Fans that were left hungry after Making a Murderer can rest easy now that a very binge-watchable documentary is out on Netflix. Evil Genius, directed by Trey Borzilleri, features the true crime story of the “Pizza Bomber” bank heist in which Brian Wells, a 46-year-old pizza driver, waltzes into a bank on August 28th, 2003, and hands the teller a note, demanding $250,000. It’s also worth noting that he does so with a bomb strapped to his chest.
He leaves the bank with not even 1/4th of the amount requested and is eventually caught by police, which quickly escalates into a standoff. I would say this is more like a standstill because it’s very clear that Brian is agitated, nervous, and is begging police to help him to get to the next clues. He’s repeatedly told them that he was forced to wear the bomb and rob the bank. To make matters worse, this all happens while he is handcuffed. The bomb goes off and Brian dies because of his injuries. This, of course, launches a murder investigation that, as the documentary will show, never completely becomes solved, though we do get some sense of closure. The mastermind behind the entire scheme, as is alleged, is Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Through sheer manipulation, she gets the men in her life to do her bidding, including theft and murder; thus, turning into one of the most complicated and confusing crime cases.
It goes without saying that the rest of the review will contain spoilers. So, if you simply want to know if the documentary is good enough to watch – know that is. It isn’t great, but it is certainly compelling. However, a word of caution; you want to go in knowing as little as the case as possible. It’s also worth it to watch it twice just to understand how every thread connects. It’s a huge web of controversy.
What Likely Happened
I want to be very clear that the following is based on information gathered from the documentary, and general speculation about what might have occurred on that fateful day.
Prior to the Event
The real basis for the case, as we learn in the documentary, rests on the fact that, when Majorie’s mother died, her father got the money out of PNC Bank. She was left out of the inheritance. Majorie is said to have hated her father and wanted him killed.
She approaches Kenneth Barnes, a local drug dealer, and asks him how much it would be to have her father killed. Majorie, in the documentary, questions this accusation because as she puts it, if she already killed two people, why then would she want help killing someone else? The easy answer to that was that there would be a severed tie to his murder.
Barnes is said to have told her he would do it for $250,000 with $100,000 up front. Not only is 250k exactly the amount written in the ransom notes, but Marjorie claims that Barnes stole money from her, which is supposedly pay back for something that she owed him. It seems incredibly logical, then, that she paid that deposit and then later, they both claimed he stole from her.
Marjorie then recruits Bill Rothstein and his roommate, Floyd Stockton. It was not a secret that Rothstein was in love with her, hence the motivation to help. It also is not out of the realm of possibility that he and his roommate made the bombs together, especially because the latter had books on how to make bombs in his possession (found when is discovered living at another location). It is my personal opinion that she promised to marry Rothstein, who had apparently asked her repeatedly to do so over the years. It would have given him a motive beyond the financial.
Marjorie’s boyfriend, Jim Roden, is probably asked to help, or somehow found out. Either way, it’s likely he threatened to go to the police. We know, based on Marjorie’s own testimony, that she killed him and Rothstein put him in the freezer.
Kenneth Barnes recruits local prostitute, Jessica Hoopsick, in helping him find someone that would be easy enough to trick into robbing the bank. Brian Wells was one of her customers, so she claims she gave up his name. The four agree to the plan and end up carrying it out. Note: An eyewitness places Wells at a “meeting” with the four, leading them to believe he was in on it. To me, it would make logical sense for them to have gotten his schedule (because of Hoopsick) and wanted to get a feel for him, the length of time for the delivery, and so on.
The group consisting of Marjorie, Bill, Kenneth, and Jim Roden meet at the tower and order the pizza. Brian Wells arrives, and the group forces the collar on him and gives him the instructions for the first step.
Following that step, Brian goes to PNC bank where he gives the teller the note and receives the money. The documentary, and police, make it a point to mention the fact that he seemed “casual” to the point where he even took a lollipop from the counter on the basket. I’m of the mind that this was probably a way for himself to calm down, collect his thoughts, etc. He may have also hoped, and kept telling himself, that there wasn’t truly a bomb strapped to his body. Of course, I may totally be wrong in this opinion.
Brian is caught and apprehended by police. He gets out of the car, willfully gets on his knees and places his hands behind his head. After some back and forth, the bomb explodes. It’s important to note that Brian does not die right away. He lays there, bleeding and injured, on the ground and then dies much later. A decision is even made to decapitate Brian to inspect the collar further.
Brian is eventually picked up by the coroner and an autopsy is underway; along with a full-on investigation launched by the FBI. Note: If you read the notes, one of them outright says “a sentry will be watching at each stop.” Each of the four were watching Bill and eventually him with the police. The group quickly tried to retrieve the rest of the letters. In fact, one of the investigators says he sees a man in a blue van near one of the notes, which Rothstein happens to drive.
The manhunt is underway and strangely, the manager of the pizza place, Rob Pinetti, ends up dying by way of a cocaine overdose. I believe that it wouldn’t be all that hard for Barnes to give him an excessive amount, or bad batch, to kill him. The reasoning would simply be because he picked up the phone before Brian and was simply another way that the four would be tied to the murder. After all, he died right before he was supposed to speak with investigators.
Rothstein eventually calls the police and admits that he has a body in his freezer, but blames Marjorie. It is most likely that she reneged on any agreement they had prior to the incident.
This is where the documentary pretty much starts off and continues up until 2017 when Marjorie dies in prison, put there for both Roden’s murder and the bank heist. Unfortunately, she is never tied to the murder of Brian Wells, who the police believe was in on the case.
As mentioned, the full story of this case is likely to never be uncovered. This is especially likely because many of those involved either outright refuse to talk, or they have already been passed. There are also threads to the case that the documentary fails to go deeper on – the reoccurring theme of mental illness, just how culpable was Brian Wells (though it does seem bias in this regard), who decided to make the bomb live, and why. In spite of that, the documentary is worthy of binge-watching and offers many of these unanswered questions up for the audience’s own further dissection.