WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 1, 2001, federal intern Chandra Levy vanished without a trace. A year later, her bones turned up in a nearby park. The search for her killer has involved a married congressman, police bungling, and a vacated conviction — yet, still, all these years later, the murder of Chandra Levy remains unsolved.
Born in 1977, Chandra Levy grew up in Modesto, California, and earned a degree in journalism from San Francisco State University. Along the way, the dynamically intelligent and ambitious Levy developed an interest in politics.
While earning a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Southern California, Levy successfully interned for the California Bureau of Secondary Education and took a job in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan
For her last semester at USC grad school, the 24-year-old Levy interned at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. While there, she made numerous personal and professional connections, one of which would go on to generate sordid headlines and ultimately cloud her own murder investigation — profoundly.
On May 6, 2001, Chandra Levy’s parents contacted authorities. They hadn’t heard from her in five days and no one knew where she was. She was expected home for her USC graduation on May 11.
Police checked on Levy’s apartment but found no signs of foul play. Her ID, credit cards, and cellphone were all there. Only her keys and a ring didn’t turn up.
Officers did notice, however that Levy’s answering machine was fully loaded with messages from concerned relatives and friends — as well as two left by U.S. Representative Gary Condit, a Democrat from the California district where the Levy family lived.
The next day, Levy’s father told the cops that her daughter had been having an affair with Condit. Chandra’s aunt backed up the story as well, and added that, during their last conversation, Chandra said she’d soon have “big news” to share with everyone.
Condit himself — a married man 30 years Chandra’s senior — immediately denied any such involvement.
Authorities have always tried to make clear that Condit was never a suspect in Levy’s disappearance. Regardless, a media circus cropped up around the congressman, with much gossipy public speculation wondering if Levy’s supposed “big news” might be that she was pregnant with Condit’s child (no evidence has ever suggested that was true).
From the get-go, though, Condit appeared to dodge questions and he refused to take a polygraph test. In the glare of the spotlight, the “pro-family” politician seemed to do little to dispel the perception that he might know more than he’d been letting on.
In July 2001, CNN reported that anonymous “police sources” said Condit admitted the affair to investigators. He made no public statement.
The following month on ABC, interviewer Connie Chung asked Condit if he’d been sexually involved with Levy and he replied:
“I’ve been married for 34 years. I’ve not been a perfect man, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. But, out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it’s best that I not get into those details about Chandra Levy.”
He also added, “I only knew Chandra Levy for five months, and in that five months’ period, we never had a discussion about a future, about children, about marriage.”
Aside from Condit, several serious police missteps also slowed down the investigation. First, officers searching Levy’s apartment accidentally deleted the search history on her laptop. Restorative technology being what it was in 2001, it took a month to recover the information.
Once police had the history, they determined Levy may have gone to Rock Creek Park the night she vanished. Officers immediately left for the large and popular park with orders to scour “all roads and trails” within 100 yards. However, a miscommunication prompted responders to look only on the roads.
On May 22, 2002 — a full year after Chandra Levy went missing — a dog-walker stumbled onto Levy’s skeletal remains on a trail in Rock Creek Park.
Following an examination of the bones, D.C. Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden officially declared Levy’s death a homicide on May 28, but noted:
“There’s less to work with here than I would like. It’s possible we will never know specifically how she died.”
Worse still, two weeks later, a private investigator hired by the Levys discovered a shinbone twisted up in wire that the cops had missed. The quest for answers just kept getting more muddled.
In September 2002, a police informant said that Ingmar Guandique, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, had been bragging in jail that Gary Condit paid him $25,000 to murder Levy. At the time, Guandique was locked up for assaulting two other women in Rock Creek Park at knifepoint in July 2001. Could this have been a break at last?
Guandique denied ever making such claims, but police noted that he hadn’t shown up for work the night Levy vanished, and his landlady said he was covered in scratches and bruises the next day. He also failed one polygraph test, but the next one was ruled “not deceptive.” Still, no physical evidence linked Guandique to this crime and everything else seemed to be hearsay.
In 2002, Guandique got 10 years for the two other attacks, while repeating over and over that he had nothing to do with Chandra Levy.
From there, the Chandra Levy case remained cold until a new detective team took over in 2007. The cops focused anew on Guandique and, finally, in 2009, police charged him with Levy’s murder.
Authorities built the case against Guandique based largely on the testimony of his cellmate, Armando Morales. According to transcripts, Morales told them:
“[Guandique] said he hid up in the bushes. He ran up behind her, grabbed her from behind … by the neck. He dragged her into the bushes. He said by the time he got her to the bushes that she had stopped struggling … He said he never meant to kill her.”
The prosecutors claimed that Guandique bound and gagged Levy, robbed her, and then left her to die from dehydration and exposure. The jury bought it and found Guandique guilty of first-degree murder on November 22, 2010. The judge gave him 60 years.
For most observers, Guandique’s conviction seemed to close the books on the mystery of Chandra Levy. Five years later, though, everything burst open all over again.
In 2015, Guandique was granted a new trial, due largely to the emergence of an audio recording of Armando Morales, the prosecution’s star witness, talking about how he’d lied on the stand during the first hearing.
Further raising doubts was the revelation that, on 4:37 A.M. the day Levy vanished, one of her neighbors called 911 to report hearing a “blood-curdling scream” coming from inside Chandra’s apartment.
Authorities scheduled Guandique’s new hearing for 2016. Before it could happen, though, the state dismissed all charges against Guandique with prejudice (meaning he could possibly face them again), opting instead to deport him back to El Salvador after he finished his initial 10-year jail term.
Guandique fought the decision, but in 2017, the government returned him to his native country. He maintains his innocence.
Gary Condit never faced charges regarding Chandra Levy and he’s never publicly confessed to an affair with her. He lost his re-election bid and subsequently went into real estate. Condit also opened two Baskin-Robbins franchises, which have since closed.
Chandra Levy’s case, as of right now, remains unsolved. She has received no justice and her loved ones have no definitive answers. They, like the rest of us, can only keep wondering.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s three-part series Chandra Levy: An American Murder Mystery on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Chandra Levy [Wikipedia]