Before Death, Wheeler Seemed Disoriented, May Be Tied To Attempted Arson

January 5, 2011 5:18 a.m.

New details about John Wheeler’s final days paint a picture of a man visibly distraught and disoriented, and in such bad shape that people he encountered thought he was homeless and offered him money.

Wheeler, the former chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and an appointee in three Republican administrations, was found dead in a Delaware landfill last Friday. Police have ruled his death a homicide.

Police have been tight-lipped about how Wheeler, 66, may have died and have no suspects or crime scene. But one police source told the Philadelphia Inquirer that evidence has tied Wheeler to an attempted arson at the home of a neighbor with whom he was feuding.

According to the Inquirer‘s source, Wheeler may have something to do with an incendiary device, described earlier this week as a smoke bomb, thrown into the home of a couple who is building a house across the street from Wheelers. Wheeler and his wife have reportedly been fighting the construction in court because the new home would block their view.From the paper:

The source emphasized that the evidence does not shed light on the murder itself, but it has helped detectives understand Wheeler’s state of mind before he disappeared.

Wheeler was last seen alive mid-afternoon on Thursday in downtown Wilmington, near the office of his lawyer. That was the day before his body was found, apparently having been left in a dumpster in Newark.

But several people who encountered Wheeler on Wednesday said he appeared disoriented and was acting unusual, according to the News Journal.

His pharmacist in New Castle, where he lived, said he came in looking “a little different” and asked for a ride. The pharmacist offered to call him a cab. Instead, Wheeler left.

Forty minutes later, he was seen wandering around a Wilmington parking garage near the county courthouse, carrying one shoe and not wearing a coat. Parking attendants called a security guard, reporting a homeless man in the garage.

“He had dirt on his right leg. His eyes were red, like he was crying or something and he said he was robbed,” the security guard told the paper, adding that he was wearing a suit and did not smell of alcohol.

Two state workers who were with the guard offered Wheeler money, she said, but he declined and wandered off. He was reportedly rambling about “his brother, mother and a Hertz rental car,” according to the Journal.

The paper also reports that after police searched Wheeler’s home, floorboards could be seen missing from the kitchen. Newark police, who are investigating the homicide with help from the FBI, said they still don’t have a crime scene.

Finally, the New York Daily News reports that New York police searched the Harlem apartment of Wheeler’s wife, Katherine Klyce, who works in New York. Klyce reportedly accompanied police on the search Monday.

The News also notes that Klyce’s sister, Emily Klyce Fisher, a wealthy socialite in Memphis, was murdered in 1995. She was stabbed 50 times, apparently by friends of her son, a cocaine addict, who were looking for a supposed secret safe in the home.

Late update: Newark police say they now have video showing Wheeler in a downtown Wilmington office building as late as 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, the night before his body was found. They say video shows him apparently confused and wandering around the building. Several people approached him and offered help, police say, but Wheeler refused.

The building is at the same intersection where Wheeler was spotted earlier Thursday afternoon.

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