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Who Is The 'Evil Genius' In America's Weirdest Bank Heist?

This Netflix original documentary proves that true crime is stranger than fiction
by Karl R. De Mesa | Jun 10, 2018
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Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is a cursed woman.

Either that or all her past lovers are simply very unlucky. But the two former boyfriends she eventually confessed to killing are proof of her murderous ability. Then there’s also the curious case of her husband Richard Armstrong, who mysteriously died from cerebral hemorrhage in 1984—which is to say, that wasn’t suspicious at all, ma’am!

The first season of Evil Genius is a 4-part documentary mini-series about “The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist.” It's about how Marjorie and her cohorts masterminded the infamous pizza bomber heist of 2003 that made its way into the crime lexicon as one of the most complex, malevolent, and eventually absurd attempts at robbing a bank in America.

The range of facts, from shocking, to head-scratching, to comedic, abound in the media and can easily be researched for those with any facility for Google. But the main difference in this docu drama is about how co-director Trey Borzillieri eventually uncovered more confessions and more angles previously unknown by the investigators only 15 years later.

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What is the Pizza Bomb Heist?

The early oughts was when new grunge was coming to fruition with rap rock and new metal. But in 2003 in Erie, Pennsylvania, a 46-year-old pizza delivery man named Brian Wells, eventually known as the pizza bomber, walked into a bank with a collar bomb and a cane gun and tried to rob the place with, it now looks like, as much ineptitude as possible.

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Police were quickly on the scene and they found Brian desperately trying to solve clues in the notes that someone had given him (likely whoever put the collar bomb on his neck) that would lead him to the key that would unlock the bomb on him, like some Speed plot sequel castoff. Authorities pulled Brian out to the front of the bank as he was protesting all the while that he thought he might explode.

The bomb squad was called in but they failed to defuse the thing. Eventually, the collar did explode and kill Brian in front of police and rolling TV cameras. What a way to go.

Investigators eventually uncovered a bizarre collection of Midwestern weirdos, addicts, and outcasts, who were playing cat-and-mouse with the FBI. Enter the middle-aged Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong: beautiful, educated, and utterly batshit crazy. The valedictorian of her high school class, Marjorie suffered from severe mental problems, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But her reputation for having men fawn over her, manipulating them, and then having them die around her was by then already well-established.

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Arrested in connection with the death of Brian Wells, it turns out the heist was thought up by Marjorie, her ex-boyfriend Bill Rothstein, their associates Floyd Stockton, and their fishing buddy Kenneth Barnes. The hits just keep on coming.

The clincher here isn’t so much how the facts are revealed or presented, but with how the lead narrator and co-director Trey, who’d been corresponding with Marjorie from prison, uncovered many facets of her character and thus about the case.

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Was Marjorie the Crazy Marj all her fellow inmates made her out to be? Was she a master manipulator as her ex-partner Bill Rothstein alleged and eventually got a free pass for with the investigators via collaboration? It’s a profile writer’s dream and nightmare.

One thing is for sure, despite being hailed and indicted as the mastermind of the whole scheme, Marjorie insisted on her innocence until her death. This despite the fact that, as the series reveals, she eventually admitted she killed one of their criminal acquaintances James Roden, who threatened to spill the beans on their crew about how they killed Wells.

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The intricacies and silliness of the case eventually inspired (although the studio will deny it) the 2011 comedy 30 Minutes or Less starring Jesse Eisenberg.

In this series, unlike the comedy turn of the Hollywood movie, it’s really more about presenting everything in a way where the viewer can formulate their own opinions and thoughts about the case, the point of which is to put you in the shoes of the documentarist.

It’s an empowering high, likely how detectives feel when following clues, that makes you motivated to binge-watch the whole thing. Thus the most novel thing about it all is the last part titled “Confessions” where it is years later and a lot of the people involved are already dead.

So, who really killed Brian Wells?

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At some point, bodies in freezers, jailhouse grapevines, and elaborate treasure hunts are just filigree to the weirdness that surrounds this already closed case, but the whodunit keeps changing as Part 4 of this series just drops a ton of game-changing information that we just can’t spoil for your sake.

One of the most lasting images is the story of the courtroom sketch artist Kevin-John, who was contracted by NBC in 2010 to draw the court proceedings in connection to the popular Pizza Bomb Heist.

Kevin-John confessed that he drew Marj in a very villainous way at the start, but as the legal proceedings went on and he got to observe her up close, her charisma and her presence eventually led him to unconsciously change his drawings and portray her in a more sympathetic aura. He tells Trey he only realized what he’d done years after, when he got a chance to re-examine the drawings he’d made back then. Chilling stuff.

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Who killed the pizza delivery man with a collar bomb? We have our own bet on the true mastermind but let us know your opinion after you’ve watched the whole thing.

Evil Genius is now streaming on Netflix


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