John Wheeler’s final hours
The final, haunting images of Jack Wheeler come from surveillance cameras in various corners of Wilmington, Del.
He shuffles through a parking garage and a downtown office building. He can’t find his car and says someone stole his briefcase. He limps from the picture, holding one shoe, and heads into the cold December night wearing a sport coat.
Hours later, his body falls from a garbage truck into a landfill. Authorities determine that the 66-year-old man had been beaten to death.
More than three months later, police still don’t know who killed Jack Wheeler or why, or where the murder happened.
Speculation over his death has become a morbid cottage industry. Enter “John Wheeler conspiracy theories” into Google and see what comes up.
Steve Wright owns a sandwich shop in downtown Wilmington near where Wheeler was last seen. Wright doesn’t know what happened – other than the publicity was bad for business – but he succinctly sums up all the Internet chatter.
“He worked for the government and he knew too much,” Wright said.
Jack Wheeler was a defense consultant, a respected Pentagon insider, a passionate advocate for Vietnam veterans and a valued member of three presidential administrations. At one point, he published an influential paper on biological warfare and was also an authority on cyber warfare, reports say.
Opinionated and driven, he was successful in almost everything he set out to do.
Peninsula residents — make that Peninsula teenagers — saw this potential early on: The Hampton High School Class of 1962 voted their classmate most likely to succeed. A son in a military family, he spent those high school years living at Fort Monroe.
The surveillance tape of the disoriented, disheveled Wheeler is all the more difficult to fathom considering the type of person Wheeler was, friends say.
Should Wheeler be lost in Wilmington? He was only minutes from his historic home in New Castle that overlooks the water, yet he went to the wrong parking garage in an attempt to retrieve his car. His wife, in her only interview (with Slate.com), said she didn’t find this unusual. Wheeler had a terrible sense of direction.
But the man known for his laser-like focus appeared confused and rambling, unable to communicate exactly what was bothering him.