Evil Genius, Netflix documentary on bizarre bank heist, is a reminder of how twisted the human mind can be
A bipolar woman, a series of dead boyfriends, a man with a flair for making improvised devices out of common household appliances, a troubled childhood, a history of drugs, sleaze and betrayal, a deceased suspect — there is literally nothing that this strange story does not have to offer.
Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. And nothing proves this better than the first season of Netflix’s four-part documentary series Evil Genius, intriguingly titled ‘The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist’. In this elaborate deep-dive into one of the most bizarre true crimes America has seen on this side of the century, director and producer Trey Borzillieri gives us a detailed look at not only the violent nature of the crime itself, but also into the eerily emotionless minds of the people who planned and executed it.
On the afternoon of 28 August 2003, a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells walked into a bank in the town of Erie, Pennsylvania. He handed over a note to the teller, which said that he was wearing a collar bomb on his neck, and that if the teller didn't give him $250,000, he would set it off. The teller managed to give Wells some money, much lesser than the amount he'd demanded, and by the time he had walked out of the bank, the police had surrounded him. Wells co-operated with the police but claimed that the bomb around his neck was on a timer, and that he would have to go on a scavenger hunt around town — the initial clues to which, he claimed, were in his pocket — to find the key to disarm the bomb. As the police continued to converse with Wells to understand if what he was claiming was indeed true, the bomb around his neck did go off, killing him. Over the next few weeks, local police, the Bureau of ATF and the FBI mounted an investigation into the crime, but the people Brian Wells claimed had ‘planned the entire thing’ were never found.
Exactly three weeks later, a man named William Rothstein called the local police and claimed that there was a dead body inside a freezer on a particular address, and that there was a woman named Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong present at the spot and that Rothstein was scared of her. Police did raid the residence Rothstein spoke about and found the frozen corpse of a man named James Roden, and it was soon revealed that the murder of Roden had a lot to do with the bank heist and the subsequent death of Brian Wells. And then began a series of sensational revelations, accusations and investigations that literally bordered on being insane. A bipolar woman, a series of dead boyfriends, a man with a flair for making improvised devices out of common household appliances, a troubled childhood, a history of drugs, sleaze and betrayal, a deceased suspect — there is literally nothing that this strange story does not have to offer.
What struck me as being the most remarkable thing about this crime is the sheer intelligence with which it had been planned. Truth be told, after watching the entire series, and having followed it up with additional reading of this sensational and long-drawn case, I am convinced that neither state nor federal law enforcement bodies would have been able to see through the crime and solve it, had more than one suspect not divulged information about it of their own accord. Why these suspects chose to do so is also, in itself, a lovely study of the dark alleys of the human mind. This is stuff you can hardly make up, for this is real life, not fiction. And the men and women in the story — both suspects and witnesses — tell us some amazing stories that would be virtually impossible to replicate, thanks to the sheer audacity behind them.
As for the documentary series itself, it is made in admirable detail, with enough drama, suspense, shock and gore thrown in, and one can see that the makers have gone to great lengths — including nearly losing their personal sanity and questioning their own ethics — to make a beautiful record of the crime. Watch out, in particular (in the final episode of this series), for an animated recreation of the first stage of the crime. It gave me the creeps to know that something so sinister could be pulled off with such ease. And the story of America’s most diabolical crime once again reminded me of how twisted a human mind can be. If you are a lover of true crime, or any crime, for that matter, I highly recommend this series.
The first season of Evil Genius is currently streaming on Netflix.
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