'Evil Genius' Creators Unearth New Collar Bomb Heist Information in Netflix True Crime Series

When documentary journalist Trey Borzillieri, co-director of new Netflix true crime show Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist, arrived in Erie, Pa., investigators were far from cracking the Collar Bomb Heist.

It was already one of the strangest and most macabre incidents in the history of American crime: pizza delivery man Brian Wells went from a delivery location to a PNC Bank with a bomb locked around his neck like a giant set of handcuffs. He was equipped with a homemade gun and two pages of detailed, handwritten instructions—a sadistic scavenger hunt leading him from place to place, both to steal $250,000 and pick up new instructions, with the promise of freedom if he completed the tasks in time. After leaving the bank, Wells was cornered by police in a parking lot. 25 minutes later, the collar bomb began to beep, a sound that escalated until the moment it exploded, killing Wells. The bomb squad arrived too late.

The shotgun "cane" carried by Brian Wells. A Duplass Brothers Production/LAST IN LINE Pictures/Netflix

Somehow, it only got stranger. Even after years of investigation, with two co-conspirators found guilty, there remain as many questions as answers. "That was one of the compelling reasons to look into this, because technically it's a closed case, but there was all these unanswered questions," Evil Genius co-director and writer Barbara Schroeder told Newsweek. "They couldn't tell you who wrote the note. Or who made the bomb."

Even more shocking, despite two guilty verdicts on weapons charges, bank robbery and conspiracy, the actual death of Brian Wells remains, at least from a legal perspective, an open question. Or, as Schroeder describes it, " With cameras rolling this poor pizza delivery guy was publicly executed and nobody was charged with his murder?"

On the day of Wells' death, Borzillieri was in Buffalo, NY, just a two-hour drive along the Lake Erie shoreline to Erie and the unfolding heist investigation. The first big break in the case came three weeks later, with the first of many unexpected twists: a body in the freezer of a house right by the radio tower where Wells made his final delivery. It seemed too compelling a connection to be coincidence, both to the police and to Borzillieri, who started shooting footage in Erie immediately after.

"You couldn't just go back at this point in time and try and make this documentary," Borzillieri said. His early involvement put him in contact with Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, a woman about to become a prime suspect in the case, who remains at the very center of Evil Genius. It was the body of Marjorie's boyfriend, James Roden, in that freezer (and Roden wasn't even the first boyfriend Marjorie killed!).

The tangled conspiracy surrounding the Collar Bomb Heist. A Duplass Brothers Production/LAST IN LINE Pictures/Netflix

"It could have gone down a lot of different paths putting this together, but it became clear pretty early on that the story tells itself," Schroeder said. "There are a lot of crazy twists and turns but there are also a lot of 'Wait! What?' moments. It's a bank heist, wait, there's a body in a freezer."

Diehl-Armstrong was anything other than a lone wolf. First to come forward was Bill Rothstein, who called police about the body stored in his freezer. In one of several bizarre twists in Evil Genius, Rothstein denied involvement in the death of Wells before anyone had accused him of any connection. He attempted suicide, and wrote in his note "This has nothing to do with the Wells case." (He survived.)

Rothstein's house, in relation to the radio tower where Wells made his final delivery. A Duplass Brothers Production/LAST IN LINE Pictures/Netflix

"There was this rich cast of characters, these social outcasts, who were able to put together a heist that actually outplayed the FBI for quite a while," Schroeder said.

With several of the primary conspirators now dead, including Diehl-Armstrong, Rothstein, and Wells himself—a willing participant until he learned the bomb wouldn't be a fake—Borzillieri's work in the early days of the investigation provides Evil Genius unduplicable insights into the case. His rapport with Diehl-Armstrong provides some of Evil Genius' most hypnotic moments, with Diehl-Armstrong as the voice of both the most outrageous and most sinister aspects of the conspiracy surrounding Wells' death.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong in "Evil Genius." A Duplass Brothers Production/LAST IN LINE Pictures/Netflix

Getting information from Diehl-Armstrong wasn't easy. "She'll sling verbal assaults, like 'I'll sue your fucking balls off,'" Schroeder said. "For the first time we get to offer viewers insight into this character. No one's ever had an on-camera interview with her."

The intervening years have opened up new opportunities as well, particularly when it comes to law enforcement sources. "This was case so sensitive, so tight-lipped, all of those interviews came once they were retired," Borzillieri said.

Not just the definitive breakdown of the twisty, gruesome heist, Schroeder describes Evil Genius as breaking new ground in our understanding of what actually happened to Wells. An elusive eyewitness, interviewed by the FBI, stepped forward for the documentary series. "This person comes forward and gives us new information that I would say, I'm hoping I'm not exaggerating, spins the case in an entirely new direction."

All four episodes of Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist are now available to stream on Netflix.