UK fugitive evades arrest for decades

2012-02-20 13:00
Kansas City - On the surface, Edward Maher and his wife appeared to enjoy a comfortable middle-class life. They had homes in quiet neighbourhoods, drove late-model cars and took occasional weekend trips. They raised two sons.

But beneath that veneer lay a darker past: Maher was an international fugitive - wanted in Britain on allegations that he stole a fortune worth $1.5m back in 1993 while working as a security guard for an armoured truck company.

When he was captured in rural Missouri, the suspect dubbed "Fast Eddie" by the British media had managed to evade arrest for nearly two decades.

Public records and interviews with neighbours suggest he did so mostly by living an inconspicuous life of unremarkable jobs and making frequent, sometimes abrupt cross-country moves.

Maher's adult son, Lee, claims his parents did not tell him anything about their real identities until shortly before his father was arrested on February 8.

"I had just found out that my life is ... not anything that I thought it was," the 23-year-old Maher said in a phone interview.

Fifty bags of money

Growing up, he said, "nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. It's not something I would even consider because everything was so normal. It really kills me for it to be portrayed this way. I had no idea".

Prior to his arrest, Maher was last seen sitting in an armoured truck in Britain, waiting for a fellow security guard to return from a bank with a load of cash. Maher, who was then in his mid-30s, vanished, along with the armoured truck.

The vehicle was later found abandoned. Fifty bags of coins and currency were gone.

Authorities offered a reward. Sightings were reported across Europe. But Maher's trail quickly went cold.

At some point, the family fled to the US, where Maher often used a brother's name or the alias Stephen King.

No one knows what happened to the money. Spread over nearly two decades, the stolen cash would amount to $75 000 a year - enough for a contented, though not extravagant lifestyle.

Affluent family

To throw off any pursuers, Maher sometimes uprooted the family. At least once, they left in the dark without saying goodbye.

"They literally packed up and moved in the middle of the night," said Betsy Voit, a neighbour when they lived in Grafton, Wisconsin, about 40km north of Milwaukee.

Jim Coffey lived across the street from the "Kings" in Laconia, New Hampshire, for several years in the 1990s. He described them as a quiet, seemingly affluent family.

"They were always buying things," Coffey said. "They put in a new pool. They were always doing something around the house."

The man Coffey knew as Stephen King was a "very pleasant fellow" who spoke with a British accent. One day, a truck from the Fast Cash Trading Centre in nearby Tilton showed up and took away most of the furniture. King's explanation was that they were buying new furniture.

"Next thing you knew, they were gone," Coffey said. "They were here one day and disappeared the next."

Guns and a mansion

By 2004, the family was living in Philadelphia, where Maher worked for Nielsen Media Research as a field representative and supervisor.

They then moved to Milwaukee, where he became a field supervisor for the company in 2005 and a regional manager in the St Paul, Minnesota, area in 2007. He was laid off from Nielsen in 2008.

His wife, Deborah Ann Brett, who went by Sarah, acknowledged to neighbours that the family had guns. But she didn't want anyone to worry. The weapons were always locked up, Voit said, and the Maher family used to go to a firing range regularly.

Sarah didn't often open up about her background. She said the family had moved from Pennsylvania because of Maher's job, and she showed Voit a photograph of their old house, a home that Voit described as a "mansion".

In Wisconsin, the family lived in a two-storey townhome near a large park. Voit said they never flaunted any wealth, but they also spent freely. They bought four expensive mountain bikes, which they used for several months and then abandoned in Voit's backyard when they moved away.

Sarah, a homemaker, once mentioned to Voit that her family needed a second vehicle. Shortly thereafter, her husband drove up in a decked-out SUV for her.

Bankruptcy

"The one thing I remember her saying was that they didn't believe in payments," Voit said. They preferred to pay in cash.

Sometime in 2008, the family moved to the small town of Ozark, Missouri. And in 2010, the family's finances soured so badly that they filed for bankruptcy.

Maher, now making about $2 000 a month as a cable technician, reported having only $85 in his checking account and a slew of bills from hospitals, dentists and credit card companies. The Internal Revenue Service was after him for $3 148 for back taxes.

Hannah Evans, a former girlfriend of Lee Maher's who says she's pregnant with his child, described the family as traditional. The father was the boss.

"When Mike came home it was about Mike. You had to be quiet, and Sarah devoted all of this attention to him," said Evans, who lives in Springfield. "It was like their family felt very kind of 1950s. ... He's in charge, what he says goes. It's all about pleasing him."

Early in their relationship, Lee told her that he had learned as a teenager that he had actually been born in Britain and that his father had a different identity, Evans said.

Trained to lie

Months later, after she told Lee she wanted to break up - in part because of his "constant lying" - he shared the story of "Fast Eddie" and said his father had robbed the armoured car. She felt that was Lee's way of explaining his own penchant for lies.

"He said 'This is just how I am. I've been trained to lie by my parents because they've lied to me'," Evans said.

Lee Maher denied knowing anything about his father's earlier life until this month.

Evans said she did an internet search then for "Fast Eddie" and found only a rapper under that name, so she assumed it was "another of Lee's lies".

But soon authorities were in pursuit. Ozark police, working on a tip, contacted the FBI about Maher. They had heard he was a possible fugitive, but there was no active warrant that would justify an arrest.

Authorities then determined he was in the US illegally and picked him up on a weapons charge. He acknowledged using a fake name and was jailed.

Wonderful husband


British police have asked that Maher, now 56-years-old, be returned to his home country, but the extradition process could take months.

The day after Maher's arrest, his wife appeared wan but resolute. She declined to discuss the family's past or any criminal allegations. But she said if Maher is sent back to Britain, the family will go there with him.

"He's a wonderful father and a wonderful husband," she said, patting the head of her younger son. "He's never hurt anybody."

- SAPA
Read more on:    us  |  uk
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