Body of US military expert found in landfill

This image provided by the Newark Police Department shows a man identified by police as 66-year-old John Wheeler III, whose body was found at a landfill in Wilmington, Del. on New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/Newark Police Department)

January 3, 2011 5:31:35 PM PST
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. 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.

His body was discovered Dec. 31 as a waste management truck emptied its contents at the Wilmington-area landfill. His death has been ruled a homicide.

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.

Newark, Del. police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall said investigators had been to Wheelers' house, which was roped off with police tape after his death, but that it could not be considered a crime scene.

"We don't have a crime scene at this point in time," said Farrall, adding that investigators still do not have any leads in the case.

Farrall said initial police reports that Wheeler was last seen getting off an Amtrak train in Wilmington last Tuesday were incorrect.

"The information that we have is that he was scheduled to take a train from Washington, D.C., to Newark on the 28th. We don't know if that occurred," Farrall said, adding that investigators don't know how long Wheeler might have been missing before his body was found, or where and when he was last seen.

Asked why Wheeler had not been reported missing, Farrall said the family was not in town at the time.

"That's why there was some delay in notification," he explained.

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.

"This was something that had preoccupied him over the last couple of years," Radez said.

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. A photo on the website shows a youthful, businesslike Wheeler in a dress shirt, tie and suspenders, in front of a map.

Wheeler, Fallows wrote, had spent much of his life trying to address "what he called the '40 year open wound' of Vietnam-era soldiers being spurned by the society that sent them to war."

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.

Author Rick Atkinson, whose 1989 book "The Long Gray Line" featured Wheeler as a prominent member of West Point's Class of 1966, called him an extraordinarily intelligent and intense man who relentlessly pursued causes.

"Some of his pursuits were quixotic but others were magnificent," Atkinson said, citing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as Wheeler's greatest achievement. He said the monument wouldn't exist had Wheeler not used his organizational skills to steer the project through a brutal political fight.

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 wanting to build a home near the Wheelers' in the historic district.

"He was a very aggressive kind of guy, but nevertheless kind of ingratiating, and he had a good sense of humor," Marin said.

Telephone messages left for Klyce at the couple's New Castle home were not immediately returned Monday. Attempts to reach Klyce at the couple's New York City apartment were not successful.

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