If former Pentagon official Jack Wheeler was killed in a robbery, why didn't the murderer take his vintage Rolex watch and gold West Point ring? And if Wheeler was targeted by an assassin trying to make it look like a robbery, why would the killer leave behind items a thief would be likely to take?

Those questions, involving previously undisclosed details of the unsolved slaying, tug hard at Wheeler's widow and grown son. No one outside of the official investigation knows more about the case, and no one is more frustrated by what remains unknown.

"There are a lot of unsolved questions," says Katherine Klyce, 67, Wheeler's wife of the past 13 years.

Jack Wheeler, well-known in defense circles and a driving force in creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, served in jobs that gave him access to plenty of government secrets, including a stint from 2005 through 2008 as a top assistant to the secretary of the Air Force. And Klyce, like many, can't help but wonder whether his death could have had some connection to his work. "You want to know what happened," she says.

In their first extended news media interview since Wheeler's death, Klyce and John Wheeler IV, Wheeler's 34-year-old son from his previous marriage, spent 90 minutes talking with USA Today and The News Journal of Wilmington, Del. They provided information not revealed before about the case - that Wheeler's watch and ring were on his body, for example - but nothing that offers answers to who killed Jack Wheeler or why.

A slew of conspiracy theories have emerged since his body was found New Year's Eve in a Wilmington landfill. They've been fueled by puzzling, seemingly disconnected clues. Snippets of video from random surveillance cameras put Wheeler at a series of inexplicable locations in his last 48 hours. No one seems to know what he was doing or who may have been with him. He simply fell out of contact, and then turned up dead, the victim of blunt-force trauma, a beating.

The Internet is rife with speculation that he was killed in some federal plot involving his Pentagon post. Others suggest Wheeler was simply the victim of a robbery gone bad. And some raise the possibility that Wheeler, who had bipolar disorder, became detached from reality, got caught up with the wrong people, and paid with his life.

Some of the insights offered by Klyce and the younger Wheeler are tantalizing: He looked "afraid" and "cautious" when caught on camera at a parking garage and other locales in the days before he died; he asked strangers for a ride to Philadelphia as he wandered a Wilmington office building, obviously disheveled; on the night he died, he appeared to be hiding his face while walking toward a rough neighborhood in clothing that "wasn't his."

"There are two theories: that he was robbed or that he was targeted," Klyce says. The fact that the jewelry was on his body "casts doubt on the robbery theory," she adds, and the assassination theory has problems, too. "He had lots of enemies, (but) nobody that would kill him."

By all accounts, Wheeler, 66, was passionate and provocative, known for his strong opinions and heated debates with people who didn't agree with him.

Klyce describes Wheeler as showing characteristics of Asperger's syndrome, which can affect a person's ability to read social cues and manage relationships, and she says he often couldn't tell if he was antagonizing or upsetting someone. He also took anti-depressants and mood stabilizers for his bipolar disorder.

Klyce does not believe that Wheeler had gone off his medication, and on the rare occasions when he did, she says, "he just became in a bad mood." He had been hospitalized at least once, in 2004, for manic behavior, but Klyce dismisses the notion that he may have lost touch with reality in the days before he was killed. That said, she can't explain Wheeler's unusual behavior before his death, including that caught on surveillance video in his final hours.

"What happened to Jack in the last few days of his life didn't look like Jack," Klyce says. John Wheeler notes that his father didn't appear to be having "a psychotic breakdown. He's fully functional ... but something's very wrong."

Both point to various details of events before he died. Among them:
  • Wheeler spent Christmas with Klyce at a condo they owned in New York City, but he left abruptly for Washington on Dec. 28. Klyce says he went to deliver gifts to friends, a holiday routine, but she hasn't heard from anyone who saw him on the visit. He did charge a one-person lunch at the Metropolitan Club, a haven for power players near the White House. He also bought a train ticket from D.C. to Wilmington that evening, and apparently travelled back to the couple's primary residence in nearby New Castle.
  • That night, a neighbor of the Wheelers' saw a man with Wheeler's build tossing crude firebombs into an under-construction house across the street. Wheeler had been in a legal fight to stop the house from being built. The fire didn't catch, and investigators have said they would have questioned Wheeler if given the chance. Klyce demurs when asked if he may have been involved. "It would be kind of a crazy thing."
  • The following evening, Dec. 29, Wheeler entered a pharmacy in New Castle and asked for a ride to Wilmington, less than 10 miles away. The pharmacist offered a cab, but Wheeler declined. Later, he's seen on video at a Wilmington parking garage, carrying one shoe in his hand and telling the attendant he had been robbed. He declined assistance, and authorities have described him as looking disoriented. But Klyce says they're misinterpreting his often-distracted demeanor. "He didn't look disoriented; he looked distressed. ... I think he was afraid."
  • The next morning, Dec. 30, a neighbor looking after the Wheelers' New Castle home noticed an open window and entered to find the house in disarray - chairs and plants tipped over, Wheeler's West Point cadet sword lying unsheathed on the kitchen floor. It would have been unlike Wheeler to leave a mess, Klyce says, calling it "kind of strange." But if it was a burglary, she adds, nothing was taken.
  • Later that day, Wheeler was seen at a Wilmington office building, where he asked at least one person for a ride to Philadelphia. He looked like he had slept in his clothing but seemed coherent, witnesses said. That night, cameras at a nearby hotel captured him walking toward a rough neighborhood in a dark hooded sweatshirt, tugging the hood over his head. "It looked to me like he was trying to hide his face," Klyce says. "It wasn't his clothing.".
About 13 hours later, early on Dec. 31, Wheeler's body tumbled from a trash truck at a Wilmington landfill; it apparently was picked up from a dumpster in Newark, Del., about 15 miles from where he was last seen alive.

Klyce says Wheeler may have been hiding from something, which would explain his seeking rides from strangers, rather than traveling by cab or train as he usually did.

"If he was afraid of something in the house or around here (in Delaware) ... he wouldn't want anybody to know where he was," she says. She can't explain his desire to get to Philadelphia, unless he was trying to get back to New York.

Police have not said how Wheeler was beaten or where he was injured. Klyce didn't see his body until after it had been prepared by a mortician, but she says she could see bruising beneath the makeup on his face and his head appeared swollen.

Asked about the conspiracy theories, Klyce says, "I would discount most of those," though she has entertained the possibility that he was killed by a professional.

So, does Klyce have a theory on whether it was a robbery or a targeted killing?

"Yeah, but I'm not going to tell you which one," she says, and "I'm open to being wrong."

John Wheeler also declines to speculate: "What I don't want to do is spur more theories."

Instead, they both want to see the crime solved, and both express frustration that police have yet to find the killer, despite the family's offer of a $25,000 reward.

"They have to solve it," Klyce says. "It cannot go unsolved."

Contributing: Cris Barrish, 'The News Journal' in Wilmington, Del.