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The Hunt for Missing Intern Chandra Levy

Aired June 18, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with and Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.


Chandra Levy was last seen April 30 in a Washington, D.C.,-area gym. The 24-year-old had just completed an internship at the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was preparing to return to her hometown of Modesto, California. Investigators from California, Washington, and the FBI have joined forces in the search for Levy. In addition, California politicians have contributed money for search efforts, and a Web site has been created to help gather leads.

Levy's cell phone records indicate she repeatedly called a phone number which was the pager of California Congressman Gary Condit. Levy and the congressman were believed to have had a friendship, but Condit has denied any romantic relationship.


JOSEPH COCHET, GARY CONDIT'S ATTORNEY: ... some of the news media -- not all of it -- has taken this frenzied situation, turned it on its head, and is looking now only at the relationship between a congressman and an intern, when we should be devoting all our resources to finding this very fine young woman.


COSSACK: Joining us today from Los Angeles is former LAPD detective and private investigator Tom Lange.

Here in Washington, Shelley Albea (ph), former FBI Special Agent Clint Van Zandt and CNN national correspondent Bob Franken -- in the back, Kelly Malcom (ph) and Nathan Bauer (ph).

National correspondent Bob Franken, you've been on this story. Bring us up to date.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The very latest is is that, we've been told by sources in Congressman Condit's office, over the weekend, on Saturday specifically, he tried to call Dr. Robert Levy and Susan Levy, who are the parents, in Modesto, California, of Chandra Levy. He tried to call them because, according to the source in the office, they had asked for him to speak out. They wanted information from him.

However, according to this person, when Condit called, they said they didn't want to talk to him without their attorney present, and that was the end of the conversation.

I spoke personally with Levys on Sunday -- Doctor Levy, specifically, and he mentioned to me that they'd hired a Washington, D.C., attorney, but he would not identify that attorney, nor, apparently, has he identified it to any of the Condit people, including Condit's lawyer in San Francisco area, Joe Cochet.

That is the very latest.

COSSACK: There have been some allegations, Bob, that on Chandra Levy's phone bill, there appeared numerous or several times -- times, let me just make it clear -- times when she had called the congressman's pager number, and the report was that her parents had called that number in an attempt to find out who it was, and in fact the congressman called back. Is that true?

FRANKEN: It's been confirmed by both the Levys and by Condit's office.

By the way, I have not spoken directly with Condit about this.

Both say that that happened sometime last month. That there were a number of phone numbers, that one phone number appearing repeatedly, according to the Levys, on the cell phone records. They called it and got Congressman Condit. There was a very brief conversation, characterized as somewhat awkward, and that was the end of it. So yes, that has been confirmed by all the parties involved.

COSSACK: Where is the investigation as we are here right now?

FRANKEN: The investigation is that there's a still missing person, 24-year-old Chandra Levy, the missing former intern. She is one of hundreds and thousands who are missing each year, but of course, this one has gotten intense coverage, partly because of the questions that have been raised about the relationship with Congressman Condit, and partly because there is an organization that specializes in getting publicity for these cases, in an effort to try to help get the person who is missing identified and returned, if the person has not met foul play, or at least finding out where that person is.

COSSACK: But the Washington, D.C., police have said, specifically, that Congressman Condit is not a suspect in this case -- correct?

FRANKEN: Well, that's not the terminology exactly. What they have said is that they have no evidence that he had anything to do with the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

There's not a question of suspect now, because they're not treating this, they say, as a criminal matter. The only reason that a grand jury has gotten involved with this at all is because there is a normal procedure in the District, as you know, that if you're going to get a subpoena, you have to go through a grand jury.

But the police officials have gone out of their way to say what does not mean that this is a criminal matter. They are treating it as a missing person's case -- a big difference, of course -- albeit a very high-profile one.

COSSACK: But it is fair to say that there is no evidence, at least as we are here right now -- the District of Columbia Police haven't said in any way -- that would indicate that Congressman Condit is involved in this matter, or has anything to do with the missing person.

FRANKEN: To the contrary, they've said that they have nothing to indicate that he was involved in any way in her disappearance. Now, whether he is part of this case, yes, he is part of this case. He has been questioned by the police; of course, they've been questioning him because of the persistent reports that there was some sort of personal relationship between the two of them, reports that the Condit office has repeatedly, specifically denied, specifically said there was no romantic relationship between the two.

That is still an open question, at least in the minds of many.

COSSACK: Tom Lange, looking for a missing person -- how do you begin in a situation like this?

TOM LANGE, FORMER LAPD DETECTIVE: Well, you're going to want to familiarize yourself with their background as extensively as possible, starting with the family, friends, any relationships, neighbors, co- workers, things of this type. You're going to make all the normal checks, of course, when the case isn't as high-profile as this, and that's the local coroner's offices, hospitals, and will type of thing. You're going to want to do as extensive a background check as possible, using such things as phone records, as has been brought up in this case, mail, any recent credit card activity. You're also going to want to look at recent parolees in the area that may have that type of background that might lend themselves to this type of activity.

Basically, you want to get as close to family and friends, co- workers, as you possibly can, try to set some routine for the missing person, try to find out what they do on a normal basis and back track in that respect.

COSSACK: Tom, is it usual -- she's been missing since April 30, I mean apparently missing: no one has been able to find a clue as far as we know -- that some kind of break comes in these cases rather quickly?

LANGE: Well, it would depend, Roger. Here you have a very high- profile case. This is a situation where publicity would perhaps tend to help. More people would be looking for her, say, be familiar with what she looked like. I don't want to be all doom and gloom here, but because of that, I would be a little concerned for her safety, quite frankly. COSSACK: The fact that she's absolutely, apparently to have dropped off the face of the earth, and no one seems to be able to come up with a clue -- that's the kind of thing that would cause you think perhaps there's something more than just a missing person.

LANGE: Yes, and I've handled those type of cases where months have gone by, and we have, unfortunately, found that victim who was a victim of foul play. With all of this publicity, if she were out there, you'd think we would have heard something. Certainly, if she were able to contact her family -- they appear to be a very tight-knit family -- you'd think that they would have heard from her, or someone would have heard something.

COSSACK: Tom, isn't it unusual, though, that none of her friends or associates can fill in this missing time?

LANGE: Yes, that's what I'm saying. That's a concern, all of a sudden that she's just gone, and you wonder about what has happened from the last time someone saw her.

I don't know if it's true or not, but I'd heard that there were some bags that were packed at her residence. Is that true?

COSSACK: Yes, I think Bob Franken is confirming that -- yes.

FRANKEN: Most of her bags were packed. She had been preparing for leaving in a couple of days.

LANGE: Do we know where she was going? What did she pack?

COSSACK: Apparently, her parents thought she was on her way back home to Modesto.


A federal court ruled that law enforcement personnel did not improperly leak grand jury information on the probe of Senator Robert Torricelli, except for one instance. The judge ruled that information was attributed to witnesses, or sources affiliated with those witnesses, who aren't covered by grand jury secrecy rules.


COSSACK: The streets of the nation's Capitol are riddled with missing person posters as investigators continue their search for Washington intern Chandra Levy. But finding a missing person takes more than plastering a picture around town. How do the local police, and now the FBI go about investigating the case of a missing person? Clint, formerly with the FBI, in missing persons, what did you do in a situation like this?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Roger, this is the old rock in a pond theory. If you want to find a rock that you've throw into a pond, you go to the first ripple. You don't go to the furthest ripple out. So, in this case, you get to her apartment, her friends, find out who her boyfriends, who her girlfriends are, who she's made phone calls to. You find out what is her inner circle, and who has been her closest confidante and who did she have contact with just prior to have gone missing, and then you start to expand out from there.

You conduct a two-track investigation. Track one says she's a missing person. Track two says maybe she's a missing person, but she may be a victim of herself. So, we have to determine is this homicide, suicide, is it an accident, has she been kidnapped, has stalker got her, or was she involved in some emotional situation that was just too much for her to deal with, she wanted to drop out of sight for a couple of days. Now, the media attention is so great that it's like, when do I surface, when do come back again.

Now, her mother and father have already said all is forgiven. Whatever the situation is, come home. If that's the case, she's sitting in some friend's apartment or basement right now trying to make decision when to surface again.

COSSACK: Clint, is that -- and I understand your theories in this, but is the number two theory, this notion that perhaps she's in a friend's apartment, is it possible that these kinds of events that someone could drop out of sight like this, someone who's apparently a gregarious woman, Bob says a physical fitness nut, we know that she was in her gym prior to her disappearance; wouldn't someone like that have a difficult time just almost falling off the face of the Earth?

VAN ZANDT: Well, I look at, Roger, my experience as a FBI agent when we're looking for the top 10 most-wanted fugitives. You know, when we were looking for Andrew Cunanan, who killed Gianni Versace, we had every law enforcement person in the country and literally every citizen in the country, and he still escaped for months at a time when we had that much attention. So, it's a big country. It's easy to be a needle in a the haystack if you want to.

COSSACK: Tom, when does a missing person become something worse, a homicide investigation?

LANGE: Well, certainly when there's evidence leading to that. In this particular case, going back just a little bit, I would be interested in her residence, how apparently there were bags packed. If, in fact, she's lying low at a friend's home, then why would she do that, and why would she leave her bags?

The other thing is there any evidence of a forced entry or anything else at that apartment that would lead to the possibility of force, of her being taken out of there by force. That's where it would start. But I'm still really curious about this packed luggage business. Was there any forced entry there? Hopefully the police have that information.

COSSACK: Let's go to our resident expert, clue expert, Bob Franken. Again, Bob, forced entry? Tell us about the luggage.

FRANKEN: No evidence of forced entry. She had made plans to go back to California, where she was going to receive her degree. She had finished her internship. So, the packed bags could be easily explained.

It seems the operating theory, now, is that she left the apartment for some reason, perhaps to run or otherwise, and that something occurred outside or someone occurred outside who was key to this and she has disappeared. Has she disappeared to go off with somebody? The most happy outcome, of course, would be that she finally resurfaces, or did she meet foul play and was killed.

I mean, those seem to be the two parameters here, and the other one, of course, is the question raised what about the role of Congressman Condit? Was there any role? Could it have contributed even in a peripheral to what ultimately happened?

COSSACK: Right, and I think I have to keep saying this, that as of right now, there is absolutely no evidence that he is suspected of any foul play whatever.

FRANKEN: The police repeatedly make that point.

COSSACK: Now, from the FBI's point of view, you've tacked about a two-track investigation. When does it get to something from a missing person to something worse, perhaps, because if -- isn't it time now for authorities to start thinking, you know, this young woman may be dead?

VAN ZANDT: Well, you think it from square one, Roger. The police were doing a grid search looking for her body. They've looked in the normal drop sites. You know, there have been people in the media who have suggested maybe there's a serial killer out there, and they looked back at the intern attorney -- female attorney who was killed, Miss Chang, who was killed back in January of '99.

We've got a missing person right now, there's no evidence of foul play, there's nothing to suggest that anything has happened to her. Police are done a grid search. They've looked for clothing, possessions, like you were saying, her credit cards are still there, her cell phone is still there, her clothes is still there. Everything to move on in life -- she sent her parents an e-mail that morning, and said I'm looking to get a plane ticket to come home,

But she never bought the plane ticket, never got on the plane. So, if my bags are packed and I'm ready to go, but I don't have a plane ticket, where did I go?

COSSACK: And doesn't that, if you have all of that material ready to go, but you don't have a plane ticket but your credit card is still there and all of your personal possession are still there, what does it lead you to believe?

VAN ZANDT: It suggests to me, like we're saying, she either went out to run a quick errand, get a pack of gum, jog, and she was the victim of foul play, which his -- she's a low-risk victim in a low- risk area at a low-risk time of day, the chances of that happening are not impossible, but fairly slim at that time. If you look at the statistical probability, could it happen, absolutely.

But the flip side is if you look at who did she have contact with the last couple of days, was there any emotions going on. Perhaps she had a boyfriend, something like this, whoever it might have been, who said, hey, you misunderstood the relationship that we have together. We really don't have the relationship you think we do, and now for day or two she just wanted to get away are it all, regroup her thoughts, now all of a sudden, she's in too deep because she is this international missing person.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. According to the FBI, there were more than 800,000 missing persons reported in 2000. So why the national media campaign about Chandra Levy? Stay with us.


Q: Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating granted a 30-day stay of execution for a man following a plea from whom?

A: Mexican President Vicente Fox. Death row inmate Geraldo Valdez was a Mexican immigrant. He was convicted of killing a man in 1989 after the man made homosexual advance on him.



COSSACK: Washington intern Chandra Levy was last seen on April 30 at her health club in the DuPont Circle neighborhood. According to the D.C. Police, there have been hundreds of unsolved missing-person cases reported this year, yet what makes this case different?

Joining me now is Kim Petersen, from the Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation, who is working with the Levy family on this case. Thank you for joining us. Kim, tell us about your organization, what you do, how you got involved with the family?

KIM PETERSEN, CAROLE SUND/CARRINGTON FOUNDATION: Our organization was established by Francis and Carole Carrington in memory of their granddaughter and grandaughter, Carole Sund and Juli Sund, two of the three women murdered outside of Yosemite in 1999. During that time, the Carringtons learned how important the media was in helping to locate Carole and Juli and once they had them located, unfortunately they had been located deceased, they realized how important it was to have this attention on it and that there were few organizations that worked with families and their circumstances,

When Carole and Juli Sund were missing, the Carringtons were asked to post reward money and after they had been found, they realized what would we have done if we didn't have the money to put up these rewards. So, they started this organization actually to assist families with missing or murdered family members who don't have the funds to post reward money, and that's what our primary goal is, to help those families.

One of the other services we provide, however, is what we've done with the Levy family, which is media liaison services. The average family with a missing person has no idea how to begin, what to do. There's no training.

COSSACK: So, you are providing them with access to the media and helping get their story out and Chandra's story out. Is that correct?

PETERSEN: Correct.

COSSACK: All right, there have been reports that there is at least somewhat of a disturbance or rift between you and the Levies based upon the Levies' allegations or at least their thoughts that perhaps there was more than just a friendship between their daughter and the congressman. Is that true that there is a rift between you and them?

PETERSEN: That is absolutely untrue.

COSSACK: So, in other -- Go ahead. I'm sorry.

PETERSEN: I saw those reports myself. I've actually been out of town all weekend, and then was contacted by you guys about half an hour ago and I had just gotten off the phone with Dr. Levy when you called. No, what has happened is the Levies have retained an attorney who will be handling all of their media and media contacts, and the Levies have -- they probably will be coming down to our office this afternoon because Doctor Levy said, Kim, I just need to come down and talk to you. I just need some support. I need some encouragement, and they know that I'm available to them at any time and there absolutely is no rift between the family and myself or the organization. We are here for them in all ways we can be as we have been from the beginning.

COSSACK: All right.

Tom Lange, because this such a high-profile case, does it make the job of an investigator easier or harder.

LANGE: Well, it can make it more difficult in that there's someone always looking over your shoulder. Frankly, the media has, in many instances, many more resources than the police. They can get to potential witnesses before you can. This could compromise your investigation or evidence.

However, there is a good part of this in that we are getting the information out. I mean, people know who Chandra Levy, and they see her photographs. You have more eyes and ears out there actually working four. So, it can cut a couple of ways.

COSSACK: Clint, can you have it the other way, though, where it doesn't help you because of the fact that this is such a headline case, that if there's someone out there that's following this they know everything?

VAN ZANDT: Yes, it is. I guess one analogy is the Atlantic -- Atlanta bombing during the Olympics, and an individual who made himself suspect by his own statements all of a sudden became a foot race between the authorities and the media who was going to get to the sources of information first, and that whole thing got blurred.

In this particular situation, the more media coverage there is -- I'm a parent of three children, so I want to believe her alive, she is alive. If, in fact, she is, me theory -- if, in fact, she may be somewhat of a victim of herself, now the problem is how do I come forward when this much media attention has been generated and number two, if I know something about this, should I come back and might I get involved then.

So, there's a lot of people perhaps who know some part of this trying to make a decision, do I share it or not?

COSSACK: Bob, the final 15 seconds.

FRANKEN: Well, the other side of that is sometimes people will see media reports and see things that they don't really see and report them to the authorities. Authorities have been deluged by what have turned out to be false leads about where Chandra Levy is.

COSSACK: Sure. I'm afraid that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests, thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. I will see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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