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At two o'clock in the afternoon on Thursday, August 28, 2003, a man with a deep voice called Mama Mia's Pizza-Ria located in a small stripmall in Millcreek Township (south of Erie, Pennsylvania) and ordered two small sausage and pepperoni pizzas. The owner of the Peach street shop, Tony Ditmo, took the call and gave the order to his 46-year-old delivery man, Brian D. Wells.

Wells, a single man and longtime employee, lived nearby in a tiny, rented cottage on Loveland Avenue. Wells was considered a shy and timid man who lived a simple life with his two cats. Having dropped out of school in tenth grade, Wells spent most of his leisure time reading the newspaper, hanging out at the local McDonalds, playing music CDs, and watching television. The five-foot, nine inch, 175 pound stoop shouldered pizza man who was partially bald and wore glasses too big for his face, was well-liked by his landlord and neighbors.

In his green Geo Metro, Wells drove just under four miles to the delivery address - 8631 Peach Street - a small featureless building next to a television transmission tower situated in the woods at the end of a dirt access road.

At two-thirty, a half hour after the unknown caller ordered the pizza, Brian Wells walked into a branch bank two miles from the pizza delivery site carrying a homemade shotgun that looked like a cane and a handwritten note that he handed to a teller. Wells told the bank employee that someone had just locked a bomb collar around his neck, a device that was hidden beneath his T-shirt. (It looked to the bank teller that Wells was wearing some kind of neck brace.) After reading the note, the bank employee walked away from the counter then returned with a bag which she filled with cash. After being handed the money, Wells looked into the bag and said, "This isn't a quarter of a million," prompting the teller to explain that the big money was locked in the time vault. "This thing is going off in twenty-two minutes," Wells said. Before he turned to leave the bank, Wells said he'd be back at three in the afternoon for the rest of the money.

As Brian Wells climbed into his car, a bank employee called 911: "We just have been robbed. . . . We have a bank robbery at PNC Bank. The guy just walked out with - I don't know how much cash is in the bag. He had a bomb or something wrapped around his neck."

On Peach Street, a quarter mile from the bank, Wells was pulled over by the Pennsylvania State Police and ordered out of his Metro. As he was being handcuffed, Wells told the arresting officers that he had a bomb secured around his neck. A trooper cut away Wells' T-shirt which exposed the bomb, a rectangular metal box about the size of a camera. The bluish-collared device featured four key holes and three numbered rollers like the ones found on the bottom of combination padlocks.

The troopers, upon discovering the strange-looking device resting against the base of Wells' neck, ordered him to the ground and backed away. As a local television station news crew arrived at the scene, the state police cleared the area and took up positions, guns drawn, behind their vehicles.

Fifteen to twenty minutes after Wells' arrest, at four minutes after three, someone at the scene called the Erie Police Department's bomb squad. Two of the three-member bomb unit were at the time off-duty. Within minutes of the call, however, the bomb squad met at the city garage where they climbed into the bomb truck and from downtown Erie, sped south to the scene.

As the bomb squad proceeded toward the bomb site through the traffic, Brian Wells engaged the police in what turned out to be a one-way conversation:

"Why is nobody trying to get this thing off me?" He said. "It's going to go off, I'm not lying." At various points in the seize Wells said the following:

"I don't have a lot of time."

"It's gonna go off."

"He pulled a key out and started a timer. I heard the thing ticking when he did it."

"Can you at least take these freakin handcuffs off so I can hold this thing up? It's killing my neck."

"I didn't do it."

"Did you call my boss?"

At eighteen minutes after three, forty-six minutes after the 911 call from the bank, the bomb around Wells' neck went off, killing him instantly. There was a spray of blood, a loud crack, and the clanging of flying pieces of metal. When the neck device detonated, the bomb squad was 1.3 miles from the scene. They arrived three minutes after the blast.

As Wells lay sprawled on his back in the parking lot of an eye glass store, the police searched his car where they found the bag of money, the homemade shotgun, and a nine-page handwritten set of instructions directing Wells to four locations in the general area where he would find the four keys he needed to deactivate the neck bomb. The police, by arresting him so soon after the robbery, had denied him the chance of saving his life. A subsequent police search of the four locations failed to produce the keys referred to in the robbery instructions. A search of the place where Wells said the bomb had been placed around his neck did not result in the acquisition of any evidence, including the two pizzas ordered by the deep-voiced man.

Dr. Eris Vey, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, reported that Wells had suffered a post-card sized trauma to his chest and lungs. The bomb itself consisted of black powder and en electrical detonating device.

In the wake of the bombing, a fifty-member task force, made up of personnel from the Pennsylvania State Police, the Erie Police Department, the Erie County District Attorney's Office, and the ATF, and lead by the senior resident agent of the Erie FBI office, launched into an intensive around-the-clock investigation. Given the oddness of the crime, the wealth of available physical evidence, and the great public interest in the matter, investigators were confident that the crime would be quickly solved. However, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months without a break in the case, the head of the task force cut off communication with the media and the case fell out of the news. Public interest turned into frustration, and the family of the murdered pizza man began criticizing the police for not saving Brian's life. And as long as the case remained unsolved, questions would be raised regarding the dead man's role in the affair. Had he been a random victim, a targeted patsy, or had he been a willing participant in the scheme? According to public opinion, Brian Wells was a victim and the police, with all of the manpower and no solution, were becoming the bad guys.

On February 11, 2004, five and a half months after Brian Wells exploded in front of the police and on TV, the FBI released snippets of the bank robbery instructions found in Wells' car. While blacking out 90 percent of the note, the FBI hoped the exposure would breathe new life into their deflated investigation.

Why did the man who killed Brian Wells orchestrate such a complicated and involved scheme? Short answer: Vanity and the thrill of outfoxing the world. In the killer's mind, this is crime as an art form. Unless the investigation is bungled, the killer's vanity will eventually be his undoing. The Unabomber went undetected for seventeen years until his thirst for the limelight drew him out and led to his arrest and conviction. It was the publication of the Unabomber's 35 thousand-word manifesto that led to his identification as the serial bomber. Brian Well's killer is still unknown. Let's hope it doesn't take the FBI seventeen years to catch the man who murdered Brian Wells.

This page was last updated on: Monday, January 14, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com

								

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