Dial “E” for Explosives, the Case of Brian Wells

Pizza deliveries, exploding collars, and a bank heist gone wrong, we’ll be diving into the story of Brian Wells and his mysterious death.

Dial+E+for+Explosives%2C+the+Case+of+Brian+Wells

Austyn Mizgorski, Author

Take a seat, and have a slice of your favorite kind of pizza, because in this episode of Tea Time with a Side of Crime, I’ll be telling you the story of the Collar-Bomb Heist, a.k.a FBI Major Case #203.

It’s August 28th; the year? 2003. Officers have just arrested 46 year old Brian Wells in the Eyeglass World parking lot adjacent to the PNC Bank that he had just robbed. As they’re deciding just what to do with the robber, his pleas strike some attention; “Get this thing off of me.” “I’m not lying.” “I don’t have a lot of time.”

Wells claims to have a bomb strapped to him, and begins begging the police to get the keys to unlock the device. Unfortunately for Wells, the bomb squad was a ways away from them, and the beeping from his device signified the worse. Officers pointed their pistols at the man slumped by one of the patrol cars, when suddenly.

Beep, beep, beep, be- boom.

Wells drops to the floor, the device having exploded. Sadly, Brian Wells passed away at 3:18 pm that August afternoon.

But how in the heck did this happen? Let’s backtrack…

Things were all set into motion with the ring of a phone. Mama Mia’s Pizzeria in Erie received a phone call, asking for two small, sausage and pepperoni pizzas to be delivered to a remote location on Peach Street. The shop’s owner, Mr. Tony Ditmo, couldn’t understand the caller, so he passed the phone to Wells. According to coworkers, Wells was a diligent worker, only showing up late because of the passing of his pet cat. The address of the order led Wells to 8631 Peach Street, where according to Wells, he was ambushed by two figures; it’s generally agreed upon that these two were the ones who supposedly placed the notorious bomb collar on him. Receiving written instructions, he was thrust back out into the outside world, stuck on a wild goose chase that would lead to his unfortunate demise.

2:28 p.m: Wells, in a white t-shirt with the word “Guess” written on it, as well as a cane, entered the PNC Bank. Taking a lollipop from the counter, he slips a note to the bank teller, which reads “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000.” The note also says that they have 15 minutes to perform the task. Lifting up the shirt, Wells reveals to the teller the bomb strapped to his chest, composed of a metal collar with four separate keyholes, a three-digit combination lock, and an iron box which held the two 6-inch pipe bombs that would inevitably go off and kill him. He was only able to get 8,702 dollars, which upset him, telling the teller that he needed the quarter of a million. She told him that she couldn’t get him that much, to which he informed her that the collar would go off in twenty-two minutes. Saying he’d come back at three in order to get the rest of the money, he left PNC Bank, still sucking on the Dum-Dum he acquired.

Still on Peach Street, a quarter of a mile from the PNC Bank that Wells had just robbed, he was pulled over by PA state police. Whilst he was being handcuffed, he informed police about the bomb fixed around his neck. One of the state officers cut off the t-shirt he had, revealing the camera-sized box strapped to him. He was promptly ordered to the ground, to back away, as even if the bomb was fake (which, as we’ll see later, it wasn’t), they had to operate as if the bomb was real. Positioned behind their cop cars, guns aimed at Wells, they waited anxiously for the arrival of the bomb squad, who was stuck in traffic. However, they’d arrive three minutes too late to the scene, as forty-six minutes after the bank teller had called 911, the bomb detonated.

Being reported all across the U.S and even beyond, the case of Brian Wells shocked the world. Nobody expected this peaceful pizza delivery man to die so suddenly. I won’t bore with the years upon years they spent investigating, but eventually, one of the coconspirators was lead into a deal to gain immunity in the case. The man, named Kenneth (Ken) E. Barnes, was an acquaintance of Wells, and he spilled the beans on the entire plan (which I’ll go over as briefly as I can, the details are way too strenuous.) that Wells was actually in on it; shocker. This is all coming from the testimony of Barnes given to the FBI, so take what I say here with a grain of salt. The plan involved Barnes, Wells, one of Wells coworkers (who died of an apparent overdose a few days after the robbery), Jessica Hoopsick (not a major player), a woman named Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and her ex, William (Bill) Rothstein. The entire robbery was, according to Barnes, planned by Armstrong. Her father had left her no inheritance, and that angered her. Needing the quarter million, she enlisted the help of Rothstein, who had previously assisted her in the hiding of her ex-boyfriend James Roden’s body. Wells was more or less a reluctant follower in this case, as while he was waiting to be paid for the pizzas, Barnes and Armstrong placed the collar on him. An important detail in this point of the timeline is that Wells didn’t know that the bomb was real. In fact, Ken and Marjorie were parked in a car right across the street from PNC Bank, passing binoculars to one another as they awaited Wells’ return.

The police were very quick to associate Bill and Marjorie with the crime, as Bill held the capabilities to manufacture the bomb and shotgun-cane that Wells had on him whenever he entered the bank. Barnes testified that he was asked to help with the collar’s creation, but Rothstein took over the project for the most part. Not only that, but one of Marjorie’s inmates at the asylum she was sent to did state that she said something about “measuring Wells for the collar,” essentially slapping the role of “mastermind” onto her. I 100% agree with this; she has the motive, after all. Armstrong had a bone to pick with PNC Bank, as her father was the one who frequented it, and many believe that she wanted him dead (I also believe this, personally). She had the most association with the rest of the party (aside from Wells).

Speaking of the sentencing, let’s get into that, specifically the sentencing of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Due to the death of Wells, and the fact that Barnes confirmed that he was (unwillingly, as he didn’t know that the bomb was real) part of the plan, there were some legal rules that prevented most of them from being prosecuted. Marjorie, on the other hand, had received life plus thirty years for her involvement in the crime. While she didn’t indirectly kill Wells herself, an argument which is made for just how harsh her sentence seems on the outside, I believe that the sentencing was justified. Remember James Roden? One of Marjorie’s ex boyfriends? The court sure did, as Armstrong was previously indicted for his murder. She had to have murdered at least 2 of her ex-boyfriends, Roden included. The added thirty years to her life sentence, which seems a little bit confusing, makes sense. There’s two possibilities with a life sentence, possibility of parole or without possibility of parole. Essentially, by adding those thirty years, the court is damning her to jail, which is where Marjorie passed away on April 4th, 2017.

Stemming from one woman’s desire to get back at the institution who partnered with the man she hated most, costing the life of an innocent man who just wanted to be paid for a pizza delivery, the tale of the Collar-Bomb Heist is one of explosive proportions. While we’ll never fully get to know what led up to that August day, what we can say for certain is that this case shook Pennsylvania to its core, as we’d never expect something like this to happen in our own backyard. This has been Tea Time with a Side of Crime, where Pennsylvania’s most gruesome tales are served with a complementary cup of tea. Thanks for reading.