June 10, 2002 12:00 PM

The discovery of Chandra Levy’s skeletal remains near a trail in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park on May 22 provided the first break in a case that has stymied investigators—and gripped the nation—since she was officially reported missing on May 7, 2001. Six days after the discovery District of Columbia Medical Examiner Jonathan Arden was finally able to declare that Levy, 24, had been murdered. But Arden said it is impossible to tell at this point how she was killed. And it is far from clear whether the bones, which were identified as Levy’s through dental records, will help bring police any closer to apprehending her killer. Although much about her death remains a mystery, interviews with investigators, forensics experts and people close to the Levy family have helped address some of the important questions surrounding the case.

What is known about how she died?

Not much. The appearance of the bones seems consistent with skeletal remains left out for 13 months. D.C. Medical Examiner Arden indicated he did not find conclusive evidence that she had been shot, beaten, stabbed or strangled, all of which often leave detectable damage. One problem is that Levy’s neck cartilage, which could show whether she was strangled, had already disintegrated. A knotted leotard or pair of running tights probably belonging to Levy was reportedly found near her remains, suggesting that she had been tied up. It is also possible that the garment could have been used to strangle her.

How is it that police who searched Rock Creek Park at least three times last year failed to find her body?

D.C. police acknowledge they simply missed the area where the bones, which had not been buried, were found. By and large their search extended 100 yards from paths and roads. Granted, the park is large—twice the size of New York City’s Central Park—and heavily wooded. But assuming that Levy’s body was there to be located at the time, it was a critical lapse. Had the remains been discovered earlier, with tissue intact, they could have yielded a trove of leads.

Do investigators have any idea why Levy might have been in Rock Creek Park?

She worked out regularly, and her body was found near a path some-times used by joggers, so it may be that she was simply out for a run. Friends, however, say that Levy customarily ran on the treadmill at her health club, not outdoors. Also, the crime scene is four miles from Levy’s apartment. Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt points out that an eight-mile round trip is a long haul, even for someone as fit as Levy—unless of course she was murdered elsewhere and brought to that spot. Last week Arden said he couldn’t tell if her body had been dumped there.

In an examination of Levy’s laptop, investigators discovered that on the last day she was known to be alive, May 1, she or someone who logged on as her, got information from the Internet about Rock Creek Park. Contrary to some reports, however, police say she was not necessarily looking up anything specific about the Klingle Mansion, a photo of which adorns Rock Creek Park’s homepage. That takes some air out of the speculation that Levy was headed for the mansion, which is two miles from where her body was found—and that she was possibly lured there by her killer. Deputy Police Chief Terrance Gainer says investigators will now quiz cab drivers to see if any remember bringing Levy to the park.

Where does all of this leave Gary Condit?

He has not been named as a suspect. There seems to be no hard evidence linking him to Levy’s disappearance, much less her murder. That does not mean Condit, 54, is in the clear. It is still an open question whether his account of his whereabouts on May 1 is airtight. Condit, who didn’t admit to detectives that he and Levy were having an affair until his third interview with them, has spoken of having an appointment with a chiropractor that evening but hasn’t publicly disclosed the name. When asked about it recently, Condit’s lawyer Mark Geragos declined to provide the name on the grounds that it was part of grand jury evidence. The grand jury in question, located in D.C., is considering obstruction-of-justice charges against Condit for allegedly pressuring another mistress to deny any romantic involvement with him.

Are there any prime suspects in the case?

Police are taking a look at Ingmar Guandique, a 20-year-old Salvadoran immigrant who is already serving time in a federal prison in North Carolina for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park last year. In the assaults—one of which took place about two weeks after Levy’s disappearance, the other two months later—Guandique used a knife to threaten his victims, both of whom escaped unharmed. Right now, though, authorities do not regard him as a high-priority suspect, although they haven’t said exactly why.

What about talk of the so-called Dupont Circle serial killer, who may have claimed two victims?

In fact, only one of the deaths, that of Christine Mirzayan, 28, who was found sexually assaulted and murdered in 1998, is classified as a homicide. The other victim, Joyce Chiang, also 28, disappeared in 1999. Her body washed up in the Potomac River months later but was so badly decomposed that no cause of death could be determined. Neither case has been solved. Although her family strongly believes that Chiang was murdered, some D.C. detectives have speculated that she may have been a suicide.

How is the Levy family holding up?

For months Chandra’s parents, Bob, 56, a doctor, and Susan, 55, an artist, held out hope, while acknowledging that the chances of their daughter being found alive were slim. Even so, the discovery of her remains has been a terrible shock to them as well as to Chandra’s younger brother Adam. “Bob and Susan are devastated,” says their close friend Joanne Tittle. “Chandra was a beautiful human being, inside and out. And you know what they found? Bones, red jogging bra, tennis shoes—that’s what’s left of this girl. Bob and Sue are angry.”

Bill Hewitt

Champ Clark and Melissa Schorr in Modesto and J. Todd Foster and Colleen O’Connor in Washington, D.C.

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