It has been going on five months since the battered corpse of defense consultant John P. Wheeler fell from a trash truck at a northern Delaware landfill, and if anything the mystery surrounding his death has deepened.
As dead guys go, Jack Wheeler would not seem to be the kind of person who would end up in a landfill, but a closer look reveals that he had enemies as well as friends. It is possible that he was targeted for death because of his dealings in the murky world of international defense contracting and was not the victim of a random killing since he was still wearing an expensive Rolex watch and his treasured West Point class ring.
His widow, Katherine Klyce (pictured with Wheeler at their 1997 wedding), seems to think so, too.
Although she has waffled since telling Slate.com that she thought someone was “paid” to kill him, she said “I think he was afraid” last week in the first lengthy interview she has given since Wheeler’s body was seen about 9:30 on New Years Eve morning by spotter at the Cherry Island landfill south of Wilmington.
Police traced the truck’s route to Newark, Delaware, about 12 miles from Wilmington, and it was determined that his body probably was placed in one of10 commercial trash bins in the East Main Street-College Square area of the university town, a stone’s throw from where this post is being written.
The 66-year-old West Point and Harvard- and Yale-educated Vietnam era veteran held Pentagon posts in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, and started the Earth Conservation Corps for President George H.W. Bush.
John P. Wheeler III’s grandfather and father had been Army officers, and while he held important positions in government and civilian life, his life cause was addressing what he called the “40-year open wound” of Vietnam veterans being spurned by the society that sent him to war. To that end, he used his clout to become perhaps the key player in pushing through the legislation to build the controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall despite intense bipartisan opposition in Congress. Today the memorial is the most visited attraction in the capital.
Wheeler lived in Washington, D.C. and part-time in the historic district of New Castle, Delaware. His once orderly life seemed to be unraveling in his last days, which has further befuddled homicide investigators, who say they have no suspects and do not even know where Wheeler was killed.
The autopsy report has not been made public, but Kyce was allowed to view Wheeler’s body before it was cremated. She said he had suffered blows to the head, which was swollen, but believes the fatal blows were delivered to the torso.
Wheeler was last seen about 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, December 30, in downtown Wilmington about two blocks from the office of an attorney who was representing he and Kyce in a property dispute involving a neighbor in New Castle. One passersby said that he was so disoriented and disheveled that he was mistaken for a homeless person.
According to employees at the New Castle County Courthouse parking garage on King Street in Wilmington, Wheeler was erratically searching for his car, which turned out to be parked in a lot several blocks away near the Amtrak station.
Wheeler’s longtime friend, journalist James Fallows, termed him “a complicated man of very intense (and sometimes changeable) friendships, passions, and causes.”
Kyce said he suffered from a bipolar disorder, took medication for manic depression, for which he was briefly hospitalized in 2004, and was a “little Asperger-y,”although she said she saw no indications that he was having any emotional problems during the holidays when they were together and snowbound for four days in their New York City condominium during a Christmas Week blizzard.
Wheeler’s widow has offered a $25,000 reward, but it has not attracted any good leads.