An Unfortunate Delivery

By Rachel Walker

On August 28, 2003, a phone call was made to Mama Mia’s Pizza in Erie, Pennsylvania. An employee, Brian Wells, wrote down the address and made the delivery, despite it being the end of his shift. 2 hours later, Wells appeared on the news with a bomb strapped to his neck outside a recently robbed bank. He claims the bomb was strapped to him after being ordered to rob a bank by a group of men. Shortly after, the bomb detonated, and Wells died shortly after. Police found step-by-step instructions on how to rob the bank and remove the collar. According to a neighbor, Wells lived a normal, quiet life with his three cats. However, many questioned if he was less a victim and more involved than originally suspected. The address he arrived at was a TV transmission site in a wooden area that was only reachable by a dirt road. At this site, is when the collar was assumed to be strapped to his neck. 20 minutes later, Wells walked into the PNC bank wearing the collar bomb. Instructed to enter the bank quietly, he was given a gun disguised as a cane in case witnesses tried to leave. He gave the bank teller a note stating employees had 15 minutes to fill a bag with 250,000. However, the teller was only able to give him 8,000 since the safe couldn’t be accessed at that time. Approximately three minutes later, Wells calmly walked out of the bank, sucking on a lollipop he had taken from the teller. Next, the instructions read for him to go Mcdonald’s and go to the flower beds next to 24 hr sign to find the next set of instructions which told him to go to another location up the street; however, this was the time he was stopped by a state trooper and appeared on the news. 

There are a couple of suspects that could be responsible. The first is William A. Rothstein. A month after the incident, Rothstein called the police to report a body found in a garage freezer in Rothstein’s home. He claimed he was storing the body as a “favor for a friend.” The friend was identified as Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and the body was 45-year-old James Roden, who was killed by his then-girlfriend Marjorie. When being interviewed by police about Armstrong, Rothstein randomly started his guilt had nothing to do with the Wells case, even though, at the time, he had not been associated with the case in the first place. However, besides that, the only link between the two was the Rothstein’s house was close to the TV transmission site Wells had driven to and was located a half a mile from the payphone that was used to make the call to the pizzeria. Overall, his location and random mention of the Wells case is suspicious. Not to mention, he also was an engineer and shop teacher, which would allow him to have the skills and materials to make a collar bomb. However, he didn’t match the profile of a mastermind, according to the police. 

The second suspect is Majorie Diehl-Armstrong. Armstrong had previously murdered a boyfriend in 1984 but was acquitted because she stated she was a victim of abuse. Two of her husbands also died; however, both were ruled accidental, and she was not charged. The FBI made a profile of the behavioral aspects the mastermind behind the crime would have, including being a hoarder, having access and knowledge of power tools, and having immense pride for their creations, all traits Armstrong possessed. It is believed that Armstrong and Rothstein may have worked together, as they were close friends and both processed some of the traits that the FBI profiled. 

The third suspect was Kenneth Barnes, who was a TV repairman turned crack dealer. Barnes and Armstrong were also friends and used to go fishing together. A client of Barnes claimed Barnes, Armstrong, and Wells all knew each other. Barnes’s brother-in-law claimed he spoke too freely about the collar bomb plan and turned him in while he was in jail for a different crime. He claimed that Armstrong put him up to it and that she was the mastermind and controller of the entire operation. Armstrong was interviewed and claimed she had nothing to do with the robbery, despite living a mile away. However, when telling the FBI her whereabouts, she happened to be at almost every location that was associated with the crime, including the gas station the phone call was made from claiming the Rothstein and Barnes were with her. She claimed Rothstein planned the whole thing and that Wells was in on the heist. 

The last suspect is Brian Wells. Although he was painted as the victim, it is possible he was the one who planned the whole thing. Two things render suspicious about his story. One being his demeanor throughout the robbery and the second being the description he gave police as to who may have done this. The DA claimed the collar bomb was given to Wells as an alibi and the group was going to run off with the cash, but they were stopped short when police caught Wells. Barnes claimed that Wells had talked about the robbery a month before it occurred, which was confirmed by another witness. The DA believes Wells originally thought the bomb was going to be fake and realized as he delivered the pizza it was real. A retired FBI agent suggests that without Wells’s knowledge, he was doomed from the start and was going to die no matter what. 

FBI agents were unable to truly confirm what happened to Brian Wells on August 28, but are sure all three had a part in the crime in some way. Other friends of the group, including Kenneth’s client who linked the three together, have claimed they were also involved. Wells’s involvement remains mysterious, causing many to claim this mystery as unsolved.