Skip to main content /US /US

Scientist's disappearance confounds police

From Martin Savidge

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- Dr. Don C. Wiley went to Memphis to attend a scientific meeting at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and to visit family. But in the early hours of November 16, the renowned Harvard University biochemist disappeared.

Now Memphis police are exploring several theories involving suicide, robbery and murder. They also wonder if the disappearance could be connected to his expertise.

"We began this investigation as a missing person investigation," said Walter Crews of the Memphis Police Department. "From there it went to a more criminal bent."

At 4 a.m., the 57-year-old's rental car was found abandoned on the Hernando de Soto Bridge that spans the Mississippi River. The car doors were unlocked, the key still in the ignition, the tank full. He hasn't been heard from since.

Wiley is seen as one of the world's leading researchers of deadly viruses, including HIV and the Ebola virus.

The case worries U.S. investigators because Dr. Wiley specializes in dangerous viruses. CNN's Martin Savidge reports (November 28)

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

Ebola is one of the most frightening diseases known to man. It's highly contagious, killing 50 to 80 percent of its victims, and there's no vaccine. Some nations outside the United States reportedly have experimented with the virus as a possible weapon of war or terror.

Memphis police say there is nothing to suggest the doctor's disappearance has anything to do with his background, but his family says it is just as out of the question he committed suicide. Married with two young children, he was at the pinnacle of his career.

He was last seen at a banquet at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis the night he vanished. Those who saw him last say he showed no signs of a man contemplating his own death.

"It's inconceivable to us who were with Don that night and the day before that there was any possibility he would do any harm to himself," said Dr. William Evans of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. "We've simply dismissed that as a possibility."

Wiley left the hotel around midnight. The bridge where his car was found is only a five-minute drive away and in the wrong direction from where he was staying, leaving authorities with a four-hour, unexplained gap until his vehicle was found.

Police, who are scanning surveillance tapes from late-night convenience stores and gas stations, say there are a number of interesting elements to Wiley's disappearance, not the least of which is his background.


See related sites about US
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top