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Former Pentagon official's death still a mystery

Police say a witness saw John Parsons Wheeler III in Wilmington, Del., less than 24 hours before his body was found in a landfill.

January 05, 2011|Philadelphia Inquirer

Reporting from Philadelphia — Police in Delaware picked up a clue and some help from the FBI on Tuesday, but appeared no closer to solving the bizarre death of a former senior Pentagon official.

A witness came forward, saying John Parsons Wheeler III had been spotted alive in downtown Wilmington, Del., on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before his body was found in a Newark, Del., landfill.

The case has drawn national attention because Wheeler, 66, lived such a distinguished public life.

A Vietnam veteran who became a driving force behind the controversial memorial on the National Mall, Wheeler worked on nuclear, chemical and cyber issues at the Pentagon. He was the first chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a secretary of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a tireless advocate for veterans.

Police are retracing Wheeler's movements between Dec. 28, when he left his office outside Washington, and New Year's Eve, when his body was discovered in Newark. He was scheduled to take an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington on Dec. 28.

Detectives were able to verify that Wheeler had been seen Thursday, Dec. 30, near the Hotel du Pont, but a police spokesman declined to say how it was confirmed.

Police say they have no suspects. They have released few details about the slaying.

"It's quite a mystery, and the length of time it's taking to solve it makes it more intriguing," said Bayard Marin, a lawyer who represented Wheeler in a dispute over a neighbor's plan to build a large house in a historic district in New Castle, Del.

The Wheelers tried to halt the plans in court, contending the house was too big for the neighborhood.

A smoke bomb was placed at the neighbor's home last week, police said, days before Wheeler returned from his part-time consulting job for a defense contractor in McLean, Va.

Marin said he did not know whether the smoke bomb or Wheeler's death had any connection to the building dispute, but he said tempers in the court case never rose to acrimonious levels.

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