How did a Washington insider end up dead in a landfill?

CASE DETAILS

cell phone on ground in flashlight beam

Someone had tossed smoke bombs into the structure.

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.

House with flag and fence at night

Signs of a burglary were found in the Wheeler home.

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.

birds flying over vehicle in landfill

John’s body was found at the Cherry Island Landfill.

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.


41 Comments

  1. Barshaba Gordon

    Need help finding my siblings I’m asking for help I don’t know much but when my birth certificate says so can you please get in contact with me at 314-314-78 3 6 7 4 6

    Reply

  2. Seba

    Y que paso von la supuesta huella descalza que estaba en el polvo ?? Que acaso no tomaron adn o alguna pista de eso o de quien era es demaciado raro

    Reply

  3. Heather

    It seems pretty clear that the blunt force trauma came from the garbage compactor in the garbage truck. I think he was having a pretty severe mental break. Poor thing. I think he caused the damages at his house.

    Reply

  4. Dennis

    Wheeler shows up at his residence in Wilmington after a day of travel and work in DC. Neighbor calls police about activity in vacant house across the street at approximately 11:30 pm….. police find smoke bomb damage and Wheelers phone laying on ground. By 11:30 pm Wheeler has probably been fast asleep for at least a couple of hours after a long day. Which means the breaking and entering probably occurred while he was sleeping and was not professional whatsoever but rather local teenagers most likely. There was no “struggle” in the kitchen it was most likely teenagers that found his Sword and Shield hanging on his wall and destroyed his kitchen with just being destructive. Upon leaving they probably took the suitcase and the phone. After robbing Wheelers house the teens continue their vandalism spree across the street setting off smoke bombs (teenage vandals) at which point they probably ditched the phone because of password and possible tracking. So the teens left the phone. When wheeler wakes up he walks through the mess in the kitchen and realizes his suitcase and phone are stolen. He can access his emails for business but has no other contacts at hand. So he walks to the closest store he is family with which is the pharmacy…. by this point he is limping because he has been waking in dress shoes for miles. Same thing once he makes it to the parking garage… he’s has been on foot and waking for hours…. in late December up north it’s cold. Man got lost one way or another crawled into a dumpster freezing and exhausted. Blunt force trauma is exactly what a garbage truck is gonna do to someone. Giant trash compactor. I’d put my money on a series of terribly unfortunate events all started by local teens vandalizing and breaking and entering. Teenagers probably local delinquents from 15-17 that lived within 2 or 3 blocks and walk through the neighborhood often and don’t have driver’s license. Looking for larceny of breaking and entering charges. If there is a person or people at “fault” it would be the teenagers.

    Reply

    • SaulZain

      That’s exactly what I was screaming at my TV when I watched the episode! I kept waiting for the detectives to say they had conducted tests to see if it’s possible for a person to get the kind of injuries described in the autopsy from the garbage truck’s compression of his load! This is NOT murder, but a coincidence of circumstances that led to his death!

      Reply

    • Jennifer

      1. Secure equipment loss, you call boss first
      2. What fingerprints were on his cell phone and smoke bombs
      3. What did the autopsy say about blood levels for medications on versus not
      4. With his various job history, you would think he would be more aware of his surroundings

      Reply

  5. Dd

    Excellent analysis !

    Reply

    • Gabriel

      Wheeler get’s home and finds somebody in the house ,maybe searching or trying to make look like a robbery . Now wheeler opens the door see the guy and he just run dropping the briefcase . The question îs why wheeler running ? The robber was after him and who planed with the drop of the body in the garbage he knows the area really well , maybe an asociate în Something shaddy cuz he was a powerfull Man in that tine he always can choose to fi to police but he didint he can use public thelephones , why no cab ?? Cuz he know he can ne located .. i need more info , sry for my english il

      Reply

  6. Francisco Navarro

    Ia it possible that the trauma discovered on the body was the result of being tossed and tumbled about in a sanitation truck, and then the same done when at the landfill? Also, what was the time of death? Was he dead when he was already in the dumpster?

    Reply

  7. Chung nguyen

    Tại sao không ai điều tra nơi anh ta gửi xe và bị mất chiếc cặp .có rất nhiều phương án để tìm ra nguyên nhân mất chiếc cặp .từ đó sẽ có hướng điều tra tốt hơn .chiếc cặp vô tình bị lấy trộm hay kẻ lấy chiếc cặp có chủ đích từ trước

    Reply

  8. MelCalDy

    I watched this episode several times, still boggled by the way this man died and nobody knows anything still. Did they actually question the people building the home that was smoke bombed? Couldn’t the conclusion be as simple as the people building the house hired “contractors” that kept the project going on no matter what ? If Jack had the means to hault the construction as the episode claims and didn’t, wouldn’t it also be assumed the people building it, who weren’t stopped have the power to stop him ? Essentially that’s what happened, he got stopped from haulting the construction???

    Reply

  9. Ann Hicks

    Is it possible that he had a Bipolar panic episode, where he honestly in his mind thought someone was after him and then ended up climbing in the dumpster to either hide or for warmth and fell asleep.
    The garbage man picked up the dumpster him asleep inside and was put into the trash compactor and crushed by it possible.
    Know ours when they put trash in has a steel wall like piece that comes and mashed it compact to get more trash into the truck. Is it possible that’s what happened to him and foul play wasn’t involved.

    Reply

    • Keith

      It depends if his watch and ring are damaged.
      It never said if they was or not, but if the watch isn’t damaged then it’s likely that he wasn’t crushed by the metal.

      Reply

  10. John

    Presuming it is foul play, do not look for a complicated, conspiracy based answer. The person or persons responsible for this would most likely live in the area of that dumpster and have a prior record. That is their area of comfort.
    The Newark, DE Police are sharp; I am sure they have a list of characters but need that one piece of info. to tie this together. Someone will talk at some point, probably to get something in return. The sad truth is we lost a great American.

    Reply

  11. Elijah Leeman

    As I’m watching the show, they showed a security camera footage of when John was in the basement walking alone with his suit but then later when he goes out he had a jacket on and everything? Where did he get the jacket from?

    Reply

  12. al

    It can also be the cause of which he was tortured, this was planned. John had enough power to stop the construction of the house, he also knew how to defend himself cz he was retired so perhaps he did not directly ask the police or someone else for help. The way he died was probably slow and painful, which could be positioned as revenge, he had enough money to stay somewhere, and his blood was discovered in the garbage can. Most likely they threw it there, it was the people from the new house who did it. That is why there was no major damage to the construction, they probably followed it and investigated it for months. Which would explain how they took advantage of their work, illness and distraction from directions.

    Reply

  13. al

    I don’t think it was the government, if it had been he would never have been found. I think the theory of the government is something that the murderer could have taken advantage of, they knew that people would think that this was the cause. Also bipolarity, I think it was most likely that his house was robbed and that the murderer left his cell phone at the scene to incriminate John. I think it was the neighbors, I don’t understand why they didn’t question the neighbors.

    Reply

  14. Colleen Crossley

    There is a thread on reddit called r/unresolvedmysteries that has a lot of interesting theories about Mr. Wheeler’s death. Personnally, i believed he suffered from a manic episode and he ended up in the dumpster by himself after he got lost. He died inside the dumpster truck, his injuries perfectly match what a truck compactor can do.
    Good luck for the rest of your research.

    Reply

  15. Amy

    may have been an attempted mugging, a violent one. he got away, dropping the briefcase, which they probably took, and then hid in the dumpster where he succumbed to his wounds.

    Reply

  16. Rooster

    Bipolar episode, manic state, climbed in dumpster, crushed and dumped at land fill

    Reply

  17. Jodi

    Did anyone question the neighbors that were building the house across the street? Sometimes fueds get out of hand and bad things happen.

    Reply

  18. Seve d

    for all the cases you all do to solve all of the kill cases and missing cases look into the dark web for confessions look into a web page called confession i found out about the page from a youtuber you might get some solved cases from the page i mention

    Reply

  19. Andrew Stull

    A lot of interesting theories here but it makes the most sense to me to that this man suffered a mental break down, sleep in the dumpster and died by the way of the trash compactor.

    Reply

  20. Dunja

    Ganz klar. Er ist vollkommen durcheinander und völlig neben der Spur, läuft sogar ohne Schuh draußen herum und übernachtet im Keller eines fremden Gebäudes in einer fremden Stadt. Der ist komplett verwirrt. Dann noch die fehlenden Tabletten… Wäre er klar im Kopf, hätte er nur zur Polizei gehen müssen. Man sieht klar auf den Videos dass er verwirrt ist. Das hat nichts mit Mord zu tun. Aber eine geistige Verwirrung darf nicht sein. Ist nicht erlaubt. Daher darf die Polizei nicht mit Selbstverschulden aufklären. ALLE Beweise sprechen klar gegen Mord.

    Reply

  21. Johnny Rodgers

    This one shouldn’t be a mystery. Mr. Wheeler’s family said he had a big heart and was “so good.” That’s unless you were hoping to build a home directly across the street from his house, apparently. Then you were his worst enemy for simply trying to do exactly what he did which was build a home. Mr. Wheeler was “on a mission” to stop the construction of the house across the street from his. On the night in question, it seems clear that Mr. Wheeler most likely set off the “smoke bombs” on the property of the house under construction across the street from his home. While there that night, it seems that he dropped his cell-phone (where it was later recovered). When he was back at his house he realized he couldn’t find his phone and went into a rage realizing that he couldn’t go back and look for it at the property he vandalized since the fire engines could be heard en route. In a rage he tore apart his house probably looking for his phone and cut his foot on the glass he smashed (hence the reason why he was limping later). Knowing that this vandalism of the property across from his would significantly tarnish his reputation, he panicked and went literally down the rabbit hole. He downtown and starting wandering around trying to locate his “car.” He was literally out of his mind and had many chances to reach out for help if he was in real trouble from a third party. This was all a cover-up to his vandalism where he probably knew by know his phone would be found. He totally looked confused (not beat up) and he was trying to get away (from himself and what he did) and unfortunately, the weather got the best of this guy when he tried to stay warm by entering that dumpster….probably hadn’t taken his medication either.

    Reply

  22. Joani

    There is a thread on reddit called r/unresolvedmysteries that has a lot of interesting theories about Mr. Wheeler’s death. Personnally, i believed he suffered from a manic episode and he ended up in the dumpster by himself after he got lost. He died inside the dumpster truck, his injuries perfectly match what a truck compactor can do.
    Good luck for the rest of your research.

    Reply

  23. Harold

    This sounds like he knew something and whatever he knew it was inside the briefcase that was never found. Everybody knows Politics can be a dirty. Some people would do anything to move up the ladder.

    Reply

  24. matti

    trump wasn’t president at that year and time:))

    Reply

  25. A

    what about those people who gave him a ride from the farmacy? where they came from and if the farmacist knew John and saw he wasn’t good, how did he not bother to let him go somewhere into the night with some unknown people appearing out of nowhere?

    Reply

  26. Stella

    This case isn’t as Netflix portrays it to be and at times comes off as quite leading and biased. Nothing new with some of these shows but best to get the facts of the case as a whole instead of cherry picking.

    Being he was bipolar which I’m intricately familiar with, Wheeler was clearly having an episode. Seems manic but possibly mixed. Course, anyone could seen that. Even if he was on his meds at the time, mania still happens which is as normal as a cup of coffee with us. It just happens then passes.

    Clearly something occurred here but I’m guessing not what many assume. His relationship with his wife one should
    Look into further because important facts were left out. His heart attack etc. he was supposedly beaten so there’s that but it doesn’t mean it was political.

    Reply

  27. Lisa

    It looks like he is on his phone in the surveillance video (19:54) in the pharmacy? I thought it had been stolen?

    Reply

  28. Rissa

    Trump killed wheeler. Case closed.

    Reply

  29. Lucila

    Hola, el pie que está marcado en la casa con el polvo blanco coincide con el pie que Jack llevaba descalzo.

    Reply

  30. M

    lol reaching with this episode. The man obviously suffered a mental episode. Poor guy ended up sleeping in the trashcan and got crashed. Very similar behavior to Elisa Lam.

    Reply

  31. suzy

    he was clearly suffering and episode, his wife said he was forgetful and he smoke bombed the house he didn’t want to be built and forgot his phone there and had a fit in his own house when he realized he left it. He slept in a garbage can ,after confirmed sleeping in a basement (which was on film), and later slept in a garbage can and was crushed by the garbage truck. The injuries line up with being crushed by a garbage truck compactor. this is not a mystery

    Reply

  32. dctom

    Honestly I think the conspiracy theories with this one are wrong…this seems medical. We’re talking about a guy that regularly can’t remember where he parked his car….

    So on the way from DC, he forgets his briefcase–with his work ID and maybe his bipolar meds–on the train. He realizes this when he gets to the house in New Castle and decides he’ll report to his employer (but not the police, that would be a false report) that his briefcase was “stolen”–so he messes up his own house to make it look good, just in case. For good measure, and because he’s pissed off about the house across the street, he drops the smoke bombs off there as well and drops his phone while he’s at it.

    After that, he figure he’ll run up to Wilmington to get his car…maybe he’s got more meds in the car too. As usual, UM does not address key questions–why did he go to the pharmacy? Just for a ride to Wilmington?
    Seems like a strange place to go ask for a ride? Or did he go to replace his meds which were in his briefcase, but could not for some reason (system down, prescription expired, who knows?) Anyway, he forgets where he parks, and because he hasn’t had his meds in a while, starts totally losing it, wandering around the city. He sleeps in the dumpster and is killed when he’s dumped into the trash truck. His injuries as described seem wholly consistent with going through a compacter in a trash truck. That’s it…

    Reply

  33. Carrie

    Good morning
    They said he had removed one shoe and was walking wx it.

    Reply

  34. Diana

    I 100% don’t believe Jack died because of anything related to BP disorder. It could explain some of his “extreme” emotions but this man worked for a defense contractor. He had real connections to many powerful people in the military. I think he knew something and he died for it. He was robbed and then someone set those some bombs across the street, for what reason I am not sure. Maybe a distraction? Jack reports his stolen badge and briefcase to work, which is weird, like why not the police? Maybe he knows something is wrong and decides to grab his car, that car ride there is a real mystery, what happened there? Somehow ends up in that basement and hides there, probs waiting something out? He finally leaves to perhaps deal with whatever he was hiding from and died. I just wish there was more info on what projects he was working on at the time, perhaps there is a connection there.

    Reply

    • Leah

      This is exactly what I was confused about. Why was the car ride from the pharmacy to the parking garage (the unaccounted 40 minutes) brushed off? They are questioning why he went from a normal state in the pharmacy and then in panic mode when seen in the garage. Why is no one talking about who gave him the ride? Or how he got there? I truly believe there is something more there. I called one of my friends who also watched and listened to this story. She didn’t even think about whether the car ride had anything to do with it.

      Reply

  35. Louise

    I’m a podiatrist and I have just seen the film of john wheeler. The video of him in the underground of the building and the video of him in the hoodie walking past the hotel look strange. It maybe that I only saw a very short clip but it looks like his stance changes its him but walking different his whole demeanor is more assured, not sure what that would mean but thought I would say

    Reply

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