Cause of death released in Wheeler case

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 28, 2011 5:05:06 PM PST
A federal defense consultant whose body was found in a Delaware landfill was assaulted and died of blunt force trauma, the state medical examiner's office said Friday.

Officials offered no other details about the death of John Wheeler III of New Castle, whose body was found among a load of trash being dumped at the Wilmington landfill on the morning of Dec. 31.

Officials determined several weeks ago that Wheeler was a homicide victim, but they did not disclose any other details. Authorities had said they would not release the cause of death until toxicology tests were completed. They still refused to disclose the results of those tests on Friday.

Hal Brown, deputy director of the medical examiner's office, said specific results of toxicology tests are not released in homicide cases, but that if the presence of drugs or alcohol was deemed relevant, that fact would be included in the cause of death.

Brown said blunt force trauma involves "nonpenetrating" injuries such as concussions, contusions, lacerations, broken bones and abrasions, which are distinguished from penetrating wounds inflicted by stabbing or shooting.

"It's the result of an external object impacting your body," he said, adding that the object could be a hand, a foot or a weapon.

Wheeler, 66, was seen on video surveillance cameras wandering around downtown Wilmington in a disoriented manner in the two days before his body was found.

Officials with the Department of Health and Social Service, which oversees the medical examiner's office, referred calls seeking further details about the autopsy results to Newark police, who are leading the investigation, and to the state attorney general's office.

But Lt. Mark Farrall, a spokesman for Newark police, said he was unaware that the medical examiner's office had released the cause of death and he could not provide any details.

"We're still looking for anybody who might have information as to who may have been involved in the case," Farrall. said. "... No suspects have been identified at this time."

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Attorney General Beau Biden, said the Department of Justice would not provide any information on how Wheeler was assaulted, what injuries he suffered or what the results of the toxicology tests were.

Biden's office and police investigators have sought to keep information about the investigation from the public.

Biden's office filed a court motion to seal a search warrant for Wheeler's home, even though police had not originally requested that it be sealed. Three search warrants for searches of Wheeler's cell phone and his 1993 Oldsmobile also were sealed at the request of Newark police.

Police also have refused to release any of the video surveillance tapes investigators have looked at, including one of Wheeler in downtown Wilmington the night before his body was found.

The garbage truck that dumped Wheeler's body collected all of its trash from commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from both his home in New Castle and from downtown Wilmington.

"We still don't know how he got to Newark," Farrall said Friday.


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