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Twisted Tale; Rescue; Holly Hustle

Aired August 7, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CNN PRESENTS. Rescue. What it takes to become one of the Coast Guard's elite rescue swimmers.


ANNOUNCER: Kaj Larsen takes you inside a rescue mission.

"Hollywood Hustle."

POPPY HARLOW, CNN PRESENTS: You say you've been robbed for the last few decades.

DAVID CASSIDY, POP STAR: What would you call it?

ANNOUNCER: Pop star David Cassidy claims he was ripped off over his pop idol image.

But first, a pizza delivery man robs a bank with a bomb around his neck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These suckers say you've got 55 minutes, man. What are you going to do?

ANNOUNCER: And that's just the beginning of one of the most bizarre crimes ever.

CNN's Drew Griffin unravels the "Twisted Tale" of the man known as the pizza bomber.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: 911. What's your emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We just have been robbed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. He just walked out the door.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN PRESENTS (voice-over): August 28th, 2003. Erie, Pennsylvania. Within minutes of robbing a bank, Brian Wells is surrounded by police. Cross legged on the ground and handcuffed. He told police, he was a pizza delivery man and he delivered a pizza. The group he delivered it to captured him, he told police. Put this bomb on his neck and told him to rob a bank.

BRIAN WELLS, ROBBERY SUSPECT: Can you call my boss?


GRIFFIN: He asks police to call his boss. Then to save his life.

WELLS: Why is it nobody's trying to come get this thing off me?

GRIFFIN: Twenty-five minutes ticked by. Then the device begins to beep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the thing ticking when he did it.

WELLS: It's going to go off.

GRIFFIN: In an instant, the bank robber is dead.

(On camera): The death of Brian Wells in this parking lot that day turned out to be only the beginning of the most elaborate, intricate, and some say still unsolved bank robbery case the FBI has ever had.

DAVID HICKTON, U.S. ATTORNEY, WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA: At the end of it all, our system worked. Our law enforcement partners solved the puzzle and we achieved convictions and long sentences.

GRIFFIN: The FBI, the local police, and the U.S. attorney's office simply want this case to be closed. But is it?

Tonight, you decide. Did the FBI catch all the suspects? Did the FBI let one of them walk? And did the FBI make a mistake putting blame on a pizza delivery man whose secrets blew up in a parking lot.

It was other hot Thursday afternoon. Jean Heid was expecting to see her brother at a party that night but she had errand to run. A quick shopping trip on Erie's Pete Street, but there was trouble.

Police had blocked the road. Cops and cars everywhere. She turned around and went home. It was only later that night, watching the 10:00 news, she learned what that traffic was all about.

JEAN HEID, BRIAN WELL'S SISTER: My kids are sitting on the couch and then the story airs of this bank robbery. And a man came into the bank with a bomb on him.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You are recognizing --

HEID: My brother sitting there with this bomb on him, and I'm thinking, OK, the police have him. They'll find out who did this to him. Then as it goes on, it is like -- Brian exploded. You know the bomb went off. Brian is dead. And I'm like, I can't believe this.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): After the explosion, one of the first things the cops did was look inside his car. And they found these. Meticulous notes that amounted to a bizarre scavenger hunt. Notes given to Brian Wells, instructing him to follow a lengthy set of orders if he wanted to survive.

RICH SCHAPIRO, WIRED MAGAZINE: Laying out this puzzling, highly complex scavenger hunt directing him to go to specific places.

GRIFFIN: Rich Schapiro is a journalist who's written extensively about the robbery for the "Wired" magazine.

SCHAPIRO: The notes suggested at the very end of this, if he completed it in the allotted time which wasn't much, that he would be able to save his life.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Have you asked yourself why didn't my brother Brian get in that car and drive straight to the police station?

HEID: No. I never asked that because Brian was in survival mode. I truly believe that he was trying to save his life and others' lives.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But the police had no idea what to think. Was Brian Wells a victim? Was he in on the robbery? What were those notes all about and who wrote them? Why?

There were no answers, but plenty of agencies wanting to be involved in the biggest case Erie had ever seen.

BOB RUDGE, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: We have formed a multiagency task force comprised of the Pennsylvania State Police, the ATF, the Erie Police Department, specifically their bomb squad, the United States Attorney's Office, and the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

JIM FISHER, RETIRED FBI AGENT: I wouldn't be surprised if some game warden from Warren PA was on the task force.

GRIFFIN: Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and criminologist, studied the case from the beginning.

FISHER: So you have 50 people running around, randomly conducting, you know, leads with very little coordination. No one really seemed to be in charge.

GRIFFIN: From the outset, he believe the FBI, the Erie Police, all the law enforcement agencies involved were on the wrong track. This was not, he says, a bank robbery.

(On camera): You believe Brian Wells was murdered.

FISHER: Well, he was murdered and it was a first-degree murder. This was an intentional, premeditated homicide. Moreover, it was extremely cruel in the way the crime was executed.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Not just the crime, the actual bomb was a crude masterpiece of someone's twisted art. Police would find intricate decoy cables, homemade lock. It all made into a bizarre puzzle, wrapped around the neck of the victim. And whatever this was -- a bank robbery, a violent murder -- the case was about to take another bizarre, almost unreal twist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a frozen body. It's in the freezer in the garage.

GRIFFIN: A second body. This one hidden in the freezer. And a new suspect telling an even stranger tale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What came in first? The body or the freezer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body came in. I put it on a cart.

GRIFFIN: Just ahead, a man, a body, and an ever expanding cast of suspects.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): As Brian Wells was on the ground in that half-hour, after he robbed the bank, another man was watching everything unfold from across the street. According to an FBI affidavit, informants said a 63-year-old handyman name William Rothstein was sitting in his car, eyes focused on Brian Wells. Bill Rothstein, officials later said, was the mastermind behind the entire scheme.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I put a cut piece of green tarp down here to put his body on.


GRIFFIN: This is Bill Rothstein a few months after that bank robbery. In a police evidence tape, where he is explaining to a detective how he helped a former girlfriend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, dispose of a body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What came in first, the body or the freezer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body came in. I put it on the cart. I'll show you where the cart is. And the cart has big wheels. Not the cart with the small wheels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it this one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That one there.

GRIFFIN (on camera): But what's really going on here? What did that body in the freezer and Bill Rothstein's confession have to do with the collar bomb explosion that killed Brian Wells?

In a word, everything.

(Voice-over): Bill Rothstein told police he was just doing Marjorie a favor. He claimed Marjorie had killed her abusive ex- boyfriend named Jim Roden. But the FBI's investigation tell another story. Roden knew about the bank robbery plot and was about to go to police. Rothstein made that mess go away.

DOUGLAS SUGHRUE, MARJORIE DIEHL-ARMSTRONG'S ATTORNEY: He came to the house and helped. He took the body out, cleaned everything up. Cleaned the walls. Replaced floor boards, replaced everything. Painted. Got rid of everything that might have blood on it.

GRIFFIN: After Rothstein turned her into police for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Marjorie stunned investigators with another twist. She connected Rothstein to Erie's biggest bank robbery.

SUGHRUE: I mean to build the bomb and test the bomb and all the components, she had to have already been building it and designing it. In doing that, he also said I need some money. So Marjorie just gave him like $75,000 worth of money that she also kept at the house. So Bill Rothstein was left with two of the most important thing to hold over Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong.

Number one, all of her money and number two, a dead body that would make her lose her liberty for the rest of her life.

GRIFFIN: Even though Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong had been talking with police, it took the FBI nearly four more years before it could tie up all the loose ends. Everybody, the FBI said, was involved with the robbery.

Bill Rothstein, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, even another suspect, a crack dealer named Kenneth Barnes, and Barnes claimed Brian Wells was in on the plot from the beginning. And that he was duped.

SCHAPIRO: Wells was essentially told he would be robbing the bank but the device that was being put around his neck would be fake. So he would not be putting himself in harm's way. As it turns out, he was double crossed.

GRIFFIN: Criminologist Jim Fisher believes it was Rothstein who wanted to pull off the perfect diabolical crime that would baffle investigators.

The elaborate scavenger hunt would eventually send police to a dead end. The confusing yet meticulously crafted collar bomb, even the white T-shirt Brian Wells wore into the bank, spray painted with the word the "guess."

To Fisher, all of it hatched in the mind of a madman.

FISHER: They're the kind of motives we can understand. Like a standard bank robbery. Someone needs the money. And then we have a category of crime involving motives that a normal person you can't really understand.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You're describing Bill Rothstein.

FISHER: That would be Bill Rothstein in my mind. To me he fits to a tee the profile of someone who commits such a bizarre and pathological crime.

GRIFFIN (on camera): But now four years after the original crime, the government had to prove in court its theory was correct. And there were two big problems. Rothstein, the alleged mastermind, died before even officially being linked to the crime. And the other main suspect, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, had told so many lies, she was showing evidence of mental problems and a personality disorder.

SUGHRUE: The mental illness was a 30-year history. The personality disorders were a 30-year history.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Over many delays and many more years, the government finally obtained convictions on charges of bank robbery and murder. Life plus 30 years for Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. A lesser sentence for accomplice Kenneth Barnes because he testified on behalf of prosecutors. And Brian Wells who died with that bomb around his neck, well, the federal government said he too was in on the crime.

HEID: When Brian delivered pizza, he was accosted at gunpoint by a group of strangers whom he did not know. They shot at him. When he tried to run away, they knocked him to the ground.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The FBI version of that, as you know, is different.

HEID: That's a lie. That's a lie. That's all their fabrication.

GRIFFIN: The FBI did agree to sit down with CNN to explain their case and their prosecution. How it all went down. They just wanted to know the day we'd arrive here in Erie and where the interview would take place.

Then the FBI began asking us questions. Who else would be interviewed for this report? And suddenly, the interview with the FBI was off.

(Voice-over): Jim Fisher says the FBI and the U.S. attorney took the easy way out. And never really solved the case.

FISHER: Bill Rothstein died about a year after the crime. And he died with, in my opinion, all the secrets, all the answers, and to that extent, well, nobody literally dies laughing, he went to his grave knowing that he had outfoxed every one.

GRIFFIN: Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office, nor the FBI, would comment to CNN about Fisher's assertions. And yet there is someone who is alive. Who Kenneth Barnes says was at Rothstein's house the day of the robbery but was never charged in the crime. He is the convicted sex offender granted immunity in exchange for testimony he was never asked to give.

Next --

(On camera): Brian Wells' family is really wanting to know about you, sir. Please.

(Voice-over): Could this man hold the answers that would finally solve the case?


GRIFFIN (voice-over): In her search for justice, Jean Hyde says she has searched for years trying to learn the truth from the one man she believes now holds the keys to her brother's innocence. His name is Floyd A. Stockton. A convicted sex offender who authorities say was living with Bill Rothstein on the day of the bank robbery. He goes by the nickname Jay.

HEID: Jay Stockton is a convicted rapist, serial sexual battery of his wife. And he is out there. He is out there, people.

GRIFFIN: He is the only one left alive and sane enough to tell the truth, she believes. Yet the federal government has allowed him to go free.

HEID: They know that my brother is innocent 100 percent. And they know that Bill Rothstein, Jay Stockton are the co-conspirators in this crime that killed Brian.

GRIFFIN: According to this FBI affidavit, investigators learned of Stockton's knowledge to the crime when Stockton talked about it in a monitored phone call from jail.

Stockton was released, then given immunity to testify for the government in the pizza bomb case. Investigators say they compared Stockton's handwriting to this handwriting on those scavenger notes found in Brian Wells' car. It was a perfect match.

HEID: The authorities believe there were at least two people who wrote the notes and Jay Stockton is definitely one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On camera is Kenneth Eugene Barnes.

GRIFFIN: There is also the testimony of this man. Kenneth Barnes.

KENNETH BARNES: Like I say, I'd never kill anybody.

GRIFFIN: Barnes pled guilty and is serving a 20-year sentence for his role in the case. But it's this FBI search warrant affidavit, now obtained by CNN, which raises even more questions about why Jay Stockton has been allowed to go free.

According to the affidavit, Barnes and others involved in the case say Floyd Stockton was deeply involved in the plot. Barnes even telling the FBI, on the day of the crime, it was Stockton who went into the garage, got the collar bomb, and handed it to Rothstein.

When we asked then U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan, why Stockton never testified, and was never charged, she initially told us, Stockton was sick, had suffered several strokes and was unable to travel.

After our initial phone call, Buchanan never talked to us again and at a news conference in Erie, the current U.S. attorney, David Hickton, wasn't forthcoming either.

(On camera): What about Mr. Stockton? What can you tell us about his status? And will he ever be prosecuted for this? HICKTON: We're not in a position to comment on in Mr. Stockton.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Douglas Sughrue, Marjorie Diehl- Armstrong's attorney, says there's good reason the U.S. attorney and the FBI want to keep quiet about Jay Stockton.

(On camera): Do you think he's the one person who got away with this?

SUGHRUE: Yes, he got immunity from the government. Absolutely. Free and clear. Convicted sex offender, multi-time sex offender. The government felt that he was the least involved person. And so they gave him immunity.

HEID: They shouldn't have given him immunity. He didn't deserve immunity. He deserved to -- he's the guilty one that killed my brother. He deserved to be brought to justice.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Stockton has been featured on the television show, "America's Most Wanted." Private investigators have tried to track him down but Stockton has literally vanished. At least, that is what he may have thought. Until the day we found him.

These are pictures of Stockton today. Two hours north of Seattle, down a side street in Bellingham, Washington, we found Stockton where he told our investigator he's been living in this duplex for the past six years but was soon about to leave.

A week later, we spotted him leaving the duplex in a pickup truck. We followed. To an RV sales lot where he was eyeing a large recreational vehicle.

It was perhaps the first time in years anyone had mentioned his involvement in the pizza bomb case.

(On camera): How are you doing, Mr. Stockton, right? Drew Griffin. I'm with CNN. How are you doing? It has taken a long time for me to find you. I wanted to ask you some questions.

Sir, Brian Wells' family is really wanting to know about you, sir. Please.

(Voice-over): As fast' could with his driver's side window lowered, Jay Stockton sped away, not saying a word.

(On camera): Mr. Stockton, this is Drew Griffin again with CNN. Brian Wells' family is really just trying to get to the truth of the matter about particularly their brother. You're the only one alive and sane enough to tell the truth. And that's what they're after.

(Voice-over): He has refused all of our phone calls, refused to respond to notes placed at his door. The assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case insists to us, Jay Stockton would tell us what the federal government has proven in court. That Brian Wells was involved with the bank robbery. MARSHALL PICCINNI, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA: No one could have sat through this criminal trial without understanding the degree of evidence linking Mr. Wells to these particular participants.

GRIFFIN: In fact, the same affidavit that implicates Stockton repeatedly implicates Jean Heid's brother. The suspect involved, saying Brian Wells knew the plot all along, was involved in the planning, was part of the band of criminal misfits trying to rob a bank.

Jean Heid will never believe that. She believes her government is lying.

HEID: They let an innocent man, my brother, die while in their custody. And they didn't even lift a finger to help him. This case is going to be looked at for years to come. And they don't want it known that they screwed up. Brian never would have done this.

ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN PRESENTS, Coast Guard rescue swimmers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's up above the water now.

ANNOUNCER: Imbedding with those who save lives for a living. And later --

HARLOW: Are you fighting for more than money?

MARION ROSS, "HAPPY DAYS": I think fairness.

ANNOUNCER: The cast of "Happy Days" isn't so happy. The TV icons are demanding money for what they claim are mountains of merchandise cashing in on their image.


LARSEN (voice-over): In North Carolina, Daniel Todd is on his way to a job it took him a year to train for. To do something that most people would think is crazy. Hovering above the Pascua Tank River, he jumps out of a perfectly good helicopter. Because what might be terrifying to some people is pretty normal for a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

The Coast Guard has 42,000 personnel stationed from Alaska to the Caribbean. But only 350 of them are part of the elite cadre of rescue swimmers. Today Petty Officer Todd is with cadets from the Coast Guard Academy. They're rewarded with candy before being lowered back into the water. But before the excitement of doing this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurry up. Hurry up.

LARSEN: Todd had to go through this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick it up. Get up. Hold it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No need to rest. LARSEN (on camera): This morning, 7:00 a.m., getting up, I'm going to jump in with the rescue swimmer class to see what their physical training program is like.

(Voice-over): Eighteen weeks of aviation survival technical school in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It's a test of physical, mental, and intellectual strength.

(On camera): As I look at the photos on the walls, I see some pretty small class sizes. I mean some of these -- you have two or three guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do see some small classes. We take classes of 12. We may graduate six. We may graduate seven. We may graduate three, four, maybe two.

LARSEN (voice-over): Senior Chief George (INAUDIBLE) runs the school. A school that's so selective that sometimes an entire class doesn't graduate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Physically we don't usually have any problems on the PT grind or obviously in the classroom. But when we get in the water, the first three or four or five weeks, we see some students do give up and they grab the side.

There's no side of the pool in the ocean that can mean the difference between someone living or dying and we won't have that.

LARSEN: Fourteen students began in the class training during the course of our visit. Seven weeks in, only three remain. And with one injured, just two are training today. And one of them is Dave (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you make it through this school, you can be called out to go out and save somebody's mom or dad or, you know, daughter or son, and that alone is just enough for me to want to be here. So just make it through the school.

LARSEN (on camera): And how difficult is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely difficult. This is something I've never -- I mean I can only imagine when I was working my way to get here. But it's definitely more difficult than I thought it would be.

LARSEN (voice-over): Students spend three day of each week in the pool where motivation from the instructors is ever present.

This week students are practicing large scale rescue scenarios for the first time. Training for such diverse situations as a burning oil rig and water rescues.

(On camera): What are we simulating?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two surfers in distress sitting outside the surf line on their surfboards, waiting for a rescue. LARSEN (voice-over): Simulating entering the water from a helicopter, each student jumps in and gets to work.

(On camera): This is the first time that they've encountered this?

CHIEF PETTY OFFICER ALBERT AURICCHIO, U.S. COAST GUARD: This is our first multi-rescue center. They really have three big obstacles they need to overcome. They need determine how many people are in the water. Whether everybody has flotation or what we call safe in the water. And does anybody have any injuries.

LARSEN (voice-over): First priority, make contact with the survivor. Then take control.

AURICCHIO: He's doing the underwater approach on him. And coming up behind them and take control.

LARSEN: Of a survivor that might be panicking.

AURICCHIO: As he is towing his first survivor, he's kind of learning that he's noncompliant survivor. The guy is real panicky and not cooperative.

LARSEN: Finally a lift to safety. Through spray, meant to simulate the rotor wash of a helicopter. Almost always, there is only one rescue swimmer on the scene without back-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there another swimmer up there?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, there's not. It's just you. Right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). How long do we have to go?


LARSEN: The pool is just part of the training. Classroom work covers everything from survival rafts to maintaining pumps and --

(On camera): They actually have an entire classroom that's devoted to the sewing. You can see all the sewing stations here. You could see the parachute down at the end of the table. These guys actually sew their own gear. So if they're deploying a life raft or a cargo out of a C-130, they know that it's going to hold because they've actually sewed it themselves.

(Voice-over): But after all the swimming, the jumping, and the sewing, students who graduate haven't yet earned their coveted rescue swimmer patches. For that, they'll have to go to an active air station and fly on real rescue missions. Just like I'm about to do.

(On camera): They're looking for a potential victim in the water. So at first flight, we're going to launch.


LARSEN (voice-over): It's the last stop on a Coast Guardsman's journey to become a rescue swimmer. Putting their classroom learning to the test on real-life missions at an operational air station.

The country's largest and business is here in Clearwater, Florida. One of 24 across the United States.

(On camera): So I'm in Clearwater, Florida, which is the most active Coast Guard search and rescue station in the nation. And I've come here over the July 4th weekend to embed with the Coast Guard for a few days to see how an active duty search and rescue station works.

(Voice-over): And there is no better way to do that than in the air.

(On camera): (INAUDIBLE) for the search and rescue mission's four personnel. We have the pilot, the co-pilot, the flight mechanic, who generally sits opposite me right here, he operates the wings, he has the visual outside the door. And then there is the search and rescue swimmer who will be floating down into the water as necessary in order to make the rescue and pull the victim up into the (INAUDIBLE).

(Voice-over): The air station has a variety of assets including C-130s, rescue helicopters and crews on stand by 24 hours ready to answer a call from here. The Coast Guard St. Petersburg Command Center, responsible for the entire west coast of Florida.

PETTY OFFICER JEAN LATIMER, U.S. COAST GUARD: Everything that has to do with search and rescue is dispatched and planned and coordinated from this command center from this office right here.

LARSEN (on camera): What kind of calls do you see commonly here in Clearwater? What's -- give me a typical call.

LATIMER: Everything. We get everything in here.

LARSEN (voice-over): During our time in Clearwater, we would see a lot of it in just one flight. First, searching for a radio distress signal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won't be done until we find them.

LARSEN: We find it located on a boat.


LARSEN: Safely docked here in this subdivision, just as we find the beacon --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised that we've got a call. We've been diverted. We'll have a search pattern.


LARSEN: We're sent to a mystery mayday call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We searched up and down the river as far inland as we could go with no sign of distress.

LARSEN: That's never found. Finally, low on fuel, we get a report of people in the water near a bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can give but 10 minutes. We're low on fuel.

LARSEN: Arriving on scene --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are looking for the POW. What is that over here at 3:00?




LARSEN: We find them being helped by local rescue units.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all under the bridge right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the bridge.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could get called out again. Just getting started.

LARSEN: Calls can come any time day or night.

(On camera): All right. So 6:00 in the morning, and we're all sleeping soundly in our little bunks here. And the aircraft commander popped in. He said the siren alarm just went off and there is a potential rescue. So that's what being the stand by crew means. So we're getting our gear ready and we're going to jump in the bird and see what's going on.

(Voice-over): Within minutes we're on our way to the helicopter.

(On camera): So we just got a mini brief by the aircraft commander and he said that they're looking for a potential victim in the water. So at first light we're going to launch and to get to initiate a search pattern.

(Voice-over): The pilot, Lieutenant Commander Paul Russo, is in charge of this morning's mission.

LT. COM. PAUL RUSSO, U.S. PILOT: We've got a 24-year-old female who just came out of rehab. She jumped off a bridge last night. We're likely looking for a body but there is a chance she could have survived and she might be hiding in the woods.

LARSEN (on camera): Is there some kind of technology that we're using or is that -- are we going to --

RUSSO: It's in the eyeballs. Old school eyeballs. We're looking for a person who (INAUDIBLE) into the water.

LARSEN (voice-over): After the preflight safety checks, our Jay Hawk helicopter is taxiing into the sunrise, hustling to get on scene. At any point, the rescue swimmer is ready to hit the water and hoist his victim up to safety. Something that I had experienced firsthand at the Coast Guard' rescue swimmer's school in North Carolina.

(On camera): We have the helicopter about to deploy the swimmers. And I'm going to be one of the victims today. Get to practice what they do best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready for the free fall deployment rescue cover from 12 feet.

LARSEN: Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fighting at the 1:00 position.

LARSEN (voice-over): As the flight mechanic guides in the pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's up above water now. Ease down, 25.

LARSEN: It's a rush of water, wind, and noise. First, rescue swimmer Daniel Todd uses the most common technique. A basket hoist. Then we used just a harness. Finally, a quick deployment place. The of two us lifted and secured by just a strap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The swimmer survivor at the cabin door. The swimmer survivor coming in. The swimmer survivor in the cabin.

LARSEN: Back on board the Jay Hawk in Florida, there is no need for any of those hoists. There is good news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person has been located.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Person has been located.

LARSEN: The victim has been found. Alive. We return to base.

(On camera): People often think that search and rescue is all about jumping out of helicopters and saving lives but there is also a lot of, you know, long flights, long searches, that don't end up doing anything. That's why these guys do it. They keep going out there until that one critical moment when they do actually have to jump in and get somewhere. PETTY OFFICER MIKE ZELLNER, COAST GUARD RESCUE SWIMMER: We just want to be the guys who were there that when it gets bad and, you know, somebody needs help, you know, they look at us and goes, OK, that's the guy that's going to come and pick us up.

LARSEN (voice-over): It will be many months before the students back in North Carolina are doing what Mike Zellner has done for the past 10 years. But they'll be doing it for the same reasons.

PETTY OFFICER JOSEPH WINTERS, RESCUE SWIMMER TRAINEE: When I joined the Coast Guard, everything was kind of about me. You know? And I realized that that's not what I wanted. I wanted to get out there and see what I can do to help other people. And -- I mean there are many ways to do that. Saving someone's life, though, I mean what more could you do?

ANNOUNCER: Coming up --

CASSIDY: I'm not sure these will fit. OK?

ANNOUNCER: Pop star David Cassidy is still singing the songs that made him a worldwide sensation. But he's also fighting mad.

CASSIDY: I don't want to shame and embarrass and humiliate them but I will if I have to.


HARLOW (voice-over): It's 1970 and a 20-year-old named David Cassidy is starring in "The Partridge Family."

Not only did the show and sold-out concerts go on to make him a star but the teen idol's success spawned an avalanche of merchandise.

CASSIDY: This is a dress-up set. Remember these? Oh, gosh. Nice outfit, David.

HARLOW: David Cassidy is everywhere.

(On camera): How big of a star was David Cassidy?

CASSIDY: Well, I had the largest fan club in the history of the planet. Bigger than Elvis and the Beatles.

HARLOW (voice-over): He was all over lunch boxes, board games, pins, even dancing hamsters.

CASSIDY: Which sing, "I Think I Love You." There we go. There we go. It's running out of gas. Listen to it. It's running out of gas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, would you please put your hands together for the one and only David Cassidy.

HARLOW: The 61-year-old performer clearly isn't running out of gas. Thirty-seven years after "The Partridge Family" went off the air, he is still performing and producing.

And now he's on a personal mission. To get paid for that merchandise from Sony which owns the show.

(On camera): You say you've been robbed for the last few decades.

CASSIDY: How would you call it? If somebody does not pay you and you are entitled to a percentage of the profits, and you know they're making profits, is that stealing?

HARLOW (voice-over): Cassidy isn't alone. The cast of "Happy Days" also wants to know where the money went.

Four stars of the iconic show, Anson Williams, Don Most, Marion Ross, and Erin Moran, as well as the widow of Tom Bosley are suing CBS for $10 million. They told CNN earlier this year they weren't paid what they're owed for "Happy Days" merchandise that's sold around the world.

CBS which own the show agrees the actors are owed money. But disputes the amount. After the suit was filed, CBS cut checks to the actors, totaling about $43,000. Largely for the use of their images on "Happy Days" slot machines. But the actors argue they're owed much more.

(On camera): Are you fighting for more than money?

ROSS: I think fairness. When you think of all the different shows that must be having the same argument about this.

HARLOW (voice-over): Shows like "The Partridge Family." Cassidy says according to his contract, while the program was on the air, he was entitled to 15 percent of net merchandising profits when his image was used. Half that if he appeared with other cast members.

(On camera): Were you paid for that?

CASSIDY: I was told by my manager I received a check for $5,000. And I never heard another word. I was never given another statement.

HARLOW (voice-over): But why is Cassidy just coming forward now? Decades after "The Partridge Family" ended? He said it wasn't until just a few years ago after a string of business managers and moves across the country that he found his old contract.

CASSIDY: My hand started to shake. I went, and there was the contract.

HARLOW: As for the other cast members, Brian Forster, who played Chris Partridge, says he did get about $1100 for merchandising back in the '70s. But the others we spoke with say they didn't have a merchandising deal or don't recall getting paid for any items.

Hours before a Las Vegas concert, Cassidy signed some of the items. CASSIDY: It was at the time the largest selling lunch box in history.

HARLOW: He showed us items with recent copy rights that he says were issued without his permission. Sony did not reply to our question about this.

CASSIDY: The only way I can get a truthful accounting is by showing articles like this of which there are many others that are done in this last decade that they're obviously in breach.

HARLOW: Cassidy's lawyer sent this letter to Sony requesting a prompt and full accounting and payment of proceeds for any merchandise sold using his name, likeness, voice or other exercise of such merchandising rights.

Sony responded that it could not locate any merchandising statements but found letters showing that Mr. Cassidy's representatives audited such statements. Therefore, they must have been rendered to him.

The company went on to say, it was not aware of, "any new merchandising licenses with his name, voice and likeness," after "The Partridge Family" went off the air and said the statutes of limitations had run out on any claims.

Sony had no other comment to CNN.

On stage, it is like Cassidy is back in the '70s with fan who still throw their underwear.

CASSIDY: I'm not sure those will fit.

HARLOW (on camera): How much do you think you're owed?

CASSIDY: Until I get a proper sit-down with them I'm not going to demand a number.

HARLOW: I mean are you willing to settle with Sony or do you want to see this go to trial?

CASSIDY: I don't want to shame and embarrass and humiliate them but I will if I have to. Get real. Be fair. You owe me a fortune. You want to go to trial, they've got Sony against David Cassidy, go ahead.

HARLOW (voice-over): In his Florida home, there are few remnants of Cassidy's life as a pop superstar. But what made him famous will always be a part of who he is today.

ANNOUNCER: On the next CNN PRESENTS, it's jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) means we're going to be able to support our family.

ANNOUNCER: Versus the environment. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've said to many environmentalists, if you can't save this mountain, you can't save any mountain.

ANNOUNCER: Who will win? Soledad O'Brien brings you the Battle for Blair Mountain, "Working in America." Next Sunday night on CNN PRESENTS.