tv Dateline MSNBC July 12, 2020 11:00pm-1:00am PDT
but she hopes sharing it will help others. >> there are children in the world just like connor. and i cannot imagine anything like that happening again. >> that is all for this edition of k"dateline ". thank you for watching. reporter: she has a magnetic quality/ dark raven hair, the intense brooding look to her. you're on the edge of your seat because this speaks danger. it was just mayhem. it's the story binge-watched around the world: the netflix series "evil genius." >> one of the most diabolical cases in criminal history. a bank robbery and bomb plot. >> it's gonna go off! >> this death trap was locked around his neck. >> horrifying, horrifying turned deadly mystery. >> the notes say "we are following you." >> it seems like someone playing
a game. >> that whole plan was designed for him to die >> reporter: tonight, new first-ever interviews. >> he was murdered! >> i've held my silence for 15 years. >> reporter: inside the riveting story dateline's covered from the start. >> there's a frozen body. it's in a freezer in the garage. we have three different deaths. how are they related? >> i'm thinking wow, she could really be the mastermind of this. >> evil and death and greed. >> it's not a script. it's not make believe. >> how horrible can you be? may they burn in hell. >> reporter: chilling. compelling. too twisted to be true. except that it is. i'm lester holt and this is dateline. here's dennis murphy.
>> reporter: what a pretty late summer afternoon it had been along the great lake. august 28th, 2003 -- a day the people of erie, pennsylvania will long remember, not for its pleasant breezes, but for that spasm of unexpected violence. dateline was there. >> it all started with a pizza delivery. it ended two hours later in one of the most bizarre crimes police have ever witnessed. >> reporter: maybe you remember bits of it? a pizza delivery guy robbing a bank, claiming he had a ticking time bomb locked around his neck. the images are hard to forget and still painful to watch. >> horrific -- bizarre. almost like the mother of all, you know, whodunits. >> reporter: strange indeed, but on that day, we didn't have a clue about all that still lay ahead. a few weeks after the bank heist, this happened. >> there is a frozen body. it's in the freezer in the garage. >> reporter: a 911 caller said there was a man dead in a freezer in his garage. and a woman in his living room, very much alive. >> who is she to you sir? >> uh, i helped her do some stuff that i shouldn't do. >> reporter: that call was made by a huge guy in bib overalls
who looked like an extra from the old show "hee-haw." but he was no dumb hayseed. >> he was the smartest guy in the room. he'll tell you himself. >> reporter: he would become one of the leads--maybe the mastermind-- in a colorful cast of characters -- people on the fringes of society. let's just call them unconventional. >> all the broken toys of erie, pa -- >> yeah. >> show up in one story. >> it's amazing. >> reporter: at the center of it all was marjorie diehl armstrong. >> where do you even begin? >> she had danger written all over her. >> she did. she has a magnetic quality about her. some people have described it as magnetically revolting. >> the amazing part for me is that these people all found each other, with the same like-mindedness of evil and death and greed. >> reporter: it started on a thursday, 1:30 in the afternoon -- an order came in to
mama mia's pizzeria. two sausage and pepperoni pies for delivery. driver brian wells scribbled down the address. it wasn't a home or even a business. the caller wanted the pizzas delivered to a cluster of tv station antennas and satellite dishes nestled in the woods. delivery man wells headed out. about an hour after that, another call came in, this one to 911. phone rings, dispatch cuts out >> this is an emergency. we have a bank robbery at pnc bank. >> reporter: fbi special agent jerry clark was in his office, looking forward to a long labor day weekend. >> i was downtown and -- and got notified that there was a bank robbery at 7200 peach street. >> f.b.i., it's what you guys do. >> f.b.i., that's what i do. i had been to hundreds in -- in my career, so this one sounded different though. >> reporter: security cameras showed just how different. the robber was brian wells, the delivery guy from mama mia's. >> he handed the teller a note saying, "this is a bank robbery. i have a bomb and i need
$250,000 in cash." he had something underneath his shirt but you really couldn't see exactly what it was. >> reporter: whatever the device was, it was attached around wells' neck with something that looked like a giant handcuff. he was holding a bag in one hand, a cane in the other. at least it looked like a cane. >> demeanor was calm. and that was the sort of bizarre thing for us -- sorta swingin' the cane. and then walking with the money very -- casually. >> grabs a lollipop, which they have on the counter. >> to feel comfortable enough to reach into the basket and pull out a lollipop actually surprised me. >> reporter: wells strolled out with a bag of money, but he might not have been so calm if he knew just how fast law enforcement was responding. >> the guy just walked out with i don't know how much cash in the bag, he had a bomb or something. he's sitting in the parking lot of mcdonald's. i'm watching him out my rear view mirror right now.
>> reporter: state troopers were closing in. >> i got called. there was a bank robbery in progress. >> reporter: pennsylvania state police crime unit supervisor lamont king rolled out. jerry clark of the fbi was on his way so was the erie pd bomb squad. tv news live vans weren't far behind. the pizza guy turned bank robber drove out of the mcdonald's parking lot, next to the bank but didn't get far. wells was intercepted just up the hill by troopers only a few hundred yards from the bank itself. >> they had him get out the vehicle at which time they -- they noticed a collar around his neck. >> reporter: the robber told them he was wearing a bomb. they weren't about to doubt him. >> the troopers took precaution, handcuffed the individual, kneeled him down. and, then, they proceeded to take cover. >> reporter: fbi man jerry clark arrived moments later. >> i came screaming up peach, and i pulled exactly to the end of the lot and thought, "oh, man, that's too close." so i immediately reversed, came around, and got into this parking lot. >> and he's talkin' to the officers. >> he is. >> reporter: wells identified
himself -- said he was a pizza delivery man. >> did you call my boss? >> reporter: sitting on the pavement, crossed legged and handcuffed, wells seemed more desperate than desperado. he pleaded for a cigarette and help. >> can you at least take these freakin' handcuffs off so i can hold this thing up? it's killing my neck. >> reporter: and then he told his story, his words, some "black men" had accosted him, locked the fiendish collar around his neck, and activated the bomb. >> they pulled a key out and started a timer. i heard the thing ticking when he did it. it's gonna go off. >> the conversation's back and forth, and it went on for quite a while. >> reporter: police didn't know what to make of the man with the bomb. but they knew he was dangerous. and kept a safe distance. it was a stalemate with no easy way out. wells sat on the pavement for 10 minutes. then 20. all the while, tick. tick.
the bomb squad was getting close but traffic by now was hoplessly snarled. they'd be there in a few minutes. nobody knew if that would be time enough. it's going to go off. >> he is pleading, can you get this thing off of me. >> a race against the clock. >> had you seen anything like it? >> like that, no. >> and what they would see as the case unfolded would be darker than any of them would imagine. >> i was overwhelmed by the dark feeling. >> if she is at the center on of this, what does it mean? >> when "dateline" continues. e". nexgard. what one little chew can do.
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>> maybe if you get the keys you can undo this thing. >> reporter: the device was locked around his neck like a handcuff. but wells didn't have a key. and he said the bomb's timer was ticking down. >> i don't know if i have enough time now. >> reporter: wells was on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back and surrounded. police with guns drawn. tv news crews getting it all. >> how close can you zoom in with that? >> we're live. >> well, i need you to zoom in. >> reporter: fbi agent jerry clark was just 20 feet from wells. the man people described as calm when he robbed the bank, seemed increasingly anxious. >> he's pleading, can you get this thing off me? >> it's gonna go off. i'm not lying. >> reporter: no one dared approach. the standoff lasted 30 excruciating minutes. and then something happened. >> you hear a countdown beep almost like a bomb movie or something. >> very faintly, you know, a beep-beep-beep, the digital countdown timer.
>> reporter: lamont king heard the beeping, too. he grabbed a pair of binoculars and zoomed in on wells. >> i'm listening to him. and i got him pretty much zoomed in -- and i hear another beep. once i heard the second beep, he got agitated. >> reporter: the standoff had now lasted 31 minutes. the clock hit 3:18. the device locked around brian wells' neck exploded. >> i'll never forget it. mr. wells -- fell back and i watched his chest, and the air went out but never came back. and i thought-- "this is a fatal situation." >> and debris is sailing through the air, huh? >> sailing. you could feel the percussion from the -- from the device. >> i felt a couple pieces hit right down around here. the basic image that sticks in my mind is his eyes going in -- to the back of his head. then, he just went down. >> reporter: brian wells died moments after the explosion. the bomb crushed his chest and lacerated his heart. it was a horrifying scene all of
it captured by news cameras. later that night, brian's sister jean heid was relaxing at home completely unaware. >> i turned on the news. somebody robbed a bank. and i looked and i was like, "there's my brother, brian. what's he doin' there sittin' there?" >> sittin' on the road. >> sittin' on the road. and then i said to the kids, "does that look like brian, uncle brian?" and they said, "yeah." >> reporter: it seemed impossible, couldn't be true. jean turned to her husband. >> he says, "jean your brother's not a bank robber." i said, "i know my brother's not a bank robber. but it looks like brian." >> reporter: and as she watched the standoff play out on tv, she saw exactly how he died. >> you'd been watching the last moments of brian's life. >> right. my brother was sitting there, you know, handcuffed. police officers were pointing guns at him, you know, like he's a criminal. >> what did he need at that moment, jean? >> brian needed assistance. brian needed compassion. brian needed to be heard. but none of that happened.
>> reporter: maybe what brian needed most was for bomb techs to defuse the device around his neck. the erie bomb squad didn't get that chance. coming from another part of town, they arrived just two minutes after the explosion. commander tom stankiewicz suited up into his bomb gear. >> what did you make of it? >> the collar still remained on his neck. so you could see that. and -- and we couldn't tell whether there were still any explosive devices inside what remained of that collar. >> had you ever seen anything like it? >> like that? no. really, nobody in the united states had seen anything like that. >> reporter: that included jerry clark, with 20 years of law enforcement experience under his belt. he was joined at the scene by his fbi supervisor. >> after both of us initially said, "oh, my god, i can't believe what we saw," and i said, "i gotta have this case." and he said, "it's yours. let's go." >> reporter: from the first moments, every move agent clark made would be under intense scrutiny.
>> it was a media frenzy. i mean, live satellite dishes -- local, national, international news. it was a big event. >> reporter: one of the people watching the coverage was trey borzillieri. on the day brian wells died, trey was a couple of hours away in buffalo, settling his mother's estate. >> it was a bittersweet two weeks in -- in buffalo, new york, packing up her things. >> and-- i was wrapped up, done, and -- reached out to some friends, you know, let's all meet, have a drink to say good-bye. >> reporter: trey was saying goodbye to his home town and heading back to his new life in new york city, where he was trying to become a documentary filmmaker. all he needed was a good story. >> what do you think the ingredients are for the kind of thing that you want to see and want to make? >> well -- you know, it -- it -- it had to be something that was shocking, that really pulled you in. >> reporter: while raising a farewell glass with friends, trey noticed the coverage of the bank robbery in erie. >> the newscast came over -- the tv in the corner of the bar and i was hooked. it seemed like it had all the
pieces right from the start. >> had you found your white whale, as we all find white whales in life? >> absolutely. and i thought, "wow, how -- how desperate did that man have to be?" >> reporter: back in erie, brian wells' big sister barbara was also thinking about how desperate her brother looked in his last moments. that fit her belief that brian was a victim. nothing else made sense for the brother she loved. >> brian was a fun person, a quiet person, a humble person. >> reporter: brian was one of eight children, an easy going guy. he liked puzzles and scavenger hunts. watched action movies with his mom. it was a simple life and it suited him just fine. >> he never wanted to be in the spotlight. if he would -- could even imagine what had happened to him the last several minutes of his life, he'd say, no. no. that's not me. >> reporter: younger sister jean says brian's last hour was not spent as a criminal -- but as a hostage of the real bank robbers, the people who accosted him, locked the collar around his neck, and activated the bomb.
>> it was exactly as brian said. brian -- >> he delivered pizzas and these guys strapped this thing on him? >> yes. >> reporter: jerry clark heard brian wells say that with his own ears. >> i'm not lying. >> reporter: it sounded like a declaration of innocence by a man who seemed to know he was about to die. but clark wasn't ruling anything in or out. for him, it was just one piece in an already strange and complicated puzzle. could someone have unlocked the bomb in time? a scavenger hunt to find the key. >> each site was to have notes on where to go next. >> reporter: and another hunt begins for a suspect. >> they ran up on me like gangbusters. like i was charles manson or somebody. >> reporter: when dateline continues. discomfort back there? instead of using aloe, or baby wipes, or powders. try the cooling, soothing relief of preparation h. because your derriere deserves expert care.
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>> reporter: it was a grotesque scene, and maybe still potentially lethal. when the bomb squad gave the all clear, fbi agent jerry clark headed for brian wells' car, a chevy geo. when you look at the car, i guess that's an important thing, right? >> yes, absolutely. >> reporter: the car held one peculiar thing. the cane brian wells twirled inside the bank was there. but it wasn't a simple cane. it was a shotgun that had been fabricated to look like a cane. and it was loaded. clark kept looking. you find the money? >> find the money. >> reporter: in the bank, wells
demanded $250,000 from the teller. the bag found in the car had way less than that. it turned out brian wells lost his life over $8,702. investigators also recovered handwritten notes with detailed, complicated instructions, apparently written for wells, on how to carry out the robbery. >> the notes involved in this case were voluminous. there were nine total pages of notes. >> reporter: the notes referred to wells as a "hostage." and they were peppered with dire warnings. like, "bomb has tripwires. forcing or tampering will detonate." and, "we are following you. if you delay, disobey or alert anyone, you will die." the collar bomb locked around wells' neck had four keyholes. the notes also included maps and instructions directing wells to a location where he'd find a key and more instructions on where to find another key, and then another, until finally he'd be free of the bomb. an illustrated manuscript of treachery.
i get the sense that there's a scavenger hunt going on. and if he follows the notes in a timely manner, he can go from point "a" to "b," to "c," to "d" and come up with the holy grail, which is the key to unlock this thing. >> that's basically what it was. it was a scavenger hunt. and each site was to have notes on where to go next and a key to one of the four keyholes that held the device around his neck. >> reporter: jerry clark had never seen anything like it. no one had. investigators decided to retrace wells' steps. it looked as though he was following the instructions to the letter. jerry, i'm lookin' over here. i see an urgent care business. but in 2003, that was the bank, huh? >> yes. that was the pnc bank. mr. wells robs the bank and proceeds down keystone drive here, turns right into where we're standing. >> reporter: and this is the start of this crazy scavenger hunt, huh?
>> this is point "a." so what mr. wells is to do at this location is to go into this flowerbed, turn over a rock or a stone that was in the flowerbed and retrieve a note. >> reporter: the note under the rock directed wells to his next destination. but he never made it. >> law enforcement makes an entry here, does a felony car stop and basically placed mr. wells under arrest right here. >> reporter: so is this the standoff, the famous picture we see him -- >> this -- this is it, right here. >> reporter: wells' scavenger hunt and his life ended here. less than an hour after the explosion, lamont king of the state police took the notes and followed the rest of the directions, exactly as written. >> we went down to the first site on interchange road. he was supposed to find a coffee jar and a couple of other things which we found. you know, we -- everything we found, we bagged for evidence. >> reporter: king made all the stops while another trooper timed the trip. it took well over an hour. and that was a crucial point, because the bomb's timing device turned out to be a common 60-minute kitchen timer.
would you have had enough time to make all of these rounds on the scavenger hunt and recover the key and save your life? >> you would have never had the time. so that indicated to us that that device was never meant to come off. plus, there were no keys found at any of the sites. >> reporter: ah, there never was a key. >> so, there never was a key. >> that whole plan was not designed for him to live. it was a very cruel death, very cruel death. >> reporter: the thought was chilling. brian wells appeared to be the victim of a diabolical plot. a wrong time, wrong place patsy. a search of his home supported the theory. did you find any -- how to make a bomb things from the internet or anything like that? >> nothing of the kind. >> reporter: but agents did discover a list of names and phone numbers, handwritten by wells. they started making calls. a woman on the list had an african american boyfriend. the fbi tracked him down. >> he had a history of knowing explosives. he was in the military and actually had spent some time working with explosives. >> reporter: and your -- your
victim is saying -- word -- his words, "black guys did this to me." >> it looked really good. and his girlfriend's name is in mr. wells' handwriting, in his apartment. >> reporter: the man was known by his initials -- j.j. agents found him at work and then went to his home. >> we do a search warrant at his residence. >> reporter: how'd that go down? >> well, he was upset. >> reporter: "dateline talked" to j.j. back in 2003, not long after that search warrant was executed. he was still upset. >> i voluntarily let them search my house the first time, which i had did. i had no problem with it. the second time they ran up on me like -- just like gangbusters, like i was charles manson or somebody. >> reporter: the search of j.j.'s home was exhaustive, but it turned up nothing. >> none of the evidence pointed that j.j. had any involvement in this at all. >> reporter: so he wasn't going anywhere? he's droppin' off your list. >> he's coming off the list. >> reporter: an early lead had fizzled. j.j. was cleared. but a new suspect, a woman with a macabre history, was about to
turn a difficult investigation, an fbi major case, into something that looked more like a horror movie than a whodunit. >> coming up -- another deadly discovery. body number two. >> did not seem coincidental to us. >> and then body number three. >> there is a frozen body. it's in the freezer in the garage.
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now, back to "dateline." >> reporter: everything about this crime was different. a middle-aged pizza delivery man with goggly glasses made for an unlikely bank robber. investigators had never seen anything remotely like the scavenger hunt that turned out to be a death march. and weirdest of all was that peculiar bomb with the locking collar. erie p.d. bomb squad commander tom stankeivicz needed to find clues in the shrapnel from the exploded bomb to understand the bomb maker's skills and mentality. >> the pieces of the device are blown what? 15, 20 yards around the shopping areas? >> the farthest piece was about 300 feet away. so it went -- the farthest piece went all the way across the street into the parking lot of -- >> wow. >> another business. most of 'em scattered within about 60 feet. you need to know where in that scene every single piece landed. that's very important in putting that device back together. >> reporter: in trying to preserve the pieces for evidence, there was a terrible
problem. the handcuff like metal collar was still locked around brian wells' neck. warnings in the scavenger hunt notes said wells was being watched. and labels on the device itself said the bomb was filled with booby traps that could set it off. >> from what was contained in the note, it was -- very threatening. >> reporter: erie county deputy coroner korac timon had seen a lot in his career, but when he went to collect brian wells' body at the crime scene, he was jittery. >> after i read this letter, i -- it was disconcerting and whoever did this was watching, keeping an eye on the scene. and -- they would harm anybody who they observed doing something that they didn't agree with. i was scared. >> you don't wanna be collateral damage. >> i do not. >> reporter: the coroner asked the bomb experts if it would be safe to move the body. would maybe a secondary booby trap device explode? ominous wires were still threaded through the collar. tom stankiewicz, the bomb squad commander, had examined it
carefully -- even x-rayed it. he said it was safe. probably. >> it's hard to hide things from an x-ray machine. and we thoroughly x-rayed that device. but i -- i still can't s -- i'm not inside of it. i can't see inside of it with my own eyes. >> and i was scared when we took mr. wells to the coroner's office 'cause we -- it was just myself, and our -- livery driver. and we were unprotected. it was just the two of us. >> don't hit any potholes. >> no, exactly. yeah. >> reporter: the collar was still potentially dangerous. and it was also important evidence. so the question was how to remove it safely and still keep it intact. there was no easy answer. commander stankiewicz wasn't making any guarantees. >> he was 90-95% sure that -- we could drill through the back of it and -- and take it off without it exploding. >> that's a very poor result if you're on the ten percent side
of it. >> yeah, and so -- i know -- i needed 100%. >> so what was the decision that was made? >> we decided to -- do -- i guess, for lack of better description, a surgical decapitation so we could get the collar off safely and intact. >> so you took the victim's head off? >> yes. it was -- one of the hardest decisions i've ever had to -- make -- both professionally and personally. >> reporter: after completing that grim procedure, coroner timon met with brian wells' family and told them about it. they felt brian was being victimized again, even in death. >> how painful is that for you? >> well, it was very painful. i think it was most painful for my mom because, like, she wanted to have a open-casket. they were more concerned with the integrity of the collar than they were his person. >> pain on pain on pain on pain, jean, huh? >> yep. he was decapitated like john the baptist. >> reporter: with the pieces of the device recovered, tom stankiewicz was able to go into his shop and craft an exact replica of the bomb --
340 parts in all. it is a frightening model. >> can i lift this thing up? >> sure. >> how much does it weigh? oh, man-- >> it's 15 pounds. >> this is heavy. i can't imagine this -- >> it sure is, yeah -- --having this around your neck. >> so open up the inside, tom. take me through what the components are here. >> yeah. so on the inside, you've -- you've got -- >> a lot of wires. >> yeah, so you've got a standard device. pipe bombs, mechanical timers. dennis murphy: 18:34:39;28pipe bombs are over here. tom stankiewicz: yeah, and mechanical timers that-- that are the device. and then you have the distractions that are laid in there. track 408 the device was filled with things that were meant to confuse -- this cell phone is a toy... connected to nothing. and some of the warning labels were phony. but it was lethal, with compressed black powder sifted from shotgun shells. stankiewicz's model was built to the exact specifications of the original... down to the make and model of the household items used. this digital timer was designed to sound a warning beep beep in the seconds before the bomb exploded.
>> yeah, so that's what you're hearing right there. >> gives me chills. makes me want to get away from this thing as i hear it. >> yeah, absolutely. >> reporter: the bomb was the work of someone with machine shop skills. and, clearly, a devious mind. the original bomb parts were sent to the fbi lab in quantico, virginia. the scavenger hunt notes, meanwhile, were delivered to fbi behavioral profilers. think the hannibal lecter unit. >> you bring your case and you -- talk and discuss your case with the profilers and together you come up with a profile. >> reporter: agent jerry clark was hoping a psychological profile would help crack a tough case. but, just three days after brian wells died, there was a strange, and alarming, development. get this: robert pinetti, another delivery man at mama mia's pizzeria was found dead inside his house. the coroner ruled it an overdose. >> whether it's accidental or not, at the time, we're not sure, but we know that it was -- a combination of drugs that were lethal. the fact that two pizza delivery drivers from the same shop are
deceased within three days did not seem coincidental to us. >> reporter: then incredibly another body was discovered. this one inside a house just a few hundred yards from where brian wells was supposed to make his last delivery. >> there is a frozen body. it's in the freezer in the garage. >> that was one of those moments where i'm sure the 911 caller said, "can you repeat that and do it slowly?" >> reporter: a body, wrapped in the freezer and a woman wrapped in mystery. >> she's had many men in her life fall victim to bizarre deaths. she is the epitome of a black widow. >> reporter: when dateline continues. leak in our softest, smoothest fabric. she's confident, protected, her strength respected. depend. the only thing stronger than us, is you.
>> reporter: september 21st, 2003. jerry clark was leading the fbi's investigation of the pizza bombing case when the local erie police got a bizarre call. >> wow, another one of these "this can't get any crazier" moments. >> reporter: the 911 call came from a big guy in bib overalls who was driving the streets of erie. calling from his van, he decided it was time to share a secret with the police. >> at 8645 peach street, in the garage there is a frozen body. it's in the freezer in the garage. there is a woman there that you
might want to pick up and question. >> how do you know that, sir? >> i'm the guy who lives there. >> what is her name? >> marjorie diehl. >> what is your name, sir? >> bill rothstein. bill rothstein. >> reporter: bill rothstein, it turned out, was a 59-year-old lifelong erie, pennsylvania, resident who was telling a 911 operator he would turn himself in, but only after marjorie was apprehended. >> okay, and marjorie diehl is at that residence now? >> yes. >> who is she to you sir? >> ah, i helped her do some stuff that i shouldn't have, but i never killed anybody. so i just want that known. i'll straighten -- i'll give you guys my story later on. >> reporter: trooper lamont king, who'd witnessed brian wells' death in the parking lot, was now dispatched to find that freezer in the rothstein home. >> we arrived at rothstein's house, went inside the house,
heard somebody in -- in the back room. and marjorie was sitting on the bed, and she has started ranting and raving. >> reporter: as trooper king left other officers to guard her, he made his way to the home's garage. rothstein was a hoarder and the place was a sty. >> it's a real long garage. and it's cluttered on both sides. there's just nothing but clutter. i don't see a freezer. but what i did see was a plastic tarp coming from the ceiling all the way down to the floor. and when i got to the tarp, i pulled it. and there was the freezer. and at that time, i opened the freezer and saw the body in there wrapped like a side of beef which -- at which time, i closed the freezer, had everybody leave the garage and declared it a crime scene. >> reporter: the trooper went back inside the house to find marjorie. >> i just placed my hand on her shoulder. and i told her, "i'm placing you under arrest."
>> reporter: so step back a second. in the span of less than a month, there were three bizarre incidents that baffled the people and authorities of erie, p.a. first was the pizza bombing death. then the sudden death of the second pizza delivery man. and now there was an unexplained frozen body. marjorie diehl-armstrong told police she had nothing to do with the person in the freezer and didn't have much else to say. bill rothstein, on the other hand, was ready to talk. and what he had to say would make headlines. >> this is one of the biggest, but clearly the strangest, story i ever covered in all the years i've been in erie. >> reporter: paul wagner, of nbc affiliate wicu tv, has covered local erie news for 40 years. >> he was a very smart man. he spoke a couple foreign languages, and he said he had a mensa-level iq. he taught drafting. he's -- was a substitute teacher in -- in the erie schools. >> reporter: rothstein taught classes including industrial arts and sciences. he'd advised the high school
robotics team. he'd come from a prominent family and his parents were known as the bottlers of a local soda pop --rola cola. >> on camera, mr. william rothstein. >> reporter: now he was in a police interrogation room where he agreed to a videotaped interview. rothstein seemed calm and collected. his attorney, gene placidi, was also there. >> when bill was asked to sign his -- his waiver -- of his miranda rights, there was a misspelling in there. >> there should be a "d" after the word "use." >> it was like a chess game to him. and he liked to let them know he was as smart as they were. and i think he enjoyed it. >> how long have you known marjorie armstrong? >> i've known her roughly 30, 35 years. okay? >> and briefly, what was your relationship with her? >> reporter: we went together, and then we got engaged in, like, the first year. >> reporter: they never married. but she and bill rothstein remained friends in a
complicated relationship. a romance that was just a small part of marjorie diehl-armstrong's long and troubled history. do you want to take a crack, trey, at explaining who marjorie is? >> marjorie diehl-armstrong -- she is a very famous, or i should say infamous, resident of erie, pennsylvania. >> reporter: trey borzillieri, the would-be documentarian, had come to erie after the frozen body was found, trying to find out everything he could about two very strange crimes and two unique individuals -- bill rothstein and marjorie diehl-armstrong. what he was discovering about marjorie was troubling, to say the least. some publications, you might find the epithet "black widow" next to her name. >> she is the epitome of a black widow. she's had many men in her life fall victim to bizarre deaths by her hand, and also by odd circumstances. >> reporter: it was a much different story when marjorie
was younger. a near straight "a" student in high school, she seemed destined for a bright future. >> marjorie diehl-armstrong was a very, very bright young lady. got a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. was -- looked like she was on the road to a very successful life. >> reporter: it turns out marjorie's latest boyfriend, jim roden, was the man stuffed in the freezer. rothstein was telling police that marjorie shot that boyfriend after an argument in her house. and then he took the body and stored it in his garage freezer. >> i said, "how the hell did you kill him? where did you shoot him from?" she shot him from -- the foot of the bed is here, and she shot him from this side. this direction. >> reporter: and in this case, the phrase "dead men tell no tales" wasn't necessarily true. especially when that dead man is found in a freezer that just
happens to be next door to that tv tower where brian wells made his last pizza delivery. >> coming up -- >> this is where i cut up the rifle. >> a lesson in how to hide a murder weapon. >> he takes all the investigators out to the house and does a show and tell on camera. >> he was the instructor. >> and a clue from out of the blue. >> he brings up the pizza bomber case. >> i knew that somehow these were related. i'm a performer. -always have been. -and always will be. never letting anything get in my way. not the doubts, distractions, or voice in my head. and certainly not arthritis.
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he is frozen solid at this -- at this time. >> reporter: erie's deputy coroner back then, korac timon, had the most unenviable job in northwestern pennsylvania, again. >> we tried to remove him from the freezer and we couldn't because he was frozen to the side and bottom of the freezer. >> reporter: so you couldn't pull the body out of the freezer? >> well, we wanted to preserve evidence too. so we moved the entire freezer from the home. >> reporter: meanwhile back in a police interview room, bill rothstein, the man in the overalls, was telling the cops how he'd become a ghoul on behalf of his friend marjorie diehl-armstrong. who, he said, in fact had shot to death the man jackknifed into the freezer.
>> she had a body in her house that she wanted removed. i helped her with it. i put it basically in my garage, and at that, that saturday she wanted it completely destroyed. >> reporter: not only was he willing to sit down and talk to detectives -- >> these are the shoes, or sneakers, were the ones i used when i put the body in the -- in the freezer. >> reporter: he was eager to be a crime scene tour guide as well. he takes all the investigators, out to the house and does a show and tell on camera on how he's moving the body out, huh? >> he sure does. he's walking people through and he was the instructor. >> reporter: rothstein, the former substitute teacher, was all but in charge of the gaggle of cops in his wake. he confidently did a walkthrough at both crime scenes. marjorie's house, where she'd allegedly shot her boyfriend. and his house where he later stored the body in his freezer. >> this is where i cut up the rifle. the metal portion of the rifle. >> reporter: in his kitchen, he explained how he'd destroyed the gun used in the killing. >> i brought in the acetylene torch in here and i used the acetylene torch here to cut it up completely and reduce it to
slag. >> reporter: rothstein said he gathered up the melted gun parts and scattered them all over erie in hopes that investigators never would find them. and they never did. back in his garage, rostein shared grizzly details on how he and marjorie originally planned to chop up the frozen body. >> the grinder, i see a box there for it and the grinder is here. >> right. >> then the story was that i was going to use that to cut up part of the body. >> reporter: bill rothstein and marjorie diehl-armstrong had come up with a plan to dispose of mr. roden's body. and their goal was to use a chain saw, cut up his body after it was frozen, and then put it in the ice chipper to get rid of the pieces all throughout the county. where does this kind of thinking come from? >> that's about as diabolical and maniacal as you can get, i think. >> reporter: rothstein's how-to-cover-up-a-murder tutorial continued. clean-up chores. >> now the steps, i replaced most of the steps partially because they had blood on them. >> reporter: and then rothstein
told investigators about some razor blades left in a bag. he told them he had attempted to take his own life. >> that was i. it was i. >> and what is that? >> stupid attempt at suicide. you guys got my note? somebody. nobody got the note? >> reporter: they had discovered his suicide note. rothstein changed his mind, obviously, but investigators found the note intriguing. point number one was, "this has nothing to do with the well's case." meaning brian wells, the man who died from the collar bomb. why in the world did he have the so-called "pizza bombing" on his mind as he's supposed to be contemplating suicide? why did you think to ask, or put in there about, it wasn't related to wells? >> so you wouldn't go off hog wild saying, "oh, this is has to do with the wells [ bleep ]." you know. and then, be more [ bleep ] in the newspaper and everything else. i wanted you guys to know so you didn't have to waste your time tryin' to figure out, is this part of the wells situation or
not? >> reporter: rothstein's attorney, gene placidi, also wondered about the wisdom of alluding to the bombing case. >> typical bill, he brings up outta the blue, the pizza bomber case. and it was almost like he was drawing attention to himself 'cause he wanted to. >> reporter: if that weren't enough to make investigators suspicious, there was something else that began to draw attention to rothstein like a neon sign. the location of the crime. the frozen body was found in rothstein's garage, located here. right up a gravel road, a couple of hundred yards away, was the tv tower site where investigators knew brian wells made his last pizza delivery. it wasn't a home or business, but a dirt parking lot. it was too strange of a coincidence. because of that, fbi agent clark became convinced the cases were related and was determined to learn how rothstein may have been involved with the pizza bombing. so his next move was to talk with rothstein. >> i interviewed him and i knew that somehow these were related.
and i -- i just felt it from the minute i sat with him. >> reporter: what did he tell you? >> he looked at me and he said, "well, i'll talk to you, but i need to tell you that i'm the smartest guy in this room." and i -- i looked around and i said, "well, my wife tells me that every night. let's get started." >> reporter: but rothstein gave up nothing. so while he was still facing charges in the frozen body case, without other evidence, he was in the clear on the pizza bombing investigation. months passed. then the fbi's behavioral analysis unit came back with a preliminary profile on the unknown bomb maker. detailing his most-likely traits. >> that he'd be a manipulator. that he'd be really good with his hands. that he probably had a workshop. that he probably did some teaching or instruction in the past. >> reporter: everything that was in there fit perfectly to bill rothstein.
rothstein, a former high school she decides to buy a gun and kills him. >> the many dead men. >> she is as complex and interesting as anybody you will meet. >> when "dateline" continues. ons this is an athlete, twenty reps deep, sprinting past every leak in our softest, smoothest fabric. she's confident, protected, her strength respected. depend. the only thing stronger than us, is you. and geico loves helping riders get to where they're going, so to help even more, geico is giving new and current customers
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>> was there a link to it all? >> the darkest secrets are to come. >> she manipulated everyone around their. >> without a doubt, i knew she'd kill again. >> is this possible? agents believed the profile that was made matched bill rothstein to a tee. rothstein, a former high school shop teacher, was smart and sly, with a garage full of metal working tools at his disposal. the big guy in the bib overalls was now a prime suspect in the pizza bombing case. but rothstein had another secret. >> reporter: bill rothstein was
out on bond, accused only of the minor- ish charge of abusing a corpse, the one found in his home freezer. he seemed to be relishing his moment in the spotlight. responding to a reporter's question -- >> reporter: -- in french. [ speaking french ] rough translation -- "too bad." but when would-be documentary filmmaker trey borzillieri went to rothstein's house to talk about the pizza bombing, rothstein wouldn't talk to him in any language. >> the garage is open. this is where the frozen body was held. and classical music is blasting out of there. so instantly it's -- it's jarring. and i look at him and i say, "listen, i'm making a documentary on the brian wells case. and i -- i know it's affected your life, and i'd like to hear your side of the story." he turned to me and he said, "no." >> reporter: what were the hairs on the back of your neck telling you? >> they were telling me to get out of there. >> reporter: this guy's creepy? >> absolutely. >> reporter: and fbi agent clark's instincts were telling him that rothstein constructed the collar bomb. but clark still didn't have evidence to connect him to the pizza case. then in july, 2004, less than a year after the bombing, clark
got some unwelcome news. his prime suspect was dying on him. >> i see bill in the hospital bed, and i said, "ooh, he looks much more sick than they're telling me, so i may have one crack at this." >> reporter: rothstein had terminal cancer. the fbi man crossed his fingers for a deathbed confession. >> i said, "bill, don't take this with you. you've gotta tell me. are these cases related?" and he lifted his arm out of the bed and he spelled out "no." and four days later, he -- he's deceased. >> reporter: bill rothstein was 60. and whatever involvement, if any, he had with the pizza bombing case, he took to his grave without saying a word. with rothstein dead, clark's attention turned to marjorie diehl-armstrong who, it turned out, knew her way around sudden deaths. who is this person? you can use as many words and as many minutes as you'd like to describe her.
>> wow. >> reporter: 'cause it takes that long, right? [ laughter ] >> she's as complex and interesting as anybody you'll ever meet in your life. >> reporter: there are people who have a past. and then there is marjorie diehl-armstrong. >> marjorie had a tremendous magnetism. were just drawn to each other. >> reporter: in the 1960s, susan robison and marjorie were students together at erie's academy high school. >> she just walked up to me and said, "hello." and i had the funniest feeling that i had met somebody that was gonna be with me for -- as a friend for a long time. >> reporter: susan also knew "big bill" rothstein, who she says was in and out of marjorie's life for decades. >> i think the first person she dated seriously was bill rothstein. and he worshipped her. well, that's heady stuff. i said, "what was the attraction?" and she said, "there was intellectual compatibility. i really liked that about him 'cause he was so smart." >> reporter: but susan says marjorie started acting
strangely, eventually turning to astrology to help guide her life. >> she drew up her astrological charts herself. she'd look at the charts, and they did not serve her well, for the most part. >> there's a pattern, which i saw only years later because the people she was associating with got sketchier and sketchier. >> reporter: things got worse. marjorie became erratic, a stream of consciousness talker. profane. mental illness began to take over. >> she suffered from bipolar disorder, other mental illnesses, and her life pretty much spiraled down. >> reporter: down and finally out of control. back in 1984, marjorie was 35 when she killed a man for the first time. >> bob thomas was a man that she met. she's in an abusive relationship with him. she decides to buy a gun and she kills him. she shoots him 6 times with a .38 special. >> reporter: she was charged with murder. her attorney, leonard ambrose,
realized just how difficult a defense case he had. >> after the shooting, she went out with a bag filled with $18,000 in cash and was soliciting individuals to help her with a chainsaw, cut up the body and bury it. >> reporter: oh, you're kidding. >> which started the whole thing going. >> reporter: part of ambrose's defense consisted of having marjorie committed three times while she awaited trial. to illustrate just how truly ill she was, ambrose pointed to what authorities found in her house after her 1984 arrest. marjorie was a hoarder in the extreme. >> she had 400 pounds of cheese in the attic. she had hundreds of -- dozens of eggs in the freezers. i mean, who would put 400 pounds of cheese in your attic in july? she just was really, really disturbed, and she was never gonna get better. >> reporter: but the courts ultimately declared her competent to stand trial. ambrose produced witnesses who testified that the boyfriend had physically abused marjorie in public. the lawyer made his case so
compelling that the jury found her not guilty. >> i thank god, and i thank the jury and everybody that has always believed in helping me get through this. >> reporter: marjorie eventually met another man, richard armstrong, and married him. his life came to an unfortunate end too. >> he fell and hit his head on a coffee table. she took him into the emergency room. he was seen. they claimed that they thought he had the flu or something like that and he was okay to go home. she went to get the car to take him home, and he collapsed on the floor and died. >> reporter: police investigated the death and cleared marjorie. marjorie then sued the hospital for malpractice. >> he died and she won a large settlement. >> reporter: so when marjorie diehl-armstrong's name flashes on the 11:00 news, people with pretty good memories in erie recognize it, right? >> marjorie's back. so when her name came up as related to the death of james roden, there was not a
surprised person in town. >> reporter: roden, her third dead partner, was the one shot and frozen. but once again marjorie was institutionalized because of her mental illness. and agent clark was prohibited from talking with her. but that was about to change. >> coming up -- marjorie points the finger at someone new. >> i've never killed a person in my life, and i never would. hell, i hate to kill bugs. >> and a dangerous close encounter. >> i pulled my gun out and i was very close to squeezing out a round. swers... lysol disinfectant spray and disinfecting wipes together can be used on over 100 surfaces. and kill up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.
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she has done gown for the death of rowden and the man in the freezer. >> she has pleaded guilty and sentenced for that. >> it was big news. with the frozen body case finally resolved. he felt the timing was right to make contact with marjorie. so he wrote their. >> with rothstein dead, i felt i had nobody else to turn to and i did. >> she was your penpal. >> she was. it was a last chance for information. >> i'm here to talk to you about the brian wells case. and she said, i'm not telling you anything about the case, unless you move me closer to erie. >> it's let's make a deal. >> it's let make a deal.
manipulati manipulation marge. you do me a favor, i will talk to you. but going on out the door, she said, you better check on it a guy named ken barnes. >> did you put more weight on that and flush it snout. >> absolutely. >> ken barnes, a new name. >> he knew of barnes. and as soon as we heard the name, we knew he was a crack dealer in time. >> marjorie, and ken barnes had been friends for many years. they were fishing buds at a local pier. clark started tailing barnes. you go after him. >> we did. and there were several times where we would have to sort of track ken down. and say, hey, ken, get in the car, let's chat. >> but that's all it was, a chat. barnes gave him nothing. so, clark did a deep dive on the guy's contact with the
authorities, and ta-da, there it was, a video. >> kenneth eugene barnes. >> a police questioning of barnes was conducted by the erie police two years before, at the time they were investigating the frozen body case. >> marjorie diel, you have known her how long? >> nine years. >> he a grand slam revelation and it concerned marjorie. he told investigators that she was obsessed with her inher inheritan inheritance. her mother had died and she was upset that her father was squandearring money. she said that he is a recovering alcoholic and he has been giving it away to the church and fri d friends and stuff. he is giving away her inheritance and she was so damn
obsessed with -- >> so obsessed that she asked barnes to kill her father so she can get the money. he no intention of bumping off their dad, but he played along. >> i am 49 years old, i never killed a person in my life and i never would. i don't like to kill bugs. hell, i cry when people shoot deers, you know. >> and what was his fee for the hit? >> i said, marjorie, that will cost you. she said how much? and i said, a quarter of a million. >> interesting, that was the same amount of monday demanded on the bank robbery note. now armed with that information, clark decided it was time to put a bigger squeeze on ken barnes. so clark and another agent picked him and up put him in their car. >> he got the front seat, and special agent jason wick from atf was driving and i was directly behind ken and while we are driving down to our office to have a chat, ken reaches in
his pocket and pulls out a knife. >> clark had to make a split second decision. does he shoot barnes to save his partner. >> i never forget. i pulled my gun out and put it to the back of the seat and very close to squeezing off a round right through the seat. >> instead he got barnes to hand over the knife. everyone taking a deep breath. barnes got out of the car, still insisting he knew nothing about the pizza bombing case, but there was someone else who was eager to talk to investigators. coming up, a pizza bombing bombshell. it's amazing, marjorie never talked about these things to anybody. straight from marjorie's mouth. >> >> marge is like it's not like we didn't measure his neck for the collar. >> when "dateline" continues f. .
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happening, actors kelly preston, wife of john travolta has died after a two year battle with breast cancer. he released a statement thanks the doctors and nurses that cared for his wife with. she was 57 years old. white house officials are criticizing dr. fauci to media, he said that states are opening too quickly and not doing enough to contain the virus. now back to "dateline." >> reporter: go back in time a little: before pleading guilty in the "frozen body" case, marjorie diehl - armstrong sat in the erie county prison trying to figure out how to get away with that murder. she didn't like talking to cops but she had no problem sharing with inmates. >> i met marjorie in the erie county prison. she was brought in -- september 21st of 2003. >> reporter: kelly makela was in the prison for assault and gun charges.
but before that, she trained at a police academy. she knew cops. how they thought. what questions they asked. marjorie thought kelly had expertise that could help her in her upcoming trial. >> marge became my best friend. everybody was stayin' away from her. everybody was staying away from her. and i offered hear cup of coffee. little did i know how important that cup of coffee would be. >> cement your friendship, huh? >> yes, it did. >> reporter: sitting side by side, kelly kept scrupulous notes for what she said was thousands of hours of conversations with marjorie -- often telling the chatterbox to slow down. marjorie thought she was talking to someone who would help her beat the rap for killing her boyfriend. but kelly would also try to use their conversations to steer her new friend to talk about a
different case: the pizza bombing. >> we talked of, you know, her past relationships, the murder of roden, of course, and then slowly into the -- the pizza bomber. >> how does that subject get introduced, kelly, the brian wells pizza case? >> through rothstein. >> okay >> reporter: bill rothstein. marjorie's one time fiance who turned her in for killing roden and hid the body in his freezer. >> what did she tell you about rothstein? >> that he built the bomb. he -- it was his toy. >> reporter: and there it was -- the first time anyone said what investigators suspected bill rothstein was in on the pizza bombing. and now marjorie began to describe a wider plot that seemed to involve every lost soul who had come into her orbit. >> and who were the players in this thing? there's rothstein, who else? >> there's ken barnes, floyd stockton -- james roden -- pinetti, and of course brian wells. >> these are just names to you, you don't know who the -- >> i have no clue. >> --who these players are.
>> none. >> reporter: but kelly did know one of the names: brian wells, the pizza delivery man who'd been blown up. and kelly said marjorie told her that wells was no innocent victim but rather part of the conspiracy. that is, if you can believe a snitch. as for the others, ken barnes, of course, was the crack dealer who was marjorie's fishing buddy. floyd stockton was rothstein's old friend, and was living in rothstein's house at the time of the bombing. marjorie said jim roden, her boyfriend, was in on the plot, too but she killed him when he got cold feet and ended up, ironically, in a freezer. >> he was going to turn her in. and he didn't want to be the getaway driver, he didn't want any part of it, he wanted out. >> and that's marjorie telling you that? >> yes. >> so, roden is dead because -- >> yes. >> --he didn't want to be in on this thing. >> without a doubt. without a doubt. >> reporter: and then there was the other pizza delivery guy, robert pinetti.
pinetti, you may recall, was found dead of a drug overdose before the cops could question him about the bank robbery. >> what about pinetti's death? is that a natural overdose? >> no, she said that they gave him an overdose. yeah they killed him so he wouldn't talk. >> boy, the bodies pile up like firewood in this thing, kelly. >> yeah, you know, somebody joked with me -- once that i was safe because she only killed men. >> reporter: and the motive for the plot? marjorie told kelly she needed $250,000 from the bank to pay ken barnes, who would then kill her father so she could get her inheritance. rothstein got involved, said marjorie, because he knew he was dying and wanted to go out with a bang. >> so, rothstein and marjorie put it together? >> yes. >> this is amazing, because marjorie has never talked about these things to anybody. >> i know. >> and you're taking the notes? >> yeah. there was one moment when i was takin' the notes, and -- marge is, like - - "it's not like we didn't measure his neck for the -- for the bomb -- for the
collar. and we did so in rothstein's kitchen." >> you knew exactly what she meant. >> yes. yes. >> which law enforcement would love to have that quote, maybe the most important words, from their point of view, that you ever wrote down. >> yeah. >> because that connected marjorie to the case they could never make. >> yeah, and -- >> putting the -- putting the brian wells case on her. >> yes. when i realized everything she was tellin' me was the honest-to-gods truth, i had to turn it over. i knew she'd get out and kill again without a doubt. >> reporter: with her attorney, kelly handed the notes over to the prosecutor in the roden case. but inexplicably the explosive notes weren't turned over to investigators in the pizza bombing case for two years. >> i put everything together and wrapped it up in a nice little bow. and the fbi, why it wasn't turned over to the fbi is beyond me. >> reporter: when fbi agent jerry clark finally got the notes, he thought they confirmed much of what he'd long suspected.
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>> reporter: august 2005. two years after the pizza bombing, fbi agent jerry clark had jailhouse notes implicating marjorie. but it wasn't enough. he needed a corroborating witness. then a break. ken barnes was arrested on drug charges. now had nowhere to hide, so clark turned up the pressure. and when he told barnes he had information that he was in on the plot, barnes caved. and he began to tell a story
that would break the case wide open. >> he just decided, "you know what? i'm gonna tell the truth." >> reporter: barnes admitted he was part of the crazy conspiracy that led to the killing of brian wells, the pizza delivery man. a fact he laid out in all its sordid detail. >> he relived the whole thing from the minute he was picked up that day by marjorie diehl-armstrong, to every location that they went through, and what his role was, what everybody else's role was, and how the whole thing was to go down. >> reporter: barnes said floyd stockton was also part of the conspiracy. stockton, remember, was rothstein's old friend who once lived in his house. when stockton found out he'd been ratted out, he decided to talk, too, but only in exchange for immunity, a deal barnes never asked for. >> so, independently, they were saying the same things. and then the inmate witnesses that were being talked to by marjorie diehl-armstrong, their
information independently corroborated. so, everything started to come together. >> reporter: after years of frustration and struggle to solve the pizza bombing, clark was putting all the bizarre pieces of this deadly scheme together. and he finally knew where the call that set it all in motion came from -- and who made it. >> here's the shell station on the righthand side. august 28, 2003, 1:30, a phone call goes to the pizza shop ordering two pizzas, and it comes from that payphone that's in the parking lot that's no longer there. >> and that sets everything in motion, huh -- >> and that sets everything in motion. >> reporter: a new witness, a ups driver, came forward to say he saw two people making the call. >> ordering the pizzas. and sees bill rothstein and marjorie diehl-armstrong at the pay phone. and to me, it doesn't get any more important than that. i mean, that -- that solidifies any question on who made the call. >> reporter: sometime before 2:00 p.m., brian wells left
mama mia's pizza and 15 minutes later drove down this long deserted road to a clearing near this tv tower. clark now knew that waiting for wells were all the conspirators: marjorie, rothstein, barnes, stockton and the second pizza delivery man robert pinetti. >> so here comes wells with the pizzas. where's rothstein? >> rothstein's van's parked here, back door is open, towel on the back of the van with the device sitting right on it. >> reporter: wells saw the device and started to run. >> he's startin' to move this direction. and as he's tryin' to get away, that's when bill rothstein fires the shot in the air, the single shot. >> yeah. and you know that there was a shot fired from his weapon. >> from the weapon that we recovered. and he got to about right here, and that's when mr. barnes tackles and punches mr. wells and says, "you're gonna cooperate." >> when is the device armed? is it right here? >> it's right here. pulled the key out, started the timer. >> tick, tick, tick, huh? >> fifty seven minutes to live
from there. >> reporter: according to barnes and stockton's accounts, the conspirators followed wells as it all went down. at the bank, marjorie and barnes were in a car across the street. >> and they had binoculars, and they could look right down this alley, all the way to the bank to see what was happening. >> reporter: and rothstein? he was hovering in his van ready to collect the money. but the transfer never happened once wells got caught. >> so they're off their script, right from the get go. >> right from the get go this thing went totally sideways. >> reporter: the scavenger hunt turned out to be a deadly hoax. there was no key waiting for wells at the last stop even if he got there. on the ground handcuffed, wells stuck with the script telling cops three african-american men put the bomb around his neck. >> if he said, "i'm in the jam of my lifetime. you guys have gotta help me," it might have played out differently? >> it would have been done that day. he could have said, "it's bill rothstein and it's marjorie diehl- armstrong, it's
ken barnes." >> none of that came out? >> none of that came out that day. >> marjorie diehl and kenneth barnes and other unindicted co-conspirators choreographed every aspect of this bank robbery. >> reporter: in july 2007, the us attorney announced indictments against marjorie diehl-armstrong and ken barnes for armed bank robbery and using a destructive device. also named, two unindicted co-conspirators, both dead, bill rothstein and, to the community's shock, brian wells, the pizza delivery man. the wells family was outraged. "liar" they shouted from the back of the room. barbara white, brian wells' sister. >> so it's through his own misadventure he brings about his death because he's in on it. that's what they're saying, huh? >> that's not true. absolutely not true. and it's wrong for them to shame on -- shame on them. >> i do know my brother's an innocent person. >> reporter: jean heid, brian wells' other sister. >> i heard them implicate my brother for no reason at all. my brother had no motive, my brother had no mindset to be --
to do that. my brother was not involved. >> reporter: but wells was involved with prostitutes -- and investigators discovered that one of them, a woman named jessica hoopsick, was key. wells was more than hoopsick's john, he drove her to get groceries and took her mom to the doctor. hoopsick also knew ken barnes, and one day, she heard barnes say he needed a guy to rob the bank. so hoopsick introduced him to wells. and barnes later told clark wells was with him at the planning meeting a day before the robbery. >> he died. he's a victim. i -- i feel like he is a victim. he really didn't believe it was real. that's why he's cavalier in the bank. that's why he's walking. that's why he gets the lollipop. he doesn't think it's real. and i feel horrible for the family. but if you look really at the evidence and the fact that those prostitutes are in his notebook, in his handwriting, and that he
knew them, and that they introduced him to these other people, it's really undeniable according to the evidence. >> there's plenty of evidence that says brian is an unwilling participant. >> and you'd cite what, jean, when you say that? >> i would cite if you're a willing participant and supposedly you were there the day before, then there's no reason, when you take a pizza order, to write down directions of where you're going because you know where you're going because you've been there the day before. >> and he did that. >> and brian did that. so that's number one. and number two, he was lured into a wooded area by criminals, and they forced this live bomb on him, and shoved notes on him. >> said, "here you go." >> and if you don't do exactly what we say boom. >> reporter: ken barnes pleaded guilty to using a destructive device during a crime of violence and to conspiracy to commit bank robbery.
he was sentenced to 45 years. he agreed to be the star witness against marjorie diehl-armstrong, who pleaded not guilty. it would be one of erie, pa's most sensational trials. but with a long history of killing men, marjorie's conviction would hardly be a slam dunk. >> is a filthy liar. >> reporter: master manipulator, maybe but master-mind?! >> everybody was lying and framing me, okay? >> reporter: marjorie tells her story. would a jury believe her, again? >> oh, my god, if she's acquitted, i'm like, is this possible?! >> reporter: when dateline continues. continues. (brad) how does apartments-dot-com find new listings so quickly?
(operator) got another vacancy at fifth and pine. (brad) oh, that's good. very, very good. hey, but what's up with this one here? (operator) i'm not sure. (brad) see what it's doing? bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. apartments-dot-com. the most popular place to find a place. >> reporter: marjorie diehl-armstrong, erie's resident
black widow and master manipulator, was going on trial for the infamous pizza bombing. as her trial approached, marjorie began to call filmmaker trey borzillieri from prison. as much as he could, trey pressed her for details. >> necessity is the mother of invention, you know. and so, i needed information to get to the -- you know, get to deeper truths in this case and she clearly seemed like the last resort for me. >> hello, trey i've got some interesting news for you. >> reporter: in dozens of recorded calls marjorie spewed out her version of the truth and relentlessly attacked ken barnes, the prosecution's star witness in her upcoming trial. >> ken barnes is a pathological liar and i said this from day one and you know, i may lie a little bit to protect myself cause everybody was lying and framing me, okay? but i'm not a pathological liar. >> reporter: marjorie insisted she had nothing to do with the pizza bombing.
bombastic as ever, she told the filmmaker it was she who solved the case by pointing authorities to rothstein and barnes. >> there's nothing in it for somebody like me who's not a drug addict or an alcoholic or a whore or anything else. there's no reason in god's world to do it and i didn't do it i want to embarrass these people. show what greed will do, but it wasn't me that was the one. >> reporter: as frightening and fascinating a character as she appeared to be, trey wasn't buying marjorie's spin. >> i just was overwhelmed by this dark, dark presence, this dark feeling of, "oh, my god, you know, what am i doing? you know, am i -- am i honestly -- if she's at the center of this, what does this mean?" >> is there anything you'd like to say marjorie. she had danger written all over
here. >> she did. >> i'm innocent. >> reporter: now it would be up to a jury finally to sort it all out. and in the fall of 2010, marjorie went on trial. >> they say you're the mastermind of the collar bombing what do you say? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: in his opening statement the prosecutor put marjorie at the center of the conspiracy to rob the bank and place a live bomb around brian wells's head. >> where were you the day that brian wells was killed? >> well, i certainly wasn't doing anything connected with the crime. >> reporter: a "twisted scheme", the prosecutor called it, a "group of dysfunctional, highly intelligent individuals, completely outsmarted themselves." local reporter paul wagner covered the trial. >> if brian wells had followed all the instructions to the letter, he would have died. there's no question about it. the note was a sham. it was too complicated, too, complex. too much to do to get keys to unlock the collar bombing. it was -- it was a joke. he was a dead man. >> reporter: the case against marjorie came down to an array of compromised witnesses, a crack dealer and four jailhouse
snitches. one by one, they took the stand including kelly makela, with her detailed notes, testifying that marjorie's own words implicated her in the plot. testimony that sent marjorie into a tirade. >> at times, she acted like a cat on a hot tin roof. she was yelling, "liar," and everything else. but i kept my cool. >> just rolled off you, huh? >> yeah, i'd look at her, you know, and she was havin' a fit. i mean, those notes were very, very important. >> the star witnesses for the government was ken barnes. he was a co-conspirator. he said that diehl-armstrong approached him. wanted him to kill her father. that was the motive for the collar bombing. >> reporter: the mastermind of this money making scheme, barnes suggested, was marjorie, who was the key link to all the other co- conspirators. >> he kinda put it all together. and marjorie diehl-armstrong despised him durin' the trial. >> reporter: in the courtroom
marjorie's impulsive behavior was on full display. a perfect, mesmerizing subject for trey's documentary. >> when you see her, i mean, it almost looks like a cartoon character, she has the -- the dark, you know, raven hair and the big blue eyes and the intense, brooding look to her. >> reporter: and marjorie held center court. when the judge and jury were out there was no question who was in charge. >> i walked into the courtroom and, she looked back and said, "hey, trey, what are you doin' over there? you're on the prosecution side. get over here." and -- she called me out. so, i stood up and -- >> moved pews. --walked-- moved over. >> reporter: when the prosecution rested there was little doubt marjorie would testify. whether her attorney wanted her to or not, she was going to tell her story. >> one of the biggest challenges in this case for me was to deal with her mental illness. >> reporter: doug sugrue was marjorie's defense attorney. >> marjorie, with her
personality disorders and her narcissism, she was always going to testify. you could not keep her quiet. >> and who did the jurors meet when marjorie showed up? >> when she was -- on the stand, i mean, it was, in essence -- standing room only -- they met somebody that, you know -- has such attitude. >> you're on the edge of your seat because you know, you're -- this speaks danger, you know, wow. you know, is this -- is this the -- a real-life witch? >> she called barnes the devil himself. she called rothstein -- an idiot. >> reporter: marjorie had told trey that she was going to tell the jury how much she disliked her father. not a winning strategy he thought. >> and i said, "you know, marjorie, that's the government's motive in this case, is that you wanted to kill your father." and she's like, "well, i just want it to be real. and i would never want to kill my father." >> reporter: on the stand marjorie cried, yelled and unleashed a tornado of words and insults insisting she was not involved in the scheme. she admitted she was near the tower but too far away to know what was going on.
>> she claimed -- that she was there and that she had seen floyd stockton, that she had seen bill rothstein and ken barnes. and she had seen them go -- go back to the tower site and that brian wells was there. // >> marjorie desperately felt that the federal government was accusing her of a crime that she was not involved in. and she would've never have knowingly been involved in a crime that was so cruel to brian wells. >> reporter: but when the prosecutor went one on one with marjorie her defense crumbled. >> the cross-examination did not go good for her. the prosecutor is a skilled prosecutor, and he was able to show discrepancies in her testimony, and i think he won some big points with the jury. >> reporter: and when marjorie stepped down from the stand, the defense rested. >> how long was the jury out? >> a day and a half. >> reporter: long enough to raise doubt. long enough to remember that marjorie had killed and been acquitted before. >> i was like, "oh, my god, if she's acquitted, i think the sun and the moon are gonna reverse positions." i'm like, "is this possible?" >> reporter: in the case that's
>> reporter: seven years after the infamous pizza bombing, the stage was set to bring this absurd but deadly scheme to a close. on november 1, 2010, the jury concluded marjorie diehl armstrong was all sound and fury with no defense. the verdict, guilty on all counts. and marjorie being marjorie, she let her attorney have it. >> after the verdict came in, she turned to doug sughrue and said, "you failed me miserably." and looked at the jury and said, "i'll be back. we're goin' to appeal this." and then she was led out of the courtroom. and everyone assumed she would
receive a life sentence, which she did just a few months later. >> reporter: for agent clark, the end of a long quest to solve this wicked scheme had finally arrived. who's your mastermind in the pizza case? >> number one, marjorie diehl-armstrong wanted her dad dead. and in order to do that, she needed money to hire ken barnes to kill him. that's why she wanted to rob the bank. but the scheme in how they robbed the bank and the scavenger hunt and the notes and all the involvement in the case related to the bank robbery itself was bill rothstein. >> reporter: both their thumbs are on the scale. but his is pushing down a little heavier. >> i -- i really believe so. and bill rothstein really wanted to leave this earth with a perfect crime. >> reporter: but for many, the question of whether brian wells was a willing participant or an innocent victim in his demise wouldn't go away. >> the evidence clearly shows that he had some knowledge of
the people, had met them the day before, had participated in at least some fashion, and knew about the event. again, he was tricked. he was duped. and he was killed by a group of people who turned on him. but unfortunately, he did know. >> reporter: but to this day, the wells family insists brian was only a pizza delivery man pulled into a diabolical plot by a group of misfits. >> he was never in trouble with the law. the people that are involved in his murder, they have -- they have a history. rothstein does, marjorie diehl, ken barnes. these people are criminals. >> reporter: if brian is innocent, you have a murder case. >> it is murder. i don't say the word "killed." he didn't pass away. he was murdered. >> reporter: meanwhile filmmaker trey borzillieri kept working. he had a documentary to make. and he scored two big interviews. one was with marjorie.
she spoke via skype to trey and an attorney. still denying, as only marjorie could, that she had anything to do with the bank robbery. she said the prosecution's motive was laughable. >> here i am, i've killed two boyfriends in self-defense. but i've killed two boyfriends, right? would i have to hire ken barnes to kill my father if i hated my father that much and wanted him dead? or would i do it for free for myself? come on. be reasonable. >> reporter: it's on my résume. >> yeah. >> reporter: i kill men. >> yeah. >> reporter: trey decided to call his movie, "evil genius" with marjorie in mind. but it was the question of brian wells' role that started to consume him. eventually, he came to the same conclusion that the wells family had since day one. >> i don't believe he was involved. i believe he was an innocent victim who was targeted for reasons and that was on display in the crime. >> reporter: wells, innocent or not? trey's other big "get" was with jessica hoopsick. the prostitute who testified that she introduced brian wells to co- conspirator ken barnes.
>> one night, she was able to -- to do this interview for us in the back of a van. >> reporter: and she becomes the punctuation point of your film. >> yeah. >> reporter: this is the reveal. jessica speaks and, you know what, she's gonna say that brian wells was just a pawn. when she spoke to trey, hoopsick changed her story. wells, she claimed, couldn't be part of the plot. because the pizza delivery man was with her the day before the robbery and not at some planning meeting with the other conspirators. could it be? did wells really have an alibi? >> i want people to know that he was innocent. and that he was a good guy. >> reporter: hoopsick was racked with guilt. but was she telling the truth? she admitted she wasn't with wells the entire day before the robbery. and three of the conspirators
put wells at that pre-planning meeting. >> after hearing her tell her story, i believe her. i mean, i understand that, obviously from her background. and you know, what she does that -- that she is the epitome of an unreliable witness. >> reporter: tells you the sun's gonna come up in the east, get a second opinion, right? >> and -- and so -- but she had everything to lose. >> reporter: hoopsick was never charged in the pizza bombing case. but by her own admission, she set wells up with the conspirators. >> she fed him to the wolves. dennis, it's like right out of a horror movie. this death trap was locked around his neck. such a horrific way to die. >> reporter: and wells would die again and again once trey's documentary "evil genius" began to stream on netflix. the twisted ending creating sensational headlines around the world. but some say this entire evil fiasco could have been avoided long ago, if only the system hadn't failed during majorie's first murder trial. >> she should have been committed to a mental institution. and that's where she should have remained for the rest of her life. and because that didn't happen,
you know, we can see this -- this deadly wake that she left. >> reporter: marjorie diehl-armstrong died in a texas prison in 2017 from cancer. she was 68 years old. >> she was an evil person. and she did very, very bad things to many men in her life. >> reporter: do you put the two pizza guys' deaths on her? >> i certainly do. >> reporter: the boyfriend in the freezer. >> the boyfriend in the freezer. the first boyfriend she shot and the second boyfriend, which was her husband, that she took to the hospital. so, maybe five dead men around her. >> reporter: does that make her a serial killer? >> it does. >> reporter: a serial killer, who held sway over a mystifying cast of supporting characters. >> who are these people that have such hatred in their heart that could do this to somebody? nobody deserves to die this way. >> reporter: and maybe that's the hardest part about the whole sordid affair, trying to understand marjorie, rothstein, barnes and the rest.
fractured intellectuals, broken souls who lost their humanity on a descent into evil. ♪ ♪ this sunday, surges, shortages and schools. >> we don't have a national plan. we don't have a national strategy. >> covid-19 cases exploding with shortages of beds. >> frankly, we're running out of room. >> equipment and tests. >> i got told i would get my results back in seven to 14 days. >> a surge driven largely by states reopening too early. and by foolish behavior. >> president trump is still denying the crisis. >> put out the fires as they come out. you call them embers and fires and whatever you want to call them. >> despite the reality on the ground.