OZARK, Mo. (AP) — After nearly two decades as a fugitive, a British man suspected of driving off with an armored car loaded with cash worth about $1.5 million has been captured in southwest Missouri, where he appeared in federal court wearing blue jeans and asking for a court-appointed defense attorney because he didn’t have enough money to hire one.
Edward John Maher, once dubbed “Fast Eddie” in news reports after the 1993 heist, is accused of stealing the armored car while a fellow security guard made a delivery to a bank in Suffolk, England. The van was later abandoned. Fifty bags containing coins and notes worth 1 million pounds — then about $1.5 million — were missing.
And so was Maher.
According to U.S. property records, Maher, 56, appears to have been in the U.S. for years, moving around New England, the South and the Midwest. News reports from 1993 said he had dreamed of living in the U.S., where he wanted to open a flight school.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said federal officials do not know what happened to the money.
Maher was arrested Wednesday in an apartment in the town of Ozark, 160 miles southeast of Kansas City, where authorities said he was living under a brother’s name, Michael Maher, and working as a cable installer.
Edward Maher’s guise began unraveling Monday when Ozark police received a tip that a man going by that name was a fugitive from Britain. An officer compared Maher’s driver’s license photo with a picture from 1993 and contacted the FBI, which also compared the photos and determined they were likely the same man.
On the same day, Maher happened to be bailing his 23-year-old son out of jail in nearby Nixa when a police officer told him authorities suspected Maher was wanted in England, but they could not arrest him. Because there were no U.S. warrants for either Michael or Edward Maher, police had no reason to take him into custody.
They arrested him later, after immigration officials determined he was in the U.S. illegally.
According to an FBI affidavit, Maher’s son overheard what the officer had said and asked his father about it.
The father “was irate,” the affidavit said. “Maher told his son that they would have to leave again and threatened to kill the person who tipped the police off about his identity.”
The son, Lee King, had been jailed on some outstanding warrants that police found after a report of a domestic situation. Officers concluded it was just a verbal argument.
The next day, Maher’s son was being interviewed by an FBI agent when his father called and said they had to leave immediately. The son refused to go. A short time later, Ozark police officers and federal agents saw Maher, a woman and a boy leaving their home carrying clothes. They were later seen checking into a local motel.
The son contacted the FBI agent Wednesday and reported that his father had changed his mind about fleeing. If officers came to his home to arrest him, the son explained, the father would not resist. Maher was taken into custody a short time later.
Maher’s family reluctantly opened the door to their two-story townhome Thursday to speak with an Associated Press reporter.
“He’s an amazing dad,” said King. “He cares for us, provides for us and takes care of us. He’s been to every baseball game, football game. Everything we’ve ever done in our lives, he’s been there for us.”
Maher’s wife, Deborah Brett, who also goes by the name of Deborah King, said the family had lived in Ozark about 4½ years.
After being taken into custody, Maher told an FBI agent he had been using his brother’s name since 1998, when he began working in the U.S. He said he obtained a Social Security number under that name. Brett told agents her husband also sometimes used the name Stephen King.
She said if Maher is sent back to Britain, family members will go there with him.
“He’s a wonderful father and a wonderful husband. He’s never hurt anybody. Never caused any harm to anybody,” she said, quietly comforting a younger boy who appeared to be about 15 as they both fought back tears.
In addition to immigration violations, federal prosecutors charged him with having illegal weapons.
Maher appeared calm during his brief appearance in federal court in Springfield on Thursday. He is in the custody of U.S. marshals and was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Feb. 22.
Ozark Police Chief Lyle Hodges praised one of his officers for his persistence after getting the initial tip that Maher was a fugitive. Officer David Overcast did research that revealed the armored car robbery and found a photo of Maher, Hodges said.
Because there were no active warrants, the chief said, “it is entirely possible that another officer might have stopped investigating.”