On December 31, 2010 the body of John “Jack” Wheeler III was discovered in a Delaware landfill after it had come off of a dump truck. But that chilling scene is only the beginning of a sprawling unsolved murder of a former Pentagon official and presidential aide.
This case is covered in the first episode of Volume Two of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot. Titled “Washington Insider Murder,” the episode details the bizarre circumstances of Wheeler’s death. Jack Wheeler was a graduate of Yale, Harvard, and West Point, a military consultant, and served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. His entire life had been dedicated to public service, even as he personally battled depression and bipolar disorder.
After spending Christmas of 2010 in New York City with his family, Jack Wheeler returned to his second home in New Castle, Delaware alone in the evening of December 28 after a brief stop in Washington for work. Someone attempted to set the house across the street from Wheeler’s residence on fire that night. Wheeler was, at the time, embroiled in a legal battle against the house’s construction, and his cell phone was found there after his death.
Wheeler did not go to work the following day on December 29—he emailed that his home had been broken into and that his cellphone, badge, and briefcase were missing. According to the Washington Post, he also emailed his therapist that morning saying that he felt “dazed, boxed in a corner” regarding a fight with his wife, Kathy. At 6 p.m. that day, he was seen on camera at a pharmacy near his New Castle home, where he asked the pharmacist and several patrons for a ride to Wilmington, as he had left his car there before Christmas. Roughly forty minutes later, Wheeler was seen on another security camera in a Wilmington parking garage, looking disheveled and holding one of his shoes. He was several blocks from the parking garage where his car was located, and he appeared visibility distressed, repeatedly telling the attendant that his briefcase had been stolen.
Wheeler next appeared on surveillance camera in the Nemours building in downtown Wilmington the following day, on December 30. Investigators believe that Jack spent the night of December 29 and part of the day on December 30 in the basement of the office building, and the last known footage of Jack alive is of him leaving the building in the evening of December 30. Jack Wheeler did not have a known connection to the Nemours building, and investigators in Unsolved Mysteries believe his activities denote the behavior of someone trying to hide.
“I think he might have pissed someone off,” his wife Kathy told the Washington Post in 2017, “and I think his movements reflected that. He was trying to stay out of sight because someone might have been following him.”
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The following morning, December 31, a neighbor noticed an open window in Jack and Kathy’s home, and went inside to make sure all was okay. The first episode of Unsolved Mysteries shows evidence photos of the house in a state of disarray: there was a tree indoors, spices and broken dishes in the kitchen, and white Comet powder and Jack’s West Point sword and shield on the floor. The neighbor called the police to report a burglary in the Wheeler’s home, but the police had just before been notified of Jack Wheeler’s beaten body—still endowed with his West Point ring and Rolex—which had been discovered in a landfill by a truck driver. His death was ruled a homicide caused by assault and blunt force trauma, and his body was later traced to a dumpster in Newark, Del., more than 13 miles away from where he was last seen in Wilmington. Wheeler was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in April of 2011.
In 2017, Wheeler’s wife Kathy Klyce told the Washington Post that she believed Jack set off the smoke bombs in the home across the street from theirs, and also that he was experiencing a bipolar episode at the time of his death. Receipts indicate he had purchased black clothing and a full-face ski mask. Still, his murder remains an utter mystery, and it is unclear whether the property dispute is related to Wheeler’s death.
Internet theories surrounding Jack’s case range from a random downtown mugging to a secret government assassination plot. In 2011, Kathy Klyce told Slate that she suspects the murder was a hired hit. “I think perhaps no one has been on the reward because they’ve already been paid,” she said. “The way they disposed of his body, it’s a miracle anybody ever found it. That just sounds like a pro to me.”
However, no concrete motive or evidence has ever surfaced in the decade since the dedicated public servant was killed. Unsolved Mysteries executive producer Terry Dunn Muerer is hoping, with this season, to change that.
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