At 2:28pm on August 28, 2003, a bank robbery occurred which shocked a Pennsylvanian city.
As we unravel the details of this case, you will see how it has encapsulated audiences as it will leave you with chills.
A normal day at PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania was turned on its head when Brian Wells walked through the doors.
Wells was a balding, middle-aged pizza delivery man sporting a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt.
He casually approached the counter and passed a note to the teller reading “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000. You have only 15 minutes.”
He then pulled away his shirt to reveal a device attached to his neck which was explained to the teller was a bomb.
The teller told Wells there was no way to get into the vault in time and instead handed over $8,702.
Wells walked away sucking a lollipop he grabbed from the counter and drove off.
15 minutes later, police spotted Wells standing outside his car, surrounded him, tackled him and cuffed him.
Wells told the police officers he was accosted by a group of black men while doing his pizza deliveries who chained a bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob a bank.
The bomb squad was called and TV crews arrived as Wells exclaimed his innocence saying the bomb would go off.
Abruptly, the device started to emit an accelerating beeping noise. Wells squirmed on the pavement but there was nothing he could do.
The bomb detonated, violently throwing Wells onto his back as he had his last breaths.
The police began the investigation at Wells’ car. They saw the cane, ingeniously crafted into a homemade gun. A common characteristic to the bomb, ingeniously put together consisting of a triple-banded metal collar with four keyholes and a three-digit combination lock, and an iron box containing two pipe bombs.
The device also contained two kitchen timers and one electronic countdown timer as well as decoys wires to throw would be disablers off course.
Strangely, Wells was wearing two T-shirts at the time of his death. One of which he did not wear to work and his family say he didn’t own branded ‘Guess’, potentially a taunt to police and family to Guess who was behind it.
But it gets even more chilling from there.
Police found a series of handwritten notes addressed to the “Bomb Hostage,” instructing Wells to rob $250,000 from the bank, then follow instructions to find various keys and combination codes hidden throughout the city.
One note reading: “There is only one way you can survive and that is to cooperate completely. This powerful, booby-trapped bomb can be removed only by following our instructions… ACT NOW, THINK LATER OR YOU WILL DIE!”
Using the notes, Police backtracked Wells final movements through the nightmarish scavenger hunt left for him.
The first note read: “Exit the bank with the money and go to the McDonald’s restaurant [sic]. Get out of the car and go to the small sign reading drive thru/open 24 hr in the flower bed. By the sign, there is a rock with a note taped to the bottom. It has your next instructions.”
Wells did indeed go to this McDonald’s and retrieved the note directing him up Peach Street to a wooded area several miles away, where a container with orange tape would hold the next set of instructions.
Wells was caught by police between these steps, but police followed the trail.
The next note directed him 2 miles south to a small road sign, where the next clue would be waiting in a jar in the woods.
By the time police arrived, the jar was empty.
The mastermind believed to have removed it once police were involved as they followed the movements of the officers.
Thus began the major investigation, starting at Mama Mia’s Pizza Ria where Wells was working on the day of the heist.
Wells was a loyal worker, in his 10 years at the pizza shop he called in late only once when his cat died.
At 1:30pm an order for two small sausage and pepperoni pizzas sent wells to TV transmission tower site in the wooded outskirts of the city to a location only reachable by dirt road.
Here investigators found footprints and tire tracks matching Wells shoes and vehicle but not clues as to who lured him there.
The following day, a journalist and a photographer for the Erie Times-News headed to the location.
The report spotted a tall, heavyset man in denim overalls pacing in front of a home which backyard extended
out toward the transmission tower.
After a look around his property and short chat, the journalist left but a month after this man would provide a disturbing confession to police.
Bill Rothstein, a 59 year old handyman called police telling them there is a frozen body in his freezer.
While in police custody Rothstein said he could not cope with his guilt any more.
He went onto say his ex-girlfriend, Marjorie Diehl Armstrong killed her then husband Jim Roden and asked Rothstein to help clean up the mess and store the body.
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was infamous in her local area, known to have multiple previous partners who died under suspicious circumstance.
In 1984 she shot and killed her then boyfriend Robert Thomas. She claimed it was in self-defense and the jury acquitted her.
Four years on, her then husband, Richard Armstrong, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. It was ruled accidental but it remained dubious as Armstrong arrived in hospital with a head injury.
So when Bill Rothstein, the man in the overalls who had a body stored in his fridge claimed it was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, the police took it very seriously and took her into custody.
Diehl-Armstrong confessed to the murder Jim Roden, telling investigators that Roden’s murder was in fact linked to the collar bomb plot.
She said she supplied the kitchen timers for the bomb and said Wells, the pizza delivery man was actually involved in the planning of the plot… but we’ll get back to that.
Police were getting suspicious of Diehl-Armstrong before this confession as four informants had told police Diehl-Armstrong had told them about the crime in great detail, one of them with assertions that she had to kill Roden because she was worried he was going to tell someone about the collar bomb plot.
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was known for brilliant intelligence matched with a wealth of knowledge across many fields in high school according to her former classmates but over time, her brilliance had become transfixed with madness.
According to court records, she suffered from bipolar disorder. She was paranoid, narcissistic, had dramatic mood swings and rapid-fire speech.
In 1984, investigators found 400 pounds of butter and more than 700 pounds of cheese rotting, inside her trash-laden home.
Potentially the right cocktail of brilliant and crazy to pull of something like this.
In late 2005, there was another break in the case, as a witness came forward saying Kenneth Barnes, a friend of Diehl-Armstrong was also involved in the plot.
Barnes, an ex-television repairman already in jail on unrelated drug charges agreed to give his account in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Barnes confirmed what the investigators thought, Diehl-Armstrong was the main mastermind behind the collar bomb plot. He claimed she needed the money to pay him to kill her father, who she thought was blowing through his fortune which she expected to inherit.
In July 2007, almost four year on from Wells’ death, the US attorney’s office declared the investigation was over, charging Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes with carrying out the collar bomb plot.
Bill Rothstein, the man in the overalls and Wells, the pizza delivery guy were also implicated in the planning of the scheme.
Wells in fact had got into debt with a crack dealer which he bought to exchange for sex with a prostitute and hence needed the cash.
It is believed Wells had agreed to rob the bank wearing what he thought was a fake bomb which could be used to ruse the police if he was caught.
But as events rolled out Wells went from being a planner to an unwilling participant.
When he went to deliver the pizzas to the TV transmission tower he realized he had been double-crossed and that the bomb was real. He was tackled as he tried to sprint away and was locked into the device at gunpoint.
-Rothstein died before the charges came out.
-Barnes pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and weapons charges involved in the collar bomb plot.
-In court, an at times incoherent Diehl-Armstrong denied involvement in the plot despite admitting involvement to investigators in previous interviews.
-She was found guilty.
Netflix is releasing a 4 part documentary series about the collar bomb heist on May 11th.