WASHINGTON – In a matter of hours, two private investigators with a rake found a foot-long bone believed to be Chandra Levy’s in an area scoured for a week by dozens of Washington police with high-tech equipment.
That the investigators, employed by Levy’s parents, were in the company of a newspaper reporter only added to police embarrassment in a case that has been notable for investigative miscues.
“The finding of a piece of evidence like this by private investigators who are former (Washington) police homicide detectives is a really ironic and sad development. It’s pathetic,” Joseph di Genova, the former U.S. attorney in Washington, said Friday.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said detractors have the benefit of hindsight. But, he added, “I offer no excuses for the fact that some parts were not found.”
Levy’s remains were found May 22 by a man walking his dog in Rock Creek Park, which police said had been searched thoroughly a year earlier. The find prompted what Ramsey described as a “typical grid search” using cadaver dogs, crime technicians, police cadets and a computer to draw a precise map of the search area.
Searchers found about 85 percent of Levy’s skeleton, Ramsey said, and Dr. Jonathan Arden, Washington’s medical examiner, called the effort “a very thorough job of recovery.”
Arden said he was not surprised searchers did not find every bone, considering the abundant animal life in the park and the many months during which Levy’s body apparently lay there. The bone found Thursday by the investigators showed “animal damage,” Arden said.
Critics of the investigation said police have missed several opportunities that could have helped them solve the case.
The most glaring problem was the failure to find Levy’s body when police searched the park shortly after she disappeared in May 2001, di Genova said. After saying they had scoured much of the park’s 1,754 acres, police admitted that they had not gone over the general area where Levy’s remains were found.
“It’s a mistake from which you do not recover in an investigation,” di Genova said.
Ramsey did not dispute that his investigators would have been helped by the prompt discovery of Levy’s body, but still he bristled at the criticism. “All of these critics — none of them knew where the body was,” he said.
When Arden received Levy’s bones more than a year after she died, he could find no evidence about how she was killed. The bone found Thursday, probably Levy’s left shinbone, did not get him any closer to a determination, Arden said. Some hip and leg bones still are missing, Ramsey said.
A twisted wire also found by the investigators will be analyzed to see if it might have been used in Levy’s death, Ramsey said.
Among other lapses cited by critics, police failed to ask for videotapes from a security camera in Levy’s apartment building before the tapes had been used again.