New sightings reported of man found dead in landfill

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 11:59:32 AM PST
The mystery deepens with yet another sighting of the former Pentagon official turned Defense Contractor.

A security guard at the New Castle County Courthouse tells Action News that in the hours before his death John Wheeler III appeared drugged, dazed and confused saying he had been robbed and asking for directions to Front Street:

Kathleen Boyer was on duty at the courthouse Wednesday night before 7:00 p.m. when she says John Wheeler stumbled in saying he was looking for a car he rented from Hertz and wanted to know how to get to Front Street. He told her and two of her colleagues that he had been robbed.

A short time before or after, he stumbled into the Hypark parking garage next door. Iman Goldsborough, a parking attendant, says he had no overcoat and had one of his shoes in his hand, the other on his foot.

"He kind of looked disoriented, he asked me if he could just stand there and get warm before he went and paid for his parking ticket," Goldsborough said.

The parking attendant says he did not reek of alcohol, but he appeared confused saying that his briefcase had been stolen after getting off the train.

"He was trying to find his vehicle, he said he parked in a garage, really, he didn't know what garage he parked in," Goldsborough said.

He said his ticket was in his briefcase which had been stolen.

Goldsborough says he told her he had just gotten off the train.

She says she later recognized Wheeler when his picture was shown on television.

Police say they also now have evidence that Wheeler was spotted behind the Hotel du Pont at 10th and Orange streets at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, only hours before his body was discovered falling out of a trash truck at the Cherry Island landfill.

"We're checking surveillance video from a number of locations just to try to track his whereabouts, including the locations of the dumpsters," Lt. Mark Farrall of the Newark Police said.

The former Pentagon official turned consultant for the Mitre Corporation. a defense contractor, was returning from Washington on an Amtrak train Tuesday when the mysterious series of events unfolded.

Wheeler's body was uncovered Friday, around 10:00 a.m. on Friday the 31st, when a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill in Wilmington.

The truck had collected the trash from about 10 commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler's home in the historic district of New Castle, but police said they aren't sure which container his body came from.

Police say his rental car was found in its designated slot in a parking garage across from the train station.

Friends say they traded e-mails with Wheeler - who had not been reported missing - around Christmas. Wheeler also had been scheduled to take an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28, but it's not clear if he ever made the trip, said investigators.

Family members may not have reported him missing because they were out of town, Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall said.

In a statement, Wheeler's wife said: "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."

Farrall also said Newark police have consulted with the FBI about the case but wouldn't say what assistance, if any, federal investigators are providing.

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

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

Wheeler followed in his decorated father's footsteps and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, he served five years in the Army, including as a staff officer at the Pentagon, and retired from the military in 1971.

In later years, Wheeler, as special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration, helped develop the Air Force Cyber Command. A citation for his service in 2008 said Wheeler recognized that the military needed to combat the growing vulnerability of U.S. weapon systems to cyber intrusions, according to his biography.

Longtime friend and fellow West Point graduate Richard Radez said that in an e-mail the day after Christmas, Wheeler wrote he believed the nation wasn't sufficiently prepared for cyber warfare.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.