On Wednesday evening, Dec. 29, he received a call from a concerned employee at the New Castle County Courthouse parking garage. There appeared to a be a homeless man there, asking for help.
Abdelaziz went looking and found Wheeler by the garage exit. He asked Wheeler if he needed help. Wheeler said he was looking for his car. By that time, he was wearing both shoes, but his suit was dusty and wrinkled, as if he had been sitting somewhere, or fallen down, or had worn it for a couple of days, Abdelaziz said.
Wheeler didn't have his parking ticket, which meant that Abdelaziz couldn't pinpoint the location of his car. Then the conversation took a different turn.
"Actually, I lost everything," Wheeler said. "I got robbed. They took my briefcase."
"He was just shaking his head," Abdelaziz said. "I was willing to give him a ride. You can drive around to the garages and see where his car was. But he was kind of shaking his head and looked disoriented. He was just lost."
Wheeler, who graduated from Hampton High School and went on to a successful career that included service to three U.S. presidents, was in the middle of a fateful odyssey that was partly captured on surveillance cameras in downtown Wilmington and partly documented by interviews with people in New Castle, where he lived.
All of it has been previously documented in media reports, most notably the News Journal of Wilmington, which has covered the case extensively.
The mystery begins on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Wheeler reportedly spent the day in Washington, D.C. — he worked for a company in McLean, Va. — then is believed to have taken a train to Wilmington, Del.
At 5:10 that afternoon, he posted a message on a forum for the West Point Class of 1966, part of a discussion about the management of college sports. Art Schulcz, a college classmate, took note of the post but saw nothing amiss in its contents.
That night, there was a disturbance across the street from Wheeler's home in New Castle. Someone tossed a smoke bomb into a house that is under construction.
At the time, Wheeler was involved in a bitter legal dispute with the owners of the unfinished house, which he said did not conform to the rich history of his neighborhood. The person who threw the smoke bomb has not been identified.
There is no indication where Wheeler spent the night, but he resurfaced at 9 a.m. the next day. He was in Wilmington – again, or maybe he never left – and took a cab from the Amtrak station to the corner of 11th and Orange streets, at the Hotel Dupont.
The cab driver, Roland Spence, told the News Journal that Wheeler talked during the ride and seemed observant. Nothing appeared amiss. Records indicate Wheeler didn't check in at the hotel, police said.
Around 6 p.m., Wheeler showed up at Happy Harry's Pharmacy near New Castle and asked the pharmacist for a ride back to Wilmington. The pharmacist, who considered the request strange, offered to call a cab. Wheeler declined the offer and left.
At the garage
Forty minutes after leaving the pharmacy, Wheeler turned up at the New Castle County Courthouse parking garage, carrying his shoe in one hand, looking disheveled and disoriented. That's when he told Abdelaziz that he'd been robbed, that someone had taken his briefcase. Police can't confirm the theft.
Again, it is not known where he spent the night, but the next day brings more twists.