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March 2009


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

My Contacts With Chandra Levy’s Suspected Killer

Sylvia Moreno

Sylvia Moreno

By Sylvia Moreno

WASHINGTON — I’ve been asked the question many times by former Washington Post colleagues, by the Spanish-language press and by friends and acquaintances: do I believe Ingmar Guandique killed Chandra Levy?

What I can say for sure is that in letters that Guandique wrote me from federal prison in 2002, 2007 and 2008 and in two hour-long telephone interviews in ’07 and ‘08, is that he steadfastly denied any involvement in the murder of what he called “that girl — what’s her name — Chandra.”

Now the grisly details of the young woman’s murder – supplied by Guandique himself to several unnamed ‘witnesses” cited in a court document – have been revealed by local and federal law enforcement authorities. This week, those officials issued an arrest warrant charging the Salvadoran immigrant with first-degree murder.

The accounts, according to the affidavit filed in support of the arrest warrant, vary slightly but all attest to Guandique’s involvement in one of Washington’s most famous unsolved murders:

  • Guandique told one unnamed witness that he killed a young woman in Washington.
  • To another witness, Guandique said he and two of his friends saw a female jogger in Rock Creek Park with thick, dark hair, jumped her and dragged her from the path into a secluded area, knocking her unconscious. He said they gagged her, then raped her, and that he cut her throat and stabbed her when she woke up during the rape.
  • Guandique told a third witness that he and two of his friends saw a female with curly hair along a Rock Creek Park trail; grabbed her and pushed her into the bushes; choked her to death; then buried her under leaves.
  • To yet another witness and as early as 2002, Guandique admitted to killing Levy, claiming others were involved in the murder too. (A former cellmate of Guandique recounted that story to me during an interview).

My last assignment for The Washington Post, before taking a buy-out offered to employees in mid-2008, was to communicate with Guandique and his local friends and family as part of a 13-part series published last July.

But my involvement in the story began in summer, 2002 when Guandique’s name first surfaced as a potential suspect. I found and interviewed his family in El Salvador and his friends and relatives in D.C.

I wrote to Guandique in federal prison, where he was already being held in September, 2002 for attacking two female joggers in Rock Creek Park, and we corresponded in Spanish for several months. When I resumed the correspondence in 2007, he replied immediately, and after a couple of letters, he consented to a visit, as he had in 2002.

Most of Guandique’s letters began with a salutation hoping that I was in good health and with his desire that I also be “surrounded by my family and friends.” All the letters bore the trademarks of a man with little education: misspellings, grammatical mistakes and nonsensical syntax.

He always maintained his innocence regarding the murder of Levy, but he admitted to breaking into a house in Washington to rob jewelry. He admitted getting into drugs and disregarding his family’s pleas that he focus on work so he could send money home.

He admitted hitting and biting his then-girlfriend in Washington. And he admitted attacking the two women joggers, who managed to break his grasp and run away, for the purpose only, he claimed, of robbing them of their valuables.

He wrote several times that he wanted me to visit him in prison, at one point saying he wanted to “clarify” this Chandra Levy problem hanging over his head.

But neither his attorney, in 2002, nor prison officials, more recently, allowed a face-to-face interview. The Post had to settle for two hour-long recorded telephone interviews, and excerpts of those ran online last summer as part of The Post’s investigative series, “Who Killed Chandra Levy.” To date, I am the only journalist who has communicated directly with Guandique.

Do I believe Ingmar Guandique killed Chandra Levy? Certainly, a man convicted of attacking two women on jogging paths in Rock Creek Park and identified by another woman as stalking her in the park — all within the proximity of where Levy’s remains were found in summer, 2002 – would seem to be a logical and likely suspect. That’s my response to the question.

In a 2002 letter to his mother and grandfather, who live in grinding poverty in rural El Salvador, Guandique asked their pardon for disappointing them by getting into trouble and failing to do what they expected when they borrowed more than $4,000 to get him into the United States illegally. They wanted him to work and send money home to help support more than half a dozen family members living in a dirt-floor shack.

To his brother, Huber, who then lived in suburban Maryland, Guandique wrote that “God is the only one who knows that I am innocent” of Levy’s murder and that one day “God will take care of everything.”

In our last conversation, Guandique said “Like I tell you, I know I don’t have anything to do with that case. I don’t worry about that because I know everything will turn out fine.” Now, a judge and jury will decide that.

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Comment from jamesforrester
Time March 28, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Ms. Moreno,

Great effort on your part to actually arrange to speak to Guandique!

I understand he was moved around to several prisons and is now in California. That seems odd for a crime committed in DC. You said you were barred by his attorney and then Federal Prison officials from speaking with him face to face. What reasons did they give you for this?



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