ERIE, Pa. – Nearly four years after a bank robbery ended with a pizza deliveryman being killed by a bomb locked around his neck, authorities said for the first time they believe he helped plan the heist.
Brian Wells, 46, told police before the bomb killed him in August 2003 that he was innocent and had been forced at gunpoint to wear the bomb. But in indictments unsealed Wednesday, Wells is named as a co-conspirator along with Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and her friend, Kenneth E. Barnes.
Both Diehl-Armstrong, who is currently serving a prison sentence for killing her boyfriend, and Barnes are charged with bank robbery, conspiracy and a firearms count.
Diehl-Armstrong, 58, wanted the money so she could pay someone to kill her father, authorities said. They said they didn't know why Wells got involved.
Her father, Harold Diehl, told the Erie Times-News he wasn't surprised by the allegations.
"She figured if she killed me ... she'd have this house. If I got a million dollars, she'd get it. She's got a demented mind," he said in the newspaper's Thursday editions.
Wells' brother John was outraged prosecutors linked his brother to the plot. He said prosecutors were not doing their jobs and vowed that "the truth will come out."
"Where is the evidence? There is no evidence. You cannot link a man when there is no evidence," John Wells said, his voice trembling with anger. "When he was accosted at gunpoint, taken from his job, that's not a co-conspirator."
"Brian did not put that collar on himself," he said.
The indictments say Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes contrived a series of notes to make Wells appear to be "merely a hostage," and that he would be able to claim he was an unwilling participant if he was caught. According to the indictments, they locked a live bomb onto Well's neck to ensure he turned over the money.
"If he died, he could not be a witness," authorities said in the indictment.
The bomb that killed Wells was on a timer, but it was unclear if his co-conspirators planned on his death, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said Wednesday. She described Wells as having a limited role in the plot and said she couldn't comment on what his motive might have been.
"Sadly, the plans of these other individuals were much more sinister ... and he died as a result," Buchanan said. "It may be that his role transitioned from that of the planning stages to being an unwilling participant in the scheme."
In the indictment, authorities say Diehl-Armstrong killed her boyfriend, James Roden, to keep him from disclosing details of the robbery plot.
Barnes, 53, is jailed in Erie County on unrelated drug charges. Authorities have described him as Diehl-Armstrong's fishing companion.
On Aug. 28, 2003, Wells set out to deliver an order for two pizzas to a mysterious address that turned out to be the location of a TV tower. He turned up about an hour later and roughly two miles away at a PNC Bank branch in Summit Township, with a note demanding money and saying he had a bomb.
Wells took $8,702 from a teller, got into his car and was surrounded by police a short time later in a parking lot. State troopers pulled him out of the car and handcuffed him. Hanging from his neck under his T-shirt was a triple-banded metal collar and a device with a locking mechanism that kept it in place. Attached to the collar was a bomb.
"It's going to go off," Wells said. "I'm not lying."
He said someone had started a timer on the bomb and forced him to rob the bank.
While police waited for a bomb squad, the bomb exploded, killing Wells. Police found a gun resembling a cane in the car and a nine-page handwritten letter that included detailed instructions on what Wells was to do with the bank money and how he could unlock the collar by going through a kind of scavenger hunt, looking for clues and landmarks.
The note also included a list of rules and a threat that Wells would be "destroyed" if he failed to complete his mission.
Buchanan said Wednesday that while Wells was in the bank, Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes had watched from across the street, and Diehl-Armstrong was later seen twice along the route described in the notes.
Jim Sadowski, a former co-worker of Wells, said he doesn't believe his friend could have been involved.
"I worked with him and I knew him. I just don't see him doing anything like that. He was a nice person," Sadowski said.
Diehl-Armstrong was linked to the Wells investigation after her boyfriend's body was found in the freezer of a home near the TV tower where Wells made his final delivery. She pleaded guilty but mentally ill to killing Roden and is serving a sentence of seven to 20 years in state prison.
The man who owned the home, William Rothstein, was questioned in Wells' death but died of cancer in 2004.
Diehl-Armstrong's attorney Lawrence D'Ambrosio has said he believes she had nothing to do with Wells' death but may have known the people behind the robbery.