By MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER, Associated Press
OZARK, Mo. (AP) — A British armored car guard suspected of driving off with a fortune worth $1.5 million back in 1993 has been captured in rural Missouri, where he had been working as a cable guy and raising a son who apparently knew nothing of his father's past.
Edward John Maher, now 56, was dubbed "Fast Eddie" in news reports after the heist in England, but he quickly vanished. After nearly two decades as a fugitive, he was arrested Wednesday in an apartment in the tiny town of Ozark, 160 miles southeast of Kansas City, where he had been living under a brother's name, Michael Maher.
In his effort to stay hidden, Maher fled from Britain with his family and may have moved several times within the U.S. Property records suggest he lived in at least four states in New England, the South and the upper Midwest.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said federal officials do not know what happened to the money.
Maher's guise began unraveling Monday, when Ozark police received a tip that a man going by that name was really a fugitive from Britain. An officer compared his 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 the nearby town of 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.
He is accused of driving off in an armored car while a fellow security guard was making a delivery to a bank in Suffolk, England. The van was later abandoned. Fifty bags containing coins and notes worth 1 million pounds, or $1.5 million, were missing.
Maher's family reluctantly opened the door to their two-story townhouse Thursday to speak with an Associated Press reporter.
"He's an amazing dad," said King, who said he was Maher's eldest son. "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."
A day earlier, King told Springfield television station KSPR that after his father's arrest, his mother confided to him that he is two years older than he thought and was born in the United Kingdom a few years before the heist.
Maher's wife, Deborah Brett, who also goes by the name of Deborah King, said the family had lived in Ozark for about 4½ years.
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.
While investigators were at Maher's home, Brett told them about several guns her husband had purchased since coming to the U.S. She said she didn't want the weapons around and showed officers where to find them in the home and in a storage facility in town.
In addition to immigration violations, federal prosecutors charged him with having illegal weapons.
Property records indicate that someone using the name Michael Maher lived in New Hampshire, mainly in Concord, from 1997 until 2006. He was also connected with homes in Florida, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Maher made an initial appearance Thursday in federal court in Springfield and asked for a court-appointed attorney because he didn't have enough money to pay for representation.
Dressed in blue jeans and a gray polo shirt, with closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair, Maher appeared calm and respectful during the two-minute hearing. He is in the custody of U.S. marshals and was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Feb. 22.
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 name Stephen King.
In Ozark, Maher had been a cable installer for St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications.
Pete Abel, the company's senior vice president of corporate communications, acknowledged Maher was an employee but declined to go into details about his duties or how long he had worked there. Before he was hired, managers conducted a background check, which found no evidence of a criminal past, Abel said.
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."
Associated Press Writer Bill Draper in Kansas City contributed to this report.