Authors discuss 'Finding Chandra'
Friday, May 7, 2010; 12:00 PM
Investigations reporters Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz took your questions about their new book, Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery.
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: Hi, we're here and looking forward to answering all of your questions. With us is Jeff Leen, our editor and the head of the Post's Investigative Unit who edited the 13-part series, Who Killed Chandra Levy?, which ran in July 2008. We did extensive addtional reporting for our book, Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery, which will be published by Scribner on May 11.
New York City: I look forward to hearing your book. Since I have not seen it, would you please tell us what we may find in the book that has not already been published in the press?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: When we embarked on the book, we were surprised by how many new facts we discovered. We learned that the suspect, Ingmar Guandique, has a tattoo on his chest of a naked woman resembling Chandra Levy, according to police. We also write about how unidentified male DNA was found on Chandra Levy's leggings in Rock Creek Park. It has not been linked to either former Congressman Gary Condit or Guandique. Our book is full of new details about the innerworkings of the investigation and its aftermath.
Rockville MD: I really enjoyed your series and look forward to reading the book. Without giving away too much, how does the book expand on the series? I'm guessing you must have widened the focus beyond the facts you already covered in the Post stories?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: The series was about 20,000 words; the book is more than 60,000. It fleshes out the individual stories of Chandra, Condit, Guandique and other major players in the case. It is a deeper look at how police, lawyers, prosecutors and the press interacted. We pick up after the series finished in July 2008 and take the story to the present.
Washington DC: Hi,
Thank you for taking questions, and writing this book! I am fascinated by this case, and very glad that you all are keeping it at the forefront. I will never forget that summer when Chandra went missing.
My gravest concern is that if Guandique is guilty, that there are enough mis-steps by investigators that he could still go free. Knowing that you don't have a crystal ball (but that you do know the case), can we be reasonably assured that if he is guilty, it won't be thrown out on a technicality?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: Thank you for your comment. This is going to be a tough case for prosecutors to prove because the evidence is circumstantial. There is no forensic evidence or eyewitnesses tying Guandique to the crime. This Friday there is an important hearing in DC Superior Court where some of the key legal issues involving Guandique's statements and past actions will be debated. Anything can happen at trial because you never know what a jury is going to do. It's going to be fascinating.
Baltimore, MD: I mean no offense, I truly don't, but my question is... why?
This story was overplayed at the time, and like a zombie, it just won't die. Young women are killed -every day.- This particular young woman wasn't outstanding, interesting, or useful to anyone but her rich parents who could afford to keep the heat turned up.
Her involvement with the Congressman was vaguely sordid, and while there was still a chance he did it the story was interesting in a "wow, a Congressman might go down for murder instead of getting away with it?" kind of way. Without that element, the story became a non-starter.
So many murdered women have no voice. This woman had a voice thanks to her wealth. Why did the Post amplify hers instead of someone who will never be heard?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: That's a good question and one that has come up before. We chose this case because at the time it was Washington's most famous unsolved murder and the investigation appeared to be stuck after six years. Also, as you point out, there were suspicions early on that a congressman might have been involved, and Gary Condit was still living somewhat with a cloud over his head. The press attention this case got in the summer of 2001 was extraordinary and unprecedented. Yet the case seemed to be abandoned in the public mind after 9/11. We had heard that there had been serious mistakes and missed opportunities by the police and the FBI. We wanted to hold them accountable and find out precisely how the case went awry.
The Post investigative unit has looked deeply into other murder cases involving the less well-known. In 2000, we did a four-part series examining more than 200 unsolved murder cases. The next year, we investigated the deaths of more than 180 children who perished while they were under the watch of the D.C. child protection agency.
Washington, DC: I lived in DC when Chandra went missing (as I do now) and I don't remember hearing anything about the other women attacked in Rock Creek.
All eyes were on Condit and I, a regular runner, was never told that gang members were hanging out in the woods and "picking off" women. Combined with the truly laughable "sketches" of Chandra the police put out, the news that's come out that police "never showed up" to interview other victims and the fact that my apartment was burglarized around this time and the police touched/moved everything, making fingerprint capture impossible and didn't seem at all concerned about finding the perpetrator, my confidence in the DC police dept is quite low.
Was it ever explained WHY they didn't interview the other women til years later and why they didn't publicize the other attacks?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: In the summer of 2001, the DC detectives failed to Chandra's disappearance to the attacks on women in Rock Creek Park. Those were investigated by a different agency, the US Park Police, and somehow the information was not immediately communicated between the two agencies. The US Park Police interviewed two of the women attacked, but the original DC detectives did not think that those crimes were connected to Chandra's disappearance. Former police chief Charles Ramsey later told us that he was unaware that his detectives had not interviewed the women, and surprised by the oversight.
After the Post series that pointed to Ingmar Guandique as the most likely suspect, new detectives assigned to the case by Chief Lanier interviewed the women attacked in the park.
Bowie, Md.: Good Afternoon,
Why isn't/wasn't any more mention of Chandra stopping to get two ice creams at an ice cream store on her way into Rock Creek Park? I find that piece of information quite interesting but never was brought up in the series. Thank you.
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: That has never been proven. While Chandra did look up Baskin Robbins on her computer the morning of May 1, there is no evidence that she went there that day. In fact, no one knows exactly what she did between the time she signed off on her computer and entered Rock Creek Park.
NYC: I'm very pleased that the case has been solved--on the other hand, though, it's deeply depressing that it took newspaper reporters to get the job done (no offense). Why couldn't law enforcment put 2 and 2 together the way you did?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: That's a good question. The police have a very difficult job. They were working under incredible pressure, with an international media frenzy, sensational speculation about Condit and a true mystery to solve. Mistakes were definitely made. The case went cold, and in 2007 a new police chief assigned new detectives to the investigation. After the Post series ran in July 2008, the new detectives interviewed several key witnesses and visited Guandique in his cell in California. They arrested him in April 2009.
NYC: Will your book include further interviews with Condit and the Levy family? How cooperative were they?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: We had subsequent interviews with Robert and Susan Levy, and their son, Adam. We interviewed Condit extensively for the series, but he did not give us another interview for the book. We included new material from the earlier interviews in the book. We also re-interviewed his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, at length.
San Francisco, CA: This is a story of abiding interest, but what about the bigger picture? What lessons can we learn from how this case was handled?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: In high-profile media cases, the police and the press have to be careful about a rush to judgment. We saw this in the Richard Jewell Atlanta bombing case, the Anthrax investigation and the D.C. sniper case. With the advent of cable television and the proliferating blogosphere there is more noise and inaccurate information out there than ever before. It's important for law enforcement to stay focused on their investigations and the press to try harder to be accurate.
Across the hall from Apt 315: As a neighbor who knew Chandra slightly, I wanted to thank you for dogging this. I also want to say that I spoke to Det. Kennedy on a number of occasions, and he was determined to get to the bottom of this case. I think the media's obsession with Gary Condit was much more damaging. You can't imagine what it is like to have your home (mine!) surrounded by reporters, night and day, some from as far away as Japan and Germany. I was interviewed by some of them as well, and couldn't believe what some of them wrote.
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
Gary Condit?: What has become of Gary Condit since he left office? Has the fact that charges were made against someone else helped him at all?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: Last we heard, Gary Condit was living in Arizona and splitting his time between California and Colorado. He had opened two Baskin Robbins ice cream stores outside Phoenix but lost the stores in a franchise dispute. When we interviewed him, he told us he was doing some consulting work, but did not elaborate. It has also been reported that he was planning to write a book.
His attorney has said that he is pleased that his client has finally be exonerated, but the case cost Condit his career and caused his family great pain.
Richmond, VA: Has anyone looked into Ingmar Guandique's past in Latin America--is there any evidence of attacks on women down there, before he came to the U. S.?
Also, to what extent are all these bragging, macho, jailhouse confessions by Guandique likely to stand up in court? Wouldn't the inmates testifying about these confessions have to be given some type of reward for cooperating with the prosecutor, such as a reduced sentence for their own crimes? And what about the identity of the other men that Guandique claims participated in the attack on Chandra?
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: A Post reporter, our former colleague Sylvia Moreno, traveled to El Salvador to Guandique's village and interviewed his family and friends. She was not able to find any evidence of past crimes.
The question of the admissibility of the jailhouse confessions is a key one for the defense and prosecution, and will take center stage at upcoming pre-trial hearings. Cooperating witnesses usually are given some type of reward by the government, often a reduced sentence after they testify.
There is no evidence beyond Guandique's statement that others were involved.
Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz: That's all the time we have. Thanks for all of your great questions. If you want more information about the book go to www.findingchandra.com, and for updates on the case go to www.washingtonpost.com/investigations.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.