NEW CASTLE, Del. -- A grisly New Year's Eve discovery in Delaware has prompted police to seek the public's assistance in solving the slaying of a prominent retired Army colonel whose career in government service stretched from Vietnam to cyber-defense planning.
The body of John Parsons Wheeler 3rd, who held senior roles in federal and charitable organizations, was found in a landfill a few miles from his home in New Castle, Del., police there said.
Wheeler, 66, had returned from his Washington consulting job at the Mitre Corp. on Dec. 28, arriving via Amtrak in Wilmington, Del., police said. His body was discovered three days later.
"It's a total, total shock -- beyond the pale for a community like New Castle," said Bayard Marin, a local lawyer representing him in a neighborhood land dispute. "I exchanged e-mails with him that afternoon, and it was all very routine. Nothing suspicious at all."
The killing drew national attention Monday because of the mysterious circumstances and because of posts Wheeler had held in the nation's capital.
Wheeler directed the organization that built the controversial Vietnam Veterans Wall, was the first CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and was a senior Securities Exchange Commission lawyer involved in insider trading investigations.
From 2005 to 2008, Wheeler was a senior Air Force aide who worked to help create of the Air Force Cyber Command. A graduate of West Point, Harvard Business School and Yale Law School, Wheeler created a Vietnam veterans job program for President Ronald Reagan, and the Earth Conservation Corps for at-risk youth for President George H.W. Bush.
"Jack used his institutional pedigree to fight for causes that mattered to him," said his friend, James Fallows, the author and Atlantic Magazine writer.
Wheeler was "a complicated guy, emotional, but someone who really cared about doing the right thing," said Fallows, adding he worked with him on a book called "Touched With Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation."
Neither Fallows nor Marin, the Wilmington lawyer, said they had had any indication from Wheeler in recent days that anything was wrong.
Marin represented Wheeler and his wife in a neighborhood dispute. They claimed a neighbor in the New Castle historic district planned to build a new house that would block the Wheelers' view, and the case went to court. Marin said he doubted the dispute is related to Wheeler's death.
"There's always hard feelings about the other side in a case like this, but there was never any personal animosity," he said.
Wilmington police were called to the Cherry Island Landfill at 9:56 a.m. on Friday for a report of a body being dumped from a Waste Management refuse truck. Investigators determined that the truck had made multiple pickups in Newark, starting at 4:20 a.m.
Newark police, who are seeking information on Wheeler's whereabouts from Dec. 28 through Dec. 31, said in a news release that an autopsy indicated "the body was not in the dumpster for a long period of time."
Police said the body's location in the truck suggested it had been picked up early in the route.
The news release said investigators were focusing on several locations in Newark, including the Newark Library on Library Avenue; the WSFS Bank in College Square; a McDonald's, Newark Emergency Center, Attila Wings, and Bing's Bakery on East Main Street; Newark Toyota on Marrows Road; and Gardens of White Chapel on White Chapel Drive.
FBI spokesman Rich Wolf said the bureau is "aware of the murder but not involved at this time."
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