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Police, FBI seek help identifying neck clamp that held bomb on robber

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

ERIE, Pa. -- The pizza delivery man who died after robbing a bank last week was killed by a brick-sized bomb that exploded while it was attached to his neck by a locking, circular metal clamp, authorities said.

The metal ring in the top photo was around the neck of bank robber Brian Douglas Wells and was attached to a bomb that exploded, killing him. (Rich Forsgren, Erie Times-News via AP)

Federal and state investigators yesterday would not say what kind of explosives were used or how they were detonated in the device that killed Brian Douglas Wells in front of horrified police and passersby.

But they released photographs of the bomb, also posted on the FBI Web site, in hopes that someone will help them to identify its maker. They have established a 24-hour telephone line, at 866-219-2008, to collect tips about the device.

Identifying the person who made the bomb could help them to unravel the bizarre circumstances of Wells' death Thursday afternoon in the midst of one of suburban Erie's busiest commercial districts.

It could also help to determine if Wells was a willing participant, or a hapless victim who was forced to rob the bank in an effort to save his own life.

"We are exploring all scenarios: Did he act alone or with someone else? Was he in on it, or was he an unwilling hostage?" said Special Agent Robert Rudge of the Erie FBI office. "At this point, we cannot say with any degree of certainty."

Brian Douglas Wells

Wells, 46, of Millcreek, robbed a PNC Bank branch in Summit Township, about a mile south of Erie, at 2:40 p.m. Thursday after telling employees he was carrying a bomb. Witnesses telephoned state police, who stopped Wells' car on bustling Peach Street, a strip of malls, car dealerships and restaurants that bisects this northwestern Pennsylvania city and several adjoining communities.

As troopers handcuffed Wells, he told them that a bomb was attached to his body and would explode soon. He also insisted that he had been forced to wear the bomb and hold up the bank.

Camera crews from Erie television stations recorded Wells as he sat inside a ring of police cruisers, telling police the bomb was about to go off and begging them to help him. Erie's police bomb squad was on its way when the device exploded at 3:18 p.m., killing Wells instantly.

The bomb consisted of a metal circle -- similar to a handcuff -- that clamped around Wells' neck and a rectangular device that hung underneath his shirt. Both were made of bluish colored metal.

At a news conference yesterday in Erie, FBI Agent Robert Rudge holds up an image of the locking device found around the neck of Brian Douglas Wells. Behind Rudge is Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini. (Rich Forsgren, Erie Times-News via AP)

The rectangular portion of the bomb featured dials similar to those used on combination locks, along with four apparent key holes.

Wells' death is being investigated by FBI agents from Erie, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state and local police and the Erie County Coroner's office.

A single man who lived alone but for three cats, Wells worked for much of the past 10 years at Mama Mia's Pizza-Ria on Peach Street.

He last left the pizzeria Thursday afternoon to deliver two pizzas to what turned out to be a fake address. The site is a remote gravel road leading off Peach Street to a broadcast transmission tower.

Wells next turned up at the bank, about 1 1/2 miles from the pizza shop, where he gave tellers a lengthy handwritten note demanding money. That note and a second note found in his car, which included instructions for him to follow, are being analyzed at FBI laboratories.

The notes could be of invaluable help to the investigation, said handwriting expert, personality profiler and syndicated columnist Michelle Dresbold of Squirrel Hill, who isn't involved in the case but has worked on numerous criminal cases for Pittsburgh police, the FBI and other agencies.

The fact that the notes are said to be extensive would be a tremendous help, she said, because bank robbery notes usually are short and leave little to work with for an analyst.

"When people print they are trying to disguise their writing and themselves," she said. "However, in printed handwriting you still give something away, something you do subconsciously, that will identify you as the hand writer."

Rudge would not disclose the contents of the notes but said behavior assessors at the FBI's National Center for Analysis of Violent Crimes are working to develop such a profile.

The FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., also is examining the bomb, Wells' clothing and other evidence.

Also yesterday, investigators said they have not yet established a link between the robbery that led to Wells' death and the death three days later of a co-worker.

Robert Pinetti, 43, of Erie's Lawrence Park neighborhood, was found dead in his bed Sunday in the home he shared with his parents. His death was a troubling coincidence for investigators because he'd worked with Wells at Mama Mia's.

Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk said preliminary autopsy results for Pinetti showed no signs of trauma but revealed the presence of methadone and a muscle relaxant. Pinetti had a history of drug abuse, Foulk said, but more tests are needed to determine if he died from an accidental or deliberate overdose, or from other causes.


Staff Writer Michael A. Fuoco contributed to this report. Cindi Lash can be reached at clash@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1973.

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