Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries' Returns With the Disturbing Story of Jack Wheeler

Volume 2 of the streaming hit kicks off with an unsettling case about a D.C. power broker.

unsolved mysteries jack wheeler
Netflix
Netflix

When the reboot of Unsolved Mysteries dropped on Netflix back in July, it was hard to know exactly what to expect. The original series, which debuted on NBC back in 1987 and ran on different networks until 2010, worked with an often kitschy mix of true crime head-scratchers, paranormal happenings, bizarre miracles, UFO sightings, and the occasional tale of lost love. It was all presented by a straight-talking host—most often the deep-voiced Robert Stack—and padded out with melodrama-heavy reenactments. Would the new version carry on that tradition?

We know the answer to that question now—the Netflix update is a slicker show that mostly ditches the host and the reenactments in favor of a more restrained approach that still appeals to theory-hungry viewers—and the new batch of episodes, dubbed "Volume 2" by Netflix, will inevitably feel less mysterious. It's a little more familiar, another part of the streaming landscape. Still, the series displays a willingness to tell different types of stories with its first episode, "Washington Inside Murder," which focuses on the chilling disappearance and murder of D.C. power player Jack Wheeler, and it ends up being one of the more unsettling hours in the reboot's short history.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

Unlike many of the Season 1 episodes, Jack Wheeler's story was given substantial coverage by the mainstream media when it first broke. (Some of that footage, well-coiffed anchors speculating about the case, is included in the episode.) But the story starts with the discovery of Jack Wheeler's body in a Delaware landfill on New Year's Eve in 2010. Wheeler, a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, had served as an aide to both Bush administrations and in the Reagan administration before moving to the private sector, where he worked as a consultant for the Mitre Corporation, advising on cybersecurity matters. He'd also had jobs at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Pentagon. At 66 years old, he'd racked up years as a connected D.C. figure, the type of person with plenty of friends and enemies in the city. 

Though the episode follows the timeline based approach of many earlier Unsolved Mysteries episodes, Wheeler's D.C. connections give the episode a uniquely sinister conspiratorial tone. There's a lot of speculation about the briefcase he was carrying and eventually misplaced. What was in it? Who might want it? How did he lose it? Many of the moments when he was last seen alive, caught on grainy security camera footage, take place in parking garages and in underground passageways, recalling All the President's Men and other tales of government intrigue and corruption. Was he killed in a mugging-gone-wrong or, as his wife Katherine has speculated in the past, in a professional hit? 

No definitive answers ever emerge from the shadows. While some Unsolved Mysteries episodes can be boiled down to a simple question, the case of Jack Wheeler spins out in hundreds of different directions. Wheeler's bipolar disorder is discussed in the episode; an incident involving a smoke bomb at a construction site near his home gets examined; the possible break-in at his home, which he didn't report to his wife or to the police, also gets brought up. None offer a clear explanation. Instead, the episode only leaves you with an uneasy feeling, one that can't be quelled by a Google search or a trip to Reddit.

Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.