But her murder was unsolved for years, until 2010, when an undocumented immigrant named Ingmar Guandique was convicted of killing her.
Finally, the case appeared closed -- until Guandique was granted a new trial last year.
Then, this summer, before the new trial could begin, secret recordings from an unlikely source came to light, and charges against Guandique were dismissed, altering the course of the Levy case.
It's now been more than 15 years since Levy’s murder, and there’s no convicted killer behind bars, leaving more questions than answers in one of D.C.’s most famous murder cases.
Has a guilty man gone free?
Who killed Chandra Levy?
ABC's "20/20" speaks to Guandique, the Levy family and that source who upended the case.
A YOUNG WOMAN WITH A BRIGHT FUTURE
"She didn't like being told what to do," Susan Levy told "20/20"'s Deborah Roberts. "Very individualistic."
While in D.C., Chandra Levy allegedly began having an affair with California Congressman Gary Condit, a Democratic representative from her hometown of Modesto, California, and a married man 28 years her senior.
Brad Garrett, now an ABC News consultant and formerly an FBI agent, was a lead investigator in Chandra Levy’s case. Garrett said Chandra Levy --who met the congressman when she and a friend visited his office and he gave them a tour of the Capitol -- “led a very insolated life once she started this relationship with Gary, because the only time[s] she'd really see him were after hours.”
Garrett added: “Her life basically going to [work], back home and then to Gary's house.”
But Chandra Levy’s father, Bob Levy, said his daughter seemed content in D.C. “We went there to visit her just before anything happened. … She was pretty happy. Of course she, you know, had this secret friend she went out with,” he told “20/20.”
Only later did Bob and Susan Levy learn that the friend was Gary Condit.
Chandra Levy graduated from USC in December 2000, but stayed in D.C. through the spring. She had planned to return to the West Coast in May 2001 to walk in her graduation ceremony, according to her family.
Bob Levy said the day Chandra Levy disappeared “she was getting packed” at her D.C. apartment near Dupont Circle and was “ready to come back home.”
Chandra Levy was then going to decide what to do next -- move back to D.C. to look for a job, apply to the FBI or look into law school, according to her mother.
Susan Levy said her daughter sounded happy the last time they spoke. “And she was looking forward to her future -- which was snuffed out,” she said.
MAY 1, 2001: CHANDRA DISAPPEARS
Chandra Levy went missing on Tuesday, May 1, 2001. At first, her family didn’t suspect anything. “We said, ‘Well, maybe she just took off somewhere. But -- it’s not like her,” Bob Levy said.
“We couldn’t get ahold of her,” said Chandra Levy’s brother, Adam Levy, who was 19 years old at the time. “Dad was panicking. I was trying to … stay cool, you know, think, ‘OK , she just went out.’”
Investigators checked Chandra Levy’s computer and eventually learned that she had researched a visit to D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. But a search of the park found nothing.
The park is “twice as big as Central Park in New York City -- so immense territory,” Brad Garrett said.
When police searched Chandra Levy’s apartment, “there were only two things missing,” Garrett told “20/20”: her keys and a ring. Her ID, credit cards and cellphone were still in the apartment.
“That's baffling,” Garrett said, “because … if you're going to go to the park … you're at least going to take an ID.”
To Chandra Levy’s brother, her disappearance felt “unreal.”
“It was really like a dream,” Adam Levy said. “You try to keep hope up. You try to think, ‘OK, she’s somewhere being held somewhere against her will.’ … Or, ‘she’s just hiding somewhere.’ And I just … tried to keep that in my head as long as I could.
“As time goes by,” he added, “the hope fades.”
After Chandra Levy went missing, Susan Levy said she looked through her daughter’s phone bill for any clues as to what might have happened. The bill showed that Chandra had called one number often. “It turned out to be Gary Condit’s office number,” Susan Levy said.
By 2001, Congressman Gary Condit had made a name for himself in politics: He was the youngest mayor in Ceres, California, history, and from 1972 through 2000, he never lost an election.
“People liked him,” his son, Chad Condit, told “20/20.” “They knew he would try to do the right thing. And I think part of that was my mom, as well, because she was really beloved.”
Chad Condit spoke to “20/20” of his own accord and not as a representative for his father. Gary Condit declined to be interviewed.
Chad Condit said his father “worked all the time … City Council, served as county supervisor, state assemblyman, congressman.”
In 2001, Gary Condit was 53 years old, married and commuting between D.C. and California as a congressman. “Then, all this came crashing down,” Chad Condit said.
After Chandra Levy’s disappearance, authorities and the media quickly speculated about her alleged relationship with the congressman, and he was interviewed several times by police. Though police never said Gary Condit was a suspect in her disappearance, he became the center of a media circus that dominated the headlines for months.“We rallied around my dad,” Chad Condit said.
Chad Condit said he always knew his father was innocent. “This is a guy that wouldn’t kill a fly,” he said.
“I knew he had done nothing wrong, illegally wrong,” Chad Condit added. “So I wasn’t concerned from that standpoint. Now, I was concerned politically. … Here’s a guy that’s been in politics for 30 years, almost. Never charged with anything -- very popular -- done the right thing all along. So from a political, PR standpoint, it was very difficult.”
Susan Levy told “20/20” that she met with Gary Condit shortly after her daughter’s disappearance and asked him, “Did you kill my daughter?”
“Of course, he said no,” she said.
In August 2001, as interest in the case reached a fever pitch, Gary Condit granted an interview to ABC News’ Connie Chung. In the interview watched by 24 million people, Gary Condit said he did not harm or kill Chandra Levy and said he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
When asked if he had a sexual relationship with Chandra Levy, Gary Condit repeatedly refused to answer.
“I've been married for 34 years,” he said, “I've not been … a perfect man, and I've made my share of mistakes. But, out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it's best that I not get into those details about Chandra Levy.”
Gary Condit said he was not in love with Chandra Levy and was not leaving his wife.
“I only knew Chandra Levy for five months,” he said. “And in that five months' period, we never had a discussion about a future, about children, about marriage.”
Gary Condit said when he was questioned by police, he answered every question truthfully.
“I worked with the law enforcement people in every step, provided them information in every interview, and gave up a lot of my civil liberties to make sure that they had all the information that they needed,” he said.
“I told them everything they asked,” he said. “Answered every question. And I did nothing to slow down the investigation.”
Susan Levy told “20/20” that Gary Condit’s interview made her angry.
“I wasn’t sure if he was really all honest,” she said. “He acted … not confident and a little bit shocked.“I felt that he was kind of, like, guilty of something. That he was caught in something,” she said. “And I don’t think it was just necessarily because he was caught in an affair.”
When Condit said in the Connie Chung interview he would not discuss if he had a sexual relationship with Chandra Levy “out of a specific request from the Levy family,” Susan Levy said, “I laughed about it.”
“Because I thought it was so false. Phony,” she told “20/20.” “It’s just his way of weaseling out of it.” Chad Condit described his father’s behavior in the interview as “straightforward.”
“But … what made Gary a great politician, a great congressman, made him the worst person in this situation. Because that’s just how he is. He’s tough, he’s straightforward. He tries to get things done. … He wasn’t thinking about PR at the time. He was thinking about, ‘I want to find the girl,’” Chad Condit said. “He hadn’t hurt Chandra Levy. He didn’t know where she was at. He had told the police everything he knew.”
Brad Garrett, who interviewed Gary Condit himself, said the congressman “was initially not helpful.”
“He admitted he knew her,” Garrett said, telling “20/20” that at first, the congressman wouldn't discuss if he had physical relations with Levy. “And it took a number of interviews to break that down.”
Garrett said Gary Condit eventually did admit to investigators that he had an affair with Chandra Levy and “that typically he would see her after hours.”
But Garrett said he didn’t think Gary Condit was involved in Chandra Levy’s disappearance.
“What would be his motive in harming her?” said Garrett. “His life was going on. He was still married, he was still a congressman. … She was somebody that was passing through his life. Now did he care for her? I think so. … But there was just no indication of -- why would he do anything to her?”
Garrett said the congressman had called Chandra Levy’s phone at her apartment after she disappeared.“And if you listen to him, it sounds like he's looking for [her],” Garrett said. “And cared enough about her that he'd really like to know what happened.”
Chad Condit said he prayed for everything to be alright.
“I wanted [my father] to be OK,” he said. “I wanted my mom to be OK. … I wanted Chandra to appear and everything be OK. But it didn’t happen.”
SEPT. 11, 2001: A NATIONAL TRAGEDY
Four months after Chandra Levy disappeared, her case was pushed out of the media spotlight by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On Sept. 11, the Levys were trying to keep their daughter’s disappearance in the media: They were heading to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in Chicago and then to New York.
“My friend from back east calls and says ‘Go turn your TV set on. You’re not going anywhere.’ And that was the day we were supposed to be out there,” Susan Levy remembers.
Chad Condit estimated that about 30 journalists had been camped out outside of his parents’ home on Sept. 10. Then “[on] Sept. 11, they’re gone,” he said. “The media went silent.”
On Sept. 11, Chad Condit was in New York to talk about the Chandra Levy case on “The View.”
“I was getting my hair cut … to go on ‘The View’ and -- sirens happened, fire trucks. And I sat there and watched it on TV with New Yorkers,’ he said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Chad Condit said that he had planned to “just tell the truth [on ‘The View’]. … My dad hadn’t hurt Chandra Levy.”
Though 9/11 took priority for authorities in the weeks and months afterward, Bob Levy said police didn’t give up on Chandra Levy and kept looking for her.
“We were devastated by 9/11 like everybody else was,” he said. “And that should take, you know, should be the top thing that’s going on in everybody’s mind. But they’re still looking for Chandra.”
MAY 22, 2002: A BODY IN THE PARK
On May 22, 2002, the Levys appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” remotely from California.
“That afternoon, they found Chandra in the park,” Bob Levy said.
Authorities told the Levys their daughter’s body was discovered in a remote area of D.C.’s Rock Creek Park after a man called 911 saying he found a skull.
“Now we don’t have any hope anymore,” Bob Levy told “20/20.”
“We screamed and cried,” Susan Levy said.
Adam Levy said he was in shock the day she was found, calling it the worst day of his life.
“Total anguish, total shock, total … trauma,” he said. “It’s one of those living nightmares where you just want to wake up and you can’t wake up.
“But … we had to face it, the reality,” Adam Levy added.
Chandra Levy’s remains were found down a dark, steep embankment in the park. Dr. Jonathan L. Arden, then the Washington, D.C., medical examiner, said at a news conference in late May 2002 that a cause of death could not be determined. "However, the circumstances of her disappearance and her body on recovery are indicative that she died through the acts of another person, which is the definition of a homicidal manner of death,” he said.
“20/20” obtained crimes scene photos that include Chandra Levy’s jogging pants with knots tied at the bottom, which investigators say signifies foul play.
Little forensic evidence was recovered from the scene.
"It [had] been a year,” Garrett said. “There's not much left. ... You have no DNA of -- a potential bad guy. … The most important thing … [police had was] the location of these remains."
AN ARREST AND CONVICTION
In July 2001, two months after Chandra Levy’s disappearance, Ingmar Guandique, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, came to the attention of police.
Guandique was taken into custody in July for attacking two women in the same park where Chandra Levy disappeared -- one attack was in early July 2001 and the other was in mid May 2001.
In 2002, Guandique was sentenced to 10 years in jail for assaulting the two women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park around the time that Levy vanished.
Chandra Levy’s case, meanwhile, was moving slowly following the discovery of her remains. But in 2007, when new detectives took over the case, Guandique became police’s primary suspect, and in 2009, he was charged with Chandra Levy’s murder. To this day, Guandique maintains his innocence.
“I never met Chandra Levy,” he told “20/20” in an exclusive interview that was translated from Spanish. “I never had any contact with her.”
Prosecutors’ case against Guandique relied largely on testimony from Guandique's former cellmate. According to court transcripts, the cellmate, Armando Morales, said Guandique confessed to him that he killed Chandra Levy and said he didn’t rape her.
Morales said Guandique said he saw Chandra Levy in the park and planned to rob her.
“He said he hid up in the bushes,” Morales said according to court transcripts. “He ran up behind her, grabbed her from behind... by the neck.”
“He dragged her into the bushes,” Morales said. “He said by the time he got her to the bushes that she had stopped struggling.”
Morales said Guandique said he then stole her "pouch," or fanny pack, and left.
"He said he never meant to kill her," Morales said according to court transcripts. Morales said Guadique told him that he learned she had died when he was already in jail in connection with two attacks in the park and was being questioned by detectives.
Garrett said Guandique’s alleged confession to Morales and the two other assaults were the primary pieces prosecutors had possibly tying Guandique to Chandra Levy. There was no forensic evidence linking Guandique to her death, investigators say, possibly because of the 12 months between Chandra’s disappearance and the discovery of her remains.
“We don't really know to link him to her other than the obvious sort of MO,” Garrett said. “What evidence is it that he did it? And the answer is there isn't any.”
Garrett continued: “No physical evidence, there's no surveillance, there's no DNA. There's nothing. There's no prior relationship. If Mr. Guandique had anything to do with it, it was wrong place, wrong time kind of situation of her and him in the park at the same time.”
“You take your best shot based on what you believe as a prosecutor and go for it,” Garrett said. “And the prosecutors believed, ‘Let's go for it.’”
While Chandra Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, says she “wasn’t 100 percent” certain of Guandique’s guilt, her father, Bob Levy, was convinced police had the right man. “I thought he was guilty,” he said.
In 2010, Guandique was convicted of killing Chandra Levy. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.The guilty verdict gave Bob Levy a sense of relief. Susan Levy agreed, adding, “But I didn’t feel happiness.”
2015: A CONVICTED KILLER IS GRANTED A NEW TRIAL
In 2015, in the face of accusations of prosecutorial misconduct in his first trial, prosecutors agree to a retrial of Guandique. Guandique’s attorney’s argued that the prosecution’s key witness lied on the stand when he denied cooperating with law enforcement in the past; Guandique’s attorneys said Morales has a history of working with law enforcement and it was the prosecution’s responsibility to know that and tell the defense. Chandra's mother, Susan Levy, said she was surprised by the new trial but hoped it could give her clearer answers about her daughter's alleged relationship with Gary Condit, as he had never publicly admitted the an affair with her.
“There was a part of me that says well, maybe Mr. Condit’s gonna be asked to come back and talk a little bit more in depth. And I was highly interested in that,” she said. “Because I still feel there’s questions inside, internally, that, you know, that I wonder about.”
THE SECRET RECORDINGS AND WILD ACCUSATIONS
Then, before Guandique’s new trial could begin, this past July more evidence surfaced that cast further doubt on the former cellmate's truthfulness: A woman named Babs Proller told authorities that Armando Morales wasn’t honest in his testimony regarding Guandique’s confession.
Proller, a divorced mom who was between homes, told “20/20” that she met Morales earlier this past summer while they were both staying at a hotel in Maryland. One day, Morales helped Proller carry her dog, Buddy, and then he began to join her and Buddy for walks and they got to know each other, Proller said.
Proller said Morales told her that he had just been released after spending more than 20 years in prison. Morales told her he had been in a gang and “was in prison for gang-related, drug-related charges,” Proller told “20/20.”
“He gave me no reason to be scared,” she said. “He’s carrying my dog into a hotel very gently, and he has all this affection and kindness. … He felt sorry for whatever he had done.”
“He convinced me that he was a completely changed man,” Proller added. “I totally believed everything he told me.”
One day, Proller left for a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, and she said Morales insisted on taking care of Buddy and watching all of her belongings while she was away. It was on that trip that she said she learned “that everything he told me was really a lie.”
“While I’m in Ocean City, he texts me pictures of himself and Buddy, selfies, how they’re walking and they’re having a good time, and then suddenly I get a text from him and the text has a business card of mine,” she said. “I’ve never given him my business card. I’ve never given him my last name. I’m thinking, ‘That’s odd.’ The only place I have business cards are in my locked file folder.
“At this point, I’m nervous,” she added. “He betrayed my trust.”
The day after she got back from the Ocean City trip, Proller said Morales offered to accompany her to her storage unit, where she kept the bulk of her belongings while she was between homes.
When they went to the storage unit, Proller said she started recording him without his knowledge because Morales had allegedly threatened to harm someone she knew.
“I never in my life thought he would be talking about the case or for him to admit at any point that he lied,” she said.
They began talking about the Chandra Levy case, and Proller said she asked Morales what Guandique told him. According to Proller, Morales replied that Guandique had said: “Homeboy, I killed that … effing b----. But I didn’t rape her.’” That is consistent with what Morales said in Guandique’s trial.
Proller said Morales soon made it clear he had lied about Guandique’s confession. She said Morales said, “The prosecutors wanted me to lie. They knew they had the right guy. They just needed somebody to say it.”
Proller said Morales called Guandique a “thug” who attacked two other women and “belongs in jail.”
Proller called Morales a “master of manipulation” who “can convince you of anything” and said his motive for lying in the 2010 trial was to be moved to another prison.
“He had a mentor [who] had testified in a case and gotten a reduced sentence,” Proller said. “That mentor kind of put that thought in his mind … if you have any information in a case, then you can get better conditions in prison or get a reduced sentence.”
While secretly recording Morales, Proller said she was terrified he would find her recorder.
“I was just thinking, ‘If he finds the recorder. … He’s gonna kill me,’” she said.
Proller said she first offered the recording to Susan Levy who suggested Proller tell the prosecution and defense about it.
“20/20” has obtained seven hours of recordings of Proller’s conversations with Morales. At no time in these recordings does Morales admit to making up Guandique’s confession. Proller claims there are additional recordings, but she says they are no longer in her possession. The defense and prosecution are not believed to have additional recordings, either. The prosecution says it only has the same seven hours of recordings.
Morales’ attorney told “20/20” that Morales never told anyone, including Proller, that he made up Guandique’s confession.
JULY 2016: CASE DISMISSED
The trial was proceeding without delay until Proller’s statements and her recordings came to light.In July 2016, a judge dismissed charges against Guandique at the request of prosecutors. The U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. concluded that it “can no longer prove the murder case against Mr. Guandique beyond a reasonable doubt."
The charges against Guandique were dropped without prejudice, meaning he could be charged again in the future. “I’m completely unbiased,” Proller added. “I have no involvement in this case. I’m just someone who stumbled upon information. … There is an answer to the story and I think it would be important to find the answer.”
Susan Levy told “20/20” she doesn’t trust Proller.
“I was just kind of stunned how within five days this would all unravel,” Susan Levy said.
Even though charges against Guandique were dropped, Bob Levy said he still thinks he’s guilty.
“They had all this evidence … it just fit the whole scenario. It really fit,” he said. “It fell apart because … this woman tampered with the witness and got him to say a bunch of things on tape, which was illegally taped. … He didn’t know he was being taped.
“Why did she do that?” he added. “What was her motive?”
When questioned about her credibility involving Morales, Proller told “20/20,” “I have never taken anything from anybody. I have not taken money, what am I trying to scam out of this?”
Court records show that Proller recently received three years’ probation for a theft case in Pennsylvania.With Chandra Levy’s murder now back to being unsolved, the Metropolitan Police Department said it "will continue to pursue any new leads that are uncovered or brought to our attention.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR INGMAR GUANDIQUE?
If Guandique had not been convicted of Chandra Levy’s murder, in 2012 he would have been handed over to Immigration and Custom Enforcement after serving his 10-year sentence for the two park assaults. The undocumented immigrant is currently at an immigration detention facility in Virginia facing deportation hearings.
On Sept. 21, Guandique spoke to “20/20”’s Deborah Roberts. In the interview, Guandique said he never had any contact with Chandra Levy.
“They were looking at me as a suspect because of what happened with the other two women,” he said. “I'm innocent.”
Guandique said he had met Morales in a Kentucky prison and that they never spoke about Chandra Levy.
“I never talked to Armando Morales about anything,” he said. “I never told Armando Morales that I was being investigated about the Chandra Levy case.”
Guandique said he wants Chandra Levy’s parents to know he didn't kill her or harm her.
If he could talk to Morales, Guandique said he would say, “I'm nobody to judge or sentence anybody... He knows what he did. May God forgive him.”
At the time of his interview with “20/20” in September, Guandique was fighting deportation. Guandique, who said he came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2000, said he doesn't want to be sent back to the Central American country, which he called dangerous; he said Chandra Levy’s case made headlines abroad, too, and he fears for his life.
Now 35 years old, Guandique said he has a fiancée whom he met while he was in prison. He said she’s “the one who opened my eyes so that I could know God.”
Guandique said he plans to “keep fighting so that I can stay in this country.”
WHAT ABOUT GARY CONDIT?
Gary Condit has never publicly admitted to having a sexual relationship with Chandra Levy and he was never charged in the case.
Chad Condit told ABC News, “I have never asked him about the relationship. … It’s been 15 years. I’ve never asked him one time.”
Gary Condit's attorney L. Lin Wood said in July that prosecutors deciding not to retry Guandique "in no way alters the fact that Mr. Condit was long ago completely exonerated by authorities in connection with Ms. Levy's death."
But Chandra Levy’s case has taken a major toll on the Condits over the years.
“My dad lost his career,” beginning with his lost bid for re-election in 2002, Chad Condit said. “You just really can’t explain how difficult it is to watch someone you love have it all taken away.”
Chad Condit said, “I know he didn’t hurt Chandra Levy. And I know he had nothing to do with this and he didn’t obstruct the police from doing their job. He tried to help the police from the beginning.
“My mom loves him,” he said. “They’ve been married 50 years.”
Chad Condit said he’s disappointed that the case remains unsolved.
“I was just hoping that some way, they’d solve the case, the Levys had closure … that the system hadn’t failed them totally,” he said. “But it looks like it has.
“Your heart goes out to the Levys,” Chad Condit added. “We always just wanted Chandra … to reappear … to be OK.”
NO JUSTICE FOR CHANDRA LEVY
The dismissal of the case shocked Chandra Levy’s brother. Regarding Ingmar Guandique’s guilt, Adam Levy said, “I don't know what to believe.”
He now says he feels a mixture of emotions -- anger and disappointment -- adding, “My faith in the system has been changed.”
“I had innocence before everything happened. … It stole my innocence,” he said. “It’s hard to see things as bright.”
Today, Chandra Levy would be almost 40 years old.
“I think about that a lot,” Adam Levy said. “About what her life and my life would be like … if none of this ever happened.”
Adam Levy hopes that someday his family will find out what happened to his sister. But for now, “We’ve gone back to square one,” he said.
“I want someone to come forward and tell truth,” Susan Levy said. “Someone knows something that I don’t know. … I don’t think my daughter would run in the park by herself.
“I guess I’ll always have unanswered questions, but it’s just sad,” she said. “And the story is, to me is, for women who are interns, to be very careful who they meet.”
Susan Levy said of her daughter, “There’s never a day that I don’t think about her. … Our future, grandkids and time that we would have spent together.”
She added: “We have moments of pleasure doing things together as a family, but deep down the hurt is there. The toll it has taken upon Adam and Bob and myself is very, very hard.
“It’s painful. And you don’t heal,” she said. “Closure is, is a very bad word. There’s no such thing.”Adam Levy agreed. “The better term I think is survival,” he said. “You survive with the loss.”
“We thought we had the truth [with] Guandique, now I feel like I’m back to not knowing,” Susan Levy added. “… If he didn’t do it, then who did kill my daughter?”
ABC News' Eric Strauss and Denise Martinez-Ramundo contributed to this report.