May 1, 2001: Chandra Levy Disappears


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


Chandra Levy was an intern with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington D.C. when she disappeared on May 1, 2001. Her remains were not found until the following year, and she was presumed murdered once they were found.


Much of the focus during the investigation, and the subsequent media attention, was on Chandra's revealed affair with Congressman Gary Condit, a married man serving his fifth term. Though Condit had a rock solid alibi and was never considered a suspect, the media focus on Chandra's disappearance and the revelation of the affair caused Condit to lose his re-election bid in 2002.


In 2009, one Ingmar Guandique was arrested, as he had been convicted of assaulting 2 other women in the area where Chandra's remains were found around the time of her disappearance. He was convicted of Chandra's murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2011. However, in 2016, prosecutors, Guandique was issued a new trial and instead of going after a conviction, he was deported to El Salvador.


Chandra Levy's murder remains unsolved.

ABOUT CHANDRA LEVY


Chandra was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents, Robert and Susan, moved the family to Modesto, California, where Chandra attended high school. After high school, she got accepted into and attended San Francisco State University, earning a degree in journalism.


Chandra had an extensive and impressive professional history. She interned for the California Bureau of Secondary Education, and worked for Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. After those positions, she chose to go back to school, attending the University of Southern California to earn her master's degree in public administration.


In her final semester, she accepted an internship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and she moved to Washington D.C. for the semester to complete it. She started her internship in October of 2000, working at the bureau's headquarters. She worked in the public affairs division.


Chandra's supervisor, bureau spokesperson Dan Dunne, was extremely impressed and satisfied with Chandra's work. She was working during the impending execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's execution, and she was handling all of the media inquiries for it, and doing a great job.


Chandra's academic eligibility to hold the internship expired in December 2000, unbeknownst to her or her supervisor, and thus, her internship ended abruptly in April of 2001. However, because she had already completed all of the requirements for her master's degree, she planned to return to California in May for graduation.


During her internship, and time in D.C., she began a relationship with U.S. Representative Gary Condit.

CHANDRA DISAPPEARS (1)


May 1, 2001 was the last time anyone saw Chandra Levy alive. Police were not alerted until May 6, when Levy's parents called police because they had not heard from their daughter in 5 days, which was unusual. Police visited hospitals and checked out Chandra's apartment, but to no avail. She was missing.


The day after police were alerted, Chandra's father told police that his daughter had been having an affair with a congressman who he believed to be Gary Condit. Chandra's aunt corroborated, as she had confided in her about the affair. When conducting a formal search of Chandra's apartment, they found a full answering machine with concerned messages from relatives, and 2 from Condit.


Also in her apartment, police found her credit cards, ID, cell phone, her purse, and a partially packed suitcase (likely because she was going home in May for graduation).


A police sergeant, who was not a trained computer technician, tried to examine her computer but accidentally corrupted the internet search data. It took over a month to retrieve the data. Levy's last searches on May 1 were related to Amtrak, Southwest Airlines, and a weather report, as well as websites related to Baskin-Robbins and Condit.


One search at 11:33 AM was for information about Rock Creek Park, the park where her body would eventually be found. She brought up a map of the park, and detectives theorized she may have been meeting someone there. However, 2 searches of the park turned up nothing. (In an unrelated note, it is kind of terrifying that your search history could be used to determine where you are if you were to disappear. I research a lot of murders and disappearances...)


As Chandra's disappearance gained media attention, that attention also fell onto Condit. At first, he denied his affair with Chandra, even when he was told he was not a suspect. Despite police not believing him to be involved, Chandra's family felt that he was evasive and could have been hiding something.


However, during a July 7 interview, an unidentified police source claims that Condit admitted to the affair. They searched his home, and while investigating, they stumbled upon a flight attendant who he was also having an affair with.


A nationwide poll conducted in July found that 44% of Americans thought that Condit was involved in Chandra's disappearance, and 27% felt that he should resign. (I feel like those numbers should be WAY closer. If 44% of people think that he may have murdered an intern, why do only 27% of them think he should lose his job?!?!?!) Additionally, 51% of respondents believed he was acting guilty. He lost his re-election bid in 2002.

CHANDRA'S BODY IS FOUND (1)


A little bit over a year after Chandra was last seen, a man who was walking his dog in Rock Creek Park found skeletal remains and alerted police, who matched dental records to Chandra. The area she was found had not been searched during any of the Rock Creek Park searches due to a miscommunication. The parameters for the search included searching within 100 yards of every road and trail, but officers only searched within 100 yards of every road... And so, her remains lay missing for over a year.


The autopsy revealed that there was enough evidence to open a homicide investigation, but because of the state of the body, an official cause of death was unable to be determined. Strangulation seemed possible, but not conclusive.


Chandra's family, who hoped that she would be found alive the whole time, held a memorial service for her on May 28, 2002 in California that drew 1,200+ people. Her remains weren't buried for another year (it doesn't say why, but I'm imagining perhaps they were still being examined) and on May 27, 2003, about 40 of Chandra's close friends and family gathered for the burial in a private ceremony.

INGMAR GUANDIQUE (1)


In September 2001, months after Chandra disappeared, police were contacted by the lawyer of an informant in a D.C. jail, claiming to have knowledge about who killed Chandra. He implicated Ingmar Guandique, a 20-year-old from El Salvador, who claimed Condit gave him $25,000 to kill Chandra. However, because Guandique had already admitted to assaulting 2 other women in the same park where Chandra's remains were found, police quickly dismissed Condit's involvement. (In September of 2001, they had not found her remains yet, so I'm guessing these conversations spanned over the course of the year.)


Even though they didn't fully believe Guandique's story, they did believe he could have been involved, as he didn't show up to work the day of Chandra's disappearance, and his landlady recalled that his face was severely scratched and bruised around that time. He was considered a person of interest, though he denied his involvement.


In November, he was given a polygraph test, which he failed. A second polygraph test, administered on February 4, 2002, was inconclusive. Guandique was not fluent in English, and a bilingual examiner should have administered the tests for the most accurate results.


Guandique was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the other attacks in Rock Creek Park, and was not formally charged with Chandra's murder.


Movements were made when a new police chief came to town in 2006, and the cold case was reopened. The Washington Post also assigned new reporters to re-examine the case, and the resulting articles focused heavily on the failure to investigate Guandique's connection. In his prison cell, investigators found a photo of Chandra from a magazine that he had cut out and saved.


Ultimately, an arrest warrant was issued for him on March 3, 2009 and he was formally charged 2 days later. He was indicted on the counts of kidnapping, attempted first-degree sexual abuse, and first-degree murder, among other things. He pleaded not guilty.


At the trial, Chandra's father renounced his previous statements about Condit's involvement, and even admitted some of the information he gave police about their relationship was a lie to point a finger at Condit. Though he initially said Chandra was too cautious to jog alone at night, he said he no longer believed that to be true.


Condit also testified during the trial, where he refused to answer if he had been in a sexual relationship with Chandra "out of privacy for myself and Chandra". However, testimony from an FBI biologist revealed that Condit's semen had been found in underwear from Chandra's apartment.


Guandique's cellmate testified that he had told him that he killed Chandra while trying to rob her, but he did not rape her. But other cellmates said he did not say anything about his involvement. There was no DNA evidence linking Guandique to the crime scene. (Personally, I have a hard time believing not only that any woman would go out for a jog at night in the woods in a new city, but that she would do so without her cell phone or any belongings. Seems fishy to me.)


Though there was only circumstantial evidence, and many believe they convicted him just to have someone to blame, he was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.


After a few years of going back and forth on appeals and new trials, oppositions against a new trial were dropped on May 22, 2015 when the prosecution found that their star witness, the cellmate, had likely perjured himself on the stand. New evidence, a witness claiming to have heard a scream from Chandra's apartment on her last day alive, also made Guandique's involvement sound less likely.


On July 29, 2016, prosecutors decided to seek to have him deported instead of proceed with the trial against him. He was deported to El Salvador on May 5, 2017.

THEORIES AND IMPACT


As one of D.C.'s most famous unsolved mysteries, of course, many people have their theories.


An easy theory, and a widely accepted one, is that Guandique did it on his own accord. Sure, some information came out that brought into question his involvement, but there is still a lot that points to him. Namely, that he had attacked 2 other young women who were in the park at around the same time. Though this theory does not include Condit's involvement, many are still glad his career was tanked because of it... Even if he didn't kill her, cheating on your wife with an intern 30 years your junior isn't a great look for a congressman. (2)


But some people fall into the camp that believes Condit had something to do with it. He was extremely elusive about his involvement, even though, as many state, affairs do very little to actually damage a politician's career. His refusal to answer makes him look suspicious. Which also makes it seem unlikely that he'd hire someone to take her out... but maybe? Jogging in the dark in a wooded area without a phone is simply bananas to me, and if she didn't have a purse or credit cards or literally anything on her, why would someone try to rob her? To me, it seems like she went to meet someone. (2)


In addition, she was wearing jogging clothes, but when looking up the park on her computer, she looked up the park office, not the trails. Why? And the attacks in the park had been public knowledge. If you wanted to take someone out, taking them out where other women had been similarly attacked seems like as good a place as any. (2)


Chandra Levy was having an affair with an important man in the city... Does it make more sense that the attack was not random, or more sense that a congressman was having an affair with a woman who happened to get attacked in a park? I don't know. But regardless, a young, bright woman died and her family never really got closure.


Chandra's death had a lasting impact on many people. After her death, her parents worked with the loved ones of many other high profile disappearances and murders to help create foundations, resources and enact legislation for victims of violent crimes. (1)


Her case also pushed the media to become more skeptical of stringing somebody up for a crime before reviewing alternate suspects given the immense media coverage of Condit, who may not have had any involvement. Police procedures were also revisited, given that they missed her body due to a miscommunication. (1)


A podcast I love, MyFavoriteMurder, covered this case. I listened to it a long time ago and I don't remember anything about what they talked about, except I remember they discussed the final line in the Wikipedia page: "Condit retired from politics and moved to Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, to manage real estate and open two Baskin-Robbins franchises, which have since closed" and they said it was the most depressing sentence on Wikipedia, and I am inclined to agree. (1, 3)


Chandra Levy was a smart woman. A college graduate about to get her masters, with impressive internships and jobs throughout her early career, she likely had a very successful life ahead of her. Did she die because she decided to go on a late night jog? Or did she die because she slept with a married congressman?


Oftentimes, (single) women who have affairs with married male politicians (ahem, Monica Lewinsky), are shamed more than the man. A young, single, pretty intern who is new to the city hooks up with an old, married man in a far higher position of power with connections everywhere in the city... And she gets blamed. All of this to say, I'm glad during my research I didn't find many people who appeared to believe Chandra deserved her fate because of it. (Though in 2001, that mindset was probably more widespread.)


The man who probably killed Chandra is back in El Salvador and thus, the case will probably never be solved. Another man who could have been involved, though has been cleared of suspicion, is in Arizona managing failing ice cream joints. Maybe that's enough.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandra_Levy

2.https://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/70r9hu/what_are_your_thoughts_on_the_chandra_levy_case/?sort=top

3. My Favorite Murder Podcast // Episode 16: Blood Murder Sixteen Magik (47:40-48:00)

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