Military expert's death still puzzling: Sightings reported, but few clues

Posted: January 05, 2011

Delaware's bizarre murder mystery involving a top U.S. military expert took more strange twists yesterday with two reported sightings of John Wheeler III in the days before his body was found in a Wilmington landfill.

One witness - an attendant at a parking lot next to the New Castle County courthouse in Wilmington who related her tale to police and then to two Philadelphia TV stations - told reporters that she saw Wheeler, 66, acting erratically last Wednesday. She claimed that the man she believes to be the former top Air Force aide was unable to find where he parked his car and looked disheveled - not wearing an overcoat and holding a shoe in one hand.

"He really didn't look good to me," Iman Goldsborough told Fox 29. "I asked him, 'Are you OK?' He was like, 'No.' " Authorities said that Wheeler's car turned up later at a different parking lot, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, police in Newark, Del., who are leading the probe into Wheeler's murder, confirmed that he was spotted walking near 10th and Orange streets in downtown Wilmington at 3:30 Thursday afternoon, just hours before a trash truck completing a route in Newark dumped Wheeler's body at the Cherry Island landfill.

That busy intersection is several blocks from the office of the lawyer who was representing Wheeler and his wife in a contentious lawsuit against New Castle, Del., neighbors who are building a home that Wheelers claimed was blocking their view.

The killing of Wheeler - who during the final years of the George W. Bush administration was a top Pentagon expert on cyber warfare - and the strange and mysterious way it took place has become a major national story, especially among journalists who considered him a key source.

Mark Thompson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter now with Time magazine, called Wheeler "one of those outer planets in the capital's solar system, never drawing too close to the sun but riding the country's business in an elliptical orbit that would bring him closer to the heat every once in awhile."

Wheeler - a West Point grad who served in the Vietnam War and went on to Yale Law School and Harvard Business School - was probably best known for his leading role in building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall on the National Mall, in Washington.

But he was a man of many talents and interests, who was chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for a time, a lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and an advocate for hiring Vietnam vets and banning chemical warfare.

He lately worked as a consultant to a nonprofit defense contractor, the Mitre Corp.

The police investigation - which is still being treated as a local matter although the FBI is providing some technical assistance - is dealing with an array of information made public yesterday, including:

* The statement issued by Wheeler's family - including his wife, Katherine Klyce, 66, an importer of Cambodian silk - urging reporters to "respect the family's privacy" and leave them alone.

Several reporters said they had been unable to locate Klyce, who traveled frequently for her business.

The couple reportedly owned a condo on 124th Street, in Manhattan, but had not been there for at least a couple of weeks.

Wheeler had two children from an earlier marriage.

* A report that several floorboards appeared to be missing from the kitchen in the couple's New Castle home and that several chairs in the kitchen are wrapped in yellow police-crime tape.

But much of the focus yesterday was on tracing Wheeler's movements in the days before his corpse was found on Friday, New Year's Eve morning.

Goldsborough, the Wilmington parking-lot attendant, told Fox 29 that he "just didn't seem like he was really there. He seemed like he was disoriented."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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