Wheeler changed clothes from Dec. 29 to 30

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 7, 2011 2:17:55 PM PST
Police in Delaware say a slain defense expert changed clothes between live sightings in downtown Wilmington on the two nights before his body was found at a nearby landfill.

The disclosure Friday by Newark police adds another twist to the mystery surrounding the death of 66-year-old ex-Pentagon official John Wheeler of New Castle.

Police say surveillance video captured Wheeler walking away from a downtown office building around 8:40 p.m. Dec. 30, wearing dark pants and a dark blue sweat shirt with the hood up.

Wheeler wore a dark business suit and dress shirt when seen at a parking deck the previous night.

Police won't say how his body was dressed when it was found on New Year's Eve in a landfill.

The cause of death hasn't been released.

Meanwhile, Wheeler's family released a statement thanking law enforcement authorities and well-wishers, but asking for privacy. The statement, released by Newark Police on Friday, reads:

"The family of John P. Wheeler III is most grateful for the efforts of the law enforcement authorities in the ongoing investigation into his death. The family is sincerely thankful for all the personal expressions of sympathy and condolences received from so many whose lives were touched by Jack in such positive ways. We reiterate our previous requests for privacy as we mourn his loss and ask that our decision to refrain from further comment at this time be respected."

On Thursday Action News learned that police recovered Wheeler's cell phone in the house under construction across the street from Wheeler's home in New Castle.

That home, belonging to Frank and Regina Marini of Hockessin, is across the street from Wheeler's house. He had a lawsuit pending, challenging the zoning approval for the house because it partially blocked his view of Battery Park and the Delaware River.

Police have been looking into the possibility that Wheeler may have set off smoke bombs in the house last Tuesday night.

Authorities have also taken Athel Scott, a cab driver, in for questioning after finding his phone number on Wheeler's cell phone.

Scott says he doesn't know how his number got on Wheeler's phone, but he says he does remember seeing him.

"I seen him one day by the Hotel du Pont and one day I seen him at the train station going inside that little store, that's all I know," Scott said.

Police are still trying to find out how Wheeler got around after returning to Wilmington on December 28th from Washington, D.C.

He somehow made it to New Castle and back again to Wilmington, while his car sat parked in the garage across the street from the train station.

Wheeler was seen on tape inside a parking garage looking disheveled confused on Wednesday, December 29th.

Wheeler was seen again in the area of the Nemours building at 10th and Orange streets on the night of Thursday, December 30th.

His body was then discovered as it tumbled from a trash truck at the Cherry Island landfill around 10:00 a.m. on Friday, December 31st.

Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall said Thursday that numerous investigators are trying to determine who killed defense consultant John Wheeler of nearby New Castle.

Farrall says he doesn't know of any physical or psychological illness Wheeler had that would explain his disoriented state in video surveillance recordings from downtown Wilmington on Dec. 29 and 30.

Attorney Bayard Marin says the 66-year-old Wheeler was "extremely lucid" when they spoke by phone on Dec. 27.

The FBI says it's providing minimal assistance at this point but that the agency could ramp up its involvement if local police request it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.