October 1970 was a month of deception against local leaders of the Black Panthers by Omaha police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There were three consecutive days of deceit by police and the FBI as a plot to blame leaders of the National Committee to Combat Fascism for the bombing murder of Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard went forward. Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) led the Black Panther affiliate group and were targets of COINTELPRO, a clandestine FBI counterintelligence operation.
The plot to blame Poindexter and Rice began the day of the bombing, August 17, 1970, with a police decision to send the 911 recording of the anonymous voice that lured Minard to his death to the FBI Laboratory, but ask for no report. Deputy Police Chief Glen Gates conspired with Paul Young, the Special Agent in Charge of the Omaha FBI office, to keep lab results on the identity of the anonymous caller from being reported. An unknown killer upset plans to pin the murder on the two Panther leaders.
The pair were arrested and charged with Minard’s murder along with a teen, Duane Peak, who confessed to planting the bomb. Peak made a deal with police and prosecutors implicating the two leaders and escaped prison by being declared a juvenile delinquent. The plot to pin the crime on Poindexter and Rice hardened in October 1970 with false testimony to a Congressional subcommittee by an Omaha police captain and untruthful statements by FBI leadership to news reporters.
October 12, 1970, Williamsburg, Virginia
Assistant FBI Director William Sullivan spoke to a convention of United Press International editors and reporters. When asked about communist responsibility for racial unrest Sullivan admitted that no evidence existed of communist instigation of any of the riots that erupted in cities around the nation over the summer and instead blamed extremists.
“The vanguard of black extremism today is the Black Panther Party with its demonstrated proclivity for violence. The party was founded in 1966 ostensibly as a self-defense group against police officers. It has, however, been constantly on the offensive in keeping with its battle cry of “off the pigs”—Panther jargon for “kill the police”. According to Panther thinking, the police are the first target in the program for “liberation” of the black community and the violent destruction of white America.”
Sullivan’s speech included a denial of counterintelligence actions against the Black Panthers which he supervised. Sullivan also made the only public FBI mention of the bombing in Omaha. Sullivan didn’t have all of his facts correct, he was wrong on the date and number arrested and did not mention the duplicity of the FBI Laboratory for which he initialed his approval.
“On August 12, 1970, an Omaha, Nebraska, police officer was literally blasted to death by an explosive device planted in a suitcase in an abandoned residence. The officer had been summoned by an anonymous telephone complaint that a woman was being beaten there. An individual with Panther associations had been charged with this crime.”
The FBI continues to censor its files on the case. David Rice’s FBI file is filled with redactions including a completely censored three-page memorandum prepared for Omaha police by the local FBI office. Records of the Inspection Division, which reviewed actions of the Omaha field office on the case have disappeared, with the FBI unable to explain when or why the records vanished.
October 13, 1970, Omaha, Nebraska
In Omaha, Special Agent in Charge Paul Young sent a memorandum to J. Edgar Hoover on the Minard murder. Young reminded Hoover that no report from the FBI Laboratory was wanted: “In a preliminary hearing held 9/28/70 in Municipal Court, Omaha, PEAK testified that he had made the telephone call to the Omaha PD telling them that a woman was screaming in a house at 2867 Ohio Street. Police Officer LARRY MINARD was subsequently killed when a bobby trap suitcase exploded as he, with other officers, answered this call.”
“Assistant COP [Chief of Police] GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised that he feels that any use of tapes of this call might be prejudicial to the police murder trial against two accomplices of PEAK and, therefore, has advised that he wishes no use of this tape until after the murder trials of PEAK and the two accomplices has been completed.”
“UACB [Until Authorized to Contrary by Bureau], no further efforts are being made at this time to secure additional tape recordings of the original telephone call.”
Hoover had ordered no lab report was to be issued, however Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tom Dugan called the FBI Laboratory and canceled all testing, before Duane Peak was arrested, ending any inquiry into the identify the unknown 911 caller that lured Minard to his death. The FBI allowed a policeman’s killer to get away with murder and walk free in order to make a case against Poindexter and Rice.
October 14, 1970, Washington, D.C.
A House Internal Security Subcommittee hearing opened on “National Office Operations of the Black Panthers and activities in Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.”
The Omaha Police Department was scheduled. However, no FBI representative was on hand to testify. Captain Murdock Platner, who testified to a Senate subcommittee earlier in the month, returned to Washington to testify again. Platner read a written statement that elaborated on his earlier testimony.
“I will outline for you the development of the militant actions in Omaha that led up to the murder of a police officer. Eldridge Cleaver came to Omaha and spoke to about 400 people in a city park. Several Black Panthers from California were in Omaha at this time. One, Wilfred “Crutch” Holliday, stayed on in Omaha for some time. He attended Black Panther meetings and on one occasion, with 30 people in attendance, rushed out to his car and brought in a shotgun, and waving it over his head, shouted, “This is the way to handle the pigs; you should get yourself a shotgun and shoot as many as you can.”
Platner mentioned the 1969 shooting of fourteen year-old Vivian Strong and the spontaneous rioting that followed her death.
“The next night after the girl was killed rioting and burning started. Several businesses were burned out in the Negro area. This lasted for 3 days. During the entire week militants from other cities came to Omaha. This was established through informants and surveillance of autos with out-of-State plates that were spotted in the area….Cars from California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado were in the area.”
“The militants obtained radios to monitor police calls. They had several people in cars with monitors, and every time a call was received by a police car in the Negro area a group of militants would show up and start interfering.”
Platner outlined the Minard murder investigation: “A 16-year-old Black Panther was arrested for the murder and implicated the deputy chairman, Edward Poindexter, and the deputy minister of information, David Rice, of the NCCF party, who were arrested and have been ordered to stand trial in district court for murder. Dynamite similar to that stolen from the Quick Supply in Des Moines was found in the home of one of the above. It is believed it is part of the supply from which the bombs were made.”
Platner explained Duane Peak provided the details of the bomb construction. Platner falsely described Peak’s testimony at the preliminary hearing and claimed that Peak said Rice supplied the suitcase and dynamite for the bomb: “I can tell you this, that one of the suspects in this, Duane Peak, a 16-year-old boy who was arrested, testified in a preliminary hearing, he testified that David Rice brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody’s house. I am not for sure just which place; that they removed all the dynamite from the suitcase except three sticks; made the bomb, the triggering device, and so on, and put it together; and then packed the suitcase with newspapers and that he left with this suitcase.”
“Now I am a little bit hesitant to go into the rest of this because there is a trial yet to be held. I don’t know what I should say.”
Representative Richard Preyer thanked Platner for his testimony and revealed the shallowness of the subcommittee inquiry: “You have provided some of the most shocking and outrageous things here and yet you have done it in a perfectly calm manner and have not let your indignation carry you away and fly off the handle. Like good police officers you have stuck very close to the evidence and not jumped way beyond it. Most of the evidence you have recited here is circumstantial evidence, but as you know through experience in the courtroom there is nothing wrong with circumstantial evidence; it can be stronger than direct evidence.”
“So this circumstantial evidence here that you have received comes on pretty strong, the only shipment of this dynamite this year, and that sort of thing, it shows you certainly have prepared your case carefully and calmly and efficiently. So I say you are an example of the kind of police officer we need in this country. You are doing a good job.”
Poindexter and Rice were convicted in April 1971 after a controversial trial. Mondo, as Rice came to be known, died in March 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Poindexter remains confined at the maximum-security prison where he continues to proclaim his innocence.
This article is excerpted from the book FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story. The book is available in ebook by Kindle or print from Amazon. The book is available for local readers at the Omaha Public Library. Portions of the book are also online for free at NorthOmahaHistory.com.