Jerry Wheeler was a husband, a father, a successful local businessman who would give you the shirt off his back, but today officials are working tirelessly to find out who killed him in his own home.
Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Major Crimes Unit investigators have identified the victim in a violent Tuesday homicide on Chattahoochee Drive as the 66-year-old Wheeler. Wheeler was the owner of Lee Road Auto Service and the father of Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Michael Wheeler.
Douglas County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Stan Copeland confirmed that it was Micheal who found his father dead inside his home, where the scene painted the picture of an incredibly violent struggle between Jerry Wheeler and one or more attackers.
"It was a very violent attack and Mr. Wheeler suffered multiple wounds," Copeland said. "It would be easy to jump to a conclusion and assume that it was a robbery gone bad, but it's just too early to say for sure. It's a very unique crime scene and technicians are still out there gathering evidence. They are finding some very good forensic evidence that we hope will lead us to the person or people responsible for this."
Copeland said a $2,000 reward has been made available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible party. He said there are some leads and investigators are going "two or three different directions and looking at all the possible scenarios in the process."
Copeland said it was still too early to release information on a possible motive or weapon or any information on what might have caused the "multiple wounds."
"It's safe to say that there was altercation between Mr. Wheeler and the person or people who did this," Copeland said. "That's why we are using such care in collecting any and everything there that may provide us with something that may help us identify the suspect or suspects."
Copeland said that Michael Wheeler had stopped by the home at 3805 Chattahoochee Drive to check on his dad. That stop was at 2 p.m. Tuesday and investigators were called to the scene immediately. The medical examiner confirmed the obvious Wednesday morning – that Jerry Wheeler had been murdered.
The scene has been guarded, with personnel on site. Investigators and technicians have worked virtually around the clock since that Tuesday call.
This is the first homicide in the county this year, but shares some common threads with the county's last homicide.
The last killing in the county came in April 2012, when 65-year-old Donald Peden was stabbed to death in his Yeager Road home. Peden's son, like Wheeler's, works with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
In Peden's death, investigators arrested David Baltodano in that case allege that he was robbing Peden’s home and then killed him when the homeowner returned home and caught him in the act. The state is seeking the death penalty against Baltodano. Those who know Wheeler hope that investigators have the same success as they search for Wheeler's killer.
"Jerry Wheeler was a wonderful man," Fran McTyre said. "I have been crying all morning. Jerry would do anything for anyone and I just can't imagine who would do something like to the a man like Jerry. It makes absolutely no sense. We own a business here too and we helped each other out. We ate breakfast together and were always working together on something. He was just true, good and honest – more than anyone I know. It wasn't just with us, he was like that with everyone.
"I want this scum bag found and caught and wish them the same fate as they made him suffer. We are all scared now, but they will catch who did this. When they do I know that they will not hesitate to make them pay the same way."