The Collar Bomb Heist

I recently finished reading a book called "Criminal Minds" that intertwined the stories told on the television show with true crime stories or simply told the stories of the real criminal mentioned on the show.  If you are into the show it is a very good read.  Many of the stories, such as those about Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and others I already knew but there were some I had not heard about. This is one of them.  

On August 28, 2003, around 2:30 pm,  Brian Wells entered a bank in Erie Pennsylvania.  He had a bomb around his neck and was using something that looked like a cane but turned out to be an altered shotgun.  He handed the teller a few notes, one demanding $250,000 (this is the amount I found most often in my research).  He only obtained just under $9,000. He was apprehended in a nearby parking lot by the police.  He had a note on him that gave him several tasks to do, including the robbery, before the bomb would be detonated.  Brian pleaded with the police to disarm the bomb.  Apparently at first the police did not believe the bomb to be real.  Once they determined that it was, they cleared the area but the bomb squad was not called for another thirty minutes.  At 3:18 pm, three minutes before the bomb squad arrived at the scene the bomb detonated and Brian Wells was killed. 

The FBI was obviously involved in the very beginning due to the federal crime of bank robbery and they soon started investigating.  It took several years but in July of 2007 they claimed to have solved the crime. That claim has been in dispute ever since. So according the FBI, this is what happened:

On August 28, 2003 Brian Wells was preparing to leave his job as a pizza delivery man for Mama Mia Pizzeria when a delivery call came in. He had agreed to stay and deliver the pizza on his way home, in his own car and then simply leave after.  It was discovered later that the address given was on a dirt road where no actual house resided but was occupied by a television tower.  According to the FBI, Brian knew this already as this was a planned job and that at the appointed meeting place he was meeting up with Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, Kenneth Barnes, Floyd Stockton and William Rothstein.  Rothstein's home was next door to the tower.  According to the FBI Brian Wells had been working on this plan with the others but until he showed up that day he believed that the bomb that would be put around his neck was fake.  When he discovered that it was in fact a real bomb and that he had been double crossed he began to fight but was eventually forced to have the bomb placed on him.  He was then given several tasks to complete, the first being the bank robbery.  According to the police despite the notes giving him clues to be able to disarm the bomb, this would not have been possible and it appeared the conspirators had intended on Wells' death the entire time.  

Where did they get this information and come to this conclusion? Some came from the co-conspirators while some of it came from their own theories and ideas.  So let's take it piece by piece....

About a month after the bombing police were contacted by William Rothstein.  He directs them to his home and says that the body of James Roden was in his freezer.  He said that Roden was the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend of his, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and that she had killed Roden and asked him to help hide the body.  He claimed that this had bothered him for the five weeks he had held the body and that he had even contemplated suicide and had actually written a suicide note in the days prior.  Police found this note and found it odd that at the beginning, without prompting, it claimed to not be related to the Wells case.  Of course Rothstein's home had been search and Diehl-Armstrong was brought in.

Diehl-Armstrong was something of a celebrity in the town, and not for good reason.  In 1984 she was charged with the shooting death of another boyfriend, Robert Thomas.  He had been shot six times in a case in which Diehl-Armstrong claimed was self defense.  Several times she was deemed not competent for trial and when she finally was ready she was acquitted.  Four years later her husband, Richard Armstrong died from a brain hemorrhage.  His death was ruled accidental but there always seemed to be questions.  Now she was accused of murdering yet another boyfriend.  She eventually received a sentence of 7-20 years for Roden's murder, being paroled on those charges in November of 2014 (although not out of jail due to the Wells case).  Diehl-Armstrong has claimed that she murdered Roden because he was abusive while authorities say he was murdered because he was threatening to expose the truth about the bombing investigation.

Now, there can be little argument that Diehl-Armstrong was mentally ill.  She has been diagnosed with many things dating back long before the bombing case.  She was described as having delusional ideas and thoughts... as well as a talker.  She simply could not shut up.  But, that does not mean that just because she talked her accusations were true or logical and in my opinion it seems that federal authorities believed the parts they wanted to believe from her stories and dismissed those they did not.  Eventually she began talking and implicated Rothstein as being the mastermind behind the bombing plot and stated that Wells was also involved.  Another tip led authorities to Kenneth Barnes, who was already serving time on unrelated drug charges.  When it came to the issue of Wells being involved, Barnes agreed. One thing that they differed on was that Barnes claimed that the heist was created in order to gain enough money for Diehl-Armstrong to pay him (Barnes) to murder her father because she claimed he was squandering money that would end up being her inheritance.  It seems that Federal investigators tended to take Barnes' theory as being more true despite evidence that Rothstein had obviously made the bomb with equipment they had found, that they themselves had conducted the scavenger hunt from the notes Wells had and had determined there was no way he would have finished the tasks before the bomb went off hence not likely getting any monies back to them.  They also seemed to contradict themselves by saying there were many motives behind this, the least of which being money, yet still claiming the Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind behind it.  All of this was their theory despite the common knowledge that Diehl-Armstrong was not a likely candidate to be able to come up with such an elaborate plan.  

When it came to Wells involvement they now had two people saying he was involved.  Although, even though she claimed Wells was involved Diehl-Armstrong also claimed that she had never met Wells and only knew of his involvement after he died.  By the time that this happened Rothstein had died from cancer so he was never truly charged or it even appears questioned fully about this case and while the other conspirator, Floyd Stockton was questioned and given immunity to testify against Barnes and Diehl-Armstrong (although he then was required to) I was unable to find anything that stated that he claimed anything about Wells being involved.  

So in July of 2007 prosecutors claimed they had solved the case and apparently for the first time announced their belief that Brian Wells had been involved in the planning. Wells' family was outraged at this claim.  According to Barnes' statement, yes Wells was in on the planning but that it was not until it was time to put the bomb around his neck that he realized that it was an actual bomb.  Barnes claims that Wells resisted and that he had fired off a shot to show Wells he was serious and that he had no choice but to put the bomb around his neck.  Now, technically this is the only real statement or "evidence" that Wells was a willing participant.  However, authorities state that someone was nearby and testified that they heard a gun shot around the time that Barnes claims to have shot and that seemed to be all the collaboration they needed.  

Authorities claim that Wells was dating a drug addict prostitute at the time and that he too needed money as he had come into debt helping the girlfriend and her habit.  Granted I was not present at the trial of Diehl-Armstrong where I would assume some of this (although irrelevant to her case technically) would have come into evidence so I am unsure where this information came from, or if it is even credible.  Regardless, I found no evidence that Wells had ever had any sort of legal trouble in his past and he had been a stellar employee for over ten years.  There did seem to be evidence that appears that it is likely Wells was possibly slight below in average intelligence and quite possibly could be coerced fairly easily, but again that is just the impression that I have been given of him.    Either way, I found nothing that truly would have shown him to have a personality or the behavior to have been involved in such a scheme.  Throughout my research I found one statement where someone in authority indicated that if you sat through Diehl-Armstrong's trial and heard the evidence there would be no doubt that Wells was involved but it was not elaborated on and apparently it was not so clear cut as many, besides his family, do not believe he was involved, including former investigators.   It appears that they came to this conclusion simply based on Barnes statement and the fact that a supposed witness heard a gun shot at the time Barnes said he gave a warning shot to Wells.  For me, that simply is not enough. Maybe a witness did hear a shot around the time that Barnes says he fired a shot.  That does not mean that Wells was in on the plot in any way what so ever in the beginning and that the shot fired was because he was just then resisting going through with the plot.  Who is to say that Wells was never involved in the plot and simply delivered pizza to the place in which they were given and he was not forced at that moment to become involved in something that he had no part of? The only word they have of his involvement comes from people who already had major issues with law enforcement in the past and were trying to get themselves out of even more trouble.  Even Floyd Stockton,  who again I found nothing saying he specifically stated Wells was involved, had a warrant for his arrest in another state at the time of this incident.  Speaking of Stockton, of course Wells' family was outraged that he was given a deal for immunity to begin with, and then he did not testify because the authorities said he was "ill."  I find this highly suspicious in itself also because from what I found it seems that he too implicated William Rothstein as being the real mastermind behind the plot, stating that Rothstein had made the bomb and had been the one to place it around Brian Wells' neck.  This did not seem to go with the prosecution theory that Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind and it makes one wonder if Stockton did not testify for this specific reason.  

In the end Barnes pleaded guilty and received a 45 year sentence although it was later reduced to 20 years for cooperating in the prosecution of Diehl-Armstrong.  Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, after first being found incompetent to stand trial, went to trial in October of 2010.  She received life plus 30 years for her role in the "Collar Bomb Heist" on charges of bank robbery, conspiracy to commit bank robbery and the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.  She had already gotten 20 years for the 3rd degree murder of James Roden.  Even her lawyer claimed that she was mentally ill and had "difficulty telling the truth."  In November of 2014 she was technically paroled for the murder of James Roden but all that simply amounted to was being transferred from a state prison to a federal one to finish her sentence in the bank scheme.  

Despite even by their own admissions that although Brian Wells was supposedly in on the original planning but was later forced to comply when he realized that the bomb was real, as well as all the evidence that was produced showing not only was it pre-meditated but that there was no way that Wells would have ever been able to finish the tasks given to him in the notes and that his death was certain, no one was ever charged with his death.

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