Drawn to the capital and death

Washington DC: Discovery of Chandra Levy's body puts internship phenomenon in the spotlight

Police investigating the death of the Washington intern Chandra Levy have uncovered evidence suggesting she was tied up and bound – the most clear indication yet that the 24-year-old was murdered. Detectives say her jogging trousers – discovered in a park along with her skeletal remains – were knotted in a way that indicated they may have been used to restrain the former government aide.

Disappeared, largely forgotten and then suddenly cast back into the glare last week with the discovery of her partial remains in Washington's Rock Creek Park, the story of Ms Levy captivated the capital and the nation at large with its irresistible mix of politics, sex and death. Had she not been having an affair with a married Congressman immediately before her disappearance at the beginning of May last year, it is most likely she would have joined the ranks of the hundreds of people who disappear in the US every year, mourned by their parents but ignored by the networks and their faux-empathetic anchors.

But the revelation of her affair with Gary Condit, 54, the House Representative from her home town of Modesto, California, and who emerged a disingenuous and deceitful figure, ensured that her disappearance dominated the news agenda – at least until the attacks of 11 September.

Its was still resonant enough to prevent him securing re-nomination for his seat in March, mainly because of public perceptions that he failed to tell all he knew about the disappearance, and might have hindered the investigation.

The discovery on Wednesday morning of her skull, pelvis and – subsequently – other remains in the 1,700 acre park by a man searching for turtles, meant she is once again dominating the news. More than that, it has focused attention on the Washington phenomenon of internships where bright young things – male and female – come from across America to the capital for a summer's worth of unpaid work experience which gives them the chance to network, but which also leaves them vulnerable to the interest of powerful men such as Mr Condit.

"When I heard the news this week I did think 'That could have been me'," said Stephanie, 21, from Maryland, who is spending this summer working for a senator and who on Friday night was enjoying a drink with friends in one of several bars popular with interns and staffers in the shadows of Capitol Hill. "Luckily my senator is very responsible, but I think there are others who are not. And there are some people who would do anything for their career."

Some might note that a relationship with a former White House intern nearly brought down the former President. But in truth, a straw poll of interns on Friday night suggested that most felt relationships between interns and politicians were uncommon. Most also believed it was a two-way process, and that there were some young women who came to Washington to further their careers by whatever means it took – though none said this applied to Ms Levy, who appeared to have fallen deeply in love with Mr Condit.

Kate Heiberg, 20, a student at George Washington University, has landed a prestigious internship with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. "There are a lot of reasons [for taking an internship]," she said. "It's very competitive, even though they are unpaid. It's a hot thing to do in college, it's a foot in the door... starting to get to know some things." Wandering along Pennsylvania Avenue on a balmy evening, the light reflecting off the dome of the Capitol, it is easy to see how intoxicating the impressive the surroundings along with the whiff of power must be.

In reality though, while interns do get the chance to network and have some hands-on experience at the centre of things, many internships are far from challenging.

Ms Levy was an intern with the US Bureau of Prisons. Though she performed well, her internship had been prematurely ended because she failed to tell her employers that she had already graduated. Ironically, she was due to return to California for her graduation ceremony a few days after she went missing.

On Tuesday her parents, Robert and Susan Levy, will lead a two-hour memorial service for their daughter at the Modesto Centre Plaza. It is also the day that Washington's medical examiner, Dr Jonathan Arden, is expected to release his findings as to how Ms Levy met her death.

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