What Happened to Jack Wheeler?

Andrea Park
·5 min read
Photo credit: Courtsey of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtsey of Netflix

From Marie Claire

With a new installment of Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries reboot arriving on Oct. 19 comes a new set of unresolved murders, disappearances, and generally spooky occurrences for viewers to untangle. There's the phenomenon of an uptick in ghost sightings following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the truly chilling 1973 escape of a former death row inmate who remains at large to this day, and the peculiar circumstances of the murder of a longtime Washington, D.C., insider. That last case opens volume two of the show, piecing together the final few days of Jack Wheeler's life before he was found dead in a Delaware landfill on New Year's Eve 2010. Though his death was declared a homicide, a decade later, officials still have no solid leads on what actually happened to Wheeler.

The first batch of Unsolved Mysteries episodes explored the suspicious deaths of Rey Rivera, Alonzo Brooks, and more, and have resulted in reopened cases, more extensive investigations, and a deluge of credible tips that could go a long way in helping to finally solve some of the tragic cases—an outcome that family members and investigators are hoping to recreate with the release of the series' second volume.

Here's everything we do know about the Jack Wheeler case, which, with any luck, will soon be one step closer to being solved through a combination of renewed publicity and the sleuthing abilities of Unsolved Mysteries viewers.

How did Jack Wheeler die?

Wheeler, born John P. Wheeler III, was a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who went on to hold several positions of power in and around the federal government. To name a few: He was a Pentagon staffer, a high-ranking official in the Securities and Exchange Commission, special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, and an aide to the Reagan and both Bush administrations.

He also served as chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founding CEO of the Vietnam Children's Fund, president and CEO of the Hearing Health Foundation, and chairman and CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

On Dec. 31, 2010, Wheeler's body was discovered as a garbage truck was being emptied at the Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington, Delaware. Police ultimately ruled his death a homicide caused by assault and blunt force trauma, but were unable to identify any suspects or solid leads in the case. Wheeler was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in April 2011.

The investigation revealed several days of erratic behavior leading up to Wheeler's death. On Dec. 29, according to an Associated Press report, the 66-year-old was spotted wearing only one shoe and no winter coat while trying to enter a Wilmington parking garage, and told the garage attendant that his briefcase had been stolen and that he was hoping to warm up in the garage before paying his parking fee. His car was later discovered in a different parking garage elsewhere in the city, and police were unable to confirm whether he had actually been robbed; though his briefcase was never recovered, he was found with some cash and valuables like his wristwatch and West Point ring still on his person.

The following day, security footage and eyewitness statements determined that Wheeler, now clad in a hooded sweatshirt, wandered through multiple office buildings, including a location of the Mitre Corporation, where he had been working as a consultant since 2009. Throughout this time, he reportedly appeared confused and disoriented, and refused several offers of help. Wheeler was last seen at 8:42 p.m. on Dec. 30, when security footage captured him walking toward a high-crime area of Wilmington, according to Virginia's The Daily Press.

On the morning of Dec. 31, his body was found among the contents of a garbage truck that had reportedly taken a route through Newark, Delaware, a town several miles away from Wilmington. Police have been unable to determine how Wheeler ended up in Newark, let alone in a commercial dumpster there.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix - Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix - Netflix

Who killed Jack Wheeler?

A decade after Wheeler's tragic and mysterious death, investigators still have no idea who committed the terrible crime, nor were they ever able to identify any promising suspects. As you can probably imagine, with all of the strange circumstances surrounding Wheeler's death—not to mention his high-profile government status—conspiracy theories abound. Some repeat the old adage that "he knew too much" and was killed by a political enemy, especially since much of his consulting work at the time of his death revolved around national cybersecurity, while others suspect that when he wandered into a dangerous part of town, he was killed in a terrible but random incident.

The theories are made more complicated by the fact that Wheeler's home in New Castle, one town over from Wilmington, appeared to have been broken into on Dec. 30, with a neighbor finding a window open and, inside, shattered plates in the kitchen sink, spice jars strewn across the room, and Wheeler's West Point sword and shield on the floor, covered in what appeared to be Comet cleaning powder. It's unknown whether Wheeler ever returned home during his final few days, or if somebody else broke in.

Furthermore, on Dec. 28, smoke bombs were thrown into the windows of the house across the street. Police were again unable to identify the culprit but Wheeler's phone was found at the scene, and he and his wife were at the time embroiled in a legal battle with the builders of that home over its appearance, which they believed did not fit with the rest of the neighborhood's historical character, according to The Daily Press. Police have never determined how these back-to-back incidents on Wheeler's street just before his death played into the crime—if at all.

For her part, Wheeler's wife Katherine Klyce told Slate in 2011 that her bet is on a hired hitman as the culprit, seeing as how nobody ever stepped forward to claim the $25,000 reward the family offered for any substantive information about Wheeler's death. "I think perhaps no one has been on the reward because they've already been paid," Klyce said, adding, "The way they disposed of his body, it's a miracle anybody ever found it. That just sounds like a pro to me."

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