As the rest of us were making preparations to ring in the new year, a grizzly discovery was being made in Cherry Hill, Delaware. On New Year's Eve, the body of John Wheeler III, 66, was discovered when the contents of a garbage truck were emptied iat a local landfill. Indentifying information was found on his person. Police have declined to say how Wheeler was killed, but his death has been ruled a homicide.
Wheeler, a Republican stalwart, served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations. After graduating from West Point in 1966, the Army officer served as a captain in Vietnam. After he retired from the military in 1971 as a decorated veteran, he attended Harvard Business and Yale Law schools.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and passionately led the fund-raising effort to create the memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He also served as the first chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). A more recent crusade involved bringing the ROTC back to ivy league campuses.
Recently, Wheeler served as special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to 2008 when he became the special assistant to the acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Logistics and Enviroment. His most recent work was as a defense consultant to the Mitre Corporation, a non-profit organization that manages work for the U.S. Defense Department. Wheeler also wrote a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons, which recommended that the U.S. not use biological weapons.
Wheeler was last seen Tuesday night stepping off of an Amtrak train from Washington at the Wilmington, Delaware, station. His body was discovered when an employee at the landfill observed his body falling off the dump truck into a trash pile. By backtracking the truck's route, police have been able to determine that all trash collection stops made by the truck before it arrived at the landfill involved large commercial disposal bins. These bins were located in Newark about twelve miles west of Wilmington. Police are now reconstructing the last few days of Wheeler's life in an attempt to shed light on his murder.
The conspiracy theorists are already running amok with theories that sound like the start of a government conspiracy thriller. The Internet has been abuzz with dark suggestions about covert involvement in Wheeler's death. Many are suggesting that Wheeler was privy to some secret information that he acquired over the course of his distinguished career. They dismiss as unlikely the idea that a random act of violence such as a mugging would result in a body being disposed of in a trash container. They further argue that the method of body disposal is more consistent with a targeted hit. Wheeler's connection to and involvement with the Mitre organization has also been the subject of much speculation.
There are a number of questions surrounding Wheeler's murder. Was he reported missing before his body was discovered in the landfill? From where, exactly, along his route home did he disappear? What did he do in the days before his untimely death? What do his cell phone records reveal about who he may have been in contact with in his last hours? Perhaps, as the answers to these questions are revealed, investigators will have a clearer picture as to whether Wheeler's death is run-of-the-mill random violence or whether there is something more sinister afoot.
Although Wheeler's death does seem strange for an act of random violence, as a prosecutor for 24 years, I can vouch for the fact that strange things happen every day in the big city. Women in Crime Ink will keep you updated on any unusual developments on this unfortunate end of a distinguished life.
Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views, opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.