Bio

On November 20, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing
Jody Ewing

Jody Ewing

About Jody

 

Jody is an author, cold case journalist and private investigator based in west-central Iowa. She began writing at age eight, both penning and illustrating her dog-napping short story, “The Mystery of Kalo’s Disappearance.”

She went on to work as a correspondent for The Sioux City Journal and a staff writer for the arts and entertainment newsweekly, Weekender.

She launched the Iowa Cold Cases website in 2005 after working on a Sioux City cold case series for the Weekender. A website that began as a handful of case summaries from the Siouxland area now has expanded to include more than 500 cases from all across the state. Iowa Cold Cases incorporated as a nonprofit agency in April 2010.

Two years after launching the cold case website, Jody’s stepfather of 25 years — Earl Thelander of Onawa, IA — died from burns sustained in a house explosion caused by copper thieves. Jody added her stepdad’s name to the ICC site in 2008 after officials announced his case had gone cold. It remains unsolved today.

Jody is the author of One Way: Bumps and Detours on the Road to Adulthood, a collection of humorous and inspirational essays about childhood and growing up, and when not researching or writing about cold cases, is working on revisions for other completed writing projects. Her work with Iowa Cold Cases is featured in Silvia Pettem’s 2017 book, The Long Term Missing: Hope and Help for Families.

Jody graduated magna cum laude from Iowa State University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies (Communications and Social Science) and Criminal Justice Studies. In early 2015, she partnered with the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA) in a year-long “Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s Unsolved Murders” series, and in September 2015 was named a “Friend of Iowa Newspapers,” an honor conferred by INA board members to those who’ve made significant contributions to the newspaper industry in Iowa.

Siouxland News presented Jody with a Jefferson Award Foundation medal in March 2017. The Jefferson Award is given in recognition of outstanding public service. Also in March 2017, Jody obtained her private investigator’s license from the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Jody has three grown children, Bill, Jennifer, and Rhett, a stepdaughter, Vicky, two grandsons, two granddaughters, and lives/works out of a century-old home with longtime companion, Dennis, rescue dog Jack, and Clyde, an African Grey parrot who thinks he’s a World War II bombardier pilot.

Missouri River flood photos taken between Onawa and Blencoe, Iowa, on June 22, 2011, as well as photos taken west of Onawa and at Decatur Bend in rural Monona County.

Click on first photo for slideshow of larger photos with descriptions.

All photos by Jody Ewing.

 

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We Are as Great as…

On September 1, 2008, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

I greeted today with unexpected feelings. All kinds of tangled roots of hope.

We are as great as the dreams we dream.

It’s been one year, you know. Already. A year ago today since Dad Earl succumbed to burns he received after copper thieves raided a rural country home and, in the explosion that followed, stole from an entire family a major force in all our futures.

As great as the love we bear.

Dad Earl may not have survived, but we did. He’d already taught us all how to do so.

Earl Thelander's headstone My mother had the poem “We are as great as the dreams we dream” inscribed in the headstone she will share with Earl.

As great as the values we redeem.

He taught us all about responsibility. Accountability. Values. We will not forget.

And the happiness we share.

We’re still a family. No explosion can tear that apart.

We are as great as the truth we speak.

He taught us to speak only the truth. Hard truths — no matter how difficult — are always easier to bear.

As great as the help we give.

He gave it freely. One never even had to ask…he was just there.

As great as the destiny we seek.

He sought none for himself, only recognizing that in others.

As great as the life we live.

He lived a life most of us could, and can, only hope to mirror.

Dad Earl, above all else, was a humble and giving man…quick to point out what he perceived as his own insignificant role in other’s successes…while all those blessed to be in his life rose to all he’d told them they could be.

Dad Earl had big dreams. Ours. He redeemed our values. He shared our happiness. He spoke our truths. He helped us all, and he gave freely of himself. He helped us seek our destinies. And he lived a great life defined by making a difference in those lives fortunate enough to have crossed paths with him.

We miss you, Dad, Earl. Dad. Earl. Honey. Grandpa. And even to some, Mr. Thelander. You were so much to so many.

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This used to be a home. That was before copper thieves came in the night and cut propane lines and let it fill with gas to later explode with a man inside. That man was my stepfather, Earl Thelander.

My grandparents used to live here. After my grandfather died, my folks purchased the rural home from my grandmother (who’d come to live with them in town after Grandpa died) and fixed it up as a rental property. This is how my folks earned their living; they worked hard fixing up homes and apartments for those needing housing in this small community where everyone knows everybody else.

They’d recently installed new insulation and put permanent siding on the house. They cared for their tenants’ homes the same way they cared for their own, making sure everything always worked properly and that families who lived in their rentals were comfortable and happy.

Now, it’s nothing but a pile of rubble . . . a haphazard scattering of bricks, nails, metal pipes, a tumbled-down chimney and ashes laid out in layers like a melted accordion.

Earl had gone to install a new water pump. After authorities were notified of the break-in and the property had been aired out, Earl returned several hours later to begin work. He died trying to make life better for others.

Despite a $5,000 reward for information on those responsible for his death, there has been no arrests in the case.

The Iowa Legislature, however, now has House Study Bill 660 assigned to a Judiciary Subcommittee. I pray this bill will become law. For Earl. And for the thousands of other lives affected financially and in countless ways by what has now become a nationwide problem.

Copper Thieves Steal Lives.

Please join me in supporting Iowa House Study Bill 660.

A Message from my mother …

On November 7, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

The post below is a message from my mother — as only she could write — in regard to what led up to and what happened immediately following the copper theft home explosion that claimed my stepfather’s life.

Two months after Earl’s death, Mom wrote this letter by hand and asked me to post it on my blog for her. I did take the liberty, however, of adding one of my favorite pictures of the two of them. They were still this much in love and so very happy right up until the day the copper thieves stole Earl’s life from him and from us.

Here is what my mom, Hope Thelander, wanted people to know.

Earl and Hope, the early years Earl Thelander and Hope Ewing before they married in 1982. A few months shy of their 25th wedding anniversary, Earl died from burns suffered in a house explosion after copper thieves stripped propane lines from a rural home the couple were renovating and let the home fill with propane gas. Earl and Hope had been working daily at the home  — which formerly belonged to Hope’s parents — and had reported the burglary and gas leak to local authorities earlier that morning. After all officials left the rural residence and Earl returned later that day to install a new water pump and tank, the home exploded when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to help dry water from the basement floor due to water lines the copper thieves had also cut and stolen.

November 1, 2007

Two months ago today, my husband of nearly 25 years passed away at Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha of burns he suffered from an explosion at my parents’ old home in rural Onawa. Earl and I had purchased the home and had been finishing up work there after one of my daughters and her husband moved out.

Since the accident on August 28, and Earl’s subsequent death four days later, my family and friends have taken all interviews in order to protect my feelings at such a terrible time. There have been several newspaper accounts of that day, and though I am extremely grateful for the media’s help in keeping this investigation in the forefront, as Earl’s wife I feel I need to address some misinformation as to what actually took place.

Earl had turned off the propane at the tank when he first arrived at about 8:30 a.m. He then had me call the sheriff’s office to tell them of the break-in.

Between approximately 10-10:15 a.m., Sheriff Pratt and Officer Joe Farrens arrived to take a statement. At that time Sheriff Pratt, Joe Farrens, Earl and myself, my brother-in-law, Dave Anderson, and my daughter, Kysa Ewing, went through the house opening windows. (We later were told we didn’t have the explosion then because the oxygen level was too low.)

We all came back home to Onawa, having left open all windows and doors to ventilate the house.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., Earl went back to the farm to hook up a new water pump and tank in the basement. Ordinarily, I accompanied him when he was working at the farm, but he insisted it wouldn’t take long and that he would not be too late for lunch.

My nephew, Norman Johnson, arrived at our Onawa home shortly after that, bringing Earl and me some lunch.

Shortly after 12:00, Earl came in the door with his burned shirt hanging around him in shreds. He was badly burned and said the house “exploded” when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to dry the water on the floor that had leaked after the water lines on the water heater had been cut. (Not to air any remaining propane fumes as has been mistakenly reported in the media.) Norman and I – not the ambulance – took Earl to the hospital where Dr. John Garred Jr. called for life flight to take Earl to the Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha. Dr. Garred explained to us the prognosis of someone Earl’s age surviving the vast scope of the third-degree burns was not good — despite Earl being otherwise quite healthy.

Four days later, after being kept in an induced coma to prevent pain, Earl passed away. At his side to say last goodbyes were his children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and myself.

We have been through anger, frustration, grief, loneliness and disbelief that he is gone, particularly because he was taken away so suddenly and there was so much more he wanted to do with his life. I miss him so much.

I miss the coffee breaks (every 15 minutes).

I miss him watching Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” at 7 p.m.

I miss seeing him fill the bird feeders and calling me to see a cardinal whenever they would fly in.

I wanted so badly to have him see that his three puny tomato plants produced literally hundreds of tomatoes.

If there is anything to be thankful about over this, it is that he didn’t have to endure months of painful treatments for his burns. In addition:

I’m thankful he didn’t know I was diagnosed with breast cancer six days after his funeral.

I’m thankful he was able to get out of the basement and drive home to me.

I’m thankful that he woke me up at 4 a.m. August 28 to look at the eclipse of the moon with him in what we didn’t know then had just become our last morning together.

I’m thankful that instead of five children, I have 11 to help me with the things he’d always insisted on doing himself.

Yes, he was a good man, a good friend, and a wonderful husband and father.

We will all miss him, but we will work together to solve this senseless and needless crime.

In Earl’s memory

Respectfully yours,

Hope Thelander

Sounds of Silence

On October 8, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

It’s a strange sort of silence that’s settled over all our lives.

It’s not just the absence of “Dad” Earl. Or the soft tone of his voice. Or even the echo of Mom and Earl’s combined laughter that reverberated through a room in such a finely tuned harmony it sounded more like a symphony.

It’s something akin to a world sitting slightly off its axis, frozen in time, waiting to move once again but wary of doing so lest one squeaky turn unleash a thousand vociferous cries and the chokehold they’ve had around our hearts.

It’s a strange sort of silence that’s settled in tonight, despite today’s laughter as my siblings and I gathered ’round our mother at the hospital as nurses inserted IV lines for Mom’s 9 o’clock mastectomy and others arrived to wish her the very best and said the front desk told them just-follow-the-noise-and-you’ll-find-her-room and Mom kept telling us to hush because after all, this is a hospital and you know how your voices carry and we laughed and told more stories while carefully steering clear of one of the last jokes Earl had made in the very same hospital only one month earlier when Mom brought him in with those third-degree burns and he’d joked about everyone thinking he was “trying to steal the attention away from Mom” since her breast surgery for the biopsy was scheduled for the very next day.

It’s a strange sort of silence that follows fear but has deep roots in hope.

Tonight, I’m listening close to Andy DuFresne … trying to remember, perhaps not perfectly, the words he spoke to ‘Red’ in “The Shawshank Redemption” ….

Remember … hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.

I’ll Remember You

On September 4, 2007, in Family, Videos, by Jody Ewing

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I’ll Remember You, Dad Earl

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: the only video footage of my stepfather — “Dad” Earl Thelander — I ever got to take before he died from third-degree burns he sustained when a cowardly burglar exchanged $15 worth of copper propane gas piping 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 video recording, I managed to put together a short movie encompassing the event, and then, later, extracted sections from that for the five-minute clip you’ll find 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.

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I Can’t Believe “Dad Earl” is Really Gone

On September 2, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

Earl Thelander Yesterday, with his 11 kids and my mother surrounding him, my 2nd father, Earl Thelander — who’s been a part of my life for more than 25 years — died as the result of a cowardly thief who burglarized my grandparent’s former country home (which was mostly empty and now belongs to my folks), for a $10 piece of copper piping. The burglar didn’t bother to shut off the gas before cutting the copper gas line, and let the home fill will gas for the inevitable explosion.

“Dad Earl” — as my four siblings and I always called him — wanted to live. And, he had everything to live for. He was healthy, happy, and couldn’t wait until his tomatoes finished ripening on the vines. He’d planned to give some to each of us and looked forward to the BLT sandwiches my mom always made for him.

Yes, he wanted to live. Even after the explosion, he somehow managed to crawl through the fire, climb into his pick-up, and drive the two miles back home in town, where my mother then immediately took him to the hospital. With both his knees burned clear through to the bone, he’d managed to make it back to her.

Yes, how Earl wanted to live.

Yesterday, we each took turns holding the tips of his fingers … one of the few parts on his body without the full-thickness, third-degree burns, and we told him again and again how much we loved him, how much he’d taught us about life and respect and hard work and looking out for one another and reaching out to help a neighbor in need.

I shared 28 years with my first father and 28 years with “Dad Earl.” Both my fathers died on Labor Day weekend. Both died the Saturday before Labor Day. Both died unexpected and extremely tragic deaths.

Who was this person who exchanged $10 worth of copper piping for a good man’s life? What right did he have to make such a gentle and loving man suffer so?

We will find him. I tell you this with certainty; we will find the one who did this to our father and he will be brought to justice. God, the pain this has brought to my family.

Earl, you will always be with us, in all ways. The heavens opened and the angels wept down upon us the day they gently carried you through the clouds and then lay you down to rest here while we prayed and held your hand and they prepared your place in heaven. And when they came back to take you home, they opened your eyes one last time to hold with those of the woman you so loved ~ so that as you ascended to meet your God you knew you were ever safe and wrapped within an everlasting love that would never die.

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