

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