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.
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.
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 today 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 the probe.
Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall 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 how he got into the dumpster.
“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.”
Jason Miller, spokesman for Attorney General Beau Biden, said their office could not comment on the “ongoing investigation.’’
Wheeler, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, led fundraising efforts in the 1980s to construct the Vietnam memorial and served as an adviser to the last three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Most recently he worked part-time for the MITRE Corp., which provides systems engineering and information technology services to the government about issues such as aviation defense and intelligence.
Wheeler is believed to have been on a train from Washington, D.C., to Wilmington on Dec. 28, Newark police said.
A cabbie interviewed by The News Journal, however, said he picked Wheeler up at the train station on Dec. 29.
Video and witness accounts of Wheeler’s behavior in the 48 hours before his body was found show him disoriented, carrying one of his dress shoes, and looking in vain for his car in a Wilmington parking garage blocks from where his vehicle was located.
On Dec. 30, Wheeler was captured on surveillance video at the Nemours building at 10th and Orange streets in downtown Wilmington, where he asked for train fare at the Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz law firm.
The last image of him that day was leaving the Nemours building and walking southeast on 11th Street, past and through the Hotel du Pont valet parking area. He continued southeast and crossed Market Street and was last seen in camera view at 8:42 p.m. walking toward the East Side, a low-income neighborhood known as a hot spot for crime.
By CRIS BARRISH and ESTEBAN PARRA
The News Journal
January 28, 2011
Source: Delaware Online