In 1993, Eddie Maher stole a Securicor van with £1.2m inside. Dubbed ’Fast Eddie’ by the press, he fled to the US, where he lived on the run as Britain’s most wanted man for 20 years. Now 61, he explains how he evaded the authorities for so long.
Staying on the run for 20 years isn’t easy; you’ve got to be dedicated. If you’re going to do it and not get caught you have to be prepared to give up everything – family, friends and all ties to your old life.
First, you need a new identity. You could go down the clichéd route and visit a graveyard to take the name of some dead child. But I reckon most of those are probably taken by now. No, I had someone else sort it for me, but I’m pretty sure I know how they did it. You see, at a psychiatric hospitals there are lots of people who have been locked up for years and never had a passport. Their paperwork is available there, which you can get if you ask the right way, shall we say. I became Stephen King.
I knew I had to leave the country and never come back. I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my wife, Debbie. So, before the crime, I sent her and our three-year-old son to the US for “a holiday”, and met them a few weeks later after I’d got the money and my new paperwork sorted. That’s when I broke the news.
I wasn’t sad about leaving England, but leaving my mum broke my heart. She had been ill not long before, and I missed her a lot. On top of that, the papers were saying I had run off to live the high life with all this money, but I couldn’t give anything to her for fear it would get her in trouble. I never saw her again. We did speak on the phone once before she died, which was intense and very emotional. We cleared a lot of things up. The last thing she said to me was, “I can go in peace now I know you’re OK.” I still think about her every day.
You have to fight the urge to socialise. One slip of the tongue can give you away. I’m not a big drinker so that was never a concern, and we kept our heads down as much as we could. That’s one of the reasons why, after 20 years living in the US, I never lost my cockney accent; most of my conversations were with Debbie.
We made friends by accident eventually, through our kids mainly, but you can never get truly close to anyone. When people ask you about your past, it’s best to keep things simple. We said I had a photocopier repair business that did well and we decided to retire early in the US. That more or less covered it. Eventually, of course, they’d start to notice things, like how we never went back to England and no one ever visited.
No matter where we went – Colorado, New Hampshire, Florida – friends always came up with the idea that we were in the witness protection programme.
It became a running joke for me and Debbie. When friends start noticing something’s not quite right, that’s when you know it’s time to move on.
GETTING A JOB
Eventually, the money runs out and you’re forced to get a job. In the US you can’t get work without a social security number, which I obviously didn’t have. Luckily for me, my elder brother had married an American girl years before and had a green card so I assumed his identity, living in the US under my own surname, all while the FBI, Interpol and the Met police were all supposed to be looking for me. Now I was Stephen King and Michael Maher.
Nobody will hire you without some sort of resume. So I began with a lot of volunteering – things like charities or with the search and rescue (I was a firefighter in London) – to boost my experience. I took local jobs, nothing too high-profile – trucking, sales, even a stint with the local sheriff’s department. You see, if you’re too shady and try to keep out of the spotlight too much then people start getting suspicious. You have to have some sort of presence.
I was able to supplement my income by playing poker in Las Vegas. Fortunately, I was pretty good and the poker company that sponsored me never asked for a background check.
But being English also played into my hands. We’ve pillaged most of the known world, but the US loves us. And if they see a CV over there, they aren’t going to call England to check it.
SPENDING THE CASH
If you want to buy a house, or open a bank account, in the US all you needed back then was an ID. A driver’s licence was best – get that and you could do almost anything, including domestic air travel. We visited every state in the US except Hawaii and Alaska – because you have to pass customs to visit them. It’s important to remember, this was before 9/11, and there were far less checks than there are now.
When you’ve been on the run for a while, you develop certain skills. Forgery, of course, is one. I forged the necessary documents and applied for a driving test. The boy who examined me said I was the most natural driver he’d ever tested – I obviously couldn’t tell him I’d driven in England all my adult life.
We bought three houses in the 20 years we were in the US. Always as Stephen King, always with cash. I must say, it is an awful feeling sitting in your beautiful new home knowing you could wake up tomorrow and have to leave it all behind. For the first five years that was almost unbearable. It does wear off, but never completely. But if I ever thought there was even the tiniest risk in something, I didn’t do it. Perhaps someone less pedantic wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did, but I was meticulous in everything I did.
When it’s just you, your wife and your kids, it can put a strain on your relationships. You need to know you can trust them completely. You can’t lie to each other, especially when your entire lives are a lie.
I didn’t tell Debbie what I’d done until we got to the US. Obviously, she was furious and spent some time considering her options. But here’s the thing about Debbie and me: we are each other’s best friend. I know it sounds sappy, but we don’t need anyone else. If there was ever a problem, we solved it together. She trusted me and I trusted her. I’m certain I couldn’t have done it without her. Of course, she had moments of doubt, of wondering if there was an alternative. But there wasn’t. And she never once turned around and said she wanted out. I put so much on to her in the beginning, and after getting through that, I knew I could rely on her.
LIVING IT UP
I didn’t have as much money as the police thought, but I had some. I always wanted to learn how to fly, so one of the first things I did was get my pilot’s licence... then I bought a plane, in cash. And a couple of boats. But that’s about as extravagant as I got.
I didn’t just show up at places with bundles of cash for no reason. That’s how you get caught. You see, if you’re going to live the life of models, nightclubs and hangers-on, throwing money in the air at every opportunity, you’re going to last 10 minutes on the run. But if you
want a decent lifestyle, there are ways of doing it without drawing attention to yourself.
My poker is what gave us a taste of the high life. In Vegas, casinos and hotels comped high-rollers like me, putting us up in the MGM Grand for long weekends. That gave us cover to have some real fun under a false pretence.
You never stop looking over your shoulder, no matter how used to life you become – especially if I ever heard an English accent. I remember being in Disney World with my two sons and hearing an English dad talking to his kids. I grabbed my kids’ hands and walked the other way. That happened a few times, actually.
The nastiest part of it all, however, is having to lie to everyone you meet. I’ve always hated lying; it’s just how my mum brought me up. Yet, if I break it right down, every single thing I did, every single day, was a lie. It can eat away at you. Especially as we never told our two sons the truth.
It was my eldest son’s wife who turned me in. My son always knew there was something wrong; he’s not stupid. And he mentioned his suspicions to her one night when he was drunk. She went online, found me on the internet and shopped me to the police for the reward. Then, on 9 February 2012, 80 officers – from the FBI, local police, state police and immigration – showed up at my door to arrest me. Like any true master criminal, I was on the toilet at the time.
Do I have any regrets? Not really. The irony is, I don’t feel like England is my country any more, it’s changed so much in 20 years. The US is my home, my way of life, and I can’t ever go back there. That, to be honest, is my biggest regret.
I’ve been a Las Vegas gambler, a trucker, a corporate suit. I’ve saved lives, I’ve pulled people from fires and off mountains and talked people back from the brink of suicide. Mine has not been a life wasted by a single crime. People have been fascinated for 20 years because, if they are honest, I did something everybody wanted to do or would have done given half the chance.
(Main Image: Getty)