Friday, February 16, 2007

The Erie Collar Bomber Case... Solved (!?)

A month ago, when I was inundating myself with stories of serial killers, I had occasion to reflect upon a very macabre incident that occurred not far from Pittsburgh. In 2003, in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, an Erie pizza deliveryman by the name of Brian Wells was caught after robbing a PNC bank. The police who apprehended Wells quickly learned that things weren't as they initially seemed. Wells was wearing a crude collar device which he claimed was a bomb. The cops were initially suspicious, but eventually they gathered enough self-doubt to call in a bomb squad. As the specialists were arriving on the scene, the collar device blew up, killing Wells immediately.

The victim was a solitary man, who lived in a small house with three cats. He spent much of his time watching movies and playing music. By hook or by crook, the anonymous Wells became the focal point for a dastardly scheme. On a routine delivery to an address that didn't exist, Wells was allegedly accosted by gunmen. They attached the explosive device to his neck and chest, explaining that he must follow a set of instructions meticulously, or he would die. His first mission was to procure $250,000 from a specific bank. He was told that he would be watched, and if he tried to seek help he would be killed by remote. Next he was to proceed to a nearby McDonald's parking lot to get more notes. This is where the police stopped this devious scavenger hunt. If Wells had been allowed to continue, he had a series of steps to follow that would have (supposedly) deactivated his collar.

This information was gleaned by police after Wells' death. They found the pages of instructions on his body after the fact. Investigators also discovered a crafty single-shot shotgun made to appear like a walking cane. Witnesses at the bank reported seeing Wells with the cane earlier. An FBI team put together a profile for the mastermind behind the crime... a perpetrator they referred to as the "Collar Bomber". Whoever was responsible was thought to be mechanically-inclined, a pack rat and very frugal. Money was determined not to be the primary or sole motive for the plot. And it is accepted that this person was not working alone.

Early on an Erie resident and high school shop teacher (William Rothstein) was the primary suspect. He came to the attention of the authorities when he phoned them to report a body in his freezer. Evidently he had helped his ex-fiancee (Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong) dispose of the hapless victim (Jim Roden) after she killed him. He claimed to have been paid $2000 for this service, as well as cleaning up the crime scene. For some reason he balked at carrying out the plan of feeding Roden's body through an ice chipper.

Sadly (?) Rothstein died of Leukemia in 2004. He was certainly a suspect character, with a history of involvement in criminal schemes. But until his death he maintained complete innocence in the case of Brian Wells, even going so far as to leave a written statement to that claim in his house. His lawyer relates that Rothstein passed a polygraph test, and therefore wasn't considered a suspect in the Wells murder. Meanwhile, Diehl-Armstrong remains an interesting suspect. She has had four significant others suffer unexplained deaths. Tellingly, when arrested for the murder of Roden, she fingered Rothstein as Wells' killer.

Along with Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong, there are other strange figures lurking on the periphery of this sordid tale. When Rothstein was originally arrested, a registered sex offender and fugitive named Floyd "Jay" Stockton was found at the older man's house. Stockton had a history of rape, burglary and theft in Montana and Washington. He was also a skilled mechanic. His ex-wife claims that the handwriting on the Wells notes matches that of Stockton. And then there's the mysterious death of Robert Pinetti, a co-worker of Wells at the pizza shop. He died of a drug overdose three days after Wells was murdered. Is there some connection between the two deaths?

There has been speculation that Wells may have been more than an unsuspecting victim. He is said to have been obsessed with a scavenger hunt contest featured in the local newspaper. Could his involvenment have been an elaborate ruse gone wrong? Could he have been duped into playing a role in a drama with a hidden script? Did he know the Collar Bomber?

I've been haunted by this strange incident for quite awhile. And today I heard on the radio that the case has been solved. Indictments are expected to be issued next month. Must I really wait that long to find out the answer? I would think that those involved are already in custody, possibly for other offenses. Otherwise I doubt federal authorities would announce, with such confidence, that this cold case has been resolved. They are officially on record as saying, "The government knows what happened the day of the incident" (see link). There's a lot of buzz around Diehl-Armstrong. Earlier this month it was reported that she is bringing suit against the iconic Geraldo Rivera. Is this a case of ,"where there's smoke, there's fire"? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Snarla said...

I just learned about the details of this case today (I don't watch much t.v.) and I too find it quite haunting and sad. It seems like a death that could have been prevented and the victim seems like he was a nice person (and he had three cats like I do).

It will be fascinating to finally learn who was responsible.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

It's actually kind of amazing how little press this case got ultimately. There are a lot of people right here in western PA that had no idea what I was talking about with this case.

I don't know how nice of a peron Brian Wells was. It seems like he was pretty much of a loner. I too have three cats, and that little detail saddened me.

Indictments should have come down by now, but I haven't really heard anything new. I don't have television either, and unless I actively search for information, I usually miss it.

4:56 PM  
Blogger frankyz669 said...

WEll - was the case solved?

11:15 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

frank,

check out this site...

http://www.komotv.com/news/national/5901066.html

I do have every reason to believe that Armstrong is guilty.

5:06 PM  

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