Video: Surveillance video shows 'confused' Wheeler

  1. Closed captioning of: Surveillance video shows 'confused' Wheeler

    >>> well, now to delaware and the murder mystery surrounding former pentagon official john wheeler .

    >> police say on his last day alive, wheeler appeared confused and disoriented, but refused help. hours later, he was found dead. his body dumped in a garbage bin. nbc news justice correspondent pete williams is following this story for us. this was a mystery a few days ago. pete, all the more so, having looked at that incredibly sad surveillance video.

    >> right. well, one thing, the good thing here, police are learning more about what he was doing in the hours before his apparent murder. but as they learn that, it does raise new questions. because in the two days leading up to the apparent murder, he was seen in several places around wilmington , appearing confused and disheveled. this surveillance video shows him walking into a parking garage last wednesday night. now, despite the cold, he was not wearing an overcoat. he was limping, because he was not wearing one of his shoes, which he actually held in his hand. and his car was not even parked at that lot. earlier that night, just before this video was taken, witnesses say he went into a drugstore, and asked for a ride. but then left when the pharmacist offered to call a cab. he was seen again the next day in downtown wilmington , wandering briefly into a government office . and the police say he was last seen at 8:30, thursday night, then his body was discovered friday morning at a wilmington landfill. the police who are investigating this say they believe he was murdered, but the medical examiner has yet to determine the exact cause of death . and that is another question here. they still don't even know where he was killed, which of the ten possible locations his body was deposited before the trash truck came along and collected it. so lots of new questions, even as they get further information.

    >> and very quickly, pete, no toxicology report yet out either, correct?

    >> correct.

    >> all right. pete williams in our washington newsroom following this strange mystery for us. thanks

Image: John Wheeler III at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Charles Tasnadi  /  AP
John Wheeler III touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1994.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/5/2011 12:00:13 PM ET 2011-01-05T17:00:13

Military expert John Wheeler was caught on video appearing confused inside an office building just hours before his dead body was apparently put into a trash dumpster, according to police in Delaware.

Wheeler, who served in three Republican administrations, was inside the Nemours office building in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the surveillance video shows.

"On this video, Mr. Wheeler appears confused," a police spokesman told NBC News.

Earlier in the day, Wheeler had been offered help by several people who observed his apparently erratic behavior, but he declined their offers, police said.

In his last few days, Wheeler appeared increasingly disheveled and disoriented. In various incidents, he was unable to find his car, was seen not wearing a coat and missing a shoe, and asked a pharmacist for a ride.

The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, citing a law enforcement source, said police in Delaware believe Wheeler may have been involved in an attempted arson attack just a few days before he was killed.

It said evidence had been found which linked him to devices planted at the home of a neighbor. Wheeler and his neighbor in the historic part of the city of New Castle had been involved in a dispute over the size of a house the neighbor was building, according to the paper.

Video: Reagan, Bush aide’s body found in landfill (on this page)

Police are still trying to establish which of the 10 bins collected on New Year's Eve in Newark contained the body of 66-year-old Wheeler.

Where did he die?
Where he might have been killed and what he was doing on the days leading up to his death remain elusive, Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall said.

"We still don't know the location of the crime scene," Farrall said Tuesday.

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A 1966 West Point graduate and Army officer at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, Wheeler later served the administrations of the last three Republican presidents.

During Ronald Reagan's time in the White House, Wheeler headed the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program and helped get the Vietnam War Memorial wall built in Washington. Under George W. Bush, he helped develop an Air Force program to combat cyber attacks on U.S. weapons systems.

Video: Wheeler murder leaves veterans community reeling (on this page)

The previous last sighting of Wheeler, before the video emerged, was at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

A tipster told police Wheeler was seen alive near an intersection about four blocks from the office of attorney Bayard Marin, who was representing Wheeler and his wife in a heated property dispute, and about a mile from an Amtrak station where Wheeler often caught the train to Washington. They found his car at the station.

Witnesses reported seeing Wheeler acting erratically on Dec. 29, multiple media outlets reported.

A parking lot attendant next to the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington said Wheeler was unable to find his car, appeared disoriented and said he had been robbed.

She said he was holding one shoe and was not wearing a coat over his suit despite cold weather.

Earlier that day, Wheeler had asked a pharmacist in New Castle for a ride to Wilmington. The News Journal of Wilmington said pharmacist Murali Gouro, who had filled Wheeler's prescriptions in the past, said the former official looked upset.

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Tracing the truck's path
Farther south along Interstate 95, The Associated Press traced the garbage truck's path through downtown Newark before it headed to the Cherry Island landfill where workers saw Wheeler's body falling out of the truck as it unloaded.

Investigators have said they believe the body was in a bin early in the truck's run.

The first stop was a bank in College Square shopping center. Two trash bins at the rear of a bank are just yards away from two surveillance cameras and in sight of several storefronts and a heavily traveled road.

Inside one was a pair of white latex gloves, similar to those used by police evidence technicians.

Eddie Baker, 55, and his wife, Traci, 44, said they have been scouring the garbage around the shopping center for the past three weeks looking for moving boxes. Baker said he had not seen anything suspicious, but that he had come across homeless people searching, and sometimes sleeping in, the bins.

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From the bank, the truck headed to the library, where the bin is tucked in an alley between the rear of the building and a fence that partitions the alley from nearby homes. A locked chain-link gate prevents through traffic in the alley, and a surveillance camera guards the area, alerting workers to an AP reporter's presence.

Asked whether staffers had talked to police, a man replied, "Not a lot to talk about, unfortunately," before the closing the door.

Security cameras and lights overlook bins on the truck's route behind a Toyota dealership. Those at a McDonald's are in plain sight of a 24-hour drive-through lane. Just down the street, a small bin is behind another restaurant, across the street from a 24-hour emergency care center whose bins can be seen by residents of a seven-story apartment building.

Behind a Goodwill thrift store, several containers are in a lighted area that, according to a sign, is under 24-hour surveillance.

Whoever dumped Wheeler's body would have found more privacy at a nearby retirement village and assisted living facility, where the bin is more hidden.

The garbage truck's route is 10 miles from Wheeler's home in New Castle. Investigators have searched the home, where yellow police tape can still be seen in the kitchen, but they have not identified it as a crime scene.

Wheeler's lawyer Marin said he last spoke with his client on Dec. 27, and did not know what he may have been doing in Wilmington three days later.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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