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As the trial of Ingmar Guandique for the 2001 death of Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy continues this week, the name of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California still looms in connection to Levy’s high-profile disappearance, which dominated national media in the spring and summer of 2001.
According to The Associated Press, a defense attorney asked a prospective juror last week if she would be willing to hear evidence that Condit may be tied to Levy’s death. Condit may end up testifying about his relationship with Levy, which he has never spoken about in detail.
But Condit isn’t the one on trial. Guandique is. And it’s worth revisiting a bit of overlooked history about how Guandique’s name initially surfaced in connection with the Levy case.
When Levy’s body was found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002, the national news media was transfixed on the apparent secret relationship between the congressman and Levy. But Roll Call reporter Amy Keller put on her thinking cap: “[W]hile my colleagues speculated on the proximity of Condit’s Adams Morgan apartment to the section of park where Levy’s body was recovered on May 22, I wondered if the location of her body might point to another possibility: Perhaps Levy really was the victim of a random attack.”
That led Keller to sift through police reports of other attacks in Rock Creek Park. She found the name of Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant who was serving a federal sentence for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park near where Levy’s body was discovered, off the Broad Branch trail.
Keller recounted her Guandique reporting in a Salon piece in 2002, including how her discovery was met with skepticism by those transfixed on Condit’s connection to Levy.
A few days later, I also got a call from a reporter who has been covering the Levy investigation for the Modesto Bee, Condit’s hometown paper.
“I saw your story last week,” he said, adding, “I’ve got a theory I want to run by you.” I told the reporter, whom I’d never spoken to before, to go ahead.
He then proceeded to ask me if Condit’s lawyer, Mark Geragos—a high-profile criminal defense attorney and ubiquitous TV presence who had also recently represented the actress Winona Ryder—had “orchestrated” the story.
The reporter believed that it was most likely Geragos who had leaked information to me about the so-called Rock Creek Park predator so that Condit’s staff and supporters would then have a news story to distribute that would make him look good. And he said that a number of other reporters had also found the timing of my story curious. It showed up in print, after all, the day after Levy’s bones turned up in the park.
I stammered out a “No, that’s now how it happened at all,” and fought back the urge to ask him whether he was also investigating the theory that White House officials had planted Levy’s bones in the park in an effort to divert attention from stories alleging they had ample warning of the Sept. 11 attacks. I also stifled the desire to tell him where to stick his theory—that none of my sources were any of his, nor any other reporter’s, business.
Calmly—and probably a little too nicely—I explained that I simply used one part hunch, two cups of research and one-quarter teaspoon of source-based reporting, otherwise known as conversing with the cops. No, Gary Condit’s lawyer had definitely not planted this one, I told him.
Six years later, The Washington Post published an exhaustive multi-series investigation titled “Who Killed Chandra Levy?,” which brought additional attention to the Guandique-Levy connection. (Guandique was charged with Levy’s murder in March 2009.) But the Post neglected to mention Keller’s initial shoe-leather reporting in finding Guandique’s name.
I’m a bit biased on this one, since I used to sit next to Keller when I worked at Roll Call. After Guandique was charged with Levy’s murder, Harry Jaffe, in Washingtonian magazine, wrote that former Post executive editor Len Downie “gave himself and the Post credit for finally cracking the Chandra Levy case,” saying that “the paper’s 2008 series on police missteps in the original investigation prodded cops to make an arrest,” even though police and prosecutors said the Post‘s series “was irrelevant.”
In the nine years since Levy disappeared, there’s been plenty of finger-pointing and accusations of a botched investigation by police. Depending on what happens, perhaps Guandique’s trial will bring some closure to what has gone down as one of the most intriguing and frustrating murder investigations in D.C. history.