Pentagon aide’s dying stumps police a 12 months after grisly discover

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Note: This story originally published Dec. 31, 2011, a year after the death of John P. Wheeler. Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries,” released Monday, Oct. 19, is taking a new look at the case. 

Exactly one year later, the John P. Wheeler III slaying mystery shows no signs of being solved.

Wheeler, a former Pentagon aide and key founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, turned up dead last New Year’s Eve in Wilmington’s Cherry Island landfill, his body spilling from a garbage truck that had just picked up trash in Newark.

The grisly discovery occurred about 14 hours after Wheeler was seen on surveillance video in downtown Wilmington, where the 66-year-old New Castle resident, looking disheveled, had been wandering for about two days.

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05/05/11-Old New Castle, De.-wheeler-Family photograph of John Wheeler while serving in the Vietnam War. Wheeler was found dead in the Cherry Island Landfill on New Years Eve.
Photo Courtesy of the Wheeler Family (Photo: Photo Courtesy of the Wheeler Family, The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBET)

After 12 months of investigation, at first intense but recently almost dormant, authorities still have no suspects. They don’t know where Wheeler was killed, according to an autopsy, by blunt-force trauma.

Tips to Newark police have been sporadic and unhelpful to investigators, who have not even determined which trash bin the killer or killers used to hide Wheeler’s body.

“There’s no new information,” Newark police Lt. Mark A. Farrell said. “We’re still hopeful somebody’s going to come forward to provide information that’s going to help us. But, at this time, we don’t have the answers.”

Katherine Klyce, Wheeler’s widow, would not comment for this story. Her attorney said she remains distraught by her husband’s killing and frustrated that the culprit hasn’t been found. Klyce and her family have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

“For obvious reasons, the family is not looking forward to the first anniversary of his death,” said her Wilmington lawyer, Colm F. Connolly. “They are committed to helping the authorities.”

For the first few months of 2011, the murder of Wheeler was international news.

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A video of him hobbling around a Wilmington parking garage on Dec. 29 was shown repeatedly and went viral on the Internet. In the video, Wheeler is carrying one of his shoes while looking for his car, which was parked in a different garage blocks away.

The mystery even spurred wild, Web-fueled conspiracy theories like the one that claimed he was killed because he was about to blow the whistle on poison gas testing that killed thousands of blackbirds in Arkansas the day his body was found.

At the time, Wheeler’s family and friends vacillated between wondering whether the West Point graduate was targeted for assassination or had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time in a rough section of Wilmington. Wheeler, who had served in the last three Republican presidential administrations, had bipolar disorder and once was hospitalized for that condition.

Klyce told The News Journal in May that she was trying to decide whether her husband was targeted or the victim of a random act of violence. She said then she was leaning toward one scenario, “but I’m not going to tell you which one. I’m open to being wrong.”

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01/06/11-Newark, De.-wheeler-A dumpster behind the Gardens of White Chapel is one of the ten suspected dumpsters in Newark that police are investigating as the container where John Wheeler’s body was dumped.
The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBETT (Photo: The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBETT, The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBET)

California lawsuit

In recent months, the only rumblings concerning the late John P. Wheeler III occurred 3,000 miles away in California and had nothing to do with who killed him.

They occurred in a lawsuit filed by Klyce’s brother and wife, who accused Klyce, Wheeler and Klyce’s sister of “cyberterror” by hacking into their email accounts and disrupting their lives.

The suit, filed in San Francisco federal court in May by Henry and Carole Klyce, claimed that Wheeler used “the military expertise he had gained in cyberwarfare” to assist with the “unending and intensified harassment.” The goal of the conspiracy, the lawsuit claimed, was to persuade Henry Klyce to allow his sisters to invest in his business ventures in medical devices.

The women had made several million dollars through such investments in the past, but after Henry Klyce cut them off amid a family feud, the lawsuit charged, “they were experiencing financial difficulties.”

In court papers, Klyce and her sister, Ellen, scoffed at the allegations. Through their attorneys, they called the allegations “fanciful and unsupportable allegations, surely more suited to an Ian Fleming novel than a federal complaint.”

Their response also minimized Wheeler’s computer capabilities, saying the allegations “grossly misrepresent Mr. Wheeler’s military experience to imply that he, himself, was an advanced computer hacker. In actuality, Mr. Wheeler’s military career was that of a policy adviser and his technical experience with computers was very limited, both in his professional career and in his personal life.”

The notion that Wheeler was a skilled hacker was “contradicted” by the fact that the Klyce sisters were readily identified by “simple subpoenas” to their Internet service providers, they wrote.

The lawsuit was settled last month. Andrew Kreeft, attorney for Klyce in the lawsuit, said neither side admitted any liability in the settlement and both paid their own court costs and attorney’s fees.

The search for Wheeler’s killer continues, however.

More: Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ takes a new look at Delawarean John P. Wheeler’s death

Farrell said a Newark detective who initially worked full time on the case is now handling other duties.

“He follows up on information that has not proven to be fruitful,” Farrell said.

Police still yearn for a break, perhaps spurred by anniversary stories about the killing.

“Hopefully, this will generate more interest in the case from the public,” Farrell said.

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