Unsolved Mysteries is back! Six *new* episodes debuted on Netflix a couple weeks ago, the first one being titled, “Washington Insider Murder” and it’s a case with LAYERS.
A camera pans over a landfill as birds congregate over heaps of trash while suddenly, a massive garbage truck comes barreling through. We’re told that this is happening at the Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington, Delaware. The camera pans to a middle-aged man as he’s getting out of his vehicle. As he walks along the rows of trash, the man explains, “This brings back a lot of memories of this last year, back on December 31st two-thousand ten.” This man ends up being Michael Lawson, a retired Wilmington PD Detective. He goes on to say that he first got acquainted with the case when had received a phone call of a body that was found at a landfill. Michael explains that he figured that this was going to end up being like any other homicide or robbery. He remembers that as he approached the body, he noticed right away that he was an older white male. He didn’t notice any signs of gunshot wounds or stab wounds. As an evidence photo is shown of the area where this body was found, Michael tells us that the white male was wearing black pants, a white shirt and some type of black garment covering his torso. The camera magnifies to a West Point Military Academy, Class of 1966 gold ring as Michael informs us that the white male was wearing it, and how he immediately knew that this person was of “notoriety” and that he changed his mind and realized that this case wasn’t going to be a typical homicide. Cue the ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ credits.
An old recording of news coverage comes on screen and informs us that the body found at the landfill is that of John Wheeler, but he’s also known as Jack. It turns out that he’s an Ex-Bush aide, and veteran, and that he did indeed graduate from West Point. Immediately we’re told that this case is confusing, and that his murder didn’t make sense to investigators. It was a sensational case that at the time was being covered by major news like at Good Morning America. Right away it was labeled a mystery. Steve Yolk, an investigative journalist says that “the body found at a landfill; is a targeted murder, sounds like something the mob would do.” More evidence photos are shown of the body on a gurney, covered with a white sheet as it’s being taken out of the landfill and it interacts with how Steve explains that he was interested in the case. In both the mysterious death, but also because of the man; John Wheeler was an interesting man who lived a fascinating life.
Old May 28th 1984 camera footage of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial comes on screen as John Wheeler is being introduced. Applause as he stands up, and takes a piece of paper out of his right suit-jacket pocket. He’s middle-aged, with thinning hair which is combed over, and wearing glasses. In the present, Bayard Marin, Jack Wheeler’s attorney states that Jack was a true patriot. “Jack was devoted to causes that were for the great benefit of the country, such as being the executive director of the Vietnam Veterans memorial.”
Jan Scruggs, the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, speaks more of John’s character and accomplishments, like being an exceptional person and a graduate of West Point and Harvard Business School and a graduate of Yale Law. John had provided the general strategy, guidance and was chairman of the board of the 1982 construction of the Vietnam Veterans memorial. Jan goes on to say that the memorial wouldn’t exist without him.
Michael Wynne, the 21st Secretary of the Air Force, enters the story, and claims that he hired Jack in 2004 during the Bush administration. He talks about how vital Jack’s service was to him.
A very short clip of Jack on an episode of ‘Hardball’ from May 30th, 2005 is shown as Steve Yolk reiterates that Jack accomplished so much in his life, but that he accomplished so much with “a piano strapped to his chest.” We’re informed that Jack was bipolar and that he was prone to be impulsive and overly emotional. “It propelled him forward, and held him back.” Steve explains that what Jack accomplished is impressive, especially because of what he went through in order to get things done.
We’re moved to New York City and find ourselves in an older woman’s apartment. We first find her tending to a plant in her kitchen. “Jack was passionate about everything he did.” It doesn’t take long to figure out that the woman is Jack’s wife- Katherine Klyce. She explains that she was married to Jack for 13 years and that they lived in Harlem, but also had a house in Newcastle. She tells us that Jack had a previous relationship and had two children, as well as she also had a previous relationship and had two children of her own. Very quickly, a middle-aged woman with reddish brown hair comes on screen. Meriwether Schas says that she had met Jack when her mother had married him and that he was a funny person, “Cheesy, but very serious man.”
Jack’s wife says that life with him was never dull. She liked how things sometimes happened unexpectedly within their marriage and in life. She thinks she hit the Jack(pot). He was a soldier and loved ballet- something she too, absolutely loved. Katherine thought she was the luckiest person on the planet when she was with Jack. She loved him with all her heart. And it’s evident during the documentary because it’s obvious that she’s biting back tears as she describes her marriage to Jack.
Jan Sruggs comes back on screen and says that when he got the phone call informing him of Jack’s death, he was on his way to Washington. He goes on to say that after that phone call, he’s never really been the same. Jack’s attorney agrees that it was a shock that somebody would murder his friend. Meriwether says that it’s been difficult trying to wrap her head around the fact that Jack was found in a landfill. She claims that where Jack was found; it just points fingers in the direction that whoever murdered Jack, really didn’t want him to be found. She’s thankful that Jack’s body was found, calling it a miracle. Katherine doesn’t quite remember what she was doing, or where she was when she received a phone call from Jack’s daughter telling her that Jack was found murdered. “It didn’t seem possible that the world could go on without him.”
As Meriwether and Katherine walk past the camera as they walk down the street, Katherine remembers the time when she went to the police station to see Jack’s body. When she arrived to the room, she found Jack laying on the table with a white sheet covering him from the chest down, and she could only see Jack from the neck up. She thinks that it was a good thing she didn’t see the rest of her husband’s body. She learned that Jack had sustained wounds from a savage beating.
Old news coverage gives us the first accusation: That it was a professional murder hit job. “The way he was dumped in that landfill tells me that somebody deliberately went out and got him. Something is very, very wrong and a great tragedy to America.”
Joe Salerno, an investigator, tells us that Jack had a strong network within the government. From 1978 to 1986, Jack was the special counsel to Chairman, and Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC). From 1988 to 1989, he worked within the transition team for President GHW Bush. From 2005 to 2008, he was the special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. Joe says that because of his deep ties with various people within many branches of the government and his service, he might have been a target. It could have been a murder-for-hire type of situation.
Steve Yolk tells us that from 2009 to 2010, (around the time of his death) Jack worked as a consultant for the Mitre Corporation, which is a defense contracting firm. They specialize in stuff like artificial intelligence and satellite systems for the military. Jack was working in the area of cyber security. Steve does a good job relating Jack to us, by saying that Jack worked on the issues that we’re seeing manifest now, like Russia interfering with the election back in 2016; Russia and China allegedly hacking into our power grid- that’s the stuff that Wheeler was working at the time of his death. The problem though, is that there’s nothing to connect those parts of his biography to his actual murder. Steve confesses that it’s easy to get caught up in the different accusations and conspiracies and to be led down an empty path. He reiterates that we need to stay open-minded when it comes to the facts surrounding Jack’s death.
So, On December 31st, 2010, at 9:56 a.m, Jack’s body was found. Michael Lawson lets us know that Jack’s body had been at the landfill for a couple of hours. He had gotten the call, which led to them cornering off the area where the body was found, and making sure a thorough search was being conducted. Michael Lawson comes back on screen, informing us that ever since becoming an investigator and during his 23-year career, he never once had to conduct a search, or look at evidence at a landfill. He points out that they set up and took all precautions while they conducted a search, but that it was hard to differentiate between what was useful towards the investigation and what was just trash. They were looking for additional pieces of clothing and for a cellphone. Unfortunately, during the search, nothing was found.
Michael Lawson says that once he found out the identity of the body, and that he lived in Newcastle, he called authorities there to let them know that he needed investigators sent to an address. Interestingly enough, authorities were already on scene at the address investigating a potential burglary. “That’s when this investigation turned the page to something larger than finding Mr Wheeler at the landfill.”
Newcastle, Delaware is just six miles south of the landfill. We meet one of Jack’s neighbors as he seemingly walks around the neighborhood aimlessly. “I knew Jack as a temporary next-door neighbor. He was never here for very long. But I got involved being the caretaker of the house.” The neighbor’s name is Robert Dill, and he says a lot of what has already been said about Jack’s character- that he was interesting, and that he was well-liked. Robert mentions that Jack was never one to dabble into small talk. If Jack was to have a conversation with you, it was about something deep or important; something worth being conversed over. “He was always doing something, or had something on his mind.”
Very quickly, Robert’s tone shifts, and the conversation turns to more ominous material. Robert says that one day he was talking to another neighbor, “and that’s when I happened to notice that Jack’s second floor rear window was open. So being the good neighbor, I went over into the house.”
Robert reenacts how he entered Jack’s residence. He states that when he came in, the storm door was closed, but the other door was ajar quite a bit. Once he made it into the kitchen, he just stood there, staring at the “turmoil”. Turns out, a potted plant that was sitting on the bay window was tipped over, dry spices were all over the counter-tops, floor and table. Broken dishes were found in the sink. The cupboards underneath the sink were open, and Comet was all over the floor. A Comet can was found on the counter-top. Interestingly enough, Jack’s ceremonial West Point sword and shield was on the floor, covered in Comet. Robert also noticed the outline of someone’s bare foot in the Comet right in front of the sink. Right away, Robert just assumed it was a burglary, due to how the kitchen was found. He assumed someone had broken into the house using the side door. (That Robert had entered.)
We’re shown an evidence photo of crime scene taped around the outside of Jack’s house. Steve Yolk reminds us that when Robert made the phone call to the police station regarding the supposed burglary at Jack’s, it was also the same time that Jack’s body was found at the landfill. “So you can imagine it was a pretty frantic scene.” But adding to the confusion already building up in this case, we’re informed about the house across from Jack’s that was under construction. A few days before Jack’s body was found, someone had set off a couple smoke bombs in the house that was under construction. Although there wasn’t any significant damage, it did puzzle the investigators. Eventually, a cellphone was found at the construction site, and upon looking into it, it was determined that it was Jack’s. “So you’ve got all these things happening at once. You’ve got Jack’s body found at a landfill, a burglary investigation at his house, and an investigation into the smoke bombs across the street. So you have to wonder how or if all these things are connected.”
Scott Duffey, a retired FBI special agent, comes on screen, and lets us know that he was assigned to the Violent Crime Unit in Wilmington, Delaware. The FBI was called in for the Jack Wheeler case with regards to him having a past relationship with the Pentagon as an employee, as well as being involved with some past Presidential administrations. Scott says multiple agencies, both state and local, looked into every possible lead.
We again find ourselves back in NYC. Katherine informs us that the last time she saw Jack was when he came back from DC to NYC to celebrate Christmas with her and the family. Meriwether says that it was like any other normal Christmas and that Jack was in good spirits. On December 28th, 2010, at 7 a.m, Jack left NYC to go back to DC for work. Katherine remembers being annoyed because she was under the impression that they were going to go to the movies that evening.
Scott Duffey says that from the time that he boarded the train from NYC to DC, Jack was on his phone a lot. And he knows this because Jack lived with his phone in his hand. Authorities were hopeful that they could quickly piece together where Jack had been by tracing his phone. Steve Yolk informs us that based on the tracking, Jack had returned to Newcastle around 5:30 p.m. And by 11:30 p.m is when the smoke bomb incident occurred.
Katherine says that on December 29th she had tried calling Jack, but it was to no avail. She immediately suspected something was amiss because Jack wasn’t answering or returning her phone calls.
On the morning of December 29th, Jack contacted Mitre, where he was employed. He had informed them that there was a break-in at his home and that he lost certain items that he would typically use for their business. He claimed to have lost his wallet, key fob, cellphone, and briefcase. Katherine says that Jack used his cellphone for everything, so it was odd that he didn’t know where it was. She’s certain that Jack must have been distressed over losing and not knowing where his life line was. Steve Yolk states that it is odd and curious that Jack never notified the police about the missing items, or tell them about the break-in. It’s even more odd that he never got a hold of Katherine to tell her about the burglary. Steve says that because Jack lost his cellphone, it made it hard on the investigators to pinpoint Jack’s precise movements. At this point, all they could rely on was witness sightings (which isn’t always accurate) and were hoping that surveillance cameras captured images of Jack.
On December 29th, 2010, at 6:00 p.m, Jack visited a pharmacy not far from his house, and we know this based on the surveillance footage. Jack is seen entering through the sliding doors wearing a black suit and white shirt, and was walking with a limp. He went up to the pharmacy counter, but asked the tellers and shoppers for a possible ride to Wilmington. Two men in the pharmacy offered Jack a ride to Wilmington, and we see Jack exit the pharmacy accompanied with them. He did not seem distressed. He seemed pretty calm and relaxed. He didn’t seem to be worked up or anxious. Investigators believe that Jack wanted to get to Wilmington to pick up his car, which was parked at the Amtrak station parking garage.
Steve Yolk says that around 6:42 p.m, Jack shows up in a parking garage trying to find his car. However, the hiccup is that he’s at the wrong garage. He actually blocks from where his car is parked. Meriwether and Katherine state that Jack had a hard time with direction, and that he was, “directionally challenged.” It wasn’t uncommon for him to park his car somewhere, then forget where he had parked it. In fact, Jack was “famous” for coming home in a cab on days that he had driven to work because he would forget where he parked. Steve suspects that because he had so much on his plate, so much that he was devoting himself to, that Jack just couldn’t manage the mental space to remember tedious things like where he parked his car.
The next thing we see, is footage of Jack at an office hallway of the parking garage. It’s sort of haunting in a way, because the way that Jack is behaving is the complete opposite of how we last saw him. He appears to be in great distress and agitated. He has one shoe on, while carrying the other shoe in his hand. Every so often, he would peek around the corner- almost like he was afraid of being followed or stalked. He apparently informed the people working at the garage that his briefcase was stolen. The forty minute time frame between when he was last seen at the pharmacy, to when Jack is seen at the parking garage, is one of the fundamental foundational mysteries surrounding his homicide. Meriwether says that when she saw the surveillance footage of Jack from the parking garage, she couldn’t believe it was the same man she knew. She thinks that based on how Jack was acting, Jack might have been trying to get away from something or someone. She thinks that because he couldn’t find his car, and didn’t know where his cellphone was, that it contributed to his distress and anxiety level that he very clearly was experiencing. Katherine suspects that Jack’s bipolar disorder was a contributor to why Jack was acting the way that he was. Katherine claims that most of the time, Jack was composed and handled himself with grace, but every now and then, Jack would experience episodes of manic behavior. And because of that, Katherine says that Jack was adamant about taking his medication. Steve Yolk deduces that Jack experienced some sort of mental break that night, and possibly might have gotten in some sort of altercation because one shoe was off his foot. Again, finding out what happened in that forty minute window is crucial in finding out the circumstances surrounding Jack’s death.
On December 30th, 2010, just one day after Jack is seen in the parking garage, Jack is seen on surveillance footage walking around the basement of the Nemours building- an office building in downtown Wilmington. It’s about twenty hours after he was last seen at the parking garage. This time, Jack is seen walking around aimlessly, in no hurry or panic. Investigators later learned that Jack had fallen asleep in the basement. Scott Duffey takes us to the Nemours building and says that a great time was spent there, and their investigation centered around Jack’s whereabouts and movements within the tunnels, hallways and basement of said building. While searching the building, investigators never found any personal effects of Jack’s. Noone knows why Jack ended up there, and no one really knows Jack’s connection to the building. Steve Yolk states that Jack’s behaviour is that of someone trying to hide.
At 8:30 p.m, Jack is last seen exiting the Nemours building, but this time he’s seen wearing a black hoodie. Scott Duffey takes us on a walk, and it’s the same route that Jack had traveled, alongside the exterior of Hotel Dupont in Wilmington. A couple different surveillance cameras captured some of the last known footage of Jack as he walked alone down the street. Jack isn’t seen again until December 31st, 2010 when his body is found at 9:30 a.m at the landfill.
Mike Grabowski says that when he got to work the morning of the 31st; it was a cold, yet typical day. He went to work at the landfill, going about his normal business until he received a phone call from dispatch letting him know that a body was just found at the landfill. When he got up top, he realized that all the major bosses had congregated together to see for themselves that in fact, a body had been found. Mike says that the whole scene was freaky and that he was freaked out by it all. Mike says that he asked someone to cover up the body while they waited for police to come.
Scott Duffey says that in any normal homicide, there’s usually a scene in which you can go back to that usually offers up clues to the circumstances that led up to the homicide. But, in Jack’s case, there’s no crime scene to be found. After combing through tons and tons of trash, investigators determined that the trash surrounding the body of Jack Wheeler had come from the city of Newark, a city 14 miles southwest of the landfill. Eventually, investigators believe that they narrowed down enough evidence that led them to a specific dump truck that picked up Jack’s body. They also zeroed in on a couple dumpsters on that truck’s trash route. The forensic unit went out and investigated each dumpster, looking for any clues or evidence to point them in one direction over the other. Eventually, the forensics team came up with a partial DNA profile to that of Jack Wheeler from one of the dumpsters.
To Katherine’s knowledge, Jack had no connection to Newark. She was stunned when she learned of Jack’s fate and where it might have allegedly occurred, and for a minute, she thought that the investigators had gotten it wrong. Steve Yolk reminds us that the last time we saw Jack, he was in the city of Wilmington, 14 miles and in the opposite direction from where he was heading.
Scott Duffey states that a lot of time was spent investigating how he got from Wilmington to Newark. A witness had come forward, and told investigators that they saw Jack Wheeler in a taxi cab at around 11 p.m. Authorities are cognizant not to jump to conclusions, because the witness might have confused Jack as someone else. It’s hard to rely on witness sightings. Scott mentions how frustrating it’s been not being able to come up with one definitive answer as to what happened to Jack.
Mike Grabowski takes us to a set of two dumpsters as he gives us the details differentiating the two. Garbage truck drivers have gone on record to say that it’s not uncommon to find sleeping homeless people that have found refuge from the cold and other weather elements inside the dumpsters. Mike refers to these people as “howlers”- because of the way they come hollerin’ out of the dumpsters. Mike says that sometimes you hear them, but sometimes you can’t.
Steve Yolk gives another theory into Jack’s death. That maybe as Jack was meandering alone at night in the cold, and sought shelter in a dumpster for the night, that maybe he was asleep or was unable in some way to get a truck driver’s attention and he was killed on accident. Meriwether says that “it’s preposterous” to believe that Jack would crawl inside a dumpster to sleep. She backs up her statement by saying that in Jack’s autopsy, the coroner determined that Jack had been murdered. Steve Yolk says that the autopsy does not give any credence in the belief that Jack had died from a fall. In the report, severe injuries like a collapsed lung, aspiration of blood, fractured rib(s) and external neck injuries and contusions to his head are detailed. He had swollen lips and different lacerations to his face. It’s evident that Jack had suffered a very serious and brutal beating and the coroner labeled the cause of death as being from blunt force trauma. The lawyer does not and can’t figure out who would want to hurt Jack. He questions if Jack was the victim of being targeted, but doesn’t know who or why. Could have simply been a wrong place at the wrong time situation?
Steve Yolk questions if the smoke bombing was a cause, or had something to do with Jack’s death, especially because his phone was found on the property. A theory is that Jack possibly set off the smoke bombs, which would explain why his cell phone was found on the property. Jack was a passionate guy, and at the tie of his death he was in a housing dispute with the people across the street because they were building a big house on historic battery park grounds, which to Jack was very public, very sacred land and not suitable for a private residence. Katherine states that Jack was “very fired-up about it” and that Jack thought the new construction was a sacrilege in the old-fashioned community. Katherine goes as far as to blame Jack’s bipolar disorder for the reason for his distain of the construction. Steve Yolk plays devil’s advocate and contemplates that Jack set off the smoke bombs. He theorizes that once he got back home, and realized that he lost his cell phone. Jack then, flies into some sort of panic and just starts flinging things around which would explain the mess in the kitchen. Obviously though, no one knows for sure what happened in the house that night.
Jack’s personal distress doesn’t explain his murder. Nothing fits, each piece is a standalone piece of evidence. A mugging is very unlikely because usually in a murder during a mugging, the assailant leaves the victim where they dropped. They don’t usually hide it or move it. When Jack’s body was found, he still had some cash on him and was wearing his Rolex and West Point ring.
Jack’s family don’t think that Jack’s murder was random. They strongly believe that Jack’s murder(s) were paid off because no one has come forward despite a huge monetary reward.
And uh, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BRIEFCASE?! Jack is never seen with his briefcase in any of the surveillance footage. Ironically enough, a few of Jack’s close friends and coworkers claim that Jack was always seen with his briefcase. It was a lot like his phone, always glued to his hand. The briefcase has yet to be found. Steve Duffey expects that if and or when the briefcase is found, it’ll offer evidence into what transpired before Jack’s murder. Either way, someone out there knows something.
On April 29th, 2011, Jack was laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery. Because he devoted his whole life to the service of his country, Jack was given a heroic memorial.
Meriwether ends the episode with “I just miss my Dad.”
Delaware crime stoppers is offering a cash reward to anyone that offers details that results in the apprehending and conviction of those responsible in Jack’s death. If you know any information, please contact Delaware crime stoppers at 1-800-TIP-333 or go to delawarecrimestoppers.com or unsolved.com