Revisiting The Bomb Collar Pizza Guy, Who Everyone Got Wrong
Imagine we were to tell you about, oh, just the weirdest crime ever. An impossible tale, about a hapless victim who finds himself literally locked in a deathtrap, the sort of trap dreamed up by a supervillain more concerned with entertaining the audience than making sense.
Now, let's say that years later, we come back and said, uh, it sounds like we might have got it wrong. The man wasn't exactly some clueless bystander after all but actually was in league with the gang behind the deathtrap. The story sounds so grand and strange only because the gang scripted it that way, and he was one of the people who scripted it. Fine, fine ... but imagine now that, rather than ruining the story, this added info is a twist that somehow makes the story even weirder.
We're talking about Brian Wells, the exploding bomb collar pizza man. On August 28, 2003, Brian walked into a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He handed a teller a note saying he was robbing the place, and he got $8,702 of the $250,000 he was seeking. Around his neck was a bomb designed to explode if tampered with, a weapon that we would go on to compare to something out of the Saw series—you might also think of bomb collars from Fallout video games or the bomb collars used by The Riddler. In his hand was another gadget right out of a Batman comic: a shotgun shaped like a cane.
The gang who'd strapped the bomb to him had forced him into the robbery, it seemed. And when he walked out of the bank, money in a bag, his task was not yet done. He had on him notes with instructions pointing him to a destination, where he'd find another note with even more instructions. He had to finish the treasure hunt to get keys to undo the collar, else the timer would run out and kill him.
We wrote about this story many years ago, and in the decade that followed, it received wider attention, including a Netflix miniseries. At the time, the way we described it, Wells' pizzeria received an order luring him to a dark road, and he had no idea the callers were going to entrap him in their plot. This was what everyone thought at first.
Investigators later concluded that Wells knew the gang—he first ran into them because he liked paying for sex at an underground brothel owned by one of the gang, a crack dealer. Before that fateful day, he met with them repeatedly as they planned the heist, and police say he tried on the fake bomb collar in advance to see how it fit. Okay, this strange and flamboyant criminal plot suddenly makes more sense. It was just an elaborate story to spook the bank folk, and then Brian could leave the money at a drop-off, pretend to have been coerced once police questioned him, and quietly receive his cut from the gang later on.
Except, the bomb around the neck? It was real. He thought it was going to be fake right up until the trial runs were done and they strapped it onto him. After robbing the bank, he called out sincerely for help from police, who evacuated the area but didn't defuse the bomb. And then the bomb detonated, blowing a hole in his chest and killing him.
The whole story now becomes utter madness. Police confirmed that the gang genuinely wanted money from the robbery—this wasn’t some storybook plot designed to teach Brian a lesson or just for chaos. They had this guy willing to rob a bank for them, and all the plot needed was a fake device that looked like a bomb (if it even needed that). And yet they designed and used a real bomb, and they set up a real treasure hunt with instructions hidden in locations just as the note said.
Their reason? They thought it would cleaner to eliminate Brian as a witness, they later said. Uh, okay, but you could have managed that by shooting Brian, with your gun, after he handed you the money. Eliminating him via throat explosion meant he could—and in fact did—die before ever handing the money over ... and he'd leave behind pockets full of evidence pointing the police in your direction.
Getting $250,000 from the bank, incidentally, was just phase one of their plan. They planned to use the money to hire a hit man, to kill one gang member's father, for his money. However, it turned out this would-be heiress greatly overestimated her inheritance. Her father actually left her a lot less than the $250,000 they planned to spend to kill him ... and also a lot less than the $8,702 the robbery netted.