Chandra Levy's remains found in Washington park

Case that had receded from public view returns

cause of death unknown

May 23, 2002|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A man walking his dog in heavily wooded parkland yesterday came upon the remains of Chandra Levy, police said, ending a yearlong hunt for the former government intern but failing to resolve the mystery surrounding her death.

Levy's remains were found scattered on a steep hill in Rock Creek Park at 9:30 a.m., when a man hunting for turtles was led by his dog to a skull obscured by leaves and dirt. Early yesterday evening, District Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced that medical examiners had confirmed the identity of the remains by comparing them with Levy's dental records.

"The manner and cause of death is still pending," Ramsey told reporters gathered at a sun-dappled spot in Rock Creek Park, as investigators continued to search for scraps of evidence. "But they did, in fact, verify that it is the body of Miss Levy."

The discovery of the remains concluded another chapter in a case that drew international attention last year because of Levy's connection to Rep. Gary A. Condit. Levy's family said that Chandra, a 24-year-old from Modesto, Calif., had been romantically involved with Condit, who refused publicly to confirm that assertion. Through a spokesman, he had often called her his "good friend."

Police interviewed the California Democrat several times and stated repeatedly that he was not a suspect in Levy's disappearance.

But in the wake of continued questions swirling around Condit, the congressman lost his primary contest for re-election in March to what would have been his seventh term in the House.

Levy, whose internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had just ended at the time of her disappearance, was last seen April 30, 2001, as she canceled her membership at a Washington health club. She had told her parents that she was about to return to California for graduation ceremonies from a master's program at the University of Southern California.

Ramsey said the Levy case, which had been a missing persons matter until now, has become a death investigation. He would not say whether Levy's decomposed body showed any obvious signs of violence.

The FBI and district police violent crimes unit are investigating the evidence at the scene, which reports say include women's jogging clothes, jewelry and a portable radio.

Levy's parents, who live in the Modesto area that Condit, 54, has represented for 12 years, said nothing publicly yesterday. But their lawyer, Billy Martin, issued a statement that reflected their devastation at the news.

"The Levy family has been in anguish for the past year, and now the family's worst fears have unfortunately become a reality," Martin said. "The tragic news of Chandra's death will be difficult for Dr. Levy, his wife, Susan, their son, Adam, and other family members to bear."

Martin said he believes that after medical analysts further examine the remains, "this death investigation will turn into a homicide" case.

A sensational story that had fallen from view since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sprang back to public attention yesterday as camera crews descended on a wealthy section of Washington, parking their satellite trucks next to million-dollar homes and barking into cell phones.

Though district police say there are 232 open cases of missing adults and an additional 101 cases of missing children, it was Levy's case that captured the headlines.

For the Levys, the past year has been filled with exhaustive appeals for information and fruitless leads. Last summer, the discovery of animal bones and discarded running shoes in Rock Creek Park unleashed rumors that Chandra Levy's body had been found.

Levy, a runner, often jogged in the park, though police said her remains were not found close to a running trail.

Yesterday, just a few hours before learning of the discovery of their daughter's body, the Levys were again pleading their case via satellite in an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's TV show.

"We really hope that she's alive," Robert Levy, an oncologist, told Winfrey. "Under the circumstances, it doesn't seem likely, but as parents we have to maintain that hope."

Ramsey said Levy's remains appeared to have been lying in the woods since before the start of winter. He said it was unclear whether she died in that spot or her body had been dumped there later. Police said the skeleton was not all in one piece and had possibly been disturbed by an animal.

Throughout yesterday, Ramsey defended the district police officers who never turned up any signs of Levy despite repeatedly combing the sprawling park in the months after her disappearance. The foot patrols, search teams on horseback and cadaver-sniffing dogs might have missed her, Ramsey suggested, because perhaps her body was moved there later.

"We searched Rock Creek Park's 1,700 acres," Ramsey said. "As you can see, this is very difficult terrain. It's a very heavily wooded area."

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