WILMINGTON, Del. – Questions about the death of an ex-Pentagon official multiplied Wednesday as police reported he had been wandering downtown Wilmington disoriented in the days before his body was found at a nearby landfill.
Two days before John P. Wheeler III's body was found, parking garage videos showed him in a black suit with no tie, wearing only one shoe even though there was snow outside. He was carrying his other ripped, tasseled burgundy loafer.
He told a parking attendant he wanted to get warm before he paid for parking, but police said his car wasn't there. He also said his briefcase was stolen and repeatedly said he wasn't drunk.
The last time he was seen alive on video, he was wandering an office building and had refused help from several people who approached him, police said.
About 14 hours later, he was found in the landfill.
Investigators consider Wheeler's death a homicide but have been mum about who killed him or how he died. Police also have refused to say what injuries, if any, were on Wheeler's body when it was found Friday morning at the Cherry Island Landfill in a truckload of trash collected from 10 bins in Newark, 15 miles away.
"We believe it was a homicide because it was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiners," said Newark Police Lt. Mark A. Farrall.
The cause of death was pending toxicology and further forensic studies, said Carl Kanefsky of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, which includes the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He said complete autopsy results could take weeks.
Wheeler, a West Point graduate whose 45-year career included a key role in establishing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was recorded by surveillance cameras wandering inside a Wilmington office building, the Nemours Building, as late as 8:30 p.m. Dec. 30, Farrall said.
Wheeler, 66, of New Castle, was similarly disoriented a night earlier when video cameras recorded him at the New Castle County courthouse parking garage. Attendant Iman Goldsborough said Wheeler came to her window around 6:40 p.m., with only one shoe. He carried his right shoe, and had no overcoat even though it was cold, she said.
Farrall acknowledged that police have large gaps to fill in the timeline.
"We know he was seen on the 29th in a disoriented state and we know he was seen on the 30th in a disoriented state. Where he was in between those times, we're still working to try to figure out — and of course, what he was doing after 8:30 p.m. on the 30th," Farrall said.
Wheeler's wife, Katherine Klyce, hasn't spoken publicly about the case. Police say she was not in Delaware last week. But she was seen at a New York City condominium building where the couple own a unit, the superintendent has said. Police have talked to Klyce since her husband's body was found.
Wheeler's family issued a short statement Monday: "As you must appreciate, this is a tragic time for the family. We are grieving our loss. Please understand that the family has no further comment at this time. We trust that everyone will respect the family's privacy."
Several of Wheeler's friends, citing the family's statement, have declined to comment on whether he suffered from some malady that would account for his odd behavior.
Police believe Wheeler's body was in one of the trash bins collected early on the route, which began at 4:20 a.m. Dec. 31, Farrall said.
They found his car at an Amtrak station where Wheeler often caught the train to Washington. It had been parked there since Dec. 13, though it wasn't unusual for Wheeler to leave the car there for long periods of time, Farrall said.
On Dec. 29, the day before Wheeler was last see alive, he had asked a pharmacist in New Castle for a ride to Wilmington, about five miles away. Pharmacist Murali Gouro, who had filled Wheeler's prescriptions in the past, said Wheeler looked upset, The News Journal of Wilmington reported. Gouro said he offered to call Wheeler a cab, but Wheeler left.
Police say Wheeler was seen Thursday afternoon near an intersection about four blocks from the office of attorney Bayard Marin, who was representing Wheeler and Klyce in a heated property dispute. Marin said he last spoke with his client on Dec. 27, and didn't know what he was doing in Wilmington after that.
Marin was representing Wheeler in a lawsuit seeking to block Frank and Regina Marini from continuing to build a new house across the street from his duplex. The Marini house, taller than others in neighborhood, obstructed Wheeler's view of a park and the Delaware River.
Late on Dec. 28, several smoke bombs of the type used for rodent control were tossed into the Marini house, scorching the floors, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Alan Brown said.
Farrall said the dispute remains one facet of the investigation.
Associated Press writers David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this story.