How did a Washington insider end up dead in a landfill?
John “Jack” Wheeler III, 66, worked for three presidential administrations, was special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, served in the office of the Secretary of Defense, and led the effort to create the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. He was a well-known figure in Washington circles.
On Saturday, December 25, 2010, Jack Wheeler and his wife, Katherine Klyce, spend Christmas with the family at their condo in Harlem, NY. (The couple split their time between their home in Harlem and their get-away home in New Castle, Delaware.) The morning of December 28th, John catches a train to Washington DC, where he works with a defense contracting company, Mitre Corp. He sends emails from his phone throughout the day.
Late that night, about 11:30pm, a neighbor next door to John’s home in New Castle, Delaware, hears an odd sound outside and sees the silhouette of a man near a house under construction across the street, and then he sees smoke coming from the property. The fire department and police are called but discover little damage—someone had tossed smoke bombs into the structure. The only other evidence they find at the scene is a cell phone, which belongs to John Wheeler. Could he have been the shadowy figure seen by the neighbor? (John had opposed the construction of this three-story home because of its historical significance.)
The next morning, December 29th, John emails the Mitre Corp. reporting that his home has been burglarized and that his cellphone, badge, key fob, and briefcase are missing. At 6pm, he walks into a pharmacy, just blocks from his New Castle house, and asks the pharmacist for a ride to Wilmington. The pharmacist offers to call him a cab, but John declines. Forty minutes later, John is seen in a Wilmington parking garage. He appears disoriented and tells an attendant his briefcase was stolen and he can’t find his car.
The next morning, December 30th, John’s neighbor in New Castle, Robert Dill, notices an open window at the Wheeler’s home. He enters the home and finds chairs knocked over, broken dishes in the kitchen sink, and an overturned plant—all signs of a burglary. He calls John and Katherine, leaves voicemails for both, but gets no response.
Katherine and their daughters have been trying to reach John on his cell phone, but he doesn’t answer. Never has he gone two days without being in touch. Later that afternoon, John arrives at the Nemours office building in Wilmington. He asks to speak to a partner at a law firm but leaves the offices before having a meeting. That evening, cameras in the basement of the Nemours building capture John exiting, and walking east toward Rodney Square, into the high-crime streets beyond. The following day, New Year’s Eve morning, police are called to investigate a body that has just been dumped out of a garbage truck at the Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington. Police identify the body as John Wheeler. Investigators determine that the body came from a truck that made pickups in Newark, Delaware, which is miles from Wilmington. But the investigation turns up few credible witnesses or clues to the identity of John Wheeler’s killer.
Some believe John was robbed and beaten to death, yet his expensive watch and ring and some cash were found on his body. Others believe his bi-polar disorder could have led him into harm’s way. Still others believe there could be something more sinister involved and that his death could be connected to his government work.
Delaware Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of subject(s) responsible for the death of John Wheeler III. Please contact Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or go to delawarecrimestoppers.com.