The voice of a killer in the middle of the night, an anonymous 911 caller, lured Omaha policemen to a vacant house in search of a woman screaming. Instead, a deadly suitcase bomb waited in the darkness, killing Patrolman Larry Minard, Sr. and injuring half a dozen other officers. Newly installed 911 equipment in the summer of 1970 recorded the call at police headquarters but the ability to trace a call had not yet been activated.
The 911 tape was at the center of the investigation with detectives playing the tape for suspect Donald Peak, Jr. to test his response and sending a copy to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis to determine the identity of the caller. Assistant County Attorney Sam Cooper made a copy of the original recording. Another copy of the 911 tape was made by communications operator Albert Jones for Supervisor George Winkler.
While a police spokesman told reporters the “voiceprint” would be a good help to investigators, Deputy Chief of Police Glen Gates plotted with Paul Young, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office to send the tape on a one-way trip to the FBI Laboratory with no written report. Young, under clandestine COINTELPRO directives to get the Black Panther leadership off the streets, did not want to know who made the 911 call.
Operation COINTELPRO was J. Edgar Hoover’s massive, illegal counterintelligence war on domestic activists. The Minard murder investigation was not be a search for truth but rather an opportunity to remove the top two local Black Panther leaders.
The Panthers in Omaha, known by the name National Committee to Combat Fascism, were caught in a three-way cross fire of conspiracy, counterintelligence, and harassment by the Omaha Police Department, the FBI, and the Omaha office of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division. Briefly, Omaha was the epicentre of national law enforcement attention. The U.S. House Committee on Internal Security even convened a hearing on the Black Panthers in Omaha and Des Moines, Iowa.
Meanwhile, ATF agents were pursuing a far-flung, multi-state bomb conspiracy case against the so-called Midwest 22 based in Omaha. Seven members of the Midwest 22 were witnesses at Minard’s murder trial. United States Attorney Richard Dier declined to prosecute the Midwest 22 ultimately forcing ATF to abandon their investigation.
In Washington, at the FBI Laboratory, the 911tape arrived two days after the explosion along with the request for no formal report on the recording. Lab director Ivan Willard Conrad talked with J. Edgar Hoover about the request and Hoover authorized Conrad to withhold a report on the identity of the policeman’s killer. Conrad noted Hoover’s command on the request memorandum, initialling and dating the notation.
In October 1970, Paul Young wrote to Hoover reminding that Glen Gates wanted no use of the 911 tape because it might be “prejudicial” to the police case. Duane Peak confessed to making the call. Gates’ problem with the voice on the 911 tape was it was it did not sound like that of a fifteen year-old youth.
At the April 1971 trial of the Omaha Two, Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (then David Rice), the 911 tape vanished into thin air. Prosecutors never disclosed the tape to the defense team for Mondo and Poindexter despite a discovery order by the judge. The man on the 911 tape never was identified save for the claim it was Duane Peak. The jury never got to hear the voice on the 911 tape.
On April 18, 1978, Lieutenant James Perry gave a written order to erase the original 911 tape. Sam Cooper’s copy never made it outside the County Attorney’s office, the FBI’s copy never came back from the FBI Laboratory, and George Winkler’s copy was forgotten about. The evidence was destroyed, or so Perry thought.
On October 23, 1980, after George Winkler’s death, Albert Jones was cleaning out Winkler’s desk and files at the Emergency Communications Center in Omaha when he discovered the 911 copy he made back on August 17, 1970, a decade earlier. The ghost copy of the 911 tape was recognized as genuine and has been the subject of several court proceedings where it was deemed insufficient to warrant a new trial.
In 2006 and 2007, the 911 ghost tape was subjected to the latest forensic audiology tests by expert examiner Tom Owen who testified that it was “highly probable” that Duane Peak did not make the 911 call as prosecutors claimed to the jury at trial. Although police efforts to destroy the 911 tape evidence failed and Duane Peak has been eliminated as the anonymous 911 caller, the Omaha Two remain in prison while Minard’s killer, who made the 911 call, was never identified.
Although Nebraska has no statute of limitation for murder, the Douglas County Attorney considers the case closed. The voice on the 911 tape is no longer the subject of police investigation while Larry Minard lies in his grave and the Omaha Two are imprisoned at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for a crime they both deny. Yet George Winkler’s tape remains, with a deep, gravelly voice from a hot summer night long ago that called a policeman to his death.
For more information on the Omaha Two