Police Still Searching for Crime Scene in John Wheeler’s Puzzling Murder

January 5, 2011 - 7:04 AM

John Wheeler

In this May 17, 1994 photo, John Wheeler III touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Wheeler's body was discovered Dec. 31, 2010 at the Wilmington, Del.-area landfill. His death has been ruled a homicide. (AP File Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

Newark, Del. (AP) - Whoever dumped the body of a prominent national defense consultant into a garbage bin in a bustling college town risked being detected, either by witnesses or surveillance cameras, with some of the containers in well-lit parking lots, near restaurants and stores.

Police don't know which of the 10 bins collected on New Year's Eve in Newark contained the body of 66-year-old John P. Wheeler III, who was last seen alive the afternoon before some 15 miles away in downtown Wilmington. Where he might have been killed and what he was doing on the days leading up to his death also remain elusive, said Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall.

"We still don't know the location of the crime scene," Farrall said Tuesday.

Much is known about Wheeler's 40-year consulting career.

A 1966 West Point graduate and Army officer at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, he later served the administrations of the last three Republican presidents. During Ronald Reagan's time in the White House, Wheeler headed the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program and helped get the Vietnam War Memorial wall built in Washington. Under George W. Bush, he helped develop an Air Force program to combat cyber attacks on U.S. weapons systems.

A tipster told police Wheeler was alive on Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. near an intersection about four blocks from the office of attorney Bayard Marin, who was representing Wheeler and his wife in a heated property dispute, and about a mile from an Amtrak station where Wheeler often caught the train to Washington. They found his car at the station.

Farther south along Interstate 95, The Associated Press traced the garbage truck's path through downtown Newark before it headed to the Cherry Island landfill where workers saw Wheeler's body falling out of the truck as it unloaded. Investigators have said they believe the body was in a bin early in the truck's run.

The first stop was a bank in College Square shopping center. Two trash bins at the rear of a bank are just yards away from two surveillance cameras and in sight of several storefronts and a heavily traveled road.

Inside one was a pair of white latex gloves, similar to those used by police evidence technicians.

Eddie Baker, 55, and his wife, Traci, 44, said they have been scouring the garbage around the shopping center for the past three weeks looking for moving boxes. Baker said he had not seen anything suspicious, but that he had come across homeless people searching, and sometimes sleeping in, the bins.

From the bank, the truck headed to the library, where the bin is tucked in an alley between the rear of the building and a fence that partitions the alley from nearby homes. A locked chain-link gate prevents through traffic in the alley, and a surveillance camera guards the area, alerting workers to an AP reporter's presence.

Asked whether staffers had talked to police, a man replied, "Not a lot to talk about, unfortunately," before the closing the door.

Security cameras and lights overlook bins on the truck's route behind a Toyota dealership. Those at a McDonald's are in plain sight of a 24-hour drive-thru lane. Just down the street, a small bin is behind another restaurant, across the street from a 24-hour emergency care center whose bins can be seen by residents of a seven-story apartment building.

Behind a Goodwill thrift store, several containers are in a lighted area that, according to a sign, is under 24-hour surveillance.

Whoever dumped Wheeler's body would have found more privacy at a nearby retirement village and assisted living facility, where the bin is more hidden.

The garbage truck's route is 10 miles from Wheeler's home in New Castle. Investigators have searched the home, where yellow police tape can still be seen in the kitchen, but they have not identified it as a crime scene.

Wheeler's lawyer Marin said he last spoke with his client on Dec. 27, and did not know what he may have been doing in Wilmington three days later.

Wheeler was suing to block Frank and Regina Marini of Hockessin from continuing to build a new house across the street from his duplex. Wheeler argued that the Marini house did not comply with construction standards for new homes in the historic district. A Delaware Chancery Court judge denied Wheeler's application for a temporary restraining order on Dec. 13.

Late on Dec. 28, several smoke bombs of the type used for rodent control were tossed into the Marini house, scorching the floors, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Alan Brown said.

The Marinis said in a statement that they offered "heartfelt sympathies" to the families of Wheeler and his wife, Katherine Klyce. Police have given no indication whether they believe the property dispute had anything to do with Wheeler's death.

"It is one facet of the investigation," Farrall said.

In New York, police searched the condominium Wheeler and Klyce shared in a brick building on 124th Street in Manhattan, where they had lived for at least three years.

Building superintendent Jay Hosein said Tuesday that he saw Klyce last week, and that she seemed happy and cheerful.

"They were a very nice couple, very nice people," Hosein said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to contact Klyce have been unsuccessful. Wheeler's family issued a statement through Newark police Monday asking for privacy.

Wheeler had twins, a son and daughter, by his first wife. Klyce has two daughters from a previous marriage.

Elizabeth Thorp, a board member of the Deafness Research Foundation, of which Wheeler had formerly been CEO, said the circumstances of his death were "too surreal."

She said he moved in a sophisticated crowd.

"This is not a guy who would end up in landfill or be murdered," she said. "It's a gigantic loss."

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Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Colleen Long in New York City contributed to this story.