A Young Woman Disappears
- May 1, 2001: Chandra Levy disappears.
- May 6: Robert Levy contacts D.C. police about his missing daughter. He also calls Rep. Gary Condit about Chandra.
- May 7: Levy tells police his daughter was dating the congressman.
- May 8: Police speak to Condit, who says he has not heard from Chandra in about a week.
- May 10: Police search Chandra's apartment.
- July 25: Police cadets search areas off Glover Road in Rock Creek Park for Chandra.
It was above 80 degrees, the start of another steamy summer day in Washington. At 8:58 on the morning of July 25, 2001, three D.C. police sergeants gathered 28 cadets along Glover Road in Rock Creek Park. They were looking for any trace of a government intern named Chandra Ann Levy.
The 24-year-old woman from California, with hazel eyes and a head full of unruly brown curls, had left her Dupont Circle apartment and then simply disappeared. She had been missing for 85 days, and the search for her had captivated the city and the nation. Her laptop computer's history showed that she was interested in visiting the vast 1,750-acre park on the day she vanished.
Now, the line of cadets executed the order of the city's chief of detectives, Cmdr. Jack Barrett: Search 100 yards from the roads that crisscross the park. But someone had made a mistake. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey had wanted the cadets to search 100 yards off the park's trails. By limiting the search to the areas near the roads, the police would canvass a far smaller portion of the park and not go deep into the woods. Either Ramsey miscommunicated his order, or Barrett misunderstood it.
After 1 that afternoon, the sergeants called off the search, and the weary cadets boarded a bus and headed for another area of the park.
Off the Western Ridge Trail near Glover Road, beneath the dark green canopy of the forest, a pair of sunglasses rested on the ground. Not far away was a white Reebok sneaker trimmed in blue. A little farther, on the edge of a ravine, was a pair of black Pro Spirit stretch pants turned inside out, each leg tied in a knot. And nearby lay the body of Chandra Levy. It was 79 yards below the trail.
"We were unbelievably close, but we missed - we just missed her," Terrance W. Gainer, the second-ranking D.C. police official at the time, later recalled. "We were so darn close to finding that poor girl."
It would be another 10 months before Chandra's body was found. By then, the forensic evidence that might have identified a killer - blood, hair, fiber - would be gone.
The Chandra Levy case is the most famous unsolved murder in modern Washington, a mystery involving sex, power and secrets. At its center is a vivacious young intern who had crossed paths with a handsome, married congressman. The story triggered months of feverish worldwide media attention in 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks shoved it aside and the investigation stalled.
The Washington Post spent a year reconstructing the disappearance of Chandra Levy and the investigation into her death. Reporters interviewed police officials, investigators and suspects, many for the first time, and obtained details about dozens of previously unknown private conversations and events, including former Rep. Gary Condit's first interview with the newspaper in seven years.
The Post's examination of the case will unfold in a 12-chapter serial and epilogue in print and online. The serial will show how the sensational nature of the media coverage quickly overwhelmed the investigation. It will expose the fleeting acts that later loomed large and will reveal undisclosed clues, meaningful and false: a DNA swab in a dark parking lot, Chandra's last computer search, a conversation with a jailhouse informant who said he had the key to the case.
In the end, the serial will reveal how an enormous effort by the D.C. police, the FBI and prosecutors was undercut by a chain of mistakes, a misdirected focus and missed opportunities that allowed a killer to escape justice.
The case began on Sunday, May 6, 2001, with an urgent call about 4 p.m. to the D.C. police department's 2nd District stationhouse on Idaho Avenue in Northwest Washington. On the line was Robert Levy, a doctor from Modesto, Calif. He hadn't heard from his daughter, Chandra, for five days, not since she sent an e-mail listing Southwest Airlines fares for her planned trip back west. She should have been home by now.