Five months before the 9/11 attack on America, you could not find a cable television news show that wasn't consumed with reporting on the mysterious disappearance of 24-year-old Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy. Her April 30, 2001, disappearance had all the elements of a true crime mystery. Young, intelligent, and attractive, Levy went missing when she shouldn't have. A high profile suspect, or so called "person of interest," then-U.S. Congressman Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), was suspected of being romantically involved with the missing victim. The more Condit denied the relationship, the more suspect he became, and the more the media pressed for any detail of their alleged intimacy.
We've witnessed many modern day missing person cases pre and post Chandra Levy. Union boss Jimmy Hoffa has been MIA for over three decades. Elizabeth Smart, taken from her Salt Lake City home June 5, 2002, was found alive March 13, 2003, having been kidnapped by a former family handyman and semi-crazed indigent.
But it was Levy's April 2001 disappearance that created a media following, almost a feeding frenzy, second only to the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway. Few do not know that Holloway's been missing for six months, having disappeared during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. In both the Levy and the Holloway cases the television media has provided its viewers with the likely suspects. For Levy, then-52-year old Congressman Condit was alleged to have had an ongoing romantic relationship with the missing woman. Before her believed final jog, Levy had searched the Internet for information on both Congressman Condit and on nearby Rock Creek Park. Levy was supposedly preparing to leave for her family home in California at the time she disappeared. In fact all her bags were packed in her room, she had already given up her apartment, and she walked out of it the day she disappeared dressed only in jogging clothes.
But a second person of interest emerges in the Levy case. Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, and, since July 2001, a federal prison inmate, attempted to assault two female joggers in the same area of Rock Creek Park where Levy's body was ultimately found. Both of the other victims were tall and athletically built, whereas Levy, while physically fit, was at 5'3''and 110 pounds, petite. The other two victims were attacked by Guandique on May 14 and July 1, respectively. Characterized by the court as highly dangerous, Guandique evidently lay in wait in the park, and then ran behind each of his two victims, knocking them to the ground and threatening them with a knife while choking at least one of the women, both of whom were able to fight him off. One victim said, "I do not doubt for a minute that he purposefully stalked me as a hunter tracks his prey," while the second said, "He was strong and a bold and practiced attacker who waited until he thought [I] was fatigued from running and then attacked [me] next to a deep ravine."
Chandra Levy's body was ultimately found in a similarly remote area of the same park, near the bottom of a deep ravine.
In the case of Natalee Holloway, it has been almost 200 days since she left the now-famous bar and watering hole in Aruba with three young local men and stepped into a kind of black hole from which she has not returned. Her three companions that night, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, and everyone's favorite suspect, teenager and now Dutch college student Joran van der Sloot, are still at the top of the list as persons who must know what happened to Natalee that fateful night, but will not tell.
One of the hundreds, really thousands of other unsolved missing persons cases from around the country, like the case of Chandra Levy, also originated in the Washington, D.C., area. Two and one half years before the disappearance of Levy, a former congressional intern and, later, a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) attorney, 28-year-old Joyce Chiang, was last seen alive on her way to a Starbucks near her Washington, D.C. residence. Chiang's badly decomposed body was found in the Potomac River on April 1, 1999, almost four months after her mysterious disappearance. Two attractive victims (Chiang and Levy) , both living and working in the D.C. area, and both former Capital Hill area interns had disappeared under circumstances that challenged both conventional reasoning and the police. (Note: Chiang worked for the government and Levy had interned for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and had submitted an application to the FBI.)
A little over one year after she disappeared, Levy's skeletal remains were found approximately four miles from her D.C. apartment in a heavily overgrown area of Rock Creek Park. Cause of death? Unknown. This same unknown finding was also provided by the medical examiner's office for Joyce Chiang. Years have passed and suspects have come and gone, but for the Levy and the Chiang families, no closure has been provided. Both families once had a daughter with the whole world ahead of her one day, and the next day she was missing without a trace.
What do we know about the investigations concerning the deaths of these two women? Very little really. But were they both to have been the victims of foul play, could they have died at the hands of a yet to be identified serial killer, someone who may still live, work, and even murder, in sight of our nation's Capitol?
Chiang's government ID was found in Anacostia Park (Jan. 10, 1999) the day after she disappeared. However it was another day (Jan. 11) before her roommate/brother reported her missing to police. Almost two weeks later (Jan. 22) her government access card was found in the same area wrapped in a local newspaper dated Jan. 11. Were Chiang to have been kidnapped and murdered (some believe she might have committed suicide due to certain personal and professional challenges at that time) on the night or early morning of Jan. 9-10 with her body disposed of in the nearby river, would the above suggest that her killer or killers returned on Jan. 11 or even later to dispose of her possessions in the locations where they were ultimately found? Or could this be evidence of staging on the part of the offender, perhaps done to throw the police off the fact that Chiang was actually carried away from that area by an unknown abductor, someone who would later murder her and dump her body in the river in an attempt to destroy the evidence of his terrible crime?
Where Chiang would appear to be a relatively low risk victim engaged in low risk activities, some have suggested that Levy's potential victim profile was somewhat higher. She was known, for example, to date married men, her latest boyfriend being Condit. But she, like Chiang, had lived in the D.C. area for awhile and both women knew the potential dangers they faced in a big city.
In Levy's case it was even longer before she was reported missing, long enough for the video tape from her apartment building front entrance security camera to go untouched and unseen, and then recorded over before secured by the police. How and with whom, if anyone, Levy left her apartment was forever lost on an overused $5 videotape. As in the Chiang missing person case the police searched for Levy, especially in the Rock Creek Park area, to no avail. But did Levy meet with her untimely death somewhere else other than in the park? Or did authorities simply miss her body when they first searched for her? Local police cadets were used to conduct part of the search in the park, and some may simply have been reluctant to wade into the deep vegetation and undergrowth in their search for clues. Had Levy agreed to meet someone in the park; someone she might have trusted, thereby explaining why she ventured out of her apartment without her cell phone? Or was she simply out for a run, a run far further than anything she had ever done in the past, and became a victim of chance and opportunity by some unknown assailant, someone with a track record for similar crimes; someone like Ingmar Guandique?
In the case of Levy, were you to believe the media accounts concerning Levy's then-boyfriend, the Congressman, you might also have come to the opinion that he was both a liar and a lecher, but was he actually capable of murder? There's no evidence to date to support his involvement in Chandra's disappearance, evidence, that is, other than his conflicting and convoluted stories about their relationship. The few bones that remained from her body (perhaps animal activity) one year after she disappeared added little to the investigation. We know that a ring she wore and her Walkman-style radio were recovered near her remains, as were most of her clothes, and that her leggings were recovered inside out with knots tied in each leg, perhaps indicating they were used to bind or otherwise constrain or even strangle her.
Because of the state of decomposition of the bodies of both Chiang and Levy, we do not appear to have a clear understanding of their cause of death, or of their interactions with any possible assailant. There is no media information to suggest that either victim was stabbed, shot, or the victim of blunt force trauma. Such lack of an apparent cause of death may still suggest to some veteran homicide investigators and profilers that the women could, nonetheless, have been the victims of foul play. They may have been so-called "soft kills," murders that occur without leaving evidence of how, why, and at whose hands they met their death. Levy's hyoid bone, the "U" shaped bone at the base of the tongue that supports the muscles of the tongue, was still intact, perhaps negating the potential for strangulation, although less than 50% of strangulation victims under age 40 exhibit fractures to the hyoid, the body's only "floating bone."
Chiang, who was paged by some unknown person from a local D.C. airport on the night she disappeared, may have been lured or accepted a ride due to the cold weather, but somehow she was transported a significant distance from the spot where she was last seen alive. In addition to Chiang's other possessions, her winter coat, with a tear in it, and other personal items were found on January 21, 1999, in a secluded, grassy area near the gate to the Anacostia Naval Station, items that were allegedly not there when searched for by the authorities a week before. Chiang's bankcard was found tucked in one of her stockings (something, perhaps she did for safety reasons), or was this done by her assailant to facilitate her identification? But if so, why?
Were Joyce Chiang and Chandra Levy to have been murdered, a fact that still can't be forensically proved, and were they victims of the same murderous assailant, could this killer still be living, hunting and stalking in the "target rich" Washington, D.C. area? We know little concerning any possible defense wounds on either victim or other critical information that might have come out in their respective autopsies. How Levy got to the park and how Chiang traveled the distance she did prior to her death is also unknown. Did Guandique have a car available to him to transport one or both victims, and more importantly, was he even in D.C. at the time that Chiang disappeared? But if the two victims were somehow lured to the two different parks where they appear to have met their ultimate deaths, were they taken there by force? Or did they willingly accompany someone they trusted, a friend or even an apparent authority figure? The answer again is that we just don't know.
What we do know is that in 2002 Washington, D.C., was not only the political capital of the nation, but was also the infamous murder capital of America. During the years between 1998 and 2001, a period that overlaps the deaths of these two women, there was an average of 250 homicides and at least the same number of "reported" forcible rapes in the D.C. area. Joyce and Chandra, like so many other missing persons, are now of the ages. The investigations into their deaths continue, but should they have died at the hands of the same or even different assailants, they are but two of the estimated 15,000 citizens that fall victim to homicide in the U.S. every year. Investigators know that almost 87 percent of murder victims who fit the profile of Levy and Chiang are killed by someone they know, to include husbands, boyfriends, co-workers and relatives, but how do such statistics help these two investigations?
What were once two current, front page mysteries have become cold cases, both waiting for some break, some new information to help solve them and to provide some kind of closure. The families of the deceased, and the investigators still on the cases, are the only ones left to speak for the two victims. So much time, so much information, and yet there is so much we simply don't know about the death of these two women. While the parents of Chandra Levy and Joyce Chiang have buried their daughters, the medical examiner's official report continues to haunt their families. Cause of death: Unknown...
Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."