Photo of the Day

Brian Wells heads out of the PNC Bank in the Summit Towne Centre after robbing it of $8,702. Wells is carrying the cash in a white canvas bag; in his left hand is a homemade cane-shaped shotgun. He is sucking on a lollipop he grabbed while in the bank. The collar bomb is protruding from under his white T-shirt. He had demanded $250,000 from the chief teller but left with whatever money she could give him. ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

The Twists and Turns of the Collar-Bombing Case

He sat on the road with his legs twisted under him and his hands cuffed behind his back. His oversized glasses drooped as he cried for help.

Brian Wells, a pizza deliveryman, was caught in a bizarre bank robbery. He had walked in with a bomb strapped to his neck, and now no one wanted to help him. No one knew what was going on or seemed to understand how a simpleton got involved in such a vicious plot.

Except for Wells. He knew he had been double-crossed.

Brian Wells delivered pizzas for a living. He was a quiet, unassuming man, one of the most trusted drivers for Mama Mia Pizzeria in Erie, Pa. But on Aug. 28, 2003, he walked into an Erie bank and handed the teller a holdup note.

This was no garden-variety stickup. When police caught Wells in a nearby parking lot, he began to beg for his life.

They grab him and they handcuff him and throw him onto the ground,

Mr Wells starts pleading with them, “He says, ‘Listen, there’s a bomb strapped to my neck. I was forced to wear it at gunpoint. It’s going to explode, I’m not lying to you.'”

Wells said a group of men accosted him and forced him to carry out the heist. After delivering the money, he would receive clues to help him disarm the bomb.

Wells wasn’t lying. A few seconds later, the bomb went off, killing him almost instantly.

It was one of the most diabolical bank robbery schemes in history, known by the FBI as COLLARBOMB, Major Case #203.

It did not go according to plan.

At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill a bag with $250,000,” it said. “You have only 15 minutes.” Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck.

According to the note, it was a bomb. The teller, who told Wells there was no way to get into the vault at that time, filled a bag with cash—$8,702—and handed it over. Wells walked out; sucking on a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter, hopped into his car, and drove off. He didn’t get far. Some 15 minutes later, state troopers spotted Wells standing outside his Geo Metro in a nearby parking lot, surrounded him, and tossed him to the pavement, cuffing his hands behind his back.

Brian Wells stands at the front counter of the PNC Bank in the Summit Towne Centre, waiting for the chief teller to give him money on August 28, 2003. He had asked for $250,000, an extraordinary amount for a bank robbery. RICH FORSGREN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

Wells told the troopers that while out on a delivery he had been accosted by a group of black men who chained the bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob the bank. “It’s gonna go off!” he told them in desperation. “I’m not lying.” The officers called the bomb squad and took positions behind their cars, guns were drawn. TV camera crews arrived and began filming. For 25 minutes Wells remained seated on the pavement, his legs curled beneath him.

“Did you call my boss?” Wells asked a trooper at one point, apparently concerned that his employer would think he was shirking his duties. Suddenly, the device started to emit an accelerating beeping noise. Wells fidgeted. It looked like he was trying to scoot backwards, to somehow escape the bomb strapped to his neck. Beep… Beep… Beep. Boom! The device detonated, blasting him violently onto his back and ripping a 5-inch gash in his chest. The pizza deliveryman took a few last gasps and died on the pavement. It was 3:18 pm. The bomb squad arrived three minutes later.

The police began sorting through a trove of physical evidence. In Wells’ car, they discovered the 2-foot-long cane, which turned out to be an ingeniously crafted homemade gun. The bomb itself was likewise a marvel of DIY design and construction. The device consisted of two parts: a triple-banded metal collar with four keyholes and a three-digit combination lock, and an iron box containing two 6-inch pipe bombs loaded with double-base smokeless powder. The hinged collar locked around Wells’ neck like a giant handcuff. Investigators could tell that it had been built using professional tools. The device also contained two Sunbeam kitchen timers and one electronic countdown timer. It had wires running through it that connected to nothing—decoys to throw off would-be disablers—and stickers bearing deceptive warnings. The contraption was a puzzle in and of itself.

Wells, who for so long thought he was an accomplice in the robbery, turned out to be a victim. He’d die less than an hour later.

Investigators revealed that Wells, 46, was actually in on the plot, both a victim and an offender in the same crime.

His accomplices told him the bomb was a phoney, a prop to fool bank clerks into giving up money. But just before they clicked it around his neck, they told him the truth: The bomb was real, and it would kill him if he did not do exactly what he was told.

Then, 55 minutes after his cohorts strapped the bomb on, 40 minutes after he robbed the bank and 20 minutes after police caught him, the device blew a softball-sized hole into Wells’ chest and killed him.

The slaying stunned the city 90 minutes from Cleveland. For nearly four years, everyone assumed Wells was a tragic and unsuspecting victim. But authorities said he mentally rehearsed the robbery plan for days and even sat for fittings of the device.

The cane gun Brian Wells used during the bank robbery. It was fashioned by hand out of wood and metal and held one 12-gauge shotgun shell. Wells did not fire it. RICH FORSGREN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI.

Federal indictments charged Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes in Wells’ death. They were charged with robbery and weapons violations and accused of planning the robbery to gain enough money for Diehl-Armstrong to pay for a hitman to kill her father. A third person involved in the planning, convicted rapist Floyd Stockton, was given immunity in a deal with prosecutors.

A fourth man, who authorities say was the plot’s mastermind and bomb-builder, William Rothstein, is dead. He died of cancer in 2004.

Diehl-Armstrong denied any role in the robbery. And Wells’ family defended has him, saying he played no role in the crime other than as a victim. Family members exploded at a federal press conference that outlined Wells’ role. Wells’ role, his sister Barbara White called out “Liar! Liar!” to federal prosecutors.

“People are saying that just to protect themselves,” said John Wells, Brian’s younger brother.

But in truth Wells was a follower who was in the thick of the plot, according to the indictments and interviews with investigators and defense attorneys.

“Greed was their inspiration. Death was just a byproduct,” said Ray Morrow, an FBI agent in Pittsburgh.

Wells dropped out of high school in 1973. For nearly 30 years, he worked as a pizza delivery man and was considered a valued and trusted employee of the Mama Mia Pizzeria in Erie, Pennsylvania. On the afternoon of August 28, Wells received a call to deliver two pizzas to 8631 Peach Street, an address a few miles from the pizzeria. It was later found that the address was that of the radio station WSEE-TV’s transmission tower at the end of a dirt road.

According to law enforcement reports, Wells was allegedly meeting people he thought were his accomplices, including Barnes. Wells allegedly participated in the planning for the robbery, and he had been told the bomb was going to be fake. Furthermore, he was to claim that three black men had forced the bomb on him and were holding him as a hostage.

The first page of the two-page note found in Wells’ car; the note, addressed to the “bomb hostage,” instructed him how to rob the bank. ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

The second page of the note found in Wells’ car; the drawing showed him where to find another note: taped to the bottom of a rock at the base of a McDonald’s drive-through sign near the bank. ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

At the television tower, Wells learned that the device was real. He wrestled with the men (presumably Barnes and William A. Rothstein) and tried to flee, but one of them fired a gun, causing Wells to stop. It was at this time that the collar bomb is assumed to have been attached. The culprits gave him a sophisticated home-made shotgun, which had the appearance of an unusually-shaped cane, and told him to use it if he encountered resistance at the bank. Wells then entered a bank with the shotgun and demanded $250,000. When police intervened, Wells claimed that three unnamed people had placed a bomb around his neck, provided him with the shotgun, and told him that he had to commit the robbery and several other tasks, lest they kill him.

At first, the police made no attempt to disarm the device. The bomb squad was first called at 3:04 PM, at least 30 minutes after the first 9-1-1 call. At 3:18 PM, just three minutes before the bomb squad arrived, the bomb detonated and blasted a fist-sized hole in Wells’ chest, killing him. It is believed that Wells was killed by Diehl-Armstrong and her conspirators to reduce witnesses against herself and others.The event was broadcast on television and the footage subsequently found its way to video sharing sites.

A note found on Wells had instructions for him to carry out four tasks (the first of which was the bank robbery) in a set period of time before the bomb went off. Wells would gain extra time with the completion of each task. However, it was later determined that regardless of what had unfolded, Wells would never have had enough time to complete the tasks to get the bomb defused: police travelled the route on the note and couldn’t complete it in the time the note allocated to Wells.

The FBI constructed this diagram to show where Brian Wells was to travel to get the keys to unlock the bomb from his neck on August 28, 2003. He never completed the journey. Agents displayed the diagram at a news conference early in the investigation. FBI photo

Wells was allegedly drawn into the plot through Barnes, whom he knew through Diehl-Armstrong. The plot was hatched to get funds to pay Barnes enough money to kill Diehl-Armstrong’s father, so that Diehl-Armstrong would receive an inheritance, according to authorities. However, Wells had only stolen $8,702, far from the $125,000 needed for the killing. Furthermore, the inheritance Diehl-Armstrong reportedly coveted was largely spent.

At 1:30 p.m. on August 28, 2003, an order phoned into this pizza parlour sent Brian Wells on his way in the bank-robbery plot that would end in his bombing death at 3:18 p.m. Wells, 46 years old, had worked at Mama Mia’s nearly a decade. ISAAC BREKKEN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS

Brian Wells, he was known as a man with simple tastes, caring for his three cats, eating Sunday meals with his mother and fixing his cars. He was a high school dropout, and in the last decade worked on and off delivering food at Mama-Mia’s Pizza-Ria, a cramped five-table restaurant that catered to construction workers for lunch and young families for dinner.

What people didn’t know was his affection for a prostitute.

Wells and the woman, Jessica Hoopsick, had sex approximately twice a month for about five years, sometimes at a home on Perry Street in Erie. Barnes, a convicted cocaine dealer, would rent rooms to prostitutes and their clients in exchange for drugs and cash. She even testified before a federal grand jury about Wells’ link to Barnes.

For almost 30 years, Wells worked as a pizza delivery driver. He began his career after dropping out of high school.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong

Born in 1949, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong had lived in Erie, Pennsylvania all her life. She was an only child to two parents who ran a successful awning business. Marjorie was considered a child prodigy, was good at music and graduated at the top of her class. With a high IQ, she also excelled at college and got a Master’s degree. Marjorie’s high school sweetheart was a guy named Bill Rothstein. He was another “genius” who was in Mensa. They were engaged in their 20s, but it didn’t last. After Marjorie broke off the engagement, she really began struggling with her mental disorders, including bipolar and depression. In 1984, she murdered her next boyfriend, Robert Thomas, in his sleep, shooting him six times. She was acquitted of the crime because it was believed he was violent and abusive towards her. In 1990, she married her next serious boyfriend, Richard Armstrong, who she called her one true love.

However, after only 2 years, in 1992, Marjorie was rushing Richard to the hospital with a serious head injury. He died of an internal brain haemorrhage. Marjorie said he had fallen, and the coroner corroborated, saying the death was accidental. There was no further investigation.

Marjorie was apparently devastated by the death, and despite settling for $250,000 with the hospital in a medical malpractice case, Marjorie began to struggle even more with her mental illnesses. She was deemed “disabled” due to her psychological condition, and got disability payments from Social Security, on top of the hospital pay out and help from her father, who bought her a house.

Her next boyfriend was James Roden, an unemployed alcoholic. They lived together for nine years without event. Indeed, Marjorie would only leave the house one night per week–on garbage pickup night, she’d scour the neighbourhood looking for things on the side of the road to add to her collection of hoarded ephemera. But then in August of 2003, the peace would be disturbed when Marjorie’s neighbour heard gunshots coming from the house.

On September 21st, three weeks after the robbery/bombing, the police received a phone call. A man’s voice told them, “I have a dead body in my freezer.” The caller was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s former fiancé, Bill Rothstein.

Bill went to the police station for questioning and explained how he and Marjorie had been friends for years, and that she would often call on him for help, which is how he ended up with a dead dude in his freezer. Bill said that six weeks earlier, Marjorie had called him in a panic, saying she’d shot and killed her boyfriend, James Roden. After an argument, she allegedly shot him twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Bill said he went to Marjorie’s, wrapped the body in tarps, and dragged it to his van, before taking it home and putting it in the freezer. He also helped Marjorie get rid of the gun, sawing it into pieces and melting it down with a torch.

The police went straight to Bill’s house–and found Marjorie there, sitting in the bed. When the investigators told her who they were, she went “berserk” according to State Police Supervisor Lamont King, screaming at them to get out of the house. Officers had to restrain her, and they found James in the freezer as described. The police arrested Marjorie for the shooting.

Here’s where it gets interesting: while recovering James’ body, investigators realised Bill’s house was less than five hundred yards from where Brian Wells made his last delivery, right under the transmission tower.

That night Marjorie refused to talk with investigators, but Bill was very chatty. He told investigators he was “the smartest guy in this room,” and reeled off his impressive educational resume–including his degree in electrical engineering and that he was a substitute science teacher with the Erie school system, specialising in robotics. By bragging, Bill willingly admitted to police he fit the exact profile of their bomb maker they were looking for.

While searching Marjorie’s house, police managed to find two ads in the paper circled by Marjorie a few days before James’ murder. They were for shotguns. One of the sellers confirmed selling a gun to Marjorie and Bill. By now, investigators are convinced Marjorie had something to do with the robbery/bombing.

Brian Wells delivered his pizza order by driving his Geo Metro down a dirt road to this clearing, the location of the transmission tower for WSEE-TV, the CBS affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had the collar bomb locked to his neck in the clearing. RICH FORSGREN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS

Kenneth Barnes

Barnes was a misfit friend of Marjorie’s. An odd but smart guy, and a retired television repairman. Ken was also a crack dealer, and when he was questioned by police on August 11th, 2005, he admitted to being part of the robbery/bomb plot. Ken told investigators that Bill built the bomb, and that the robbery was Marjorie’s idea. They asked Ken to help with the timing mechanism on the bomb. The weirdest part was Marjorie’s reason for wanting to rob the bank: Ken said Marjorie wanted to rob the bank in order to kill her father to get an inheritance. He knew this because he was going to be the one killing her dad–but for the fee of $250,000. That’s what led Marjorie to come up with the bank robbery plot.

Diehl-Armstrong is bipolar and often flies into screaming rages when she becomes annoyed or doesn’t get what she wants. She wanted her father dead over a dispute involving her inheritance from her mother’s death in 2000, federal agents said.

It was an inheritance that had largely disappeared. Agnes Diehl’s estate was once valued at about $500,000, but it dwindled over the years. Harold Diehl gave his daughter about $50,000. He said he didn’t give her more because the money was running out.

“She wouldn’t kill me, but she probably would get somebody else to do it,” Harold Diehl said in an interview. “She tends to be greedy. I just don’t trust her.”

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s rage at her father set the murderous plan in motion.

Unable to come up with the money, Diehl-Armstrong approached Rothstein, whom she knew for years and almost married. He also was being hassled by a family member over money, and they discussed various schemes, including a bank robbery.

As the robbery plan crystallised, the group pulled Wells in. They told him the bomb would be fake, and, if arrested, he would claim that he was a hostage, authorities said. They said police would then let him go, and he would later collect some money.
He believed them.

They lied.

Handyman  Bill Rothstein died in 2004.  Many observers now consider him to be the mastermind in the Brian Wells case.Handyman Bill Rothstein died in 2004. Rich Forsgren/Associated Press

On Aug. 28, 2003, Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong went to a nearby gas station, called Mama-Mia’s Pizza-Ria and ordered two sausage and pepperoni pizzas. The gas station’s surveillance cameras record them arriving at the station and later speeding away.

About 2:15 p.m., Wells drove to a wooded lot near Rothstein’s home on Peach Street in Erie. Rothstein, Barnes and Stockton confronted him there and Wells, for the first time, learned that the device was real.

He wrestled with the men and tried to scamper away, but one of them fired a gun, causing Wells to stop. They gave him an oddly shaped cane, which was actually a gun, and told him to use it if he found trouble at the bank.

Why was Wells double-crossed?

Authorities said that, to the culprits, it was one less witness to worry about.

Ken Barnes’ house was in worse condition than those of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Bill Rothstein. Barnes ran a crack house amid the trash; prostitutes turned tricks for drugs in a squalid bedroom upstairs, where Brian Wells spent time with prostitute Jessica Hoopsick. FBI photo entered into evidence at trial

The men gave Wells a nine-page note that put Wells on a scavenger hunt for clues so that he could pry off the bomb.

“This powerful, booby-trapped bomb can be removed only by following our instructions,” the note said. “Using time attempting to escape it will fail and leave you short of time to follow instructions. Do not delay.”

The bomb had a timer that gave Wells 55 minutes to rob the bank and find the clues. Despite the note, investigators said, Wells could have gotten out of it, but he became crippled with fear. The clasp on the bomb was made like a child’s toy. It could have been pried away with some effort.

The device appeared to be sophisticated, but agents said it was built like a child’s toy bracelet that would have snapped open, given the proper pressure.

With the bomb yoked to his neck, Wells drove to the PNC Bank branch in a shopping centre on Peach Street. About 2:40 p.m., Wells walked inside the bank and appeared oddly calm, twirling a sucker in his mouth, according to pictures taken by the bank’s video cameras.

He told the clerk that he had a bomb and showed her the gun. He demanded $250,000; he got $8,000.

Rothstein, according to investigators, stood in the parking lot adjacent to the bank, waiting to grab the money from Wells. But as Wells left the bank, a customer followed him out, thinking that something was odd about Wells’ behaviour.

Bill Rothstein’s house was just as filthy and messy as Diehl-Armstrong’s. In his garage, where he had been storing Jim Roden’s body in a freezer, Rothstein also kept the bloody mattress (at left) on which Roden had died at Diehl-Armstrong’s house. FBI photo entered into evidence at trial.

Rothstein panicked. He fled to his car and sped home, empty-handed. At his house, Diehl-Armstrong waited.

Once Rothstein returned without the money, Diehl-Armstrong fumed, believing that Rothstein had fleeced her by hiding the money along the route. She jumped in Rothstein’s car and drove back toward the bank and began looking for a place where Rothstein may have pitched the money, according to federal agents.

At one point, she veered off I-79, just outside Erie, and began looking near the median. Witnesses saw her frantically searching and driving recklessly.

As Diehl-Armstrong searched, Wells’ life ticked away. Using the nine-page letter as a guide, he bolted for clues. After the bank, his first stop was at a nearby McDonald’s drive-through, where a note was hiding under a rock, the FBI said.

He pulled out of the restaurant, heading to his next clue on Interchange Road, north of the city, when police stopped him. Officers arrested him for the robbery and realized that he had a device strapped to his neck. They backed away, leaving him on the ground, quivering.

“Why isn’t nobody trying to come get this thing off me?” he said. “It’s going to go off. I’m not lying.”

At 3:18 p.m., the bomb exploded.

Piles of junk and rotting food greeted Erie police officers and FBI agents when they searched Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s house after September 21, 2003. They were looking for evidence that she fatally shot her boyfriend Jim Roden and helped place his body in a freezer in Bill Rothstein’s garage. Diehl-Armstrong had a history of hoarding government-surplus food. “I’ve dealt with corpses with the flesh falling off. This is worse,” a veteran Erie police officer said of Diehl-Armstrong’s house. FBI photo, used as evidence at trial.

Authorities began the investigation with the dead man. His family said investigators cut his head from his body in order to analyse the bomb more carefully.

Police then went to his home. The FBI blew the door off its hinges to get into his small apartment during a search in the middle of the night.

Three days later, Wells’ co-worker, Robert Pinetti, died of an overdose of methadone and antidepressants, mixed with cold medication, leaving investigators only to guess whether there was any connection. Officials suspect there is a link between the deaths, but they are not sure.

ATF and FBI agents then went to Rothstein, as he lived so close to where Wells made the pizza delivery. The initial interviews were hardly pleasant. Rothstein taunted officers, telling them that they would never find anything.

But they did.

Rothstein had written a suicide note, which began in much the same way as one of the notes Wells carried with him in the final minutes of his life, investigators said. ATF and FBI agents also interviewed Erie store clerks, who said Rothstein and the collaborators had purchased a number of items that were used for the bomb at local stores. At Rothstein’s home, officers found Stockton, a fugitive accused of raping a 19-year-old disabled girl. Rothstein called Stockton “my roommate.” Stockton was shipped back to Washington state, where he was charged and later sentenced to two years in prison.

They also found James Roden stuffed in a freezer.

Roden, Diehl-Armstrong’s boyfriend, was killed Aug. 11, 2003, and put in a chest freezer in Rothstein’s garage. Authorities found the body in September, weeks after the slaying.

Federal investigators believe Diehl-Armstrong killed Roden because he knew too many details about the plot and had threatened to go to the police. Roden had been a key member of the conspiracy and worked closely with Diehl-Armstrong and Rothstein, authorities said.

 

The metal collar that held the bomb to Brian Wells was intact after the explosion; it operated like a large handcuff that was locked to his neck. The metal box that held the bomb mechanism was attached to the frame of the collar. RICH FORSGREN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

In a July 2007 indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Wells had been involved in the planning of the botched bank robbery. Kenneth Barnes subsequently pleaded guilty in September 2008 and largely confirmed that Wells was indeed involved in planning the robbery but also revealed Wells was under the impression an actual bomb would not be used.

When he discovered the bomb was real, Barnes said a pistol was fired in order to force Wells’ compliance, and witnesses confirmed hearing a gunshot. On December 4, 2008, U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin sentenced Barnes to 45 years in federal prison for his role in the bank robbery and use of a destructive device during a crime of violence.

On October 12th, 2010, Marjorie stood trial for the robbery/bombing. The prosecution sold Marjorie as the “catalyst” for the entire robbery/bombing, despite Bill building the bomb, and her clear mental instability. Ken pled guilty to his role in the conspiracy and was sentenced to 45 years in prison, and on the stand, he testified against Marjorie. Ken also said that he and Marjorie had followed Brian to the bank, watching from a vehicle parked across the street. According to Ken, Marjorie also killed James — remember, he was her ex, who was found in Bill’s freezer — because he threatened to tell police about her plot.

On the stand, Marjorie gave a long and rambling testimony (possibly a symptom of bipolar). She said the investigators set her up and the government framed her, and that Bill was the true mastermind. The jury reached a verdict on November 1st, 2010, finding Marjorie guilty. She was convicted of conspiracy to commit a bank robbery with the utilisation of a destructive device, and she was sentenced to life in prison on February 28th, 2011. She earned another 30 years for using a bomb in the crime. The sentence would begin as soon as she finished serving her time, or was paroled, for killing James Roden.

They bemoaned their fates — never remembering the simple man who liked delivering pizzas, believed in a robbery plan and scurried around the city looking for clues in a deadly game that would end on a busy street.

That’s where he sat for more than 20 minutes with a bomb around his neck, waiting for help that never came.

This FBI model of the bomb box shows its construction out of angle iron. ERIE TIMES-NEWS/FBI

The FBI lab in Quantico, Va., used evidence collected from the scene of the bomb blast to reconstruct the bomb mechanism that hung from the neck of Brian Wells. Only one of the pipe bombs exploded. A metal plate covers the kitchen timers that were so crucial to the bomb’s design; the metal mesh was a booby trap designed to detonate the bomb if the mesh touched the metal of the frame. The entire contraption weighed 10 to 15 pounds. FBI photo.

The locking mechanism for the collar bomb; the metal box that contained the locks was attached to the collar. Wells was to go on a scavenger hunt to find the keys. RICH FORSGREN/ERIE TIMES-NEWS, via FBI

Timeline

The pizza bomber case took more than seven years to investigate and prosecute, with FBI Special Agent Jerry Clark as the lead investigator. Here is a synopsis of some of the events in the probe, based on court records and other sources, and as compiled by Ed Palattella for the Erie Times-News.

— Aug. 28, 2003: Brian Wells is killed when a bomb locked to his neck explodes after he robs the PNC Bank in Summit Towne Centre, a shopping plaza just south of Erie, Pa. Wells tells state police before the collar bomb goes off that four black men forced him to wear the device and rob the bank. Investigators later determine Wells was lying. The night of Aug. 28, 2003: Federal agents search Wells’ house on Loveland Avenue in Millcreek Township. They find nothing to indicate the collar bomb was built there.

— Aug. 31, 2003: Robert Pinetti, Wells’ friend and co-worker, dies from what is ruled an accidental drug overdose.

— Sept. 8, 2003: Investigators pursue the lead about the black men by searching the Erie apartment of a black man whose girlfriend said she knew Wells. The man is never charged.

— Sept. 13, 2003: William A. Rothstein, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s former fiance, dumps 1,040 pounds of debris at Lake View Landfill.

— Sept. 20, 2003: Rothstein calls 911 to report that the body of James Roden, Diehl-Armstrong’s boyfriend, is stuffed in a freezer in Rothstein’s garage. He blames Diehl-Armstrong.

— Sept. 21, 2003: Erie police charge Diehl-Armstrong in Roden’s death, alleging she fatally shot him at her East Seventh Street house, in Erie, sometime before Aug. 28, and then helped move the body to Rothstein’s upper Peach Street house, south of Interstate 90, in Summit Township, near Erie in southern Erie County.

— Sept. 24, 2003: Police and federal agents question Rothstein about the Wells case. He says he may have used the pay phone that was the source of the final phone call to Wells.

— Mid-March 2004: Diehl-Armstrong, who suffers from a bipolar disorder, is transferred from the Erie County Prison to Mayview State Hospital, near Pittsburgh, for a long-term psychiatric evaluation in the Roden case. She is off limits to investigators while at Mayview because of her mental state.

— July 30, 2004: Rothstein, 60, dies of cancer. He says nothing about the Wells case to investigators who question him on his deathbed.

— Jan. 7, 2005: Diehl-Armstrong pleads guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder in Roden’s death in Erie County Court and is sentenced to seven to 20 years in a state prison.

— March 16, 2005: Diehl-Armstrong is transferred from Mayview to the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.

— April 20 and May 23, 2005: The main investigators in the Wells case — Jerry Clark of the FBI and Jason Wick of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — interview Diehl-Armstrong. She talks about Rothstein but refuses to answer questions.

— July 5, 2005: Clark and Wick interview Diehl-Armstrong at the state prison at Cambridge Springs. According to the FBI, she says she killed Roden to silence him in the Wells plot, and she says she never spoke in detail about his killing because she feared it would implicate her in the Wells case. In the summer of 2003, she says, she gave Rothstein kitchen timers — integral components to the collar bomb — and was a quarter of a mile from the bank robbery site when Wells was killed. Diehl-Armstrong first raised the possibility of immunity during the interview; she kept talking, and never ended up getting a deal. She would later dispute the FBI’s version of her statements.

— July 19 and 20, 2005: Clark and Wick interview Floyd A. Stockton Jr., Rothstein’s housemate at the time Wells was killed. He says Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong were involved in the bank robbery and bomb plot because they needed money.

— Aug. 11, 18 and Sept. 13, 2005: Clark and Wick interview Kenneth E. Barnes, Diehl-Armstrong’s fishing buddy. He says Diehl-Armstrong, before Wells was killed, solicited him to kill her father to stop her father from spending her inheritance.

— Dec, 9, 12 and 14, 2005: Barnes meets with Clark and Wick. He says he, Diehl-Armstrong, Rothstein, Stockton and Wells met Aug. 27, 2003, to review the bank-robbery plot. Barnes says he and Diehl-Armstrong watched Wells through binoculars before he was killed.

— Feb. 10, 2006: Wick and Clark meet with Diehl-Armstrong. She gets upset when told of Barnes’ comments and denies being with him on Aug. 27 and 28, 2003. She claims Rothstein framed her.

— Feb. 14, 2006: Clark and Wick meet with Barnes. He gets upset when told of Diehl-Armstrong’s denials, calling her a liar.

— March 21 and May 5, 2006: Federal agents search Barnes’ then-residence in the 600 block of Perry Street, in Erie, for bomb-making components and other items.

— May 10, 2006: Diehl-Armstrong would talk to Wick and Clark a total of eight times. This was the date of her last interview. Along with her personal lawyer, Lawrence D’Ambrosio, who encouraged her to talk, she goes on a ride with Wick and Clark in Summit Township. She points out where she was throughout the day when Wells was killed, according to the FBI.

— July 9, 2007: A federal grand jury, which has been meeting in the Wells case for close to two years and was about to have its term expire, indicts Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes on the felonies of armed bank robbery, conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery and using a destructive device in a crime of violence. The grand jury names Wells and Rothstein as unindicted co-conspirators.

— July 11, 2007: The U.S. Attorney’s Office unseals the indictments. Stockton is not named in the indictments. He reaches an immunity deal with the government in exchange for testifying against Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes.

— July 29, 2008: U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin rules Diehl-Armstrong incompetent for trial, largely because of her bipolar disorder. He orders her to undergo more mental health exams in the federal prison system.

— Sept. 3, 2008: Barnes pleads guilty before McLaughlin to conspiracy to commit bank robbery as well as using a destructive device during a crime of violence, both felonies.

— Dec. 3, 2008: McLaughlin sentences Barnes, then 54, to 45 years in federal prison. He agrees to testify against Diehl-Armstrong.

— Sept. 8, 2009: McLaughlin finds Diehl-Armstrong competent to stand trial.

— March 2010: Diehl-Armstrong has a cancerous lump removed from her neck and is later diagnosed with glandular cancer that originated in one of her breasts.

— Aug. 12, 2010: At a court hearing, McLaughlin reviews a physician’s report that gives Diehl-Armstrong three to seven years to live. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini, said he plans to proceed with the trial; he said he would have considered halting the trial if the medical report had given Diehl-Armstrong less time to live. McLaughlin sets a trial date for Oct. 12.

— Oct. 12, 2010: Jury selection begins in Diehl-Armstrong’s trial.

— Nov. 1, 2010: After deliberating 11 hours and 30 minutes over two days, the jury convicts Diehl-Armstrong of all the charges.

— Feb. 28, 2011: McLaughlin sentences Diehl-Armstrong to life in prison, plus 30 years. The federal prison system has no parole.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is seen before a hearing at the Erie County Courthouse in Erie, Pa., in 2004. (JANET B. CAMPBELL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong died 4 April 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said. Her last location in the federal prison system was the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. Diehl-Armstrong, 68, was serving a life sentence plus 30 years for the suburban Erie bank robbery plot.

LiveLeak.com – Pizza guy gets head blown off

Death of Brian Douglas Wells – Wikipedia

The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist | WIRED

’30 Minutes or Less’ Comedy Upsets Family of Real-Life ‘Pizza Bomber’

Erie Pizza Bomber Case: Who Killed Brian Wells? | HuffPost

12th Anniversary of Erie Pizza Bomber Case – Story | YourErie

Pizza Bomber – Works from Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella

The ‘Pizza Bomber’ May Be The Most Bizarre Case Ever | Martinis …

Erie bomb victim was the dupe in a greedy plan | cleveland.com

Pizza Bomber – Works from Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella

Erie Pizza Bomber Case: Who Killed Brian Wells? | HuffPost

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong found guilty of pizza delivery bomb plot and …

Pennsylvania bank robber dies in Texas medical center | Daily Mail …

Man pleads guilty in Erie, Pa., collar-bomb case | cleveland.com

FBI — Collar-Bomb Case

Erie bomb victim was the dupe in a greedy plan | cleveland.com

Diehl-Armstrong wins parole, but gets no relief in pizza bomber case …


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