Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched yet!
Preamble: I like to watch these episodes and take notes at the same time, so then my blog post is the initial reaction I have to watching the episode in real time with my own thoughts. Once I bring those thoughts to bear in a coherent way, I then seek out what others are saying about the episode to round out the theories and such. What you’re about to read is my first raw thoughts, so as to not to be influenced by others.
I have so many questions after watching this episode, “Washington Insider Murder,” of the second volume from the reborn Unsolved Mysteries series. The episode follows the mysterious death of former White House aide for former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, Jack Wheeler, who was found on Dec. 31, 2010 in a Wilmington, Delaware landfill. Two important facts to know about Jack from the get-go: He seemed to be an incredibly smart man, given his educational background and ascension to the White House, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Before I get to the questions I have, it’s worth pointing out that because Jack was a former White House aide, that creates this air of him being killed because of something substantial or something he knew that someone else didn’t know or even if he was killed for something unrelated to the White House, like due to his contracting technology work, there’s still that air of, “Washington insider,” hence the sensational title of the episode. I think that creates undue tunnel vision on an investigation or creates a conspiracy web when usually the answer is much simpler, and more tragically mundane.
As said, I have myriad questions, and in the course of going over the timeline to establish that, I will ask some of them. This timeline is the best of my ability as I jotted down the notes of it: There was apparently a break-in at Jack’s house on Dec. 28, wherein Jack didn’t call the police, and instead emailed his company about it, letting them know whomever burglarized his home took important items related to the company, but also his cell phone.
On Dec. 29, Jack goes to a pharmacy in Wilmington, Delaware, one he is quite familiar with and they are quite familiar with him, and to me it seems from the security footage, he’s walking with a limp and appears to be grimacing? Like he’s already in pain or distress? Or did he always walk like that?
Then he reappears 40 minutes later in a parking garage, but he can’t find his car, which according to his family, is not an unusual occurrence for him, and his briefcase has now been stolen. What happened during that 40-minute window between when he’s seen at the pharmacy and when he’s seen at the parking garage? Did they even find the person or persons who took him from the pharmacy to the parking garage six miles away?
By Dec. 30, he’s at an office building, seemingly having slept overnight in the basement, and is last seen on camera as late as 8:41 p.m. by hotel security footage walking the streets.
His body was found the next day at 9:46 a.m. at the landfill. I’m still not clear on how someone at the landfill noticed his body. But what happened in that 13-hour window? How did he get from Wilmington to Newark, Delaware where his DNA was found on a dumpster, and where investigators expect the landfill trash came from? Newark to the landfill and thereabouts where he was last seen is 14 miles. A witness claims a taxicab took him to Newark, but witness testimony is spotty at best.
On the same day his body was found, at Jack’s house, his neighbor calls the police to notify them of a break-in. Is the evidence of the break-in the same break-in Jack was talking about to his employer or a different one?
And, if it’s a break-in, it’s a weird one, because the kitchen is in disarray with flowers knocked over and spices everywhere. The items in disarray strike me as unusual for a burglary. The neighbor even mentions that there’s a barefoot footprint at the scene. Was that followed up on? There’s a theory that Jack lost his phone, and in his stress freak-out, he’s the one who was tossing the flowers and spices everywhere. Well, does the bare footprint match Jack’s? And if it wasn’t Jack who burglarized his home, who burglarizes a home barefoot?
And speaking of feet, what was wrong with Jack’s feet? Again, he seems to be limping at the pharmacy, and then when he gets to the parking garage, he’s walking around with one shoe in his hand.
Overall, you had at least 10 different federal, state and local agencies investigating this apparent murder due to Jack’s connections to the Pentagon and White House, and none of them were able to find any sort of evidence as to who killed him?
But because of the “dumpster theory,” I’m not even convinced that Jack was killed. Remember I mentioned that Jack was bipolar? He forgets where his car is and has lost his cell phone. Maybe he’s having a manic episode and is stumbling around? At night during that 13-hour-window between the last security footage and when his body was found, as the dumpster theory goes, he crawls into a dumpster for warmth and/or to sleep because it is winter, after all. According to the dump truck drivers, this isn’t uncommon. They find “hollers,” as they call them, all the time when they approach with the forks from the truck to pick up the dumpster.
So, perhaps Jack didn’t “holler,” was picked up by the dump truck, and taken to the landfill. But, the family argues, what about the autopsy report that said blunt force trauma killed him? He had broken ribs, bruises all over his face, punctured lung and so forth?
I mean, couldn’t that be explained by being smashed up in a dump truck? When they compress all the garbage? But even under that theory, that doesn’t explain why Jack emailed his employer to say he was robbed. Was that part of the manic episode? I don’t know how those present themselves, but that seems odd.
What about a random mugging that led to murder? That Jack was stumbling around and someone took advantage of him? Well, his West Point Class of 1966 ring was still with him, as well as cash, so that seems unlikely, or at least, a poor mugging attempt. Not to mention, as the journalist on the show points out, it would be unusual for a mugger to go to the trouble of putting a dead body into the dumpster to hide it rather than leave it where it was.
And if it was a more coordinated or premeditated attack and murder, why? Who had a motive to beat him like that? If it was that sort of attack, you’d expect a gunshot killing, right? Where’s the evidence? All those agencies and not one found any evidence of a homicide other than the coroner’s report that seems to see “blunt force trauma.”
Blunt force trauma that could’ve come from a dump truck. That’s the strongest, most compelling theory, and it’s tragic on top of an already tragic end to what seems to be an extraordinary man’s life.
Now that I’ve rambled on, let’s see what others are saying.
According to a 2017 Washington Post article, something rather .. significant, to say the least, was left out of Wheeler’s cause of death, as presented by the episode: A heart attack. That again, seems consistent to me with the dumpster theory. He crawls into the dumpster for warmth during a manic bipolar episode, and has a heart attack, hence why he doesn’t “holler” when the dump truck comes.
That Post article also mentions an argument with Kathy Klyce, his wife, that he emailed his therapist about not long before his death in which he mentions being “dazed, boxed in a corner.” That was omitted from the episode, and seems another puzzle piece to what could have precipitated a manic episode or break for Wheeler.
As tragic as it is, I honestly think this one comes down to the unfortunate “dumpster theory.”
What do you think?
I haven’t seen the episode yet but I must admit your theory is extremely far fetched. Only homeless, desperate people would sleep in a dumpster, not a ln affluent White House guy. I’ve never heard of anyone sleeping in one but im sure it occurs at least rarely. Note to Brett: Don’t apply to the police force.
But I think he was desperate. In the context of having a manic bipolar episode, spiraling down and so forth, I think it’s plausible, at least. Certainly seems more plausible given the available evidence than the an outright murder. COME ON!
Lol. I’ll have to watch it but I’m not buying your theory. First it would be extremely odd for a man of his caliber to sleep in a dumpster when he has a home. Or go to a hotel. Or a friend. A dumpster? No. And wouldn’t he have woken up when they lifted the dumpster? Detective Milam is getting demoted.
It indeed might help to watch first, but two points from my post: “former” aide, and heart attack. (Oh yeah.)
I can’t type. I’m still laughing at your theory. Wut
I’m so excited that you’re sharing your thoughts on Unsolved Mysteries again. I actually first discovered your blog because of your other Unsolved Mysteries posts when I googled some of the episodes to see if I can learn more information!
I agree with your theory that this is probably something more mundane, and I also thought he seemed to be acting weird at the pharmacy. Everyone in the episode kept saying that he looked normal at the pharmacy, but he really didn’t! There are lots of questions the episode left out including, as you pointed out, the footprint (and I didn’t even consider that, but, it’s true: what robber would rob a place barefoot?)
And gee, that’s pretty upsetting that they left those details about his heart attach and email out of the episode. That adds a lot more common sense to what could have actually happened. Thanks for sharing, and, if you plan on posting about the second episode I’m looking forward to it because it’s so interesting!
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Tirza, thank you for commenting! Ha, that’s funny you found my blog that way. Unsolved Mysteries became sort of my stepping stone to restarting my blog! And yup, I definitely plan on reviewing the other five episodes when I can. I just love true crime!
Right, I think if you watch the first 20 minutes of the episode where they are (rightly) discussing his accolades and success in public service, and then compare that to what we’re seeing later on the security footage, it doesn’t seem like the picture of the same man. His family most of all should recognize that. It’s sad, and regardless of what the answer is (murder or mundane, but tragic accident precipitated by a heart attack), it doesn’t erase the fact that he’s dead for the family. But I can see why a story of him being murder because he knew something feels more comforting in one’s head, as odd as that sounds versus the alternative theory. At least with the former, he died for bigger reasons rather than tragic, more “normal” reasons.
Thank you again for commenting!
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