12 Facts About Evil Genius, Netflix’s Addictive New True Crime Series

Netflix
Netflix

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck would detonate, as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight.

The bizarre incident was just the beginning of a peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade. Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist, Trey Borzillieri and Barbara Schroeder’s provocative new four-part Netflix docuseries, continues the streaming network’s dedication to shedding light on fascinating true crimes—a trend that largely began with Making a Murderer and has continued through last month's Wild Wild Country. If you haven’t yet watched what is sure to become Netflix’s next true crime obsession, bookmark this page and do that now. If you’ve already binged all four hours and are thirsting for further details about the series (which was 15 years in the making), read on. Just be aware that there are spoilers ahead.

1. IT’S PRODUCED BY THE DUPLASS BROTHERS.

Mark and Jay Duplass (L/R) pose on arrival for the Los Angeles Premiere of the film 'The Skeleton Twins' in Hollywood, California on September 10, 2014
FREDERIC J. BROWN, AFP/Getty Images

Mark and Jay Duplass have largely been known for their acting work and indie film co-creations, but the filmmaker brothers have been getting into the true crime scene in a big way as producers of late—first with Wild Wild Country (also for Netflix) and now with Evil Genius. When asked about their interest in the case, Mark Duplass told USA Today that, “We knew a little bit about the story. That image of that collar bomb and that cane gun always stuck with us. And then serendipitously, our really close friend, Josh Braun, who was instrumental in bringing Wild Wild Country to us, also brought us this series and put us together with the filmmakers. Ultimately, it is their show and that's I think what we're most proud of with both Wild Wild Country and Evil Genius."

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY PARADISE LOST AND THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE.

It takes a certain kind of filmmaker to want to dedicate more than a decade of his or her life to telling one particular story, but Evil Genius co-director Trey Borzillieri had a feeling that the so-called “Pizza Bomber” or “Collar Bomb” case would be worth the effort. And he was inspired to pursue the project after seeing a landmark documentary that helped to bring justice to a trio of teenagers wrongfully accused (and convicted) of murder.

"After I watched the first West Memphis Three case documentary, Paradise Lost, that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky did, I was blown away by that and looking for a story,” Borzillieri told Thrillist. “Ultimately, I started tracking this case the day it happened. Just by chance, I was in Buffalo, New York, which is close to Erie, in August of 2003. After seeing the reported coverage the day of—that a pizza deliveryman [Brian Wells] robbed a bank and blew up in the process—the mystery began right there. And then learning that there was evidence that indicated he had been put up to it? Holy cow!”

3. TREY BORZILLIERI HAS BEEN ON THE CASE FOR 15 YEARS.

Camera footage of Brian Wells at PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania
Netflix

Anyone who has seen Evil Genius is aware that Borzillieri has invested a lot of time in learning more about the case, including having years of correspondence and profanity-filled conversations with convicted co-conspirator Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Borzillieri's involvement, in fact, began when police in Erie announced a seemingly unrelated crime that occurred in almost the exact same spot where Wells’s journey on that fateful day had begun, but did not believe there was a connection.

Approximately one month after Wells’s death, “[authorities] discovered this frozen body, in a garage right next to the dirt road where Brian Wells made his last delivery before showing up at the PNC Bank, and the FBI was saying that the two cases were not connected,” Borzillieri told Thrillist. “That just sent me off the couch, and I began the early attempts at making this documentary—I went to Erie, began knocking on doors. The case went cold for upward of two years, and [Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong] was one of the few people living who could provide insight. Having no objective, but just looking for the truth, was what led me to her.”

4. BORZILLIERI WAS INITIALLY RELUCTANT TO APPROACH MARJORIE DIEHL-ARMSTRONG.

Though it was ultimately determined that Diehl-Armstrong was the real mastermind behind the entire Collar Bomb plot, she wasn’t yet on the FBI’s radar when Borzillieri first got involved with the case. And he admitted to Metro that he was initially reluctant to try to engage her. “Basically, when I began knocking on doors about the case there wasn’t a lot of coverage of Marjorie at that time,” he said. “So when I reached out I was hesitant to say the least. Just from looking at her in the photos.

“But she turned out to be someone I couldn’t have even imagined,” Borzillieri continued. “She was scary. She was fascinating. Dark and dynamic. The more I got to know her the more forthcoming she was. So we were able to have a relationship.”

5. GETTING PARTICIPANTS TO AGREE TO ON-CAMERA INTERVIEWS WAS NO EASY TASK.

When asked about the challenges of assembling a range of talking heads to participate in the documentary series, Borzillieri said it was a bit of a challenge. “Obviously, these interviews began a long time ago, so it was great that I got in on the day-of, which enabled me to have a unique perspective in that we could carry [the story] all the way to the end,” he told Thrillist. “But it was super challenging, and I have to underline that.

“The case went cold for two years, and reaching out to Marjorie was just an attempt at getting any information,” he continued. "Law enforcement was under a federal gag order, in essence, so nobody would speak. All the interviews you see with law enforcement in the series come after they've retired and they finally felt comfortable enough to speak publicly about the case. Because of the event and the explosion with Brian Wells, it was such a sensitive topic. These guys really had waited until their retirement to speak about it.”

6. GETTING DIEHL-ARMSTRONG TO TALK WAS RELATIVELY EASY (UNLESS SHE DIDN’T LIKE WHAT BORZILLIERI WAS SAYING).

Much of Evil Genius’s shock value comes from Diehl-Armstrong’s on-camera interviews/rantings, and it apparently wasn’t too hard to get her to open up. “[O]bviously she was a sociopath. Which made her a great liar,” Borzillieri told Metro. “That along with her other mental issues. Like paranoia, mania, personality disorder. She was a tough woman who was constantly manipulating everyone in her path to get her own way … Because she was a narcissist it was easy to get her to talk. But difficult to correct her. When she had any opposition, even a difference in opinion, she would approach it with reptilian indifference.”

Borzillieri believes that part of the reason he was able to build such trust and rapport with Diehl-Armstrong was because he reached out to her “so early on, before she was labeled a suspect in public … I became like a sounding board to her. She felt comfortable and I let that happen. When the time was right, because I had prepared properly, I would spring on her opinions and ideas and try to get her to open up.”

7. BEING VERBALLY ASSAULTED BY DIEHL-ARMSTRONG WAS ALL IN A DAY’S WORK.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong in 'Evil Genius' (2018)
Netflix

In 2013, after 10 years of research-gathering, Borzillieri reached out to fellow documentarian Barbara Schroeder—writer/director of 2009’s award-winning Talhotblond—about working on the series with him, “and we teamed up and started getting deeper truths in the story,” he told Nylon. One of the things that became immediately clear to Schroeder was the fact that regular verbal assaults from Diehl-Armstrong were seemingly in Borzillieri’s job description.

“I mean, in one interview, you'll hear her say, ‘I'll sue your f***ing balls off if you say that, Trey,’” Schroeder recounted. “Then she turns around and in another conversation is very sweet and engaging and signs off with a ‘love you.’ It's interesting you get to see Marjorie try to play Trey, and then you see how Trey uses the confidence that he got with Marjorie to ultimately get to some deeper truths.”

8. WRITING THE SERIES REQUIRED A LOT OF FLOW CHARTS.

When Schroeder signed on as both writer and co-director of Evil Genius, her main goal was taking this extremely complicated case and large cast of co-conspirators and creating a narrative that would make sense to the viewer in four hour-long installments. How did she do it? With “a lot of charts,” she told Nylon. “A lot of flow charts. Yeah, it is super-complicated, and that was probably the biggest challenge—trying to tell this without overwhelming people. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when you have a story that's this complicated. But the drive to get the answers to these questions is what propelled and guided us as we laid it out and wrote. You know, [it’s like] keep it simple. The story kind of tells itself, and it’s what I like to call the ‘oh my god’ moments, like ‘wait, what?!’ moments, you know. So we spent a lot of time making sure that the ride was the best one to go on without confusing the audience.”

9. THEY WERE STRATEGIC IN HOW THEY INCORPORATED THE FOOTAGE OF BRIAN WELLS’S DEATH.

Brian Wells in 'Evil Genius' (2018)
Netflix

One of the most talked-about aspects of Evil Genius is that it incorporates footage of Brian Wells pleading with police to help him get the bomb off his neck, and ultimately the bomb’s detonation. The scene is shown a couple of different times throughout the series, but is manipulated in different ways, largely out of respect for Wells’s family.

When asked about why it was important to show that footage in the series, Schroeder told Thrillist: “I'm glad you asked that, because we didn't want to use it gratuitously. We're very aware that his family is probably going to watch this, but I hope you notice that we use it strategically. So at the beginning we don't show the whole event. At the end [of Episode 4], we do show it, but we blur it. The last scene [of his face] is also blurred. It was important to use that to reinforce how heinous it was that this is a victim who was publicly executed and nobody has been charged with this man's murder.”

10. THE CREATORS ARE SURE THAT MARJORIE DIEHL-ARMSTRONG WAS THE MASTERMIND.

Though Evil Genius leaves many questions unanswered (and the filmmakers admit that we’ll probably never know every detail of the case), one thing that both Borzillieri and Schroeder feel confident about is that Diehl-Armstrong was, in fact, the mastermind behind the Collar Bomb heist—though they don’t exonerate her many co-conspirators.

“I absolutely feel she was the leader, but there are layers to that,” Borzillieri told Thrillist. “What we were hoping to do here is create something where the audience felt like this was a participatory journey—to have conversations, to form their own opinions. What compels one to keep going on a cold case, in a mystery, sometimes is not really the ‘who did it,’ but the ‘why,’ like ‘why did this happen?’ That was a huge motivating factor for me. Especially at Marjorie's trial, we began to feel like we knew what was happening and who the players were, but we could never come to terms with the 'why.'"

Schroeder agreed, though she believes that there are still surprises that could be uncovered in the case. “By profession and by nature, I'm cynical,” she said, “so Bill Rothstein probably played a big part in this. But to me, the intrigue wasn't about answering the question—because some of these questions are impossible to answer … Some of these people took secrets to the grave. So there could be more surprises behind Door No. 3, or any of the doors that remain.”

11. THE CREATORS HOPE THE SERIES CAN DELIVER “SOME KIND OF JUSTICE.”

A scene from 'Evil Genius' (2018)
Netflix

Because many of the series’ key players have passed away—Rothstein died in 2004, before he was ever officially named a suspect, and Diehl-Armstrong died of breast cancer in 2017—Borzillieri and Schroeder know that many questions in the case will likely never be answered. But what they hope the series will do, according to Schroeder, is open people’s eyes to the reality of the bizarre story. “If the co-conspirators couldn't truly be held accountable, and if Brian Wells's story wasn't ever told completely, hopefully, we were able to deliver some kind of justice,” she said. “Not only to the victim, but also in making people aware of how devious these co-conspirators were. They wanted to show the world how smart they were, and in the long run, we're hoping we can show that maybe they weren't that smart after all.”

Added Borzillieri: “The series and its conclusion also bring us to a second chance at justice. We want to have conversations afterward, and perhaps come away with bigger questions that can be posed—one that comes to mind has to do with the man [Floyd Stockton] who locked the collar around Brian Wells's neck. He received immunity in this case. What was that based on? Was that based on truth?”

12. THE ENDING COULD LEAD TO NEW CHARGES BEING FILED.

In the series' last few minutes, something unexpected happens: Jessica Hoopsick—a prostitute who Wells regularly saw, and developed a deep friendship with—stood in front of the camera and admitted that she had set Wells up to become an unwitting participant in the crime in exchange for drugs and money. Initially, Hoopsick was reluctant to sit down with the filmmakers, and it’s understandable why: By admitting she was in on the heist, Hoopsick has opened herself up to being named yet another co-conspirator.

“We always believed that Jessica knew more,” retired ATF special agent Jason Wick told TIME. “Getting her to tell us at the time was a whole other issue. We just couldn’t get enough from her. We were in a tough spot. She just wouldn’t cooperate.”

Though both Wick and his partner at the time, Jerry Clark, believe Hoopsick’s admission “should certainly be passed along” to both state and federal law enforcement agencies for review, they question her credibility and motives. “There is evidence that directly conflicts with what she’s saying,” Clark said. “There’s always some underlying reason for her cooperation. The fact that she’s saying it, you got to wonder why.”

For their part, Borzillieri and Schroeder told TIME that Hoopsick—who was given nothing in return for her interview—came clean because, according to Borzillieri, “This was eating her up inside.” While charges could be filed against her, both law enforcement and the filmmakers agree that it’s unlikely that will happen.

“Before we talked with Jessica, she was worried, like could anything happen to her? So we talked with all the different law enforcement agencies, and technically she could still be charged, but every one of them said they don't have any plans to do that,” Schroeder told Thrillist. “So when we talked with her, we couldn't guarantee that she wouldn't be charged. But even in the face of that, she was willing to come forward. That's a pretty compelling interview, for someone to do that in the face of possible charges.”

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Recapture that '90s vibe with this Blockbuster-themed movie trivia game.
Recapture that '90s vibe with this Blockbuster-themed movie trivia game.
Big Potato Games/Hot Topic

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $24 at Hot Topic. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

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