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Police Follow up a Tip in Chandra Levy Case

Aired August 1, 2001 - 16:11   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We are getting word of some breaking news surrounding the Chandra Levy case. Let's go to CNN's Bob Franken who's on the beat for us -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, we have to put this in perspective. Police, metropolitan police, have a tip line here and they get what officials say, dozens of tips, scores of tips. They have one that they're investigating. The assistant police chief, Terrance Gainer, confirms for CNN, that there has been a tip called in, that Chandra Levy's body was buried in a parking lot under construction by Fort Lee, Virginia.

Now Fort Lee, Virginia is near Richmond, Virginia, about a two- hour drive from Washington. It's a military facility. Chief Gainer says that what that what they plan to do is send cadaver dogs from Washington down to Fort Lee, and again about a 2-hour drive, and investigate to see if there is anything do to it.

Again we have been cautioned that they get tips like this all of the time. Police have said that they investigate each and every one of them and it is in that spirit that are going to follow this up. But they are taking the cadaver dogs from Washington, D.C. to an area right by the military base at Fort Lee, Virginia, about 2 hours, to check on a tip that Chandra Levy's body is buried under a parking lot under construction.

The chief said that they have confirmed such a parking lot. They are ready yet to comment on the credibility of the rumor. But as always, they want to check it out -- Natalie?

ALLEN: Do the police usually share these various tips they get with the media, Bob?

FRANKEN: Well the sources oftentimes will discuss whether they are valid tips or not. Of course there has been some reporting that has been inaccurate in this case and others that has required a variety of confirmations. In this particular case, there's no police sources involved. It's on the record, it is as Chief Terrance Gainer said, yes, we are checking it out, but we are checking it out by sending cadaver dogs from here.

And of course you know what the term means. We have heard about it a lot. It's literally what it says, that the dogs are there to see if there are human bodies around. We know that during the search of the parks around Washington, there were several instances when remains were found that turned out to be animal remains and they checked out each and every one of those.

It's in that spirit that the police are now taking the cadaver dogs and sending them to the Fort Lee, Virginia area, as I said about a two hour drive from here, to have the dog see if there is anything there according to the tip that they got.

ALLEN: And the tip, again, Bob, is that her body was buried underneath an area being paved?

FRANKEN: There is a parking lot under construction there. There's construction work going on. The tip was, that it was in that area that Chandra Levy's body was buried. And again, it is just something that they want to check out as they have all tips, just in case one of them proves to be true.

ALLEN: Have they let the media know how many tips that have come into, that they have gone ahead and checked out? I mean, dozens a day? Any idea?

FRANKEN: Well they have dozens about the location of Chandra Levy. They get hundreds and that's a quote, hundreds of tips that that they have checked out. The police posture on this is, given the fact that they have had so little success in tracking down anything about the whereabouts of Chandra Levy, exactly three months from the last time that they knew about her, that they check out everything.

They check out psychic tips, they check out just about everything that is called in. Certainly that would fit within those parameters.

ALLEN: So this is the first tip they have received about the possible whereabouts of Chandra Levy's body?

FRANKEN: Oh, no. They have received dozens and dozens of tips about that. They have checked out each and every one of them. Have not able to, in fact, confirm any of them. This is just the latest and characteristic of the way they have been operating they are going to check it out.

They are going to send the cadaver dogs because when they called to check, there was such a parking lot. So they wanted to check to see if in fact this one would bear out. It is only in the very formative stages thus far.

ALLEN: And they revealed this because they have always let the media knows what is going on and where they are headed next?

FRANKEN: They revealed it because we called and asked them about it and they are trying as much as possible to be as forthright as they possibility can.

ALLEN: And this comes on the day when you talked to Chandra Levy's aunt, the family still wanting to know what's going on in the investigation, and wanting to keep their name out there, and the story going. FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, there's some concern on their part that the investigation is being pulled back. Of course, as you know, the wooded areas around Washington have been searched for a little over two weeks and the search ended at least for now yesterday at 11:00 in the morning, Eastern.

And that was taken as a signal that the investigation was going to have less intensity. That has concerned the family. That was the context in which we spoke with Linda Zamsky, Chandra Levy's aunt. You all know about her, the one with whom Chandra Levy apparently confided about the relationship that she was having, the relationship that she claimed to have with Congressman Gary Condit, the one -- the romantic relationship that he has subsequently, according to police sources, confirmed to investigators.

All of that has been part of the media interest here. This is somewhat separate. There was no information about who might have called in the tip. There is a tip line here and they've taken this tip and decided that, given the fact that there is such a parking lot right by Fort Lee, Virginia, that it was worth checking out. And that is why they are going to send the dogs.

ALLEN: Do we know how many officers are going? What time they expect to begin this?

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, the search itself is in the preliminary stage. The FBI has been involved in this, the FBI has been involved in this, the military police on the base are aware of this investigation. At this particular point, again, they're moving the dogs there and we are just going to have to see if in fact this bears fruit.

I repeat that there are a dozens of these tips about Chandra Levy's whereabouts and this is just the latest. Police take it seriously enough to check it out, but they emphasize that this could very well end up as just another tip that leads nowhere.

ALLEN: And have they had other tips that have caused this much momentum on their part, Bob?

FRANKEN: Yes, indeed. As a matter of fact there was a while on the weekend where every time a body was found almost anymore it caused a reaction. There was the body for instance found in county a couple of counties over from Washington on a Saturday. And that one caused the detectives to go over, even though they were told that it most probably wasn't Chandra Levy.

But they have such flimsy ideas of where Chandra Levy might be, that they're, at this particular point, checking out everything.

ALLEN: And, as far as what we've learned this week, other things that they were working on, yesterday we were hearing about her making -- having keys made. What has come from that report?

FRANKEN: Well, actually that's a case in point. This is a man who claimed that he had seen Chandra Levy after April 30. The date is important, because that was the last time police knew that anybody had seen her. He insisted to reporters that it had to have been after April 30.

What occurred there, though, is that the detectives came out, according to law enforcement sources, and said that when he was in discussions with them, he said that well, he couldn't really be sure, couldn't be sure if, in fact, it had been before or after April 30, couldn't be sure...


FRANKEN: ... of his recollection that he made the keys that he said that he did -- yes, Natalie.

ALLEN: We have Just learned that this tip came in on this tip line, right here, that we have up -- have called up. It's called Wetip -- And this is apparently where this tip came in that now, as you say, the police are checking out.

FRANKEN: And of course, they've made it known that this exists. They want to follow up on everything that they get there. And they try to give some credence to some tips. Some tips they probably discard because they can't possibly be solved. This one is given what credence it's given because of the fact that there is a parking lot under construction there.

Again, the police are being very cautious saying they're merely checking it out.

ALLEN: Did they say anything more about this parking lot so far as its relationship to Fort Lee? How big it is?

FRANKEN: None of that. They did say that it's by Fort Lee. Fort Lee is a military base, and it bears repeating, it's about a two- hour drive from Washington. It's in the area around Richmond, Virginia and so the police of course say that that gives it plausibility. As I said a two-hour-drive and again, what gives this whatever credence they decide to attach to it is the fact that the parking lot that was named in the tip exists.

ALLEN: We know that they have searched that park there, near Chandra Levy's home. Is this the first time now that that they have set out so far from the Washington, D.C. area to follow a tip?

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, the answer is probably not. I can't answer that for certain because there has been nothing that has paid off. But you have to remember that the FBI is involved in this case working with the Washington metropolitan police. It is a nationwide investigation.

And so there have been tips all over the nation. There was one tip, I remember one time, that Chandra Levy had been spotted in Reno, Nevada. They checked it out and it turned out not to be so. So they are following up on tips that come from anywhere.

ALLEN: And also the family, for some time, has used a private detective, also kind of doing their own investigation in tandem with the police, any news of who they have hired to look into the case?

FRANKEN: All we know is, they are very, very secretive, by the way. All we know is that whatever they have come up with, they have turned over to Washington, D.C. police. And D.C. police say that it's useful just that they get the information.

I should point out that when I was checking out the story we're presenting right now, I talked to representatives of the family here, of course, they're represented by Billy Martin, the attorney, and they have a public relations team and all that. All of this was news to them. What happened was, was that the word got out that this tip had been received and there was some interest in it.

We have confirmed now, and it's an on-the-record confirmation with the assistant chief of police, Terry Gainer, that they're going to send down the cadaver dogs from here down there to see if in fact there is anything to this.

ALLEN: Any idea how long this process could take? If it's just a parking lot, could they know by tonight if there is a body there?

FRANKEN: I could only guess, but I would think the answer would be yes. And again, it's just a two-hour drive, they would have the dogs and obviously they will search very thoroughly.

ALLEN: Let's talk more about the interview again with Chandra Levy's aunt and the frustration that the family has felt. What was her -- what did she mainly want to talk about today, regarding where this case has gone, or not gone so far?

FRANKEN: Well, first of all, what she wanted to say is that the family is feeling, as one might imagine, tremendous amount of pain and misery, not only now because of the disappearance of Chandra Levy, but also with the realization or at least their perception that the investigation was going to pull back a little bit. That it wasn't going to continue with such intensity. And, of course, that was something that she wanted to talk about.

She had reflected of what Chandra Levy had told us. She had reflected on her advice to Chandra Levy, which was to be careful; she said that while Chandra Levy was not somebody who was a runaround -- that's a term I am using -- she was somebody who was mature for her years, being 24 years old, she talked about that. She talked about the fact -- complained about the fact that investigators from the FBI and the police had not kept the family closely advised.

Also, she talked about the fact that the police repeat that Gary Condit, Congressman Condit is not considered a suspect in the disappearance. What was interesting to me, is that she departed a little bit from what the family, the parents say in Modesto, California, in that, she said that she just really had no idea that she was willing to take the word of the police, that Condit was not a suspect, not a central figure in the investigation. Quoted Chief Gainer again on an interview on CNN.

She was perfectly fine with that, if she said that that's what they say. She does feel that Congressman Condit probably should have been more forthcoming in the beginning. She used the example of perhaps they're talking -- they being Chandra Levy and Congressman Condit as they took a walk or something. That it might have been helpful to know that earlier on.

They are very frustrated, very sad and very anxious and very concerned that this might not be solved.

ALLEN: And now we have this. Bob Franken, thank you.

Again, the news is police are going to search a parking lot near Fort Lee, Virginia. A tip came in that Chandra Levy's body could be buried there. It's a parking lot under correction, and we have correspondents who will be covering the story throughout the evening.

We want to go right now to CNN's Gary Tuchman; he is outside Chandra Levy's family home in Modesto, California.

Gary, where are the Levys right now?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, right now, there's nobody inside the house. Dr. Robert Levy is an oncologist, works at several hospitals in the Modesto area, and he is at work today. He's been going to work every day, trying to keep his mind off of this terrible situation. He treats desperately ill people every day. He says those people comfort him. The people that he works with comfort him and it's been an important part of his life the last three months trying to go to work trying to do the best he can to live a semi-normal life.

Susan Levy is also not here; she went out to lunch with her friends today, she's been visiting friends, having friends coming over, taking care of the house. Last night, we were with her at the county fair here in Stanislaus County, California, she was at the county fair because she was helping to fingerprint children, to help protect children in case those children ever become missing; that's what she did last night.

So right now, we have absolutely no indication whatsoever, that the Levis have received this news of this tip, of this possibility, and Bob Franken has emphasized this, and we can't emphasize it enough, that the possibility that the body of Chandra has been found, so we must emphasize that. But we have no indication right now that this couple and their 19-year-old son Adam know anything about it at this point.

ALLEN: Gary, we will continue to bring people more information as we get it. As far as this tip now and police going out to do a search with cadaver dogs. Let's talk about the Levys and how they have been trying to handle this nightmare that they've been going through, and yes, the media has been at their doorstep practically for many weeks now. And still they've been able to come out at end of their driveway every day and talk about what they're going through. Give us a sense of what it is like being there, at their doorstep and witnessing firsthand what they're experiencing. TUCHMAN: The first thing I must say, Natalie, is they are a very kind family. They're very nice to the journalists who have been out here. We have to emphasize, we've been on the street with lots of neighbors and the neighbors have all been very kind to the journalists here. We maintain a respectful distance, they like to come out and talk to us occasionally. When they come out and talk, we talk to them. We don't go up to the door and ask to talk to them if they don't want to talk.

Most of the neighbors on this block, as a matter of fact, every neighbor on the block that I see has a yellow ribbon tied around their mailbox or posts in front of their driveways. But the family's been very kind. They've wanted to find out information from us about the case and this is public information that we give to our viewers, and we tell them this also. And they know that having the television cameras here, particularly a network like CNN, helps keeps the case in the limelight, and they feel that that's an important way to find their daughter.

They hope she's alive; and said the latest today, they hope that she is still out there; they want her to hear this, they want her to come home. Best case scenario, they say, that perhaps she was upset or angry or confused, and she ran away and that maybe she will be able to come home soon, and that's what they have been hoping for, for exactly three months now.

ALLEN: Have they made any comments about Chandra Levy's aunt going on television and giving interviews to give more information, be more candid about the relationship between Chandra and Congressman Condit?

TUCHMAN: Yesterday, Susan Levy talked to us about that, and she emphasized and made it very clear that every word that has been said by the aunt and the uncle has the full support of them. They feel that it's very difficult to talk sometimes, and very painful for them to say certain things, and they advocate everything that has been said by those family members.

ALLEN: Bob Franken was talking about all of the tips that the police have gotten, dozens and dozens of tips. This is just another one that we can't emphasize enough, that they're just going to check out -- we certainly don't know if there is a body there at that parking lot at Fort Lee, Virginia. Is it a frustration of the Levys being so far away from the investigation, or does it help them to have some distance?

TUCHMAN: We sit and wonder, those of us here, and I am sure many of our viewers, what we would do in a situation like this. Would we fly to Washington and comb the woods? Would we travel around the country to follow up various tips? What most of us would do is probably what the Levys would do, they want to be in a central location. So if their daughter should call, they are at home. So, if officials call, they're at home.

They get phone calls all day; they make phone calls all day; they feel this is the best place to be. Obviously, it's frustrating; they know that so much is happening in so many places, and they don't know what is happening. And it's a terrible mystery and they are terrified by it. But they do believe this is the best place to be to get information. And right now, we just wonder, have they received word about this from the police?

We certainly hope that the police contacted them right away to give them an idea that this could be the end of this mystery.

ALLEN: Yes we do. Have they ever commented on -- if it's helped them, as far as they hired a PR team to help get the word out? They've hired a private eye to work as well on the case. How these measures have helped them cope these past few weeks?

TUCHMAN: Yes, they have said that having this public relations firm has helped them a great deal. Because, they really haven't known how to handle this. Should they talk to members of the news media? Should they not talk at certain times?

This PR firm apparently has expertise to advise them when it's good to talk, when it's good not to talk, what not to say. We occasionally, sometimes very gingerly try to ask them questions about Congressman Condit; they are very shy about talking about that right now. It appears that based on recommendations from the PR firm and/or their attorney, they'd rather not talk about that right now.

But certainly any question about their daughter and what kind of woman she is and what they're going through, they do talk about, and it appears from the advice of the firm they hired to help them out in this situation.

ALLEN: Gary Tuchman, outside of the Levys' home.

Again, the tip that we have learned about in the past few minutes. Washington Metropolitan Police and the FBI will be taking cadaver dogs down to a parking lot right next to Fort Lee, Virginia that is under construction. A tip came in that Chandra Levy's body may be buried somewhere near that parking lot.

CNN crews are on the way as well. We're covering the story from many angles. In just a moment, we will have more from CNN's Gary Tuchman and his interview with Chandra Levy's mother.




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