Real Heist Stories: The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist

Deathliest Heist in All America?

It can be a bit overwhelming to count or go over all the heists that happen worldwide every year, and as much as we want to say that our country is safe, the United States is quite a place where way too many take place along with other crimes. 

Thus, whenever we decide to review a new crime or learn a bit more about certain heists, our research usually leads us to one that took place in this nation. 

Sadly, it isn’t a secret that the USA is quite infamous for some of the biggest heists in history, and many of them have been quite deathly in terms of victims and collateral lives. 

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist is one of those that has made history over the years, and people not only in the country but also internationally, remember without fail when it comes to talking about some of the most relevant ones. 

For us, this heist is pretty interesting in how everything was put together, but, of course, we would have preferred it if it didn’t happen a million times over the first. 

To help you learn about this infamous event and get facts straight, we will be sharing everything you must know about it. 

When It Started: August 23th, 2003

Although this bizarre heist has been covered by some T.V. shows and series over the last few years, it isn’t particularly new. 

Instead, it takes us back to the early years of the century when things were a bit more relaxed than usual. 

However, just like with other heists and stories, it can be a bit hard for us to know where to start with it so that we will get things straight from the previous date, in specific. 

Everything starts in Mama Mia’s Pizza, located at 5154 Peach Street, and a phone call was made to the local on August 28, 2003. 

Tony Ditmo is Mama Mia’s owner and takes orders for two large pepperoni and sausage pizzas from this call. Still, Tony is unable to understand the customer’s explanation for the address where they need to be delivered, so he gives the phone to Brian Wells, his employee. 

Wells, who was 46 years old, 5’3″, and was balding on the top, will play an important role in this heist. 

Wells locates the address at 8631 Peach St. and drives south on Peach St. for what appears to be a regular delivery. However, two hours later, Brian Wells is live on T.V. for robbing an ATM. 

Quite bizarre so far, right? 

When on T.V., you can see Wells in the parking lot at Eyeglass World, where he is handcuffed and surrounded by state troopers while a bomb is tied to his neck. 

Wells tells police that the bomb was attached to him by a group of black men who had ordered him to rob the bank if he didn’t want to die. 

After trying to convey his pain for 30 minutes to the troopers and other members of the nation’s security, Wells complains about them not doing anything to help him get the collar bomb removed from his neck as he claims it’s going to go off and he didn’t have much time. 

Trying to convince the police, he mentions if they even called his boss to clarify, but the collar starts to emit a loud and rapid beeping sound at 3:08 PM. 

Soon after, the bomb detonated, and the pizza deliverer fell backward while lying on the pavement where he met his death, leaving everyone around him confused. 

Sadly, the bomb squad arrived quite late, and they reached the scene two minutes after his death.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #2 -

So far, the police and authorities had no idea of what happened, and with the only suspect’s death, was he really a suspect or just a victim? 

The detectives were guessing that Colombian drug lords were involved in this crime as they are known to have used collar bombs in turf wars. 

This makes the unusual use of one in Erie (Pennsylvania, where the heist took place) even more bizarre. 

Police also found pages of instructions that instructed Wells on how to rob a bank and remove his explosive collar. These notes were addressed to the “bomb hostage.” 

The instructions were handwritten and illustrated. Although the case appeared to be straightforward, more details revealed that Wells might not have been an innocent victim, later on, leading everyone to even more confusion in future investigations. 

Where They Stand: Learning About Brian Wells 

For the authorities to have better knowledge about what just happened, they needed to search evidence and look into the background of who seemed like the victim at the moment. 

The investigation about Wells took the police to a new person, Linda Payne. 

Linda Payne, Wells’ neighbor, and landlady says that Wells was a regular Erie resident. And stated that he liked helping people. He used to get up every morning to get breakfast at McDonald’s or someplace else; then, he would go home to read until it was time for him to go to work. 

She described him as someone very shy, and he didn’t want to attract any attention either and even said, in her own words, “He was the ideal tenant.”

He only lived with three cats, which also left the authorities without any particular connection to family members or other people. 

All the people who knew the man told the police that Mama Mia’s Pizzeria was his only employer and was very good at work as he had only missed one call from work in the ten years he was employed there, which was due to the loss of one of his cats. 

This led many people to believe he wasn’t related to the robbery directly but rather the victim he seemed once he died.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #3 -

Rebuilding the Scene: How the Robbery Took Place

Going back to the crime, the phone call that seemly started it all was made at 1:47 PM. Wells agreed to accept the delivery, even though it was near the end of his shift. 

According to the investigation, he would have arrived at 8631 Peach Street around 2 PM But after more search, it was discovered that the delivery site was not a house. Still, a tower site for T.V. transmissions in a wooded area just off Peach Street, and the only way to reach it was via a dirt road. 

They swept the area and found footprints that were identical to Wells’ shoes and the tracks of his Geo metro, but there were no clues in the area as to his motivations or how he got there. 

However, the police could determine that he already had the collar bomb around his neck during his time in the place, which means he entered the PNC Bank at 2:20 PM wearing it. 

The bank was located about two miles away up Peach Street, and Wells was wearing a T-shirt with the word “Guess” across his chest and is it a shirt his relative claimed was not his.

Based on the investigation, Wells had specific instructions from the unknown criminals to enter the bank quietly with the weapon he was given and avoid panicking the tellers or customers in it. He only had to use the weapon if someone refused to cooperate or tried to leave the place. 

Jon Sekel, who was a witness to the armed bank robbery, saw Wells enter the bank wearing a disguised cane and a shoebox underneath his shirt. At this point, the bomb was already around Wells’ neck, as previously mentioned. 

Wells handed a white envelope to a bank teller and spoke low. Wells wrote to the bank teller, “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill the bag with $250.000. You have only 15 minutes.” 

To make things hasty, Well lifted his shirt to show the bomb that was also mentioned on the note, but the teller shouted “Audrey!” as it was the code for a robbery. 

A teller told a customer to get out, and soon a crowd began to walk out of the banks quietly and without any suspects as the entire team in the bank was alarmed. 

Wells was told by the teller that there was no way into the vault and that he could only give $8.702 at the moment. 

Sekel, one of the witnesses, stated that even when they passed right past him, he didn’t blink an eye. He added that Wells did not appear cocky or scared, but he was rather calm in that situation.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #4 -

Following the money and the situation, Wells, as instructed, left a sealed letter for the police and his driver’s license with the teller. Witnessing the situation, a woman with a cell telephone called 911, and Wells left the bank three minutes after while he was enjoying a Dum Dum he had taken from the counter.

Before continuing with the rest of the situation, the police would find several pages of instructions in Wells’s car that followed what was next in the robbery. 

The first note stated, “Exit the bank with the money and go to McDonald’s restaurant. 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 attached to it. It contains your next instructions.”

After taking it, Wells was directed to Peach Street by a two-page note. This note instructed him to walk several miles to a wooded area.

State troopers stopped Wells shortly after and handcuffed him while he explained about the bomb. 

He was left on the ground by the troopers, who shouted for help after visually verifying that the device was around his neck and the bomb squad. 

The rest of the event is mentioned above and how everything led to his death.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #5 -

Finding Suspects – Is It “Us” or Only a “He/She”?

With all the details about the heist so far, we know it can be hard to follow, but we can summarize it as a pizza delivery man who went to the wrong place and was caught behind a conspiracy. 

However, is this really true? We will need to dive into the actual police investigation after the previous evidence mentioned in the event is found.

First, the police noticed that Wells was directed by notes that threatened him to follow the instructions as it was the only way to remove the bomb. Otherwise, he would just die. 

Wells was warned that sentries would monitor him and that if anyone or anything interfered, the collar bomb would be detonated. 

Thus, Wells had to follow the instructions and basically look for keys, clues, and instructions around the city so he would eventually have the combination to liberate himself. 

However, this seems to be based on the fact that Brian Wells never had a chance. The plot assumed Wells would be able to rob the $250.000 from the bank and drive around in a Geo metro equipped with a collar bomb. It didn’t make any sense. 

Hours after Wells’ death, cops attempted to complete the hunt by themselves. After bouncing from one clue to another, the final clue location was found empty. 

The police intervened, and it seemed like the person who had executed this plan had stopped it. It is important to note that the instructions included words such as “we” or “us,” which makes it appear that many conspirators and investigators had doubts if it was actually more than one involved. 

So, with these events, what was next? The theories for the crime.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #6 -

Among all the suspects and proofs, William A. Rothstein became the first suspect for the police. 

William was a hoarder who wore dungarees and chest pouches that had pens and notebooks. 

He was very capable as he was a polyglot and an engineer who also teaches introductory mechanics at a high school. 

But what led the police to him? Another very bizarre incident. 

Less than 30 days after the main incident, the police received a call from William Rothstein that stated that at 8645 Peach Street, in the garage, there was a frozen body in a freezer. 

The interesting part is that this address corresponded to his own house. So, what does he have to say about having a body there? He claimed to have stored it for a friend. 

This friend was a woman named Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and the body found was James Roden, who Marjorie, his then-girlfriend, killed. 

Rothstein was connected to her as he was her previous partner and were engaged two times, so he agreed to cover her until she sent some instructions about grinding the rest of the body that was there for almost six weeks considering that the murder occurred on August 13 and this was six weeks before he reported it. 

He was taken into custody within hours. For immunity, he agreed to testify against Marjorie. 

According to him, he felt extremely guilty and was contemplating suicide at one time. A suicide note was found in his home by police. 

However, this note made him look quite suspicious, and this is when the connection with our collar bomb heist starts. 

The note began with “this has nothing to do with the Wells case.” For the police, this was extremely weird considering the case was, at first sight, not related to the robbery at all. 

Besides, the two men shared a common link that was nothing more but a coincidence at the time. 

Rothstein’s house was the closest to Brian Wells’s last pizza delivery in the woods as his home was only five minutes away. 

The phone call that placed the order for pizzas was traced back to a Shell garage on 8228 Peach Street. 

Lorraine Blodgett was the manager at the Shell garage’s convenience store. She stated that Rothstein would frequently come in, and he’d often come in to purchase newspapers or cookies. He would sit outside and read the newspaper while eating brunch in his car and often used the payphone.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #7 -

Police raided Rothstein’s home and found power tools and welders. According to NPR, Rothstein’s collar consisted of a triple-banded collar made from metal with four keyholes, a combination lock with three digits, and an iron box that contained two six-inch pipe bombs containing double-base smokeless powder. 

The collar was hinged and swung around Wells’ neck like a handcuff. The device was made with professional tools, according to investigators. 

A Pennsylvania grand jury found that Rothstein had disposed of over 1,000 pounds worth of evidence in a local landfill. Rothstein was suspected of building the bomb, but he wasn’t the man to be blamed for the cruel operation yet. 

More than One: Marjorie & Other People’s Role

Following the investigation, the police had to move with Marjorie. 

Marjorie was in a mess with dog feces and clothes when police arrived at her home to the point of them having to use hazard suits. 

During this time, Marjorie had an infamous reputation in Erie, and she had been a victim of crime before. 

In 1984, she confessed to having killed Robert Thomas, her boyfriend, but she was not convicted because she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. 

Her first husband hanged himself, and her second husband died from a head injury sustained while hitting his head on a coffee table at home, which made everything much more suspicious. 

Her high school classmates said that she was well-known for her intelligence, but that was only connected to madness over the years. 

Bipolar disorder, paranoia, and narcissism were just a few of the mental disorders she suffered from as well. 

She seemed to be unable to stop her rapid-fire speech and mood swings. Marjorie was interviewed by the local D.A. Brad Faulk, who was also a student with Marjorie at school; he said that Marjorie was one of those people that thinks that she’s smarter, slicker, and brighter than everyone else, who believed she would win despite her connections with any matter, in this case, crimes. 

Also, it seemed that she was the kind of person who would make a bank heist more difficult than it should be, and she appeared to be the type of person who would love to brag about her brilliant plan. 

Based on behavioral analysis, the FBI created a profile for the collar bomber, which revealed that the person was a hoarder who is comfortable using power tools and shop machines. 

The collar bomber was also able to use these tools themselves and was proud of their creations that served dual purposes; they had access to a bomb, a cane, and a shotgun. 

In the end, the profile was a mix of both suspects so far as it was also added that the bomber was both violent and had superiority complexes. 

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #8 -

The Final Suspects & Unveiling the Truth

This heist takes a lot of work, and you can notice how many parts we have covered so far. 

As much as we would like to say the suspects’ list ends with the last two, it isn’t quite right. 

Instead, Kenneth Barnes joins it as the third suspect. In 2005, a witness claimed he was the one involved. 

Kenneth was first a T.V. reporter who turned into a crack dealer, which made him a possible suspect that the police didn’t quite understand yet. 

Jessica Hoopsick, a 27-year-old sex worker, claimed she had met Brian Wells in 2007 at Kenneth Barnes’ home. 

Hoopsick had left Brian an answering machine message and was a link between Brain Wells and Diehl-Armstrong. 

At the time, Kenneth was the one who supplied Hoopsick with drugs, and the latter knew he used to go fishing with Marjorie. 

When Barnes was interrogated, he spoke too freely about the collar bomb plot, but his brother-in-law turned him in while Barnes was already being held for unrelated drug offenses. 

Barnes and Diehl Armstrong were also seen driving wrongly on the highway close to one of the search sites, and the first, after understanding where he was standing, stated that he would be willing to exchange information in exchange for a shorter sentence.

Barnes confirmed that Diehl Armstrong was the mastermind. He said that Marjorie needed the money to pay Barnes to murder her father. 

She believed he was wasting his fortune, which was money she was expected to inherit. Barnes claimed that he was kept unaware of most aspects of the plan. 

He had confirmed much of the FBI’s previous information, which led the investigators to save some time trying to move on with others.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #9 -

While Marjorie was being held for James Roden’s murder, the FBI met with her.

During this time, she said she would tell them all if they transferred her from Muncy to Cambridge Springs, a lesser security prison near Erie.

During this negotiation, she claimed to the FBI that she was not involved in the collar bomb plot. She did, however, supply the kitchen timers for the bomb and was only a mile from the bank robbery. 

She was willing to show the agents where she was that day as part of the information supplied. They took her for a drive around the city, and all the places she pointed were connected to the crime. 

Diehl-Armstrong told and confessed to the FBI that she went to Shell Station with her Jeep and purchased 10 dollars worth of gasoline the day of Brian’s death and that Rothstein and Barnes were also there. 

Rothstein had called from the payphone during this time, so the connection with the call to the pizzeria was starting to have more sense. 

Then she claimed that she would not divulge any further information unless she was granted immunity. However, she had already disclosed too much of it to the police and was informed that the FBI had sufficient information to indict her. 

However, as a way to free her from this, Rothstein was alleged to have planned the entire thing and, more importantly, that Wells was a part of the heist.

This takes us to Brain Wells as the fourth suspect. 

The calm demeanor Wells displayed during the robbery was already a starting point for the police to consider him part of it. 

Also, no evidence could confirm the allegations of him being attacked by black men with guns or any weapons, as he mentioned before dying. 

The police, as a result, we’re unable to determine whether Wells was a conspirator in his death, but they were almost certain of it at the same time.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #10 -

Mary Beth Buchanan, the district attorney, stated in 2007 that Brain Wells, Rothstein, Barnes, and Diehl Armstrong were all involved in the plot.

The D.A. believes that Barnes and Diehl-Armstrong had intended to take the money from Brian immediately after he robbed it. However, they fled when they saw the cops and left Brian to death. 

D.A. was unable to locate Wells because he allegedly didn’t have a chance during his doomed scavenger hunting. 

Buchanan believes Brain Wells was involved in the operation and was given a collar bomb as an alibi. The collar would ensure that Brian would follow the plan and hand over the money. If things did not go according to plan, he wouldn’t be a problem for the other suspects. 

Kenneth Barnes claimed that Wells had been talking about the robbery for about a month before it took place. According to the FBI affidavit, another witness confirmed this. 

D.A. Buchanan declared the investigation closed in July 2007 and stated that Diehl Armstrong was being charged with the crime. Based on over a thousand interviews over four years, the indictment stated that Rothstein and Wells were conspirators. 

Closure: The Money & Sentences

Due to the murder of his ex-boyfriend, Marjorie was sentenced to life in prison, but 30 years were added due to her role in the Bizarre Collar Bomb heist

However, after entering prison, Diehl-Armstrong died in 2017 of natural causes. 

Meanwhile, Kenneth Barnes was sentenced in 2008 for taking part in the armed robbery and carrying a firearm. 

He was given 45 years in prison which were reduced to 20 after cooperating with the authorities and declaring himself guilty. 

In this case, William was the lucky one as he died of terminal cancer in 2004 before he was able to be convicted. 

He never testified nor gave enough information to the police to help them with the investigation or clear all doubts. 

And in the end, we have Wells and how he was considered part of the team but then discarded by the rest of the conspirators as things didn’t seem to go well. 

Wells’ family claims he was innocent and continues to mention “how he would commit armed bank robbery?”

Finally, the $8k+ stolen from the bank were returned after the investigation as they were with Wells when he died, and no other goods or money were considered in this case.

The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist #11 -

5 Crucial Facts About The Bizarre Collar Bomb Heist

  • In 2018, Jessica Hoopsick admitted to being involved in the plot and that he set up Wells as she considered him a pushover and easy target. With her statement, she kind of cleared Brian’s involvement in the crime. 
  • Since the incident took place less than two years after the September 11 attacks, terrorism was considered related to the case. 
  • A Netflix documentary called “Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist” focuses on the case. 
  • The heist became known as “bizarre,” considering all the events and confusion during the investigation and how things developed in the end. 
  • It is one of the most infamous heists in America due to the attention it attracted and all the investigation.

Here’s Our #1 Recommended Online Business Model:

1 - local lead gen vs other online business models - blog

Interested in starting an online business to build passive income? Check out the local lead gen business model. Click here to learn more.

Written by Dame Cash

Oscar de la Renta #1 -

Luxury Fashion Brand Report: Oscar de la Renta

Is Real Estate Investing Worth It #1 -

Is Real Estate Investing Worth It?