William Rothstein Wiki: The Real Mastermind Behind the Pizza Bomber Case?

About William Rothstein
Known AsBill Rothstein
SiblingsJon Rothstein Sr., Paulette Rothstein
ParentsMatthias Rothstein, B. Virginia Bryner Rothstein
JobHandyman, Shop Teacher

In 2003, the now-infamous deadly pizza bomber incident had the entire world reeling. If you want to understand more about what happened,
our William Rothstein wiki can shed some light on the unusual conspiracy.

A Bank Heist Gone Wrong

A pizza delivery man casually walks into PNC Bank wearing a white t-shirt with the word “GUESS” written across the chest, a homemade bomb strapped around his neck, and a makeshift shotgun fashioned to look like a cane. He walks up to the teller and hands her a note demanding $250,000 cash. But she’s only able to give him a little less than $9,000.

This might sound like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not. It really happened on August 28, 2003 in Erie County, Pennsylvania.


The pizza delivery man’s name was Brian Wells. And the bomb strapped around his neck, which he presumably thought was fake, turned out to be very real.

So real, in fact, it  ended up killing him on live television after he was caught presumably following a weird scavenger hunt that included the bank heist. Police and reporters watched in horror as the collar bomb exploded just three minutes before the bomb squad arrived on the scene.

This now notorious and well- known case, dubbed the pizza bomber or collar bomb heist, is the subject of one of Netflix’s most binge-worthy true crime documentaries: Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist.

The series implicates Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong as the instigator of the heist. But there’s a lot of strong evidence pointing to another culprit: William “Bill” Rothstein.

Bill Rothstein
William “Bill” Rothstein; Photo: Erie Bureau of Police

Was he the mastermind behind the mysterious collar bomb incident or was he just another player who got caught up in the whole plot? What were his motives and how involved was he in planning the pizza heist that left at least one man dead and a lot of unanswered questions? Who is William Rothstein?  

Continue on with our William Rothstein wiki to find out.

More on Diehl-Armstrong and the pizza bomber heist: Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong Wiki: What Happened to the Woman from the Pizza Bomber Case?

Who Was William Rothstein?  

William Rothstein, aka Bill Rothstein, was born on January 17, 1944 to Matthias Rothstein and B. Virginia Bryner. Matthias was the manager of the Rola Cola Bottling Company from 1945 until 1978.

Bill had a brother, Jon Rothstein Sr., and a sister, Paulette Rothstein.

Jon Rothstein, Sr. passed away in 2006 after a long battle with esophageal cancer.

William Rothstein dated Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong on and off from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

William Rothstein & Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong
Bill Rothstein & Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong; Photo: Netflix

They were engaged to be married for about nine months, but broke off their engagement.

According to Rothstein, he couldn’t handle her immense emotional problems and decided to distance himself from her. But he still occasionally kept in contact via phone to make sure she was alright.

Both Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong were known to have higher than average intelligence. Rothstein even claimed he was always “the smartest man in the room.”

He was fluent in English, Hebrew, and French, priding himself on the fact that he’d mastered all three languages.

Diehl-Armstrong was known to suffer from several mental illnesses. She’d even been on trial several times where she was accused of murdering her lovers. But she pleaded insanity and claimed she acted in self-defense, because they were abusive toward her.

Bill Rothstein Had a Criminal Record

On the surface, Rothstein seemed to live a pretty quiet and modest life.

He had his own home at 8645 Peach St. in semi-rural Summit Township, Erie County, Pennsylvania.

He worked as a handyman and a part-time shop teacher at local Erie high schools.

Standing at 6”2’ with a strong build and a long, untamed salt-and-pepper beard, wearing his signature denim overalls and flannel shirts, Rothstein was pretty distinctive. He resembled the stereotypical lumberjack or handyman image very closely.

Despite his appearance, Rothstein was considered to be what’s known as a “fractured intellectual.” These are people with well above-average intelligence who are not socially or mentally well-adjusted. Much like his former lover and alleged co-conspirator in the collar bomber case, Diehl-Armstrong.

Furthermore, Rothstein was no stranger to illegal activity prior to the mysterious pizza heist case.  

In 1977, he got caught up in another murder case. The culprit was a friend of his. Allegedly, Rothstein had given his friend a gun, which the man then used to murder someone else he’d deemed to be a romantic rival.

Rothstein allegedly tried to suppress evidence in that case in the same way that he did in Jim Roden’s murder (more on that later) by attempting and failing to destroy the murder weapon.

However, the prosecution in that case granted him immunity on charges in exchange for his testimony during the trial against his friend.

Was He More Involved in the Pizza Bomber Case than People Think?

Rothstein lived right next to the communications tower where Wells delivered the two pizzas on that fateful day in August 2003. In fact, his backyard was just a stone’s throw away from the tower.

William Rothstein
Bill Rothstein; Photo: Netflix

This location is important because it’s where the bomb collar was put on Brian Wells.

During the investigation, Rothstein silently watched as detectives and authorities scoured the area looking for clues as to what might have taken place there.

At that time, Rothstein seemed like a simple man leading a quiet existence, but there was a dark and horrific secret lurking under that thin veil of normalcy he portrayed to the rest of the world.

On September 20, 2003—a little less than a month after the pizza bomber incident took place—the Erie police received a strange call from Rothstein.

He informed them that: “At 8645 Peach Street, in the garage, there is a frozen body. It’s in the freezer.”

Oddly, the address Rothstein was leading them to was his own.

The body in the freezer belonged to a man named James Roden…who happened to be Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s boyfriend at the time.

Roden’s mysterious death wasn’t initially linked to the pizza bomber case. This despite the fact that Rothstein lived suspiciously close to the site where the planning for the heist took place.

Authorities apprehended Rothstein immediately after he made the call and searched his property for the body. Sure enough, they found it exactly where he said it would be: in the freezer in his garage.

It immediately became apparent that the body had been stored in the freezer for weeks. It was so frozen that it was stuck inside the freezer and authorities had to wait to thaw it out before they could remove it.

Rothstein claimed he was holding on to the body for Diehl-Armstrong, whom he alleged had killed Roden over a monetary dispute the couple was having.

Rothstein told authorities that, after his ex had allegedly killed Roden, she asked him to help her dispose of the body. Though she reportedly paid him $2,000 for the gruesome task, Rothstein says he complied because he was afraid of Diehl-Armstrong. He also claimed that he’d suffered through weeks of emotional trauma over what had happened, even considering committing suicide.

Upon conducting a thorough search of the then 59-year-old’s home, investigators discovered a suicide note in Rothstein’s desk.

Suspiciously, the note contained a disclaimer that read, “This has nothing to do with the Wells case,” referring to the pizza bomber heist.

Rothstein also went on to write in it that he was sorry “to those who cared for or about me.” He wrote that he had nothing to do with Roden’s death, aside from helping Diehl-Armstrong hide the body and clean up the apartment she shared with her now-deceased boyfriend.

How Did James Roden’s Body End up in Rothstein’s Freezer?

After being taken into police custody, Bill Rothstein spent the next few days detailing the events that led up to his involvement in James Roden’s death.

Although he claimed he had nothing to do with the killing itself, Rothstein admitted he was responsible for storing the body for approximately five weeks. He even copped to helping suppress the evidence of the murder by melting down the murder weapon—a Remington 12-gauge shotgun.

But he drew the line at grinding up Roden’s remains in a meat grinder, as per Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s alleged request.

Rothstein told police that the whole ordeal made him extremely anxious; he claims he felt horrible about it, which is why he finally made the call to inform the cops.

The next day, September 21, 2003, police arrested Diehl-Armstrong. She was charged with the murder of James Roden.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong; Photo: Erie Bureau of Police via Wired

During the time of the Roden investigation and pursuant trial, though, William Rothstein was dealing with his own health problems.

Rothstein was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was admitted to the Millcreek Community Hospital on July 23, 2004, where he succumbed to the illness just seven days later, on July 30. He was 60 years old.

But criminal justice marched on.

In January 2005, Diehl-Armstrong pleaded guilty to the murder, but her defense lawyer indicated that she was also mentally ill. She was sentenced to seven to 20 years in prison, where she’d eventually die of breast cancer at the age of 68.

Did Rothstein Concoct the Pizza Heist?

Did Rothstein concoct the pizza heist? To this day, there’s a lot of speculation about his true level of involvement in the robbery of PNC Bank in Summit Township and the murder-by-bomb of Brian Wells.

However, Rothstein died in the midst of the investigation, so it’s hard to say how prevalent his role in this crime actually was.

At the time, Diehl-Armstrong was serving her sentence at Muncy State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania for Roden’s murder. Authorities treated both the pizza heist and the murder as two separate cases, with federal agents focusing their attention and resources on the former, leaving the latter in the hands of local police.

It wasn’t until April 2005—about eight months after Rothstein’s death—that Diehl-Armstrong revealed to local authorities that the two cases were actually connected. (Though you’d think that the suspicious disclaimer in Rothstein’s suicide note should have been a dead giveaway!)

But she was only willing to divulge more information if they agreed to transfer her to State Correctional Institution Cambridge Springs—a women’s minimum security prison in Crawford County located approximately 49 miles south of Erie.

As our Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong wiki demonstrates, Diehl-Armstrong was no stranger to the police. In fact, she was well known throughout the town of Erie as somewhat of a black widow.

She also had a long history of mental health problems, which rapidly worsened as the years wore on due to lack of proper treatment.

Diehl-Armstrong’s rapid, incoherent ramblings throughout the investigation became increasingly spirited as she continued to deny her involvement in planning the pizza heist. Instead, she pointed a finger at the other characters involved, namely her dead ex, Bill Rothstein.

Diehl-Armstrong asserted that the entire plot to rob the bank and send Brian Wells on a wild goose chase of a scavenger hunt involving a real bomb was Rothstein’s brainchild, not hers.

Also Read: Brian Wells Wiki: Hostage or Conspirator of the Pizza Bomb Heist? Or Both?

She even claimed that Wells was fully in on the plot; a plot in which he ended up getting a hole blown through his chest. But the degree to which he was privy to the plan is questionable.

Some theories state that Wells was a completely innocent and unwitting participant. That he was just going on a regular pizza delivery and was coerced into the whole ordeal.

Others believe that Wells helped plan the heist, because he owed money to local drug dealers. This theory holds that Wells thought the bomb that his alleged co-conspirators strapped around his neck was fake.

Reportedly, Bill Rothstein was friends with a known convicted rapist, Floyd Arthur “Jay” Stockton, Jr.

Around the time of the pizza heist, Rothstein was allowing Stockton, a wanted fugitive, to live at his home.

Due to his living situation, Stockton was privy to some of the goings-on of the failed bank robbery. He’s also alleged to have had a part in securing the collar bomb around Brian Wells’ neck.

Stockton was granted immunity by the prosecution for unrelated crimes in exchange for his testimony during Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s trial. However, the prosecution never ended up calling him as a witness, because he also developed serious health issues.

Of course, Diehl-Armstrong’s whole story unraveled when a man named Kenneth Barnes—a former TV repairman turned crack dealer with a record—came into the picture.

Kenneth Barnes
Kenneth Barnes; Photo: Netflix

Barnes and Diehl-Armstrong were old fishing buddies. Apparently that was enough (well, that and a promise of money) to convince Barnes to help his old friend in the bizarre conspiracy to rob a bank…and more.

When Barnes’ brother-in-law heard him talking about the pizza heist plan, he decided to turn him in to the police.

At the time, Barnes was already serving time in prison for an unrelated drug charge. He was able to reduce the additional time on his sentence by pleading guilty and cooperating with the police during the collar bomb heist investigation.

And Barnes sang like a canary.

Barnes told the authorities that Diehl-Armstrong was the one who planned and orchestrated the entire plot, from start to finish, thus confirming their hunches and validating the accounts given by several informants in the case.

He explained that the motive behind the heist was money; $250,000 was demanded in the note Wells gave to the bank teller. Barnes said that Diehl-Armstrong needed the cash because she wanted to hire him to put a hit on her father. She allegedly wanted to collect her inheritance money following her father’s death, because she believed he was squandering all of it.

Barnes also claimed that Diehl-Armstrong killed James Roden after he threatened to go to the police about her plans to have her father killed.

All these years later, however, many people are returning to the notion that William Rothstein may have been the true mastermind behind this bizarre case after all. And not Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong.

Retired FBI agent, Jim Fisher, is one of the main proponents of the theory that Bill Rothstein is the real “Evil Genius” in this case. One of the lead investigators on the case, Jerry Clark, agrees.

Fisher believes that Diehl-Armstrong was the catalyst for the plot, but that Rothstein was the driving force behind it.

“The man at the center of this is Bill Rothstein,” Fisher told National Public Radio host, Guy Raz.

Not only does Fisher maintain that Rothstein was the one who fueled the pizza heist and brought it to fruition, but he also argues that the motives behind it were far more calculated and sinister than simply obtaining a large sum of money.

Did Bill Rothstein Get Away with Masterminding a Murder?

For most of his life, Rothstein seemed to have lived a quiet and solemn existence. And although he had a fairly large extended family, he mostly kept to himself. He never married or had children.

Perhaps it was this seemingly quiet and unassuming existence that allowed him to fly under the radar for such a long time.

So, did William Rothstein get away with murder?

According to Fisher, the answer is a resounding yes…and here’s why.

Reading through the FBI’s official statement profiling the type of individual who could orchestrate such an elaborate heist, it’s clear that there’s a lot more at play here than what’s on the surface.

The report reads:

“It continues to be the opinion of the that this is much more than a mere bank robbery. The behavior seen in this crime was choreographed by ‘Collarbomber’ watching on the sidelines according to a written script in which he attempted to direct others to do what he wanted them to do…Because of the complex nature of this crime, the [FBI’s Behavioral Analyst Unit] believes there were multiple motives for the offender, and money was not the primary one.”

According to Fisher, the collar bomb plot was based on a “pathological desire to mystify the authorities.”

“This was what I would call a vanity crime,” he said. “This crime was engineered to make Bill Rothstein feel better about himself.”

Pizza Heist collar bomb
Pizza Heist collar bomb; Photo: Netflix

The FBI profiling report goes on to state that the perpetrator was “comfortable around a wide variety of power tools and shop machines,” which perfectly matches Rothstein’s M.O. and fits within his skill set. After all, he was a skilled handyman and part-time shop teacher. And he had already been implicated in two murders at this point for melting down the murder weapons.

The report also states that collar bomber was a  “frugal person who saves scraps of sundry materials in order to reuse them in various projects…and he was the type of person who takes pride in building a variety of things.”

Again, Rothstein formerly worked as a part-time shop teacher at local Erie high school, so he had access to the types of tools needed to destroy a shotgun and build homemade explosive devices. He also was something of a pack rat. Diehl-Armstrong also told authorities that she gave Rothstein two kitchen timers a month before the crime, of the kind that were found used on the collar bomb that killed Wells.

On July 11, 2007, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan called an end to the pizza bomber investigation.

Buchanan announced that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes were charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery, armed bank robbery, and using and carrying a destructive device in a crime of violence in relation to the pizza heist incident. Prosecutors also linked the death of James Roden to the heist conspiracy, theorizing that Diehl-Armstrong killed him (or had him killed) to keep him from blabbing about the collar bomb plot.

In the U.S. attorney’s announcement, William Rothstein and Brian Wells were both named as unindicted co-conspirators. Rothstein’s role seemed to be downplayed…at least officially.

He Was Like a Master Puppeteer

During the investigation of the death of James Roden, Bill Rothstein took police officers on a tour of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s home. He showed them how he’d removed James Roden’s body from the premises and then cleaned up the entire domicile with peroxide to remove bloodstains.

Following that, he led investigators over to his own house and walked them through the premises, explaining how the body was placed in the freezer.

Investigators recorded the entire interaction. The footage was released after the trial ended.

At first, it seems that Rothstein was just trying to help the officers gain a better understanding of the situation and his involvement in it.

However, upon closer inspection of the footage, it becomes glaringly obvious that he’s manipulating them, controlling the situation, and steering the conversation by divulging more information than they asked for and even correcting minor errors like a typo that appeared on the hard copy of the Miranda rights he signed during his initial interrogation.

Throughout most of the video, Rothstein is seen doing most of the talking largely unprompted, like he’s willingly offering up additional information.

His calm demeanor during the walk-through along with his precise recollection of the night he helped his ex-girlfriend dispose of her current boyfriend’s body becomes painfully suspicious to anyone watching the footage.

In a book titled, Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery, investigator Jerry Clark recounts his last meeting with Rothstein when he was on his deathbed:

“Clark thought Rothstein had a month to live. Clark had seen the stomach cancer race through his father’s body. Rothstein looked like his dad did toward the end. Rothstein, like his father had been, was heavily medicated.

“Rothstein looked so bad, Clark thought his cancer had taken hold before August 28, 2003. If that were the case—and, as he studied Rothstein’s thin and white face, Clark though that had to be the case—Rothstein would have nothing to lose by participating in the Wells plot. He knew he was dying on August 28, 2003.

“Rothstein’s life had been full of calculated misdirection and oddities and crime and theatrics and practical jokes. Rothstein would have wanted to spend his final time on earth using his vaunted intellect to concoct the ultimate feat of warped ingenuity—the staging of the death of another human being. While he was dying, Rothstein would want to play God with another person’s life.”

If this was, in fact, the case, then Rothstein would have committed the perfect crime and essentially managed to get away with it.

Perhaps he saw an opportunity to not only create a complex, convoluted, and virtually unsolvable case for law enforcement officials, but he also orchestrated the ideal situation to point the finger at someone else: Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong.

Not only did Rothstein know her well, but he also knew how impulsive and self-destructive she was. This would have played well into his alleged long-term plan. If Rothstein knew he was already sick around the time of the pizza heist, then he most likely knew he’d be dead before the trial even started. And maybe that was his plan all along.

Interestingly enough, Rothstein was said to be a vegetarian, yet the two pizzas ordered on the day of the heist were loaded with various types of meat. This was the delivery that brought Wells to the radio tower at the end of a dirt road (near Rothstein’s home) where the collar bomb was put on him, possibly by force. And the investigators believe this was just one of many minor details that were meant to mislead them.

Even a principal from one of the Erie schools Rothstein subbed at believed “he appeared to match the profile of the type of person the FBI was saying would carry out the Wells bomb plot. “There’s no doubt,” the principal said of Rothstein, “that he fits everything they’re looking for.” 

It’s hard to say with certainty whether or not Rothstein ultimately was the mastermind behind the pizza bomber heist or just another player. The true motives and circumstances of the crime are a secret that William Rothstein, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and Brian Wells all took to the grave with them.

“Rothstein had the last laugh,” Agent Fisher said. “He died without going to prison… And he took with him all of the big questions surrounding this case.”