“It’s a mess and a nightmare and maybe it’s disingenuous to think you can turn the story of someone being murdered into anything else.”
Mike tells Sarah about a missing intern, a shady politician and a nationwide obsession. Digressions include speed dial, “La La Land” and Perry Mason. The Summer of the Shark gets a bonus debunking.
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The Disappearance of Chandra Levy
Sarah: That's really how it is. We all just eventually live long enough to become problematic.
Sarah: Welcome to You're Wrong About, where we talk about the stories that scared the bejesus out of middle-school-aged Sarah, and also other people.
Mike: Is that true? You were scared of this one?
Sarah: Yeah. This was one of the great, white, dead girl cases of my own white girl adolescence.
Mike: I am Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Sarah: I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the Satanic Panic.
Mike: And we're on Patreon at patreon.com/you'rewrongabout and PayPal and selling t-shirts and cool if you don't want to buy a t-shirt or support us in quarantine.
Sarah: I just love hearing how this little patter is going to go every time, because I feel like each time, you're refining it to something a little bit shorter, and it's like we're traveling vaudevillians and I'm watching you opening in different towns. It's really nice.
Mike: And today we're talking about Chandra Levy, who is, yes, one of the great missing white girls in recent American history.
Sarah: I believe she went missing in 2001 and it was one of the last big news stories before September 11th.
Mike: Yeah. This is… one of the numbers that I came across was that between June and September 11th, the nightly news broadcasts ran 63 stories on Chandra Levy and then in the year after 9/11, they ran three.
Sarah: Oh, yikes.
Mike: We moved on.
Mike: I mean, I do think the central mystery of this episode is not just why Chandra Levy disappeared and sort of what happened to her, but why this was a big deal in the first place. As people have pointed out, in 1999 a woman named Joyce Chang, who was a congressional intern, disappeared and turned up murdered and nobody paid any attention to it. In the same time period that Chandra Levy went missing, 126 other women were missing, but had been reported to the D.C. police. None of them got any coverage.
Sarah: Yeah. And I'm guessing that there's a lot that went into this and there's a lot of, you know, weird, fluky things about the news cycle of it. Privileged certain stories at certain times over others. I think there's a lot of arbitrariness and chance that goes into this, but also, I cannot imagine that race isn't a major factor here.
Mike: That’s true. But also what's interesting is, I think, arbitrariness and chance actually play less of a role in this one than in others because this controversy was manufactured. It was deliberate.
Sarah: All right, Mike, jump in. Let's do this. I'm ready.
Mike: Tell me what you remember about the Chandra Levy story?
Sarah: I remember that Chandra Levy was a beautiful intern of some kind for a congressman named Gary Condit.
Mike: Yes. California House of Representatives guy.
Sarah: Okay. I remember thinking - because I was 13 when this was in the news - like, “Oh, she's really beautiful. She's technically an adult, but only a little bit older than me”. And I also remember thinking, based on this and Monica Lewinsky, that interning in D.C. seemed like a really dangerous thing for girls, especially Jewish girls. And so I knew she was missing. I knew that Gary Condit was highly suspected of being involved in her death and I think the general mouthfeel of the scandal was like, isn't that exactly what a congressman would do is to have an affair with an intern and then have her murdered? Like, we were just very ready to believe that, which I think is meaningful.
Mike: One of the things that I do think also has been memory-hold about the Chandra Levy case and the insane amount of press attention that this got was that it was also the summer of the shark. Do you remember this?
Sarah: Oh, there were a bunch of shark attacks. I do remember this. Do you want to know why I remember this? I remember this because, as you know, my family lived in Hawaii and I hadn't even seen Jaws, but I saw, like, an A&E special about the making of Jaws and I was like, “I don't want to go in the water. There are sharks in there” and my mom was like, “Sarah, there is a coral reef. The sharks cannot get through it. People in Hawaii do not get attacked by sharks” and right after we left there were these shark attacks and she was like, “I guess you were right. I guess sharks are getting through the reef” and I was like, “Yeah!” And I felt very vindicated by that.
Mike: But what's funny about that is your mom's original contention was correct, that people have looked into this sense and there were actually fewer shark attacks that summer than on a normal summer in America. It just happened to have gotten a lot of press attention.
Sarah: Well, but that means that there were always sporadic shark attacks, and I was right. Excuse me, Michael.
Mike: I just think it's very important to know that, especially cable news, but the entire U.S. media was just at a total rock bottom.
Sarah: Was there just nothing happening? Is that what is where we were? Because like, must be nice!
Mike: But let's get into it. Let's talk about Chandra.
Sarah: All right.
Mike: So there's various accounts of Chandra’s upbringing. She grew up in Modesto, California. Her parents are wealthy, which becomes important later. Her dad is a surgeon. One of the through lines is that she’s somebody who was, like, super outdoorsy, super fit, super sporty. She went to the gym all the time, but she wasn't concerned about her looks. She didn't need to have the coolest jeans. She didn't wear a lot of makeup. She didn't spend a lot of time doing her hair. Like, she worked out a ton, but she wanted to be strong. And also because her parents were like, Northern California, super crunchy, typical eighties and nineties boomer parents, her way of rebelling was that she got really into criminal justice and like, law and order stuff.
Sarah: So she's like a little Alex P. Keaton.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. And so it's not clear to me how exactly she did this, but in high school she started just hanging out at the Modesto police station and, like, going on ridealongs with the cops. Like, this was something that she was really interested in and so she eventually got a degree in criminology and then she went to graduate school for public administration. Like, she wanted to do something in the justice system, but she wasn't sure what that would be yet.
Sarah: But she just had this affinity for law enforcement apparently.
Mike: Yeah, and seemingly in a good way. This is how Gary Condit later describes her, “She was a vegetarian. She was always upbeat. She took vitamins. She didn't take drugs or drink. She was mature for her age and very savvy.” He also described her as frugal and noted that her wardrobe looked like it came from a Macy's type department store, not Nordstrom. I don't understand the difference between Macy's and Nordstrom. So, I don't understand the context for that quote.
Sarah: You know, that makes me think they weren't having an affair. That's like, I don't know, kind of a clinical observation to make about someone.
Mike: Yeah. But she’s very smart. She's very ambitious. She ends up getting an internship with the governor's office in California. She eventually interns with the mayor of L.A. She ends up going to grad school and getting an internship at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. So she ends up moving to D.C. in the fall of 2000. Interestingly, she was not Gary Condit’s intern. She was a random intern at this federal bureau.
Sarah: So that's one of the classic You're Wrong About misremembrances, where you just mistakenly remember sort of a more direct connection between people. Because like, if you were writing a screenplay, you'd be like, “Oh, and then she's his intern” because that makes it easier to advance the story.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. I think another really good show of character is people's search history. So, when her laptop is eventually seized by the cops and they release her search history the night before she went missing, she's checking the Washington post, the Modesto Beat, USA today, National Geographic, and the Drudge Report and she's also on Amtrak, Southwest Airlines, and gofrance.about.com. So she's potentially thinking of going abroad. And she's also looking at the Baskin Robbins website. Apparently, it's free scoop night the following night, and so she's planning this in advance.
Sarah: Well, you just got to make sure that it's available at all locations and stuff like that.
Mike: Yes. So shortly after she moves to Washington, she meets Gary Condit. The way that they meet is that her and her friend Jennifer are just walking through the building where the House of Representatives offices are and I guess one of them gets the idea “Hey, we can just visit the office of, like, your house rep, Chandra, the guy that you elected.”
Sarah: That's such a cute, nerdy thing to do. Like, “Oh let’s visit our congressman!”
Mike: And apparently, they go into his office expecting like, whatever, some random secretary will be like “Gary's out right now, but you can leave a message” or something, but apparently Condit himself walks out and it's like, “Hi, it’s nice to meet my constituents”. And then he takes her and her friend on a tour of the building.
Sarah: That's so cute. That's, you know, like Roman Polanski taking Paula Barbieri to the Sistine Chapel and he's like, “She's a beautiful, young model who needed to see some art”
Mike: That’s immediately how I took it, too. That it's two attractive women in their early twenties popping by his office and he's like, “Yeah, let me take like 45 minutes out of my schedule to show you the building and stuff.” It's like immediately, like, uuuhhh.
Sarah: And you know what, like that doesn't mean he had an affair with anyone because you can also just get a charge out of being like, “Hello, you're young, and gorgeous, and giggly, and you think it's intoxicating that I have this stupid job that's draining my soul away.”
Mike: So I'm going to send you a picture that is taken on this…
Sarah: On this historic occasion.
Mike: Yes. Boom. So that's Chandra on the left.
Sarah: This is really cute.
Sarah: Gary Condit definitely looks like he's wearing some New Balances. I know that he is not, but you can see that that face has felt the feeling of New Balances.
Mike: Can you describe him physically?
Sarah: Oh, he's just like, if you were casting a movie about, like, a meteor about to smash into the earth, he would be like, “Politician from Nebraska.” He has the generic face of a politician. And Chandra Levy has huge hair. You can really see the D.C. humidity in this picture. And it's just like fully surrounding her head like a beautiful halo, and she just has the smile of like, “I'm in fucking Washington, D.C.” Like, she seems genuinely pleased.
Mike: She almost looks like she's holding back a smile, but she can't help herself.
Sarah: Yes. She looks like she's holding back a big grin actually. She’s just like, “Look at me. Little Chandra Levy.”
Mike: And she will later tell her mother that Gary Condit looks like Harrison Ford, which…
Mike: Her mother and I had the same reaction to that. I don't see it. I don't know.
Sarah: Yeah, no. He doesn't. But you know what, when you have feelings for someone you want to express how they make you feel. And I can see her maybe finding a congressperson very sexy and having Harrison Ford feelings about that. I get it, Chandra. I get it.
Mike: So this is a part where I have to tell you about Gary Condit’s upbringing and his history.
Sarah: I bet he's a Lutheran. He's got a Lutheran face.
Mike: He's a preacher's kid actually. Although Baptist.
Sarah: I was onto something.
Mike: Yeah, you were close. I mean when you say he has a politician face, he also has a politician life.
Sarah: Does he have a wife named Deborah, and four beautiful children, and they all go skiing in Vail?
Mike: I mean other than his wife actually being named Carolyn, basically. In the same way that when we talked about Dan Quayle, it's just like, he's a standard issue republican. Gary Condit is a standard issue democrat. He wrote a book, he wrote like a true crime book that's not quite a memoir. It's trying to be a true crime book about the disappearance of Chandra Levy.
Sarah: That's a weird thing to do, Gary Condit.
Mike: It's weird. It's also not very good. But what's really interesting to me about it, is that his description of his own life and why he got into politics is literally one sentence. The purpose of politics is to better people's lives, but there's nothing in there about, “I saw poverty in central California and I wanted to help.” Nothing. It's literally, he's working in some sort of armaments factory and one of his older colleagues says, like, “Well, you know, when the Vietnam War is over, we're not going to have jobs anymore”. And then all he says is something along the lines of like, “That ignited in me an idea I had been toying with for years. I ran for the city council”. And I'm like, what did that ignite? It's like, the war is going to be over. You want there to be wars forever so you can have a job? Like, it's not…
Sarah: So, yeah. You're like, but what was ignited, Gary? Like, and does he talk about his family or his childhood or anything like that?
Mike: I mean the most interesting thing about his childhood is that he lied on his application for a marriage license to say that he was twenty-one when he was actually nineteen. But like, that was to get married to the woman that he's still married to.
Sarah: That's like getting a fake ID to buy wine for communion because a priest asked you to.
Mike: But so, his career is just like, he's a centrist Democrat. It's a very red district and so his entire career he's basically like a middle of the road Democrat, where the Republicans don't really love him or hate him because he'll sometimes cross the aisle to help them. And the Democrats don't really love him or hate him either because he'll kind of help them when it matters.
Sarah: So he was like a team player.
Mike: Yes. But it's just like, it doesn't seem like he has any real values as a politician. Like, it doesn't seem like there's any issue that ignites him. There's all these attempts to write features about him later and to sort of humanize him. And the only interesting thing that anybody latches on to is that when he moved to D.C., he got an apartment in Adams Morgan, which apparently is a cool neighborhood. And they try to make a thing out of like, “He moved to a hip neighborhood, and he ate ethnic food. Like, what an interesting guy”. And you're like, is it?
Sarah: You're like, is this the best you can find? He's having a naan.
Mike: Yeah. So basically, he's just this boring guy, but Chandra likes him.
Sarah: And I imagine the fact that he's a politician could be really attractive to her.
Mike: There’s also some semi-problematic reporting later that she has a thing for older guys.
Sarah: Honestly, if you're 23 years old, guys your age and slightly younger are not that great of a field to pick from. It's hard to not have a thing for older guys when you're a 23 year old heterosexual woman.
Mike: So according to Gary Condit’s book, she starts showing up in his office and asking him for career advice, because she's been doing this internship. She's graduated from graduate school, she doesn't really know what she's going to do next. And what's interesting is fall of 2000, sometime before Thanksgiving, is when they begin having an affair.
Sarah: According to…
Mike: According to everyone except Gary Condit.
Sarah: Okay, well then I’m really inclined to think it happened.
Mike: Oh yeah. I mean, to this day he maintains that they didn't have an affair. But we will get into the evidence that they had an affair, and it is incontrovertible.
Mike: There's also, it's one of those things where the evidence that they had an affair is extremely strong and the evidence that he had anything to do with her disappearance is extremely weak.
So basically, they begin carrying out this affair. Because she cannot tell us her side of it, we're relying on sort of second and third hand accounts. One of the best pieces of evidence that they are having some sort of intense relationship, and this is an extremely early 2000s thing, is that he is number seven on her speed dial and his office is number eight on her speed dial. The slots of your speed dial were a really big deal.
Sarah: Yes, because there were only nine of them. We always have these stupid little technological ways of demonstrating to ourselves that we are moving on from someone, and it used to be deleting them from your speed dial.
Mike: Yeah. She also starts telling people, but in these cryptic ways.
Sarah: “I am seeing a Harrison Ford looking gentleman.”
Mike: That's exactly what she tells her mom is that “I'm seeing a guy. He's a bit older. He looks like Harrison Ford. And you know, I can't talk about it much, but like, you'll understand in five years.”
Sarah: I just imagine her mom hearing this and then seeing a picture of Gary Condit and being like, “Aw, sweetie.”
Mike: Chandra also, importantly, tells her aunt that this is going on. She's again coy about who exactly this person is, but she says she's been seeing somebody, he's an important figure. She also says, and other people say this too, that Chandra told them that her and Gary had a five-year plan where he was going to leave his wife and run away with her.
Sarah: Sure. I can see him either A.) planning to do that, B.) feeling like that's a good idea at certain moments, or C.) not wanting to do that, but telling her that so that this nice thing can continue for a while. All of those three things are totally plausible, right?
Mike: Yeah. There are also other signs of this too. He gives her tickets to George W. Bush’s inaugural ball, but he can't take her because it's in public. So she goes with a buddy of hers. He later talks to the Washington Post, and he says they had to stop by his house on the way to the event to pick up the tickets. And he's like, “Who's this guy that you're dating?” And she's like, “Oh, I can't say, but you've heard of him”. She's being coy, but like, it's clear that she wants to tell people and she's happy about this relationship.
Sarah: It's because I'm looking at this picture of her still with her face just looking sort of stifling this feeling of joy, but yeah. It's very easy to picture her just being like, this is so exciting, and this is such an important man” and just enjoying it, which is really nice to think about, right? Because she, like, it doesn't matter that we think he lacks charisma. Like, she is enjoying it.
Mike: Yes. So the first event that leads to her disappearance is on April 27th of 2001. She loses her job and that's because the Bureau of Prisons finds out that she's already graduated from graduate school and the internship program is only available to people that are still enrolled. So they're like, “Ah, sorry, technical reasons, but we have to fire you. I'm really sorry.” So she can't do that anymore and she immediately starts planning on moving back to California.
So she disappears on Tuesday, May 1st of 2001. The last her parents hear from her is around eleven in the morning, she emails them with flights. She's like, “There's one on Wednesday. There's one on Friday.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. And then that's it. They don't hear from her. So she disappears on May 1st, but no one sort of reports it or notices that she's disappeared until her parents called the cops on May 6th, five days later.
And what's really interesting is after they start getting worried about this, they also start looking through her phone records. Because I believe they're paying for her cell phone bill so they can see the itemized list of all the phone numbers that she's calling and they noticed the same number again and again, and again, like constantly calling this number. They dial it and it turns out it's Gary Condit’s congressional office. So they start putting two and two together, she's been talking about this older guy that she's seeing, he's “important”, and then there's like 50 calls to this dude’s office.
Sarah: Yeah. And they're like, “Well, we know she's passionate about water quality, but maybe not to this extent.”
Mike: So basically, as soon as they call the cops to report that she's missing, they're like, “Oh and by the way, we're pretty sure she's dating this Gary Condit guy who's a rep for her district and we just wanted to let you know.”
Mike: And so the first thing that happens is the cops get a warrant to search her apartment. What they find when they get there is – this becomes like a huge thing in the media – that like, nothing is missing from her apartment. The only thing that is gone is her keys and a ring. Her ID is there. Her wallet is there. Her credit card is still there. Her cell phone is still there. There's no sign of any foul play whatsoever.
Sarah: And it also bears mentioning that at the time, you wouldn't need to bring your cell phone everywhere because you didn't really use it casually. You might've just used it when you needed to make a phone call, and it couldn't help you as a navigational aid.
Mike: Yeah. They also find her telephone answering machine is full. It has 25 messages on it. Two of them are from Gary. And so he called her on May 3rd – this is two days after her disappearance – just, like, chirpily like, “Hey, haven't heard from you just checking in. How are you?” And so again, this is a sign that, like, him not having heard from her in two days is enough for him to check in on her. The detectives also, importantly, find a pair of panties that are stained with semen.
Sarah: Okay. So they know she's got semen in her life, which is normal for a 23 year old.
Mike: Yes. That does not come back for another couple of weeks, but I'm dropping it now as foreshadowing. The first and, I think maybe the biggest blunder or the second biggest blunder of this entire case, is that there's a laptop in her apartment. And so when somebody goes missing, a really important thing to find out is what was the last thing they were searching for. Because like, if I disappear and the last thing I'm searching for is like, Greyhound tickets to Portland, hotels in Portland. Like, that gives you a sense of where you should start looking. Right? So they open up her computer. They look into her search history, and I do not know how they did it, but a cop manages to wipe her search history.
Sarah: Ooooh. It does seem like there are a lot of stories where the police accidentally behave in a really silly, tech-ignorant manner and are behind even a normal person in knowing what to do in a technological situation. Which is just, you know, proof of a lack of resources generally, among other things.
Mike: Yes. When they finally in five weeks get her search history back, they see that, like, the last ten things that she was searching for are extremely congruent with, “she was going for a jog.” So, she checks the weather.
Sarah: Yeah. She goes to jogging.com and reads an article called “How to Jog.”
Mike: She goes to the website of Rock Creek Park and looks at a map of all the hiking trails. But they don't know this for five more weeks.
Sarah: That sucks.
Mike: So one of the main reasons that they make so many blunders in this case is because they don't have basic information of what was on her mind in the fifteen minutes before she disappeared.
Sarah: And then I would imagine that five weeks later they're going to be really reluctant to be like, “Hey, so we take back all the stuff that we've insinuated for the past month or so.” Right? Like, that's hard to do.
Mike: They also fuck up in that her building has security cameras that monitor people in and out. So they could have gotten the security cameras and find out exactly what time she left the building, and crucially what she was wearing. Right? Like, did she have a Walkman and some running pants on?
Sarah: And did they see Gary Condit going in or like abducting her or anything?
Mike: Exactly! But the building only keeps the tapes for seven days, and they forgot to ask. And so the building wipes the tapes and so they never get the tape.
Sarah: Oh, that sucks. That sucks.
Mike: So basically as soon as this happens, they have no leads. They have no information. All they know is that she left her apartment, and her apartment doesn't seem fucked with.
Sarah: Right. So they're like, wherever she disappeared from, it probably, either she was taken from her apartment by someone she trusted or whatever went wrong went wrong after she left.
Mike: Yes. So the only lead they have really is, like, this politician dude named Gary. So they go over to his house, they interview him.
Sarah: And they're like, “Well, we've already fucked up twice. So let's go back to Gary.”
Mike: So they go over to his house, they ask him like, “What's the nature of your relationship?” And he tells them the same thing that he's been saying ever since of like, “We were friends. I was giving her career advice and, you know, maybe she came over to my house once or twice, but, you know, I can't really recall. People come over to my house all the time. Her gym was nearby.”
Sarah: And is he living in DC, like, on his own? Like, he has his own apartment and his family's in California or what?
Mike: Yeah. So, every weekend he visits his family in California. So like, he's in D.C. from Monday to Thursday and then Thursday night he flies back to California. So he's alone in his apartment during the week.
Sarah: Eww. That's a bummer.
Mike: I know. His wife talks about with great pride that like, he's always home. Like, he's such a family man. He comes home every weekend, he never misses it. This is actually important, but it's also just like a perfect little bachelor pad because there's no one to monitor him at all.
Mike: So apparently the cops say, “Did you have an intimate relationship with Ms. Levy?” And he says, “I don't think we need to go there”, and you can infer whatever you want with that. The cops start looking into him more and it seems like from very early in the case the cops are actually pretty convinced that he didn't do it. Among the alibis that we have ever talked about on this show, his is like by far the water tightest.
Sarah: Was he voting?
Mike: He was literally voting. He was like on C-SPAN voting on stuff the evening that she disappeared. Plus – this is nuts – like at the moment of her disappearance, like somewhere around noon of May 1st, he was meeting with Dick Cheney. So like, Dick Cheney ends up being a character witness.
Sarah: That is a great alibi.
Mike: It also shows you what kind of Democrat he is too, right? That he's like hanging out with Dick Cheney and talking about, like, “How can we work together on stuff?”
But then, I mean, the whole kind of like couple of days before the disappearance, couple of days after the disappearance, like, he's a politician, he's constantly doing stuff on camera in public. And so there aren't holes in his schedule where a murder could have taken place.
Sarah: It really speaks to the ability of the American people to ignore the fact that like, I think there's still a kind of a patina of suspicion around Gary Condit because it was implied so heavily for so long that he had done something nefarious. And yet from the beginning, it was obvious that there was just no advantageous window in which he could have committed a murder and were just like, “Yeah but, ah, it's such a good story though. Come on, let's have it.”
Mike: And there's also something really interesting that de does almost always fly home to California every single weekend. However, the weekend that Chandra disappeared, like before the day that she disappeared, his wife was visiting him in D.C. So the day after Chandra disappeared, he's at a restaurant being seen by other people having dinner with his wife. And so this comes to be seen somehow as evidence, just because it's out of the ordinary. Like, “His wife was there and so he snapped”. But it's like, it actually seems like a really bad weekend to kill your mistress because, like, there's someone else in your apartment that weekend.
Sarah: Well, I love how you always… you know, you're just very practical in your true crime analysis and you’re like, this doesn't seem thought out at all because this is the worst time to commit a murder when you have no real alibi witness and a tiny little window of time.
Mike: Yes. One of the main rumors actually about Gary Condit is that he was having rough sex with Chandra, he accidentally killed her, and then he hid the body. Which, putting aside all of the issues of there's no evidence that he was into rough sex, there's no link between people who have rough sex and people who murder people, it's just like, when? Like, there is no time that that theory could have taken place.
Mike: And so this is actually a pretty interesting period because the Gary Condit lead is kind of petering out because his alibi is so good. They look into two other dudes that Chandra had hung out with a couple of times, but those also peter out pretty quickly because there's no indication that those guys had intense relationships with Chandra. They just hung out with her, like, two or three times. I mean, she's someone who's only lived in D.C. for six months.
Mike: So it's not like she has this robust network of exes and people that would have a motive to kill her. So they really don't have anyone to look into except for this Congressman who is lying about the affair that he had with her for some reason. But then this answers the question of why Chandra Levy was such a big deal.
Sarah: Because her killer was a shark.
Mike: Her parents do something that is very, I think, unfortunate, but also very understandable. You know, it's been now two weeks since their daughter disappeared. They are convinced that the police are not taking this seriously and that they're not looking into Gary Condit enough. So they hire a P.R. firm.
So there's this firm that has done a sort of national campaign to find three hikers that got lost in Yosemite in 1999 and so the Levy's hire this group to sort of, like, get national attention on to their missing daughter to try to help find her. And so one of the first things they do is they hold a candlelight vigil for her in California where they handout Reese's peanut butter cups because those were her favorite candy, and this gets some local coverage. And then they fly the Levy's to D.C. to have a news conference saying, “The police aren't doing enough. We're looking for our daughter. Please help us.” And this P.R. firm has contacts in the media. So this is when they're able to get the Washington Post and these other news organizations to cast this as a national story.
And there's this really heartbreaking thing where when the Levy's come to Washington, they're driving around and Robert Levy, her father, talks about he's looking on the streets and he's looking for her. Part of him still thinks that it's just this big misunderstanding and they're going to drive past a Wendy's and she's going to be standing in line or something. He says it's completely compulsive. And so I think it's very understandable that they did this. Like any parent, if they could, would do this.
Sarah: Yeah, and I wouldn't say it's a bad idea. Because if you feel like, you know, maybe a national spotlight will, like, make something happen or spur the police into action, like yeah. What else are you going to do if you have those resources? Why not?
Mike: It’s just a matter of like, who has those resources, right? Like, who can turn their daughter into a national story and who can't. And so after this news conference on May 15th, so almost exactly two weeks after she disappears, this is the story that makes this a national scandal and brings Gary Condit into this. Because right now there's been a couple page 35 whatever stories of like, “Intern Goes Missing”. But like, there's no reason for this to be a national story or a political story remotely. But the Washington Post publishes the story on May 17th that is kind of amazing. It just kind of goes through the news conference and how she's missing, and they're frustrated with the police investigation so far. And then toward the end it's says like, “Gary Condit, who's her representative from Congress, has donated $10,000 to a reward fund for her”, and then they quote him as saying, “Chandra is a great person and a good friend. We hope she's found safe and sound.” And it's one of those things where people look at this and they're like, “great friend”? Like, why is this 53 year old male congressman calling this twenty-three year old girl, who wasn't his intern, a great friend?
Sarah: You had a beautiful friendship, say more about that. And it's also interesting because he didn't have to say that, like he could have just been like “I'm giving $10,000 to her parents because they're from my district and I'm concerned.” Like, if he was going to deny a romantic relationship, he didn't have to imply this close, platonic relationship. That sounds worse.
Mike: I mean, it's like, you know, if you disappear and I'm looking for you and there's an article about it and it's like, “George Lucas says Sarah Marshall was a great screenwriter.” You'd be like, “Whoa, wait. That seems like the story here.”
Sarah: Wait a minute! Sarah’s been corresponding with George Lucas? Let's pull on that thread a little bit.
Mike: So basically this is essentially when, like, the attention on Gary Condit goes nuclear. Every story from now on is all about Gary Condit and what was their relationship? What did he know?
Sarah: This poor, bland idiot.
Mike: I know. Well, there's also something interesting in that in front of cameras and sort of at podiums, the cops are always saying, “We don't think this guy did it, and there's no reason to think that he's a suspect.” While they're doing this, they're also behind the scenes leaking to reporters: “He's our prime suspect.”
What starts happening is, from now on there's just a drip of stories every single day, putting Gary Condit, Chandra Levy, and disappearance in the same paragraph.
Sarah: Because the American consumers were like, “I'm bored. There's just no interesting news.”
Mike: They end up searching the woods outside of his office, and they don't find anything in the woods. But the fact that they're searching the woods is, again, like, “Well, why are the cops doing this if he's not guilty?”
Sarah: Also, why would he dump a body near his office? That's such an idiotic thing to do. Like, he would take her to an estuary in Maryland or something like that.
Mike: Yeah. It also creates this really bad cycle where the only person that the cops are looking into is Gary Condit. And Chandra Levy's parents are on the news every night holding news conferences, because they have this P.R. firm, saying, “Why aren't they looking into this Condit guy? I just don't understand why they're not putting a spotlight on this Condit guy. We think this Condit guy had something to do with it.”
Sarah: Yeah. Which is why grieving parents aren't placed in charge of investigations, right? That's the reason.
Mike: I know. They want to find their daughter and like, this guy is shady as fuck, and he's lying about the fact that he had an affair with their daughter. And so like, of course they're mad at him. Of course they think he did it.
Sarah: There's so many reasons why this didn't happen but imagine if Mr. Bland Harrison Ford could, like, level with everybody and be like, “Yes. We were having an affair, but I didn't kill her.” Like, would that make him better or worse? Probably worse at this point, because he's denied it for so long. But at the same time, it's like the longer you deny it, the worse that gets. So like, it's really a rhubarb of a pickle of a jam.
Mike: There's… I mean, he makes so many dumb mistakes throughout this.
Sarah: Yeah, I’m not being impressed by the political savvy of Gary Condit at this time.
Mike: So this is also the time when the Levy's meet with Gary Condit. No cameras, no anything. They're like, “I just want to look at you face to face.”
Sarah: I just want to look at this non Harrison Ford fucking face.
Mike: And apparently her dad is like, “I can't even look at this guy. I'm not going to go.” So it's only her mom, in the end.
Sarah: So her dad has been visualizing this man murdering his daughter, presumably, if he can't stand to look at him. That's intense. Yeah. And then you can see them clinging to this theory in the face of grief, which makes sense. It’s a human thing to do.
Mike: And so he shows up. He tries to shake her hand and she refuses to shake his hand. She immediately goes into these questions of like, “How did you meet? How often did you see her? When did you see her last? Did you have anything to do with it?” He answers, but again, he denies that they had a relationship. Which just adds fuel to the fire because she knows her daughter has been telling her about this relationship with this older guy.
Sarah: Because if someone is saying like, “I didn't kill your daughter and I'm not lying to you and I will try and gain your trust by lying to you,” that doesn't help.
Mike: And so she basically thinks that he's full of shit, and at the end of the meeting, he's like, “Can I give you a hug?” And she's like, “Absolutely not.”
Sarah: Yeah. So is there further evidence for the affair, or have we gone through everything?
Mike: I mean the best evidence, and it doesn't come in for another week or two, is that his DNA matches the semen on the panties that are found in her apartment.
Sarah: Yeah. Either they were having an affair, or he is openly masturbating in her home with her clothing. So, I'm going to go with option A.
Mike: What's actually interesting about that detail, which is by far the most damning evidence that they did have an affair, is that that actually doesn't go public until 2008. People don't know that at the time. So at the time, all we know is the shit about the speed dial, and her aunt, and her mom. So the evidence isn't as strong in 2001 as it is now, but it's like the evidence even then was overwhelming. He had admitted that she had spent the night and had come to his apartment, which like…
Mike: It's close to your gym. Fine. But like, Gary Condit is not that fucking famous. They can go to, like, Panera Bread.
Sarah: This was in the Gary Hart episode, and I want to just emphasize that your idea for a solution to all of these problems - and I agree with it - is that there is nothing less romantic than a Panera Bread. If you want to meet an attractive, young staffer, or farmer rep, or just demonstrate to someone through context clues that nothing will be happening, take them to Panera Bread, and the world will also know. They'll be like, “Oh look, Panera bread. Yup, that looks bleak.”
Mike: He also does really dumb shit. Like, he's mad at the cops for leaking, which like, fair enough. But he basically calls the cops and he's like, “I'm not going to participate in this anymore if you guys keep leaking stuff” and they're like, “That's not for you to decide.”
Sarah: Right. Like, “We are the police, Gary Condit.”
Mike: And so the cops come, and they do interview him again. I mean, they end up interrogating him four times. He changes his story. He originally said, “No, no, she's never been to my house. I've never been to her house.” Then, “Maybe she's been to my place once or twice.” Then, “She was coming over a couple of times a week.”
Sarah: It is so interesting because I'm feeling animosity toward this guy, right? Where it's like, so you're telling me that this girl platonically slept over at your house? That you, as a sitting member of Congress, just had a platonic sleepover with a hot twenty-three-year-old. Like, that implies either you're a liar or you are so unaware of how that will look to anyone that you really shouldn't be a politician because you lack the ability to gauge human reactions. And when someone is clearly lying to your face like that, it really makes them seem like they're lying about everything. Right?
Mike: Yeah, it’s not great. It's actually amazing to me that he didn't admit it.
Sarah: It is. That's really commitment to a bad idea.
Mike: Yeah. But it is, like, affairs happen and she's missing and, like, admitting to the affair might help the cops solve the case and catch her killer before he kills someone else.
Mike: So like, it's actually kind of shitty to not just take the L and admit that you had the affair for the good of her and her parents.
Mike: It's very odd.
Sarah: And also that like, Gary, you were having an affair. Like, if your family finds out about that or if your constituents find out about that, like you did do it. Like, it's not an unjust outcome. I also feel like it's reasonable for him to fall back on this perspective of like, “Why can't the police clear me if I have so many good alibis, one of them Cheney related?” and this being like, “Just do your jobs and stop talking about me.” So it's hard because, like, you expect the police to be able to not bow to public pressure in the way that they are and to be objective about this. But on the other hand, they basically never behave that way. So why would you hold them to that standard and why not just be like, ‘Yes, we were having sex and when you're having sex with someone and it's going well for both parties, you don't want to murder them even a little. So I'm as confused and sad as everyone. Let's all link hands.”
Mike: I mean, another really bad-for-Gary incident that happens at this time, is that the Washington Post publishes a story saying two police sources have confirmed to them that Gary admitted having the affair with Chandra. But then they of course go to Gary for comment and he's like, “I did not admit that.” Because he didn't!
Sarah: Oh, so the police are just also lying. So everyone's lying. This is great! That's a good system to have.
Mike: So everyone’s fuckin lying! It's amazing in this story, if you were– the first couple paragraphs are all like two police sources with knowledge of the meetings, blah, blah, blah say that he admitted it and then in paragraph twelve or whatever, the cops say, “Gary Condit was not a suspect before the meeting. He was not a suspect during the meeting. And he is not a suspect after the meeting.”
Sarah: Mhmm. But they're leading with the affair. They're not leading with the innocence thing.
Mike: Yeah. This is also, because it's gotten so famous, they get the same thing that we saw with the D.C. snipers where there's, like, an 800 number and people are sending in tips because she's still missing at this point. Right? Like, there's no other leads other than Gary. So they're chasing down every single lead. A psychic calls in to the hotline and says she got a vision that Chandra was put into a body bag and stowed in the basement of the Smithsonian.
Sarah: Oh my God.
Mike: Which is National Treasure. She's literally been watching National Treasure.
Sarah: Also, if you're putting someone in the Smithsonian, why use a body bag? Why not just use a sarcophagus of which there are probably many down there?
Mike: What’s amazing to me is the police go check. The police go to the basement of the Smithsonian and look around.
Sarah: Oh my God.
Mike: There’s also another caller that says that she's been murdered and dumped in the Potomac, but they get all these divers and go check and she's not there either. Like, they're actually running down these leads and spending an incredible amount of time on it. There's also… one person calls in with a tip that Chandra was the victim of a suicide bombing in Israel, and they chase that down. They, like, call Israeli authorities.
Sarah: Wouldn’t they have known if she'd gone abroad before dying? I mean… So the tip line is essentially a place for people to just call and just say something that they think would be neat.
Mike: Yes, exactly. It's a place to pitch your screenplay ideas.
Mike: Last one. There's also a rumor that she died in Nevada during a botched abortion because she was carrying Gary’s baby.
Sarah: Why would you go to Nevada to get an abortion? It's not 1948.
Mike: And then they bring in the secret service and then they check abortion records in Nevada. Like again, this takes ages.
Sarah: What?! But…and then, okay. And so they don't know where she went because this is during the five week window after they've deleted her search history and they haven't gotten it back yet. So…
Mike: No. This is actually… They have the search history. The search history has come down.
Sarah: Oh, why do I always offer this charitable interpretation that turns out to be wrong?
Mike: No, like, they know what she was searching for fifteen minutes before. So police at this time have searched Rock Creek Park, but they haven't found her body. And they've kind of convinced themselves that what really happened was the reason she was looking at Rock Creek Park wasn't because of the hiking trails, it was because she was meeting somebody there. So instead of seeing this as competing with the Gary Condit theory of the crime, they see it as reinforcing it. And so this is the part where basically every journalist in the country just starts going after Gary Condit. Like, there's no real story to the Chandra disappearance. Like, there's no information.
Sarah: They’re like, “We're bored.”
Mike: Yes. So there's a stewardess who says that she had an affair with Gary Condit.
Mike: This is also just like an interesting flex. She says, “In July 2000, the attractive flight attendant said she first saw Condit sitting in a business class seat on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dulles. Smith, 39, said he introduced himself simply as Gary and offered her a piece of his PowerBar and his phone number.
Sarah: A piece of his PowerBar…
Mike: A piece of his PowerBar, man. That's, like, such a move.
Sarah: Why would you want a piece of someone else's PowerBar? Not even a whole PowerBar. That's so– was she, like, standing there looking woozy or what?
Mike: I know.
Sarah: I mean, again, you're like, maybe this didn't happen at all. But if it did, then this just seems like a Gary Condit thing to do based on my intimate knowledge of the man, you know, gossiping with me about him for an hour.
Mike: She also later says that he asked her to sign an affidavit saying that they didn't have an affair.
Mike: Which he at first denies, but then later admits to.
Sarah: Gary! That’s so cold. Why are women having affairs with you? Do you have to get your blood temperature up by lying on a rock? Like, tell me about your life, my dude.
Mike: There's also a woman called Joleen McKay, who was an aide in his office at 22, who said she had a three year long relationship with him.
Sarah: And then his wife calls her and was like, “I'm begging of you, please don't take my man.”
Mike: She says that he was “manipulative and controlling.”
Sarah: Hard to imagine in a politician, to be honest.
Mike: There’s also a guy in California who's a preacher who says that Condit had an affair with his eighteen year old daughter. And then the FBI comes to him and is like, “Yeah, tell us more about the story”. And then he's like, “Oh yeah, I was lying. I was just doing that to be in the newspaper.” But it doesn't matter because this thing of him being into young girls continues to follow him even after this person recants.
Sarah: Right. You can't take pee out of the pool.
Mike: This is, morally speaking, really bad that both the stewardess and Joleen, his aide, say that he told them that his wife was, like, infirm.
Sarah: Like, sexually?
Mike: No, like, disabled.
Sarah: Like, in a coma?
Mike: He told them that she had encephalitis of the brain and then other, like, politicians will say this too.
Sarah: But he's telling them that his wife is infirm?
Sarah: That's weird.
Mike: There's interviews with Carolyn, his wife who actually seems like a really nice lady, and she's like, “I have migraine headaches. I've had migraines since I was young.” Like, it's pretty fucked up to tell people that your wife is disabled, like, to get chicks.
Sarah: So whatever he's saying, it appears that he's trying to get to the meaning of, like, “Carolyn isn't well, and we're married, but I'm more of her caretaker and it's not sexual like it is with you.”
Mike: Yeah. And I think – I have no evidence for this – but I think it's also something he tells his colleagues too so that if they get a hint that he's sleeping with younger women they were like, “Oh, you know his wife's infirm so, like, it doesn't really matter.” Like, they won't judge him to the same extent.
Sarah: That’s so gross.
Mike: That's pure conjecture on my part, but like, that makes some sense to me that why everyone would think this.
Sarah: I love how we're doing this podcast that's like, “The media piled on Gary Condit and that was wrong” and now we're piling on him. Like, I feel like there's something… he's like Lutz on 30 Rock. You're just like, why do you always want to hit that guy? It's funny cause I'm falling prey to the same impulse that I'm railing against, and I see it.
Mike: But here’s the thing, I actually think it's fine to think that he's a creep, but “he's a creep” and “he murdered someone on a specific day in a specific way” are two very different things.
Sarah: Okay. So is there any evidence or anything described as evidence at this time that Gary Condit is responsible for her murder?
Mike: So you know that I'm like a big, like, LexisNexis queen.
Sarah: Yeah. That's exactly what the patch I'm going to get for you for your next birthday says.
Mike: I actually looked pretty hard for sort of the case against Gary Condit. Where's the sort of “he did it” type essay? And what was fascinating about it is I found a couple of these, like, various columns in newspapers and things like that and what's really interesting is all of the evidence that he murdered Chandra Levy is actually just evidence that either he's a shitty dude or he’s fucking with the cops’ investigation.
Sarah: Okay. All right. So let's go over it. I want to hear this.
Mike: So the main sort of case against him is basically what we've already said, that he's changed his story and so the idea is like, “Well, if he didn't kill her, why does he keep changing his story? Why is he making it so hard for the cops to investigate her murder?” And I actually think like, that's this weirdly performative stupidity that you sometimes see in these cases when, to me, it actually makes a lot of sense that a public figure would lie about having an affair.
Sarah: It makes sense for anyone to lie to the police at any time because everyone can feel they have something to lose.
Mike: I mean, I also think on a more broad level that we should all internalize the idea that people lie to the cops all the time. That doesn't mean that they've done the crime that they're accused of.
Mike: If I accuse you of, like, stealing the Hope Diamond on Arbor Day and then it's like, well, Sarah's alibi one day she said she was home and the next day she said she was at the store. Boom.
Sarah: Yeah. So I mean, just the idea that the police make someone nervous and that the only reason they can make someone nervous is because the person they're talking to has committed the specific crime, that's a wacky idea, right? The police are scary. The police have many ways of scaring people.
Mike: Right. And also one thing that's interesting is one of the only noteworthy events in Gary Condit’s entire political career before this is that he was one of the first democratic politicians to call for Bill Clinton's resignation in 1998. So, there's a very good in-universe explanation for this.
Sarah: This is some Book of Esther shit right here.
Mike: There's also the category of evidence that we love on the show, which is basically that like, you're bad on TV. There's, like, footage of him, you know, getting out of a car and there's this scrum of reporters and he sort of smiles and waves and then it's like, “There's a missing intern, sir. Why are you smiling?” You know? And they play the tape over and over again.
Sarah: And how can you what the right thing is to do when you're at the center of a murder investigation? There's apparently no news.
Sarah: And every– you know? I mean, he can't win.
Mike: There's also the worst evidence against him, but that kind of made the rounds was also this thing that Chandra was pregnant.
Sarah: Oh yeah. I remember this one.
Mike: The only evidence for this – you're going to love this – her Aunt Linda said in the last conversation she had with Chandra a couple of days before her disappearance, Chandra said, “Next time we talk, I'm going to have big news for you. Can’t wait to tell you.”
Sarah: Ooooh. Linda. We're basing the news on what Linda thinks constitutes big news.
Mike: And it's like, it could have been like, “I'm gonna take the train across France.”
Sarah: She's twenty-three. She wants a career. That could be so many things.
Mike: I know. Because the problem with Gary Condit is there's no motive, right? Like, if you're going to kill your mistress, the week before she leaves D.C. forever is not a good time to kill your mistress.
Sarah: Yeah. And something that I've been thinking about is like, is there anything to the idea that he could have hired someone to kill her?
Mike: That's the only theory that actually makes sense, right? Because his day is pretty packed. The reason that I don't find the idea that he hired somebody particularly convincing is A. he still doesn't have a motive. B. the cops did search his apartment and search his laptop and get his phone records and there's nothing in there and the idea that, like, maybe he's an incredible criminal mastermind who manages to do this while leaving no trace. Or she went jogging, which like all of the evidence is completely congruent with. It's like, she took her Walkman. She didn't bring her wallet. She didn't tell her friends she was going anywhere. She has a history of jogging.
Sarah: The first thing we've learned about her basically is that she loves to jog, jogging around town.
Mike: Yes! You actually don't have to do any gymnastics to believe that, like, she went for a jog and then something bad happened. Whereas for Condit to be involved in any way, you have to have him being this criminal mastermind and her this, like, master of deception for no reason at all.
Sarah: This relates to my theory that one of the reasons we're so obsessed in the United States with the figure of the murderer is because the murderer has to be such a terrible category to be put in partly because it is the only category or one of the only categories that can rob a middle-class white male of that privilege.
Mike: That's interesting. Yeah.
Sarah: Right? Like, the only thing that's going to allow us to cast out on these sort of white, male, patriarch figures is like, well, if there is a category that can rob them of that power, that's one way to get rid of it and one of the things that robs you not just of your white, male, privilege, but of your humanity is the murderer category.
Sarah: So, yeah. That's one of my theories.
Mike: There’s also this hilarious thing where the cops search his apartment – so, they finally get a search warrant, search his apartment – but the day before the search, Condit is seen throwing away a box in a trash can, like, outside of a McDonald's in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mike: And this random guy sees him and he's like, “Oh, I think I recognize that guy from the news.”
Sarah: “That's Gary Condit!”
Mike: Yeah. And it's like, “I wonder what he just threw away” and so he goes up to the trash can, picks out the thing that Gary threw away, and it's, like, a box that had a watch. It's like a TAG Heuer, however you pronounce that, watch box, but like, with no watch in it. But then it's one of those things where he mentioned it to his colleagues. He's like, “LOL, I saw this guy threw away a watch box, like whatever” and they're like, “You should call the cops and tell them.” So he does and this, of course, leaks out and it turns out this was a watch that Joleen, his aide, had given him, like, years before.
Sarah: Oh my God.
Mike: But he had it in his house.
Sarah: This is so dumb. We just ran out of news and we're like, “Let’s dissect the boring, sad affairs of this boring, sad man.”
Mike: One of the lines I love from this Washington Post series is they say, “At the time, detectives were puzzled. They tried to eliminate Condit as a suspect, but he was making it difficult.” It’s like, yes dude!
Sarah: Well at that point the media is involved and like, don’t the police feel they look bad, I imagine, if Gary Condit keeps doing stupid things and the media is like, “This Gary Condit guy looks bad” and the police are like, “Yeah, we know. That's just his personality.”
Mike: I know and like, it's a seven year old watch. Like, why aren't you throwing it out hours before we search your apartment and then lying about it, of course, when they question him and then admitting it eventually?
Sarah: And then being like, “The police can't find out that I had an affair with Joleen, and she gave me a watch” and it's like, the police don't really care about Joleen! Okay? There's bigger fish to fry right now. It's funny because it does suggest to me that, like, he's not thinking of this woman with whom he was in an intimate relationship and who, for all he knows, could be dead and that he's like, “Got to get rid of this watch”. Like, that's what this is all really about. Like, it does suggest a lack of character to me.
Mike: Oh, totally!
Sarah: Again like, someone can suck and not be a murderer. Like, there are so many men who just suck, but they're not murderers and we could just honor that truth.
Mike: That is like the Gary Condit campaign slogan. Like, “I suck but I'm not a murderer.” Like, that’s as close as I get to defending him.
So there's polling on this that by late July of this summer, 65% of the country thinks that he had something to do with Chandra's disappearance.
Mike: The crescendo of this entire affair is August 23rd. So we're three weeks before September 11th now when this is going to completely disappear from the media. He does an interview with Connie Chung where his condition for the interview is no editing, “I'll sit down with you for 30 minutes and we're going to do it live-to-tape, and you're going to air the entire thing.”
Sarah: Oh, great. A lot of awkward pauses in that. It'll be fun. A lot of people having to drink water.
Mike: And so this is also just baffling. Obviously, she starts with like, “Did you have an affair with Chandra levy?” And so this is what he says, “Connie, I've been married for thirty-four years, and I haven't been a perfect man. 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.”
Sarah: Did the Levy family request that? That seems a little hard to imagine.
Sarah: They're like, “Gary, we need you to deny that you had an affair with our daughter before she disappeared mysteriously. That's what we require from you.”
Mike: The first phone call from everybody is to the Levy family, which is trying to get in the media as much as possible because they want to find their daughter, and they're like, “Fuck, no, we didn't give him any specific requests. We would, in fact, love for him to speak about his relationship with our daughter.”
Sarah: That’s snake behavior, honestly. And also to lie on something that could be so easily checked up on and then immediately was, it's like, why are you in this job, Gary? Like, what is here for you?
Mike: And also like, what's amazing to me is like, he gets super rattled in this interview and kind of lies and stumbles over things and it's like, did you not think they were going to ask you about whether you had a relationship with Chandra Levy? Like, you didn't think that would come up? Why do you think you're talking to Connie Chung?
Sarah: Just so she could ask you about policy, obviously.
Mike: I know. Like, how do you not have a really good answer to this?
Sarah: I know. And then you're just like, there's so many idiotic, white men of whom this is true, where you're like, “Listen, buddy. You were cut out for managing a large and busy Sonic franchise. That's what you're cut out for, pal and you accidentally rose all the way to this extremely powerful position that requires a skill set you absolutely do not have. We're sorry. We know that this is how it felt when the La La Land people thought they won the Oscar, but it's not your Oscar. We're very sorry.”
Mike: This is my favorite one. She asked him about the watch box. She's like, “Why did you throw away this watch box in a dumpster?” and then this is what he says. First, he says, “Well, the watch box had nothing to do with Chandra Levy.” And secondly, “I threw it in a trash can, not a dumpster.” It’s like, really, Gary, that's the hill you want to die on? It wasn't a dumpster?
Sarah: I mean, look. A trash can does…there is something more nefarious about a dumpster than a trash can.
Mike: Don't give him credit for this, Sarah.
Sarah: I'm not giving him credit. I'm saying that my cold, weird heart identifies with his in this moment and also, I'm like, oh honey.
Mike: You're not going to make it better. You look better.
Sarah: This is not making you look better.
Mike: Oh, Gary.
Sarah: So let's play Gary's advocate. Is there an argument to be made for he truly wasn't having an affair with Chandra Levy?
Mike: So I think, considering this is a podcast about the media being overconfident in its conclusions when the evidence doesn't warrant it, I think we should entertain the possibility that Gary Condit is not lying. I think there is a possibility that they had an intense platonic relationship and Chandra liked him and so she told people that there was a relationship happening. It is possible. I do not consider it probable. I mean, to me, it's much more probable that he's simply lying about the affair and, you know, what's interesting is he never actually gave an alternate account of their relationship. He never said like, “Here's, what's really happened.” All he's ever really said is “I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to go there.”
Mike: So maybe he's being super classy and like, he just doesn't want to drag her name through the mud because she may have exaggerated the extent of her relationship. But like, this is the kind of show where we have to leave the door open. So like, maybe we’re wrong. That's fine.
Sarah: Right, yeah. Maybe she's a vampire slayer and he's her watcher. That's why he had to spend the night all those times. You know, that would be something that you really couldn't explain to the media.
Mike: So, this is where, before we get to 9/11, when this entire story dissipates. The final crescendo of this is a cameo by friend of the show, Dominick Dunne.
Sarah: Yes! Oh, I'm so– Dominick, you’re here. Hello! What do you have to share with us?
Mike: Can you… who is Dominick Dunne for people who haven’t listened to our O.J. series?
Sarah: Oh my gosh. Okay. Dominick Dunne became a friend of the show through our O.J. Simpson episodes because he is one of my favorite crime writers. He covered trials for Vanity Fair. So he covered the Menendez Brothers trial. He covered Heidi Fleiss and he covered O.J. Simpson. He was one of the journalists who was inside that teeny, little courtroom for about ten months. So, I imagine that in 2001 he would end up connected to this because he was kind of the fancy, alleged murderers beat for Vanity Fair in 2001.
Mike: Yes, and his columns on Gary Condit are unhinged.
Sarah: I'm so excited.
Mike: I mean, Dominick Dunne is a good vessel for all of the insane theories that go around about Gary Condit during this summer. So, this is, by far, the best rumor to come out of this case is that Gary Condit’s wife has no thumbs, which has nothing to do with anything. But it's one of these things that, if you read tabloids, they'll just have, like, “He was visited by his wife, who has no thumbs,” and it just goes on and you're like, “Wait, this doesn't have anything to do with anything and it's not true!” It’s like, what?!
Sarah: And why– like, where would that come from? And like, is it– I'm just– like, would it affect– is he, like, hitting on women, you know, in beltway bars being like, “Yeah, it's been tough for me. My wife has no thumbs.”
Mike: And his wife seems so nice and she's constantly having to respond to these rumors. Like, “No, I have thumbs. What do you keep asking me about this?” There's also the rumor that Dominick Dunne eventually gets sued over that Gary Condit is in the Hell's Angels and that he kidnapped Chandra as part of some Hell’s Angels ritual thing.
Sarah: Nooo. Dominick.
Mike: First of all, the evidence that Gary Condit is in the Hell's Angels is that he rides a motorcycle. That's it. There's no association with Hell’s Angels.
Sarah: That’s really nuts.
Mike: And so, around this one tidbit of information, Dominick Dunne and others have built this entire theory of the case.
Sarah: Does Dominick Dunne seem to be actually arguing that this is a plausible theory or is he doing that thing he does where he's like, “I'm going to throw out a bunch of wild speculation that other people have made and I'm going to list it in a value neutral, like, ‘Oh, isn't that interesting’ kind of a way”?
Mike: What actually drives me nuts about this and I think this happens with a lot of people, especially on TV, is that they'll put out something as if they're just speculating. They're like, you know, “Sources have told me that he kidnapped her because he's part of the Hell's Angels. I can't confirm that.”
Mike: And so he brings this up on Larry King. He says like, “I'm just saying like, maybe it was the Hell's Angels. I'm not saying it's true, but we should look into it.” And then another guest on Larry King is like, “This is actually really irresponsible for journalists to do because you have no evidence. You haven't told us who your source is. You're just putting this out there.” And then Dominick Dunne then retreats to, “Well, all I'm saying is you can't rule it out. I just think you can't rule it out,” which, like, you literally can't rule anything out.
Sarah: Right. It's basically impossible to prove a negative. So, yes. Like, you can say that about almost anything and it creates a false idea also about what journalists do when there are journalists who are like, ”Well, I'm just going to repeat everything that I've heard from everyone. You know, it's for the public to go over now.” And it's like, well, okay. That's like shearing a sheep and then someone asks for a sweater and you're like, “Here's a bunch of wool and it's dirty and it's full of lanolin and there's your sweater.” It's like, no. Your job is to process the wool.
Mike: And also, I mean, he also, in the same Larry King interview, also puts out the theory that he heard from one of his, like, middle Eastern contacts that she was involved with, like, the Saudi Royal family or some middle Eastern Royal family and they absconded with her in a limo.
Sarah: Yeah. You can tell that he just likes repeating outrageous stuff in public.
Mike: Yeah. And those are also two mutually exclusive theories. She can't have been taken by Gary Condit as part of the Hell's Angels thing and kidnapped by a Saudi Prince.
Sarah: This is like when Satanic Panic stories start being questioned in the news. Like, if some theory is undermined, then you just throw out something even weirder or on top of it and these things don't have to cohere together. You just have to give the public something to latch on to.
Mike: He is indicative of, I think, what the entire media did at this time. They're like, “We'll just print, like, ‘Police sources say,’ or like, ‘Someone who knew Chandra in high school says, this is his theory’ and like, we'll just print it, but then we'll always have these caveats, you know, like, Oh, Gary Condit says it's not true and there's no evidence for this,” but just the fact that it's in the bloodstream and people are talking about this so much, you don't remember the denials and the caveats. You remember the outrageous stories. The last thing I want to say about the media stuff, one thing that I think is actually really interesting, is every network is doing stuff on this. Every newspaper is covering it. It's a huge thing. CBS evening news, they decide early on that they're just not going to cover it and they don't.
Sarah: Wow. Why? Do they talk later about their rationale or whose idea it is?
Mike: One guy, the show's executive producer, he tells the American Journalism Review later. He says, “I turned on morning TV and I was sick to my stomach. I just find it beyond tasteless. It's nauseating.”
Sarah: And then you're like, okay, so you did that then? Why not any of the other times?
Mike: I know, like, can we just do this for lots of stuff?
Sarah: Right. It's like, if it's reasonable for a network to be like, “Actually, we feel this is being sufficiently covered by other networks.”
Mike: Can we just do that with Britney Spears’s virginity? So basically this is it. The crescendo of the media is August early September and then this shows you how big of a story this was, that on the morning of September 11th, the Levy’s, Chandra's parents, are on their way to film an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Sarah: Oh wow.
Mike: And Chad Condit, Gary Condit’s grown son, is on his way to film The View and then 9/11 happens, and both appearances get canceled.
Mike: So then the story completely disappears, and we really don't hear about it again until eight months later. So, now we're going to rewind.
Sarah: *high pitched noise* That was a rewind noise.
Mike: Thank you. We're going to rewind to a guy named Ingmar Guandique, who is an El Salvadoran immigrant. He grew up super poor in El Salvador. His father was killed by guerillas. He somehow scrapes together $5,000 to pay a coyote to sneak into the United States. He swims across the Rio Grande. His half-brother lives in Washington. So he moves to D.C. He gets a construction job and he's basically just like, eighteen year old kid doing day labor on construction sites. He's sending a little bit of money home and he's basically, like, really depressed and angry and America sort of sucks. He's working his ass off. He doesn't speak the language. He's really lonely and frustrated. And so, according to his girlfriend, he starts hitting her. He starts carrying a knife. He bites her at one point. Her mom says that he kicks in a bedroom door in their apartment. He's just lashing out. And so as he's in this downward spiral. He starts attacking female joggers in Rock Creek Park in the spring of 2001. So, on May 14th of 2001, this is two weeks after Chandra disappears, a woman named Halle Shilling is jogging in Rock Creek Park. She jogs past this Hispanic, young dude, doesn't think anything of it. And then, as she's jogging, she can hear this dude like jogging behind her and she's like, “Oh, he wants to pass me.” So, she slows down to let him pass and then he dives on top of her and attacks her. I did not know this, but apparently in self-defense classes, they teach you that if somebody jumps on you and attacks you, you put your two fingers into their mouth under their tongue and press down and it's, like, wildly debilitating. Like kicking them in the balls level debilitating, apparently.
Sarah: Wow. I didn't know that, but now I do.
Mike: And so this Halle lady does this to Ingmar, and he's like, he just runs away.
Sarah: Yeah. I just did it to myself and put a little pressure on it and it’s like, yeah, that's bad. I mean, it's interesting because it feels counterintuitive to reach into the mouth of someone who's attacking you, but like, yeah, I get it. That's good to know.
Mike: And so she reports it to the cops, but like, he's, you know, too far gone at that point to find him. Then, on July 1st, another woman, Christy Wiegand, is also attacked. She's also jogging in Rock Creek Park, and same sort of thing. He runs up to her, he grabs her, they sort of struggle, they roll down a hill kind of into a ravine. And again, she's like, he's a relatively small dude apparently. It seems he might have been using drugs or drunk at the time. She sort of fights him off and runs and then goes straight to the park cops, and so they find him sort of panting and wet, like hiding under a bush.
And so this is two months after the disappearance of Chandra. They do a thing, the cops take him into custody, and they do the interrogation tactic where they're like, “Did you attack a woman in the park?” And he's like, “No, of course not” ,and they're like, “Well, what we think happened is there was probably some misunderstanding, like, you bumped into a woman in the park and she thought it was an attack. So like, is that what happened?” And then Ingmar was like, “Yeah, that's what happened. I bumped into her and like, it must've been a misunderstanding.”
And then they're like, “Was there ever a time, like, maybe a month or two ago or something, you might've bumped into a different woman, and there might've been the same kind of misunderstanding? We're just trying to help you out here.” And he's like “Uhh, yeah, like a couple of weeks ago there was another woman that I bumped into and it seemed like she was upset, but like, I just bumped into her by accident.” So like, what he's given them, of course, is these are the dates and times I'm corroborating these women's stories. But he doesn't know that that's what he's doing.
He's then arrested for the assault of these two women and so, by this point, the cops know that Chandra Levy has disappeared probably in Rock Creek Park, but this is baffling. They show Ingmar a picture of Chandra, “Do you recognize her?” and he's like, “Oh yeah, I recognize her but like, I didn't attack her. Like, I saw her in the park one day.”
Sarah: Yeah. That's not a good lie.
Mike: It's not great.
Sarah: Cause like, why would you remember her if you just saw her in the park?
Mike: But then what's very weird is that these park detectives don't contact the main detectives. So the information that this guy, Ingmar, has been arrested for attacking joggers in Rock Creek Park doesn't get to the main investigators over this case. So they stay on Gary Condit for like months after this.
Mike: And so – this is nuts – in October of 2001, after September 11th, a jailhouse informant comes forward and says, this Ingmar guy told me that he murdered Chandra Levy.
Sarah: I mean, jailhouse informants are notoriously iffy. I have to say.
Mike: Yes. In one of these stories, they note in 22% of wrongful convictions, a jailhouse informant is involved.
Sarah: Wow. It's very easy to see why an informant would do such a thing, right? Because they're offered some kind of a deal. There is a clear incentive structure that goes into it and so it's just not surprising that there would be rampant abuses of that, and that people would be claiming that their cellmate confessed something to them that, in fact, they never confessed at all but which they know that the police would like a confession of.
Mike: Yeah. What's also fascinating about this one is that the jailhouse informant comes forward and tells a completely ludicrous story. So he says, Ingmar Guandique attacked Chandra Levy and killed her in the park. Fine. That basically checks out. He also says, however, that Ingmar was paid $25,000 by Gary Condit to do it.
Sarah: Okay. And it's like, you got greedy, Martin.
Mike: So they give the jailhouse informant a polygraph test, which he fails. They also give Ingmar a polygraph test about whether he is in any way involved in Chandra's disappearance. He gets inconclusive results. The problem is they're doing these polygraph tests in English, and so neither one of these people speak great English. And so it's difficult to sort of get people's reactions or kind of have a back and forth.
Sarah: I mean you can imagine getting a stress response just from the fact that someone's having a hard time following.
Mike: Exactly. Oh my god, if I had to talk to the cops in German, I'd be so stressed out. And so apparently because of 9/11, that all of the resources have now shifted to terrorism, they can't get a Spanish language polygraph specialists. And so they just kind of drop it. Ingmar gets charged in 2002 for attacking these other two women, and he gets sentenced to ten years. What's nuts is, in the sentencing phase, the judge to the prosecutors is like, “Hey, you know, I've been seeing the Chandra Levy case in the news. Same park.”
Sarah: “There's nothing there. Right? Is that a thing?”
Mike: Right. And the prosecutors like, “Nah, like, we had an informant, but it didn't work out.” Okay. Like nothing happens. They sentenced him to ten years. He goes to prison.
Sarah: It's interesting, right? Because if you have someone who's attempting to frame a defendant, you can see how thinking that might be true and realizing it's not, would lead you to just feel that you've dealt conclusively to the whole thing and not be like, “Well, maybe he tried to falsely implicate someone who is guilty, but who didn't admit it to that specific person.”
Mike: And they didn't really do much of an actual investigation. Like, they didn't actually look into this that hard. They're just like, take a polygraph.
Sarah: Well, it's like the thing where you kind of intentionally half-ass a chore so that no one ever asks you to do it again.
Mike: And so, May 22nd of 2002, they find Chandra's body.
Sarah: How does this happen?
Mike: There is a dude walking his dog. He apparently collects animal bones as a hobby and there's typically deer bones in Rock Creek Park, I guess, and deer antlers.
Sarah: He's decorating his dive bar.
Mike: So he’s off the beaten track, like, off the ravine, looking for bones and he finds what he thinks is a deer bone and then he pulls it out of the dirt and it's a skull. It’s Chandra’s skull. Fucking sucks.
After the laptop, this is either like the worst blunder that the cops made or the second worst blunder. They searched for her in the park on July 25th of 2001. So after they saw her search history. But they stayed within a hundred meters of the paved paths. So they didn't look on all this sort of like little, tiny warrens. Like, little nooks and crannies in this park.
Sarah: Okay. So on the one hand, like how many acres is it? How big of a park is it?
Mike: Apparently ,it's twice the size of Central Park. It's big.
Sarah: So it's forgivable, right? Like, I can look at that and be like, I cannot expect you to have searched every single little nook and cranny in this park. However, It also seems that they were using a tremendous amount of resources based on tips that had no basis in the victim’s search history…
Mike: Exactly! They’re diving in the river!
Sarah: Right. They're diving in the Potomac and it's like, surely you can spend more time in the one place that you have any reason to think she might have been.
Mike: Yes. And also, by July 25th, there had already been these two other attacks of joggers in Rock Creek Park.
Sarah: It's again, like, they might've still missed her, but it seems like they really could have increased their chances of finding her body.
Mike: It’s also very interesting because this is one of the few cases where like, this is a stranger danger murder. We're always the ones that are like, “Look at people that knew her. Look at the power structures.” And then this one is like, “Ignore the power structures. It's a stranger!”
Sarah: Or like, pay attention to the power structures but like, except when there seems to truly be nothing there. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be like, just, you know, have lots and lots of time and resources.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, this was the only lead they had. What's really interesting is they only had two leads, basically. Gary Condit and Rock Creek Park.
Sarah: And like, Baskin Robbins, maybe.
Mike: The coupons! So basically, at this point, they finally start investigating and so in late 2002, they start asking Ingmar’s landlords and his friends, like, “What was he like?” and they come up with, the day that Chandra disappeared, May 1st, Ingmar missed work and they also speak to his landlord who says, “Sometime around this time, he showed up with scratches and bruises on his face.” So she's not sure exactly when this is, but sometime around like spring of 2001. Those are essentially the only two pieces of information that link him to Chandra’s death. And then, in the same way that jailhouse informant wasn't enough to charge him before, these two pieces of extremely circumstantial information aren't really enough to charge him now. So in 2002, they're like, “Okay, scratches on his face. Missed work. But like, you can't base an entire prosecution only on that and the jailhouse informant story has completely fallen apart by this time.”
So then six years goes by. In 2008, the Washington Post publishes a thirteen-part story about basically how the D.C. police fucked up this case upon which much of this podcast episode is based. It's very good. And so this series includes all of this evidence about Ingmar and this idea that Ingmar is very obviously “the guy that really killed Chandra” and like, why was he never arrested? Why was he never charged with this crime? And so magically another jailhouse snitch comes forward and says that Ingmar confessed to him and so, based on this evidence, Ingmar is sentenced to 60 years for murdering Chandra Levy.
Sarah: How do we feel about this, Mike?
Mike: I don't know.
Sarah: Tell me about this other, tell me about this second informant. That's what I want to know. What's their deal?
Mike: His name is Armando Morales. He is serving a twenty-one year sentence on drug and weapons charges. He sort of emerges in this trial as a reformed gang leader. Like, “I've been to jail. I've read books. I've done all this work on myself and like, I just felt like I had to come forward with this story that Ingmar told me about him killing Chandra and, like, I couldn't keep it silent anymore and Ingmar told me about this” and I don't know.
It's like everyone– what's interesting is like, everyone feels weird about it. Even Chandra Levy's parents in interviews are like, “We think he did it, but like, this is a little weird. Maybe he did do it, but like, that's not, that's not much of a case really.”
Sarah: There’s more evidence against this guy than against Gary Condit, but that's not saying very much. He's in the park. He's apparently attacking women later on. However, I mean, based on what you've told me, like, what do we have? He's said that he recognizes Chandra. He's like, “I recognize her, but I didn't attack her.”
Mike: He actually pulls that back later. He tells different investigators, “Oh, I saw her on TV. I recognize her from TV. I don't recognize her from the park.”
Sarah: Which is highly plausible, because if you see someone's face over and over, you do feel like you've seen them somewhere and, out of context, you might not realize that's where you've seen them.
Mike: And her face was everywhere that summer.
Sarah: Yes. So, interestingly, what I assumed when you were initially telling me about him jumping on these other women in the park, I assumed this happened before Chandra Levy disappeared because intuitively, and this is his face on my own and educated gut, but it feels to me like it would more correspond with him being guilty if this had happened before her murder.
Mike: Oh, so it would’ve been an escalation.
Sarah: Yeah. As opposed to like, he murders her and then de-escalates or is easily fought off by these other women but then if they could fight them off, why couldn't Chandra? And then we have this other informant who comes forward and it's like, that's possible, but like, I'm not convinced by that. Is there DNA evidence? I mean, there wouldn't be if they had investigated and then let them go for like months and months.
Mike: This is what's interesting is like, there's no– because it's been so long, there's no evidence of any kind. The only sort of, I guess, forensic-y evidence is that, you know, she was wearing jogging pants and the jogging pants are tied in a knot at the base of the legs.
Sarah: It's evidence that someone did something. It's not evidence that he did anything.
Mike: Because it's been so long. There's no hair, there's no spit, there's no fibers. Like, none of her body’s there to get samples from.
Sarah: And then, so how do the remains imply that she died? Are there fractures or anything?
Mike: There's like, a neck bone that's broken, which could indicate that she's strangled, but it could also indicate that the bone got broken after she was dead. Like an animal, like a lot of the bones had been moved up to twenty-five feet away from her body.
Sarah: I think it's totally plausible that someone killed her in that park, and I think that if you're looking at candidates for that, then you can be like, yeah, this guy is the best candidate that we know about, but also we apparently have a pretty anemic system of park policing. This is one guy who we kind of started paying attention to a little on the early side and who just is the only candidate that we've found but like, that doesn't– that just…
Mike: I know!
Sarah: That just doesn't mean anything.
Mike: The perfect parallel to the type of evidence against Gary Condit. There's no evidence that he was at Rock Creek Park the day of Chandra's disappearance. The only evidence is one place in Washington, D.C. where he wasn't. He wasn't at work. There's no other evidence that he was actually close to the crime scene. Nobody saw them together. Nobody found, you know, her hair fibers in his home. There's no actual evidence linking him to Chandra's disappearance.
Sarah: Well because it took so long for them to investigate and you could argue that if they had gotten on it sooner, like, maybe they would have found some kind of trace evidence of her.
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: And at that point, you're in the position of like, if we had investigated sooner, maybe we would have gotten a stronger case out of this guy, but we didn't and so we can't and so can we accept that there is no strong case to be gotten if there ever was one?
Mike: Yeah. I mean, the issue is oftentimes that we oftentimes conflate the strength of evidence versus did somebody do it? Like, I think Ingmar easily could have done it, but the evidence that we have is weak as hell.
Sarah: Yes. That's why that whole “beyond a reasonable doubt” thing is really important.
Mike: I know. This is literally the reason we have this. There's also – not to be captain conspiracy here – but there is something to the fact that the Washington Post publishes an extremely high profile series of articles accusing the D.C. police of incompetence and accusing Ingmar Guandique of this crime basically and then magically we get this jailhouse snitch a couple of months later, then we get the trial.
Sarah: Yeah, the order is a little concerning. Isn't it?
Mike: The evidence for that is just as good as the evidence that Ingmar killed Chandra Levy. Right? It's like two circumstances that line up a little too perfectly.
Sarah: Like, if you need to solve an unsolved murder and give people a sense of closure and make your police department wipe some of the egg off of your face, then a really good defendant is someone who has low to no resources, will go down easily. You can just steamroll over him and move on. Again, like, I'm not saying he's innocent. I'm also not saying he's guilty, but I am saying that he's an ideal candidate for someone who can be brought to trial and convicted quickly and easily.
Mike: Right. So what happens next is just an absurd series of twists. So, in 2015, five years after the original trial, there's a retrial because there's all these appeals about everything we've just been saying.
Sarah: Right. He gets some lawyers who are like, “Hey, this is weird.”
Mike: “This is bad.” So they agree to a retrial. So they're basically just going to start over and do this whole thing again, like, more by the book and so as this trial is going on, in the middle of the trial, we meet an out of work actress named Babs Proller. She's an actress that has been on House of Cards. She had a bit part on House of Cards, apparently. So she’s sort of between jobs. It seems like she gets evicted from her home because she can't pay rent. She ends up moving into this low-cost motel, her and her dog.
Sarah: We're suddenly in a Tennessee Williams play.
Mike: Her dog gets stuck in the sliding door or something. This guy ends up helping her dog. They end up chatting. It seems they strike up a relationship. Her and this guy, his name is Armando, he seems nice. She eventually Googles him. She discovers that he's the jailhouse snitch. He's now out of jail and so she finds out what he was convicted for, finds out that he was a gang leader, et cetera, et cetera. She gets kind of nervous. So she starts recording their conversations. She starts asking him, like, “What about this Ingmar guy? Like, did he really confess, like, what's your deal?” And so she eventually goes to Susan Levy.
Sarah: Chandra Levy's mother?
Mike: Yes. And says, “I have been recording this guy and he says he made up the accusations against Ingmar and I have it on tape.” But then Levy feels fucking weird about it cause she's like, “Well…
Sarah: “Who are you?”
Mike: “This guy's convicted of killing my daughter and like, yeah. Who the fuck are you? And I've never seen House of Cards.” I'm like, what is this? And so according to Babs, this guy has admitted that he made up the testimony about Ingmar and that he was pressured by prosecutors to lie and then Babs also contacts ABC news, Washington Post, a couple of other outlets. She's like,” I have this bombshell news. I have everything on tape. I will send you the tapes.” And so of course the Washington Post and ABC news and everybody else is like, “Okay, send us the tapes.” So, this is the weirdest twist. The twist is they listened to the tapes and Morales doesn't say that on any of the tapes.
Mike: There's nothing on the tapes of him saying I made up the testimony against Ingmar or that the prosecutors pressured him into it.
Sarah: Interesting. And does she think that she heard that? Is she…
Mike: She basically– it's now her word against his, that she's saying, like, “He told me this stuff, but the tape recorder broke or like the files got destroyed or something” but like, that is not on tape.
Sarah: My guess is that she Googled him, figured out who he was, saw the connection, and then wanted to believe that that exchange had taken place.
Mike: And maybe wanted to cast herself in more of a starring role in this.
Sarah: Yeah, we all want that.
Mike: But then, another twist! On the tapes, Armando admits to a bunch of other bad shit. He’s like, “Oh, I'm going to, like, shoot some like rival gangs. I'm back gang-banging again. I'm planning on killing this guy that stole from me.” And also what basically ends up happening is this jailhouse snitch completely ruins his credibility because the prosecutors need him to be the reformed gang member but now no lawyer is going to let him get away with this if it's like, “You're on tape saying you're going to kill somebody and then you're also saying, like, believe me about Ingmar?”
Sarah: So this is just a story where no one knows what the truth is, and everyone looks bad.
Mike: Yes! And so they talked about, like, within five days the case is over, and they drop the charges against Ingmar and just let him go.
Sarah: Okay. So, I mean, here's the thing. Like, if the evidence is all hanging on the credibility of this one jailhouse informant and then if facts come forward about his character, that means the prosecutor is like, “You know what? Nevermind!” Do you have a strong chain if it's all dependent on this one link working or shouldn't a chain have multiple links? Isn’t that how chains work?
Mike: It's like one hit to the credibility of one witness and there just is no case. The whole thing evaporates. Like, you should not be doing cases like this.
Sarah: Yeah. It's like maybe you never had sufficient evidence to begin with.
Sarah: So just everyone did a bad job.
Mike: Yes. Everyone did a bad job. And so in 2017, Ingmar is deported back to El Salvador and that's basically the last we hear of him and that's basically it. That's the end of all of the legal wrangling with this case.
Sarah: Wow, Mike, what a complete fucking downer.
Mike: I know. Huge downer. Um, maybe this is good news though that Gary Condit gets destroyed in his next election because he’s just, like, politically radioactive.
Sarah: Yeah. So what has Gary Condit done since?
Mike: You’re not gonna believe this. After he loses the election, he sort of bounces around for a little bit and then he ends up running two Baskin Robbins franchises in California.
Sarah: What?! The very thing I suggested he do.
Mike: Yes! I was holding my tongue earlier.
Sarah: And also that is a reference to Chandra’s last moments.
Mike: I know! It's very strange.
Sarah: That’s weird. That seems good for him though. Does he like it?
Mike: Well apparently they failed and then there was, like, a lawsuit between him and Baskin Robbins that I was just like, I'm not going to dive into this. I don't need to know.
Sarah: You don't want to spend time out of your life figuring out what went wrong between Gary Condit and Baskin Robbins?
Mike: We could do a whole epilogue and I was just like, I'm done with Gary Condit.
Sarah: Deep dive. Gary Condit v. Baskin Robbins.
Mike: So now he does like some real estate something something. Like, he's fine. I don't know.
Sarah: Huh. Is he still married? Are he and Carolyn still together?
Mike: Yeah! Still has her thumbs. Everything's fine.
Sarah: You know what? The point of the story is that Carolyn has thumbs.
Mike: Women have thumbs.
Sarah: I really enjoy this though. I enjoy that this is a story where nothing works out for anyone. The truth remains, you know, if it was ever accessible, it isn't anymore. And just everyone has screwed up because crime stories often are basically that, and it's so rare that we just let them be. And this one, you cannot spin it in a way where anyone seems to have triumph. Like, it's just a mess and a nightmare and, I don't know. Maybe it's nice to realize that it's disingenuous to think you can turn someone being murdered into anything else.
Mike: Right. It's also an interesting story of two dudes who are both kind of shitty.
Sarah: But in different ways.
Mike: And there's no real evidence that either one of them killed Chandra, but we have one who like, it's very easy to pin the murder on. I just think the whole thing to me just demonstrates the importance of understanding the difference between circumstantial evidence and, like, evidence evidence.
Mike: So in 2016, when Gary Condit’s book comes out, he gives a bunch of interviews and this is just, like, head in your hands, like, “Gary, shut the fuck up.” This is what he says about what it was like going through that: “I felt like my reputation was being raped.”
Sarah: Ooh, Gary, stop! Get an editor.
Mike: I know. “It was the equivalent to me of a rape. I've never been physically raped, but I've been emotionally, and my reputation has been raped and just like probably with a physical rape, you probably never recover from those emotions and those scars. I don't want to take anything away from Chandra and her family because I know they're the real victims. They lost someone.” And it's like… Gary.
Sarah: It's also like– I thought that it would just be him using that metaphor one time in one sentence, but he was like, “Nope, we are staying with this theme. We are saying– I'm going to say I was metaphorically raped over and over” and it's like, Gary.
Mike: Use another metaphor, Gary.
Sarah: It all seems possible to probable that, like, she did experience some form of sexual assault in connection with her murder and like, even the possibility of that makes it even more terrible for you to make that metaphor than it would have been already in any circumstance.
Mike: I know. I do think the hardest cases to talk about are the ones where someone is not guilty of a specific thing, but they're just kind of shitty.
Sarah: Yeah. Well, and you know, I've been also watching Perry Mason lately and I actually really admire that show because apparently the writer of the novels that the Perry Mason stories are based on are all Stanley Gardner had a plot wheel to decide what was going to happen in his books, which means that you have various factors on various wheels. You have the wheel of hostile, minor characters whose function is making complications for the hero. You have the wheel of complicating circumstances and so on and so when you need a plot development, you spin the wheels, I guess, I haven't used one and you get “hero is betrayed to villain by spies” or “a vital witness refuses to talk” or “false confessions” and so what happens in the story is dictated by a combination of writing out good options for narrative and then chance.
Sarah: I find that so satisfying to watch in Perry Mason because you'll have someone who seems set up to be the killer or you'll have a plot that seems very reasonable based on what you've seen so far and then the wheel spins and then something completely random just shoots into frame and you're like, “Alright! This feels like real life. I get it.”
Mike: I see where you're going with this.
Sarah: Where am I going with this?
Mike: Well, that it's basically, like, thematically Gary Condit should have done it, but we have this completely random thing, and we have Chandra Levy decided to go for a jog on a Tuesday for no particular reason and then something terrible happened to her and there is no thematic resonance. There is no larger meaning. It's just a roll of the dice and something that sucks.
Sarah: Yeah. And just that, like, we can't turn the tragedy itself into anything else.
Mike: Yeah. And we can’t go looking for thematic resonance in things to the elimination of the non-satisfying option, which is basically what this ends up being.
Sarah: You want to hear the solution wheel? So when you need to solve, you know, end your book, you're like, “Chop, chop. Got to finish.” These are some of your options: “Gets villain to betray himself through greed,” “Villain killed while he/she is trying to frame someone,” “Meets trickery with horse sense,” “Squashes obstacles by sheer courage.”
Mike: Where is “Opens series of Baskin-Robbins franchises”? That's the one I want to find.