The Strange Case of John. P Wheeler III
Updated: Jan 15
D.O.B. December 14, 1944
Place of Birth - Laredo, Webb County, Texas, USA
Died (c.) December 30, 2010 (aged 66)
Suspected place of Death - Wilmington, Delaware, USA
Resting place - Arlington National Cemetery
Nationality & Ethnicity - White American
Other names - Jack Wheeler
Cause of death - Homicide : - Assault, blunt force trauma.
Body Found - December 31, 2010
At Cherry Island Landfill, Wilmington, Delaware.
Case Status – Unsolved
Alma mater United States Military Academy
Employer at the time Mitre Corp.
Criminal Behaviours explores the strange case of John P Wheeler III a well respected Military man who represented and owned charities for the deaf community and organisations against drink driving, he worked as a presidential aide to the Ronald Reagan; George H. W. Bush; and George W. Bush administrations, and had key roles in the development of Air-force cyber command and security programs used by the military, he was also a former senior Pentagon official.
Overall he was a man of many great achievements, however in December of 2010 something happened to John, something that to this day cannot be fully explained.
This article will explore the life of John P Wheeler III, his achievements and contributions to the world, his time in Vietnam, his charity work and his last known movements in the days leading up to the discovery of his body on the 31st of December 2010. What we know and don't know about this case and what is speculated based on the evidence there is at hand.
Who Is John P Wheeler III?
John Wheeler often referred to by friends and colleagues as Jack came from a family who had generational ties to the military his Father John Parsons Wheeler, Jr served as a Colonel for the United States Army graduating in the class of 1943 shortly after this in 1944 John Jr and his wife Janet would go on to have John Parsons Wheeler III.
John was the eldest of three children he had a brother called Robert and a sister Janet Marie. John was a high achiever throughout his school life he excelled with his school work and also his friendships. He was known to friends as a caring, loving and funny person, but also a determined one, with high morals and a passion for fighting against injustices. He was a fair man with a kind heart.
As he got older he knew he wanted a Military career like his father and family members before him such as Joseph Wheeler. He went on to attend and graduate in 1966 at the age of 21 as a Distinguished graduate, with a BA in Science, for the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point in New York. This is the point his military career would shape his future.
The Image above was taken by a friend of Johns a year before he graduated from USMA in 1966.
"Jack (right), Art Mosley (left) and Bill Otto (far left). Bill and Art were in Company E-2 with us. The picture was taken while we were on the First Class Trip, Summer of 1965 just before our Senior year. I believe it was taken at Ft. Benning when we were touring the US Army Infantry School. They all look pretty confident with hands on hips." - Bill Thomas (Apr 19, 2011)
He began his Military career as a fire control platoon leader at the nuclear Nike Hercules site, Franklin Lakes in New Jersey. Shortly after this he became a graduate student at Harvard University
in the summer of 1968, as a systems analyst of Strategic Programs this was part of the Office of the
Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C. He did this until 1969 when he would be flown out to be a member of the General Staff, at the Headquarters for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He was one of the first of the U.S military personnel that would be posted in Vietnam during the war and would later go on to do a lot of work with those affected by the war.
Johns Military career is an extensive and impressive one, over the years he has been heavily involved with the military and Cyber Security operations. He has worked in high ranks for the Pentagon and worked alongside many Presidents.
He's written books and erected war memorials; started charities to help those not as fortunate as him; or to help families who have been victims of things such as drunk driving. He has also represented charities for the deaf. You can see one of the interviews pertaining to the work he has done for the deaf community here.
Below is a Timeline of John Wheelers career, achievements and publications leading up to 2010.
1969 - 1970, member of the General Staff, Headquarters U.S. Army Vietnam, Long Binh, Vietnam
1970 - 1971, staff officer, Joint Staff, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 5. 1971 - 1972, senior planner, Amtrak, Washington, D.C. 6. 1972 - 1975, law student, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
1975 - 1976, law clerk, George E. MacKinnon, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
1976 - 1978, Associate, Shea and Gardner Law Firm, Washington, D.C.
1978 - 1986, Assistant General Counsel, Special Counsel to Chairman, and Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, D.C. (1980 - 1981, on loan per President Reagan to create Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program)
1979 - 1989, Chairman, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
1981 Conceived & contributed to a publication called, The Wounded Generation: America After Vietnam, Prentice-Hall.
1983 - 1987, Chairman and CEO, Mothers Against Drunk Driving
1984 - 1985 Author of Touched With Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation.
1986 - 1988, self-employed specialist in startups and turnarounds of companies, charities
1988 - 1989, President G.H.W. Bush Transition Team to create Earth Conservation Corps, Washington, D.C.
1989 - 1997, self-employed specialist in startups and turnarounds of companies, charities
1993 - 2010, created & was CEO of the Vietnam Children's Fund
1997 - 2001, President and CEO, Deafness Research Foundation, Washington, D.C.
2001 - 2005, self-employed specialist in startups and turnarounds of companies, charities (2004 - 2005, consultant to acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Washington, D.C.)
2005 - 2008, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C.
2008-2009 Special Assistant to the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Logistics and Energy.
2009 District of Columbia Bar; Council on Foreign Relations.
2009. Consultant to Mitre Corporation.
Knowing the things John did throughout his lifetime it is easy to establish that he was a highly intelligent man who was physically and mentally very capable. He was determined, thorough, just & fair. He had no problem calling someone out if he felt there was any form of injustice happening. He was known for being a firm believer in equality and opportunity for all, this is reflected in much of his charity and campaigning work over the years.
A good friend of Johns described him as "a complicated man of very intense (and sometimes changeable) friendships, passions, and causes." James Fallows (Jan 3, 2011)
John and James had worked on a book together called Touched With Fire, it’s about the post-war experiences of those who were in uniform during Vietnam and others opposing the war and what it stood for. John pressed tirelessly for recognition of the military who fought and lost their lives in the Vietnam war, he was the main driving force for one of the most popular US memorials in history the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Shortly after this he would work another contract with the Transition Team for G.H.W. Bush as part of the Earth Conservation Corps. This position lasted for a few years, after this he had time to focus on his consulting work for start up companies and charities as well as focusing on setting up the Vietnam Children's Fund in 1993 and became the President and CEO of the Deafness Research Foundation in 1997.
From 2005 up to 2010 John continued to work for the Air Force and also as a consultant for the Mitre Corporation his expertise in cyber crimes and cyber security meant he was a good fit for their cyber threat sharing and cyber resilience projects and work. In his later life he was by no means inactive and would often have a busy schedule all year round.
Is John Okay?
In the week after Christmas leading up to New Years Eve of December 2010 many families were getting ready to celebrate with loved ones, but Johns work schedule was still lively as usual. He had been in Washington on business and was due to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on 28 December to see family, attend some meetings and go to a friends wedding. However after leaving Washington it becomes unclear what exactly happened to John or when exactly he left Washington and arrived in Wilmington.
At 11:30 p.m on Dec. 28th firefighters discovered a smoke bomb in the partially built house opposite from Wheeler’s house in New Castle. The new build has caused a long-running dispute between the Wheelers, and the owners of the property, Frank and Regina Marini. Local news organisations did also report that police found Wheeler’s cell phone in the new house when the smoke bombs were discovered. However he didn’t seem to be a suspect in this incident.
The next morning John was back in Wilmington and was seen early in the morning on the 29th where he got into a taxi just outside of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Railroad Station in Wilmington.
Police say it's now not clear if he ever made that Amtrak trip on the 28th nor if he arrived back on the 28th or the 29th.
Not much is known of the last few days of Johns life other than little snippets here and there caught by various witnesses and CCTV cameras. It is known he got into a taxi at 8.48am on the 29th of December just outside of the train station. He was dressed in casual clothes and didn’t seem to be on his way to work or a meeting, he was dropped off outside of a well known hotel, The Hotel Du Pont.
After that it is not known where John went once he had gotten out of the taxi, but he showed up some hours later (around 4pm) at a pharmacy in New Castle roughly 6.5 miles away from the last place he was seen. The Pharmacist who spoke to him knew of him, John had picked up prescriptions there previously so he recognised his face. The Pharmacist described him as not looking his normal self he said he looked "a bit different" he asked John if he was okay and if he wanted a taxi but John declined and instead asked him for a lift/ride back to Wilmington.
The next time he is seen is on Alico Rd in Wilmington entering a multi-story parking lot at 18.41pm. He is wearing a suit and appears to be holding a shoe, he has only one shoe on, so it’s assumed the one he is holding is the other one to the pair. He has on no coat despite it being the middle of winter and is looking around like he might have lost something.
He approaches the attendants’ desk and begins to speak to her, asking if she knows where his car is parked. When she asked him for his parking ticket number, he said it was in his briefcase which had been stolen so he didn’t have it. She said he didn’t look ok, he looked like someone had done something to him and he appeared very distressed.
He continues to walk around the car lot looking around presumably for his car but then exits the car park at 19:09:45 when he cannot locate it.
After this it is not known exactly what John did between 19:09pm on the 29/12/2010 and 20:30pm on the 30/12/2010 which is the approximate time he is next seen and possibly the last time he is seen alive. But he was seen that afternoon at the offices of the law firm Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutch, asking to speak with a partner. When the receptionist returned to answer his queriy, Wheeler had left.
He was seen at 8.30pm outside the Nemours Building on 10th & Orange Street, again looking distressed and disoriented. Several people tried to offer assistance and ask if he was ok, but he declined offers of help and concern. Shortly after this he walked away from that location.
There is CCTV footage showing him exiting through doors on the 11th Street side of the Nemours building on Dec. 30. He then begins to walk southeast on 11th Street, through the Hotel Du Pont valet parking area. He heads southeast and crosses Market Street. He is last seen in camera view at 8:42 p.m. walking on the west sidewalk of 11th Street, toward the city's East Side.
He was wearing dark colour trousers and a dark blue hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. From then on there are no reports of anyone seeing him, interacting with him or any clear evidence of where he went. But was John okay?
What is known is that Johns body was in Newark, Delaware from either the late hours (11-12pm) of the 30th of December or from the very early hours (1-3am) of the 31st some 14.5 miles from the last place he was sighted alive.
Johns body was put into 1 of 10 dumpsters along the Newark trash route it is not known which location it was. Police confirmed that all the stops made by the truck on Friday before it arrived at the landfill involved commercial dumpsters in Newark.
The dumpster that contained his body was then picked up by the garbage trucks on the morning of 31/12/2010 around 4.30am. Where it was taken to Delaware Solid Waste Authority- Cherry Island Landfill. His body was discovered 10am on New Years Eve.
The autopsy and forensic reports announced the cause of death on Jan. 28 2011 as ”blunt force trauma,” it revealed he had not been in the dumpster for very long, and that he had died from blunt force trauma due to an assault.
His Time of death was estimated to be not long after 8pm on 30/12/2010, This would mean he died shortly after the last sighting of him on 11th Street, toward the city's East Side. His death is being investigated as a Homicide.
So what happened?
Initially it was suspected to be a robbery gone wrong however it is important to note that there were no signs of robbery as expensive items such as a watch were left on his persons among other things of value. There were also no signs of physical trauma when he was seen by the parking attendant even though he said his briefcase had been stolen. Nor when he was seen the next day by people at the Nemours Building it was never noted that he had any visible injury and it can’t be seen on the cctv footage.
Over the span of 48 hours numerous people had reported of his odd behaviour, many of them not quite being able to put their finger on what exactly was wrong, but they just knew something wasn’t okay with John.
There are multiple theories about what could of happened to John Wheeler III from him having a stroke and climbing into a dumpster while in a disoriented state. To the government hiring a hitman to kill him or a foreign company having him murdered for business deal reasons.
The police also followed a lead regarding an ongoing legal dispute with a neighbour as a potential motive into who may want to do this to him as it was reported Johns phone was found inside the property of the neighbours in question, but that seems to of also come to a dead end. Along with theories of robbery gone wrong.
His Attorney Bayard Marin told the News Journal when he was ask what his thoughts where that " This is just not the kind of guy who gets murdered, He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill."
As this case began to gain public traction Beau Biden sealed the documents from the public meaning it becomes exceedingly difficult to piece together any missing information as it is now unavailable leaving us only to speculate with what is available. This was done to protect the investigation from being jeopardised in anyway by leads being leaked or released before they get the chance to act on them, however this does leave us with a gaping hole of mystery. Was there foul play? And if so what kind? Was it just an unfortunate result of misadventure or something far more sinister?
Below is the majority of the evidence that is available for this case, I have also created a map on google maps which pin points Johns last few days location by location with a small description of each event.
Timeline of Johns last known movements
29th December 2010
Point 1 - Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Railroad Station. 100 South French St, Wilmington, DE 19801
John Wheeler was picked up by Taxi driver Mr R. Spence at 8.48am on the 29th Dec 2010, outside of the Amtrak Station. John is wearing casual clothes. He asks the driver to go to the Hotel Du Pont.
Point 2 - The Hotel Du Pont at West 10th St & N Orange St, Wilmington, DE 19801
John was dropped of outside the Hotel Du Pont by taxi driver R. Spence on the 29/12/2010 around 9am he paid the driver and exited the taxi.
Point 3 - Happy Harrys Drug Store (Currently Walgreens Pharmacy) 740 Ferry Cut Off St, New Castle, DE 19720
John was sighted at this drug store (previously Happy Harrys drug store) some time between 3 & 4pm on 29/12/2010. He spoke to his Pharmacist who has served him a few times before and noticed he looked "a bit different" he asked John if he was okay and if he wanted a taxi but John declined and instead asked him for a lift/ride back to Wilmington.
Point 4 - Parking Lot & Ms Goldsborough on Alico Rd, Wilmington, DE 19801
At 18.41pm 29/12/2010 about 40 minutes after he was seen at the Pharmacy in New Castle John was seen on CCTV entering the multi story parking lot on Alico Road Wilmington. He seem distressed and was wearing only 1 shoe and no coat he spoke to the car park attendant Ms Goldsborough and told her his briefcase had been stolen and he couldn't find his car. At 19:09:45 pm he leaves the car parking lot.
30th December 2010
Point 5 - Nemours Building on 200 W 10th St, Wilmington, DE 19801
He was seen at the Nemours Building on 10th & Orange Street around 8.30pm on the 30/12/2010, several people tried to offer assistance, but he declined offers of help. exiting through doors on the 11th Street side of the Nemours building on Dec. 30. He then begins to walk southeast on 11th Street, through the Hotel Du Pont valet parking area. He heads southeast and crosses Market Street. He is last seen in camera view at 8:42 p.m. walking on the west sidewalk of 11th Street, toward the city's East Side. He was wearing dark colour trousers and a dark blue hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. This is potentially the last known place he was seen by people alive.
Point 6 - Newark, Delaware 30-31/12/2010 some 14.5 miles from the last place he was sighted alive.
Johns body was put into 1 of 10 dumpsters along the Newark trash route it is not known which location it was. Either late during the night on the 30/12/2010 or very early hours of the morning on 31/12/2010 it was then picked up by the garbage trucks on the morning of 31/12/2010 around 4.30am.
31st December 2010
Point 7 - Delaware Solid Waste Authority- Cherry Island Landfill - 1706 E 12th St, Wilmington, DE 19809
The final Destination John's body was discovered on the landfill around 10am on 31/12/2010
You can view these points on a map here
Roland H. Spence, Taxi Driver 29.Dec.2010 am
Roland retraces the route he drove John P. Wheeler just days before his death.
One of the last people to see John alive.
Roland Picked John up outside the Amtrak station in Wilmington at approximately 8.48am he said that it was somewhat unusual given the time of day the way John was dressed as it didn't fit the usual business client look for the area he asked to be dropped off in (which is the majority of clientele for taxi drivers during this time of day for that area).
During a retrace of the route he took with John on Dec. 29, two days before Wheeler was found dead in the Cherry Island landfill, he explained that John was memorable because "He just stood out you know, because he wasn't suited down he was dressed casual." he said they had a brief conversation about a hotel being overpriced but nothing more happened out of the ordinary he didn't seem disoriented or anything like that. He dropped John outside The Hotel Du Pont on 11th and orange John paid him and left the taxi.
Watch Ronald Spence's news interview here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp698mZn--Q
The Pharmacist - Happy Harrys Drug Store 29.Dec 2010 pm
John was described by the pharmacist as not looking his normal self he looked "a bit different" he asked John if he was okay and if he wanted a taxi but John declined and instead asked him for a lift/ride back to Wilmington.
You can watch the news clip here
Ms. Goldsborough - Car Parking Attendant 29.Dec.2010 pm
John was seen again on the 29th of December in the evening at a parking lot looking for his car.
He approached the desk to speak to a staff member about finding his car.
He was picked up on CCTV around 18.41pm inside the parking garage on December 29, holding one shoe in his hand that appeared to be broken and the other one is on his foot.
He is wearing a suit but not a coat despite it being very cold outside. He is seen to be looking distressed. He also said to a staff member his briefcase had been stolen and that he couldn't find his car.
The employee of the parking garage told CBS 3 news about the conversation she had with John at the desk that evening
"He just looked like something was wrong with him, like somebody done something to him." . . . "He said his ticket was inside of a briefcase, so I was like where is your briefcase? He said his briefcase was stolen" . . . "The next morning I had called Wilmington police asked them, like had they got any calls about the person because I had seen this man and he didn't look to good, he was walking around with no coat on and one shoe" - As reported by: Robin Rieger; Todd Quinones; Steve Beck, CBS 3 (Jan.4.2011 11:35 pm)
Watch Ms. Goldsborough's interview here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uXJT3dQpro&t=26s
Below is the Raw CCTV footage of the parking lot and Johns interaction with the parking attendant.
However there is speculation over whether John was disoriented or distressed. In an interview for Delaware Online Jacks wife said
" I saw the same stuff y'all did on-on television and I read that he was . . . um disoriented and that sort of thing, but he wasn't. At Jacks funeral Jody Robinson who knew Jack for 40 years stood up and he said that he was distressed, not disoriented." . . . "All the people that talked to him reported that he seemed fine and the people that know him saw the videos and also didn't feel he looked disoriented. I don't think he was acting that abnormal I think he was afraid, that's what I think" Katherine Klyce May.11. 2011
Jeff Rogers was close to John since they were in grade school. When Rogers married, John was his best man. When Jeff saw the tape, some of the physical mannerisms rang true — the arm outstretched during a moment of thought. But the man in the video wasn't the John "Jack" Wheeler he knew and loved.
"The physical disorientation, the lack of control, walking around with one shoe, none of that was Jack," Rogers says. "It was completely unlike him. I don't know what happened, but something happened to him."
He was not reported missing before his body was discovered, the only known report to the police about John was from the parking lot attendant on the morning of the 30/12/2010 who called out of concern due to his distressed behaviour the evening before.
Johns wife Katherine explained that it is not unusual for her or other family members to have no contact with John for days at a time due to the nature of his job. So when she hadn't heard from him there was no immediate urgency to report him as missing. It wasn't until he had not shown up to go to a friends wedding that Katherine realised something could be wrong. At first she was cross with him, but then started to think it was strange for him to miss out on a friends important day without letting anyone know why. It was shortly after this she found out Johns body had been discovered at the landfill.
You can view eulogies left for John "Jack" Wheeler here and images with snippets of his life from those that knew him best here it gives a glimpse if only a small one into who he was as a person, teacher, confidant, friend, campaigner, and government official. He left a great legacy and is well respected by many of those in the military for all the work he did for soldiers and the general public alike.
What do you think of this case is it a case of murder or misadventure?
Biography (PDF link) https://www.sldinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/John-Wheeler-Bio.pdf
J, P Wheeler.(1982) Anglican Theological Review. Theological Reflections Upon The Vietnam War : http://gallyprotest.org/wheeler.pdf (PDF link)
J, P Wheeler.(1984).Touched with Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation. New York: Watts. ISBN0-531-09832-X.OCLC10207966.
J, P Wheeler. (1998) Deafness Research Foundation. Editorial: The American Journal of Otology (Vol. 19, No. l) :http://saveourdeafschools.org/wheeler_1998.pdf (PDF link)
John Wheeler (2000) The Death Of Deafness, A series of questions. Interview:http://saveourdeafschools.org/death_of_deafness.pdf (PDF link)
West-Point.org Eulogy http://defender.west-point.org/service/display.mhtml?u=26097&i=46256
John Parsons Wheeler, Jr. No. 13434 • 23 April 1918 – 29 September 1995 Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jpwheeler.htm
Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy. United States Military Academy https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dePOgBR46VwC&pg=RA2-PA55&lpg=RA2-PA55&dq=John+Parsons+%22Jack%22+Wheeler+III&source=bl&ots=bIlZJoX704&sig=ACfU3U3Gn_jO0Cu4Aovkpbs4Wgu4nFNwcA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjkkPCxy7LqAhXwQhUIHcucAO44ChDoATAAegQIChAB#v=onepage&q=John%20Parsons%20%22Jack%22%20Wheeler%20III&f=false
US Securities and Exchange Commission Remarks at the 2015 SEC Memorial Day Tribute and Presentation of the John P. Wheeler, III, Veterans Charity Award - https://www.sec.gov/news/statement/chair-white-memorial-day-tribute.html
Documents pertaining to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, investigation into possible corruption