Robbery Suspects Face Enhanced Charges After Explosion

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

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Robbery Suspects Face Enhanced Charges After Explosion

September 4, 2007, 4:40 p.m.

KTIV photo of rural homeBurglary charges will be enhanced against whomever cut the propane lines in an Onawa, Iowa man’s home, after the homeowner died from injuries suffered in an explosion.

Last Tuesday, authorities believe at least one person broke into Earl Thelander’s home and stole copper tubing from his basement.

The Monona County sheriff believes they cut the home’s propane lines in the midst of their robbery.

Thelander, who was badly burned by an explosion in the home later that day, died over the weekend.

Sheriff Jeff Pratt says the investigation into the theft is ongoing.

Copyright © 2007 KTIV

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Copper Theft Compromised Safety

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing


Copper Theft Compromised Safety

Wire stolen cut railroad communication, crossing signal

September 13, 2007

Pole with copper hangingMore metal thefts have been reported in the metro and in one particular case, it again could have had tragic results.

Ever since the price of scrap metal has taken off, thieves have been stealing copper and aluminum, anything they can get their hands on.

Most of the easy targets have been stripped, so lately there has been a trend for more risky thefts. Thefts that endanger the crooks and compromise public safety.

“It’s not only against the law, it’s extremely unsafe,” says Mark Davis with the Union Pacific Railroad.

Someone snuck onto U.P. property at 6th and Pacific Tuesday morning, climbed the poles located along the tracks and made off with almost 5,000 feet of copper wire.

“That line there is dual purpose, not only commercial power to help with the line to serve for the signals, but also for communications in general,” says Davis. “Power the railroad signals which tells the trains when to move or not to move or the public warning device at the grade crossings.”

The line was quickly replaced, but at least for a little while, the Harriman Center couldn’t communicate with the some of the trains passing through the metro. The wire was stolen from the tracks that run parallel to I-480 in-between Vinton and Martha streets.

The disruption was minor and apparently no one was hurt, but Davis says there could have been a very different outcome. The thieves could have cut a “hot” line that supplied power to a railroad crossing signal, and endangered everyone crossing the tracks.

There’s also the issue of the personal risk the thieves took. “Very unsafe because you never know when these lines are going to be charged with power,” says Davis. “It could be very little power, it could be high voltage.”

When they’re caught, they’ll face felony theft charges. The U.P. works closely with local law enforcement, but they also send agents in undercover with video cameras. The railroad is serious about catching these people.

Last month, thieves stole about $20 worth of copper gas and water lines from an Onawa, Iowa house owned by Earl Thelander.

“The copper tubing had been cut down and the subjects had cut the copper tube on the furnace which allowed all the propane to be inside the residence,” says Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt.

Thelander was burned over 40% of his body when a fan sparked that propane, causing an explosion. The 80-year-old Thelander died several days later.

Those responsible for the theft have not been caught. Anyone with information about that theft is asked to call the Monona County Sheriff’s Department at 712-433-2525.

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of the station.

Posted by: Fitzy Location: Omaha
Why not go ahead and make it attempted murder when someone steals copper piping from a residence or copper wire from any type of signal/power wire. That is effectively what it is. Is it going to take another innocent person getting blown up or perhaps a whole family before authorities step up the efforts to stop the thieves from ripping people off? How rediculous and lawless is this place gonna get? If it’s not murder, shootings, stabbings, beatings….its thieves taking coppper gas pipes, steel siding, or whatever…The police need to be doing more all accross the board in my oppinion to stop this stuff. What a nightmre.

Posted by: Brian Location: Omaha
I moved here from California and out there to sell scrap metal or aluminum you have to have a valid ID or drivers license and they track how much in poundage and volume that you are selling to them. Isn’t there some kind of setup like this here or is it just see no evil, hear no evil here. Come on there has got to be a way to track these people and bring justice to those that are doing this for the quick buck.

Posted by: Good Question Location: Omaha
The government should require DNA samples from anyone selling more than 5 feet of copper wire. We need more laws to protect us! It’s for the children!

Posted by: TA Location: Iowa
If you need money. GET A JOB. Quit stealing you no good idiots.

Posted by: Anonymous Location: omaha
Are the police going after the scrap dealers in connection with this? Why not make scrap metal as hard to buy as cold medicine now adays? simple solutions to stuff like this, fingerprint and i.d. everyone that comes in to sell something. How hard is it to have a system set up to cross reference people selling scrap to different scrap yards?

Posted by: Concerned Location: NE
I’d like to know who is “buying” the copper wire that these crooks are taking. We have to start somewhere – where are these being sold to? scrapyards? on the internet? The way it sounds is the theives are looking to score a quick buck by selling the copper for a fraction of what it’s worth – so, my question is ‘where the heck are they turning the copper into cash at?? Why can’t there be some kind of stake out at the places the copper is being taken to. 5,000 feet of copper wire has got to catch someone’s attention. If these are just punk kids stealing it then selling it – why are the buyers asking more questions. I sure hope some justice comes for Thelander’s case. I can’t imagine a few bucks is worth a life. Someone has to know something (or suspect something) – people need to step up and start asking questions and demanding answers. How about just banning the purchase of ‘scrap copper’?? Or knocking the ‘scrap’ copper price low enough that it’s not worth stealing anymore?

Posted by: Tatjana Location: Omaha
We need to make selling metal more difficult and only available to registered professionals. Registering sellers is a good start but evidently has not stopped thieves.

Copyright © 2007 WOWT

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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 |

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:

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

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
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