The Collar Bomb Robbery

Really interesting story of the collar-bomb robbery -- and subsequent investigation -- from 2003.

Posted on December 27, 2011 at 6:22 AM • 28 Comments

Comments

NolandDecember 27, 2011 8:38 AM

Sometimes the old adage rings true. That would seem hokey and unbelievable as a work of fiction.

bobDecember 27, 2011 8:40 AM

So the cops handcuffed this guy and leaned him up against a cruiser and then hid behind stuff and watched him struggle to extricate him self from the handcuffs while waiting for him to blow up? Wow, hope I never get help like that. They should have poured honey on him to attract ants as well.

They could at least have put some earplugs in his ears and tucked a folded flak vest between his chest and the bomb to give him a shot at surviving before they buggered off, just in case he actually was an innocent victim.

Spaceman SpiffDecember 27, 2011 8:54 AM

Poor Wells. It is a great example of that old saw - if you go to bed with dogs (or is it rats?), you get up with fleas.

aliceDecember 27, 2011 9:16 AM

@bob "tucked a folded flak vest between his chest and the bomb"

That's what I was thinking. Admittedly, I'm not an expert in how these things work but it looks like they could have put something between him and the box.

askme233December 27, 2011 10:34 AM

@ bob My thoughts exactly. The cops either believe it is a bomb and should do something useful, or don't beleive it.

Handcuffing him and waiting for him to die sounds like the act of cowards.

I also wonder if Wells was in on it, and knew the details, he would have said something to the police when caught. Not continued to act dumb. Sounds like the cops/prosecutor were just trying to tie up loose ends.

Also, thanks for linking to the one page version.

Bob TDecember 27, 2011 11:01 AM

I think they expected the guy to get blown up in the first or second wooded area looking for the clues where nobody would hear it and they would have gotten the money from the bank job. I don't think any of these people are brilliant "masterminds" setting up a puzzle. They were probably more like collaborators who made their own suggestions to the overall cluster *. It sounds like a well thought out puzzle because no normal thinking person would come up with any of these crazy ideas without deliberately thinking about them in such a way.

Is untangling your fishing line, solving an elaborately crafted puzzle? No. Some things are just a crazy mess.

Clive RobinsonDecember 27, 2011 11:41 AM

@ Bob,

"They could at least have put some earplugs in his ears and tucked a folded flak vest between his chest and the bomb to give him a shot at surviving before they buggered off."

None of which would have helped him in any way.

If you remember your physics MV=MV or "every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction"...

Look at the design of the bomb the chances are that when it went off, if there was a flack jacket placed between the bomb and the victims chest the opposit reaction would have rotated the bomb casing and collar such that it would have broken his neck...

XDecember 27, 2011 11:49 AM

I don't think a flak vest would have helped much. That ring around his neck. And you presume a flak vest is available.

What I wonder is why nobody got him a dremel. Just cut through the metal, or the hinge, and leave the bomb and all its complicated timers, behind.

Also, why did he rob the bank? Why not just call 911 and report what was happening? Ask for help? Or go to a Home Depo and ask for help? Those guys can do almost anything, and far more quickly!

DavidDecember 27, 2011 1:15 PM

The cops did *not* wait for him to blow up - they waited for the bomb squad, which didn't get there in time. I don't blame the cops for minimizing the time they spend risking getting blown up themselves, when they probably couldn't have helped anyway.

Nick PDecember 27, 2011 2:46 PM

@ all

I seriously think this robbery was inspired by the Saw movie series. Which coincidentally debuted the same year. He watched it or the trailer, then said "I could do that shit."

Saw Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKPy5RWuqNA

@ X

Many sophisticated bombs have countermeasures to detonate if tampered with. The average Home Depot worker is not qualified for EOD. Additionally, he might have been convinced that the timer would be finished before bomb technicians could get there & successfully defuse the bomb. How he initially acted toward the cops suggested that he truly believed he was about to get it off when he delivered the money. To bad the other assessment was true: "He was destined to die. No matter what."

Nick PDecember 27, 2011 2:48 PM

@ David

"they waited for the bomb squad, which didn't get there in time."

That's the point I was making to X. The guy probably believed, maybe even was told, they wouldn't get there in time, he has no choice, etc. Then, they didn't get there in time. Fate can be cruel.

gregDecember 27, 2011 5:24 PM

Bombs come in only two flavors. Easy to defuse, or not de fusable.

Its not hard to do. Cut the cuff, breaks the circuit, detonate. Any change in resistance in the cuff, detonate. Drill a hole to have a look inside, light hits a photo sensor, detonate.

And a flak jacket with 2 pipe bombs at your neck... You dead either way, its just a matter of how many others come with you.

FigureitoutDecember 27, 2011 10:11 PM

If this sick story was actually based off a 'Saw' movie, then my god...

To think that someone would feel inclined to replicate some of the scenarios in those movies is terrifying...

Even though I wished I lived in times where society seemed more "normal", learning about the history of the fall of the Roman empire is pretty disturbing as well...

RobertTDecember 28, 2011 1:23 AM

"Bombs come in only two flavors. Easy to defuse, or not de fusable."

Interesting comment, while bomb disposal is something I have absolutely no experience with, I'm always confused by the belief that a home made bomb can be defused.

The problem is that there are thousands of simple anti-tamper things that can be done to make the bomb detonate, but the bomb disposal technician has only one chance to de-fuse the thing.

Against those odds, I can't imagine bomb disposal personnel living long enough to even learn their trade.

I guess your comment sheds some light on this conundrum. (The only Bomb's they try to defuse are the most trivial constructions)

Nick PDecember 28, 2011 12:32 PM

"I'm always confused by the belief that a home made bomb can be defused."

They're often simple enough to defuse. The basic bombs people make usually don't contain much anti-tamper technology. If they do, there are standard processes for defusing that try to identify the setup and properly defusing it. There's also the old liquid nitrogen trick. ;) If they're unsure, though, they have a contraption that they put the bomb in which partly contains the blast & they detonate it far away from where they found it.

mcbDecember 28, 2011 1:51 PM

@ Jay from BKK

"If only the TSA had been there..."

Yup, they'd have confiscated the device and had him on his flight in no time.

mapesDecember 28, 2011 4:01 PM

What about bolt cutters? Cut the necklace part in two places 180 degrees apart and put the bomb in a field. Or could there have been some sort of slight current/resistance running through the collar to prevent this?

grumpyDecember 29, 2011 6:01 AM

Sounds like the cops did their job. If there's nothing you can do, nothing is a good thing to do. Getting someone killed because they play EOD-like-in-the-movies and start cutting wires at random is not going to solve anything for anyone. Getting the hell out of the way and waiting for the people who know what they're doing is a smart move.

Danish police did the same thing last year when a would-be terrorist managed to fsck up and set off his bomb while he was working on it (it was TATP so not too surprising). He got away from the scene and was found later in a nearby park, wearing a belt pouch. They cuffed him and stood off a bit, just in case, as letting him bleed on the pavement was better than risking having extra casualties (a brave doctor in a flak jacket had a look at him and pronounced him fit to wait). EOD eventually got there and found out that there was no risk but it was a smart move regardless. Link: http://eb.dk/112/article1408238.ece, in Danish but there's an amateur recording of the goings on in the park.

Oh, and that bomber had more luck than he deserved. When it went boom he was disassembling his first bomb and making it into a letter bomb, with a handfull of ball bearings thrown in, in a small room. Getting away with scratches is damn lucky.

Nick PDecember 29, 2011 12:04 PM

@ mcb

"Yup, they'd have confiscated the device and had him on his flight in no time."

Considering the anti-tampering, they'd probably confiscate HIM & detonate him in a field.

@ mapes

"What about bolt cutters? Cut the necklace part in two places 180 degrees apart and put the bomb in a field. "

Re-read the article. Particularly, the description of the bomb collar. Intricrate craftsmanship, locks, timers, and wires all over it are all good reasons to NOT try to just cut it off.

Nick PDecember 29, 2011 12:15 PM

@ grumpy

Good points. Especially on the accidental BB bomb not tearing him to shreds. That's essentially like having a shotgun pointed in your general direction, fired, and not taking a single critical hit.

The play-it-careful response can lead to even funnier situations, though. I can't find the link right now through Google. It was a bank robbery in an area with a police helicopter. The crooks escaped in a way where the cops couldn't follow except by heli. They went to board their heli, but were stopped by... a suitcase with the word bomb on it. Had to go through EOD procedures and stuff. Suitcase was empty. Turns out, if they play it "smart", you can ground their SWAT and aerial units with empty bags labeled "bomb." ;)

WillDecember 29, 2011 4:54 PM

@Nick

that was a raid in Stockholm September 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/23/...

The police helicopter wouldn't have scrambled in time anyway.

Interestingly, the air force heard about the raid at the beginning and vectored in a couple of Gripens that were airborne over Stockholm; these would have been able to watch the path of the escape helicopter from above. However, they were called off as the police declined the offer of assistance.

bobJanuary 4, 2012 8:25 AM

@Clive: the equal opposite reaction would happen whether there's a flak vest there or not; If I was in that scenario I'd rather have the option. Also the picture I saw of the bomb showed a lot of AT but not all that much explosive.

In most "cut the blue wire" bomb movies I always wonder why they dont simply pull the detonator out of the explosive while leaving the wires alone. (Stipulated that a detonator going off by itself can still be annoying.)

Clive RobinsonJanuary 6, 2012 7:30 AM

@ Bob,

Sorry for the delay in responding I've been having a few probs at my end. With regards,

The equal and opposite reaction would happen whether there's a flak vest there or not; If I was in that scenario I'd rather have the option

I'd tend to agree with you if the detrimental effects of the flak jacket could be reasonably mitigated.

My main concern with the flak jacket is it's thickness, as this would be between the body and the device it would "pretorque" the collar against the neck/spine, thus potentialy making things worse.

However having had time to think about it there may be a solution though you'ld need to experiment (so if the Myth-Buster dudes are reading here's one for poor old "Buster" to do a stand in ;)

If you think about the basic design of the device it's "strong points" are the corners and (if welded) edges, it's weak points are the center of the planes of the box sides, or the points in those planes directly adjacent to the charge.

This is sort of similar to "pipe bombs" where the strong points are the end caps and weak point the pipe directly connected to the caps or adjacent to the charge.

So if you augment the strength of the device base plate by some means it hopefully would make the device tend to explode away from this through the other weak points (sides and top). In the process it would also reverse the direction of travel of the device back towards the persons chest, thus hopefully not snapping their neck (but probably stoping their heart, which is a whole lot easier problem to deal with).

So my sugestion is to put the metal plate of the flak jacket as close as possible to the base of the device and then using webbing or other strong material bind it to the device, around the ends of the device and the respective corners. Oh and make sure the person remained standing as their torso needs to be free to move with the "recoil" to a certain degree, but... Not to free otherwise inertia on the heart or liver would rip open arteries etc as is often seen in vehicle accidents were the person does not wear a seat belt...

Thus hopefully causing the device to explode outwards it would improve the persons chances of surviving.

To reduce the chance of heart attack or other compression damage put the flak jacket minus it's metal plate between the plate and the person. Then place other flak jackets around the persons head torso and limbs to reduce other types of injury from shrapnel and blast wave etc.

However how much of a difference it would make I've no real idea, nor do I suspect do most people including the majority of UXB operatives.

But... if I was in the unfortunate position of having such a device attached and only 20mins on the clock I'd guess that it would be better than nothing.

RobertTJanuary 6, 2012 8:03 AM

I've kinda thought about this a little and decided the best response is to give the guy wearing the vest a pair of wire cutters and a mirror (or suitable videocam inspection device so he could see what he was doing)

I'd move back to a safe distance with a video feed of what he was seeing and advise him, if you guess right he lives otherwise ....

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