U.S. military expert's body found in dump

A military expert who served three Republican presidents and helped get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built has been found dead in a Delaware landfill site.

A military expert who served three Republican presidents and helped get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built was found dead in a Delaware landfill, and authorities are trying to piece together when he was last seen alive.

John Wheeler III touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in this May 17, 1994, photo. Wheeler's body was discovered at a Wilmington, Del.-area landfill. ((Charles Tasnadi/Associated Press))

The body of John Wheeler III, 66, was uncovered Friday when a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill in Wilmington, Del.

The truck had collected the trash from about 10 commercial disposal bins in Newark, several kilometres from Wheeler's home in the historic district of New Castle, Del., but police said they aren't sure which container his body came from.

Friends say they traded emails with Wheeler — who had not been reported missing — around Christmas. Wheeler also had been scheduled to take an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28, but it's not clear if he ever made the trip, said investigators, who have labelled Wheeler's death a homicide.

Family members may not have reported him missing because they were out of town, Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to contact his wife, Katherine Klyce, were unsuccessful, but his family issued a statement through the police department.

'Tragic time'

"As you must appreciate, this is a tragic time for the family. We are grieving our loss. Please understand that the family has no further comment at this time. We trust that everyone will respect the family's privacy."

Wheeler followed in his decorated father's footsteps and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, he served five years in the army, including as a staff officer at the Pentagon, and retired from the military in 1971.

In later years, Wheeler, as special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration, helped develop the Air Force Cyber Command. A citation for his service in 2008 said Wheeler recognized that the military needed to combat the growing vulnerability of U.S. weapon systems to cyber intrusions, according to his biography.

Longtime friend and fellow West Point graduate Richard Radez said that in an email the day after Christmas, Wheeler wrote he believed the nation wasn't sufficiently prepared for cyber warfare.

"This was something that had preoccupied him over the last couple of years," Radez said.

Wheeler's house in New Castle was dark Monday night and no one answered the door. Yellow police evidence tape was stretched across two wooden chairs in the kitchen, where several wooden floorboards were missing.

According to The News Journal of Wilmington, Ron Roark, who has lived next door to Wheeler for seven months, said Monday he had met Wheeler only once and rarely saw him. But for four days around Christmas, he said he and his family heard a loud television in Wheeler's home that was constantly on, but no one appeared to be home.

"It was so loud, we could hear it through the walls, and we found that strange," Roark told the newspaper.

No crime scene

Although the police have searched the home, it was not considered a crime scene, Farrall said.

"We don't have a crime scene at this point," said Farrall.

In New York City, a doorman at the building where Wheeler and Klyce shared a condominium, said he hadn't seen Klyce in two weeks and a package for her had been at the front desk for days. He said two detectives were at the condo in the Harlem section of the city.

New York City police said they couldn't immediately confirm that they were involved in the investigation. Telephone messages left for Klyce at the New Castle home were not immediately returned.

Wheeler spent much of his post-army career in Washington, D.C. For eight years from 1978 to 1986, he was special counsel to the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During those years, he also created the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program for President Ronald Reagan and was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that helped get the wall built. It is one of the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C.