Special Reports

March 25, 2002

Chandra Levy: A Closer Look

(Published: Sunday, July 01, 2001)

Of the many theories about their daughter's disappearance nine weeks ago, there is one that Robert and Susan Levy adamantly discount.

There is no way that Chandra Ann Levy -- the daughter they raised, nurtured and love -- took her own life.

"I know my daughter enough to know," Susan Levy said Friday.

Suicide, nonetheless, is one of the theories that Washington, D.C., police now contemplate as they trace the life of the missing Modesto woman. The 24-year-old was last heard from May 1, a week after completing an internship at the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Murder and willful disappearance are two other possibilities that investigators consider as they piece together what they have discovered about the life, times and sometimes mysterious mind of Chandra Levy.

In mid-May, FBI agents and Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies formally profiled Levy's persona through a series of interviews in Modesto. That information, in a confidential report, has been forwarded to Washington police, who now are preparing their own profile based on Levy's more than seven months in the nation's capital.

Levy e-mailed her parents May 1, telling them of her plans for her return to California. The last time anyone reports seeing her was the night before, at her Washington gym.

Her friendship of ambiguous dimensions with Ceres Rep. Gary Condit has drawn worldwide attention to the case; police have interviewed Condit twice, as part of what they say is their effort to draw a more complete portrait of the missing woman. While terming her a "good friend," Condit has, through his aides, denied having a romantic relationship with her.

The Levys spoke with The Bee only about their daughter, refusing to discuss anything involving Condit.

Thus far, the consensus picture is one of an intelligent, highly motivated young woman who would go after what she liked.

She swore off meat, eggs and fish and became a vegan.

She shopped endlessly for bargains.

The Levys describe their daughter as a very private person who had a roommate for only one year of college. She maintained that preference for privacy when she moved to Washington's trendy Dupont Circle area.

"She said that if she had to live in a dorm, she wouldn't go to college," Susan Levy said.

Robert and Susan Levy describe a daughter both responsible and independent, a young woman who called home at least once each week, but seldom more often.

"She had an 'I can take care of myself' attitude," Robert Levy said.


She valued her security as much as her privacy, constantly scanning her surroundings for lurking dangers. Her landlord in Washington, a Bay Area resident and former staff worker for a California congressman, recalled stopping by once to pick up something that he had left in the apartment.

He knocked. She asked who was at the door before she opened it a crack. She then closed the door, while the landlord remained in the hallway. She retrieved the item, opened the door and carefully turned it over.

"She always knew what was going on around her," Robert Levy said.

Chandra Levy also impressed the landlord with her sheer competence. She described herself in a Sept. 26 e-mail to the landlord as "pretty handy with putting things together."

Every month, right on time, her rent checks arrived.

She seemed to handle adversity with great resilience, keeping her emotions to herself, her mother said. A few years ago, after breaking up with a boyfriend, Levy went on a train trip with her mother through the Rockies and into New Mexico.

"She was disappointed that the relationship didn't work out," Susan Levy said. "But we had a great time on the trip. We really bonded."

She became impressed with authority and intellect, and counted more men than women among her friends. She worked in predominantly male-dominated jobs, in The Modesto Bee's sports department and as an Explorer and police assistant at the Modesto Police Department before going on to graduate school.

"She finds men are more interesting," Susan Levy said. "And she likes people who are strong and have strong personalities. She liked people in law enforcement and power."

Vivacious with friends, she could be quiet in a crowd.

"She was quiet and professional," said Mark Vargas, who worked with Levy in Sacramento. "She relaxed in after-work settings and became more fun and playful. But that goes for anybody."

Levy was an avid reader, her University of Southern California classmate Matt Szabo recalled. She did not have a television when living in a small Los Angeles apartment. She worked out in the gym, located inside the apartment complex. Sometimes she would go out skating, on inline skates, and sometimes go out with friends to El Chollo restaurant.

"There are so many good places to eat around here," Levy enthused to Szabo in an e-mail sent Nov. 23, 1999. "I don't know if you like Cuban food, but there is a really popular restaurant on Venice (Boulevard) in Culver City called Versailles. I want to try to go there before I leave, because I hear it has really good food, music and dancing."

Szabo recalled conversations with Levy in which they discussed families; she would discuss her oncologist father, and Szabo was left with the distinct impression that Levy was very close to her dad.

And the Levys depicted a daughter who felt great about her future, looked forward to returning Modesto and was considering law school.

According to published reports, she had been despondent over the end of her Bureau of Prisons internship, and not being able to extend it. But the Levys said they sensed no change in her usual upbeat manner when they last spoke with her April 27, four days after the internship ended.

"She was surprised by the job (ending), but not devastated," Susan Levy said. "She went to see the Holocaust Museum and did some other things. She wasn't down at all."

Bee staff writer Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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

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