DOVER, Del. – The body of a military expert who served in three Republican administrations was found dumped in a landfill and investigators said Monday they were trying to retrace his steps in the days leading up to his death.
John Wheeler III, 66, who had not been reported missing, was scheduled to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28, but authorities say it’s 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 served as an Army staff officer in Vietnam and later worked in the Reagan and both Bush administrations. He also helped lead efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington and was the second chairman and chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Before the garbage truck arrived at the landfill, it stopped to pick up commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler’s home in the historic district of New Castle. Investigators have been to the home he shared with his wife, Katherine Klyce. It was not considered a crime scene, said Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall.
Investigators don’t know how long Wheeler might have been missing or where and when he was last seen, though a friend said he received an e-mail from Wheeler the day after Christmas.
The son of a decorated Army officer, Wheeler followed in his father’s footsteps to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy 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.
Author Rick Atkinson’s 1989 book “The Long Gray Line” featured Wheeler as a prominent member of West Point’s Class of 1966. It 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.
“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 Klyce in an ongoing legal dispute.
“He was a very aggressive kind of guy, but nevertheless kind of ingratiating, and he had a good sense of humor,” Marin said.
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