YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

'Pizza Bomber' Case Continues to Be a Riddle

The family of a deliveryman killed a year ago by a bomb around his neck wants the law to clear him and the guilty to step up.

September 12, 2004|Dan Nephin | Associated Press Writer

ERIE, Pa. — The call to Mama Mia's pizzeria came in about 1:30 p.m. The caller directed the deliveryman to a rural spot along a main drag, where a gravel road leads to a television transmission tower.

Brian Wells set out to deliver the order for two pies -- sausage and pepperoni -- to the mysterious address, then turned up about an hour later and roughly two miles away at a PNC Bank branch in Summit Township, with a note demanding money and saying he had a bomb.

Wells took an undisclosed amount of money from a teller, got into his Geo Metro and was surrounded by police a short time later in a parking lot. State troopers pulled him out of the car and handcuffed him. Hanging from his neck under his T-shirt was a triple-banded metal collar and a device with a locking mechanism that kept it in place. Attached to the collar was a bomb.

"It's going to go off," Wells said. "I'm not lying."

Someone -- he apparently didn't say who, if he knew -- had started a timer on the bomb, Wells said, and forced him to rob the bank. "Avoid panicking the tellers or customers," said a nine-page note recovered from the car, although it warned: "Use the weapon if anyone does not cooperate or attempts to leave the bank."

As the 46-year-old deliveryman sat handcuffed on the ground in front of his car while police waited for the bomb squad, the bomb exploded, killing him, exactly 40 minutes after he entered the bank. Police found a gun resembling a cane in the car.

Was Wells forced to commit the bank robbery after his last delivery, as he claimed in the moments before his death? Or was he a willing participant? Today, the mystery surrounding that series of events a year ago has yielded more questions than clues and has rallied Wells' family to clear his name, something federal authorities aren't ready to do.

"Pretty much, we're looking forward to the day when everyone responsible for Brian's death is brought to justice," said Wells' brother, John Wells, who lives in Glendale, Ariz.

Wells' sister, Jean Heid, begged anyone with information to come forward. In an e-mail to Associated Press the day before the anniversary, she wrote: "It is so difficult for me to believe that someone's heart could be so hardened as to continue to leave our family with so much grief. Please don't be afraid to come forward, in confidence, if you know who took Brian's life. You hold the 'key' to 'unlock' our grief and heal our pain. If you, who killed my brother, is/are alive and are reading this, please come forward to personally receive my and God's forgiveness."

FBI Special Agent Bob Rudge, the lead investigator and second-in-command of the bureau's Pittsburgh office, said he understood the family's frustrations, but Wells couldn't be ruled out until the perpetrator or perpetrators were found.

"We are conducting the investigation as if he were a homicide victim ... but we can't say with certainty" that Wells was a victim, Rudge said.

Two agents are assigned full time to the case, which is also being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Pennsylvania State Police. The FBI recently released more portions of the nine-page note and doubled the reward to $100,000.

Investigators have pored over nearly 1,000 tips, Rudge said. Most of them came soon after Well's death, he said, but one or two dribble in each week.

The FBI dubbed the person believed to be behind the crime the "Collarbomber" and Rudge said he had "left his blueprint of his personality on every aspect of the crime."

"FBI analysts believe that Collarbomber has written other letters over his lifetime with similar themes of power, control, ultimatums, limited options, wanting revenge, and dire consequences if his demands are not met," Rudge said. "The letter could have gone to banks, businesses or individuals as part of some real or perceived injustice."


Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook waited until February to rule Wells' death a homicide. He based the ruling on the definition that homicide is death at the hands of another.

That doesn't mean Wells wasn't involved, Cook said, although that's based on his gut feeling, not evidence.

Portions of the note reveal a controlling personality whose main motive may have been revenge, not money, the FBI has said. Among the author's "rules:" "Stay calm and do as instructed to survive."

The FBI believes the author constructed the bomb and cane gun.

Cook said the note was game-like in that Wells was instructed to travel to four different locations that day, Aug. 28, 2003, and was given 55 minutes to complete a series of tasks before he would be able to disarm the bomb.

But authorities said there wasn't enough time to make all the stops. The first 911 call about the bank robbery was recorded at 2:38 p.m.; the bomb detonated 40 minutes later.

Los Angeles Times Articles