Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Jan 3rd, 2011

Former Reagan, Bush Official Murdered, Police Say

Body of John Wheeler was found as garbage truck emptied contents at landfill

Image: John Wheeler III at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
John Wheeler III touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1994. (Photo credit: Charles Tasnadi / AP)

Jan. 3, 2011

DOVER, Delaware — The body of a military expert who served in three Republican administrations was found dumped in a landfill over the New Year’s weekend, and investigators said Monday they do not know who might have killed him.

Authorities say John Wheeler III, 66, was scheduled to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28. Police say it’s now not clear if he ever made that trip. His body was found three days later, on New Year’s Eve, as a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill [near Wilmington, Del.]. His death has been ruled a homicide.

Wheeler, who served as an Army staff officer in Vietnam, later worked in the Reagan and both Bush administrations and helped lead efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington. He also was the second chairman and chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. …

Police have determined that all the stops made by the garbage truck on Friday before it arrived at the landfill involved commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler’s home in the historic district of New Castle. …

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Wheeler went on to study at Harvard Business School and Yale Law School.

Richard Radez, a longtime friend who also graduated from West Point and Harvard Business, said he exchanged e-mails with Wheeler on Christmas. On the day after Christmas, Wheeler sent Radez an e-mail expressing concern that the nation wasn’t sufficiently prepared for cyber warfare. …


Wheeler murder leaves veterans community reeling (NBC Nightly News, Jan. 3, 2011) — Police are investigating the slaying of former Bush administration aide John Wheeler, a leader in the effort to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, whose body was found in a landfill. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (02:28)

James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, wrote in an article on the magazine’s website that he had known “Jack” Wheeler since the early 1980s [link added]. …

Fallows told The Associated Press that Wheeler had been focused recently on getting ROTC programs restored at prestigious universities such as Harvard and Stanford.

He also exchanged e-mails with Wheeler over Christmas, and said Wheeler was concerned about the separation of the military and educational institutions that stemmed from the Vietnam War and continued through the debate over the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

With the recent Senate vote to end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Wheeler saw no further impediments to restoring ROTC programs on college campuses, Fallows said.

The son of a decorated Army officer, Wheeler followed in his father’s footsteps at West Point. His military career included serving in the office of the Secretary of Defense and writing a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons, which recommended that the United States not use biological weapons. …

Wheeler retired from the military in 1971, and went on to serve in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, including at the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also was a special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force under President George W. Bush. He recently worked as a consultant for The Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.

“He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill,” said Bayard Marin, an attorney who was representing Wheeler and his wife, Katherine Klyce, in an ongoing legal dispute with a couple [Frank and Regina Marini] wanting to build a home near the Wheelers’ in the historic district. …


1/4/10 Update


Reagan, Bush aide’s body found in landfill (NBC “Today,” Jan. 4, 2011) — Authorities are searching for clues in the murder of John P. Wheeler, a military expert and aide to President Reagan and both Bush administrations, whose body turned up in a Delaware landfill. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (02:52)


1/5/10 Update

Latest information

NBC News reports that a tipster told police that John Wheeler was seen alive at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30 near a downtown Wilmington, Del., intersection dominated by the E.I. DuPont & Co. headquarters building and the Hotel du Pont – about six blocks from the office of an attorney who was representing Wheeler and his wife Katherine Klyce in a property dispute, and about a mile from the Amtrak station Wheeler was known to use for trips to Washington, D.C.

Regarding the property dispute, in which Wheeler sought to block construction of a house by Frank and Regina Marini, NBC News reports that late on Tuesday, Dec. 28 –  the date Wheeler was scheduled to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington — several smoke bombs of the type used for rodent control were tossed into the Marini house.


1/7/10 Update

‘Confused’ Wheeler Seen Hours Before Killing

NBC News and The Associated Press via
Jan. 5, 2011

Military expert John Wheeler was caught on video appearing confused inside an office building just hours before his dead body was apparently put into a trash dumpster, according to police in Delaware.

Wheeler, who served in three Republican administrations, was inside the Nemours office building in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the surveillance video shows.

“On this video, Mr. Wheeler appears confused,” a police spokesman told NBC News.

Earlier in the day, Wheeler had been offered help by several people who observed his apparently erratic behavior, but he declined their offers, police said.

In his last few days, Wheeler appeared increasingly disheveled and disoriented. In various incidents, he was unable to find his car, was seen not wearing a coat and missing a shoe, and asked a pharmacist for a ride.

The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, citing a law enforcement source, said police in Delaware believe Wheeler may have been involved in an attempted arson attack just a few days before he was killed.

It said evidence had been found which linked him to devices planted at the home of a neighbor. Wheeler and his neighbor in the historic part of the city of New Castle had been involved in a dispute over the size of a house the neighbor was building, according to the paper. …

The previous last sighting of Wheeler, before the video emerged, was at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

A tipster told police Wheeler was seen alive 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.

Witnesses reported seeing Wheeler acting erratically on Dec. 29, multiple media outlets reported.

A parking lot attendant next to the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington said Wheeler was unable to find his car, appeared disoriented and said he had been robbed.

She said he was holding one shoe and was not wearing a coat over his suit despite cold weather.

Earlier that day, Wheeler had asked a pharmacist in New Castle for a ride to Wilmington. The News Journal of Wilmington said pharmacist Murali Gouro, who had filled Wheeler’s prescriptions in the past, said the former official looked upset. …


Surveillance video shows ‘confused’ Wheeler (MSNBC “The Daily Rundown,” Jan. 5, 2011) — Police investigating the death of former Pentagon official John Wheeler say surveillance video shows him confused and disoriented on his last day alive. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (01:57)


1/8/11 Update

Delaware Police Show New Video of Dead Former Bush Official

Jan. 7, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Delaware police released new video on Friday showing John Wheeler, a former senior official in the administration of President George W. Bush, on the street in downtown Wilmington the day before his body was found in a nearby landfill.

Local police and the FBI are trying to figure out how Wheeler’s body got in a dumpster picked up by the trash truck in Newark, Del. as early as 4:20 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

The Delaware Medical Examiner has ruled Wheeler’s death a homicide but has not released the cause of death, pending the results of toxicology tests.

The new video shows Wheeler exiting a building and crossing a street in central Wilmington, wearing dark pants and a blue hooded sweatshirt, the Newark Police Department said in a statement.

The video traces Wheeler’s movements until 8:42 p.m. on December 30, about 13 hours before his body was spotted by a sanitation worker falling out of a trash truck at a Wilmington landfill. Police had previously published video showing him inside the building at about 8:30 p.m. on December 30. …

Another video from December 29 showed Wheeler walking through a Wilmington parking garage in disoriented fashion, carrying one shoe in his hand.

“The Newark Police Department is interested in any information regarding Mr. Wheeler’s whereabouts after 8:42 p.m. on December 30th, 2010,” the police statement said.


1/29/11 Update

Officials say defense consultant died from assault (AP, Jan. 28, 2011) — John Wheeler III, whose body was found among a load of trash being dumped at the Wilmington, Del., landfill on the morning of Dec. 31, 2010, was assaulted and died of blunt force trauma. Hal Brown, deputy director of the medical examiner’s office, said specific results of toxicology tests are not released in homicide cases, but that if the presence of drugs or alcohol was deemed relevant, that fact would be included in the cause of death. Brown said blunt force trauma involves “nonpenetrating” injuries such as concussions, contusions, lacerations, broken bones and abrasions, which are distinguished from penetrating wounds inflicted by stabbing or shooting. … Full story


Related report

The old New Castle home of John P. Wheeler today.
The Old New Castle home of John P. Wheeler.
(Photo credit: T.J. Healey / The News Journal)

Man whose body was found in landfill was decorated veteran (Delaware Online / The News Journal, Jan. 2, 2011) – Police determined John P. Wheeler’s body was dumped somewhere near College Square and East Main Street in Newark, Del. Newark police asked anyone with information about Wheeler’s whereabouts from Tuesday, Dec. 28 until Friday, Dec. 31, 2010 to call Detective Nicholas Sansone at (302) 366-7110 ext. 135 or Delaware Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 3, 2010

Underwear Bomb: No Smoking Gun

One year ago today, I reported that White House aide John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said U.S. intelligence agencies did not miss a “smoking gun” that could have prevented the attempt by Islamic fundamentalist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 3, 2009

Tensions Mount in Northern Iraq

Two years ago today, on Jan. 3, 2009 I reported that tensions were mounting between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where political violence was increasing ahead of provincial elections.

Interactive: Regional Powerplay

Fight for Iraq (MSNBC) — NBC’s Richard Engel discusses ethnic, religious, and political conflict in and around Iraq.

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