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CNN Burden of Proof

Solving the Mystery of Joyce Chiang's Death

Aired July 18, 2001 - 12:30   ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Joyce Chiang was last seen January 9, 1999 in Northwest Washington, D.C. It's the same area where Chandra Levy was last seen. The body of the 28-year-old lawyer was found three months later but still today, the mystery of Chiang's death has yet to be solved.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Investigators have compared the Chandra Levy case to two other recent missing persons cases involving young women in Washington. Although there are similarities in the cases, police say there is no evidence of a link, according to today's "New York Times." One of those cases involves Joyce Chiang. The 28-year-old was last seen January 9, 1999 in the Dupont Circle area of Northwest Washington, D.C. It's the same area where Chandra Levy was last known to be.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Chiang, who was an INS lawyer, was missing until April 1 of the same year when a canoeist found her partially clothed body on a rocky shoreline of the Potomac River. And the Chiang death is still an unsolved mystery in the files of the Washington Police Department.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us from Los Angeles today is John Chiang, the brother of Joyce Chiang. And from Boston, we're joined by criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey.

COSSACK: And here in Washington, former chief of detectives of the Washington, D.C. Homicide Squad, Bill Ritchie.

John, I want to go right to you. There has been a suggestion made that perhaps there is a connection -- or it's because of similarities between the tragedy that happened to your sister and disappearance of Chandra Levy. Do you believe there is a connection between these two cases?

JOHN CHIANG, BROTHER OF JOYCE CHIANG: I don't think the facts have established whether there is a connection or whether there is not a connection. The details haven't been provided in sufficient explanation so that one can draw a conclusion as to either scenario.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, I had a conversation with Chief Gainer a few weeks ago about the disappearance and subsequent finding of your sister dead. And I asked him at the time whether or not there was a connection. At the time, he told me -- he said, "No, we are certain that that was a suicide." Now, though, it appears that the police force is less certain about that. Is -- do you think your sister committed suicide or was she murdered and why?

CHIANG: Oh, I think there is strong evidence that foul play was involved. I think those comments, where my sister committed a suicide, are incredibly irresponsible and insensitive.

Let's just draw upon the facts. First of all, my sister disappeared from Dupont Circle. Her body was found a considerable distance away from where she first disappeared.

VAN SUSTEREN: About eight -- let ask you just a question here. Her clothes were found in a park about -- probably six or seven miles -- my estimate -- from Dupont Circle and then her body about eight miles downstream, is that right?

CHIANG: That is correct. There is other evidence. Her clothing was torn. She was found in the body of the river. She would not have jumped and committed suicide in regards to a drowning. She was a scuba diver, you know. She took her vacations and went scuba diving.

There was evidence also on the wall that indicated this statement -- it said, "Good-bye, J.C., how I will miss thee dearly." I think the law enforcement agencies need to clearly articulate why they did not take those facts into consideration.

VAN SUSTEREN: Wait! What are those -- explain to me, where was this written?

CHIANG: This -- in an alley nearby the Starbucks where my sister disappeared.

VAN SUSTEREN: It was written on the wall?

CHIANG: That is correct.

COSSACK: And what do you think those words mean, John?

CHIANG: The -- I mean, I think it's incongruous with my sister committing a suicide. I'm not the law enforcement expert. You know, we deferred to the law enforcement agencies for their expertise, you know. We wanted to support them. We want to believe in them, but it's clear that, you know, there needs to be enhanced communication not only in my sister's disappearance and passing but also in these other cases as to why they support certain theories and why they disavow other theories.

One of the theories originally proposed was that my sister was hiding, which was just, you know, absolutely -- made no sense. The -- you know, and our family was interviewed along with others, that whether my sister was hiding. My sister built a distinguished career and a distinguished life. You know, she was president of the student body at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, president of the student body at Smith College. She was living the story of the American dream.

She worked hard. She played fair. She was making a difference in lives. She worked at night at Georgetown -- with -- for one of America's great congressman, Congressman Howard Berman -- the -- and went to law school and paid her way...

COSSACK: John, I'm sorry, I have to interrupt you for a second...

CHIANG: Oh, that's fine.

COSSACK: ... because we have to go to Natalie Allen in Atlanta for a developing story right now -- Natalie.

According to D.C. police, the disappearance of Chandra Levy is one of 40 missing persons cases they are currently investigating. Now, investigators never learned the cause of death of 28-year-old Joyce Chiang. The INS lawyer was missing for three months in early 1999 before her body was found on the shore of the Potomac River.

I want to go back to you. John, have you had the opportunity to speak with the Levy family and discuss what happened to your sister and along with their tragedy?

CHIANG: I have spoken to Chandra's mother, Susan, in early May to discuss the similarities between the circumstances attended to Chandra's disappearance and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding my sister's passing.

COSSACK: Was that the last time you had the opportunity to speak her -- speak with the family?


VAN SUSTEREN: Did the family seem to think they were linked, John?

CHIANG: At that time it was early in the disappearance of Chandra. So she was trying to identify as many avenues, to inquire what action to undertake to best identify how to locate Chandra. And so, that was the central focus of that conversation.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to Boston, Lee Bailey.

Lee, I mean I don't mean to introduce you. Everyone knows you've been involved in a lot of big cases, lots of investigations. What do you make of this case involving Chandra Levy and also the disappearance of and subsequent death of John Chiang's sister?

F. LEE BAILEY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, as to Joyce Chiang, I quite agree with John. Without a cause of death, I think it very insensitive to suggest suicide. Suicide requires a cause of death. And if this woman didn't drown, I would rule suicide out in all probability. But unfortunately, when the police can't solve a case, that's one way to wrap it up and sometimes people get defamed in this fashion. As far as Chandra Levy is concerned, although my heart goes out to the family, I think that the congressman did the right thing. He was tested by a very well respected examiner. And I say that having just come from the American Polygraph Examination Conference, which is going on -- Association Conference -- going on in Indianapolis. And everybody thought, well, if Barry Culvert and -- had talked to him and his charges were very strong...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me ask you about that, Lee. I mean, like, one of the suggestions is is that while -- well, I mean, it's very typical that you take charts from one examination and give it to another examiner for sort of quality control or to reinterpret and see if it's right. Is it -- in your view, if you were working for the police department, not for congressman, but if you were working for the police department, since you've -- I know you've done a lot on polygraph -- would you want to do an independent polygraph examination?

BAILEY: Well, I would want an independent examiner, someone that did not work for the government, to have any obligation to his colleagues but someone perhaps that had worked for the government as most have and is well respected. And yes, I agree a 1,000 percent with quality control but that takes the consent of the suspect and his lawyer. My understanding is that these charts were turned over to the FBI and the Washington police. And of course, Culvert is a former FBI examiner, not likely to blow a case like this. This is a simple case.

COSSACK: Lee, this is a case in which lawyers have played a major role even though there has not been any arrests or indictments. But lawyers have now come out and -- assisting the family, a different kind of a role for lawyers. You're a high-profile lawyer. What effect does someone like you, who would come in and perhaps assist one side or assist the other -- what role would the lawyer then play in?

BAILEY: Well, I don't think it influences the police a whole lot. But in this case, bringing in the other people that had a relationship or claimed one with the congressman certainly turned the screws and perhaps was a factor causing him to fess up that he did have a relationship with Chandra Levy. Other than that, I don't think it has much effect.

Of course, he should have a lawyer because walking around, as a suspect when the police don't have anyone else is quicksand.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, you were in the homicide division, former chief of detectives here in D.C. among other high profile jobs in the department. I want to talk about John's sister. The fact that she disappeared, vanished, last seen Dupont Circle, clothes found several miles away on the banks of the Potomac River in Anacostia, you have a body found downstream three months later. Why the determination, at least initially by the police, it's suicide? Is that enough or are we just missing some details?

WILLIAM RITCHIE, FORMER D.C. CHIEF OF DETECTIVES: No, I think that, based upon what I know about the case, it's really inappropriate to determine that as a manner of death. Just for clarification, cause of death is one thing, manner of death is other.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you could -- the cause of death could be drowning, but the manner could be homicide. You could push someone in and hold someone under, in essence.

RITCHIE: Right. And it could also be suicide. I think when you have a mystery case, you have to leave all options open until such time as your investigation proves what occurred -- there -- the information that's coming out now that there is no link between the two cases.

I agree with Mr. Chiang, it is -- insufficient information exists at that time -- at this time to make that type of determination. I would still have to look at the cases as possibly being linked.

VAN SUSTEREN: But even -- But I mean I assume that, as detective on the case, it wouldn't just be some -- a mild interest. I mean these -- Dupont Circle is not a particularly large area. Two young women disappearing from the same area, one unfortunately found dead, one still missing, would certainly be something that would capture my attention.

RITCHIE: Well, in fact, I believe it's three cases. And obviously -- because you don't know, you must leave all options open from abduction, kidnapping, suicide. I understand today that they are going to do a psychological profile to determine whether Miss Levy had any suicidal tendencies.

COSSACK: And that's what I wanted to talk -- that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, that, you know, this is now way down the pike and to be talking about doing a psychological profile now, seems to me to be very late in the game, to be wondering what kind of a profile they can put together. In your experience, am I right or is this something that should...

RITCHIE: Absolutely. When the case really first surfaced -- again, a lot of media attention -- it was my belief that suicide would be among the high probabilities of what may have occurred. So yes, the examination should have been conducted. However, I think it's important that just because you don't get any history of any suicidal tendencies does not mean it is not a suicide.

COSSACK: But Chief Ramsey has come out and said, look there are three things that could have happened to this young woman, Chandra Levy, either she was murdered, either she has taken herself and is missing...


COSSACK: ... hiding or third -- and one of the things he discounted initially he said was suicide. He said -- because you know, you -- in his words, he said you can't kill yourself and bury yourself.

(CROSSTALK) VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you could go to the woods of Virginia and kill yourself and no one's going to stumble upon the body. I mean that one's an easy one.

COSSACK: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if I agree with him on that one.

COSSACK: Yes, I mean I...

RITCHIE: Well, let me say this, first of all, Chief Ramsey was never a homicide investigator. Consequently, he's an administrator so there are a lot of little things that investigators learn over a period of time that gives them the instinct, the intuition to look at the various theories. Suicide cannot be ruled out. Suicide cannot be ruled out in the Chiang case.

However, once the body was found, in the case of Miss Chiang, that is -- that really should have been the beginning of the investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask Lee...

COSSACK: You know, what I just want to say?


COSSACK: I want to say one thing to you. The problem with the idea that she's going to go out and kill herself in Virginia and that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: She needs transportation. But I...

COSSACK: And the other problem is don't you see in this kind of thing, if the cause is some angst between her and perhaps Condit, I mean that she would leave a note.


Lee, do you have any criticism here of the police or are they just trying to deal with a tough situation?

BAILEY: Well, I think the profile may well have been held up because of concern that once they zeroed in a little bit on Congressman Condit, if they, at the same time produced the profile saying probable suicide, that would interfere very much with their case and confuse the public. It may have been held up for that cause.

But, you know, if there is a suicide and the body is found in the water, I would think a competent pathologist could rule it in as a possibility or rule it out. There are pre-tell tale signs when a person drowns themselves.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, I'm going to give the police benefit a little benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just aren't telling us everything they do know and maybe they're onto something that we don't know. But we're going to take a quick break.

Yesterday, police found a knife, a pair of running shoes, and several small bones in Rock Creek Park. CNN's Eileen O'Connor is standing by in the park as the search for Chandra Levy continues. She'll give us the latest when we come back.


The North Carolina House has approved legislation that would ban the execution of mentally retarded inmates. The legislation has been sent to the Senate. Sixteen states have already banned the execution of mentally retarded inmates.



VAN SUSTEREN: Police are back in Washington, D.C.'s largest park today, searching for clues about the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Although the weather has impeded their efforts this morning, recruits have spent the week combing wooded areas in Rock Creek Park. And joining us now from Rock Creek Park, is CNN national correspondent, Eileen O'Connor.

Eileen, has the search been the least been fruitful this morning?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. They haven't found anything, Greta. You know, they started a couple of hours late and so they had hoped, in fact, to do all of this area along Beach Drive. Part of the area goes -- runs right along the fence and the property of the National Zoo, right along here, which is pretty easy to search because it's fairly open and involves all these paths, running paths.


O'CONNOR: One of the reasons, you know, is that she was a jogger.



VAN SUSTEREN: Looking down there -- I know the area is like looking for needle in a hay stack, but is there any indication that the police are looking there because they've had a tip they're likely to find something there?

O'CONNOR: Well, they say that what they're trying to do is look at the area that was, first of all, brought up on her computer screen. They -- it had -- her computer indicated that she had looked at a map of this area, around Klingle mansion and Piers Mill. And I think what they're also doing, then, is searching from there, that area, all the way back down south -- and this is that direction -- south along the park to her apartment building. And so, we're now heading back towards her apartment building. And they're searching, you know, in these open areas but they're also searching inside the woods.

And by the way, Greta, they said that one of the reasons they're searching those parks in the southeast is that those are parks that are not often frequented by a lot of pedestrians. So there are green spaces where you could hide a body or perhaps someone might go for seclusion -- Greta.

COSSACK: John, I want to go back to you a second. Earlier, you said that the -- that they were unable to find the cause of your sister's death. Do you mean that they were unable to subscribe any reason to her death or did you mean the manner in which she died?

CHIANG: The report -- the autopsy provided that the body was too badly decomposed to offer a conjecture as to what her cause or manner of death was, that's my understanding.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, obviously the Chandra Levy disappearance, again an enormous amount of media attention and also police attention. Can you compare it to the attention that your sister's disappearance got and also sort of the impact on the family?

CHIANG: The -- I think there was the -- perhaps the same of attention drawn in the Washington, D.C. area. The differences in the two situations were that, first of all, my sister was in Washington, D.C. for a longer period of time, having gone to law school, having worked on Capitol Hill, having more friends and family there than Chandra did with her short time in Washington, D.C.

The national exposure is -- has drawn considerable more attention in the Chandra Levy case. So there -- the national focus is greater in Chandra instance.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how about -- and I don't mean to make it a difficult situation but I guess, fortunately, I say, the rest of us have not gone through what your family has. You know, put into words, I mean, the wait for three months, waiting for answers.

CHIANG: There's a series of steps, which is incredibly frustrating and agonizing and painful. The -- nobody will clearly understand unless you have a disappearance of a family member, all the hurt that one goes through.

And unfortunately, the circumstances attended to each of the situations is very, very different. You share a common bond in regards to having somebody missing and some general sentiments. But there are particularities to each circumstance to each disappearance that makes each situation different from another situation.

COSSACK: Bill, we have spoken and you indicated some criticism about the fact that Congressman Condit took his own lie detector test and you feel that was inappropriate. Tell us why.

RITCHIE: It was probably appropriate for his attorney to do that but not in conjunction with the police investigation. You don't know what questions investigators wanted to ask during the polygraph examination. Therefore, the police should not give a lot of weight to...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me ask that question to you, Lee. Lee, do you agree with Bill?

BAILEY: No, I don't agree with him at all. Any former law enforcement agent would know as well as the Washington police what questions to ask to find out about...

COSSACK: But they...


COSSACK: But Lee, they wouldn't know the same facts that the Washington Police Department does. And therefore...


VAN SUSTEREN: But it -- but Roger...

COSSACK: ... would not be able to be as complete.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the question is -- I mean the questions really are does he anything to do with it. I mean that's essentially it, you know.

COSSACK: But I think there are other questions that may lead up to it.

Anyway, we're out of time. That's...

VAN SUSTEREN: You get the last word.

COSSACK: ... all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," police are tracking Chandra Levy's cybertrail. Now, is this bringing them any closer to finding out where she is? Send your e-mail and comments to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

VAN SUSTEREN: And on "THE POINT" tonight, is the Condit camp deliberately spreading ugly rumors about Chandra Levy? Find out tonight at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

And join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.