Leads, motive sought in murder of former Pentagon official

He served three presidents, was instrumental in raising funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and held a leadership role with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  The investigation continues into John Wheeler III’s mysterious death. 

Wheeler’s body was found in Wilmington’s Cherry Island landfill Friday morning. It was dumped there by a Waste Management truck following a series of pickups in Newark.  Newark police say Wheeler was last seen in the area of 10th and Orange streets in Wilmington about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.  The 66-year-old resident of New Castle was believed to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28.

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The circumstances of his death have surprised and shocked those who were acquainted with him during his remarkable life.

Wheeler graduated from West Point, served as a staff officer in Vietnam, and became the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.  VVMF President and Founder Jan Scruggs says he worked closely with Wheeler, whom he know as “Jack.”  The two met in 1979.

“He tried to live his professional life in a very moral way, and to do the right thing,” Scruggs said.  “He had the political sense and the political instincts and judgment to make the compromises when the time was right.”

Wheeler was chair of Mothers Against Drunk Driving from 1985 to 1987.  During part of the administration of President George W. Bush, Wheeler served as an assistant to the secretary of the Air Force.  Most recently, he was a consultant to a defense department contractor.

Newark police ask anyone who knows of  Wheeler’s whereabouts between Dec.28 and 31, or is aware of any suspicious activity that may be related to the case, to call investigators at 302-366-7110, extension 135.  Information may also be given anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333.

Police have also been to Wheeler’s home in New Castle, where he had lately been involved in a dispute with a neighbor over construction of a home.  A neighbor told the News-Journal they heard a loud television coming from Wheeler’s home on Third Street “around the clock” during the days around Christmas, but no one appeared to be home.

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