Evil Genius: The True Story Of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist is the latest Netflix true crime series that will shock and confound you, and leave you with a ton of unanswered questions. It tells the story of a 2003 bank robbery in Erie, Pennsylvania, where pizza delivery man Brian Wells walked into PNC Bank wearing a bomb attached to him via a metal collar and handed staff a note demanding $250,000. He walked out with $8702 and was arrested 15 minutes later. The bomb’s timer ran out shortly after and it went off, killing the 46-year-old.
The four-part programme goes to some lengths to unravel the mystery surrounding the heist and the crimes connected to it, but for each question solved, another pops up to puzzle further. Here are the big questions Evil Genius leaves unanswered.
How involved was Brian Wells?
Throughout the documentary, Wells’ involvement is in the heist is a hotly debated point. Was he in the plot or an unsuspecting victim? Did he think the bomb was fake – until it was too late? Why did he tell police three black men held him down and forced the collar bomb around his neck if he wasn’t a part of the group behind the robbery? Then, at the documentary’s end, Jessica Hoopsick, a prostitute frequented by Wells, drops the bombshell that she solicited him to get involved on behalf of Ken Barnes because he was “a pushover” who could be easily manipulated.
That might seem like the answer if you’re happy to take things at face value, but if there’s anything Evil Genius shows us, it’s that none of the people involved in the bizarre case had any problem with lying. The FBI have already disputed Hoopsick’s account, saying there’s evidence that directly contradicts her. With Wells being killed in the explosion and most of the co-conspirators having since died, we may never know what his real role in the plot was.
What was Brian Wells’ motive for robbing a bank?
If he wasn’t a co-conspirator, Wells would have had a reason for wanting to get involved in the bank robbery. There’s the suggestion made in the series that he may have had money issues stemming from a gambling habit, while Hoopsick was pregnant with his child at the time of his death. Some articles published after the show’s premiere claim he also had drug and alcohol habits of his own and was in debt to a crack dealer in relation to drugs he had obtained to pay prostitutes with.
Should Floyd Stockton have been given immunity?
Floyd Stockton – Bill Rothstein’s roommate and a co-conspirator in the case – admitted to locking the collar bomb around Wells’ death before he was sent off to rob the bank. He was given immunity by authorities on the condition that he told the truth, but how could police be sure that he was?
Was Robert Pinetti’s death linked to the case?
Robert Pinetti’s death days after Wells’ is mentioned only briefly in Evil Genius, yet it seems to be linked to the case. A colleague of Wells at the pizzeria, Pinetti died from an overdose, allegedly from drugs given to him by the group behind the heist. Stockton has also claimed that Pinetti was present when Wells had the collar bomb put on him. Was his death just an untimely coincidence or was he silenced?
Who was the mastermind behind the plot?
The filmmakers behind Evil Genius seem to settle on the idea that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind responsible for the crimes. She would go on to admit killing both James Roden and a previous boyfriend, however, she lay the blame for the heist and death of Wells on Bill Rothstein, who certainly had the motive and knowledge to have come up with the plan and executed it. Or, could they have both have been equally as responsible?
Why didn’t investigators look into the blue van?
In episode one, PA State Trooper Lamont King describes following the directions left for Wells in what would have been the next step of the plot and witnessing a blue van driving through a field opposite him. He recounted that the van stopped and the driver sat looking at him for a while before driving off again. He was sure the driver was involved, yet no one looked into who might own the van or what it might have been doing in the area until filmmakers realised Bill Rothstein owned a blue van. It’s later excused with a simple “sometimes officers miss things”, but if King was so sure, why didn’t he – or someone else – follow up on it?
Why weren’t investigators more interested in Bill Rothstein?
Rothstein called the police to tip them off to the fact he had James Roden’s, Diehl-Armstrong’s boyfriend, lying dead in his freezer. He told them he was scared of her and that she had killed Roden. Later, he gave police a tour of both his and her houses, describing what happened in Roden’s death and the aftermath. Rothstein went so far as to tell officers the guilt was making him suicidal and showed them a suicide note. The first thing it said was: “This has nothing to do with the Wells case.”
When quizzed on why he wrote that, Rothstein reasoned he hadn’t wanted them to waste their time trying to connect Roden and Wells’ death. The whole time he played the concerned co-operator, eaten up by guilt and trying to make amends for assisting Diehl-Armstrong in disposing of the body. It later turned out that, if Rothstein had been investigated more closely, investigators might have realised he wasn’t all he seemed.