|John P. Wheeler|
John P. Wheeler, the former Bush-administration official whose body recently was discovered in a Delaware landfill, was beaten to death.
The Delaware Medical Examiner's Office has announced that Wheeler died from blunt-force trauma, according to a report at delawareonline.com. Does that mean Wheeler was the victim of a mugging gone wrong? That's what one of Wheeler's friends thinks, according to delawareonline, but we find that to be an unlikely explanation.
Wheeler, who had served as a Pentagon official and presidential aide, had extensive experience in the areas of aerospace, technology, logistics, intelligence, and cyber warfare. His body was discovered on New Year's Eve, and officials took almost four weeks to announce a cause of death. Many mysteries, however, remain about the case. Reports delawareonline:
The official cause of Wheeler's death was "blunt-force trauma," agency spokesman Karl Kanefsky said about a case that has drawn worldwide media coverage. Kanefsky would not say which part of Wheeler's body sustained the lethal blows.
Police reiterated Friday that the case remains under investigation but acknowledge they cannot fill in critical gaps in the mystery and don't have any suspects.
Within hours of the grisly mid-morning discovery, state pathologists had ruled that the 66-year-old New Castle resident was a homicide victim, but until Friday authorities had been mum on the cause of his death--an unusual posture in Delaware, where such information is usually released promptly.
There has been no shortage of speculation about what happened to Wheeler, fueled partly by the release of videotapes that appeared to show him in a disoriented state just hours before his death:
The four-week delay has helped fuel rampant speculation that Wheeler, a defense consultant and expert on chemical and biological weapons, was poisoned by enemies--a theory that persisted in part because he was seen stumbling around Wilmington in the days before he died and officials said they were awaiting the results of toxicology tests.
Hal G. Brown, deputy director of the Medical Examiner's Office, said he did not know what medications or chemicals, if any, were in Wheeler's system, but said the death certificate makes it clear that toxicology "didn't play a role" in Wheeler's death.
We now know that Wheeler was beaten to death. But what does that tell us about who killed him and why?
Brown said blunt-force trauma describes the result of being struck with an object or a body part such as a fist. Brown added that Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Adrienne Sekula-Perlman, who handled Wheeler's autopsy, met with police and prosecutors Friday about her conclusions.
Newark police are the lead agency on a multi-force investigation because the garbage truck that dumped Wheeler's body at Wilmington's Cherry Island Landfill was emptying debris it had collected at trash bins in Newark. The FBI is also assisting with the probe.
Why would someone assault John Wheeler, and how many people might have been involved? Police don't seem to have the answers to those questions at the moment:
Lt. Mark Farrall, a Newark police spokesman, was mum Friday on the official word that Wheeler was killed in an assault. "I can't comment on his injuries," Farrall said.
Farrall said detectives still do not know how Wheeler got to Newark or ended up in the trash bin.
"We're still attempting to determine how he made his way to Newark and who is responsible for his murder," Farrall said. "How he got the injuries, I just don't know."
Wheeler's family has offered a $25,000 reward for information about his death. The general public seems baffled about the Wheeler case, and so are those who were closest to the victim.
The announcement of the reward came Sunday through lawyer Colm F. Connolly, a former U.S. attorney for Delaware, whom the family hired to represent them and act as a go-between with law enforcement.
Connolly said Wheeler's death is as much a mystery to the family as it is to the public. He said Wheeler's family is despondent over his death and "desperate" for information.
One of Wheeler's closest friends has a theory about what happened:
Retired Army Col. Doug Thormblom, a former roommate of Wheeler's at West Point, said the autopsy results indicate his old friend was a victim of a mugging gone awry but that many unanswered questions remain--such as why he was so disoriented in the days before he was killed, whether any drugs or chemical agents were in his system and how he got from Wilmington to Newark, about 13 miles away.
"I'm glad there was no direct poisoning that caused his death, but his disorientation still hasn't been explained," said Thormblom, who thinks Wheeler suffered a stroke or some other kind of physical or mental breakdown.
We think Thormblom probably is off base. For one, authorities have already ruled Wheeler's death a homicide, which means someone set out to kill him. That does not sound like a mugging gone awry. And why would muggers go to the trouble of putting Wheeler's body in a trash bin so that it would be carried away to a land fill? That sounds like the work of someone who did not want Wheeler's body to be discovered. And if that was the case, it probably means the killers knew who Wheeler was. Why would random muggers know Wheeler's identity and target him specifically? That sounds unlikely to us.
The evidence suggests that someone knew exactly who Wheeler was, planned to kill him, and planned to dispose of his body in a way that it probably would never be found.
Given Wheeler's background, a motive likely is connected to his many professional pursuits involving intelligence, the military, and technology.
John Wheeler's killers failed in their efforts to make sure his body never would be found. That should make this a solvable crime. But as we have shown in numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer, America's law-enforcement mechanism is badly broken. The FBI, the U.S. Justice Department, local law-enforcement agencies . . . in many instances, they simply cannot be trusted.
We feel certain honorable individuals exist within those corrupt organizations, and we can only hope ethical folks are handling the John P. Wheeler investigation. Sadly, that hardly is a certainly in post-Bush America.