FBI agent who investigated Erie pizza bomber case speaks at Duquesne
A sex worker with Westmoreland County connections was the linchpin in the infamous Erie pizza bomber case, a former FBI agent who investigated the crime said Thursday at Duquesne University.
Jerry Clark, now a Gannon University professor, worked for 21 years in the FBI, including nearly a decade with the Pittsburgh field office as an agent in the Erie satellite office.
He expected working in Erie would be an easy end to his law enforcement career.
Then at 3: 18 p.m. Aug. 28, 2003, Brian Wells, a pizza delivery driver for Mamma Mia pizza, walked into a PNC Bank branch on Peach Street and said he had a bomb strapped around his neck. Wells asked for $250,000.
“The teller says – and this is a true story – the teller says, ‘Hey, listen, the bank manager is at lunch, you’re going to have to come back,’” Clark said. “And (Wells) says, ‘Well, I’m robbing the bank.’”
Caught by state police a short time later with less than $9,000, Wells, 46, told police he was an unwilling participant in the robbery. The bomb went off before the bomb squad arrived, killing Wells. Investigators found a series of notes and complex instructions telling him how to live through the experience.
Clark spoke at Duquesne University as part of the Wecht Institute’s annual forensic science and law symposium. This year’s focus is on serial killers.
The complicated plot had tendrils in numerous directions, and the FBI spent several years tying everything together. Jessica Hoopsick, a sex worker listed in Wells’ address book, and the mutual friend that introduced Wells to Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Bill Rothstein ended up leading agents to their prime suspects.
Diehl-Armstrong would eventually be indicted in the case. Rothstein would die before the indictment was returned.
Clark called Hoopsick “the linchpin” that connected all of the conspirators together. She was a sex worker frequented by Wells, who used to drive her around looking for crack cocaine. That often led them to the home of Ken Barnes, who had connections to Diehl-Armstrong and Rothstein.
“If you look at it, once we knew that Jessica knew Ken Barnes and that Ken Barnes knew Marjorie and Bill Rothstein and now she introduced Brian to them, it doesn’t get any more important than that,” Clark said.
Hoopsick appeared in the Netflix documentary on the case, “Evil Genius,” during which she claimed that she was a favorite prostitute for Wells and that she set him up at the request of the organizers of the robbery plot.
Three months after she appeared in the documentary, Hoopsick was arrested on a bench warrant out of Westmoreland County for failing to appear in court on a prostitution charge in Greensburg. She told police at the time she’d recently appeared in the documentary. She pleaded guilty to the charge last year.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .