Earl Thelander got second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body in an Aug. 28, 2007, explosion caused by copper thieves. Sometime overnight from Aug. 27 to Aug. 28, thieves broke into the vacant home at 20877 Gum Ave. near Onawa, which Earl and wife Hope had been renovating, and stole copper propane and water lines, causing the house to fill with gas. Earl discovered the break-in at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 28. He alerted authorities and opened windows to ventilate the house. After authorities wrapped up their initial investigation of the crime scene and the house was thought to be adequately ventilated, Earl returned and, smelling no gas, assumed it was safe to resume his work. When he plugged in a blower, the home exploded. Earl died from his injuries four days later.
Crime scene evidence included tire tracks in the freshly mown lawn, suggesting the perpetrator(s) drove a small, lightweight pickup. However, no tire casts were made and no fingerprints taken because law enforcement officials had no officers trained in fingerprinting.
If you have information about Jeffery “Jo Jo” Zolliecoffer’s death, please call the Waterloo Police Department at (319) 291-4340 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010.