Anonymous tip ignites frenzy; police cautious

03/25/2002 7:45 PM

11/20/2007 10:14 AM

(Published: Thursday, August 2, 2001)

WASHINGTON -- Investigators and reporters scrambled Wednesday to check out a detailed and anonymous tip that Chandra Levy might be buried on an Army base south of the capital.

After a furious few hours that showed the enduring interest in the case of the missing Modesto woman, law enforcement officials declared that they still needed to determine the validity of the information before they began digging at Fort Lee in Virginia.

"If the tip is deemed credible, appropriate investigative steps will be taken," Mary Johlie, spokeswoman for the FBI's Richmond field office, said in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon.

"At this time, there are no plans to conduct a search in the Fort Lee area."

Located near the city of Petersburg, Fort Lee is home to about 3,500 personnel and provides advanced individual training for soldiers. The Army base is approximately 130 miles from Washington.

Washington police likewise emphasized that the three-page, single-spaced document provided by a privately operated crime tip service was "but another of many unconfirmed tips circulating about the disappearance of Ms. Levy."

Tip offers many specifics

The tip's geographic focus, and the reference to a parking lot and ongoing construction, did catch police attention beyond some of the other tips received over the past three months.

"This is a little better than a tip like, 'I had a vision last night she is in dark water,'" Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer told The Associated Press. "There is more specificity. And it is geographically accurate. But that is not necessarily unusual."

Kim Petersen, with the Modesto-based Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, advised Levy's parents Wednesday that the tip was afloat after it became clear that the media would report it.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, I hope it's not true,'" Levy's aunt, Linda Zamsky, said Wednesday night. "But if it is true, at least (the parents) will have closure."

The day before, the media scrambled when a flock of reporters descended on a Washington hardware store clerk who claimed that he had made a duplicate set of house keys for Levy in early May.

Key maker's story wavers

Levy was last seen in public April 30, and sent her last known e-mail May 1. After three investigators interviewed John Woodfolk, his certainty about having seen Levy in early May rather than late April began to soften.

At almost the same time, though, investigators were starting to process the tip passed along late Monday by a private, nonprofit group called WeTip. The 29-year-old California-based group pays rewards of up to $1,000 for tips that lead to arrests and convictions.

The tip called in to the group's hot line at about 7:30 p.m. Monday claimed that Levy had been killed, placed in shrink wrap and buried in a parking lot that was under construction. The tip was also layered with many other details, few of which were made public Wednesday.

"The information was deemed to be very significant," said David Eckert of WeTip.

Washington police said Fort Lee's military police would "coordinate the search and possibly use local cadaver dogs" if officials determined today that a full search was warranted.

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

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