Standard Omaha Police Department practice is to log evidence into the property room where it is stored in a secure manner and any transfer is recorded. Such protocol is necessary to establish a chain of evidence that will hold up in court.
However, those standard procedures were ignored in the Omaha Two case with the critical dynamite evidence. More importantly, the chain of evidence was also breached in another case involving three men arrested in possession of dynamite.
The Omaha Two, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), were leaders of a Black Panther affiliate chapter in the summer of 1970 and were personal targets of J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had declared war on the Black Panthers and directed a huge, clandestine counterintelligence operation nationwide code-named COINTELPRO.
Hoover had taken an interest in the Omaha Two because Paul Young, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office, had not met his quota of COINTELPRO actions to “disrupt” the Black Panthers. Hoover had pressured Young for results.
On August 17, 1970, an anonymous 911 caller lured police to a vacant house where a bomb waited taking the life of Patrolman Larry D. Minard, Sr. and injuring seven other officers.
Hoover gave an order to withhold a report requested of the FBI crime laboratory on the identity of the 911 caller in order to make a case against Poindexter and Mondo we Langa.
A search was conducted of Mondo’s house and Sgt. Jack Swanson claimed to have found dynamite in the basement, a purported discovery that another Omaha police sergeant, Robert Pfeffer, now claims he made instead of Swanson. The first time the dynamite showed up in a police evidence photo was on a table in police headquarters and not at Mondo’s house.
Supporters of the Omaha Two have accused Swanson, now dead, of planting the explosives but have been unable to explain where Swanson, who continued to be promoted until he became Chief of Police, got the dynamite. Marvin McClarty, a policeman on duty that night assigned outside Mondo’s house, said the search was conducted in an unusual manner. McClarty said in a filmed interview, “To this day, I still believe it was planted in that house.”
“I was on duty; we saw them bringing items out of the house. The thing that was so striking to me and those two officers I was with was the fact the police had blocked off 29th to 30th on Parker Street, and they blocked that off to vehicular traffic and to pedestrian traffic. Then they said they found something in the house. To me and the other police officers, the first thing that strikes you that maybe something is wrong here because of the way that the search was conducted.”
A little known supplementary report by Swanson on August 23, 1970, written at 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening, reveals that Swanson stored the dynamite, he claimed to have found, at a shed in rural Iowa near Council Bluffs instead of the police property room. Swanson disclosed he also stored the dynamite from another case in his unorthodox evidence locker, outside the official chain of custody.
“On Sunday 23 August 70 at 1600, I along with Sgt. VOLCEK, transported this Dynamite to the home of RANNEY, Joe Jr., who lives on R.R. #4 west of Council Bluffs, Iowa. RANNEY is currently storing the other dynamite we have recovered, and he is to keep all of it together, in case of future court needs.”
Swanson was in charge of dynamite seized on July 28, 1970, from Conway Gray, Lamont Mitchell, and Luther Payne who all still remained in jail. The three men were arrested with stolen dynamite traced to a Des Moines, Iowa theft from Quick Supply Co. There were no news media reports of the arrest of the trio in Omaha and there are conflicting police statements on the amount of dynamite seized.
The Quick Supply stolen dynamite was not mentioned to the Omaha Two jury. The only public accounting of the dynamite under Swanson’s control was in Congressional testimony. Captain Murdock Platner testified to the House Committee on Internal Security on October 6, 1970. Platner discussed the trio with stolen dynamite, “We eventually did buy about 60 sticks of dynamite from them.”
Platner made another trip to Washington, D.C. a week later and testified to a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee but by then the amount of dynamite shrunk to 51 sticks. A police informer bought ten sticks before the squad cars closed in on the vehicle the three men were in. Platner told the Senate subcommittee, “In their possession they had 41 sticks of this same type of dynamite.”
An accounting of the explosives Swanson had stashed in his dynamite depot might have come from the trial of the three men caught red-handed with the dynamite but the men kept quiet and had their charges all dismissed shortly after the conclusion of the Omaha Two trial.
With Swanson controlling access to an unspecified amount of dynamite stored in a cache on private property in rural Council Bluffs, the charge that Swanson planted dynamite in Mondo’s basement cannot be ruled out. Swanson was the detective heading the police intelligence unit and had been working closely with the FBI on surveillance of the Black Panthers, sharing information with agents assigned COINTELPRO duties.
Before his death Swanson was interviewed by a British film crew making a documentary about the case. Swanson stumbled over his words giving a confusing contradiction of his own trial testimony:
“I was there, I found it. I didn’t personally discover it but I was there when it was discovered and went right to where it was. It was there.”
Swanson closed his interview with the film crew with a vague and cryptic remark, “I still think we did the right thing.”
J. Edgar Hoover ordered an end to COINTELPRO ten days after the Omaha Two were convicted making them Hoover’s last prosecuted victims. Hoover died in May 1972 without ever acknowledging his role in withholding evidence in the Omaha Two case.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa remain imprisoned at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving life sentences. Both men continue to maintain their innocence.
For further information on the Omaha Two case see Crime Magazine