Investigator Terry Lenzner on the Chandra Levy case
Terry F. Lenzner is the chairman of Investigative Group International (IGI), a company he founded in 1984 as an adjunct to Lenzner's former law firm. Lenzner was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and eventually gained national recognition as assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.
CNN: Welcome to CNN.com Terry Lenzner.
TERRY LENZNER: Good to be present today, and I hope we have an interesting talk.
CNN: As you've seen the Chandra Levy investigation play out, what do you think has been done right and what's been done wrong so far?
LENZNER: That's an excellent question. One of the problems with answering it is we don't know exactly what the police have done, the totality of their efforts. I would be concerned, based on my investigative experience, if they haven't secured all of Miss Levy's computer e-mails, especially the deleted files, her phone records, her credit card records, and bank statements. The same for anybody else who may have had a pattern of contact and communications with her, including, of course, Congressman Condit and his staff. I would also look at the confluence of events that occurred shortly before her disappearance, starting with her statement of "big news" coming, and I would want to fit that into what the records show about her communications at that time. Who she was calling and who was calling her.
I'd want to look at the sudden termination of her job at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And then of course, shortly after she learns she's been terminated, the congressman's wife, who infrequently comes to Washington, arrives here. I'd want to know whether that was a hastily arranged visit, or something planned a considerable time ago. Then I'd want to know everything I could about her activities the day she disappeared. And I'd want to know about the people who live in her building, those that frequented her athletic club, who she worked with at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and anyone else who seemed to have a significant pattern of conduct.
I think, on what they've done, certainly I'd hope that they had searched the Congressman's apartment in a more timely basis, and I personally believe that a special grand jury should be convened and dedicated to this case. That is not unusual, and it provides the power to compel testimony under oath, the power to subpoena documents and DNA evidence, as well as the benefit of protecting the privacy of the people involved, both the victim's family, as well as the Congressman and anybody else who becomes a focus of law enforcement.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why did D.C. police wait so long to give the case to the "cold trail" squad and start all over?
LENZNER: I think that references the request to the cold case division of the FBI, which as I understand it, has been recently called in. There may be some statutory period that a matter has to go through before it's referred to the cold case unit. I believe, though, that the FBI has been available and dedicated to suitable resources, particularly in California, where, of course, the D.C. police have no reach.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you ever use psychics to track missing people, and in your opinion do they ever work?
LENZNER: Well, that's actually an interesting question. I was special counsel to the Atlanta missing and murdered children task force, which was created after 32 black children were abducted and killed. There were a lot of lessons to be drawn from that case to this case. Psychics were called in on that case, I think out of desperation. And in my judgment, that diverted a lot of time and energy, following up leads, which ultimately were not fruitful. In addition, it created some hope, which then turned out to be false.
Ultimately, the case was solved by great police work and luck. The police were standing near a bridge when Wayne Williams dropped a body from the bridge into the river, and they grabbed him. The other lesson from that case is that close to one-third, as I recall, of the victims, in fact succumbed to a relative, family member, or someone else that they knew. So, it really presents the two strongest possibilities in the Levy case: one, that it was someone that knew her, or as in the Williams case, a totally random abduction and murder.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much of the D.C. police resources are being used in the search for Ms. Levy? Is it above the norm?
LENZNER: That's a good question. It's an unusually large number of people, where we have the possibility of a crime. If the family hadn't moved effectively with the media, and a Congressman wasn't involved, at least from a relationship standpoint, there would not have been this focus, or utilization of resources. When all is said and done, this crime will be solved by persistence and creativity of the law enforcement people, not the number of people involved.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the police leaks are an indication of their lack of control over the investigation?
LENZNER: I think the leaks don't reflect lack of control. They're not unusual. Some of them are purposeful, intending to create pressure on people to cooperate or talk. Some of them are hurtful to the investigation, to the extent that they expose police strategy. I return to the grand jury idea, because grand juries are secret proceedings, and it's a crime to discuss grand jury investigations. It would be an effective way to stem the leaks.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why did the police wait five days after Dr. Levy called about his daughter for them to check her apartment?
LENZNER: My guess is that they assumed, as happens often, that a missing person will turn up after a certain time, and that they receive many of these kinds of calls. It's unfortunate that they do not have a priority assigned to such cases that makes a precedence over other less significant problems, like parking tickets.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Did they check the background of employees of the club?
LENZNER: I understand that they have checked the background of the employees, as well as the residents of her apartment building, most of which have been interviewed.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is there ever a worry that too much information made public may actually harm an investigation?
LENZNER: Absolutely. It's a very good question. Another matter that I worked on was as assistant chief counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee. Then I was constantly battling the senators and their staffs, because they leaked many of the revelations regarding Nixon's administration, and abuse of power, which I thought harmed the investigation by letting people know where we were going, and what we were focused on, and it hurt our credibility. By the same token, the senators argued that the dissemination of information to the country was necessary to allow people to understand what had been going on, which ultimately led to the president's impeachment and resignation. While I generally think leaks are damaging to an investigation, in hindsight, I think the senators were correct.
CNN: Does the D.C. police department feel pressure to prove either the guilt or innocence of Gary Condit?
LENZNER: I'm sure that the D.C. police are under huge pressure to resolve his involvement one way or the other. On the other hand, if they assume that he is the only possible suspect, they may well be making a horrible mistake.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Has Chandra any family who are under suspicion?
LENZNER: Not that I know of.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is there any probabilty that she arranged her own disappearance? How likely is that?
LENZNER: I think that's very unlikely, from what I know about her, from reading the same things that everyone else is reading. ... that she had a good relationship with her parents, and I can't imagine a 24-year-old daughter putting her parents through this. The first case I every worked on was the murder of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, and the citizens of the state were convinced that they concealed themselves to create anxiety and press coverage for their cause. They were ultimately found buried in a dam on a farm, all three having been shot to death. So, I think it's highly unlikely that she is purposely hiding.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Does the fact that Chandra's body is still missing lend any credence to the possibility of a professional hit on her, as opposed to an "amateur " abduction?
LENZNER: Another excellent question. Unfortunately, in my experience, it doesn't really lead to that conclusion. I cite a case I worked on five or six years ago of an estranged or separated wife, who was admittedly last seen by her separated husband, who became the chief and assumed target of murderer. His car was examined by the police. Her car was found at the Baltimore airport and examined, and his house was searched. No clues were found. His alibi was full of holes, but he was never charged. About six years after her disappearance, her bones were found in a Maryland forest, and he was a high level corporate executive, who I would have thought would have had difficulty carrying out that kind of a crime.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
LENZNER: One lesson here is that this intern was trained in high school to be sensitive and conscious of danger. She carried mace on her keychain, and she would not have, I believe, left her apartment with only her keys, to go meet a stranger. So, it was either a completely random accident, or it was someone that she knew well. I must say I find the CNN.com an extremely interesting new means of communication, and it would have been fascinating to have during the Watergate investigation. I hope my answers were responsive to your questions.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Terry Lenzner.
LENZNER: Goodbye, and thanks for letting me answer your questions.
Terry Lenzner joined CNN.com via telephone. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Thursday, July 19, 2001.
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