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Former White House Aide's Murder: Police Start With Garbage Truck's Route

John Wheeler, a former special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
HO/AFP/Getty Images
John Wheeler, a former special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

John Wheeler was a leading figure in the movement to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a West Point graduate, a veteran and a top defense expert in three Republican administrations.

His death has caught national attention. The 66-year-old Wheeler's body was found on New Year's Eve "as a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill." As the Associated Press adds, police say it was a homicide, though they haven't said anything about how he died.

The local News Journal of Wilmington, Del., writes that police say they have tracked the route of the garbage truck that ended up bringing Wheeler's body to the Cherry Island Landfill in the city. According to Lt. Mark Farrall of the Newark Police, the truck made 10 pick ups on the eastern side of Newark, Del., before getting to the landfill:

Wheeler was supposed to be on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington last Tuesday, but it's now thought he may not have been.

Update at 3:55 p.m. ET: Police in Newark, Del., now say they've further narrowed down Wheeler's last known movements, the News Journalreports. He was seen around 3:30 p.m. ET last Thursday in Wilmington, "in the area of 10th and Orange streets."

And also this afternoon, James Fallows of The Atlantic (who we noted earlier was a friend of Wheeler's), spoke with All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block. He said that Wheeler "looked like a very, sort-of buttoned-up and respectable lawyer-type person. ... But he could be very emotional. ... For somebody who was as professionally accomplished, he also was a very passionate almost heart-on-his-sleeve person":

Much more from Melissa's conversation with Fallows is due on today's edition of ATC. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Update at 10 a.m. ET. More about Wheeler:

At Timemagazine's Swampland blog, Mark Thompson writes that Wheeler "was one of those outer planets in the capital's solar system, never drawing too close to the Sun but riding the country's business in an elliptical orbit that would bring him closer to the heat every once in awhile." Wheeler was also, Thompson writes, a "Renaissance man"

The Atlantic's James Fellows was a friend of Wheeler's. He writes that Wheeler:

"Was a complicated man of very intense (and sometimes changeable) friendships, passions, and causes. His most recent crusade was to bring ROTC back to elite campuses, as noted here. That is what I was corresponding with him about  in recent months. To be within e-mail range of Jack was to look forward to frequent, lengthy, often urgent-sounding and often overwrought dispatches on the state of the struggle. Late at night on Christmas Day, I was surprised to see this simple note from him:

" 'Jim, Merry Christmas, Old Friend. Onward and upward.'

" 'Jack' "

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.