Presidential aide's body found in landfill; ruled homicide

Defense consultant and former presidential aide John Wheeler III, who served presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, was found dead in a Wilmington landfill December 31, 2010.
January 5, 2011 11:59:39 AM PST
The body of 66-year-old John Wheeler III was found at the Cherry Island landfill on the morning of New Year's Eve.

Police have ruled his death a homicide, but right now, police have more questions than answers. All they know is that the prominent military consultant ended up dead in a dumpster somewhere in Newark, Delaware.

"There are no suspects. Again, we are still looking to determine where the crime scene occurred," explained Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall.

John Wheeler, known to friends as Jack, was a military consultant, a West Point graduate, worked for Ronald Reagan and the two Bush presidencies and previously served as chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Wheeler's body was found Friday morning at the Cherry Island landfill in Wilmington. A trash truck had emptied ten dumpsters in Newark.

Police believe the body was in one of the first dumpsters emptied, either one from a bank in College Square or one behind the Newark Library. Both dumpsters are monitored by security cameras.

Lt. Mark Farrall tells Action News, "At the landfill there was a spotter who was watching the garbage as it was dumped to make sure there wasn't any hazardous material or anything that shouldn't be in the dump. He noticed the body at that time and they immediately contacted the Wilmington Police Department."

Initial police reports that Wheeler was last seen getting off an Amtrak train on Dec. 28 were incorrect, Farrall said. Investigators don't know how long Wheeler might have been missing or where and when he was last seen.

The delay in the family notifying authorities was because they were not in town, Farrall said.

The family issued a statement through the police department. "As you must appreciate, this is a tragic time for the family. We are grieving our loss. Please understand that the family has no further comment at this time. We trust that everyone will respect the family's privacy."

Wheeler lived part time in a house in New Castle. He also had home in Washington DC as well as New York City where Wheeler's wife Katherine Klyce runs a silk import business.

Wheeler's house was darkened Monday night and no one answered the door. Yellow police evidence tape was stretched across two wooden chairs in the kitchen, where several wooden floorboards were missing.

Robert Meadus, 85, who lives near the home, described the case as "exceedingly weird."

"The more you think about it, the more implausible it becomes. ... It's a Perry Mason thing for sure."

A doorman at the condominium building Wheeler and Klyce shared in New York City, said he hadn't seen Klyce in two weeks and a package for her had been at the front desk for days. Two detectives had arrived at the modern-looking building in the Harlem section of the city.

Action News spoke with Wheeler's attorney Bayard Marin on Monday night.

"I was not mentally prepared to be told that my client was murdered," Marin said.

Marin says Wheeler sent him an e-mail on Tuesday.

"I can't really discuss the nature of it, it was nothing that would lead to you anything like this," Marin said.

The e-mail concerned a long running feud Wheeler had with the owner of a house under construction across the street from his Delaware home. The new construction partially blocks Wheeler's view of the park and Delaware River.

Neighbor Bob Meadus tells Action News, "[The construction] was finally approved, and they started building. And then this gentleman here, Mr. Wheeler I guess, started fighting it - back and forth. As I understand it it's still in the courts."

Wheeler and his wife sued to stop the construction that remains part of ongoing litigation.

Whether this feud had anything to do with Wheeler's muder is still in question.

"Could it? I don't know, I don't know, I would certainly hope not," Marin said.

An attorney for the owners of the home under construction did not return calls seeking comment.

Richard Radez, a longtime friend who also graduated from West Point and Harvard Business School, said he exchanged e-mails with Wheeler on Christmas. On the day after, Wheeler sent Radez an e-mail expressing concern that the nation wasn't sufficiently prepared for cyber warfare.

"This was something that had preoccupied him over the last couple of years," Radez said.

James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, wrote in an article on the magazine's website that he had known Jack Wheeler since the early 1980s. A photo on the website shows a youthful, businesslike Wheeler in a dress shirt, tie and suspenders, in front of a map.

Wheeler, Fallows wrote, had spent much of his life trying to address "what he called the '40 year open wound' of Vietnam-era soldiers being spurned by the society that sent them to war."

Fallows told The Associated Press that Wheeler had been focused recently on getting ROTC programs restored at prestigious universities such as Harvard and Stanford.

He also exchanged e-mails with Wheeler over Christmas, and said Wheeler was concerned about school dropping ROTC military programs that resulted from the Vietnam War and continued through the debate over the "don't ask, don't tell" policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Author Rick Atkinson's 1989 book "The Long Gray Line" featured Wheeler as a prominent member of West Point's Class of 1966. It called him an extraordinarily intelligent and intense man who relentlessly pursued causes.

"Some of his pursuits were quixotic but others were magnificent," Atkinson said, citing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as Wheeler's greatest achievement. He said the monument wouldn't exist had Wheeler not used his organizational skills to steer the project through a brutal political fight.

Wheeler retired from the military in 1971. He was a special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force under President George W. Bush. He recently worked as a consultant for The Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.

"He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill," said Bayard Marin, an attorney who was representing Wheeler and Klyce in an ongoing legal dispute with a couple wanting to build a home near the Wheelers in the historic district.

"He was a very aggressive kind of guy, but nevertheless kind of ingratiating, and he had a good sense of humor," Marin said.

Police are looking for help from the public. They're hoping to hear from anyone who may have seen Wheeler sometime last week.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Nicholas Sansone at 302-366-7110 ext. 135 or Nick.Sansone@cj.state.de.us. You can send an anonymous text message tip by texting 302NPD and your message to TIP411. Information can also be provided anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333, where a reward may be available.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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