To police, the fiery crash at Wayson's Restaurant in southern Anne Arundel County was grim and tragic, but straightforward.
On April 9, 1990, an unidentified male driver slammed a 1985 Ford Tempo at high speed into the restaurant's brick wall. He died from head injuries and the flames that engulfed the car. The body was burned beyond recognition.
Investigators soon learned that the car's owner had lent the vehicle to her brother, John David Wieck, 25, of Lochearn. They also established that Wieck had been unemployed and despondent after a breakup with his girlfriend. In his apartment they found a note, typed and signed, apologizing to his girlfriend and saying goodbye.
Dr. Mario Golle, an assistant state medical examiner, compared Wieck's dental records with X-rays taken of the corpse's jaws and declared a match. The body was positively identified as Wieck's. The death was ruled a suicide. The case was closed.
For Wieck's family, the case was not closed, however.
For them, the last 20 months have become a shadowy maze of unexplained mysteries, facts that don't add up, and questions that only yield more questions.
They have pored over charred evidence, dental records and grisly autopsy photos, and even had the body exhumed in search of answers.
Why did the autopsy report show the corpse in the car to be six inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than they remembered Wieck to be? Why did it have a size 12 foot, when John Wieck wore a 9? What about the kitchen knife found stuck in the body's stomach?
And who has been entering Wieck's girlfriend's apartment and taking articles of his clothing? Who has been dialing her answering machine and retrieving her messages with a code known only to a dead man?
There have been so many questions that John and Mei Wieck are convinced that whoever died in that car, whoever it was they buried and reburied, it was not their son.
"It tears us all up," said Wieck, 60, a retired postal worker. "Days will go by and you tend to forget. Then Gerry [Rice, their private investigator] will come to us with some report. It's constantly on our minds."
The Chesapeake Beach couple believe their son is still alive, perhaps in a government-witness protection program tied somehow to his involvement with drugs.
Police and forensic experts say the Wiecks are mistaken, victims of their own grief and hope. John David Wieck, they say, is quite dead.
Financially exhausted after spending $40,000 on their private investigation, the Wiecks have now gone public, hoping someone -- a law enforcement official, perhaps John himself -- will at least assure them quietly that he's alive.
"It would be easier," Wieck said. "We could live with not seeing him again."
Could John David Wieck have committed suicide?
John's young life had not been smooth, his father admitted. But he had plans. A graduate of Largo High School, he had talked about going to college, and "we had always told him that when he was ready, we would help him with his education."
But he dreamed of rock 'n' roll stardom and moved to New Jersey with his girlfriend for a year in a bid to make it as a bass player. There, he also got deeper into drugs and alcohol. The Wiecks found later that John and a friend had made frequent trips to the Bronx to buy cocaine.
Gerry Rice learned that Wieck had become a weekly cocaine user, and made at least two trips to Germany with a friend who was probably transporting drugs.
Then, last spring, John and his girlfriend moved back to Baltimore. He had left the band and he told his family he was ready to go back to school. But it was not to be.
Eleven hours before the crash, police learned, Wieck told his sister over lunch at the Friendly's restaurant in Crofton that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. He also was upset about not having a job.
Four hours before the crash he called his girlfriend's mother. He cried and told her his troubles, but the mother cut him off, telling him the couple would have to work out their problems together.
In his signed note, Wieck said, "I stand alone. I have never felt so bad in all my life. . . . I have hurt the most beautiful wonderful person I have ever known. I am so vile, I hate myself. . . . Forgive me. In the end it's my fault alone. . . . Goodbye."
Despite all this evidence, the Wiecks can't believe their son would kill himself.
"It wasn't that his future was bleak, like they [police] made it out to be," his father said.
Besides, the family doubts he would purposely destroy his sister's car. And what about the knife? Police suspect he stabbed himself (the wound was not fatal) or rigged the 8-inch knife to plunge into his abdomen when the car hit the wall.
No, said Wieck, "Not with a knife. He didn't like pain." And, perhaps the note was song lyrics, or just something he wrote.
At first, Wieck said, "we felt it was probably our son [in the car], but we just didn't think it was suicide." Maybe he picked up a hitchhiker, got stabbed in a fight or drug dispute, and somebody tried to cover it up.