The murder of a beautiful young Washington government intern in 2001 became one of the US’ great unsolved mysteries, casting a baleful light on the behavior of powerful politicians and prompting soul-searching among the country’s media .
Now the killing of 24-year-old Chandra Levy in 2001 looks set to be solved after it emerged on Saturday that police were close to making an arrest in the case, focusing on a man already in jail for similar attacks on women.
The news could finally clear the name of former congressman Gary Condit, who had an affair with Levy before she died. Levy disappeared while running on a popular jogging route in downtown Washington and the search for her led to the uncovering of the relationship between the young woman and the older married politician.
While police hunted for Levy’s body, Condit endured feverish speculation about his actions, effectively destroying his career. The media frenzy was no doubt helped by Levy’s good looks and she came to be a symbol of innocent youth, vulnerable to the approaches of a much older, more powerful man with a lot to lose.
However, far from being the dramatic victim of a powerful and sinister cover-up, it now seems that her death was a far more ordinary type of murder. The man about to be arrested is Ingmar Guandique, a former construction worker who is serving time in a Washington prison for attacks on two women in the area where Levy’s body was found.
Following the discovery of Levy’s body in 2002, the media focus gradually switched from Condit to Guandique.
Levy’s decomposed remains were found by a man walking his dog. They were scattered in a remote area of the forested park, though not far from a jogging path.
That led investigators and the media to look again at Guandique, a Salvadorean citizen who had attacked two female joggers. He had surprised the women, one in May and one in July 2001, and tried to drag them off a jogging trail and deep into the woods. Both women escaped and Guandique was eventually arrested and jailed. He is set to be released in 2011.
However, TV reports have claimed that police in Washington are pursuing an arrest warrant for Guandique and are set to indict him this week. Levy’s parents, who now live in San Francisco, have been told about the developments.
Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, told a Californian TV station that she was pleased about the news.
“You want justice. You want the person incarcerated. It is still painful, no matter what. Your child is dead and gone. But we are glad the police are doing something and making a difference,” she said.
If the Levy case is indeed coming to an end, it still leaves many questions about the role of the media in reporting a criminal investigation. Unhampered by the tough libel laws that limit the reporting of such cases in Britain, the US media had a field day with the case as police hunted for her body. The potent mixture of youth, sex and politics led to massive speculation, leaving few in any doubt that many in the media suspected Condit had something to do with Levy’s fate.
The fact that it took police more than a year to find her remains allowed time for dozens of rival theories to spring up to explain her disappearance. Condit became a byword for guilt and was even depicted on the cartoon show South Park in the same category as O.J. Simpson.