Despite this powerful clout within Washington and the respect and admiration he garnered from his colleagues and peers, practically a national hero of sorts, there seems to have been a dark shadow following him about. On December 31 of 2010, Wheeler was found dead, his body being dumped from a garbage truck at the Cherry Island Landfill. He was 66 years old at the time. It was a shocking discovery that took the media by storm, and it was immediately intensely investigated as to how this well-respected figure had ended up sprawled out in a garbage dump. The investigation would go on to paint a very odd, ominous, and unsettling picture of the days leading up to the death.
It was found that Wheeler had displayed some rather uncharacteristically bizarre behavior in the days leading up to the discovery of his body. Wheeler’s neighbor claimed that during the week before the death, a television had been turned up to full volume at the residence at all hours even when it seemed that no one was home, and that Wheeler himself was practically never seen during this time. On December 28, Wheeler was seen getting off an Amtrak train and looking decidedly spaced out and unhinged. Then, the following day Wheeler was spotted wandering around the parking garage of the New Castle County courthouse, looking disoriented and wearing a black suit with no tie and only one shoe. His face was described as looked flushed and his movements seemed to be erratic and purposeless, as if he were drunk or drugged.
CCTV footage from the parking garage before his death that was later uncovered underscored this strikingly bizarre behavior. In one piece of footage, Wheeler can be seen stumbling about and apparently talking to the attendant, the whole time acting very indecisively, as if he is not sure where he wants to go. He seems quite upset, jumpy, and disheveled, and is wearing only one shoe while holding the other, which appears to be ripped up for some reason, in his hand. As he staggers, sways, and stumbles about, at one point he even reaches out to steady himself against a wall, and it seems as though he is perhaps under the influence of something. At the end of the video he is about to take an exit door, but then suddenly whirls around to come back inside, at one point waving his arms up in the air and gesticulating for unknown reasons and then taking an elevator instead. This is the last known footage of Wheeler alive, and it is so outlandish that it only makes things more mysterious rather than offering any real insights into what happened to him. You can see the strange footage here.
As to the death itself, authorities almost immediately labelled it a murder, saying later that he had died from blunt trauma to the back of the head, but the possible scene of the crime could not be located and there was some confusion as to what had actually caused the fatal injury. All that could be ascertained for sure was that the truck that had dumped the body at the landfill had come from Newark, leading investigators to speculate that whoever had killed him had dumped his body there, after which it had made the journey to its final resting place at the Cherry Island Landfill.
There have been several theories as to what happened to Wheeler. One revolves around a dispute he had been embroiled in with one of his neighbors. A lawsuit had been filed by Wheeler against neighbor Frank Marini, seemingly for the purpose of blocking his plans to build a building near his property that would obstruct his view, and making this all more ominous was that he was suspected of having perhaps even attempting arson against Marini. These neighbors reported that on December 28th someone had tossed some smoke bombs into their home which had burned the floor, and although there was no evidence as to who had thrown them they strongly suspected that it had been Wheeler. There is also the spooky fact that shortly before his death one of the buildings he was seen staggering around was the law firm handling the case. The idea here is that these neighbors took things too far in the feud and had had him killed, but there is very little evidence to support this.
Then there is the theory that Wheeler had gotten in a little too deep in some government conspiracy and been silenced. Supporting this is the fact that he had been working for the Mitre Corporation at the time, and had allegedly just before his death become absolutely obsessed with cyber-warfare, which he had come to believe the United States was woefully unprepared for. That he should come to this alarming conclusion at just around the time of his death has raised red flags and suggested that he had perhaps dug a little too far within the corporation and seen something he was not supposed to. He is also believed to have been specifically working on detecting cyber intrusions and criminal activity on the nation’s secure networks, meaning that he could have discovered something he was not meant to find that could have gone all the way to the upper echelons of the government, and thus posed the necessity for him to be taken out of the equation. However, again, as intriguing as dark government coverups are there is little solid evidence to back up this avenue of inquiry.
On top of the mystery of who may have wanted to kill him are conspiracies that point to the true nature of what happened being covered up as well. First is the fact that authorities were very uncooperative and non-forthcoming about their investigation, dragging their feet with releasing new details and acting very hesitant to release even major things like the cause of death. One neighbor of Wheeler’s who was interviewed by the media after the death also claimed that she had been asked not to comment. Just what does that mean, “asked?” Asked by who? It is unclear just what was meant by this, but it has certainly been seen as rather suspicious. Also suspicious is the claim that although Wheeler’s home was declared to not be a crime scene, law enforcement allegedly did put up yellow police tape there and went about prying up floorboards. Just what were they looking for? Was it some sort of classified material he had been harboring? No one seems to know, and if they do they aren’t saying.
Adding to all of this intrigue is just what was going on with Wheeler in those days just before his death. Why was he staggering about town as if drunk or high with only one shoe and making strange claims to parking lot attendants, in general acting like a weird freak? Just what is the meaning behind his bizarre actions on that last security footage of him? Was he drugged or suffering some sort of mental breakdown, and if so what connection does it have with his death if any? No one knows, and we probably never will. Criminologist Casey Jordan. of Western Connecticut State University, has said of the odd behavior and lack of details on the case in general thus:
What’s confusing to me is that, usually, you know that (someone was killed) because you have something like a gunshot wound, stabbing wounds, bludgeoning — something that clearly could not have been self-induced. But no details like that have been released. And the fact of the matter is that, when we see this footage, we see perhaps he was suffering from an organic brain problem? Even his neighbors say they’d never seen him like this. Was he poisoned? Did he have a brain tumor? Did he suffer from brain cancer and nobody even knew it? Something — there’s a disconnect between him being in the dumpster and that behavior we see in the hours before he disappeared. There are possibly 10 dumpsters he came from that ended up in that dump truck, so we don’t even have a crime scene. It is entirely possible he crawled into the dumpster himself in his demented state. We may never know the truth about what happened to John Wheeler.Indeed we may never know what happened here, and the questions spin and whirl about the case without any forthcoming answers. What was the meaning behind the odd mannerisms and behavior leading up to his death? Why was his television left blaring nonstop? How did he die? Was it murder and if so who wanted him dead and for what reasons? Was this some sort of hit and were authorities covering it up in any way? Was it his neighbors? Why were the floorboards of his house searched and who told the neighbor not to comment on anything? Why are authorities so tight-lipped about everything? Is there some sort of coverup going on? Just what in the world is going on with this case? The answers to such questions seemed to be utterly mired in mystery, no closer to being solved than they were with the discovery of Wheeler’s body in that garbage dump. Someone surely knows what happened, but whoever that is they are not talking.