EXCERPT FROM “PIZZA BOMBER: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICA’S MOST SHOCKING BANK ROBBERY”
From Chapter 2: “I Don’t Have a Lot of Time”
The small bowl of Dum Dums lollipops sat on the long front counter of the PNC Bank at 7200 Peach Street in Summit Township, outside Erie, Pennsylvania. The tellers put out the lollipops; they were for anyone, but mainly children.
On August 28, 2003, at 2:27 P.M., a man wearing what looked to be a neck brace walked into the bank and strolled past the basket of lollipops. He didn’t wait in line. He went up to the chief teller, who was busy working the counter and drive-through window. The man scratched the back of his neck. He was of medium height and stocky, with a smattering of short gray hair on either side of his balding head. He had on blue jeans with dirt ground into the knees. He wore two T-shirts: the one underneath was gray; the one on top was baggy and white, with GUESS Jeans written across the front in large dark letters.
A closer look at the white T-shirt showed the man was wearing not a neck brace, but a metal collar that encircled his neck. A box bulged under the white T-shirt. The man walked without a limp, but he carried a funky blackish-brown cane. The handle was curved, like the handle of a gun.
The chief teller, Barbara Lipinski, thought this impatient customer was wearing a body cast. She held a canister from the drive-through window. She told him she was working that window at the moment.
“You have to get in line and wait your turn,” Lipinski said.
The man handed Lipinski a white envelope striped with blue from a highlighting marker. Lipinski, a veteran teller, knew what this was: a demand note.
Inside the envelope were four pages of 8 ½-by-11-inch paper. A blue stripe was highlighted at the bottom of each page. Hand-printed words the size of typewriter type covered the sheets of paper.
= RECEPTIONIST =
Do not cause panic or many people will be killed Sounding any alarm will interrupt this action and guarantee injuries and death. Involving authorities at this point will get this hostage and other people killed.
Immediately without causing alarm, you must contact the Bank Manager in private. The Bomb- hostage must accompany you.
Bomb is expertly booby-trapped and cannot be disarmed in time unless keys are found by following instructions immediately. Bomb-Hostage needs less than 20 minutes in the bank and 30 minutes to deliver. No money-no keys. If any one of us is stopped or apprehended we will detonate bomb or its timer will run out. We will retaliate if interrupted.
= BANK MANAGER =
No alarm, panic or Police! Close doors.
The note stated the man wanted $250,000, an unreasonably large sum for a bank to have on hand. The note stated sentries were watching to make sure he got the cash. The note explained how, after he left the bank, the man could find directions to deactivate the bomb. The note had so many instructions spread over all four pages.
Lipinski skimmed the pages. She looked at the man. “I want to speak to the manager,” he said.
Lipinski left the counter. When she returned, the man was sucking a Dum Dums lollipop, which he had taken from the basket. Lipinski told him the manager was at lunch and would be back in about a half an hour, or around 3:00 P.M.
“I don’t have until 3:00,” the man said. “I don’t have that kind of time. I need $250,000.”
He lifted his baggy white T-shirt. A gray-colored device hung from his neck and rested on his chest. It looked like a bomb.
Lipinski looked at the man. He still wanted $250,000. Lipinski said she didn’t have that kind of money; she couldn’t get into the vault. That is why the man’s note was also directed to a manager: that would be the person with access to the vault. With the manager out, the vault was off-limits. Lipinski would have to give him the money from the cash drawers.
“Give me what you have,” the man said.
Lipinski took money from her cash drawer. Another teller bent down behind the counter and mouthed “911” to a customer who had walked in to cash some checks. Lipinski got more cash from other teller stations. She put the money in a white canvas bank bag and gave it to the robber: $8,702.
“It’s not enough,” he said.
“What do you want me to do?” Lipinski said. She told him that was all the money she had.
The robber turned and started to walk out of the bank. Eleven minutes had gone by since he arrived. It was 2:38 P.M. He did not run. He sucked the lollipop. He carried his cane in his right hand. In his left hand, he twirled the bag of cash. When he swung the bag like that, he looked like Charlie Chaplin.
Brian Wells, the bank robber, now sat cross-legged in the parking lot in front of a Pennsylvania State Police cruiser, with his left knee bent high above his right. He told the state troopers he wanted to stand. He said he was uncomfortable.
“Can you at least take these freaking handcuffs off ? So I can hold this thing up? It’s killing my neck,” Wells said.
The troopers told him to stay seated.
Wells asked when the bomb squad would arrive. In a while, the troopers said.
If this was bullshit, you’d better end it now, one of the troopers said.
“It’s not bullshit,” Wells said. “I didn’t do anything.” “Do you think I could have a cigarette?” he said. He said it would probably be his last one.
The troopers said no. Wells asked for a priest. The troopers said no.
“Why isn’t nobody trying to come get this thing off me?” Wells said. “I don’t have a lot of time.”
His voice rose.
“He pulled a key out and started a timer,” Wells said. “I heard the thing ticking when he did it.”
“It’s gonna go off,” Wells said. “I’m not lying.”
Wells, a pizza deliveryman, shook his head.
“Did you call my boss?” he said.
“Yeah,” one of the troopers said, “we called him.”
Wells said the bomb was beeping. He wanted it unlocked from his neck. He wanted the handcuffs off.
For ten seconds the timer droned: Beep!
Wells turned slightly. Boom!
Orange flames flashed.
Copyright @2012 by Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella. From “Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery,” published by Berkley Books/Penguin Group (USA)