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How Long Will Chandra Levy Search Continue?; Father and Detective Discuss Search for Missing 35-year-old Mother Karen Jo Smith

Aired July 30, 2001 - 12:30   ET



ASST. CHIEF TERRANCE GAINER, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: We still have a lot of area to search this week, and we think we'll conclude that. As you know, we searched all the abandoned buildings in two of the seven districts in the District of Columbia. But aside from eliminating possibilities, we just don't know where she's at.


ROGER COSSACK. HOST: She hasn't been seen for 91 days, and so the search continues, but for how long? Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: How has the investigation progressed, and will this missing intern Chandra Levy ever be found?

Plus, missing in America, 35-year-old Karen Jo Smith disappeared on December 27th of last year. Today, her father speaks to BURDEN OF PROOF.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

After a weekend of searching Washington parks, investigators are no closer to finding Chandra Levy. Police continue to publicly play down any focus on California Congressman Gary Condit in terms of the Levy search. At the same time, they still claim to not accept the results of a privately administered polygraph test.

Now according to sources, material gathered at the Congressman's Washington apartment on July 10th did nothing to further the search for the missing intern.

So joining us today to discuss the all of this is the former assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Conway, former D.C. detective and polygraph examiner Howard Miller, and criminal defense attorney Kenny Robinson. And then we're going to go to CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.

But first, before we go to Bob Franken, I wish to remind our viewers that we are still waiting for former President Clinton's arrival in Harlem at the opening of his offices, and as soon as he does arrives, and as soon as the events begin, we will take you to Harlem to view those.

But let's now go to CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.

Bob, bring us up to date on the latest.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bob, the police investigators are analyzing some material that they found on Roosevelt Island, which is a small island just across the Potomac River from Georgetown, which is several miles from where Chandra Levy lived. They found this morning a switchblade knife about six inches long. And in another section nearby, they found plastic bag containing white blue jeans -- gender unknown and size unknown at this point -- and also a black-and- white striped sweater. Investigators say have little indication this is connected to disappearance of Chandra Levy, but of course, taking the extra care that they have throughout this search, they're analyzing the material right now. They also point out, this is an area that is frequented by homeless people, and that would probably be the explanation for the material.

Of course, for the last two weeks, they've been searching the wooded areas of Washington. They took a break on the weekend. They expect to finish up this week, and of course that has raised all kinds of discussion about whether this will be the time after three months that the investigation is scaled back.

COSSACK: Howard, let's talk about that. We're obviously turning a corner here in the Chandra Levy investigation, in which the chief is saying over the weekend that perhaps it's 50/50 that they'll ever be able to find Chandra Levy or solve this case. What happens now?

HOWARD MILLER, FMR. D.C. POLICE DETECTIVE: Well, it's going to be a matter going back and reinvestigating witnesses, or reinterviewing. I think the search phase is pretty much at the termination point; it's getting to the end. But I think going back, looking at old witness testimony, see if anything has changed. People's memories, we have a saying, that a liar never remembers their original story. So perhaps somebody will make a major statement change, which will come to the attention of police or other persons close to the case, and this might lead to some potential break.

My feeling is that this woman is very streetwise. At first, I thought maybe she was prone to victimization by a stranger, and the more I've learned about Miss Levy and her past, she's been criminal justice person, she's been in the system, around the system, she's works as a clerk in the Modesto police department for a period of time, so she has learned about criminal activity; she knows about it. My feeling is that she's not likely she's not likely to take risk with strangers, that anything she's done that might be untoward could have been done with someone she actually trusted.

COSSACK: Amy, that just makes, what Howard says, makes this mystery even more of a mystery, I suppose. You know, their are all kinds of competing theories about Chandra Levy you hear in Washington. Perhaps something happened to her when she was walking down the street. There's always what relationship with Congressman Condit. But if you follow Howard's theory, it leads you to the fact that saying, if this young woman was kind of street smart, perhaps that leads you to the fact thinking she went somewhere with someone she knew.

AMY CONWAY, FMR. ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY: I think, Roger, that that's what everybody is thinking about and looking at. This woman was not someone who was known to be trusting of strangers necessarily. She wasn't going to open her door to some stranger. I think the more likely scenario is that she left the apartment with someone that she knew, or was going to meet someone that she knew, and that something happened to her when she got there. I guess it's possible that something could have happened to her on the way, but I think that's unlikely, and the chances of that I just don't think are very good.

COSSACK: Kenny, I want to ask you to advise Congressman Condit at this stage of the proceeding, not politically. I mean, obviously he's got political fences to mend. But legally, what do you do now with congressman? It's clear they are saying he's not a suspect, but yet there is a great deal of attention that's been focused on him. He's asked to be interviewed several times. Police say they're not satisfied with the lie-detector test. What do you do?

KENNY ROBINSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think the Congressman finally has been reigned in pretty much as he can be by Abbe Lowell, and should keep doing what he's doing. They've committed themselves to cooperate anyway they can, so that's kind of hard to back away from that this far down the road. He's been interviewed four times. He's passed his polygraph test. They've found nothing on the search of his apartment.

So he should just keep quiet, keep trying to do his job and speak through Abbe Lowell, and try to match Billy Martin word for word in the PR that's going on out there between the criminal defense lawyer and Billy Martin, the lawyer for the family.

COSSACK: What do you make of this part of his activities in which he allegedly was seen tossing away a gift, a watch box that he was given by another woman friend of his just prior to his search. I mean, come on.

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, he just doesn't pass, quite frankly, the imbecile level on the meter. I mean, to that, quite frankly, that night, he knew the police had to have the place staked out. The media is out there every hour of the day. And do that, it's just another hasty move by him to try to cover up his with still another affair that he was having. God forbid that they ever find Miss Levy dead, and they found something that could in some way implicate him, his actions could lead to him being indicted, although I'm sure he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

And as far as what others have said here today about being street wise, I was watching an old Charlie Chan movie last night, and somebody got the drop on Charlie Chan and had him captive for while, so people make mistakes. Hanging on the street, put you in a car, and we don't know what happens. It's all speculation. And unfortunately, she's probably dead, and she's like the route of these other people and Jimmy Hoffa, they're not going to find her. COSSACK: All right, we've got to take a break. We'll have another missing persons case in must a moment.



On this day in 1994, Jesse Timmendequas was charged with murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who lived across the street from him in West Windsor Township, New Jersey. Megan's Law, which requires information about convicted sex felons be available to the public, was enacted later that year.


COSSACK: Thirty-five-year-old Karen Jo Smith was last seen by one of her children in her Indianapolis home on December 27th, 2000. When her two children woke up the next morning, their mother was missing. Also missing was Smith's ex-husband, who had been living in her home.

Joining us from Indianapolis, Indiana now to talk about his daughter's disappearance is Karen's father, Ed Bishop. Also in Indianapolis, detective Judy Phillips, who has been working on this missing persons case.

Ed, let's talk a little bit about your daughter, Karen Jo. Tell us when she disappeared, and the facts surrounding it.

ED BISHOP, FATHER OF KAREN JO SMITH: Well, she disappeared on the 27th of December. That was the last time she was seen as her residence. And my grandson Brandon had seen her at 10:30 p.m. When he come downstairs, she was sleep in the lounge chair, and that was the last time anybody have seen her.

COSSACK: Did she disappear from the residence?

BISHOP: Yes, she did.

COSSACK: Tell us a little bit about your daughter.

BISHOP: Well, you know, my daughter was, a mother of two, Brandon, 14; Stephanie, now is 8, and she lived for her children. You know, a lot of times people say, well, maybe they walked off, and they left, or whatever, but in this case, I'm sure that Karen Jo did not do that, and based on the fact Stephen Halcomb (ph) had made threats against her backed around 1992, and was conspiring to have her murdered, and he was last person that was with her, we're sure that he's responsible for her disappearance.

COSSACK: Now Stephen is her ex-husband, is that correct?

BISHOP: That's correct.

COSSACK: Now have you investigated his whereabouts and what he was doing about the time that your daughter disappeared? BISHOP: Well, there's an ongoing investigation right now currently. Stephen Halcomb is in Tenelton (ph) Reformatory, the state prison here in Indiana. And as of last Friday, we were successful in keeping him remanded to the prison until 2003, which he will be scheduled for another parole hearing in July of next year, but hopefully, by that time, you know, charges are going to be brought forward on him.

COSSACK: Judy, you are in charge of the investigation. First of all, tell us about the search for Karen Jo smith, and have there been any clues?

JUDY PHILLIPS, DETECTIVE, INDIANAPOLIS POLICE: Well, the search has consisted of a ground search, utilizing individuals and helicopters, in association with other agencies through the state and around Indianapolis. To this date, however, there still is no definitive confirmation of sightings of Karen or her family having heard from her.

COSSACK: Has there been any indications about what might have happened to her? I mean, you have found any clues whatsoever, any witnesses who have come forward to assist you?

PHILLIPS: Well, from the standpoint of the facts of the case being that she was last seen in the company of her ex-husband, she had attempted to try to get him out of the house, so to speak, and break off the relationship, from that standpoint, that in the event that there would be a crime scene or any sort of information to that effect, where she's been a victim, then we would look at him perhaps as a suspect. But again, the investigation is still very much ongoing. We're trying to determine if there was anyone else who may be involved or may have information.

COSSACK: Was there a crime scene within the home? I mean, did it look like the home had been disturbed in any way?

PHILLIPS: There's nothing really definitive to say that there is a crime scene there.

COSSACK: OK. Now talk to me about her ex-husband Steven. Mr. Bishop has indicated that he's in the reformatory right now. It's a prison. What have you done to examine what he was doing at the time and whether or not he has any information regarding his ex-wife.

PHILLIPS: Well, his whereabouts immediately after Karen's disappearance are in question. About two weeks later, he did resurface and turned himself in on a parole violation. And his explanation is just such that he had left for work, and so that continuing to be examined, however.

COSSACK: Is his alibi that he was at work, have you been able to confirm whether or not he was at work?

PHILLIPS: There was no confirmation; he did not show up to work.

COSSACK: All right, so he didn't show up to work, and apparently has been unable, at least to your satisfaction, to explain his whereabouts during that period of time?

PHILLIPS: That's correct.

COSSACK: And will he talk to you about it, or has he just refused to discuss it?

PHILLIPS: Yes, he has refused to discuss it at this point.

COSSACK: All right.

Ed, what's happening with your grandchildren? What are they doing now?

BISHOP: My grandchildren, they're in the custody of my daughter Kimberly and their grandmother.

And you know, we, the family, we continue to search for Karen every day, and we're not going to give up. You know, we've had a couple things, we've had to address, and that was custody of the children, to take care of them, be responsible for them, and at the same time, go to Indiana parole board and do what we could to see that Stephen Halcomb was kept incarcerated.

COSSACK: Was your daughter active, for example, in her children's activity, involved in those kinds of things, active in their lives?

BISHOP: Absolutely. You know, my grandson today is in Fort Wayne, Indiana at an all-star tournament, and Karen was very, very active with his baseball.

COSSACK: And have you put out flyers and announcements offering any kind of reward for assistance in this case.

BISHOP: We currently have an $85,000 reward, and we have printed colored flyers, and those flyers have been stretched all the way as far West as California, soon to the east coast. We're down in Florida, and we've done that every time the reward has been increased.

COSSACK: Judy, one last question, do you plan ongoing back to try to interview Steven again, or trying to work around that to find out what you can?

PHILLIPS: Well, we would like to interview him again for sure, if that is possible. However, his cooperation has not been there.

COSSACK: All right. Well, Let's hope, Ed and Judy, that this BURDEN OF PROOF helps you brings you at least a little luck and some success in the finding of your daughter. Ed Bishop and Judy Phillips, thank you very much and best of luck in the search for your daughter.

Up next, at what point do police turn a missing persons search into a homicide case? And when does an investigation become an unsolvable mystery? Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSSACK: Both Chandra Levy and Karen Jo Smith have been missing for several months. While police continue to search for clues about both of these women, there seems to be little information about either of their whereabouts. So at what point do police change the focus of their investigations from missing person searches to homicide cases to unsolvable mysteries?

When do they start, Howard. When this become unsolvable mystery you say hopefully somewhere down the road somebody calls us up and gives us the answer?

MILLER: I think If they've satisfied themselves, they've talked to the potential witnesses, the people that knew her, and everybody has got a path, a story, so to speak.

But I'll tell you early on, I had open case from down in North Carolina, her flame is Angela Hambee (ph), and her car was found with her money, with her purse and everything in the car with the keys in the ignition, turned off, and she disappeared, and she's been gone about 20 years. That's still an open case that I keep in my office that we're hoping to find. I see her face on milk cartons. It is a tragedy, but like I said, we are at that point. I think we're getting their with this case.

COSSACK: We've just sort of reached the end of the road.

Amy, in terms of prosecuting someone without, as we lawyers call it, corpus delicti -- and I would yell any of you said that, but I get to say it -- without the body, it's pretty tough.

CONWAY: It's very, very difficult. Can it be done? Absolutely, it can be done, and we've seen it done in the past. But I think it is hard enough to prove a murder case where you have a body and you can show the jury the picture of what the person looked like alive and dead, and how the murder happened, and you've got medical examiner testimony about the cause and the manner of death.

COSSACK: physical evidence.

CONWAY: You've got the physical evidence, and you've got the jury to care, because you've got this bloody, you know, photograph in front of you. If you don't have the body, you've kind of got no connection, and I think it is true that sometimes people think, you know, that person could be alive somewhere and in hiding. When you have a murder case that you are prosecuting without a body, you need to have significant corroborating evidence where you can explain to the jury how the murder happened, you've got some theory about that, you can explain why the murder happened, you've got some motive about why the person was murdered, and you really have to develop that kind of evidence, like they did in the case with Kopano and Anne Marie Fahey.

COSSACK: The Maryland case.

CONWAY: Exactly. I think it's Delaware. COSSACK: Delaware rather, where the woman was missing, and -- but they had an eyewitness, who came in and said, this is what the defendant in that case did. His brother came in.

CONWAY: Well actually, what they did was they built a narcotics case against the brother, and they flipped him, and they got him to cooperate with the government, and what he said was I helped dispose of a cooler. He didn't know what was in the cooler. But when they disposed of the cooler in the ocean, he saw I believe a foot going down or something like that, so he was able to provide some corroboration, but it took a lot of time. Investigators in these cases...

COSSACK: And he needed someone else who needed -- who had to have a reason to tell the government what they needed to hear.

CONWAY: Right.

COSSACK: Kenny, in this case what we're talking about is obviously the implied. People think here is Gary Condit, he had relationship with this young woman. There's all kinds of reasons he didn't want other people to know about it. Apparently that may have been happening; this situation with his wife. Suddenly she disappears. No body yet, really no evidence against him, a lot of innuendo.

ROBINSON: He's done stupid act after stupid act. It shows that he tries to cover up his relationships with other women. But there's no evidence and there's no reason to believe he had anything to do with this at all. But the bottom line is, more than a body, you need some evidence, credible evidence, that the person who is responsible for it made an admission somewhere to somebody, because criminals talk that's how no death people in prison, somebody, someday perhaps somebody will run their mouth in a bar say something from that find a little bit of corroboration here and there and be able make a case. Without that -- that's more important than a body. A body is a body, but you've got to have something to tie it to the person you want to charge. And right now, they don't seem to have a body or evidence against anyone to charge. And right now, it looks like it is going all these other cases are, another unsolved case.

COSSACK: And, Howard, that's kind of the situation that we're talking about here, the notion of someone else having some information. I mean, I tell people when they ask me about this case, I say, you know, the perfect crime is really hard to commit. I think most of the time it just happens by accident rather than by design. In a case like this, where you supposedly, if there was someone else who perhaps grabbed Chandra Levy off the street, now there's someone else who knows about it, someone who knows about it. That is the kind of thing comes back to trip those people up, right?

MILLER: Yes, they make a mistake. Somewhere, these -- sometimes these crimes are complicated to carry out. Somewhere along, a minor detail that is left out. So far, we have not found that minor detail. And like I said, we need this witness. We need someone who is going to give it up. They're going to come forward, or somebody in the reinvestigation process, reinterviewing, is going to come up with a major contradiction to prior testimony, and that's going to be important in leading us to the solution of this case.

COSSACK: So when the case does become unanswerable, if you will, they've searched all the parks and they've searched all the vacant buildings, and they have what they have against the congressman, and they don't have much more, if any, what happens to this case? Is it just suddenly this big, thick file gets moved to the bottom.

MILLER: Unfortunately, like I said with Hambee case, which is very important to me. I had family members who were personally interested in her outcome, or her whereabouts, this case, we worked a lot of leads, we interviewed a lot of people, we interviewed people in underworld, and they gave us theories about what happened to her, but we have not yet found this person, and that's over 20 years. It's a potential Miss Levy will be another dusty case file until something breaks.

COSSACK: That's an unpleasant thought.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": Is bill Clinton good for Harlem? Send Bobbie Battista your e-mail and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

We'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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