WILMINGTON, Del. (WJZ) –The murder of former presidential advisor John Wheeler III remains shrouded in mystery.
Mike Hellgren investigates.
Wheeler was instrumental in getting the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial built. He graduated from West Point in 1966 and served as the first chairman of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Wheeler, 66, known as Jack to his friends, was found dead the morning of Dec. 31, 2010. Workers discovered the body at the Cherry Island Landfill in Delaware, after a trash truck unloaded there.
In a short statement, the state medical examiner’s office released his cause of death, saying he was assaulted and died of blunt force trauma.
Wheeler was seen on video surveillance cameras wandering around downtown Wilmington in a disoriented manner two days before his body was found.
WJZ has taken a closer look at his final week alive. Six days before his death, Wheeler told his neighbor, Robert Dill, he was going to New York City to see his wife. They have a condo there. Then, friends say, he was then headed to Washington, D.C. where he consulted for a government contractor. Wheeler was one of the nation’s top experts in cyber warfare.
Dill took Wheeler to the train station in Wilmington, Del. on Christmas Eve.
“None of it fits together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle but most of the pieces aren’t there,” said Dill.
Three days later, on Dec. 28, Wheeler is believed to have come back to his home in New Castle, Del. on an Amtrak train.
That same day, police say smoke bombs were set off at his neighbor’s house. Wheeler had been involved in a long legal battle concerning the property, which was under construction and blocked his view of the Delaware River. Wheeler was never charged in connection with that incident.
“Our investigators are aware of that dispute. It’s one angle we are looking into,” said Lieutenant Mark Farrall of the Newark, Del. Police Department.
But Colm Connolly, a former U.S. Attorney who is speaking on behalf of the Wheeler family says, “I personally know of no connection between the arson attempt and Jack Wheeler’s death, and the police have not suggested to us that there’s any connection.”
That same day, police say Wheeler tried to get a ride back to Wilmington from a pharmacy near his house. When that failed, he reportedly called a cab, but wasn’t there when the driver showed up.
However, within the hour, a surveillance camera showed Wheeler somehow made it to a parking garage in downtown Wilmington, and something appeared to be very wrong.
He was holding one shoe in his hand, and told the attendant, Iman Goldsborough, he’d been robbed.
“He looked like somebody had done something to him,” said Goldsborough. “He just didn’t look good. He was really red, no overcoat.”
Neighbor Dill viewed the video.
“I’ve certainly never seen him walking around like that, and he wasn’t a guy who was a drinker,” Dill said.
No one knows where Wheeler spent the night, but police say they’ve uncovered more surveillance video–which they won’t release–showing Wheeler the next day.
He’s wandering a few blocks away wearing a hooded sweatshirt near the corner of 10th and Orange Streets in Wilmington.
It’s video his family wants to see.
“The police have publicly said this video shows Mr. Wheeler, and it’s the last known video of him alive,” Connolly told WJZ.
About 13 hours later after he was last seen on camera in downtown Wilmington, Wheeler’s body was found at the landfill.
Adding to the mystery, police say Wheeler was dumped about 13 miles away in Newark, Del. in a large dumpster.
“We don’t know how he managed to get to the city of Newark from Wilmington,” said Lt. Farrall. “At this point, we still haven’t located the actual crime scene where Mr. Wheeler was killed.”
Wheeler’s widow put up $25,000 of her own money to find her husband’s killer.
“Frankly, if this is random violence on a street corner, that is the kind of case where a reward can really bear fruit,” Connolly said.
WJZ asked Connolly whether a medical problem could explain Wheeler’s behavior.
“His health condition is something we’re exploring,” he said.
One thing is certain: Someone killed Wheeler and went to great pains to get rid of his body.
“It’s something we can’t even believe. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen. To be wandering around carrying a shoe. That’s not the Jack we know,” said Robert Dill.
Dill’s wife Phoebe has spoken to Wheeler’s widow.
“She said, ‘I was waking up every day and he wasn’t there and I would cry,'” Phoebe said.
Despite the release of Wheeler’s cause of death, 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.
Search warrants for Wheeler’s cell phone and his 1993 Oldsmobile were sealed at the request of Newark Police.
Newark Police are the lead investigators, and they say there are no people of interest and no suspects. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.
Police have set up a tip line. Call 1-800-TIP-8333 if you know anything about this case.