Solved: The Brian Wells Collar Bomb

Brian Well’s was just about to finish his shift at Mama Mia’s pizzeria on Peach Street, Erie. It had been an average day. Brian had been an employee with the shop for ten years, so the whole routine was easy for him now. Brian had only ever come in late to work one time and that was due to the death of one of his cats.

Brian was 46, lived with his three cats in his rented apartment and was balding; he lived an average life and there wasn’t much about the everyday commotion of the small Pennsylvania town that excited Brian.

It was nearly 2pm on August 28th 2003 when Tony Ditmo – the owner of the establishment – answered the phone for a delivery of two large sausage and pepperoni pizzas to an address a few minutes down the road on Peach Street. Tony couldn’t understand the address so passed the phone to Brian to take it down. Brian also offered to deliver this last pizza since he was nearly finished on his shift.

It was at this time that nobody knew Brian would be on TV less than two hours later, begging for his life.

During the delivery, Brian had driven his Geo Metro car down the dirt road down to what appeared to be a transmission tower, which was where the address was located. No one ever found out the exact details of what was going to happen next.

At 2.20pm, Brian walked into a PNC Bank a couple of miles in the other direction on Peach Street, wearing a t-shirt with the word “GUESS” printed across it and with what eyewitnesses described as a ‘shoe box’ under the shirt. Brian walked quietly up to the cashier desk, walking with an unusual looking cane and handed the bank teller an envelope.

The teller opened the envelope which read:

Well Case Note

 

Brian then lifted his shirt to reveal to the teller that the ‘shoe box’ which was underneath his shirt was actually a homemade explosive device with a handcuff life collar around his necked, with four locks and a three-digit combination lock on it and the cane was a shotgun in disguise.

The teller told Brian that no one had access to the vault at that time and could only handover $8702. Brian accepted and the teller was seen to say the word “Audrey” to the other tellers; this was the code word of the bank for a robbery. Brian gave the teller his drivers license in a sealed envelope and a customer had already rang 911, after one of the cashiers calmly motioned to them what was happening.

After getting the money, Brian walked out of the bank sucking a free lollipop, which was on the counter, and got into his car. Brian appeared to start on his way to hand the money to his hostage keeper but was stopped by police not far along his way.

Brian was arrested and was screaming out that he wanted to get the bomb off and that he had to follow the instructions to find all the keys. The police investigated and realised all too late that is was a bomb, calling in the bomb squad to come and take it off. Brian seemed calm throughout the start of the ordeal with the police however a little time after, he began to get distressed, calling out “Why is no one trying to get this thing off me? I don’t have a lot of time. Its gonna go off. I’m not lying! Did you call my boss?”. Brian had already tried to explain that the bomb was fastened by a group of black men who ordered him to rob a bank.

In the next few minutes, the collar started emitting a loud, rapid beeping noise before exploding on live television. Brian was led on the pavement with a five-inch tear in his chest, taking his last few breaths, Brian Wells died at 3.18pm. A few minutes later, the bomb squad arrived.

Police began their investigation by checking into the transmission tower that Wells took the pizza to but found no trace of anyone else except Brian, with his footprints and tyre tracks on the dirt road. They also looked at Brian’s car and found entire pages of scrawled instructions for finding the keys and combinations to the locks on the bomb. Police followed the instructions however the culprit halted their actions when they realised Brian had been caught. This was some sort of sick scavenger hunt that led to the belief that Brian was never meant to finish this hunt and he was always destined to die, to be the last loose end which was tied up. Police interviewed many eyewitnesses and family, but no one could find a break.

It wasn’t until September 20th 2003 that the police came across a man who would start the balling rolling to unfold the world’s most complicated bank robbery and death.

Bill Rothstein, 59, rang 911 stating there was a dead body in the freezer of a certain house which turned out to belong to Mr Rothstein. Rothstein explained that his ex-girlfriend and still friend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, had shot her live-in boyfriend in the back, while he was asleep after a financial dispute and she needed to hide the body. Rothstein agreed but told police it was only because he was afraid of what she might do to him. This was because of a long and convenient history Diehl-Armstrong had with partners dying. Marjorie’s current dead boyfriend was actually the third partner of hers to die; she had been charged once before with murder but acquitted since she claimed it was self-defense following domestic abuse, the other deaths were ruled an accident.

Rothstein said he only contacted the police as Marjorie had asked for him to put the body through the meat grinder and he felt this was unnecessary and he couldn’t do it. Rothstein admitted that he had been agonizing over this for weeks and had even contemplated suicide. When Bill’s home was searched, the police found a suicide note which bizarrely began with the words “This had nothing to do with the Wells case”. Odd, unless one could think he may have been a suspect since his house backed on to the transmission tower where Wells was taken hostage.

Rothstein ended up in police custody but what police didn’t know was that he had cancer.

The big break in the case came when the brother-in-law of a gentleman named Kenneth Barnes, already serving time in prison for unrelated drug charges, turned Barnes in to the police after Barnes had been talking too freely and admitting he knew about the collar bomb. Barnes was interviewed by the police and offered everything he knew in exchange for a lesser sentence. Police agreed and the collar bomb case starts to have some revelations.

Kenneth revealed that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong needed a lot of money. Marjorie wanted Kenneth to kill her father since she strongly believed that her father was blowing through her inheritance money. Marjorie was an old friend of Kenneth and they used to fish together but Kenneth was now a full-blown drug dealer and ex TV-repairman. Kenneth claimed Marjorie was the mastermind of this plan. This corroborated with what the cops had already suspected so they interviewed Marjorie.

Marjorie told the police that Bill Rothstein was the mastermind to the plan. Marjorie said she supplied the kitchen timers for the bomb and that she knew about it and also claimed she was within one mile of the robbery on the day but that she had nothing else to do with it. Marjorie told police she would tell the entirety of her story for full immunity but after already taking the police around the neighbourhood where she went on the day of the robbery, and along with eyewitnesses of her bragging about the plan to people, Marjorie had already implicated herself too much and full immunity was denied. The interesting thing about this case was that Marjorie claimed Brian Wells was in on the case.

This intrigued police and they went looking for clues on this theory and here’s how it went down.

Brian Wells was in on the scheme. Wells was seeing a prostitute whom he supplied crack to in exchange for sex. Brian had got in to debt with his drug dealers and needed some money to be able to keep seeing this girl. Brian agreed with Marjorie and her co-conspirators that they would fit a fake bomb and the scavenger hunt would be part of a fake ploy to lead the police astray. It wasn’t until Wells got to the transmission tower that day that he realised he was doubled-crossed. Wells was forced in to the real bomb at gunpoint and ordered to carry out the same attack, with the scavenger hunt still being fake. Upon examination of the collar bomb, police determined that it was rigged to go off even if the bomb squad had a go at taking it apart. Brian Wells was destined to die that fateful day.

It was also determined that, due to FBI profiling of the maker of the bomb, that it was made by Bill Rothstein.

Marjorie had come up with the plan and the scavenger hunt, Bill made the bomb and fitted it to Wells’ neck, Kenneth was waiting for the money from Marjorie to put a hit on her father and Wells would carry out the robbery, needing the money for his drug dealers and prostitute girlfriend.

So, what became of the three musketeers?

Kenneth Barnes testified against Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and pleaded guilty in September 2008 on a conspiracy and weapons charge. Barnes received 45 years for the crime.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong pleaded guilty but insane in January 2005, with the judge ruling her fit to be tried. Marjorie received 20 years in state prison but died of breast cancer in April 2017, aged 68.

Bill Rothstein was never charged with anything before dying of Lymphoma in July 2004.

Brian Wells was buried in Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery, Eerie, Pennsylvania.