Coroners Report: M.E. Announces Wheeler Beaten to Death

Medical examiner: Homicide victim John Wheeler died of ‘blunt force trauma’|Toxicology “didn’t play a role” in his death, officials said.


Homicide victim John P. Wheeler III, a former Pentagon official and presidential aide whose body was discovered Dec. 31 in a Wilmington landfill, was beaten to death in an assault, the Delaware medical examiner’s office announced today.

The official cause of Wheeler’s slaying was “blunt force trauma,’’ agency spokesman Karl Kanefsky said about a case that has drawn worldwide media coverage.

Police reiterated today that the case remains under investigation but acknowledge they cannot fill in critical gaps in the murder mystery.

Within hours of the grisly New Year’s Eve discovery, state pathologists had ruled that the 66-year-old New Castle resident was a homicide victim, but until today authorities had been mum on the cause of his death — an unusual posture in Delaware, where such information is usually released promptly.

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Dec. 13: John P. Wheeler III parks his vehicle at a garage on Martin Luther King Boulevard near the Wilmington train station.

A neighbor reports that for four days over Christmas, the television in Wheeler’s Third Street home in Old New Castle was blaring around the clock.

Dec. 26: Wheeler posts a photo of Manhattan snowstorm that he took from his condo on an electronic forum for 1966 graduates of West Point.

Dec. 28: Wheeler is believed to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington.

5 p.m. — Wheeler’s last response to an ongoing e-mail conversation concerning West Point and college football.

11:30 p.m. — Firefighters discover a smoke bomb in a house under construction across the street from Wheeler’s. He and that home’s owners had been involved in a legal dispute. Officials have not linked Wheeler’s death to the smoke bomb incident.

State fire officials report finding several low-powered devices — commonly used to smoke out small animals. There are no suspects but investigators had hoped to speak to Wheeler.

Dec. 29:

8:48 a.m. — Cabbie Roland Spence picks up Wheeler outside the Wilmington train station and drops him off at the corner of 11th and Orange streets.

6 p.m. — Wheeler enters the Happy Harry’s on Del. 9 near New Castle and asks the pharmacist for a ride to Wilmington. Unable to give Wheeler a ride, the pharmacist offers to call a cab. Wheeler declines and leaves.

6:40 p.m. — Wheeler enters the parking lot adjacent to the county courthouse in Wilmington holding his right shoe in his left hand and telling a Colonial Parking attendant his briefcase has been stolen. He is seen on surveillance video shuffling back and forth, apparently confused and disoriented, before he leaves about 25 minutes later.

Dec. 30:

3:30 p.m. — Wheeler is spotted in the area of 10th and Orange streets in Wilmington.

Wheeler visited the 10th-floor offices of the Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz law firm in the Nemours building and asked to speak to a managing partner. He also asked for train fare before leaving.

8:30 p.m. — Surveillance video captures Wheeler wandering through the Nemours Building at 10th and Orange streets. Several people approach him because he appears disoriented or confused. Wheeler declines their help. He is dressed differently from the day before.

8:42 p.m. — Wheeler is picked up on surveillance video leaving the Nemours Building through doors on the 11th Street side. He then continues southeast on 11th Street, walking through the Hotel du Pont valet parking area, crossing over Market Street, and is last seen walking on the west sidewalk of 11th Street, toward the city’s East Side.

Dec. 31:

4:20 a.m. — A Waste Management refuse truck starts its route through Newark, emptying trash bins, including one containing Wheeler’s body.

10 a.m. — Wilmington police are called to investigate a body found at Cherry Island Landfill.

Medical Examiner’s Office rules the death a homicide.

2 p.m. — Newark police are contacted after it is determined the body came from there.

Jan. 2:

Newark police identify the 66-year-old Wheeler as the victim.

Newark police crime-scene team spends the day at Wheeler’s home.

Jan. 4: Wilmington detectives ask Sunday Breakfast Mission workers if Wheeler has stayed in their shelter. He has not.

Jan. 5: Newark investigators are spotted near several bins near Newark Shopping Center. Police also ask at least one business there for security video of parking lot.

A City Cab driver is questioned by police as to why Wheeler’s cell phone contains his phone number. Other cabdrivers have been questioned through the week.

Jan. 28: The state Medical Examiner’s Office said Wheeler’s death was a result of blunt force trauma after being assaulte