In the six years since Chandra Levy was found in Rock Creek Park, her story continues to haunt many lives.
Rep. Gary Condit was abandoned by the Democratic Party and was trounced in the primary for his House seat in 2002. He now splits his time among California, Colorado and Arizona, where he operated two Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlors.
Ingmar Guandique, the Salvadoran immigrant convicted of attacking women in Rock Creek Park around the time Chandra disappeared, has never been charged in connection with the case. He has been moved several times within the federal corrections system because of behavioral problems. From prison in North Carolina, he sent pornographic sketches containing written suggestions of explicit sexual acts to a female insurance agent, a stranger whose picture he saw in a Spanish-language newspaper in the Washington area. He now sits in a federal prison at the edge of the Mojave Desert.
Most of the investigators have also dispersed. All of those who agreed to be interviewed now say Condit had nothing to do with Chandra's disappearance. Nearly all of them consider Guandique to be the prime suspect, even as he consistently denies any involvement in the crime. The investigators continue to second-guess the case, especially the many lost opportunities to gather evidence about the killer.
Among other things, they cite the failure to immediately obtain the security camera tape from Chandra's apartment building; the failure to promptly and correctly analyze the contents of her computer, which would have shown that she was searching for something to do in Rock Creek Park; the failure to conduct a more rigorous search of Rock Creek Park; and the failure to quickly recognize and capitalize on the possible link between Chandra's disappearance and Guandique's Rock Creek Park attacks.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the two-month delay in focusing on Guandique from July 2001 to September 2001 occurred in part because investigators and prosecutors did not make the link between Chandra's disappearance and Rock Creek Park.
"The Levy matter was still a missing person investigation," spokesman Channing Phillips said. "Without a body and without more of a nexus, it would not have been a logical, natural link immediately to start focusing our efforts - at that time - on someone who may have been arrested in connection with the assault on a woman in Rock Creek Park."
Lead D.C. Detective Ralph Durant is no longer working on the case. His partner, Lawrence Kennedy, has retired. Both declined to be interviewed by The Washington Post.
Jack Barrett, former D.C. chief of detectives, said the focus on Condit hurt the investigation. He also faulted his superiors - then-Chief Charles H. Ramsey and his second-in-command, Terrance W. Gainer - for their constant news conferences that helped fuel the media frenzy.
"They were creating enormous amounts of pressure," said Barrett, who retired from the department and is now a senior analyst for Centra Technology, an intelligence support firm in Arlington County. "You can't run an investigation and answer questions that the media is asking. I wanted to preserve the integrity of the investigation."
Gainer responded that he and Ramsey were simply trying to dispel rumors and keep reporters away from the detectives. "You have to balance the interests of the family and assuage the public's fears while giving the detectives and technicians room to work the case," Gainer said.
Ramsey, who is now chief of the Philadelphia Police Department, said there is no evidence linking Condit to the crime. "I have not seen anything that would lead me to believe he had anything to do with her murder," he said. "There is no evidence that he had any knowledge of her murder. There's no physical evidence; there's no statement; there's nothing."
The former chief is circumspect when asked why his department didn't focus sooner on Guandique, who Ramsey said would now be on, "my short list of people I would have a very long conversation with." Ramsey said that it was "unfortunate we missed her body" during the original search, "because we could have found forensic evidence." But he said he couldn't have sent the entire police department to search for one missing woman.
Joe Green, the U.S. Park Police detective who interrogated Guandique after the Rock Creek Park attacks, remains troubled by the handling of the Chandra investigation. "I can't let it go," he said. "It was a solvable case." Retired now and working as a victim and witness coordinator for the Park Police, Green thinks that Guandique is the key suspect. He agrees that investigators were too focused on Condit. By the time they started to seriously look at Guandique, he said, it was too late.
Brad Garrett, the star FBI agent who was brought in to help D.C. police, thinks about the case often and has returned to the crime scene numerous times. Over time, he has become more interested in Guandique. To Garrett, the evidence points to a random attack by a stranger - someone like Guandique.
"You can't take him out of the case; you can't eliminate him," Garrett said.
Garrett retired last year and is running a private investigative firm in Alexandria. He married Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisa Poteat, whom he met while working on the Levy case. Poteat still works as a federal prosecutor.
Only Gainer, the former executive assistant chief of the D.C. police, continues to think that Guandique is not a suspect. "At that time I was satisfied, and I am today satisfied, that he wasn't the offender," said Gainer, who is now the sergeant at arms of the U.S. Senate. "They interviewed him, and they were very convinced that he was not the guy. You have to have faith in your detectives, and we did."
Barrett, who directly supervised the detectives, disagrees with his former boss about Guandique. "I think he did it," Barrett said. "It was the right time frame that he was attacking these other women." But without a confession, Barrett added, the investigation has reached "a dead-end street." It is now assigned to the department's cold-case squad.
With no resolution of the case, Condit and his wife have fought a difficult battle to reclaim his reputation. They filed lawsuits against the National Enquirer and Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne. Both were settled out of court. Another lawsuit against Dunne was recently thrown out of court.
In Arizona, Condit got into a dispute with Baskin-Robbins and no longer runs the two franchises in Glendale. Once a rising political star as a conservative Democrat and leader of the party's Blue Dog faction, he said he now invests in businesses and does "a little bit of consulting."
In February, he broke his silence in an interview with a magazine called California Conversations magazine. He singled out critical police mistakes and lashed out at the news media.
"You have an innocent girl who possibly something bad has happened to, and you're following me around asking me if I had sex with someone," he said. "Why aren't you following around the police chief, the FBI guys and asking them what they were doing?"
Condit conducted a wide-ranging interview with The Post on June 30, in the offices of his Los Angeles attorney, Mark Geragos.
"I know that Chandra and her family are the victims," Condit said. "And I get that. But I could not even imply [back then] that I was being victimized at the same time. I felt like my reputation was being raped. That I was being assaulted physically and I could not defend myself. It was the equivalent to me of a rape. I've never been physically raped, but I've been emotionally. And my reputation has been raped. And just like probably with a physical rape, you probably never recover from those emotions or those scars. And I don't want to take anything away from Chandra and her family because I know they're the real victims. They lost someone."
In Modesto, Calif., Robert and Susan Levy are trying to keep their balance. Robert spends long hours treating cancer patients and delves into spirituality. Susan belongs to a singing group and tries to comfort other parents who have lost children. The Levys' son, Adam, is in college on the East Coast. For the first time in a long while, the couple took a trip together last fall, traveling to Thailand for a month.
Returning home was not easy. Chandra's bedroom feels like a museum. In the closet hangs her Modesto Police Explorer uniform, an early symbol of the attraction to official power that eventually drew her to Washington. On the shelves are boxes filled with hundreds of sympathy letters from around the world. On the walls are photos of Chandra as a little girl and as a young woman.
Her mother has turned Chandra's old table into a shrine. She has laminated it with cards from her favorite sport, baseball, and wrappers from her favorite candy, Reese's peanut butter cups.
Guandique has broken his public silence as well. In telephone interviews and in letters written to The Post from prison, he denied any knowledge of Chandra's disappearance.
"Regarding the case of the girl, Chandra Levy: I don't know anything about that case. In 2001, the FBI went to see me when I was in the [D.C. jail]. That was when I learned about that girl," Guandique said. "Before that, I had never seen her and I don't understand the reason why the police started to suspect me. ... I have nothing to do with the death of that girl. I am innocent and I am not afraid of the police investigation."
Now 26, he is serving a 10-year sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary-Victorville in Adelanto, Calif., for assaulting Halle Shilling and Christy Wiegand. It has been 8 1/2 years since he left a dirt-poor hamlet in El Salvador and followed thousands of other illegal immigrants to Washington in search of a better life.
He faces deportation upon his scheduled release, on July 31, 2011.
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