Published August 20, 2005
ERIE, Pa. – Brian Wells’ last words came at 3:18 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2003. “Did you call my boss?” he asked the police surrounding him.
A moment later, Wells ‑- a bank robbery suspect who had his hands cuffed behind his back as he sat in an empty parking lot -- died when the bomb that was wrapped around his neck exploded. The blast left a postcard-sized hole in his chest.
Two years after Wells’ mysterious death, authorities don’t know who killed the 46-year-old pizza deliveryman. But a FOX News investigation reveals that several people could be viewed as suspects, although all but one of them is now dead.
Wells grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Erie, Pa., a city of 103,000 on the southern shore of Lake Erie. His brother, John Wells, described Brian as a man content in his simple life, and not the sort of person who would rob a bank.
“He was a very talented artist, very talented musician,” John Wells said. “But if he heard me telling you that he'd say, 'No I wasn't. I wasn't that good.’ … He never wanted to be in the spotlight.”
Six months after Brian Wells’ death, the FBI released nine pages of handwritten instructions that Wells said he was forced to follow in order to disarm the bomb. The instructions bore a strange resemblance to instructions for a local newspaper contest called the “Great Key Hunt.”
"The behaviors seen in this crime were choreographed by someone on the sidelines, according to a written script in which the offender directs people who are involved,” said FBI agent Bob Rudge at the news conference called to release the instructions.
The instructions show that Wells had been sent on a kind of scavenger hunt to find notes hidden underneath rocks and keys that should have opened the collar bomb that was around his neck.
Who wrote them? Could they really have saved his life? Or were they simply a cruel, handwritten death sentence?
Though the final moments of Brian Wells' life were recorded on videotape, the 40 minutes leading up to his arrest are still shrouded in mystery.
At approximately 2 p.m., a male voice called Mama Mia's pizzeria and orders two pies. Wells got directions from the caller.
Wells got in his Geo Metro compact car and headed south on Peach Street. The directions led him a deserted dirt road that ends in an array of TV satellite dishes and towers. It is here that Wells later told police that he was jumped, an explosive device attached to his neck and the timer started.
At 2:40 p.m., Wells pull up to a PNC Bank in Summit Town Center.
“He had in his possession a cane that had been fabricated into a single shot shotgun … he presents a note to the teller indicating what his demands were,” said Erie District Attorney Brad Foulk.
Wells left with an undetermined amount of cash in a black plastic garbage bag but not before someone in the bank pressed a silent alarm.
He doesn't get far.
Police caught up with him in the parking lot next door to the bank. Soon, television news cameras arrive and they proceed to broadcast the situation live.
“We really didn't believe that this guy had an actual bomb because you always hear about people holding up banks using bombs and it turns out to be the guy's got some road flares or a cell phone or just a handful of wires,” said Brian Sheridan, who, at the time, was a television reporter assigned to cover the story.
Police had their guns drawn on Wells but when they had some of Wells’ shirt removed, they saw the device around his neck and backed away, Sheridan said. Soon thereafter, the bomb exploded.
More Deaths, More Questions
Three days after the strange death of Brian Wells, Erie was faced with another strange incident.
Robert Pinetti, a friend of Wells’ who worked with him delivering pizzas for Mama Mia’s, was discovered unresponsive by family members. Nearly the same age as Wells, a coroner’s report obtained by FOX News showed that Pinetti died from a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol in his system. The coroner’s report ruled Pinetti’s death accidental.
Despite the extraordinary coincidence of two men working for the same small pizza delivery shop dying mysterious deaths within days of each other, a thorough investigation turned up nothing linking Pinetti's overdose death to the deadly bomb blast that killed Wells.
But Pinetti’s death would not be the last.
Three weeks after Wells’ murder, William Rothstein -- a substitute teacher, handyman and lifelong Erie resident -- contacted the Pennsylvania State Police to report that there was a body in his freezer.
In an exclusive video obtained by FOX News, Rothstein admits to disposing of the corpse, later identified as James Roden.
“There was a person I have known since the late 60s early 70s. She had a body in her house that she wanted removed … I helped her with it,” Rothstein said. “I put it basically in my garage.”
The woman was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, a former fiancé of Rothstein’s.
“She's had bad luck with significant others. One individual was shot seven or eight times while he was asleep,” said Foulk, the district attorney.
“She had a significant other that hung himself … She had a significant other that apparently stumbled and hit his head on a coffee table and died … and Mr. Roden was shot while he was asleep as well with two blasts from a shotgun,” Foulk said.
Of the four suspicious deaths connected to Diehl-Armstrong, she was convicted in only one. She was found guilty of murder in the third degree for the death of James Roden. She admitted to causing one of the other deaths but she claimed spousal abuse.
Last Woman Standing
Jim Fisher is a former FBI agent turned freelance writer. He's followed the Wells case from day one and he believes the person responsible would have been a handyman of sorts, a “jack of all trades.”
“To make a bomb is a dangerous thing to do,” Fisher said. “If you make a mistake, the mistake could be fatal, so the bomb components -- the electronics, the circuitry -- that goes into this would suggest someone who is comfortable with these skills.”
Fisher said that in his opinion, Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong should be eyed as suspects.
“I see this as a onesy twosey -- one or two people involved in this. People who sort of have, you know, a relationship … There would be a certain amount of dominance there. Where the subservient partner would be afraid, you know, of the mastermind,” Fisher said.
Sound farfetched? Consider this: After Rothstein called the cops to report the dead body in his freezer, he dashed off a short suicide note although he never carried out his threat to kill himself.
“He apologized for being in the position he was in, to his family and to his friends and he indicated that his suicide had nothing to do with the Wells case,” said Gene Placidi, Rothstein’s attorney.
Placidi said he wasn’t sure that Diehl-Armstrong had a hold on his client.
“I think he was just a very nice guy … a very helpful man,” Placidi said. “They went back a long time and … when he could help her, he tried to help her.”
And what about Diehl-Armstrong? In a rambling statement to reporters following her arrest in connection with Roden’s murder, she fingered Rothstein as Wells’ killer.
“Rothstein should be charged with the murder of Brian Wells and a lot of other charges, that he had a fugitive from justice -- a rapist that I turned into the FBI -- in his house for two years,” Diehl-Armstrong said.
After her outburst against Rothstein, some wondered whether her rant was a jailhouse dodge.
“Think of what you’re dealing with here. The woman was shrew. This woman was manipulative,” Placidi said.
One potential witness to the events of Aug. 28, 2003, told FOX News that he was driving south on I-79 not far from the bank robbery site on that day.
“I saw at a distance, maybe half a mile away, a gold car driving to my right on the berm coming at me at full highway speed,” said Tom Sedwick, a retired faculty member from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “It was a woman … and she made full eye contact with me because I was blinking the lights and she looked at me and continued on toward Erie, but in the wrong lane, on the wrong side of the road.”
Three weeks later, he found out whom those eyes belonged to when authorities picked up Diehl-Armstrong in the Roden case and Sedwick saw her on television. “They marched the woman through in her orange outfit and I turned to my wife and I said, ‘That's the woman I saw in that gold car.’”
Sedwick spoke with the Erie police by phone but hadn't met personally with any authorities until FOX News informed the FBI about his statement. He was then questioned by federal agents.
Asked about the comments from Sedwick, Diehl-Armstrong’s attorney told FOX News that her possible sighting near the scene of the Wells crime was understandable.
“Well, at that time, Mr. Roden's body was in the freezer at Mr. Rothstein's house,” said Diehl-Armstrong’s attorney, John Moore. “So it would not surprise me that she was up in that area and it wouldn't surprise me that she was driving erratically. Whether that in itself is related to Brian Wells, I don't know.”
In July, Diehl-Armstrong was removed from the penitentiary in Muncie, Penn., and brought back to Erie for questioning in regard to the pizza bombing case.
Moore said his client was not questioned about the Wells’ murder after the crime was committed.
“I wondered what took them so long to put what I thought was a pretty obvious connection together,” Moore said, adding that he is advising his client to talk to investigators only if she gets immunity against prosecution in the case.
“I think she has information relevant to the investigation,” he told FOX News. Asked why she had kept quiet, Moore said Diehl-Armstrong “had a number of other problems to deal with and no one has really raised it or asked about it up until this time.”
And if William Rothstein had anything to do with Brian Well's death, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to determine an answer. He died last year from cancer. Before his death, he was interviewed though by the authorities on three different occasions and given an FBI lie detector test -- a test he is said to have passed.
But despite the speculation, investigators have not identified anyone as a prime suspect in Brian Well's violent death. They haven't ruled anyone out either -- including Wells himself. And, two years later, that wears on his brother John.
“I'm never going to get over the loss of my brother,” John Wells said. “You can't imagine trying to live through this. You don't know what it's like, you know, having to go cry in your shower so your family members don't see you crying. And the best is they keep covering it up. I won't say cover up. They won't let the information come out.”