Van heist man lead double life in US for twenty years
TO HIS neighbours he was Stephen King, a cable engineer and family man living in small-town America.
But he was responsible for one of the UK's most notorious heists and, as he admitted the 1993 theft of a security van containing £1.2 million, detectives revealed details of Eddie Maher's secret life on the run from British police.
While officers still do not know precisely when and how Maher, now 57, left the UK despite a nationwide manhunt, they outlined a picture of a careful plan to begin a new life across the Atlantic.
The day before the theft, Maher's partner, former air hostess Deborah Brett, and their son Lee, then aged three, had flown to the US on a flight booked at the last minute.
Within months of the crime, Maher had set up a family home in Colorado.
He grew a beard and wore over-sized spectacles as he changed his appearance and applied for a passport under the assumed name of Stephen.
Detective Inspector David Giles, from Suffolk Police, said: "In 1993, Maher had a lot of debts. We found a string of properties which he had left leaving rental arrears.
"There have been reports that he had gambling debts but we have found no evidence of that, just debts from living beyond his means.
"When he was arrested by the FBI, he told them he had been forced to carry out the security van theft.
"Our job has been to prove that he was a willing participant who benefited financially from the crime.
"What we found was a trail of properties which proved that he made a significant profit."
When police questioned Maher's neighbours in the US, many remembered him, Mr Giles added.
"His Stephen King alias worked against him," he said.
"One person who had bought a house from him clearly recalled Maher as he liked to joke that he bought a house from the famous horror novelist."
In July 1993, within months of fleeing the UK, Maher used his false identity to buy a house with mountain views in the comfortable Woodland Park neighbourhood of Colorado.
He paid 120,000 dollars in cash which, police say, came from the proceeds of his crime. His fingerprint was later found on the paperwork.
In February 1995, Maher bought 80 acres of land in a remote part of Colorado where he built a ranch-style home 30 minutes drive from the nearest town of Calhan.
The following year the family moved to a home, complete with hot tub, in New Hampshire.
But by the time of his arrest in February last year, Maher had been declared bankrupt and was living under the name of his brother Michael in a rented house in Ozark, Missouri.
Records show that each of the properties was sold on and the money spent.
It is not clear where Maher spent the intervening years but it is thought he worked under a variety of names in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Maher and Ms Brett enjoyed a Las Vegas wedding, although it is not thought this marriage has any legal standing.
They had a second son and were known locally as "the English family".
Before leaving the UK, Dagenham-born Maher, who spent three years in the Royal Green Jackets infantry regiment after leaving school, worked as a firefighter for the London Fire Brigade.
He was forced to leave this job after suffering a back injury and used a payout to buy the tenancy of the Gardener's Arms pub in Higham, near Rochester, Kent, which he ran with Ms Brett.
One local said: "He was known as Two Jags because he owned two Jaguars and seemed to like the finer things in life."
Regulars said the couple, who holidayed in the US and Canada, spoke about their dream of starting a new life in the States.
In September 1992, Maher trained as a locksmith then lied about his previous convictions to get a job as a Securicor van driver.
Five months later, then aged 37, he specifically requested the Chelmsford to Felixstowe run, saying he needed to finish work early for a hospital appointment, Suffolk Police said.
From the moment the Securicor van disappeared during a routine delivery to Lloyds Bank in Hamilton Road Suffolk, at 9.30am on January 22, Maher was identified as the prime suspect.
A reward of up to £100,000 was put on his head. Investigations were carried out in Cyprus and the West Indies after reported sightings but the trail soon went cold.
The law finally caught up with Maher when Jessica King, his son Lee's estranged wife, contacted police.
Lee King had reportedly told her of his father's crimes and, as their relationship deteriorated, she decided to break her silence.
She later hired lawyer Brandon Potter of Springfield, Missouri, in an attempt to get the reward offered for Maher's capture.
The couple, who married in October 2011, are now going through a divorce.
Maher was arrested and charged with being an illegal alien in possession of firearms.
When he was questioned and checks were made with UK authorities, it soon became clear he was a wanted man.
After being held by US authorities, he was deported back to the UK in May last year.
Maher had been due to stand trial for theft but today changed his plea to guilty at Southwark Crown Court.
Ms Brett, 47, Maher's sister Margaret Francis, 64, and a 54-year-old man, from Woodford Green, east London, are all currently on bail after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit theft.