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The missing, presumed guilty!

By Gary Aldrich
web posted July 30, 2001

Chandra Levy

Chandra Levy remains "missing" after 12 weeks. The Washington, D. C. police chief gave a press conference recently to admit that, after weeks of a delayed-start investigation, his officers have not developed any promising leads enabling them to find the nation's second most famous intern.

Did investigative delay contribute to an increased difficulty in solving this mystery? Was a delay predicated upon the D. C. police's policy that the "missing are presumed guilty" of engineering their own disappearance? What other possible explanation could apply? Try putting yourself in the shoes of Miss Levy's parents as you consider these questions.

What's the rational basis of a generally accepted policy that law enforcement can delay investigations and ignore the stark reality of missing persons? Is this policy old-fashioned, and should it be changed? When did society grant police agencies in dangerous cities the crystal-ball like power to determine that foul play is not involved in the disappearance of an otherwise responsible adult?

Experts have testified that the longer one waits to begin an investigation of a missing, presumed kidnapped or murdered victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator may never be found, or if found, may never be prosecuted for lack of evidence destroyed by the passage of time.

Grim as it may seem to address such things, and with all due respect to Chandra's family and the D. C. police, the passage of time makes it very probable that key evidence, such as DNA, will have been destroyed by the normal process of decay.

And, if a body were to be tossed into the fast moving Potomac River - a wide expanse flowing by the most populated areas of Washington - more damage surely would be done to any evidence. In fact, whatever may remain of a body floating in the Potomac River since May would be well downstream by now and virtually impossible to find.

Did the D. C. police even think to examine the Potomac's shoreline and request the assistance of authorities and pleasure boaters up and down the river? Such a search could have been more fruitful, if done within days of Levy's disappearance.

It appears that at least in the beginning, the D. C. police took the do-nothing position that Chandra engineered her own disappearance. As a result, it took an absurd amount of coercing from her family before the investigation could be kicked into high gear.

Amazingly, the D. C. police chief continues to insist Chandra Levy will be listed as missing, presumably by her own volition.

There's little evidence to support a theory that she simply walked away from her own life, whereas there is a volume of evidence to suggest that certain well known persons could benefit, if only Chandra Levy would go away.

There is always the chance of random violence on D. C. streets, especially if she was walking alone, late at night. We already know that Chandra's chosen "mate" was unavailable to protect her. One advantage of having a boyfriend who's not married is that he can accompany the woman he loves in public, including those areas that might offer opportunities to violent predators.

What possible other rationale would lead an objective person to conclude that a young woman who was about to graduate from a prestigious college; raised by a seemingly stable family; behaving in a normal fashion and interned in a city with a long history of violence would engage in the bizarre conduct of planning her own disappearance?

I, for one, would like to hear the D. C. police chief explain why he thinks Levy did not take her own life. We now know that Miss Levy had plenty to be depressed about. She had lost her job, she thought she was "the only one" in Congressman Condit's life when, in fact, he had many lovers. She told others that she was convinced she could woo him away from his wife and family - a young girl's ridiculous fantasy. Could it be that this star-struck woman - deeply in love with the wrong man - finally faced the cold, hard truth of a powerful politician's capacity for deception, and could not bear it?

Suicide or murder, the D. C. police's inaction was nothing more than a direct result of a long standing, ill-conceived policy concerning missing persons. This outdated policy is based on the presumption that cities are safe. We should insist that new concepts regarding the missing be instituted immediately before some other young person disappears from the mean and dangerous streets of D. C. Why must parents be the ones to make, copy and distribute flyers and use volunteers to search woods and rivers? What are we paying the police to do?

Even if the D. C. police could point to instances when some individual did in fact "disappear" to escape the law, or creditors, or an angry spouse, how could those instances be applied in the Levy case? When investigators finally entered her apartment, what did they find? Not her missing wallet or other personal items. All they found was more evidence that Levy met with foul play, and yet they persisted with the "default" presumption that the "missing are presumed guilty" of their own disappearance, until proven "innocent" via the discovery of their own corpse.

I believe the presumption that a missing person has simply walked away from their own life to start a new life ought to have some basis. Police ought to establish a factual record supported by real evidence before they can justify not beginning an immediate search.

When innocent people simply disappear in a dangerous city like Washington, D.C., the presumption ought to be that they have met with foul play.

It's high time for law enforcement and politicians who set policy to rethink the approach they take when American citizens go missing. Let's stop presuming that the missing are guilty of anything. America's law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to initiate investigations before the trail has gone cold, and the D. C. police can lead the nation by making much needed policy changes now. ESR

Gary Aldrich is the president and founder of the Patrick Henry Center, nonprofit, non-partisan educational and charitable foundation. He is also the author of the bestseller, Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House.

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