“FAST EDDIE” MAHER helped steal £1.2million from his own Securicor van in 1993 – one of Britain’s most audacious heists.
Here, in Day Two of our serialisation of his sensational new book, Eddie, who now lives with wife Debbie in the South East of England, tells how after fleeing the scene in Felixstowe, Suffolk, to the US he evaded capture for 19 years before a family betrayal.
I HAD rehearsed the words I’d say that would bring Debbie’s life crashing down.
Two weeks after the £1.2million heist, she was unaware I was now Britain’s most wanted man — and now going by the name Stephen King, with £125,000 in my bag.
But when we were reunited in Dallas, my first words were: “You can never speak to your family again.”
The anger started bubbling under like lava in a volcano. “What the hell have you done?” she said.
I explained that I had been forced to steal a security van filled with money, that she and our three-year-old son, Lee, had been in danger and that I was a fugitive with a new identity and enough money to start anew.
Even as I said it, I realised how completely fantastical it sounded. It was like the storyline from a movie.
But Debbie knew me better than anyone and knew by the look on my face I was telling the truth. She started to cry. Her first thought was that I should go to the police and tell them I was forced into it.
“No way,” I told her. “I did it. I’d go straight to jail. We’ll lie low and enjoy life. We deserve it.
“How many people save all their lives then die as soon as they retire? Loads. We can enjoy a retirement while we are still young enough. We can do all the things we always dreamed of and raise Lee where he’ll have a better life.”
I’m lucky. Debbie and I had been through a lot of s**t together. It didn’t take too long for her to accept the situation. To this day I feel guilty about putting Debbie through what I did and about distancing her from our family. I have been trying to make it up to her for 20 years. The more lies I told, the more likely
I was to get caught out. So when we were in a restaurant and the waitress asked what part of the UK we were from, I told her Essex and East London.
If people delved further, I said I had been a fireman and had retired through injury. I gave people just enough information to satisfy them.
I realised it would be easy to travel. Domestic flights operated like buses at the time. You didn’t need ID.
As long as you had cash, you could buy a car or a house. With a passport it was easy to get a driver’s licence and with that you could get other forms of ID.
I researched the best places to live in the US. Colorado Springs had everything I was looking for, a community but also privacy. We flew there and I bought my first car. As long as I wasn’t changing more than $10,000 (£7,989) at a time, no one asked questions.
I bought a four-bedroom house with cash in Woodland Park. Next, I needed new identities for Debbie and Lee. She became Sarah. I got Lee into the school system but he’d soon need a US birth certificate. I worked on making a fake one.
I discovered you could mail-order blank certificates and official blank paper. The documents had “sample” stamped across them. To make a forgery, I had to clone the design on a blank piece of official paper.
It was the early days of home-printing and graphic software but I invested in the best on the market and taught myself the art of forgery. Each state had its own design.
California’s was a joke. Soon Lee had a California birth certificate in the name King. It looked genuine.
I used my fake passport to get a driving licence and sat a test to get an official US licence — the only ID I really needed.
My next concern was money. My share wasn’t going to last long. The solution came on a weekend trip to Las Vegas. I had a natural aptitude for blackjack. The first time I stayed there I walked away several thousand dollars in profit.
The extra income allowed us to relax and take in some leisure activities. I took up hunting, mainly for elk, a big part of American culture. I even shot a bear on one of my hunting trips in the Rocky Mountains.
I bought a boat to go fishing and became tournament director of the Pikes Peak bass fishing club. I took flying lessons and eventually bought my own plane for $16,000.
I became a member of the local mountain rescue team. We were pillars of the community — two fugitives hiding in plain sight. Debbie and I got married in Vegas. We wanted to make it official, plus a wedding certificate provided more documentation to reinforce our identities. But I needed a green card to get a proper job.
I still missed home and the hardest part about disappearing was breaking contact with family. One day I couldn’t stand it any longer and called my mum from a payphone. I just told her I was safe and happy and that I loved her.
She sighed. “Thank you, son,” she said. “Now I can die in peace.” It was the last time I spoke to her. She died while I was on the run.
The problem with becoming part of a community is that people get to know you and the more they do, the more questions they ask. After two-and-a-half years of good living in Colorado, the questions began.
Why don’t your family ever come and visit? Why don’t you ever go back to the UK? Why don’t you ever talk about your family?
We had answers for each question but it was uncomfortable.
A few times people questioned my fake name. I sold the plane but the buyer refused to pay the full amount and said: “I think there’s something shady about you. Maybe I’ll speak to the cops.”
It was time to go. We moved to Laconia, New Hampshire, then nearby Concord. To get a job, I stole my brother Mick’s ID. He had lived in the US, married an American and still had the legal right to work there. I changed my name to Mick and had to tell Lee people were now using my middle name. I got a job as a trucker and Debbie gave birth to our second son, Mark, who was a genuine US citizen.
Then, on September 11, 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks, everything changed. Domestic travel got harder. We needed a passport for ID purposes. Debbie’s driving licence ran out, so effectively she didn’t exist in the US. People started asking questions again, so I got a job installing cable equipment with telecoms firm Nielsen, which had offices all over America.
When Mark was four and Lee was 12 we moved to Anderson, South Carolina, but didn’t settle and moved again to Dunedin, Florida. We moved a few more times and ended up in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, in the neighbouring state of Minnesota — but my new boss loved the UK and wanted to visit. When I refused to give him names of contacts back home who could show him around he got suspicious.
The problem with becoming part of a community is that people get to know you and the more they do, the more questions they ask
I took redundancy and we moved once more, to Ozark, Missouri, more rural and a suburb of Springfield, where I got another job as a broadband installer.
In 2011 Lee won $100,000 on a scratchcard and shacked up with a girl called Jessica Butler. He ended up marrying her. I never told Lee my secret but he filled in the blanks himself and one night, drunk, blurted it out to Jessica.
She found me and finally, the internet caught up with me. The thing I was installing all over the state — connections to the worldwide web — was my undoing. She sat on the information but after a blazing row with Lee she went to the police and — 19 years after the heist — shopped me.
A local policeman broke the news that the Feds were coming for me. I sat the boys down and came clean.
They looked at me with open mouths. Mark, bless his heart, had no idea at all. I felt like a complete b*****d. His world was going to change completely.
The news must have been shattering.
After my arrest, I was taken to Green County jail. When inmates read about me in the newspapers, they asked me to sign the stories. I wrote “Not-So-Fast Eddie” and they passed them outside during visits to friends and family, who sold them on eBay.
In July 2012 I was extradited to the UK and formally charged with the 1993 theft. It was weird hearing English accents again. I pleaded guilty and served my time. In February 2015, I was released.
Do I regret what I did? Of course I regret the effect it has had on my family. But if I hadn’t done it, they might not be here.
Even if the gangsters hadn’t gone through with their threats, we might not have had Mark and I would probably have ended up in a dead-end job somewhere.
My life wasn’t going anywhere when it happened. Instead, I’ve done things people dream of. So regrets?
No. I’ve hopefully paid my dues — and probably given more back to society than I’ve taken.