On August 17, 1970, at 2:07 a.m., Omaha police received a 911 emergency telephone call from a male who spoke in a deep gravely voice that a woman was screaming at 2867 Ohio Street, a vacant house. Instead of a screaming woman, the eight officers who converged on Ohio Street only found an empty house and a suitcase inside the front doorway.
Patrolman Larry Minard bent over to examine the suitcase when a tremendous, blinding flash and deafening blast shook the silent neighborhood and ripped through the walls of the vacant house. The officers in the kitchen broke down the back door in the darkness to escape choking dust and smoke.
Patrolman James Toay was the first to reach Minard. “At first I thought it was a woman because the legs were uncovered. When I looked closer and saw his gunbelt I knew it was a policeman….and saw that half his face was gone and that there was nothing I could do for him.”
Both of Minard’s boots were blown off his feet, one found on the front porch and the other eight feet across the living room. The rescue squad soon arrived, followed by fire trucks and more police cars as sirens screamed in the stillness of the early morning.
Larry Minard had only been on duty since midnight after telling his wife Karen not to worry before he left home. Within minutes of the explosion, police arrived at the Minard residence to deliver the tragic news, but the new widow already had been awakened by Larry’s police scanner, which was blaring reports about an officer down.
Approximately an hour after the Omaha bombing a powerful blast shattered windows and caused extensive damage at the Minneapolis federal building. Agents of the Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco Division in Minnesota took over the investigation. Radicals were suspected but no arrests were ever made. The crime remains unsolved.
Dawn broke over the city to an overcast drizzle on a gray Monday morning. The weather matched the mood in the stunned, saddened city. First light brought the start of what would be a day-long procession of motorists. A crowd of neighborhood onlookers was also on hand much of the day as people spoke in hushed tones and muted voices.
Leads and tips started flowing in to Central Headquarters as the city woke up and the investigation intensified. A call was made to FBI headquarters from the Omaha office at 7:45 a.m. Assistant Director Charles Brennan was informed by memorandum about the call concerning the death of a policeman. “Omaha Office offered assistance in covering out-of-state leads and FBI Laboratory facilities offered. Omaha advised it had notified military and Secret Service, was following closely, and alerted its racial informants in pursuit of investigation.”
Brennan was also assured, “Pertinent parts will be included in teletype summary to the White House, Vice President, Attorney General, military and Secret Service.”
At police Central Headquarters, a hastily convened meeting of a multi-agency task force called Domino was called to order. Principals present were agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Division, detectives from the Douglas County Sheriff’s office and the Omaha Police Department. Governor Norbert Tiemann also ordered two Nebraska State Patrol troopers to work the case.
Retired ATF agent James Moore, of Kansas City, said those present were in agreement that the method and target pointed to extremists. Black Panthers and Weather Underground were both discussed but the “Negro voice” on the 911 recording suggested Black Panthers. Moore said one of the FBI agents told the group that a key informer reported that two white males were observed running from the scene shortly before the blast.”
Moore believed the tip may have been a ruse by the FBI to throw off ATF agents competing to crack the case. The longstanding rivalry between the two federal police agencies was intense and was part of a nation-wide turf battle over jurisdiction of firearm and explosives crimes.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Young wasted no time in privately talking to Glen Gates, who was in charge of the police while Chief Richard Anderson was out of town. According to a confidential FBI memorandum, Young and Gates discussed a piece of crucial evidence, the recorded voice of the anonymous caller captured by the 911 system. The search for truth was over.
Young set in motion a conspiracy to implicate the leadership of the National Committee to Combat Fascism in the bombing. Young wrote to J. Edgar Hoover. “Enclosed for the Laboratory is one copy of a tape recording obtained from the Omaha Police Department.”
“Deputy Chief [Gates] inquired into the possibility of voice analysis of the individual making the call by the FBI Laboratory. He was advised the matter would be considered and that if such analysis were made and if subsequent voice patterns were transmitted for comparison, such analysis would have to be strictly informal, as the FBI could not provide any testimony in the matter; also, only an oral report of the results of such examination would be made to the Police Department. [Gates] stated he understood these terms and stated the Police Department would be extremely appreciative of any assistance in this matter by the FBI and would not embarrass the FBI at a later date, but would use such information for lead purposes only.”
“It should be noted that the police community is extremely upset over this apparent racially motivated, vicious and unnecessary murder. In slightly over three months this division has experienced more than ten bombings, probably all but a few of them being racially motivated. Of these bombings, four were directed at police facilities with extensive damage.”
“Any assistance rendered along the lines mentioned above would greatly enhance the prestige of the FBI among law enforcement representatives in this area, and I thus strongly recommend that the request be favorably considered.”
“In view of the foregoing, it is requested that the FBI Laboratory examine enclosed tape recording and make an appropriate voice print to be retained for comparison against other tape recordings of suspects to be submitted at a later date.”
In the afternoon, after evidence started arriving at Central Headquarters, reporters were barred from the fourth floor squad room where they usually mingled with police. On the streets, a police sweep to obtain information began as cruisers combed the Near North Side stopping and questioning people.
Detective Jack Swanson began working on a suspect list of thirty-eight members or associates of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, an affiliate chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Early evening, a member of the Nebraska Game Commission, M. M. Muncie, visited Central Headquarters with a tip. Swanson talked to the game commissioner and wrote a report. The report was typical of calls pouring in, calls by whites about suspicious-looking blacks. Muncie had spotted a car in traffic. “He says that the parties were having a very animated conversation, and look suspicious to him.”
Governor Norbert Tiemann expressed the anguish of many. “I am outraged….These men went to answer a call for help only to find a trap set for their destruction. This is undoubtedly the lowest and vilest act imaginable.”
Twenty-five persons were arrested at different locations on the Near North Side on Monday night on a variety of minor charges including suspicion of loitering, drinking on a public street, disorderly conduct or obstructing the administration of law. Twenty-two of those arrested were men. Three were women and all were black.
In April 1971, two Black Panther leaders, Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa), were convicted following a controversial trial marred by conflicting police testimony, withheld laboratory evidence by the FBI, and planted dynamite evidence. Sentenced to life without parole, Mondo died at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in March 2016 while serving what he described as a “debt I do not owe.” Ed Poindexter remains imprisoned in maximum security, a half-century after the bombing, where he maintains his innocence. Seventy-five years old and in poor health, Poindexter is at risk for the Covid-19 virus which is sweeping America’s prisons.
Over the long years multiple disclosures, many from the Freedom of Information Act, have shredded the prosecution’s case. However, Nebraska courts have stubbornly refused to fully consider the federal manipulation of the murder investigation and trial despite the documentation of a law enforcement conspiracy code-named COINTELPRO to frame the two Panther leaders.
Several weeks ago, a prayer service in Omaha was held by ten ministers for racial healing. Prayers were made for both the families of Larry Minard and Ed Poindexter. Omaha continues to have a racial divide on the fiftieth anniversary of that sad day in 1970. Poindexter has made a request for commutation of sentence. The Board of Pardons will be asked to heal the community wounds of the past by providing some measure of justice long denied.
This 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.