Investigators try to tie suspect to Levy's death

October 5, 2002 

WASHINGTON -- The cops first arrested Ingmar Guandique the week Chandra Levy disappeared.

At the time, no one thought to connect the two people from different worlds.

Guandique was just another suspected burglar, charged with stealing a neighbor's gold ring. Levy was a Modesto woman and one-time federal intern quickly evolving into America's most famous missing person.

But investigators are zeroing in on Guandique as a possible suspect in Levy's murder.

A sporadically hard drinker and drug user, according to a pre-sentencing report, Guandique is an unmarried father of one young child. He is serving a prison sentence for attacks whose timing and methods are now under police scrutiny.

In newly scheduled grand jury sessions, investigators will press his friends and acquaintances for evidence that might connect the 21-year-old El Salvador native to Levy's murder.

"I'm scheduled for Monday," Guandique's former landlady, Sheila Cruz, said Friday.

The intensifying focus on Guandique is making lawyers see red.

"Mr. Ingmar Guandique is not linked to the Chandra Levy case by a single shred of evidence," Ronald Sullivan Jr. of the Public Defender Service said in a statement, adding that Guandique has passed a lie detector test that has since come under question.

Allies of Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, are unhappy, too. They say this proves they were right all along in decrying the intense public focus on the congressman and his connection to Levy. Condit, now 54, never denied published reports that he had an affair with the 24-year-old Levy.

"It's absolutely galling in some ways," Condit's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said Friday. "It does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out (Guandique) was a prime suspect."

Geragos asserted that "the fixation" on Condit distracted police from doing a better job during the investigation that is now in its 17th month.

He said he had an investigator look into Guandique's criminal file shortly after Levy's remains were found in May in Rock Creek Park, where Guandique had attacked other women. Geragos said that information should have clearly pegged Guandique as a prime suspect.

The file includes a summary from a psychological assessment that Guandique "may act out impulsively and may have trouble controlling his anger" and cites "major concerns" about "emotional self-control."

Geragos denied published reports alleging that Condit took the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before a grand jury in April. Citing grand jury secrecy rules and his unhappiness over repeated leaks, though, Geragos declined to detail what Condit discussed.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Friday that the investigation remains "active and ongoing" but declined to comment further.

Focus of police criticized

Condit's former attorney, Abbe Lowell, agreed that investigators' belated surge of interest in Guandique showed priorities were skewed early on.

"More than a year ago, I pleaded with the police and media to spend less time on Congressman Condit and more time on better leads," Lowell said Friday, "and now it appears that they should have."

A highly publicized search of Rock Creek Park by police cadets last year turned up no clues. Levy's remains were discovered this year by a man walking a dog on a wooded hillside outside the range of the earlier police search. Within days Guandique's name surfaced.

Levy was last heard from May 1, 2001, in an e-mail sent to her parents in Modesto. Six days later, Washington police picked up Guandique for the first time. A woman in the red-brick apartment building next to his, close to Rock Creek Park, had come upon him hiding in the corner of her bedroom.

"She started to scream," the police report stated, "which caused (him) to flee out the front door."

Police who subsequently searched Guandique found him with one large screwdriver, two small screwdrivers and a gold ring that belonged to his neighbor. They found that the woman's deadbolt had been "destroyed," and they charged Gaundique with attempted burglary and released him.

About one week later, he attacked a Rock Creek Park jogger.

A one-time reporter, Halle Shilling, recounted her experience in a victim's impact statement and in a first-person, bylined newspaper account that appeared about a year later without naming Guandique. Shilling was 30 at the time of the attack.

"I do not doubt for a minute that he purposely stalked me as a hunter tracks his prey," Shilling wrote in a victim's impact statement. "I know, in my gut, that given a chance he would not hesitate to repeat his crime on some other woman, and it scares me to think what would happen if she was not prepared with some sort of self-defense."

At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, Shilling was larger than Guandique. She fought back and, "inexplicably," she said, he ran away.

July 1, Guandique attacked again -- a former varsity rower who stood 5-foot-11 and weighed 175 pounds.

"What struck me most was that within 10 seconds, I was off the jogging path in the woods, struggling to scream and out of sight of any passers-by," recalled the woman, who at the time was a 26-year-old recent law school graduate. "Until that day, I never realized how quickly someone with the advantage of surprise and a weapon can put a person in a position of total isolation and helplessness."

The investigators' new focus is reviving interest just as two National Enquirer reporters prepare to publish a book.

"Power, Sex and Murder: Chandra Levy and Gary Condit, The Affair That Shocked America" is a 200-page account by David Wright and Don Gentile. Wright said he expects 250,000 copies to be published this month.

"It couldn't be more topical," Wright said. "Just when you think it's quieted down, it pops back up."

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at (202) 383-0006 or mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com.

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