Earl Thelander
Earl Thelander

August 24, 2015

AGE: 80


Hometown: 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.

Sometime between the evening hours of August 27 and the morning of August 28, thieves broke in to the vacant home at 20877 Gum Ave. in rural Onawa, and cut and stole copper propane and water lines, causing the house to fill with propane gas. Earl discovered the break- in at 8:30 a.m. August 28, when arriving at the house to install a new water pump. He alerted authorities and then he and others went to work opening windows to ventilate the house.

Crime scene evidence included tire tracks in the freshly mown lawn, suggesting the perpetrator(s) drove a small, lightweight pick-up. However, no tire casts were made and no fingerprints taken from the kitchen doorknob (point of entry) because law enforcement officials said neither the sheriff ’s office nor the police department currently had deputies or officers qualified or trained in extracting fingerprints.

After authorities wrapped up their initial investigation of the crime scene and the house was thought to be adequately ventilated, Earl re- turned and, smelling no gas, assumed it was safe to resume his work. When he plugged in a blower, the home exploded. Earl survived the explosion but died four days later.

Anyone with information regarding the copper theft that led to Earl Thelander’s death is asked to contact Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Darrell Simmons at (712) 322-1585 or email simmons@dps.state.ia.us.