Raleigh, N.C. — A convenience store video surveillance camera captured a Cary man, charged in the death of his estranged wife, buying a red gasoline container and paying for gasoline on the day her burned body was found in Virginia, according to a search warrant unsealed Monday.
That was at 10:06 a.m. on Jan. 16. Firefighters found Vanlata Patel's charred body wrapped in a comforter at the center of a brush fire along Interstate 85 in Mecklenburg County hours later. Authorities did not know then who she was.
In an affidavit saying why they should get a search warrant Jan. 26, investigators said Harish Patel had been photographed inside the Circle K at 1001 N. Harrison Ave. According to a search warrant from three days earlier, police had seized a receipt from the same Circle K.
Neither warrant specified the date of the receipt or if it was connected to the Patel homicide investigation.
The Jan. 26 search of Patel's apartment, at 1128 Woodway Bluff Circle, occurred after he called 911 and said he needed help. According to the warrant, Patel said he thought he was dying after drinking too much alcohol.
Emergency crews and police arrived at his home, and police found a knife and other documents they thought might be relevant to the homicide case,they said in obtaining the new search warrant.
They seized one pair of black shoes, two pairs of jeans and one black jacket – all clothing that matched the description of what Patel was wearing in the surveillance video, according to the affidavit. Also removed from the apartment were pieces of tape, a roll of duct tape, documents and photographs.
In addition to the Circle K receipt, police who did the Jan. 23 search had seized a computer, financial paperwork, a cooking device similar to a waffle iron called a tortilla rotimaker and an empty can of carpet stain remover, among other items.
What the warrants do not disclose, however, is how police believe Vanlata Patel died or a motive for her death.
But they do indicate that during the Jan. 23 search, police were looking for yellow rope or twine as well as gasoline or any other substance that could have used to start a fire.
The affidavit said Vanlata Patel's partially clothed body was found with a comforter underneath and that interlaced in the body, clothing and comforter was a section of rope.
The warrant also said she had disclosed physical and mental abuse to various family members and friends.
The Patels had been married since 1996 and had adult children from previous marriages. She filed for divorce in November, and court records indicate the two had a dispute with over how their financial assets, including more than $400,000 in Swiss bank accounts, should be divided.
According to the warrant, the couple had been discussing and had agreed to an out-of-court settlement regarding the division of assets and she might have been at her estranged husband's apartment on Jan. 16.
Vanlata Patel's son reported her missing Jan. 18, two days after the unidentified, burned body was found. He reported that she failed to board a flight to Canada, where she had been staying with him.
Harish Patel said in a Jan. 22 interview with WRAL that he loved his wife and wanted her to be happy.
"I said I am ready to do anything and everything in order to get you back," he said. "But I think she doesn't want to come back, for whatever reason."
"I did not want to lose my wife," he added. "I just loved her, and she was the only one."
Patel, who was denied bond earlier this month, is in the Wake County jail awaiting trial. He is expected back in court March 6.