By Judy Lin, The Associated Press
ERIE, Pa. (AP) -- It seems logical to conclude that a pizza
deliveryman who died when a bomb on his chest exploded minutes after
he robbed a bank in this lakefront community was nothing but a pawn.
There was a nine-page note found in his car warning him to "cooperate
and you will survive." The bomb was locked by a metal collar around
his neck. He pleaded for police to help him before the bomb detonated.
Yet only Wednesday did the medical examiner rule that Brian Wells'
death was a homicide. Investigators said they have made progress in
the six months since the bizarre case topped national headlines and a
federal and state task force of 50 toiled around the clock chasing
leads. But no arrest has been made and no suspect has been publicly
"Whenever we think about it, we think they're still looking for one
little thing -- like who did it," said Linda Payne, who rented a
cottage behind her home to Wells.
Wells, a soft-spoken 46-year-old, died Aug. 28 when a bomb hung from
a triple-banded collar around his neck exploded while he sat
handcuffed minutes after robbing a PNC Bank branch in Summit
Township, south of Erie. While surrounded by police, Wells told
officers a man had locked the bomb to his neck, started its timer and
forced him to rob the bank.
Erie police's bomb squad was a few miles away when the device
detonated. No one else was injured in the blast. Later, the rambling
note and a cane-shaped gun were found in Wells' car.
Since August, only a few new details have emerged. Authorities this
month released portions of the handwritten note, revealing a
controlling personality who may be out for revenge and one of the
places Wells was directed to go to after the robbery.
Without a clear lead, FBI officials say the investigation will take
time. A toned-down task force is tracing forensic evidence from the
unique collar and gun, profiling the note's author and tracking leads
filtering through e-mails, calls and letters from the public.
Authorities are still offering a $50,000 reward in the case.
Criminologists note the case is particularly baffling with a dead
witness, no obvious suspects and the fact that money might not be the
only motive. Time also is working against investigators. Charles
Wellford, a criminology professor at University of Maryland, said the
likelihood of solving a murder drops after six months.
The lack of answers has discouraged Wells' family and friends, who
wonder if the case will ever be solved.
"The family is as good as can be expected, and frustrated," said John
Wells, 41, a toolmaker in Arizona, and one of six children in the
family. "They won't come out and totally exonerate him. He was a
totally blameless victim."
John Wells, Brian's younger brother, said he believes his brother had
no knowledge of the scheme, let alone knew his captors.
The FBI has only hinted they believe Brian Wells was an unwitting
victim and say the medical examiner's ruling won't affect their
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said he approved Wells' death
certificate on the basis that his life was taken by another. "At this
time, we have no evidence within medical or scientific certainty to
suggest anything other than that," Cook said.
John Wells believes a group of men chased his brother through the
woods, fired a shot at him and clamped the device around his neck
when he made his last delivery of the day -- two pizzas to a
television transmission tower.
Owners of Mama Mia's pizzeria declined to comment. They have said
they didn't hesitate to send Wells to the address because workers
have called from work sites before.
John Wells said the family is angry that state police didn't help
Brian take off the bomb. Nor did police immediately go search for
keys Wells believes were planted in various locations to disarm the
"This was just a group of psychotics who went on an elaborate murder
scheme," John Wells said. "This was nothing more than a murder by
psychotics desperate for attention."
John Wells said he runs countless scenarios by his siblings -- from
domestic terrorism to mistaken identity. Was a T-shirt with a Guess
brand logo draped over the bomb meant to taunt authorities?
"There's just more unanswered questions that do not add up to
anything," Wells said.
Family and friends would like more of the note released, arguing
that's how Theodore Kaczynski's brother began to suspect him as the
"Unabomber" before his 1995 arrest.
Federal investigators contend releasing more would compromise the
investigation. Bob Rudge, of the FBI in Erie, said what was released
should be enough to give clues.
There have been cases of necklace bombs placed on people in Columbia
and Venezuela for ransom, though investigators haven't found any
international link to this case. The Erie case remains the only known
U.S. robbery of its kind where a timed bomb detonated, said Kenneth
McCabe, FBI Pittsburgh special agent in charge.
"It's not like TV and movies where things jump out at you," McCabe
said. "It's a gumshoe investigation. What we have to do is look at
Wells was instructed to go to a McDonald's sign yards away from the
bank, followed by a fire hydrant near an eyeglass shop. Police
surrounded his Geo Metro at the parking lot of the shop.
Wells was to have gone on to an exit along Interstate 79 where he was
to get more information near a sign. From there, Wells was to have
stopped at a sign marking the McKean Township line, Rudge said. A
site under the Grubb Road overpass on Interstate 90 was to serve as
an "emergency site" if those sites failed, Rudge said.
Evidence was collected from those places, Rudge said, though he
declined to say what was found. He also declined to say whether the
sites provided information to disarm the bomb.
Rudge said it was "not plausible" for Wells to reach all the sites
before the bomb blew up, but he declined to say how long Wells was
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The first 911 call of the bank robbery was recorded at 2:38 p.m. The
bomb detonated at 3:18 p.m.