Robert and Susan Levy were furious at Rep. Gary Condit. They believed he was hiding what he knew about the disappearance of their daughter, Chandra. On June 14, 2001, the couple took the dramatic step of holding a national news conference to plead with Condit to disclose whatever he might know.
To turn up the pressure on Condit and the police, the Levys had hired one of the best and brightest lawyers in Washington, a smooth and seasoned litigator named William Martin, known around town simply as Billy. A week after the news conference, the couple were back in Washington in Martin's Watergate office along the Potomac River.
At 51, Martin was equally comfortable on the streets and in the halls of official power, a go-to guy in Washington's legal world. A former homicide prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, Martin had helped build the crack-cocaine case against former D.C. mayor Marion Barry. As a defense lawyer, Martin had clients ranging from the mother of Monica Lewinsky to Philadelphia 76ers basketball star Allen Iverson.
Martin brought in two former veteran D.C. detectives. Dwayne Stanton, a heavy-set man with a shaved head and an infectious charm, had investigated homicides for 15 years. J.T. "Joe" McCann, a thin, street-smart New Yorker with a roguish smile, had spent 30 years working homicides, drug investigations and public-integrity cases.
The Levys weren't the only ones who retained a high-profile lawyer. Condit hired Abbe Lowell, 49, a tough-talking criminal defense attorney known for representing powerful people who took well-publicized tumbles. During the Lewinsky scandal, Lowell served as chief Democratic investigative counsel for the House of Representatives, leading efforts to keep President Bill Clinton from being impeached.
Martin tried to put pressure on the police to step up the Chandra investigation, using news conferences. He set up an 800 number to take tips and pledged to conduct his own investigation, a public swipe at the police.
D.C. Chief of Detectives Jack Barrett said the police were considering three possibilities: Chandra ran away; she committed suicide;, or she fell victim to foul play. "No theory holds any more weight than any of the others," he told reporters nearly two months after Chandra's disappearance. The police put out a poster of Chandra with four hairstyles.
Martin and the Levys thought the suicide and runaway theories were ridiculous. They believed that the police were bungling the case by not moving fast enough.
To defuse the situation, the lawyers agreed to a secret meeting between Susan Levy and Condit. It would be an off-the-record, face-to-face sit-down, far from the cameras. Martin and Lowell went back and forth before settling on a list of a few questions Levy would be permitted to ask: When did you first meet Chandra? How often did you see her? When was the last time you saw her? Do you have any information about where she is now?
On the evening of June 21, 2001, Susan Levy and Martin stepped into the wood-paneled lobby of the Jefferson Hotel, a Beaux-Arts building four blocks from the White House. They walked to a private banquet room. Robert Levy was not with them; he was too distraught to face the man he believed may have had something to do with his daughter's disappearance.
When she finally met Gary Condit in person, Susan Levy was surprised to find that he did not look like Harrison Ford, her daughter's favorite movie star. He was shorter than she thought he would be and, to her, didn't resemble the actor. Her mind reeled with questions: Where is my daughter? What are you hiding?
Condit extended his hand. Levy refused it. She sat down with Martin across the table from Condit and Lowell and began to ask her questions, her hands quivering. She could barely focus on Condit's answers and would not remember them later. When she asked if he knew where Chandra was, he said, "Mrs. Levy, I don't know. Really, I don't."
She believed he knew more than he was saying. And then, before she knew it, the meeting was over. When they stood, the congressman approached her.
"Can I give you a hug, Mrs. Levy?" he asked.
"Absolutely not," she said.
On June 23, Condit agreed to meet the D.C. detectives a second time. He was still angry about the leaks and complained that his comments to police had wound up in the newspaper. But the congressman wanted to cooperate, to put the case behind him. He and Lowell met the detectives at 2:55 p.m. inside a private Georgetown residence. During the hour-long interview, the detectives had dozens of questions. Condit answered all but one.
He told the detectives he last saw Chandra at his apartment on April 24 or 25. They talked about the end of her internship and her plans to return to California. Condit repeated his statement that he had no idea what happened to her; there was nothing unusual about her mood; and they hadn't argued. She wasn't complaining about problems with other people. She wasn't angry with anyone.
The detectives asked the congressman about his relationship with Chandra. He described her as a constituent who became a friend and said she believed he could help advance her career. He restated what he had told them before: that he had met her in the fall of 2000 when she and a friend stopped by his Capitol Hill office.
He said Chandra came to his apartment three or four times. He said that they never went outside of Washington together and that he never gave her any gifts. This contradicted the statement of Chandra's aunt, Linda Zamsky, who had told police that the congressman had given her niece a gold bracelet. When police asked Condit about the bracelet, he said he never gave one to Chandra.
Barrett asked Condit to account for his whereabouts between April 28 and May 3. Condit said he didn't see Chandra during that time. On Saturday, April 28, he said, he rode his bicycle to a U.S. Capitol gym and returned to his apartment that night. On Sunday, April 29, he spent the day and night with his wife. Around noon, he called Chandra on his cellphone and spoke to her for less than two minutes. He couldn't recall the details of the conversation. On April 30, he worked in his congressional office.
On May 1, the day Chandra disappeared, Condit said, he left his apartment at 11 in the morning and worked until 6:30, when he went out to dinner at Tryst in Adams Morgan. He would later tell the detectives that he met with Vice President Cheney early that afternoon. On May 2, Condit worked on Capitol Hill, then went shopping and had dinner at an Adams Morgan restaurant with his wife. On May 3, Condit said, his wife returned to California.
Lowell had told the detectives to assume Condit and Chandra had a relationship and to avoid questions that were not germane. But Durant pressed Condit for more details about the relationship. Lowell interrupted, directing his client not to answer.
Condit would later say that police had learned everything they needed from him in their first 45-minute interview with him a month earlier, on May 9. "There was nothing else," he said. "Every meeting after that they just added stuff, you know, things that they could think of, you know, about other women or whatever."
Tips were pouring in to the D.C. police department from all over the world at a furious pace, each one stranger than the last. Hundreds of psychics and oddballs were phoning in with their hunches, their visions and their sightings. Some of the tips were plausible. Others were not. All took time away from the case. Police were frustrated. They were spending an unprecedented amount of time on the case and not getting a meaningful break - a witness, a piece of physical evidence, a solid tip from an informant.
Instead, they were hearing about ghostly visions.
One psychic said that Chandra's throat was slashed and that she was put in a body bag and stowed in the basement of a Smithsonian storage building in Anacostia. Police checked the building but found nothing.
Another said Chandra was murdered and dumped in the Potomac near the Memorial Bridge. A dive team found nothing.
Another caller said Chandra was a victim of a suicide bombing in Israel. Police called their counterparts there; it wasn't true. Another psychic told a Maryland state trooper that Chandra was buried in Howard County. Troopers checked the site, but it was another false lead.
One tipster said that Chandra died in Nevada during a botched abortion by a veterinarian and that she was buried in the desert, a tip that fed a persistent rumor that Chandra was pregnant. The private investigators went out West, but came back empty-handed.
The Secret Service was brought in for its expertise at analyzing cellphone calls. Agents discovered that weeks before she disappeared, Chandra made a call that was picked up by a cellphone tower near the Columbia Hospital for Women in Foggy Bottom. Detectives checked with the hospital to find out whether it performed abortions. It didn't.
Next chapter: The predator in the park.
The Washington Post spent a year reconstructing the disappearance of Chandra Levy and the investigation of her death. Reporters interviewed scores of people, including police officials, investigators and suspects — many for the first time — and obtained details about dozens of previously unknown private conversations and events.
© 2008 The Washington Post Company