- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey telephoned Chandra Levy's parents yesterday with the message he has dreaded having to deliver since the California couple's daughter vanished here without a trace almost 13 months ago.
It was early morning at the Levys' Modesto home when Chief Ramsey personally passed word that a skull and bones found scattered with shreds of clothing in Rock Creek Park appeared to be those of a woman, possibly their daughter, who was 24 when last seen on April 30, 2001.
But though the chief informed the Levys that the remains were likely those of a woman, he initially told reporters that he did not know the sex of the body nor even whether it was that of a child or an adult.
"They're upset. They're distraught. But we're keeping them informed," Chief Ramsey said, explaining that he had called to cushion the family from blanket television coverage as an army of detectives, evidence technicians and FBI agents swarmed into the park. By mid-day, the team had started setting up lights to search into the night.
"They're still holding out hope," the chief said of his two conversations with the Levys, just hours before he told the couple's attorney that comparisons of Miss Levy's dental records with the skull determined that the body was indeed that of their daughter.
Just before 6 p.m., he announced the same news to reporters.
At the Levy home, California police officers came and went throughout the day, but the family remained out of sight and publicly silent until their lawyers issued a statement last evening saying the case was now about finding a killer.
"Right now, our focus is just on a memorial service and laying those remains to rest," lawyer Billy Martin said last night on "Larry King Live." But, he said, Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat, still has questions to answer.
Mr. Condit sequestered himself on Capitol Hill as virtually the entire Chandra Levy task force reassembled on the wooded park road where a man's pet dog turned up the skull at a spot that police searchers scoured in July. His lawyer, Mark Geragos, later said the Condit family's "hearts are going out to the Levy family."
Despite constant police assertions that Mr. Condit is "not a suspect," official interest has not waned in the seven-term congressman. His political career was ended in March by the voters of his Modesto district after disclosure of his extramarital relationship with the missing intern.
Mr. Condit, 54, was subpoenaed April 12 to appear before a D.C. grand jury investigating the young woman's disappearance and the validity of accusations that he and others, including congressional staff members, obstructed justice by concealing the Condit-Levy relationship during the first phase of the police search.
Even while Mr. Condit was denying a personal relationship with Miss Levy, he argued that he was assisting her family. It is not known whether he testified to the grand jury or took refuge in the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, but he has repeatedly professed innocence.
"I had nothing to do with her disappearance," Mr. Condit said in a recent CNN interview with Larry King.
The remains were discovered in an area of the park that Miss Levy may have favored for walking and jogging during her six-month sojourn in the District for a $2,250-a-month internship at the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Chief Ramsey took great pains in the afternoon to remind reporters that the area had been searched thoroughly and repeatedly, in a process documented grid by grid to assure no lapses. He suggested at one point that the body might have been uncovered from a shallow grave and its bones strewn about by animals.
"This is difficult terrain, really a heavily wooded area a difficult place to search," the chief said. "We did go through the entire Rock Creek Park, 1,700 acres. It's a huge, huge wooded area. It's very possible you can see right now that things can be concealed."
One aspect hampering the investigation yesterday was the start of a painstaking effort to find where the body actually decomposed before its bones were scattered to the bottom of a steep hill. Crime-scene technicians typically trowel through soil, which can retain body fluids from decomposition occurring as much as a year earlier.
"We need to just take our time and process the higher area," Chief Ramsey said.
Medical experts who study decomposition say a skeleton can reveal age, sex, ancestry and height, when the person died, and sometimes how death occurred including homicide, suicide or accident.
Among key factors are bullet holes, knife marks on bone, unhealed new skull or bone fractures, poison concentrations in the bone or even strangulation, which breaks fragile throat bones that might be the first lost when a skeleton is scattered.
Bodies lose flesh at varying rates and as soon as two weeks after death, said Murray Marks of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who researches how outdoor exposure affects cadavers. Bone structure can indicate how long a skeleton has been on the ground.
One clue to a skeleton's age can be the presence of dead seasonal vegetation, insect nests, or insect pupa in the skull or bone cavities. The absence of soft tissue ruled out efforts to determine whether the body found yesterday was sexually violated or to look for the rose tattoo that Chandra Levy had above her right ankle.
Mr. and Mrs. Levy visited the District just three weeks ago, seeking to revive public interest in the case on the one-year anniversary of the last contact from their daughter via a May 1 e-mail.
The Levys met with investigators and Chief Ramsey, who tried to raise their spirits by saying that "one phone call" from an unexpected source could bring them peace. The call yesterday came from a man who found the remains about 9:20 a.m. while walking his dog and looking for turtles on an embankment off Broad Branch Road NW near Brandywine Street.
The location is about three miles north of Miss Levy's third-floor apartment at the Newport at 1260 21st St. NW and about a mile north of Klingle Mansion. A Web site for the mansion was among Internet pages she visited May 1 before leaving her apartment for the last time with her keys and a prized gold ring. Police yesterday said they found a gold ring with the initials "C.L." among the remains.
The case dominated public interest last summer but quickly vanished from the public radar screen after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Chandra Levy's secretive affair with Mr. Condit was not her first involvement with a married, older man. The petite young vegetarian a size-2 gamin with a size-12 ego whose name is Sanskrit for "moon" was portrayed by some as possessive and reluctant to let go when men broke off a relationship.
Miss Levy first met Mr. Condit at his Capitol Hill office in the fall of 2000 and, staff members insisted, kept their relationship secret. She told relatives she and the congressman had an elaborate system of rules and codes.
More than two months after the Levys heard Mr. Condit's denials of an affair with their daughter, he admitted an intimate relationship under police questioning.
From the start, police considered the prospect that Miss Levy fell victim in a chance encounter unknown to friends or family because of her obsession for privacy. Investigators also questioned Mr. Condit's wife, Carolyn, who was in the District from April 28 to May 3 last year.
Before arriving in town, Miss Levy previously interned as a sportswriter at the Modesto Bee and as a clerk in the Modesto Police Department, as well as in the offices of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, and of California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.
Miss Levy impressed others with her ambition and laserlike attention to goals, and by seeking to overcome an aversion to conflict that prompted her to abandon a job with a hard-nosed San Francisco television sports department as well as to quit the Brownie scouts after other girls teased her. She soldiered through Little League with the boys, though, and later bested them in a wilderness program in which she was the only girl.

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