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Deepening mystery, enduring pain

Three years ago Saturday, federal intern Chandra Levy put on her running clothes, left her Northwest Washington apartment and disappeared, sending police on a year-long hunt for her body and sending a nation into swirls of speculation about her life, death and romance with her hometown congressman, Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.).
LEVY
Susan Levy holds a picture of her daugher, missing Washington intern Chandra Levy, in this Aug. 10, 2001 file photo. Rich Pedroncelli / AP file
/ Source: a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/front.htm" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

In courtrooms across the nation, lawsuits are moving forward that mention her name. In Los Angeles, a filmmaker is promoting a movie that highlights her story. And tucked between the fruit orchards and horse stables of Modesto, Calif., a family continues to grieve for her.

Three years ago today, federal intern Chandra Levy put on her running clothes, left her Northwest Washington apartment and disappeared, sending police on a year-long hunt for her body and sending a nation into swirls of speculation about her life, death and romance with her hometown congressman, Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.).

The 24-year-old's skeletal remains were found in Rock Creek Park in a thick forest along Broad Branch Road by a man searching for turtles on May 22, 2002. Her leggings were knotted at the bottom of both ends, pointing to a possible sexual assault. Two FBI agents and a D.C. police detective are still on the case, but they have yet to show much progress.

The case attracted round-the-clock international attention amid revelations that Levy was having an affair with Condit, who denied any involvement in her disappearance. But public attention waned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, picking up only briefly after Levy's body was found.

Investigators have yet to determine a motive for the killing, and they appear to be following many of the same avenues they were pursuing more than a year ago. Some of the top officials on the case have moved on to other assignments. Condit, who lost a bid for reelection in 2002, embarked on a new career in investing but remains bitter about what happened, his attorney said this week.

While the mystery of Levy's death moves slowly through the investigative process, the case has spun into other venues.

Condit and his wife, Carolyn, have filed libel lawsuits against news organizations that followed the story. They were handed a victory this week when a federal judge in New York ruled that remarks made by Dominick Dunne on several television shows and at dinner parties can be used in the $11 million slander case against the Vanity Fair columnist. The Condits accused Dunne of making false statements implicating Gary Condit in Levy's disappearance.

The couple gained some income from a lawsuit Carolyn Condit settled out of court with the National Enquirer last year for an undisclosed sum. Another lawsuit filed by Gary Condit against three supermarket tabloids and their parent company, American Media, is pending in Palm Beach, Fla. And Carolyn Condit is awaiting word on a suit filed against USA Today.

The end of a political career
L. Lin Wood, Gary Condit's attorney, said that the litigation is an attempt to regain some of what Condit lost when his reputation was shattered and that the lawsuits are by no means "a meal ticket" for the former lawmaker.

"I think Gary Condit is bitter. I think he's angry, and I don't think he's resolved that yet," Wood said. "I think he has a legitimate right to be angry."

Condit, now 56, and his wife have tried to maintain their privacy, splitting time between their homes in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area and California, Wood said. He declined to talk about Condit's investment work. He added that Condit has no plans to revive his political career.

"Unfortunately because of the accusations . . . I'm not sure Gary will ever be employable outside of some form of self-employment," Wood said.

Police questioned Condit four times during the early months of the investigation, subpoenaed his telephone and credit card records and scoured his Adams Morgan apartment. Authorities said they came up with no evidence tying Condit to what happened to Levy.

Still, the adverse publicity was enough to sink the political career of the seven-term congressman in the March 2002 primary.

His political struggles were documented by Los Angeles filmmaker Kristina Holland, a friend of Condit's daughter, Cadee. Holland helped produce a 75-minute documentary on Condit's 2002 campaign -- "Public Service: The Private Campaign of Gary Condit" -- that was shown at a film festival in Sacramento.

Holland, who was given $3,500 by the Condit campaign to help finance the film, is making the rounds trying to persuade television executives to air the documentary nationally. "I think we did a good, historical piece," she said.

There have been fewer public signs of activity in the homicide investigation.

No breakthroughs
Authorities said investigators are continuing to examine files of known sexual predators and remain interested in Ingmar Guandique, who is serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two joggers in Rock Creek Park shortly after Levy disappeared. But they have been looking into his activities for more than two years with no apparent result. A year ago, authorities were focusing on a few dozen sex offenders, and no breakthroughs have emerged.

Guandique and his lawyer have said he had nothing to do with Levy's death.

Though many of the key investigators in the case have moved on, Levy's death still haunts them.

"I definitely still wonder about it," said Jonathan L. Arden, the city's former chief medical examiner. "On occasion, I've met up with some detectives and FBI agents who were involved in the case. You can't help but ask and help but wonder.

"It's not just because her case was famous. It's a mystery, and it's a tragedy."

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, who worked on the Levy case when he was the city's executive assistant police chief, said, "When something like an anniversary comes up, all you can think about is the grieving parents."

For a few months in the summer of 2001, shortly after Levy disappeared, the small farming community of Modesto was overrun by television crews and the city was abuzz with gossip about the hometown girl and the beloved politician. But Condit and Levy aren't names heard on the streets of Modesto much anymore.

"As far as Gary Condit and Chandra Levy are concerned, that's history. People aren't interested in that anymore," said Lee Sturgill, 64, an active member of the Stanislaus County Republican Party.

Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour added that Condit "kind of disappeared."

Levy's parents, Susan and Bob Levy, are planning a quiet remembrance for their daughter this weekend, friends said. In the months after their daughter vanished, the Levys were mainstays on network television shows. Now, said Susan Anthony, a spokeswoman for the Levy family's new attorney, Steve Mandell, the family is "certainly trying not to be in the limelight."

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he spoke with Susan Levy two weeks ago when she called to get an update on the case. "She's obviously still grieving," the chief said.