Brian Douglas Wells
|Brian Douglas Wells|
Brian Douglas Wells
|Born||Brian Douglas Wells
November 15, 1956
|Died||August 28, 2003
|Cause of death||Explosive device collared around neck|
|Occupation||Pizza delivery man|
Brian Douglas Wells (November 15, 1956 – August 28, 2003) was an American pizza delivery man who was killed by a time bomb fastened to his neck, purportedly under coercion from the maker of the bomb. After he was apprehended by the police for robbing a bank, the bomb exploded. The bizarre affair was subject to much attention in the mass media.
In a July 2007 indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Wells had been involved in the planning of the botched crime. Two of his alleged conspirators, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bank robbery, conspiracy, and weapons charges. 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, and witnesses confirmed hearing a gunshot, in order to force Wells' compliance. 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 November 1, 2010, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was found guilty of participating in the crime, and was sentenced to life plus 30 years on February 28, 2011.
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, 2003, Wells received a call to deliver two pizzas to an address a few miles from the pizzeria. It was later found that the address was that of 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; he allegedly had been told the bomb was going to be fake and he was to claim that three black men forced the bomb on him and he was to tell police he was a hostage.
At the television tower, Wells, for the first time, 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 must have been attached. They gave him a sophisticated home-made shotgun, which looked like an oddly shaped cane, and told him to use it if he found trouble 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, otherwise he would be killed.
At first, the police made no attempt to disarm the device. The bomb squad was finally called at 3:04 PM, at least 30 minutes after the first 9-1-1 call. At 3:18 PM, the bomb detonated, blasting a fist-sized hole in Wells' chest just three minutes before the bomb squad arrived, killing him.. It is now believed that Wells was killed by Diehl-Armstrong and her conspirators to reduce witnesses against herself and others. The event was also broadcast on television and subsequently the footage 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 traveled the route on the note and couldn't complete it in the time the note allocated to Wells.
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 Diehl-Armstrong could get an inheritance, authorities said. However, Wells had stolen only $8,702, far from the $125,000 needed for the killing. Furthermore, the inheritance Diehl-Armstrong coveted was largely spent.
On February 16, 2007, the Associated Press reported that "the case has been solved and indictments are expected, likely by next month." A federal grand jury in Erie, PA was still hearing evidence in the case as of May 13, 2007, according to the Erie Times-News. According to the paper, three suspects were identified as perpetrators of the plot.
On July 10, 2007, charges were filed against two individuals for crimes related to the robbery and death. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong (who was imprisoned on an unrelated murder charge at the time) was charged with three criminal acts: bank robbery, conspiracy to commit bank robbery and felony use of a firearm in connection with a crime. Kenneth Barnes (who was imprisoned on unrelated drug charges at the time) was also charged without disclosure of the specific crimes.
On July 11, 2007, the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI announced that Brian Douglas Wells had been named as a conspirator because of his participation in the execution of the robbery. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan argued that Wells' action of actually robbing the bank made him a conspirator in the crime. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes had been charged with felonies in the case. A third person in the case, Floyd Stockton, 60, was given immunity in a deal with prosecutors to testify against Barnes and Diehl-Armstrong. Despite naming Wells as a conspirator, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said she couldn't comment on what his motive might have been. Rothstein was also named as a conspirator, but was not charged, having died of lymphoma in 2004.
On July 29, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Sean J. McLaughlin made an initial finding that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was mentally incompetent to stand trial for the bombing due to bipolar disorder, indicating that this ruling would be reviewed after Diehl-Armstrong had received a period of treatment in a mental hospital. She was then transferred for treatment in a federal prison mental health facility in Texas.
On September 3, 2008, Kenneth Barnes pleaded guilty to conspiring to rob a bank and to aiding and abetting. On December 3, 2008 Kenneth Barnes was sentenced to 45 years in prison by a Federal judge in Erie for his role in the crime.
On February 24, 2009, Judge McLaughlin scheduled a hearing for March 11, 2009, to determine if Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was now competent to stand trial. Judge McLaughlin ruled Diehl-Armstrong incompetent to stand trial in July 2008. On September 9, 2009, the judge determined that she was indeed competent to stand trial. As of October, 2010, the trial of Diehl-Armstrong was under way in Erie, Pennsylvania and she had taken the stand to testify on her own behalf as part of her defense.
On November 1, 2010, Diehl-Armstrong was convicted of armed bank robbery, conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, and of using a destructive device in a crime. She was sentenced to life plus 30 years on February 28, 2011. In November 2012 the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed her conviction. In January 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court denied her petition for certiorari, declining to hear her case.
The incident and the subsequent investigation made the national media several times as the case continued to develop. When the story first broke, many wrongly believed the incident to be terrorism related. America's Most Wanted featured the story three times with newly released evidence in hopes officials could gather new clues behind the puzzling case. Anderson Cooper 360° highlighted the story as one of the FBI's most mysterious cases. Wells was also featured on Fox News Channel's In the Line Up profiling evidence regarding new suspects and new details in the case.
The 99 Most Bizarre: Crimes included the incident in its feature "Most Bizarre". A collection of news articles that reported developments in the Brian Wells story was analyzed in a scientific study of information novelty.
The basic synopsis of this man's story is also very similar to the film 30 Minutes or Less, where a pizza delivery boy is called to deliver pizzas to a remote part of town. Two men kidnap the delivery boy and strap a bomb to his chest, informing him that he must rob a bank in order to receive a code to deactivate the bomb. The kidnappers were hoping to use the bank money to pay a hitman to kill the father of one kidnapper, in order to receive a large inheritance. Despite the similarities to the case, the cast and filmmakers claimed to have had no prior knowledge of the incident, although the screenwriters admitted to being "vaguely aware" of it.
An episode of the show 1000 Ways to Die features the death of a bomb-wearing robber under the same circumstances in the segment titled "Withdrawn" (although the robber in the show is depicted as acting solely on his own, with the bomb detonation being accidentally caused by a distant car key fob activated by someone else).
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- U.S. v. Diehl-Armstrong, no. 11-1601 (3rd Cir. Sep. 25, 2012)
- Diehl-Armstrong v. U.S, no. 12-7609, (docket). Retrieved January 17, 2013.
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- The 30 Strangest Deaths in History
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- "Brian Wells". Brianwells.net. Retrieved 2006-09-05. Website created by Brian's brother; contains reproductions of the nine page letter, along with photos of the cane gun and collar bomb.
- "Brian Wells". Malefactor's Register. Retrieved 2006-09-05.
- Collarbomber FBI Profile August 27, 2004 press release from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania FBI website.
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