ERIE, Pa. – A week after a bomb killed a pizza deliveryman who told police he had been forced to rob a bank, an FBI (search) spokesman said Thursday the bizarre case won't be solved quickly and cautioned the public to patient with the pace of the investigation.
Federal, state and local law enforcement continued to chase down leads into the death of Brian Douglas Wells (search), an unassuming, 46-year-old deliveryman who authorities say robbed a bank outside Erie (search) before a bomb clasped to his chest by a locking metal collar exploded, killing him last Thursday afternoon.
Investigators were still trying to determine whether Wells was a willing participant in the robbery or whether, as he told police officers, someone had put the bomb on him and forced him to rob the bank.
On Thursday, authorities reversed an earlier decision to hold a news conference, at which they were considering releasing information about a second weapon found with Wells and an extensive note with instructions both for him and for bank employees that was apparently used during the robbery.
FBI agent Bill Crowley, who is acting as a spokesman for the investigation in northwestern Pennsylvania, said officials decided it was not worth the time it would take to release the information, even though he said a previous decision to release photos of the heavy metal collar and lock from which the bomb hung over Wells' chest has paid off with several leads.
"We're satisfied with how it is going," said Crowley, who declined to divulge any possible leads.
He said agents are still working on analyzing the note and developing profiles of Wells or anyone else who may have been involved. The second weapon has been described as a "sort of gun" by one FBI official, but authorities refused to discuss the weapon or its design Thursday.
So far, said Erie County Chief Deputy Coroner Korac Timon, the most important piece of evidence recovered from the blast that killed Wells appears to be the collar locked around his neck. The FBI posted photographs of it on the bureau's Web site Tuesday, hoping that someone would recognize it.
According to manufacturers in the Erie area, the person who fashioned the collar could have done so with little more than limited experience in metalworking or welding.
"It could have been just a guy fooling around with metalworkings," said Bob Heinlein, president and owner of H&H Machined Products Inc. in Erie. Heinlein said the collar could have been welded from pieces of metal and didn't require much expertise to put together.
Investigators won't say whether they believe the device was made locally in this region, which has a rich industrial past. Although hard-hit in recent decades by overseas competition, northwest Pennsylvania is still home to many tool-and-die and machine shops, and roughly a quarter of the local economy is still in manufacturing.
"Obviously the skill is here for what they did," Heinlein said.
Ralph Pontillo, president of the Manufacturing Association of Northwest Pennsylvania, said construction of the device wouldn't be a difficult task for anyone "with some kind of basic knowledge about machining or fabrication."
"Provided the component parts came from something else," he added.
Charlie Rutkowski, who runs Industrial Sales and Manufacturing Inc., a fabrication shop in Erie, says it would be easy to alter a collar that was intended for piping and turn it into a neck collar. The collar could have been "pulled out of a junkyard," Rutkowski said.
Although Wells was known as someone who could tinker with his car, a former FBI agent said it's unlikely the deliveryman -- who didn't own a computer and apparently needed help from neighbors removing a motor mount from his vehicle -- could have built the collar.
"Look at the facts," said Bob Heibel, who now heads an intelligence analysis program at Mercyhurst College in Erie. "What did he get out of committing suicide?"
Heibel, however, said there's a chance Wells knew the person or people who put the bomb on him, especially considering that the coroner found no defensive marks on his body. It's possible Wells was sought out for his soft-spoken behavior, Heibel said.
Wells had answered a delivery call to what turned out to be a remote, wooded area a short time before he went to the bank, according to authorities.
"I think there may have been some prior contact -- he could have very well delivered [pizza] there before," Heibel said.