I’ll Remember You, Dad Earl

On January 13, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

I’ll Remember You, “Dad Earl”

Movie Notes

Novice Director: Jody

Participants: Earl, Mom, Dennis, Jennifer, Jody’s sister Kim (husband Jon & three-year-old daughter Rose), sister Lori (husband Steve, son Luke and friend Jessica), sister Kysa and friend Jim, brother-in-law Lee, Cocoa the Small but mighty dog

Location: Onawa, IA

Date: February 7, 2007

Event: Kysa’s Birthday

Family Members (In order of appearance): Luke sitting on small kitchen table; Kysa in striped sweater; Mom & Earl in corner; Steve in doorway; Lori in overalls; Lee at dining room table with Rosie (in pink boots); Cocoa on floor in doorway; Dennis coming through doorway; Jim in yellow shirt; Jon in beard by sink; Jessica in front of Luke at table; Jennifer with long blonde hair in dining room…and closing with the way I most remember Earl…smiling, pushing up his glasses, laughing, loving and enjoying his family.

The Music

I’ll Remember You
by Grayson Hugh

In big families there is no lack of celebrations.

On February 7, 2007, I had my first opportunity to “film” one of these events with my new Digimax camera (with built-in Movie Clip mode) I’d received for Christmas from my son Bill and his wife Jen. I had no idea what a priceless gift this fruit would bear: video footage of my stepfather — “Dad Earl” Thelander — taken six months before he died from third-degree burns sustained when cowardly copper thieves exchanged around $15 worth of copper wiring for a good man’s life.

This video, however, is intended to celebrate the countless happy times my family and I shared with him…the way I most remember Dad Earl.

The event is my sister Kysa’s birthday, held in my 100-year-old home despite kitchen and dining room renovations. That’s the great thing about a large, loving family, as you’ll see; they’ll gather to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, and, in the midst of all the have-more-cake-and-ice-creams and kids and dogs and laughter and love, they’ll somehow overlook the make-shift kitchen counters and yet-to-be refinished hardwood floors poking out beneath a host of mismatched area rugs.

They know what’s important.

Despite my amateurish (and first ever) attempt at film recording, I managed to put together a short video encompassing the event, and then, later, extracted sections from it for the five-minute clip shown above.

There are no “official” rolling credits, though I hope Grayson Hugh will understand my using here his lyrical and poignant “I’ll Remember You” composition. There simply was no runner-up.

Sort of like Earl.

Articles on Earl Thelander death

Onawa Explosion Victim Dies

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

WHO TV logo

Onawa Explosion Victim Dies

September 3, 2007

An Onawa man injured last week in a natural gas explosion in the basement of a vacant home has died. Earl Thelander died Saturday at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha.

Officials say they think the home exploded when Thelander plugged in a fan to help vent fumes from a broken propane line leading to the furnace.

Officials say the line had been cut when burglars were stealing copper lines from the home and cut the gas lines before leaving.

Visitation and a funeral will be held later this week.

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Explosion victim dies of injuries – Daily Nonpareil

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing
Council Bluffs Nonpareil Banner


Explosion victim dies of injuries


ONAWA – A man injured in a propane explosion at a vacant house he owned died Saturday at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha.

Earl Thelander, 80, was hospitalized Aug. 27 after suffering second- and third-degree burns.

He plugged in a fan to air out the house’s basement and it caused the gas fumes to explode, according to the Monona County Sheriff’s Office. *

The office said copper wire thieves had burglarized the house earlier and cut into a gas line, causing the leak.

A sheriff’s office spokesperson said there had been no arrests in the case as of this morning.

According to Monona County Assistant County Attorney Steve Allen, his office is investigating what charges to file if an arrest is made.

He said they had ruled out first-degree murder unless intent to cause Thelander’s death could be proven.

Thelander’s funeral will be held Thursday at First Christian Church in Onawa. Visitation and a memorial prayer service are set for Wednesday evening at Rush Family Care Service in Onawa.

– Tom McMahon

* Correction: Earl had gone back to the home several hours after the gas leak had first been discovered. The sheriff’s department had gone, and, smelling no remaining fumes, Earl plugged in a fan to help dry water on the floor’s basement so he could install a new water pump. (He did not plug it in to air out any remaining fumes, because he didn’t smell anything.)

© Copyright 2007 SW Iowa News

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Natural gas explosion leads to man’s death

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing


Natural gas explosion leads to man’s death


The Associated Press
Issue date
: 9/4/07

ONAWA — A man injured in a natural gas explosion in the basement of a vacant house he owned has died.

Earl Thelander, 80, died Saturday at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha, Neb.

Thelander was hospitalized Tuesday with burn injuries after an explosion damaged the house in rural Onawa.

The Monona County Sheriff’s office said Thelander had plugged in a fan to help vent fumes from a propane line leading to the furnace that had been cut.

Authorities said they believed burglars were stealing copper lines from the house and had taken the water lines and apparently had cut the gas lines before fleeing.

After the explosion, Thelander drove about two miles to his home. He was being treated at the Omaha hospital for second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body.

Visitation and a prayer service were set for Wednesday evening at Rush Family Care Service in Onawa. A funeral service is scheduled for this Thursday.

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Reward Offered in Copper Theft That Led to Deadly Explosion

On January 6, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing


Reward Offered in Copper Theft That Led to Deadly Explosion

January 8, 2008

Earl and Hope Thelander

Reward Offered in Copper Theft that Led to Deadly Explosion

January 8, 2008 — The family of an 80-year-old Monona County man who died in an house explosion, is offering an award for information leading to the arrest of the person who started the gas leak.

Authorities say when urban miners stripped Earl Thelander’s home of copper piping, they started a gas leak. Thelander died when his house exploded from that leak. The Thelander family is now offering a $5,000 reward.

Copyright © 2010 WHO-HD

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Inside Edition

On January 6, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing


Inside Edition banner


Airdate: 5/14/2008


Doug Thelander and his family are victims of one of the fastest growing crimes in the country…copper theft. Thieves stole several feet of copper pipes from a house owned by his dad, but in the process they cut the gas line, leaving dangerous propane gas leaking into the basement.

When his father Earl returned to his house outside Sioux City, Iowa, he plugged in a fan. The next instant, the gas ignited into a fireball.

“There’d just been a flash. Just…it engulfed him,” Thelander tells INSIDE EDITION.

Earl Thelander survived an agonizing four days.

In tears, his daughter Cindy says, “After four days, we decided we didn’t want him to suffer.”

It’s a nationwide copper crime wave. From plumbing pipes to the wires that carry electricity and phone service to your house, if it’s made of copper and thieves can get to it, they will.

One perpetrator was caught on surveillance camera stealing the copper cables inside a cellular phone tower in Texas. Another brazen thief used a fork lift to steal tons of copper wire from an electrical contractor. While still another used wire cutters to steal hundreds of feet of copper in Florida.

Copper theft has become so rampant in Detroit that whole neighborhoods are sometimes left without power, and a heavily armed task force goes after suspected copper crooks.

As for the Thelander family, they’re still trying to understand why their dad died, because someone wanted to steal the copper from his house.

The Thelanders are now offering a $5,000 reward to try to catch the crook responsible for their father’s death. Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact Monona County Sheriff’s Office at 1-800-859-1414. All caller information and reward claims may be made anonymously.

In the past year at least 20 states have enacted tougher new laws to try to make it more difficult for thieves and scrap yards to profit from stolen copper.

To learn about copper theft legislation in your area, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To learn more about copper theft, visit RSI Video Technologies at www.coppertheft.info.


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Earl Thelander Articles

On November 23, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

News and Articles with references to
Earl Thelander death


Earl L. Thelander


May 9, 1927


September 1, 2007



Cold Case: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders

October 24, 2015 | Independence Bulletin Journal

This is a weekly feature highlighting some of Iowa’s unsolved homicides in the hopes that it will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases. The project is a partnership between this newspaper and other members of the Iowa Newspaper Association.

ONAWA – Earl Thelander sustained second- and third-degree burns over 80% of his body in an August 28, 2007 explosion caused by copper thieves. The thieves had stripped propane gas lines from a country home that Earl and his wife Hope had been renovating.

Gone Cold: Earl Thelander

September 1, 2015 | Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Earl Thelander got second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body in an Aug. 28, 2007, explosion caused by copper thieves. Sometime overnight from Aug. 27 to Aug. 28, thieves broke into the vacant home at 20877 Gum Ave. near Onawa, which Earl and wife Hope had been renovating, and stole copper propane and water lines, causing the house to fill with gas. Earl discovered the break-in at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 28. Read More

Gone Cold: Earl Thelander

August 24, 2015 | The Carroll Daily Times Herald


Earl Thelander sustained second- and third-degree burns over 80% of his body in an August 28, 2007 explosion caused by copper thieves. The thieves had stripped propane gas lines from a country home that Earl and his wife Hope had been renovating.

Gone Cold: Earl Thelander, killed in 2007

August 22, 2015 | The Des Moines Register

This is a weekly feature highlighting some of Iowa’s unsolved homicides in the hopes that it will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases. The project is a partnership between this newspaper and other members of the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Name: Earl Thelander

Age: 80

Died: September 1, 2007

Location: Onawa

Earl Thelander sustained second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body in an Aug. 28, 2007, explosion caused by copper thieves. The thieves had stripped propane gas lines from a country home that Earl and his wife Hope had been renovating. Read More

Iowa’s cold cases: Website offers hope to victims’ families

May 31, 2012 | The Des Moines Register

The stories kept coming.

The year was 2005. Newspaper reporter Jody Ewing had finished her series on a half-dozen Sioux City-area cold case crimes for the Sioux City Journal magazine, the Weekender.

But months after the last paragraph published, emails and letters continued. Family members of victims, amateur crime historians and retired law enforcement officers wrote and called Ewing with more stories of unsolved crimes from across Iowa.

Keeping cold cases from being forgotten

May 11, 2012 | The Iowa City Press-Citizen

When Jody Ewing first began writing about Iowa’s unsolved murders, people would ask if she had a personal connection to a cold case that sparked her interest.

Until 2007, the answer was always no.

On Aug. 28 of that year, 80-year-old Earl Thelander of Onawa, Ewing’s stepfather, was cleaning the basement of an unoccupied rental property that had been gutted by copper thieves. Earlier that day, he and law enforcement officials had turned off the propane tank and aired out the house, but when he turned on a blower fan to dry out the basement, it ignited an explosion. Thelander died of severe burns four days later.

Legislature tackles scrap metal theft

March 26, 2012 | Iowa Senate Democrats

The theft of copper and other scrap metal from construction sites, homes and businesses is a national problem, including here in Iowa.

Not only are businesses and individuals being robbed, this is a serious threat to public safety. For example, thieves are entering homes and stealing copper wiring and tubing. That creates fire hazards and other serious dangers to Iowans. In Monona County, Earl Thelander died in 2007 from burns he suffered in an explosion after thieves stole copper piping from his rural Onawa property.

That’s why the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved House File 2399. The bill requires all scrap metal dealers to keep a record of their scrap metal purchases. The dealers are required to get the name, address and place of business of every person who sells them scrap metal. In addition the seller must provide some form of government-issued photo identification.

These records will be kept in a confidential log that law enforcement can use if needed in a criminal investigation.

Partnership to Combat Critical Infrastructure: Copper Theft

February 28, 2012 | SafeGuardIowa.org

A webinar focused on copper theft affecting critical infrastructure and designed for individuals interested in collaborating with public agencies and private-sector organizations to successfully investigate and prosecute copper thefts.

96 Webinar Slides — Earl Thelander case on page 42 under title:

Iowa Example: Homicide

Webinar Sponsored by:
  • Department of Justice — State of Iowa
  • Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety Division of Intelligence
  • Iowa League of Cities
  • Iowa Municipal Attorneys Association
  • Iowa Law Enforcement Intelligence Network
  • Iowa County Attorneys Association
  • MidAmerican Energy
  • Safeguard Iowa Partnership

Stealing Copper Can Be a Deadly Crime

October 21, 2011 | KCAU-TV Channel 9, Sioux City

After a rash of attempted copper thefts, authorities want people to know the dangers from stealing copper are real.

One Siouxland family has come face to face with the deadly dangers that copper thieves can leave behind.

Propane warning for LL

By RR [WA]) Posted on Aug. 31, 2011 10:54 AM

This story about Earl Thelander is a few years old, but I just read it and realized that it could happen to ANY ONE OF US.

Here’s the story:  https://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/earl-thelander/

In short, copper thieves stole propane lines, house filled with propane, gas was turned off, authorities were called, the house was aired out for a couple hours, THEN:

“Earl entered the house, and, smelling no propane gas, felt it was safe for him to work. In the basement, however, he discovered water had leaked onto the floor from the cut and stolen water lines. He set up a squirrel cage blower to help expedite drying the basement floor and plugged it in. The home suddenly exploded, throwing him all the way across the room and into a basement corner.”

I probably would have done the same thing…

How could this have been prevented? How long do you need to air out a house after a major propane leak?


COLD CASES: Death of stepfather drives woman to profile Iowa’s unsolved crimes

July 29, 2010 | WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines

Onawa, IA – For Jody Ewing of Onawa, near Sioux City, this is her calling. Remembering the forgotten. Profiling cold, unsolved cases throughout the state on her website iowacoldcases.org.

Iowa woman casts a wide net to catch criminals: Web site helps keep Iowa cold cases alive

The Muscatine Journal
February 12, 2010

ONAWA, Iowa – Bringing up unsolved murders can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, victims’ families hope new stories and information can cut through years of mystery and uncertainty and bring to justice the person responsible for their loved one’s murder.

‘Urban miners’ scrap plans to steal metals

The Des Moines Register
November 19, 2008

… A thief who stripped copper tubing from a propane tank in western Iowa in August was blamed for a buildup of gas in a house. The explosion killed 80-year-old Earl Thelander of Onawa.

Sioux City Journal copper theft imageCopper theft: It can have deadly consequences

The Sioux City Journal
September 28, 2008

SIOUX CITY — Even though he had retired from the plumbing and heating business, 80-year-old Earl Thelander liked to stay busy. On Aug. 28, 2007, he was cleaning up the basement of one of his rental properties in rural Onawa, Iowa, when an explosion occurred. Thelander, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, died four days later at an Omaha burn unit.

Inside Edition: Copper Theft

May 14, 2008

The television newsmagazine reports on the nationwide copper theft epidemic and the death of Earl Thelander of Onawa, Iowa.

KTIV - Earl and Hope ThelanderRemembering Earl Thelander

KTIV News Channel 4, Sioux City
May 10, 2008

A year after his death, Earl Thelander’s family plants evergreen trees in his memory.



Remembering Earl Thelander

KMEG Channel 14, Sioux City
May 10, 2008

Copper Theft Killing Now a Cold Case Investigation

(Visit the Discussion Forum on this article here.)
Action 3 News, Omaha
May 8, 2008

U.S. News & World Report logoPrice Hikes Lead to Rash of Metal Thefts

U.S. News & World Report Magazine
March 27, 2008

Australia’s new crime wave

The Scone Advocate
March 6, 2008

Reward Offered in Copper Theft That Led to Deadly Explosion

WHO-TV Channel 13
January 8, 2008

Earl Thelander working at Monona HotelThelander Family Offers Reward for Information

KTIV News Channel 4, Sioux City
January 6, 2008



Family offers reward for information on explosion

Council Bluffs Nonpareil
December 22, 2007

Sioux City Journal article‘A good man died a needless, pointless death’

The Sioux City Journal
October 28, 2007

Two months after blast, search continues for those responsible






Man Dies After $20 Copper Theft

October 12, 2007

Victim’s family awaits copper thief’s arrest

Omaha World-Herald
October 12, 2007

KETV Image of Earl ThelanderMan Dies After $20 Copper Theft

KETV 7, Omaha
October 12, 2007




Man Dies After $20 Copper Theft: Onawa Police Seek Informants

KCCI Channel 8, Des Moines
October 12, 2007

Copper Theft Crackdown

WOWT News Channel 6, Omaha
September 25, 2007

Thieves target copper pipes, wiring

The Sioux City Journal
September 22, 2007

Copper Thieves Cause Explosion – Man Critically Injured

Williams Kherkher
September 18, 2007

Obituaries: Earl Thelander

Polk County Newspaper.com
September 14, 2007

Copper Theft Compromised Safety

WOWT Channel 6, Omaha
September 13, 2007

Monday’s Our View: Tragic turn
Our Position: Copper thieves responsible for man’s death

The Daily Nonpareil
September 10, 2007

While some may dub this incident an accident, it was far from it. Thelander died as the result of someone else’s disregard for the law, both natural and state mandated…

Man killed in blast died for ‘piece of copper piping’

The Des Moines Register
September 5, 2007

Robbery Suspects Face Enhanced Charges After Explosion

September 4, 2007

Explosion victim dies of injuries

Denison Bulletin Review
September 4, 2007

KLEM News Update

KLEM 1410, Le Mars
September 4, 2007

Natural gas explosion leads to man’s death

Iowa State Daily
September 4, 2007

Explosion victim dies of injuries

The Daily Nonpareil
September 4, 2007

Onawa Explosion Victim Dies

WHO TV News Channel 13
September 3, 2007

Obituary: Earl Thelander

The Sioux City Journal
September 3, 2007

Onawa Explosion Victim Dies

September 3, 2007

Onawa man hurt in explosion dies in Omaha

The Sioux City Journal
September 3, 2007

Iowa Man Loses Fight for Life

WOWT News Channel 6, Omaha
September 3, 2007

Victim Of Robbery and Explosion Passes Away

KTIV TV News Channel 4
September 1, 2007

Man Recovering After House Explodes

WHO TV News Channel 13
August 31, 2007

Home explodes after thief nabs copper pipes

The Record Herald and Indianola Tribune
August 30, 2007

Victim’s Family Speaks Out About Copper Crime Explosion

KTIV TV News Channel 4
August 30, 2007

Iowa Man Burned in Explosion

WOWT News Channel 6, Omaha
August 30, 2007

Onawa man hospitalized after home explodes

The Sioux City Journal
August 30, 2007

Copper theft results in explosion, injuries

Omaha World-Herald
August 30, 2007

Home Explodes After Thief Nabs Copper Pipes

DTN Blogs
August 30, 2007

Onawa Man Injured in House Explosion: Officials Say Burglar Tried to Steal Copper Propane Line

KETV 7, Omaha
August 29, 2007

Onawa man injured in house explosion

Associated Press
August 29, 2007

Blast Victim In ‘Critical’ Condition

KTIV TV News Channel 4
August 29, 2007

Onawa man hurt in house explosion

The Sioux City Journal
August 29, 2007

Copper Theft blamed for house explosion

The Des Moines Register
August 29, 2007

House Explosion

Godlike Productions (from KCAU TV)
August 28, 2007

Explosion Damages Onawa, IA Home

August 28, 2007

KTIV - Top Story imageTop Story: Rural Onawa, IA Home Explodes

August 28, 2007


Mom and Earl: They’re Famous, You Know

On March 9, 2008, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing
Hope and Earl Thelander

Hope and Earl Thelander

I swear I wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping. In fact, I’ve wanted to tell this story for a long time. I’d been saving it for a chapter in my book, but feel now I’ve got to share at least part of it as it relates to “Dad Earl” and my mother, Hope.

The year is 1992. We’d just recently moved to Northern California, where my husband had been assigned as an ammo inspector with the Department of Defense. My 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer (who, being very shy, made friends no easier than I had at her age), had unexpectedly brought two friends home from school. After introducing them to me, she ushered them toward her bedroom door, where on the other side I assumed they’d talk privately about the most important matters of the day — boys, teachers, moving to a new school and what-on-earth-ever-brought-you-Here?

But before they reached my daughter’s bedroom door, I couldn’t help but pick up on her words, and I had to stop and listen.

“Yeah, we’re from Iowa,” she said, “but you probably know my Grandma and Grandpa Thelander. They’re famous, you know.”

She said it so matter-of-factly. The tone languished somewhere between a child’s innocent bragging and one already versed in that which makes other people proud.

“Really?” I heard one of the girls respond.

“Oh yeah!” Jennifer said. “My Grandpa Earl and Grandma Hope … you know, the ones who rent out all those apartments? Everybody knows them and I thought for sure you’d have heard of them…”

And then her bedroom door closed and I heard only muffled voices.

I remember smiling, and thinking:

How could I have so underestimated the importance of what my parents do? Even my own daughter, at such a young age, clearly understood the role my mother and stepfather played in our community. Together, they bought old buildings and worked long hard hours renovating them into apartments to provide affordable housing for the less fortunate in our small town.

How could I have known that 15 years later, my stepfather would in fact make international headlines for having been killed trying to make life better for others?

The article in Australia’s Scone Advocate may have a couple minor details wrong (Earl was preparing the house for a new renter, not to sell), but the underlying truth rings loud and clear: copper theft isn’t a problem limited just to Iowa, nor even to the United States. It’s become an international problem, and is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars along with innocent lives.

Though Iowa legislators currently are working on House Study Bill 660 in efforts to control illegal copper theft sales, thieves continue to find willing salvage buyers at recycling businesses throughout and state and the U.S. In Las Vegas, Nev., where salvage yards have gone from 60 visitors a day to over 250 visitors a day with salvage wire, KVBC News Channel 3 Investigators recently purchased nearly $200 worth of copper pipe at a local home improvement store. Then, along with a hidden camera, they took the copper out to sell for salvage. The station randomly picked three recycling businesses from the phone book to see if they’d be asked for photo identification, required for salvage sales in Las Vegas.

All three salvage yards — the Silver Dollar yard on Lossee, Nevada Recycling, and a yard at Lakewood — purchased the copper without any identification. The seller’s ID as logged by Nevada Recycling? Zippy McGee.

With copper content at all-time highs between $3 and $4 a pound, the stories of copper theft are growing almost as fast as the illegal sales. In Buttonwillow, Calif., $10,000 worth of alfalfa withered and died after thieves stripped copper wires out of irrigation systems throughout California. Almost $38,000 in materials was stolen in June 2006 in 10 copper theft in Yelm, Olympia and Tenino in Washington state, and in Tacoma, the frequency of copper theft in the Nalley Valley industrial area now has investigators helping businesses install camera surveillance. Kentucky has seen at least three electrocution deaths associated with the theft or removal of electric copper wire. And just last month, Detroit Firehouse No. 42 experienced delayed response times due to a repeat copper theft.

I dare anyone to find a single state where copper theft is not a major problem. Still, to date there has been but one single innocent man who lost his life because of copper thieves. He became famous, all right, but I suspect my stepfather, Earl Thelander, would have preferred to remain anonymous and live out the rest of his life doing what he loved most: spending time with my mother, fixing up and providing homes for those less fortunate who couldn’t afford housing elsewhere, enjoying his family and grandchildren, and tending to his tomato plants.