Cops try to trace slain consultant's last days

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Police trying to piece together the last days of a slain national defense consultant said Tuesday he was seen alive in downtown Wilmington less than 24 hours before he was found dead in a load of trash at a landfill.

Sanitation workers spotted the body of 66-year-old John Wheeler III falling from a refuse truck as it dumped its load Friday at the Cherry Island landfill near Wilmington.

A tipster told police Wheeler was seen alive at 3:30 p.m. the previous day near a downtown intersection dominated by the E.I. DuPont & Co. headquarters building and the Hotel du Pont. Police did not say what he was doing there.

The intersection is about six blocks from the office of an attorney who was representing Wheeler and his wife in a property dispute, and about a mile from the Amtrak station Wheeler was known to use for trips to Washington, D.C.

Wheeler, who had a home about 7 miles from Wilmington in New Castle, served three Republican presidents and helped to get Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in Washington.

More recently, he was a part-time consultant hired to help promote discussions on cyber defense for The Mitre Corp., a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.

Wheeler was suing Frank and Regina Marini of Hockessin, seeking to block their ongoing construction of a house across the street from his duplex in the historic district of New Castle. The Marini house, taller than others in neighborhood, obstructed Wheeler's view of a park and the Delaware River. A Delaware Chancery Court judge denied Wheeler a temporary restraining order Dec. 13.

Late on Dec. 28, several smoke bombs of the type used for rodent control were tossed into the Marini house, said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Alan Brown. The only damage was some scorching to the unfinished floors.

The Marinis issued a brief statement through their lawyer Tuesday offering "heartfelt sympathies" to the families of Wheeler and his wife, Katherine Klyce. Police have given no indication whether they believe the property dispute had anything to do with Wheeler's death.

In New York, police searched the condominium that Wheeler and Klyce shared in a brick building on 124th Street in Manhattan where they had lived for at least three years.

Building superintendent Jay Hosein said Tuesday he saw Klyce at the building last week and she seemed happy and cheerful.

"They were a very nice couple, very nice people," Hosein said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to contact Klyce were unsuccessful. Wheeler's family issued a statement through Newark police Monday asking for privacy.

Wheeler had twins, a son and daughter, by his first wife. Klyce has two daughters from a previous marriage.

Police have also searched Wheeler's home, but don't consider it a crime scene, Farrall said.

The truck that dumped Wheeler's body collected all of its trash from about 10 commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler's home, police said.

The Associated Press traced the path of the garbage truck through downtown Newark, a busy town home to the University of Delaware. Many of the bins were in well-lighted areas, near restaurants and stores, though others were more tucked away. Investigators have said they believe Wheeler's body was discarded in a bin early in the garbage truck's run.

Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall said the information placing Wheeler in Wilmington came from a tip and was confirmed by police. Police also were reviewing video surveillance tapes from downtown Newark, he said.

Farrall said Newark police have consulted with the FBI about the case but he wouldn't say what assistance, if any, federal investigators are providing.

Wheeler, 66, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Harvard Business School and Yale law school, according to his biography.


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