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Sad Tales About Last Days Of John Wheeler; Found Dead In Del.

In the last couple days before his body was found on New Year's Eve at a landfill in Newark, Del., former Pentagon aide John Wheeler was "a man disoriented and so disheveled that he was mistaken for a homeless person," The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., writes this morning.

Witnesses tell the newspaper that at one point on Dec. 29, the 66-year-old Wheeler:

"Turned up at the New Castle County Courthouse parking garage on King Street in Wilmington, erratically searching for his car, according to employees and surveillance video made public Tuesday.

"An employee at the garage said she tried to help Wheeler, who was carrying his right shoe in his left hand and said someone had stolen his briefcase. The 66-year-old Wheeler was blocks away from where his car was parked in a garage on MLK Boulevard near the train station. Wilmington Parking Authority officials said he was a monthly customer."

Wheeler, a West Point graduate who went on to work in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, was instrumental in the effort to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The circumstances of his death, which police are treating as a homicide, have caught national attention. His body was apparently put in a dumpster in Newark before being taken to the landfill.

As they search for leads, police may be aided by surveillance cameras, the Associated Press reports:

"Whoever dumped the body of a prominent national defense consultant into a garbage bin in a bustling college town risked being detected, either by witnesses or surveillance cameras, with some of the containers in well-lit parking lots, near restaurants and stores."

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET.The Associated Press has posted this surveillance video showing Wheeler at the parking garage when he was looking for his car:

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.