Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is most (in)famously known for her involvement in the notorious “pizza/collar bomber” episode that took place on August 28, 2003. But that’s not the only murder she’s been involved in. Our Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong wiki tells you what happened to this fascinating woman and gives you detailed insight into the inner workings of the mind of one of the most troubled and notorious female convicts in American history.
A Truly Bizarre Case
More than 15 years after one of the most bizarre and unorthodox cases the police and FBI have ever encountered occurred, the now-infamous “pizza bomber” aka “collar bomber” incident still confounds and captivates true crime enthusiasts all over the world. Rapt with intrigue and a lot of loose ends, this case wasn’t just big when it happened—it was everywhere.
|About Marjorie Diel-Armstrong|
It continues to fascinate people all these years later, and for the past 15 or so years, authors, documentarians and filmmakers have been doing their due diligence in trying to bring forth a resolution to a case that still has a lot of unanswered questions. The result is the four-part Netflix docuseries that was released on May 11, 2018.
At the center of the hoopla was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Though she wasn’t the only suspect in the case, she was the only one who was indicted and convicted in connection with the murder of Brian Wells, along with a slew of other charges.
Who Was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong?
Marjorie Diehl was born on February 26, 1969 in Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania to Harold and Agnes Diehl.
She was considered to have an above-average level of intelligence with a high IQ, and got excellent grades while she was in school. Diehl attended Academy Park High School, graduating at the top of her class in 1967. Upon graduation, she was voted class valedictorian, a prevailing crowning achievement in her later years. Seemingly destined to accomplish great things in her life, Diehl was ranked 12th out of 413 in her graduating class.
A few years after high school, she enrolled in what was then known as Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) in 1970. By 1975, the young woman had earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and social work along with a master’s degree in education from Gannon College (now Gannon University).
Diehl had strong ambitions to work in the field of education where she could help cultivate and inspire young minds to make something of themselves. However, by that point, her mental illnesses—which had begun to present themselves at a prepubescent age—were starting to take over her life.
Plagued by Tragedy and Mental Illness
Diehl was an only child, a factor some speculate fostered an immense loneliness in her that was further perpetuated by her largely untreated mental illnesses.
She had a very close relationship with her mother. When Agnes died in 2000 at the age of 83, it hit Diehl—and that’s when her world truly began to unravel.
Five months after her mother’s passing, Diehl-Armstrong confided in a psychiatrist that “my mother was a very clean-living woman. I loved my mother. I have had differences with her, but she was all I had.”
Diehl had been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mania, personality disorder, and narcissism in her early 20s. As a young woman, she sensed that something wasn’t quite right with the way her mind worked and she decided to start seeing a psychiatrist.
These mental disorders combined with the trauma she suffered after the passing of her mother are all thoroughly documented in Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella’s 2017 book, Mania and Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong: Inside the Mind of a Female Serial Killer.
That’s right. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was a serial killer…and the Brian Wells’ killing wasn’t the first murder she was involved in.
A String of Dead Lovers
Looking back at her tumultuous love life, it’s safe to say that pretty much every man Diehl had ever been romantically connected to wound up dead, either by her hand or under extremely mysterious circumstances.
From a very young age, Diehl was considered an attractive woman in her hometown and she had a long line of men who were itching to date her to prove it. But there was no denying that she was also a very deeply mentally disturbed person. And she was very much aware of this fact, which is why she sought treatment.
Trey Borzillieri produced, researched, and conducted interviews for Evil Genius. He spent a great deal of time exchanging letters and speaking directly with Diehl-Armstrong, who extensively verbally abused him in the process.
“Obviously, she was a sociopath. Which made her a great liar,” he said. “That along with her mental issues. Like paranoia, mania, personality disorder. She was a tough woman who was constantly manipulating everyone in her path to get her own way. Because she was a narcissist, it was easy to get her to talk. But difficult to correct her. When she had any opposition, even a difference in opinion, she would approach it with reptilian indifference.”
If all of that is in fact true and she was the main orchestrator behind the pizza bombing heist, then it makes sense that she was able to convince so many people to do her bidding. But throughout the trial, Diehl-Armstrong maintained her innocence, despite the fact that she had a history of violence against men.
Let’s take a look at some of the men in her life and what happened to them.
In 1984, Diehl was charged with murdering her boyfriend, Robert Thomas. Reportedly, he was abusive toward her and she claimed in court that she acted in self-defense. She had shot him in the chest six times and pleaded temporary insanity. The jury acquitted her of all charges in 1988.
Both Thomas and Diehl had obvious mental and drug problems. They were living in complete squalor. Their apartment was beyond messy— there was hordes of rotting food all over the place, mainly cheese, and the house had never been cleaned. Diehl was known to be a massive hoarder, which was an indication of her worsening mental state.
Leonard Ambrose, Diehl’s court-appointed defense attorney at the time, believes that his former client “should have never been tried” in the Thomas case. Instead, he says, “she should have been institutionalized for the rest of her life, with maybe yearly reviews.”
Due to her quickly deteriorating mental state, Ambrose firmly believes that if the matter had been properly dealt with all those years ago, “there would have been no pizza bomber case” and that it was “inevitable” that his former client would reoffend.
In 1988, her then-husband, Richard Armstrong, suffered a fatal head injury. He was admitted to the hospital and eventually died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Foul play was never considered in this case, the body was never examined by a coroner, and no charges were brought up against Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. However, there are lingering suspicions to this day that she may have had something to do with her husband’s death.
Just a few short weeks after the infamous pizza bomber heist took place, an ex-fiancé and fishing buddy of Diehl-Armstrong’s named William Rothstein called the police to inform them that he had a dead body in his freezer.
He claimed that his ex, Diehl-Armstrong, murdered her boyfriend, James Roden, and asked Rothstein to hide the body for her until she could figure out what to do with it.
At the time, it seemed as if this murder was totally unrelated to the pizza bomber heist—until new information came to light linking all three individuals to the case.
As the story goes, the three of them allegedly were co-conspirators in planning the heist along with Brian Wells. A few weeks prior to the incident, Roden apparently got cold feet and threatened to inform the police about their plans.
Diehl-Armstrong allegedly shot Roden to death and then contacted Rothstein because she said she needed help disposing of the body. Rothstein agreed to temporarily store the body in his freezer and even helped her dispose of all of the evidence, including the shotgun she’d used to kill Roden.
He told police that he couldn’t bring himself to grind up the body and he decided to call them because he feared Diehl-Armstrong.
Rothstein passed away in July 2004 due to complications from lymphoma.
Brian Wells, the man who became synonymous with the pizza bombing incident on August 28, 2003, was outwardly a mild-mannered and very polite person. He was a creature of habit who enjoyed long scavenger hunts, chatting with his neighbors, and spending time with his three cats.
At the time, Wells had been working as a pizza delivery man at an Erie, Pennsylvania pizza place, Mamma Mia Pizzeria. He’d had the job for almost three decades.
That day in August, the pizzeria got a call requesting two pizzas to be delivered to 8631 Peach St. The address wasn’t actually a home; it was a TV transmission tower. But it happened to be up the road from William Rothstein’s place.
When Wells arrived at the TV tower with the pizzas, he either met with co-conspirators or was attacked by Diehl-Armstrong’s crew, depending on which version you believe.
The collar bomb was placed around his neck and he was given complex written instructions on what to do next, which was in essence a criminal scavenger hunt. He was also given a shotgun masquerading as a cane.
The scavenger hunt consisted of tasks that Wells, referred to as the “Bomb Hostage” in the notes, had to complete to delay and finally defuse the bomb. If he contacted police, he’d be killed.
Wells was instructed to go to the nearby PNC Bank, on Peach St. in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was to calmly and quietly give the teller a note demanding $250,000 in cash within 15 minutes, or else the bomb would detonate. The shotgun was to use in case he encountered resistance or anyone trying to get away.
But the heist didn’t go quite as planned…the teller wasn’t able to get into the vault, so she gave Wells a bag containing just $8,702. Nevertheless, Wells left with the money to complete the next task in his bizarre scavenger hunt.
He’d been instructed by the conspirators to head over to a nearby McDonald’s parking lot where he would find the first clue that would lead him to unlocking and disarming the bomb.
However, police had been alerted after the robbery, and they caught him standing outside his vehicle. At first, they didn’t know what to make of the situation and handcuffed him on the ground.
Wells told the arresting officers that a group of black men were the culprits, forcing him to commit the crime under threat of death. Reportedly, that’s what he’d been instructed to tell police to throw them off track. He also told them about the bomb.
After a few minutes, Wells heard the timer on the bomb ticking and informed the officers, who were standing at a distance from him, that the bomb was about to go off and that he didn’t have much time.
The bomb squad was already on their way, but because officials had to close off that section of the road for public safety, traffic began to build up.
They didn’t make it in time.
Three minutes after the bomb on Well’s neck detonated, the bomb squad arrived on the scene. It took several minutes for Wells to die from his massive chest wound.
The level of involvement Wells had in the collar bombing incident has been brought to question many times over the years. Officials initially believed that he was the innocent victim of an unusual heist gone wrong, but further investigation led them to believe that he may have actually had a small hand in planning the event.
It was later revealed that Wells most likely knew about the bank heist and was in on the beginnings of the plot…up until the point when the bomb was placed around his neck.
He may have been led to believe that the bomb was going to be fake and only meant to be used as a scare tactic. Police believe that Wells didn’t know the bomb was real until Diehl-Armstrong and Rothstein actually placed it around his neck.
They also think that the scavenger hunt was used as a ruse to mislead and confound law enforcement officials.
Upon searching Wells’ home during the ensuing investigation, police discovered that the collar bomb victim had a few dark secrets of his own. On more than a few occasions, he’d used local escort services (allegedly “paying” for the transactions with crack) and he was eventually linked to helping plan the heist—although his involvement was minimal at best, if he truly was in on the plan at all.
What Was the Motive behind the Pizza Bomber Heist?
As far as the motive behind the heist goes, it’s hard to say what it was, especially given Diehl-Armstrong’s mental health issues.
She unwaveringly maintained her innocence throughout the entire ordeal and she was only apprehended in connection to the case after Rothstein contacted police about the dead body in his freezer.
Some people believe that Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind behind the entire plot and her reason for robbing the bank was so that she could afford to hire another man who was involved in the heist, local crack dealer Kenneth Barnes, to murder her then-88-year-old father. She was expecting to come into a hefty inheritance when her father died, but he’d been generously giving away a lot of his money to friends and family members.
At the time, Harold Diehl’s estate was valued at somewhere around $1.8 million.
Allegedly, Diehl-Armstrong was worried that he’d squander all of his money before she had a chance to get her hands on any of it.
In 2007, Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes were both indicted by the FBI and several charges were laid against them, including conspiracy, robbing a bank, and possession of illegal weapons.
Barnes was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2008.
Two years later, Diehl-Armstrong was sentenced to life in prison for the heist, plus 30 years for the murder of Roden.
Her father, Harold Diehl, died of natural causes in 2014 at the age of 95.
Did Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong Have a More Human Side or Was She Truly an “Evil Genius”?
Mental illness plagues millions of people every year and is most often misdiagnosed, undetected, or untreated. But what happens when a patient is diagnosed with multiple severe forms of mental illness, commits a heinous crime allegedly in self defense, and is allowed to go free?
The likelihood that they’ll reoffend at one point or another is very high.
In 2012, Diehl-Armstrong wrote a letter to Kathryn Whiteley from her prison cell at SCI Muncy, the largest women’s prison in Pennsylvania.
As an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice and a criminologist at Lebanon Valley College, Whiteley was known for researching and meeting with women who were imprisoned for committing violent crimes.
Prior to their first meeting, she had no idea what Diehl-Armstrong was accused of, because she prefers to start every new inmate interaction with a clean and unbiased slate. That, she believes, is the best way to truly understand their side of the story.
In a June 2018 essay about her interactions with Diehl-Armstrong, Whiteley writes:
“When I first began researching women who violently offend more than 13 years ago, my intent was to pursue offending and motive—a common focus of criminological research. But when an Australian inmate picked up on my preoccupation with what she did and why she did it, she challenged me to look at her whole life, and not just the single, terrible act she had committed. ‘I am more than a crime,’ she said. The same can be said of Marjorie.”
Whiteley maintained contact with Diehl-Armstrong via phone, in-person visits, and letters until her dying day. When Diehl-Armstrong was transferred to a Texas state prison to receive cancer treatment, however, communication became skewed.
One thing Whiteley says she regrets is that she was never able to visit Diehl-Armstrong during the final weeks of her life, but they continued exchanging letters.
In one of her letters to Whiteley, Diehl-Armstrong rebukes the representation of her character by the media, books, and movies about the pizza heist. She expressed that she was “being exploited by a lot of books and movies some coming out by Academy Award winners with press conferences.”
Whether or not her public portrayal was at all accurate is questionable. But one thing is for sure: Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong wasn’t given the type of care and attention that she needed from the very beginning.
Had her mental illnesses been aptly treated all those years ago, as Ambrose suggested, then perhaps the pizza bomber heist would have never occurred. Or, at the very least, she wouldn’t have been associated with it, if one assumes that someone else, perhaps Rothstein, was actually the mastermind.
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong died of breast cancer in 2017, at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. She’d been refusing chemotherapy for several weeks before she passed. She was 68 years old.
Diehl-Armstrong is buried in Lot 346 of Cedar Hill Memorial Park, a Arlington, Texas cemetery.