On Aug. 28, 2003, 46-year-old Brian Wells sat cross-legged in front of a cop car with a bomb locked around his neck with a metal collar. The pizza deliveryman had just robbed a bank, and his alleged co-conspirators had tasked him with an impossible scavenger hunt. Then, the device exploded, killing this so-called "Pizza Bomber." Now, 15 years later, new Netflix docuseries Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist revisits the bizarre case with first-hand testimony from the people who were on the scene.
As the commonly held version of events goes, Wells thought he'd be wearing a fake bomb, but his alleged co-conspirators forced a real bomb on him under gunpoint, locking the collar around his neck. Wells then went to a PNC Bank location with a homemade shotgun and demanded $250,000. Then, according to the instructions given to him, he was to complete a series of tasks to buy himself more time. The police arrived and arrested Wells, and while he was in their custody, the bomb exploded. Later, investigators followed the instructions given to Wells and determined he would never have completed the tasks in the allotted timespan.
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes were later charged for the crime, accused of planning the robbery so Diehl-Armstrong could get money to pay a hitman to kill her father. A third man named William Rothstein, who died of cancer in 2004, is believed to have been the bomb-builder. In 2008, Barnes pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. In 2011, Diehl-Armstrong was convicted of her charges and sentenced to life in prison. (She had already been sent to prison after pleading guilty to the murder of her ex-boyfriend.) She died at age 68 in 2017.
Netflix touts that Evil Genius "proves there's more to the conspiracy and murders than was ever thought." The four-episode series, executive-produced by the Duplass brothers, promises to provide new insight into the case's "bizarre collection of Midwestern hoarders, outcasts, and lawbreakers." Evil Genius is due for release on May 11.