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A look back at the Chandra Levy murder investigation

POSTED: 10:59 PM ET, 05/ 6/2010 by Jennifer Jenkins

Today, The Washington Post is excerpting our new book, Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery. The book is a year in the making and picks up where The Washington Post left off when the paper and website published a 13-part examination in July 2008 into the botched murder investigation of Chandra Levy.

When we first embarked on this project, we thought we knew a lot about the case. We were wrong. In our years of working as investigative reporters, we've never seen a story quite like it.

The story was the result of perfect storm during the summer of 2001--a young intern from California who went missing in Washington, a married congressman who had a relationship with her, an ambitious press corps hungry for a big story, and police and prosecutors who pursued the wrong man for months.

Nine years later, the Chandra Levy case endures as Washington's most famous recent murder mystery, and the book takes readers behind the investigation and into the darker side of Washington and its institutions of power and privilege.

Finding Chandra contains new details about the case and the individuals who came together with tragic consequence during the spring and summer of 2001. The book delves deeply into the lives of Chandra, the congressman and the man now accused of her murder, a 19-year-old Salvadoran immigrant named Ingmar Guandique. The book contains pages from a diary kept by one of Condit's girlfriends, and copies of FBI interviews with another young woman, who says she had a 3-year-long affair with the congressman and contemplated suicide because of her feelings of guilt.

Finding Chandra also details the hunt for the man now charged with the murder. The book describes how D.C. detectives newly assigned to the investigation put their case together with old-fashioned police work and a little luck. Less than two months after The Post published the 13-part series, the detectives interviewed Guandique in a federal prison, where he is serving a 10-year prison term for attacking two women at knife-point around the time of Chandra's disappearance. The detectives bluffed Guandique into saying that he had "touched" Chandra, and they noticed that he had a tattoo on his chest of a naked woman with long dark hair. They asked him if the tattoo was some sort of a "souvenir" of the murder. Guandique smirked, then giggled, but he didn't say a word, according to the detectives.

Today's excerpt takes readers into the world of a woman who was attacked by Guandique, but got away. Halle Shilling was jogging in Rock Creek Park two weeks after Chandra disappearance when Guandique jumped her from behind and put a knife to her throat. Shilling had taken a self-defense course and fought her way to her feet and ran away. D.C. detectives searching for Chandra's killer didn't interview Shilling until a few months after The Post published its series.

Reflecting on those few minutes along the jogging trail in Rock Creek Park is never easy for Shilling. We interviewed her in Dupont Circle hours after she reenacted the attack for D.C. detectives and prosecutors on Dec. 14, 2008. Sitting at a table in a bookstore, she opened her purse and pulled out a picture of her children, born after the attack, and said she knows she is a mother today only because she was able to fend off Guandique.

In these moments, she said she thinks of Chandra, and what might have become of her life, her possibility of a husband and children. After she put the photos in her purse, she looked up and said, "I was her."

-- Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz

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By Jennifer Jenkins |  May 6, 2010; 10:59 PM ET Chandra Levy , Reporter's Notebook
Previous: Cheney remarks in leak probe released | Next: Finding Chandra authors appear on Good Morning America

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