Monday, January 3, 2011
Who Murdered John Wheeler III ? Aid to Both Bush Administrations
Newark police have identified the body discovered on New Year's Eve at the Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington as 66-year-old John P. Wheeler III of New Castle.
Wheeler, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who lived part time in Old New Castle, was a defense consultant in Washington, D.C., and had a long career in public service, working in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Wheeler was past chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the memorial on the National Mall in Washington.
His death has been ruled a homicide.
Newark police had a crime-scene van at Wheeler's home at 108 W. Third St. in New Castle on Sunday, with crime-scene tape roping off the prominent three-story brick home with black shutters.
Friends and neighbors were shocked to learn Wheeler had died.
"This is just not the kind of guy who gets murdered," said Bayard Marin, a Wilmington attorney who represented Wheeler in a dispute with a neighbor. "This is not the kind of guy you find in a landfill."
Wheeler was last traced riding an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Tuesday, said Newark police Lt. Mark Farrall.
"The last place they can put him is getting off the Amtrak train in Wilmington," Farrall said.
At about 10 a.m. Friday, a landfill employee spotted Wheeler's body falling from a Waste Management truck into a trash pile. Police identified Wheeler based on identification found on his body, Farrall said.
Tracing the truck's route, police determined Wheeler's body had been left in a large trash bin in one of 10 locations on the east side of Newark, including the College Square shopping center.
Newark police did not release the cause of death Sunday, and wouldn't say whether they're treating Wheeler's home as the crime scene.
Jeanne Thomas, who lives around the corner from Wheeler's house, rented storage space from Wheeler in an old barn behind his house.
"He was wonderful," Thomas said. "We're just shocked. He was very humble."
Wheeler graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and earned degrees from Harvard University and Yale Law School, according to a biography on the website of a defense publication Wheeler wrote for.
From 1978 to 1986, Wheeler held positions at the Securities and Exchange Commission. During the Reagan administration, he founded the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, to link war veterans with jobs.
Working on the transition team for President George H.W. Bush, Wheeler helped found the Earth Conservation Corps. During George W. Bush's second term, Wheeler was special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to 2008.
Marin said Wheeler did not flaunt his accomplishments.
"He's not the kind of person who would say, 'Oh, gee, I'm a Yale Law School graduate, what do you know?' " Marin said. "He would make a joke about it that he could never hold a job, but he went from one important position to another."
Wheeler's widow, Katherine Klyce, owns a handwoven Cambodian silk company. Her business website lists their New Castle home and an address in New York City.
In 2009, Wheeler and Klyce sued to stop construction of a new home across the street, contending it would block their view. After a long battle, New Castle's historic commission granted Frank and Regina Marini permission to build a two-and-a-half story home on the lot.
Though the home is under construction, Wheeler and Klyce have ongoing litigation against the Marinis in Delaware Chancery Court, said attorney John Tracey, who is representing the Marinis.
On Tuesday, firefighters discovered a smoke bomb that had been thrown inside the Marinis' home. The state fire marshal is investigating the incident, but officials haven't linked the two events.
"Mr. Wheeler and his wife have been obviously opposing my client's plans to build a house on her property and I would just leave it at that," Tracey said Sunday. "It is a nice location and one could understand why she'd like to build a house on it."
Wheeler, who went by "Jack," had gained some notoriety for fighting the Marinis. "He was a stubborn, principled guy, but at least with my acquaintance he was well-regarded," said Dr. Bryan McCarthy, an anesthesiologist from New Castle.
Because Wheeler's body was discovered in Wilmington, city police and the Delaware State Police were initially involved. New Castle city police are assisting Newark police, which is the lead agency because the body was dumped in Newark, Farrall said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Nicholas Sansone at 366-7110, ext. 135, or Delaware Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333.