Video: Reagan, Bush aide’s body found in landfill

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    >>> a man who served in both the reagan and bush administrations body was found on friday.

    >> reporter: this is where police say john wheeler was probably last seen at the amtrak station in wilmington , a week ago they believe he got off a train from washington , d.c. , a regular commute, but sometime after that, investigators say he was murdered. police in northern delaware now know the answer to one mystery, who's body was discovered at a landfill last friday morning. they have identified the victim as a delaware resident, john wheeler , former pentagon official and defense consultant and a driving force behind the vietnam memorial , visited by more than 4 million people a year. investigators assume he made that train trip last week because they know he bought a ticket.

    >> we do know that he traveled daily from his home in newcastle to washington , d.c. where he was employed. we know that he had purchased a ticket to travel from washington , d.c. to wilmington .

    >> reporter: but then what? police say his body was apparently placed into one of ten trash receptacles enter along this collection route in newark. they're checking locations of where the trash truck stopped before going to the landfill. neighbors say they have no idea who would want to kill such a prominent person.

    >> i really don't understand it, i just feel it's very, very unfortunate and there must be some reason for this.

    >> reporter: john wheeler was a graduate of harvard business school and yale law , he served in vietnam and became determined to honor the service of veterans after returning home to find a country turned against the war and those in uniform. five years ago he said the nation should be more inclusive of honoring veterans.

    >> we need to expand our definition of who's wounded, not just people wounded by a bullet, it's got to be people who suffer after the war.

    >> wheeler and his wife katherine were involved in a recent controversy over a construction of a house across the street from there that they claimed would block their view of the river, the case played out in court. his wife now a widow owns a textile business and lists addresses in delaware and new york city . so for investigators are saying nothing about a cause of death or a possible motive. here in delaware , police are asking for public help from anyone who knows anything about what john wheeler did or where he went after he got off that train last tuesday, matt.

    >> pete williams in wilmington for us. pete as always, thank you very much.

Image: John Wheeler III at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Charles Tasnadi  /  AP
John Wheeler III touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1994.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/4/2011 5:48:06 PM ET 2011-01-04T22:48:06

Police trying to piece together the last days of a slain national defense consultant said Tuesday he was seen alive in downtown Wilmington less than 24 hours before he was found dead in a load of trash at a landfill.

Sanitation workers spotted the body of 66-year-old John Wheeler III falling from a refuse truck as it dumped its load Friday at the Cherry Island landfill near Wilmington.

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A tipster told police Wheeler was seen alive at 3:30 p.m. the previous day near a downtown intersection dominated by the E.I. DuPont & Co. headquarters building and the Hotel du Pont. Police did not say what he was doing there.

The intersection is about six blocks from the office of an attorney who was representing Wheeler and his wife in a property dispute, and about a mile from the Amtrak station Wheeler was known to use for trips to Washington, D.C.

Wheeler, who had a home about seven miles from Wilmington in New Castle, served three Republican presidents and helped to get Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in Washington.

Video: Wheeler murder leaves veterans community reeling (on this page)

More recently, he was a part-time consultant hired to help promote discussions on cyber defense for The Mitre Corp., a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.

Wheeler was suing Frank and Regina Marini of Hockessin, seeking to block their construction of a house across the street from his duplex in the historic district of New Castle. The Marini house, taller than others in neighborhood, obstructed Wheeler's view of a park and the Delaware River. A Delaware Chancery Court judge denied Wheeler a temporary restraining order Dec. 13.

Late on Dec. 28, several smoke bombs of the type used for rodent control were tossed into the Marini house, said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Alan Brown. The only damage was some scorching to the unfinished floors.

The Marinis issued a brief statement through their lawyer Tuesday offering "heartfelt sympathies" to the families of Wheeler and his wife, Katherine Klyce. Police have given no indication whether they believe the property dispute had anything to do with Wheeler's death.

In New York, police searched the condominium that Wheeler and Klyce shared in a brick building on 124th Street in Manhattan where they had lived for at least three years.

Building superintendent Jay Hosein said Tuesday he saw Klyce at the building last week and she seemed happy and cheerful.

"They were a very nice couple, very nice people," Hosein said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to contact Klyce were unsuccessful. Wheeler's family issued a statement through Newark police Monday asking for privacy.

Wheeler had twins, a son and daughter, by his first wife. Klyce has two daughters from a previous marriage.

Police have also searched Wheeler's home, but don't consider it a crime scene, Farrall said.

The truck that dumped Wheeler's body collected all of its trash from about 10 commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler's home, police said.

Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall said the information placing Wheeler in Wilmington came from a tip and was confirmed by police. Police also were reviewing video surveillance tapes from downtown Newark, he said.

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Farrall said Newark police have consulted with the FBI about the case but he wouldn't say what assistance, if any, federal investigators are providing.

Wheeler followed in his decorated father's footsteps and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, he served five years in the Army, including as a staff officer at the Pentagon. He retired from the military in 1971.

In later years, Wheeler, as special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration, helped develop the Air Force Cyber Command. A citation for his service in 2008 said Wheeler recognized that the military needed to combat the growing vulnerability of U.S. weapon systems to cyber intrusions, according to his biography.

Longtime friend and fellow West Point graduate Richard Radez said that in an e-mail the day after Christmas, Wheeler wrote he believed the nation wasn't sufficiently prepared for cyber warfare.

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

According to The News Journal of Wilmington, Ron Roark, who has lived next door to Wheeler for seven months, said Monday he had met Wheeler only once and rarely saw him. But for four days around Christmas, he said he and his family heard a loud television in Wheeler's home that was constantly on, but no one appeared to be home.

"It was so loud, we could hear it through the walls, and we found that strange," Roark told the newspaper.

Wheeler spent much of his post-Army career in Washington, D.C. For eight years from 1978 to 1986, he was special counsel to the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During those years, he also created the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program for President Ronald Reagan and was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that helped get the wall built. It is one of the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C.

Fund founder and president Jan Scruggs said Wheeler dedicated himself to ensuring that service members were given respect.

"I know how passionate he was about honoring all who serve their nation, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice," Scruggs said in a statement. "Jack Wheeler, who served his country honorably, ... dedicated himself to ensuring that our nation's service members are always given the respect they deserve."

James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, says he had known Wheeler since the early 1980s, and wrote on the magazine's website that Wheeler 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."

Wheeler, 66, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Harvard Business School and Yale law school, according to his biography.

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Wheeler's military career included serving in the office of the Secretary of Defense and writing a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons. He earned a master's at Harvard Business School and a law degree from Yale, according to his biography.

He also was the second chairman and chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"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 a legal dispute with a couple wanting to build a home near theirs in the historic district.

NBC News contributed to this report. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Colleen Long in New York City contributed to this story.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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