The Gentleman From California
- September 2000: Chandra Levy comes to Washington.
- Fall: Chandra meets Rep. Gary Condit.
- Jan. 20, 2001: Chandra attends a ball for President Bush's inauguration with a friend, Robert Kurkjian.
- April 27: Chandra spends an evening with Kurkjian and his friends, eating pizza and watching movies.
- May 1: Chandra disappears.
Chandra Levy came to Washington in the fall of 2000, a fresh-faced intern awestruck by her surroundings. She was one of many ambitious young people who arrive in the nation's capital excited by their proximity to power.
Chandra's ticket to Washington was an internship for the Federal Bureau of Prisons during her final semester of graduate school. She was a smart California girl, fit and petite at 108 pounds, who liked to work out at the gym. At 23, she exuded a blend of innocence and sensuality, but she was not a party girl. At heart, Chandra was a bit of a nerd.
In high school, she liked to wear her Modesto police explorer uniform as she strode down the hallways, ignoring the ridicule from the cool kids. She was fiercely independent, stubborn to a fault. She was free-spirited but could be cautious. Once, when her family went camping in Yosemite National Park, Chandra slept in the car, fearing a bear attack.
Chandra, whose name meant "moon" in Sanskrit, was raised in a spacious ranch home with horses out back in the almond groves of small-town Modesto, a 90-minute drive east from San Francisco. Its motto: "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health."
Chandra had big-city dreams of leaving the flat, dusty town in the middle of nowhere and seeing the world as an FBI agent. She was driven. She had liked older men as far back as high school, when she swooned for everything Harrison Ford. She dated a police officer in Modesto.
As an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, she interned for the mayor of Los Angeles. As a graduate student at USC, she interned for the governor of California.
In fall 2000, she was walking down the polished marble hallways of the Rayburn House Office Building with Jennifer Baker, another graduate student at the University of Southern California. They stopped by the office of the congressman from Chandra's district, Gary A. Condit. They expected to meet a low-ranking aide, but instead the lawmaker himself appeared.
With his winning smile, carefully coiffed hair and charming man-about-town swagger, Condit, at 52, reminded Chandra of Harrison Ford. The congressman offered to show the pretty pair around, escorting them up to the gallery of the Capitol, with its commanding view of the historic House floor. He gave Baker, who didn't have a job, an internship in his office. The trio posed for a picture, Condit beaming with a broad smile as Chandra stood on his right, Baker on his left. Behind them was a large mural of a blue dog, the mascot for a group of conservative-leaning House Democrats led by Condit.
For the past 11 years, Condit had been building a reputation as a renegade within the Democratic Party. A photo of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, hung on his office wall. He was one of the few Democrats to publicly push President Bill Clinton to be forthcoming about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. Condit's conservative stances were so popular in the San Joaquin Valley that his district became known as "Condit Country."
The son of a Baptist preacher, Condit was raised in Tulsa, Okla. As a child, he tagged along with his father to tent revivals. By the time he reached high school, Condit had turned rebellious. He was a handsome, swashbuckling teenager who liked fast cars and found himself in trouble with the law, racking up traffic tickets and a conviction for reckless driving. Despite his penchant for running with a fast crowd, he fell for a girl who lived on the good side of town: Carolyn Berry, a sweet-natured blonde from a well-respected family.
After graduating from high school, Condit married Berry on Jan. 18, 1967. That summer, their first child, Chad, was born. A daughter, Cadee, would follow. The newlyweds went with Gary's father, Adrian, to Ceres (pronounced SEER-ies), a slowpoke town in California's Central Valley named after the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Here, among the vast groves of almonds and walnuts and fields of sweet strawberries, Condit's father found work as the pastor of the Village Chapel Free Will Baptist Church. Condit's career took off soon after college, when he was elected to the Ceres City Council. Two years later, at the age of 26, he became mayor. His ascent was steady: At 28, he was a member of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors; at 35, a state assemblyman; at 41, a member of Congress.
He cultivated a wholesome image as the hometown boy who made it big but never forgot where he came from.
Chandra was swept away by Condit's charm. By Thanksgiving in 2000, Condit would later tell police, Chandra was coming over two or three times a week, often after working out at the Washington Sports Club on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle. Chandra would take the Metro to the Woodley Park station. From there, she would walk over the Calvert Street bridge to Condit's apartment in the trendy neighborhood of Adams Morgan. She typically spent the night.