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Police to Investigate Anonymous Tip About Possible Location of Chandra Levy's Body

Aired August 1, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: There was a development in the Chandra Levy investigation late this afternoon. For the latest, we go to Bob Franken here in Washington.

Bob, what's happening in this story?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tucker, I think it would best be told in a statement that just a short while ago came out from the FBI. "We are investigating a tip received about a body being removed from Washington, D.C. to a site near Fort Lee" -- meaning Fort Lee, Virginia, meaning Fort Lee, Virginia, about a two-hour drive from Washington. "If this tip is deemed credible" says the FBI, "we will take necessary investigative means to locate the body, and if needed, resources of additional law enforcement will be utilized."

Another statement by the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police. "It must be emphasized this is but another of many unconfirmed tips circulating about the disappearance of Ms. Levy."

What this was about is a tip that was received by a Web site, mytips Web site, California-based. According to the police, the tip came yesterday, a detailed, three-page tip saying that Chandra Levy had been buried at the site of a parking lot construction site at or near Fort Lee, Virginia. It was quite detailed and included such details as saying she was shrink-wrapped and all the rest.

Police investigate virtually every tip. This is an investigation that has been going on for three months, has just reached on from one dead end to another. So the police are of course following this up. They decided that the fact there was some information there about a parking lot construction that was in fact verified that it required checking out. There's some question about whether cadaver dogs will be used, the emphasis most be, according to the police, that this is just another unsubstantiated tip. They don't even give a lot of credence to it.

I can also report that the lawyers for the Levy family, that's Billy Martin's office -- Billy Martin is the attorney in Washington and is being paid by them. A lawyer in that office has called the Levy family in Modesto, California and Linda Zamsky, who's Chandra Levy's aunt here to say "there is nothing to it," by which he means law enforcement sources are saying the same thing to them that they're saying to us, this is merely an unsubstantiated tip, but one that they are checking out.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Bob Franken, thanks very much for your report and for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

Let me say hello and introduce you to our guests this evening. Here in the studio with us, Peter Banks with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Peter, thanks for joining us.

And from Houston, Don Clark, a former FBI agent. And from Atlanta, Mike Brooks, former Metropolitan Police detective for the city of Washington, D.C.

Don Clark, let me come to you first and ask you -- you just heard Bob Franken's report -- police receive in cases like this, many, many tips. Why is there any reason to take this one seriously? Or is there?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI AGENT: I think you take all the tips seriously, but what you really have to do is evaluate those tips and really analyze to see what is there and how much detail was provided in those tips, as to how far you're going to go? I think the detail will determine the intimacy, as well as the amount of resources that you are going to expend on any type of tip you have given out there.

So the idea is to really analyze the tip and see what's there. If they feel that it's something there, they are going to move forward with it, as they should.

PRESS: Well, as Bob said, this tip apparently was three pages, single-spaced letter with all kinds of details about the condition of the body or the body was wrapped in, and exactly where it was. I mean, who could have possibly provided that?

CLARK: Well, I don't know who could possibly provide it. If in fact the tip turns out to be true, then maybe someone who's talked to someone that knew the details of what happened to Chandra Levy are in fact the person themselves, if in fact that's the case.

But keep in mind that this tip came in through a Web site and it was typed in detail rather lengthy, and again, everything in that three pages may not be significant. So the idea is to try to extract the significant parts of it. Law enforcement obviously think there is something there, some reason, because they are going to move forward, and I think they probably are doing the right thing in that regard.

CARLSON: Now, Mike Brooks from Atlanta, this tip, true or not, is detailed by all account, so wouldn't the first move by police be to trace it? It is after all an e-mail. You could find out who sent it in about eight minutes, and go interview the person who sent it. Wouldn't that be a faster way to get to the bottom of this? MIKE BROOKS, FORMER D.C. POLICE DETECTIVE: That would be, but you also have to get a subpoena to get the information from the server, from the company, there are a lot of legal hoops that agents and officers have to jump through. Again, this is just a tip. And I think that should be emphasized again.

CARLSON: But it's a tip apparently that describes how body was wrapped, shrink-wrapped. I mean, that's a pretty stunning detail. It strikes me anybody that would write something like that is essentially admitting to, if not involvement, than potentially criminal knowledge of a crime. Right? So would it be difficult to get a subpoena to find out who sent this?

BROOKS: No, it wouldn't. Apparently, I'm hearing from law enforcement sources that in this letter is -- also contained is the person who apparently supposedly wrote this to, was hired to dispose of the body. So that's why they are trying to check out everything before they go digging up ground. This kind of thing.

The FBI also has been brought into the case down at Fort Lee, working with the Richmond office of the FBI, and they are also assisting on trying to locate exactly where this supposed scene is.

PETER BANKS, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN: There are a number of challenges here. The first thing we have to recognize is that there are a lot of evil, mean, despicable people in America that have fun doing this type of dirty deed. The other end of it...

PRESS: By dirty deed, do you mean a false tip?

BANKS: False tip, exactly. I used to get letters, 25 pages, no punctuation, no capitalization, single spaced, detailing all types of things.

The other challenge is, we don't know what is the truth and what is not the truth. So the police have to act on every tip that comes on. Certainly, as Mike said, we have to allocate certain amount of resources to try to prioritize tips. Often we get hundreds of tips that come in on some of the missing children cases that are a result of photographs being distributed or a result of television articles and we have to make sure that law enforcement gets every one of them, because you don't know until the case is over, which tip would lead to the successful conclusion.

BROOKS: I agree with Pete also. There have been a number of tips of spotting Chandra Levy in Atlanta, Georgia -- on the subway system, gassing up a Jaguar supposedly at a concert. But again, you have to go after each one of these, and you do have to follow-up the leads.

PRESS: Peter, I want to ask you -- and by the way, Don and Mike, if you have some information to offer on any of these questions that Tucker and I have, please let us know and jump in.

Peter, you deal particularly with missing children. I want to ask you about the validity of these Web sites. I never heard of this Web site before, I don't know most of them. But, I mean, what reliability record do they have?

BANKS: There is no reliability. You don't know if you are dealing with someone who is really sending some information that perhaps they want to make a veiled attempt at confessing or maybe put law enforcement onto a wild goose chase, or in fact someone who has some intimate knowledge of what happened to this person, and that they want to relay the information. But they don't want to be very blatant about it. They still want to sort of hide behind a false mask.

CLARK: Sorry, if I may interject, also keep in mind, these types of investigations, we have gone through a lot of them here in Texas. You just don't know where they are going to go. And law enforcement, they are really out there looking for information that can help them to solve this case.

Now what you have, the best of our knowledge, the best tip about a body. I don't think that I have heard anything else that talked about a body before. So clearly they are going to follow it. But I think they are going to follow it cautiously and we would hope they would look at the details of it to see if there really is something there that leads them to the location of her.

CARLSON: Mike Brooks, let me ask you about how the story got here. It is in the cable blood stream now, we're all talking about it, presumably, the D.C. police had something to do with getting there. And yet, now they are issuing these press releases saying, well, it's just a tip, it's anonymous, unsubstantiated, virtually a rumor. Sounds like back-pedalling to me. Do you think it is?

BROOKS: No, I don't think it is at all. I think what they are trying to do is say, wait a minute, let's stop, it's only a tip. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, it's tough to stuff that genie back in, especially with the media. And that is what they are trying to do. They are trying to say, wait a minute, it's a tip, there are lot of leads we have to follow up before we go running off and start digging up ground. I think they are trying to calm everyone and say, wait a minute, it's just a tip.

CARLSON: Then what would be the purpose in getting the story out there in the first place? Then I wonder why -- if they didn't do it directly, why they aided and abetted getting the story out?

BROOKS: Well, that I don't know. Did they aid and abet it? Was the tip leaked some way? Was it given by law enforcement? I think they responded with the press release, just saying they are following up the tip -- again, unsubstantiated information. And both D.C. police and the FBI have put out statements saying, we are going to check it out, if it leads to further things, we will devote the resources to it then.

PRESS: Well, Don Clark, I'm curious about the timing of it. The tip was received yesterday, but as Tucker pointed out, when the D.C. police announced it, it was late this afternoon, maybe around 4:30, 5 o'clock Washington time. Doesn't that -- well, first of all, did they delay too long in moving, or does the fact they delayed so long mean that this maybe that's serious?

CLARK: Well, I don't know that, whether or not they delayed too long in moving would have a real adverse impact on what's out there. If in fact that this tip turns out to be true, probably what's there will be there when they get there, and if it's the body, so be it, they'll be able to recover that.

You don't know what the delay is, but I suspect that the delay was caused because they really wanted to analyze this to see just what's in this information and are they headed off on the right trail or are they headed down a primrose path of some kind.

Listen, the FBI went through this years ago, too. We all remember Jimmy Hoffa, and we've dug up most of this country looking for Jimmy Hoffa on tips like that.


So the idea is, is to really evaluate these tips before you start to expend resources.

BANKS: The metropolitan police has nothing to gain by not being open and candid. You know, the truth is that of all the law enforcement resources, you also need the help of the public and the help of others out there. So I think -- and I have to give a disclaimer, because like Mike, I'm also a veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department. But I'm sure that they want everybody's help, and they're tying their best to help solve this case and they will -- they will lift up every rock and dig down every tree in order to help find this child, hopefully alive, but in order to bring this case to a conclusion.

PRESS: All right, lots more questions for all three of you. What happens next, how long will we know whether or not this tip was for-real or not? We'll continue our conversation on CROSSFIRE tonight, right after this break.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. An anonymous tip about Chandra Levy to a Web site, and hoards of police and media descend on Fort Lee, Virginia. What are the chances this tip is for-real? How do we know it's not just a hoax?

We're talking tips and missing persons tonight with three law enforcement experts. In the studio here in Washington, Peter Banks with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; in Houston, former FBI special agent Don Clark; and in Atlanta, Mike Brooks, a former detective with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Now, Mike, you were, as Bill just said, a detective on the D.C. Police Department. Does it strike you as odd that here the department has sent out scores, literally scores of recruits and officers beating the bushes here in Washington, spent months working on this case, gotten nowhere, and now the big development to date comes from some Web site that nobody's ever heard of written anonymously? Does that seem odd to you?

BROOKS: It doesn't seem odd. Again, it's another tip, it's another lead. They've had hundreds of these kind of tips that they've followed out. They had to go search the -- the wooded area. It was, as you know, Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. is just a couple of blocks from where Chandra Levy lived. And so it had -- those are the things that had to be followed up on.

I don't see it as unusual. The only thing that I think, again, I think there's a lot of hype around this for only being a tip. But again, it's another lead that they have to follow up on.

PRESS: Don Clark, I don't know who of you gentlemen knows the most about this, so I'll ask you, Don Clark. I'm going to ask about these so-called "cadaver dogs." How good are they and can they actually like get a scent through asphalt, or are they going to tear up this entire parking lot based on this anonymous tip?

CLARK: Well, I certainly don't proclaim to be an expert on cadaver dogs. However, we have had plenty of work with experts with cadaver dogs down here in Houston, going through similar type situations. They are very good. They do have some limitations as to the extent as to what they can sniff through. As to whether or not they'll have to dig up ground and asphalt, my guess is and from the work that we've done here that that's probably going to take place and will have to take place.

However, these dogs, well-trained, can pick up those scents through some materials.

BROOKS: Again, let me -- I'd like to also point out again, these cadaver dogs are a tool. I was involved in the search for evidence and of bodies at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya after the bombing there. Cadaver dogs were used there trying to find bodies under large amounts of concrete. You know, it's unpleasant to talk about, but as bodies decompose, you know, they -- that's what the dogs are trained to find.

Whether it's freshly poured asphalt, that could make a difference because of the scents given by tar.

So again, not seeing the area, not familiar with the area in Fort Lee, it's hard to really make -- make a judgment on that.

CARLSON: You know, Peter Banks, what are the characteristics of a legitimate tip? You get a tip. How do you know it's real? What do you look for?

BANKS: You don't know it's real until the case is over. And what you try to do is find and associate it with facts that you already know and facts that the tipper has or the tipster has.

You know, sometimes we'll get a -- we'll get a call that perhaps somebody has seen a photograph of a -- someone who was taken, a child, such as in a family abduction, and they will have knowledge that this person may have a job somewhere as an accountant, and that we have in our files the fact that this person was in fact an accountant, and that's not widely publicly known. So we would put that on a higher priority.

But the truth is, if somebody calls in and says, well, I think I saw this person in a shopping mall in North Jersey last fall, we would send that information to law enforcement. We don't know if there is no value to that until after the case is closed. Certainly, it wouldn't go by fax or by telephone, but we want to make sure that law enforcement has the whole picture.

BROOKS: Let's not lose sight also that this is a military installation. Military installations have guards when you come in and out of the installation. They have a lot of security cameras. These are all other leads that are going to be followed up on by the provost-marshal there and by the FBI. Again, it's probably one of the more secure places, you know, where somebody is going to dump a body. Again, that's -- these are some leads that they have to take a look at.

PRESS: Don Clark, let me ask you, we've been told, I believe, from the reports that I've seen that the D.C. police are not sending their investigators to Fort Lee, that the FBI is not, but they're leaving it up to the military. Is that standard procedure here, No. 1? And two, what is the role of the FBI in this case? When do they come in and what jurisdiction do they have?

CLARK: Yeah. Well, we really have to take a look at this case. This case to date is a missing persons case. And I'm not aware that there's a criminal investigation that's ongoing. If there were a criminal investigation ongoing, there would be certain jurisdictional responsibilities that the FBI could move into based that crime that's allegedly been committed or we suspect that may have been committed.

All along, the FBI has been working parallel with the D.C. Police Department, and they do have a special relationship in Washington, D.C., because that is a federal jurisdiction.

So working together with them, I suspect that these decisions are being made together, and they do have resources down in that area. My guess is, is that they've gotten in touch with their local division down there, which I believe is the Richmond office that would cover that area, who would go out to the military post, talk to the military police out there, and then they would join together to see what they could find and how they could best conduct this investigation.

So it will be done, if they are doing all these things, in some type of a coordinated fashion.

BROOKS: Absolutely. And I'd just like to add that should they, should they find anything, should they find any evidence leading to Chandra Levy, should they find a body, that under FBI jurisdiction a crime on a military reservation falls under their jurisdiction, and that's why -- and they would have the lead investigation agency in this.

CLARK: Clearly, and we talked early on, too, that one of the good things about the FBI being involved in this, that should any leads regarding Chandra Levy be developed in any other part of the country other than Washington, D.C. proper, then that would enhance the resources to be able to get out and cover those leads.

CARLSON: Now, Peter Banks, you said that in your experience, people send in phony tips, hoaxes. (a) What effect does that have on the families, and (b) what can you do about it? Is it a crime to send in a false tip?

BANKS: Well, it is very demoralizing to the families. I can recall one case -- well, the case of Jacob (UNINTELLIGIBLE), where, you know, psychics call and say they see a house by water, by trees, and you know, or they might call law enforcement. And you know, parents of missing persons, they really hang on to the hope. And the truth of the matter is that even in some very long-term cases, under very odd circumstances, people do come home.

Now, it doesn't take a genius or a rocket scientist to find out, to think that there isn't a serious problem here. If not something horrible happening to Chandra, at least, in the very least she would be in need of some medical attention because of the bizarre nature of her disappearance. I mean, she's getting ready to go home and then all of a sudden she disappears off the face of the Earth -- I think anybody would conclude that something terrible has happened. We have to find out under what circumstances and how.

PRESS: Mike Brooks, "Newsweek" magazine this week, Michael Isikoff has a story where he's looked at this case over the last few weeks, and pointed out so many leads, so many rumors or stories that have been reported have turned out to be false. The idea that there were so many phone calls from Chandra Levy's home or cell phone to Congressman Condit in the last week of April -- according to "Newsweek," false. The idea that she might have been pregnant -- according to "Newsweek," false.

He goes down the list, including this minister who said his 18- year-old daughter might have been involved with the congressman -- turned out to be false. It looks very shaky about this story yesterday about a guy at a hardware store in Washington, D.C.

My question is, in a long list of what looked like wild goose chases, this could just be one more, couldn't it?

BROOKS: Absolutely. And I think Tucker asked earlier, you know, about why they put out a statement. I think that's one of the reasons the FBI and the D.C. police today put out a statement, just to prepare people to say, you know, wait a second, it's a tip. This could again -- unsubstantiated tip. And again, it could just be -- it could just be another wild goose chase. But it's something they have to -- they have to play out and they have to check on.

CARLSON: Mike...

CLARK: And that -- that really should be emphasized, too, that it could be a hoax. And it would be a terrible thing if it's a hoax. But nonetheless, D.C. police, the FBI, none of the law enforcement community can afford to let any tips go untended in this case.

CARLSON: But Don Clark, it would be, of course, a terrible thing if it were a hoax. Would it be an illegal thing? Could you do anything to the person who did it?

CLARK: Well, yes. I'm sure that if evidence could be developed that there could be some obstruction charges placed in there, there may be some other type of federal charges or local charges that could be on the books, that could be used. So yes, it could be a crime to do such.

PRESS: Peter Banks, I want to ask you in terms of missing persons, your organization, particularly (UNINTELLIGIBLE) missing children, what percentage are found, what percentage just walk back on the scene, and what percentage might have met with foul play? Do you have any figures?

BANKS: Well, last year, there were about 800,700 police reports that were made. Now, most of these were of children, missing children. We have no idea on how many people, adults went missing, because police generally don't those reports. But of those cases, only about 2 percent are not found or not recovered alive. And we say only about 2 percent, and it may be about 300 cases a year in which children are kidnaped and gone for long periods of time. About 100 cases a year -- and I don't mean "only" by being a small number, because, you know, that number is increasingly -- is enormous in those communities, for those families, for the friends and for the people around those kids.

CARLSON: Peter Banks, thank you very much for joining us. Don Clark in Houston, thank you. And Mike Brooks in Atlanta, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CARLSON: And the investigation continues, and so does CROSSFIRE. Bill Press and I will be back in just a moment with our closing comments.


CARLSON: We have a little news, Bill. The FBI has put on hold plans to search Fort Lee while the person who wrote this e-mail can be tracked down, which strikes me as great news, because if it's either way, someone who is perpetuating a hoax or someone who knows the truth, that person is going to be found and dealt with.

PRESS: It strikes me, Tucker, that you should be working for the FBI, because you suggested that at the top of the show.

CARLSON: They were watching CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: And maybe -- and maybe that kind of common sense on the part of law enforcement is what's been lacking in this investigation from the beginning.

CARLSON: You mean getting 80 police recruits to go beat the bushes in the park here in Washington -- didn't work. Or...

PRESS: Yeah, yeah, for example. And maybe it's a lesson, too, that maybe the media should not go wild over every rumor about the Chandra Levy story, as they have from the beginning.

CARLSON: I think the group that needs to learn a lesson is the D.C. Police Department. It has a lot to answer for.

PRESS: Amen. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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