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Who Killed Chandra Levy? - Chapter Six: The Predator in the Park

By Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writers
June 18, 2008

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 who was 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 at a Georgia Avenue pawn shop.

Guandique was having a hard time adjusting to living on the bottom rung of the American 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 of 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 Iris broke his heart.

Another time he kicked in the bedroom door of their apartment, splintering the wood. He slammed his head against the bathroom wall, making a hole in the plaster. He punched Portillo in the face. He held his hands to her throat, saying that if he couldn't have her, no one could. Finally, Portillo's mother had seen enough. She told Guandique to leave her apartment and stay away from her daughter.

****

At 1:15 on the afternoon of May 7, Guandique broke into the apartment of Tomasa Orellana, a neighbor on Somerset Place. He was wearing red work gloves, black pants and a baseball cap, and was carrying three screwdrivers - a poor man's burglary kit. He snatched a gold wedding band. But Orellana came home sooner than expected and saw Guandique, whom she recognized from the neighborhood, crouching in a corner of her bedroom. She screamed and Guandique took off.

Orellana called the police, who began to look for the suspect. He was 5-foot-8, 140 pounds, with black hair, deep brown eyes, a broad forehead and a flat nose that looked as though it had been broken before. When officers spotted him a few blocks away, they found the screwdrivers and the wedding band in his pockets. Orellana identified Guandique as the man in her bedroom. He was booked on burglary charges and released the same day on a promise to return to court May 29.

****

A week after Guandique's burglary arrest, on May 14, Halle Shilling, 30, a tall, blond, athletic aspiring writer, was taking her regular run through Rock Creek Park. Around 6:30 p.m., she started to jog from the Peirce Mill, a former flour operation, while listening to music on her yellow Sony Walkman. As she headed north toward the Western Ridge Trail, she saw a young Hispanic man sitting on the curb of a parking lot near Broad Branch Road. Unknown to Shilling, he got up and ran behind her on a trail that ran along Beach Drive. He let her run another mile or so, deeper into the park.

At the top of the hill, Shilling sensed that someone was behind her. She thought it was another runner, and she slowed to let him pass. Instead, the Hispanic man jumped on her back and grabbed her around the throat. They fell to the ground and tussled on the trail. The hum of the rush-hour traffic below drowned out her screams.

She saw his knife.

"No! No! No!" she shouted.

"Shhhh," the man ordered.

Shilling jammed her fingers into her attacker's mouth, digging her nails beneath his tongue, as she had been taught in a self-defense class years earlier. The man bit her fingers, but released her and ran off. Shilling made her way to a U.S. Park Police station. She reported the crime and said she didn't believe her assailant was trying to rob her. He didn't take her Walkman or her large diamond engagement ring. She thought he was trying to rape or kill her.

****

Seven weeks later, on July 1, 2001, at 7:30 p.m., Christy Wiegand and her fiance were jogging in the northern section of Rock Creek Park. It had been raining on and off all day. Wiegand, 25, a former varsity rower at Princeton and a recent Cornell University Law School graduate, was an anti-trust lawyer for Arnold & Porter. Her wedding date was seven weeks away. She was tall and blond, her 5-foot-11 frame moving steadily along the trail, wearing her Walkman. Her fiance ran ahead and was soon out of sight.

Wiegand suddenly sensed that someone was quickly coming up from behind. Before she realized what was happening, a man wrapped his arms tightly around her and pulled her off the trail near Wise Road and Beach Drive. The two tumbled into a ravine, and Wiegand saw a knife.

The attacker held the blade to her chin. She screamed, and he covered her mouth, ordering her to shut up. She couldn't believe how fast it had happened. Ten seconds earlier, she was jogging peacefully along the path. Now, she was fighting for her life, terrified that she was about to be raped and killed.

She stopped struggling for a few seconds, and the attacker let down his guard, relaxing his hold. Wiegand started fighting again and began to scream. The attacker fled, disappearing into the woods. Wiegand scrambled to Beach Drive, cut, bruised and badly shaken. She flagged down a passing motorist, who took her to a U.S. Park Police station. She said her attacker was a young Hispanic male wearing a white tank top; knee-length black, baggy shorts; and sneakers.

Park Police officers fanned out and scrambled Eagle One, a blue-and-white Bell helicopter based across town in Anacostia Park. At 8:15 that night, 45 minutes after the attack, two officers picked up a man near a golf course in Rock Creek Park, not far from 16th Street. His clothes were wet. He was covered with leaves. Police drove Wiegand to the scene, where she identified him as her attacker.

He was Ingmar Guandique.

He was handcuffed and jailed inside a small stone substation in the center of the park that police called the Rock Creek Hotel. Around 1 a.m. July 2, three Park Police officers, including a translator, entered his cell.

The officers tried to win Guandique's confidence. They kept the cell door open, gave him some water and food and let him use the restroom. Guandique agreed to talk without a lawyer. He said he had been working as a carpenter but didn't have a job at the moment.

Leading the interrogation was Joe Green, a seasoned detective with nearly 30 years on the job. A big, balding man with a gentle demeanor, the D.C. native prided himself on knowing the city and getting people to talk.

Through the translator, Green asked Guandique if he assaulted someone in the park about six hours earlier. Guandique said no.

Green tried another tactic. He asked Guandique whether it was possible that he bumped into a woman and the encounter was a misunderstanding. Guandique said that it was. He explained that he was jogging in the park when he felt a pain in his knee. He bent over to massage it and a female jogger ran into him, causing both of them to tumble off the trail. Guandique said he tried to help the jogger, but she began to fight and scream. Flustered, Guandique said, he ran away.

Guandique had just implicated himself in the attack on Wiegand.

Green told Guandique that the jogger said he had a knife.

Guandique said no, she probably saw the glint off his gold bracelet and mistook it for a knife.

Green recalled another unsolved attack in the park - the May 14 incident involving Halle Shilling. He asked Guandique if there were any other times he had accidentally bumped into someone in Rock Creek Park.

No, Guandique said at first. But then he changed his story. Yes, he said, there was something a month or two earlier. He had seen a tall woman with long hair running with a yellow radio; he jogged behind her, and she looked over her shoulder, causing her to fall. Guandique said he tried to help her up, but she screamed, so he ran off.

Guandique had just implicated himself in the attack on Shilling.

Guandique was charged with assault and kidnapping in the attack on Wiegand, who had identified him. But the Shilling case would have to await a photo lineup.

Green later told The Washington Post that he posed one more question to Guandique.

He showed him a D.C. police flier with a photograph of Chandra Levy, the missing intern.

Have you ever seen this woman in Rock Creek Park? Green asked.

Guandique said he had.

He saw her one day when he was hanging around the parking lot near the Peirce Mill. Green then asked Guandique if he thought she was attractive. Yes, he said, but he never saw her again.

Green did not include any comment by Guandique about Chandra in his report, and he does not remember telling any other officers at the time. Back then, it didn't seem important. He said he was focused on the assaults on Wiegand and Shilling.

Chandra could be anywhere. Her disappearance was not a Park Police case.

"It wasn't mine to pursue," he said recently.

Next chapter: Allegations about Condit's sex life consume the media.

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