Most Nebraskans never heard of Marialice Clark and fewer knew that she vanished without a trace at age fourteen after being identified as an informant for the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Division. Although speculation connects Marialice’s role as an informant to her disappearance, there is little known about the teen or even exactly when she vanished. What we do know mostly comes from an affidavit for a search warrant of the headquarters of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, a Black Panther affiliate chapter.
On July 2, 1970, a bomb exploded at Component Concepts Corporation on Omaha’s Near-Northside. The business had a Defense Department minority-subcontract and that was motive enough for “militants” according Omaha police Captain Murdock Platner. “The Negro operator had just completed arrangements to move to a newer larger building. He had borrowed money from a local bank, and the city council had rezoned an area so he could move. He had been on television publicly thanking the council and the bank. It is thought that he was considered to be an “Uncle Tom.”
ATF agents Thomas Sledge and Richard Curd aided the Omaha police in the investigation. Members of the NCCF were suspects. According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Sledge kept information from the public about the blast that suggested an inside job. “That affiant knows by personal inspection that a bomb that exploded at Component Concepts Corp…was placed in the corner of the room on the 2d floor. Affiant knows that the general public believes that the bomb was thrown on the roof of the building and that few members of the public, if any, know it was set off inside the building.”
Sledge, competing with the FBI to solve the bombings that were blasting the Midwest, claimed he interviewed twelve year-old Marialice Clark. “Miss Clark stated she has been going to Black Panther headquarters for four or five months, it being nearby and it being a place where her sister often visited; within recent weeks she saw ten boxes that she observed to contain machine guns. She saw six more or less machine guns in each with three boxes in a stack and one box standing in a corner.”
“Miss Clark said that in recent weeks she had also seen dynamite in a box, that there were fifteen more or less bundles of twelve sticks in a bundle wrapped with cord or wire; that the sticks were about twelve inches long and one inch in diameter and brown in color.”
Ed Poindexter was chairman of the NCCF and knew the young teen. Poindexter, now serving a life sentence at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for the 1970 bombing murder of Patrolman Larry Minard, remembered Marialice. “She was like a daughter to me. Her older sister was my girlfriend at the time, Linda Clark. The kid used to hang out around the premises, but I tried to keep her out of the actual interior of the place. She lived about three houses away from headquarters. As for what she was supposed to have told the police for that affidavit to the search warrant, I have no idea what she called herself trying to do, and haven’t seen or spoken to her since 1970.”
Marialice’s brother, Ed Clark, doesn’t believe Sledge. “Unbeknown to anyone, an ATF Agent named Tom Sledge claimed my baby sister saw 10 boxes of machine guns…15 bundles of dynamite….that five men–some of whom I knew–made a bomb out of dynamite in front of my sister. I do not believe that is true. Sledge never told our mother that he put my sister’s name on his affidavit–and he spelled her first name wrong as “Mary Ellis,” making me wonder if he even met her.”
Sledge conferred with Special Agent Sidney Pruitt of the FBI about the Black Panthers according to a court document. “Pruitt advised that he talked to a reliable informant…that Raymond Peter Gearhart…had sold machine guns to the Black Panthers two weeks prior.
Sledge filed an affidavit for a federal search warrant of the NCCF headquarters. In the affidavit, Sledge alleged Marialice Clark told him that she witnessed the construction of a bomb by five NCCF members. “She said that recently she saw Frank and William Peak, Calvin Drake, Melvin Collins, and Calvin Drake’s brother put together a bomb of dynamite which they placed in a wooden box which was in turn placed in a cardboard box; that all of the above-named persons worked on the bomb. She said Frank and William Peak brought blue and yellow batteries about twelve inches high into the basement to be used in the bomb; that William Peak brought in gray wire in a coil.”
Frank and William Peak, Calvin Drake, and Melvin Collins were targets in a larger investigation by ATF dubbed the Midwest 22. A decade later, in 1980, a four-state ATF investigation came to light of twenty-two individuals, later to become called the Midwest 22, that was focused around Black Panther activity in Omaha and targeted seven participants in Ed Poindexter’s murder trial. Attorney William Cunningham revealed, “Alcohol Tax still had under consideration a T-2 conspiracy case…here was an active collaboration going on between the County Attorney’s Office and those Federal agencies.”
Sledge’s investigation spanned Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska yet went nowhere. U.S. Attorney Richard Dier scrubbed the entire conspiracy investigation and charged no one telling the Omaha ATF office the “trend in the judiciary is away from major complex conspiracies.”
James Moore, a retired Kansas City ATF agent, commented on the planned search in his memoir Very Special Agents. Moore wrote that while Sledge briefed a team assembled for the raid, U. S. Attorney Richard Dier telephoned the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible intelligence concerning fortifications at the NCCF headquarters. Moore claimed the FBI was able to get the search warrant quashed by the Department of Justice. Moore said that while the task force waited, the FBI conducted a door-to-door canvas near the NCCF headquarters asking whether there were weapons or explosives inside the building. According to Moore, Paul Young stated the NCCF headquarters was clean and that ATF used an unreliable source for the affidavit. Young said he had been monitoring the headquarters with his own informant.
Moore’s theory that agency rivalry was to blame for the canceled search warrant may have some merit. Paul Young was under pressure from J. Edgar Hoover to do something and it would not have been in his best interest to be upstaged by rival ATF agents. Meanwhile, Ed Poindexter maintained that he would have peacefully submitted to a search of headquarters and that a raid was unnecessary. Poindexter insisted that the group had nothing to hide. “All they had to do was present us with a search warrant, and we wouldn’t have resisted. But that was too simple for them, as they would have preferred a dramatic shootout.”
Poindexter, and co-defendant David Rice (later Wopahshitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) were convicted following a controversial April 1971 trial manipulated by the two competing federal agencies. Mondo died in March 2016 serving a life sentence. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum security Nebraska State Penitentiary where he continues to proclaim his innocence. Five ATF witnesses testified against them at the trial while the FBI withheld laboratory evidence.
Marialice’s brother remains unconvinced by Sledge’s affidavit. “Marialice never told anyone that she had met an ATF agent, and she never told anyone that she saw machine guns, dynamite or men making bombs.”
Marialice was last seen getting into a car near Bali-Hi Lounge in Omaha. License plates on the car were from Chicago, Illinois, on August 1, 1972.
Marialice disappeared when she was fourteen. ATF never disclosed to her parents that Marialice had been used by ATF in an affidavit for a federal search warrant. Marialice Clark was never listed on a missing persons registry until 2020 and her fate remains unknown.
The article is excerpted from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.