Brian Wells, a 46 year old pizza delivery man, casually walked into an Erie, PA bank in the afternoon of August 28th, 2003. Carrying a homemade shotgun fashioned into a cane, Wells ordered the bank tellers to open the vaults and hand over $250,000 [why not all of it?]. Unable to open the vaults, Wells ended up leaving with less than $9,000 in cash.
Officers apprehend Wells several blocks from the bank standing in front of his Geo Metro, as if a 46yr old man wearing a t-shirt with the word “guess” spray painted on it and carrying a cane gun would be difficult to identify. Also around Wells’ neck was some sort of collar. Wells alerted authorities that the device on his neck was a bomb and that “It’s gonna go off!”.
Wells claimed that he was on a routine pizza delivery when he was accosted by a group of men, the bomb was shackled to his neck, and he was ordered to rob the bank. Police took cover behind their cars with guns drawn as they waited for the bomb squad to arrive. Wells was left to sit handcuffed on the pavement for 25mins, pleading with officers to help him and to alert his employer of what was happening.
Beeping noises began emitting from the device. Wells started to scoot back, but it was already too late. The blast sent him flying several feet and left a large gash in his chest. Wells struggled for a few last breaths before dying there in front of the police and television crews filming the standoff. Three minutes later the bomb squad arrived.
Notes and letters retrieved from Wells’ vehicle seemed to confirm that he was an unwilling participant in the robbery and that he would be allowed to live, provided he could complete a list of tasks within a designated time limit. Following what little clues investigators from the Erie police force, in conjunction with the FBI and the DEA, set off on a wild goose chase that would take them across the country.
Beginning at the last place Wells was seen before the robbery, detectives went to the pizza shop Wells was employed at. At around 1:30pm that day a caller had placed an order for two pizzas, although Wells was due to get off soon he agreed to take the order, and left the shop close to 2pm. The delivery address was for a desolate television transmission tower, accessible only by a dirt road. Foot prints and tire marks found on the scene indicated that Wells had indeed been to the location, but there was little evidence indicating a struggle or any other events that may have transpired there.
A man by the name of Bill Rothstein owned property adjacent to the transmission tower site, he allowed journalist to use his property in order to access the area police had sanctioned off for the investigation. Rothstein seemingly had no connection to the case until a month later. Rothstein called 911 and made the admission that there was a body being stored in his freezer. He claimed to have had nothing to do with the murder and said he had even contemplated suicide over it.
Notes were found in Rothstein’s possession, penned by Rothstein himself, identifying the body belonging to Jim Roden. One particular statement that struck investigators as odd was that Rothstein added the disclaimer that “This has nothing to do with the Wells case”. Rothstein began explaining to investigators how the body had come to be stored in his freezer and what his connection was to the Wells case.
Rothstein claimed that sometime in August Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, a former girlfriend of Rothstein’s called him frantically. She had shot her then live-in boyfriend James Roden and needed help disposing of the body and the murder weapon. Rothstein agreed to her demands. He disposed of the weapon, but could not go through with butchering up the body. Fearing that Diehl-Armstrong would kill him, Rothstein decided to come forward to the police. Diehl-Armstrong was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Rothstein died of lymphoma several months before his conviction.
It would seem that the murder of James Roden was an open and shut case, and aside from Rothstein’s strange disclaimer in his letter, had absolutely no connection to the Wells case. It wasn’t until Diehl-Armstrong admitted that Roden’s murder was because of the Wells case, that investigators had any connection between the two.
Making a deal with investigators to be moved to a lower-security institution in exchange for her testimony, Diehl-Armstrong came clean in her involvement with Wells and what part she played in the collar-bomb plot. She said that she was not involved in the scheme, but did supply some of the materials for constructing the bomb. She claimed that Rothstein was the one that proposed the idea, and that Wells was in on the whole thing. Not the innocent victim that he was believed to be. Working with several informants, investigators believed that Diehl-Armstrong had more involvement in the conspiracy than she was letting on. Not only had she told others details about the robbery, but that she had killed Roden because he was going to alert the police about what the clan was cooking up.
During this time another man, Kenneth Barnes, an associate of Diehl-Armstrong’s was turned over to police by his own brother-in-law, as Barnes was awaiting trial for another unrelated charge. Threatened with a harsher sentence, Barnes agreed to tell investigators everything he knew. He confirmed that the entire scam was the work of Diehl-Armstrong. The plan was to rob the bank so she would have enough money to pay Barnes to murder her father in order to receive her inheritance.
Finally, all the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Floyd Stockton, a roommate of Diehl-Armstrong’s at the time of the robbery, was reported to investigators by Wells’ sister in connection to her brother’s death. Stockton was given immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony. Rothstein, Diehl-Armstrong, Barnes, Stockton, and Wells all conspired to rob the bank and split the money. Knowing about the group’s plan and threatening to go to police, Roden was murdered. Believing that the collar bomb was a fake, Wells willingly attached the device to his neck. The scavenger hunt letters were simply a red herring to throw off investigators.
Wells went to the bank and followed the orders given to him by the rest of his team, not knowing that he had become a pawn in their game. It wouldn’t be long before the group began to turn on one another. First with Rothstein alerting police to the murder; then Diehl-Armstrong’s testimony pinning Rothstein, Wells, and herself to the crime; Finally Barnes and Stockton’s testimonies implicating Diehl-Armstrong as the mastermind behind the whole idea.
Diehl-Armstrong was sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years. Officials claimed “She was motivated by greed and completely characterized by evil,”. Co-conspirator Barnes received 20 years for his co-operation with investigators. Much to the dismay of Wells’ sister, Stockton received immunity and now lives outside of Seattle, WA.