BEAVER, W.Va. — State police say a Raleigh County couple made up a story that reported the wife had fallen off the overlook at Grandview National Park Sunday evening.
Troopers charged Julie and Rodney Wheeler Tuesday evening with eight criminal counts after Julie Wheeler was found hiding in the couple’s home in Beaver.
Trooper First Class C.A. Dunn said the couple planned the false report. He said from evidence gathered it appears Julie Wheeler feared being separated from her family in connection with a federal criminal conviction. She was convicted in February of defrauding the Veterans Administration of more than $400,000. Her sentencing was set for June 17. She faced up to 10 years in federal prison.
Several law enforcement agencies, first responders and three helicopter crews spent more than 40 hours searching the rugged terrain at Grandview but authorities became suspicious after finding little evidence of a fall.
“Stuff just didn’t add up,” Dunn said. “We had all this manpower, aviation and drones. You would think with that much manpower she would be found quicker.”
Dunn said Julie Wheeler was hiding at her house the entire time.
“It was all planned. The whole thing was planned,” Dunn said.
A shoe and phone belonging to Wheeler were found over the hillside, but Dunn said they were thrown over.
“It was a conspiracy between the immediate family. There were juveniles involved,” Dunn said.
Rodney Wheeler, who was an employee of West Virginia Radio Corporation of Beckley at the time of the incident, said on Facebook Monday night it was his wife who was missing, and he requested prayer.
The couple is charged with two felonies including committing a fraudulent scheme and conspiracy to commit a felony. They also face six misdemeanors including conspiracy, obstructing an officer, giving false information to a trooper, false emergency report, willful obstruction of a governmental process and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Dunn said a lot of time and effort was put into what authorities thought was a search and rescue.
“It was a very dangerous thing and it was all for nothing. There was nobody there,” Dunn said.