How involved was Brian Wells?
The crime at the center of Evil Genius revolves around Erie resident Brian Wells, who walked into a local PNC Bank on an afternoon in late August, 2003, and passed a teller a note that said he was there to rob the bank of $250,000. The note also informed the teller that he had a bomb strapped around his neck, but the teller couldn't access that much cash, so she filled a bag with $8,702, and Wells left, grabbing a lollipop on his way out. Wells was quickly apprehended by police and cuffed, but they backed off when he told them there was a bomb fastened around his neck.
Wells, a pizza delivery man, explained that while out on a delivery, a group of black men held him down and chained the bomb to him, then forced him to rob the bank. Before the bomb squad could arrive, the device detonated, and Wells was killed. In his car, officers found a homemade gun fashioned to look like a cane, and an elaborate scavenger hunt of sorts, with notes that directed Wells to different locations that would eventually show him how to remove the bomb. Police followed the hunt themselves, but the clues ran dry after a few stops. It was never meant to be solved -- Wells would've been blown up no matter what happened. When the dust settled years later, prosecutors called Wells a co-conspirator, but why would he agree to strap a live bomb to his neck?
The documentary offers its opinions, but there are a few questions related to Wells' involvement that never receive answers over the four episodes of Evil Genius.
What was with Wells' casual demeanor in the bank?
The lollipop and his reported attitude don't seem to indicate trauma. Surely he knew more than he was letting on... right?
Why did Wells tell the police the people who strapped the bomb to him were black?
This one is particularly strange: If Brian Wells thought the bomb was real, he surely would've given an accurate description of the people who forcibly strapped the bomb to his neck, right? Once the cops had him cornered and cuffed him, why would he have continued to lie about his captors?
Why did Wells' landlord tell the documentarians he loved scavenger hunts?
In the first episode, Linda Payne, who rented a house to Brian Wells, said he loved scavenger hunts; at the very least, it appears likely that the co-conspirators had some insight into Wells' personality, enough to convince him he was going on a scavenger hunt and didn't have a live bomb around the neck.
What motive did Brian Wells have to participate in the plot?
Payne also said that Wells and coworker Rob Pinetti -- who died shortly after the bombing -- would go out gambling together. Wells also had frequent meetings with sex workers, the names of whom he documented in a notebook, and with whom he allegedly traded crack for sex. Most of this information appears in the first episode, then winds up dissipating as the series progresses and the filmmakers conclude that Wells was a completely innocent victim.
Which leads back to the first question: How involved was Brian Wells?
Evil Genius never provides a thorough answer to this mystery, though it lands firmly on the side of his total lack of foreknowledge. According to the documentary, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong allegedly wanted to rob the bank for what amounts to revenge and personal gain: She was angry at the PNC for allowing her father to blow through his fortune, and she wanted to hire a hitman to off him. Bill Rothstein and local crack dealer Kenneth Barnes helped plan the heist -- Barnes was supposed to be the hitman, but they needed to rob the bank to get the money to hire him -- and the three of them executed the plot.
Jessica Hoopsick, a sex worker who had a relationship with Wells, confesses in the series' final moments that she suggested Wells to Barnes because of his kind and unquestioning nature. Barnes, in his own confession, agrees that Wells was mostly innocent, but that he was still aware of the scheme.
But Diehl-Armstrong, who grew close with Evil Genius director Trey Borzillieri during the course of their years-long correspondence, says that Wells was more involved that anyone knows, pointing to his casual demeanor during the crime.
Diehl-Armstrong had a vested interest in portraying Wells as a co-conspirator, because it meant she couldn't face the death penalty, and both Diehl-Armstrong and Wells could have had monetary motives for robbing a bank. But, as certain elements of the crime suggest, money was never the true objective here, and Wells was always going to die. Whether or not he was involved at any point, he was certainly a victim.