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.”

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

The Office Star Ellie Kemper Wants to Do a Reunion Episode

NBC - NBCUniversal Media
NBC - NBCUniversal Media

While rumors of The Office getting a reboot have been swirling around for years, the outlook on that happening any time soon doesn't look good. But a reunion episode might just be possible.

Ellie Kemper, who played Erin Hannon in the beloved series, recently stopped by Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen to dish about the sitcom and her thoughts on whether it might be making a return to the small screen: "I would love there to be a reboot, but I don't think there will be. So, that's a sad answer," Kemper admitted. "But maybe like a reunion episode? That would be fun."

E! News reports that Kemper isn’t the only cast member that wants to get the band back together. Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, also thinks a reunion episode would be a hit. “I think it's a great idea," Fischer said in 2018. "I would be honored to come back in any way that I'm able to.”

A key player in the series' success, however, is not so enthusiastic about the idea. Steve Carell, who played the infamous Michael Scott, doesn’t think a revival would be well-received. "The climate's different," Carell told Esquire back in 2018. "I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he's certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That's the point, you know? But I just don't know how that would fly now.”

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