Do You Know the Tragic True Story Behind ’30 Minutes or Less’?

In 2003, high school dropout, Brian Douglas Wells, was working as a pizza delivery man at the Mama Mia Pizzeria in Erie, Pennsylvania when on August 28 he was sent on a delivery that ended at a TV transmission tower site. There he received instructions to rob a bank while wearing a bomb handcuffed to his neck.

He went to the bank and, instead of getting the $250,000 he asked for, walked out with only $8,702 and a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter.

Upon completion of this task he began a scavenger hunt to gain the information necessary to remove the bomb from his neck before the kitchen timer expired and blew up. He made it to the first clue, but before he could go any further he was apprehended by the police. The bomb subsequently exploded on national television, killing him while he and the police waited for the bomb squad to show up… they arrived three minutes after the bomb exploded.

This is the true story that led to this week’s new comedy 30 Minutes or Less though this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Screenwriters Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan may have turned the story of a pizza delivery guy who attempted to rob a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck into a comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson into a comedy, but the real story is far more disturbingly insane than that or the simple description I gave above.

A 2010 piece at Wired by Rich Schapiro details the story, which goes well beyond a man coerced into robbing a bank in order to save his life.

If you were to tell the story based on the court’s decision after eight years of courtroom trials and police and FBI investigations, you would point your finger at the incredibly intelligent, yet bipolar Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong as the mastermind of the whole thing. On February 28, 2011 Diehl-Armstrong was found guilty of participating in the crime, and was sentenced to life plus 30 years. “She was motivated by greed and completely characterized by evil,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini as quoted by CNN. She was sentenced for aiding Kenneth Barnes in the 2003 robbery that ended in Wells’ death.

Barnes was sentenced to 45 years following his testimony, which insinuated Wells was in on the plan only to be double-crossed in the end. Here is the description of his testimony as reported by Wired:

Diehl-Armstrong, Barnes said, devised the plan and enlisted a few coconspirators to help carry it out. [Bill Rothstein] was one of them. Wells was another, lured in with the promise of a payday. He certainly needed the money. It turned out that the quiet pizza man had a relationship with a prostitute. With the help of his pal Barnes, he bought crack, which he then gave to the prostitute in exchange for sex. But in the weeks before the robbery, Wells fell into debt with his crack dealers and needed cash. It was only on the afternoon of the crime, when he delivered the pizzas to the TV transmission tower, that Wells realized he had been double-crossed and that the bomb was real. He was tackled as he tried to sprint away and locked into the device at gunpoint.

Barnes was an ex-television repairman turned crack dealer and the Bill Rothstein (pictured right) mentioned above is another story altogether. Despite the fact the case has been closed with Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes behind bars, retired FBI criminal investigator Jim Fisher believes it went down differently.

Fisher believes Rothstein, a handyman with the skills to fabricate an elaborate explosive device such as the one used in the crime, was the actual mastermind behind the whole thing. Rothstein, however, died of lymphoma in July 2004 and never once, not even on his deathbed, claimed to be involved… despite the fact he made a 911 call from his home, which sat right next to the TV tower where Wells was eventually strapped to a bomb, and revealed: “At 8645 Peach Street, in the garage, there is a frozen body… It’s in the freezer.” He was referring to a freezer in his own home.

Rothstein explained how the dead body was that of Diehl-Armstrong’s live-in boyfriend, James Roden, whom she shot in the back with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, in a dispute over money. The story held water considering at the age of 35, Diel-Armstrong was charged with murdering her boyfriend, Robert Thomas, after she shot him six times in what she claimed was self-defense. A jury acquitted her. Wired‘s Schapiro then tells us, “four years later, her husband, Richard Armstrong, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The death was ruled accidental, but questions lingered; Armstrong had a head injury when he arrived at the hospital, but the case was never forwarded to the coroner’s office.”

Fisher believes Rothstein didn’t mastermind the plan for money, but merely to prove a point. Quoted by Wired, Fisher says, “The son of a bitch ended up winning… He died with all of the secrets. He died taking all the answers with him. He gets the last laugh in that sense. He escaped punishment. He escaped detection. He left us with these idiots and a bunch of questions.”

So now “these idiots” are being portrayed on the big screen in a new film from Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer. Matching the film’s characters to the real story goes a little something like this:

Jesse Eisenberg plays Nick, a pizza delivery guy for a gimmicky pizzeria that guarantees your order will be at your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free. His driving prowess is on display from the film’s opening moments as he must race all around town to get pizzas to the customers on time or it comes out of his paycheck.

His character drives a beat-up Mustang as opposed to the Geo Metro Brian Wells drove around in and isn’t as sad as the real life character, though he is rather pathetic. He does have at least one friend in Chet (Aziz Ansari) and he’s in love with Chet’s sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) and Nick isn’t in on the robbery, but the circumstances behind why the robbery exists in the film is similar to the testimony given by Kenneth Barnes, which leads us to our villains…

Danny McBride plays Dwayne, a character similar to that of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Nick Swardson plays Travis, a character who is something of an amalgamation between Barnes and Rothstein.

Dwayne’s father won $10 million in the lottery and believes he’s just pissing through it. Like Diehl-Armstrong, Dwayne has devised a plan to have his father assassinated so he can get his hands on his money. His goal is to have him killed, inherit the money, marry the stripper who set him up with the hit man (Michael Pena) and open a tanning salon that will serve as a front for a prostitution ring. Travis is essentially an idiot along for the ride with the bomb know how thanks to some “How Tos” he read on the Internet.

So that sets the mood for the R-rated comedy, which doesn’t follow the true life story beyond the set up, but does prove to be one hell of a bizarre way to adapt a true life story. If you’ve yet to see a trailer for the film I have included it directly below and you can read my full review right here.

For more on this story you can read the complete piece from right here and I also quoted a few items from Wikipedia.


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