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.


24 Comments

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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  5. Rooster

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

    Reply

  6. Jodi

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

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  7. 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

  8. 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.

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

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  11. 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

  12. 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.

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  13. matti

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

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  14. 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?

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  15. 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.

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  16. Lisa

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

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  17. Rissa

    Trump killed wheeler. Case closed.

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  18. Lucila

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

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  19. 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.

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  20. 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

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  21. 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…

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  22. Carrie

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

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  23. 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.

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  24. 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