Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mystery Solved?

Five years ago, the nation was transfixed by what seemed like something out of a Coen Brothers flick - a bank robbery gone bad, with surreal results:

In one of the most bizarre crimes in recent memory, a pizza deliveryman walked into a bank near [Erie, PA] five years ago and gave a teller a note saying a bomb strapped to his neck and torso would detonate if he was not given money.

The man, Brian D. Wells, walked out with $8,702, got in his car and was stopped almost immediately by state police troopers. Minutes later, the bomb exploded, killing Mr. Wells.

Before he died, Mr. Wells, 46, told the troopers that he was an unwilling participant in the crime. He said a group of black men had abducted him as he was delivering two sausage-and-pepperoni pizzas and forced him to rob the bank by strapping the bomb on him.
Ever since, folks have wondered just what happened. What Wells an innocent victim of a horrible scheme? Was he in on the deal? Who would come up with such a stunt? The investigation lingered for years.

Early last year, federal authorities made two arrests in the case, nabbing two of the conspirators of the scheme. One of them has now pleaded guilty and is providing some details about Well's involvement:
The guilty plea of Kenneth E. Barnes went a long way toward answering questions about his involvement in the Brian Wells pizza bombing case.

But the extent of Wells' knowledge of the plot remains murky.

Wells met with Barnes and Barnes' co-defendant, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, about the bank-robbery plan that ended in Wells' death, according to evidence Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini presented at Barnes' plea hearing Wednesday.

But Piccinini also presented evidence that Wells -- named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case -- might not have known beforehand that the bomb locked to his neck was live.
Wells's brother has a website where he argues that Wells was forced into participating.

We may never know exactly what happened, but things might become a little bit more clear when the other conspirator's case wraps up.

UPDATE: This Cleveland Plain Dealer blog entry from the time of the arrests last year gives some more details on what the authorities believe happened:
About 1:30 p.m. Aug. 28, 2003, Brian Wells delivered two sausage and pepperoni pizzas to a secluded area where construction workers often toiled.

There, he met Rothstein, Barnes and Stockton, and they told him that the device was real. Wells tried to bolt, but they wrestled him to the ground and forced it on him. They gave him a nine-page letter that sent him on a scavenger hunt for clues that would get the device off his neck.
So even by the Government's theory, Wells wasn't much more than a victim.

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