Retired Florida detective and ex-wife arrested for brutally stabbing and killing store worker 21 years ago

Retired Florida detective and ex-wife arrested for brutally stabbing and killing store worker 21 years ago
William Robert Baer (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: A former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Detective and his ex-wife have been arrested on Thursday, July 2, for allegedly beating and killing a convenience store worker in 1999. William Robert Baer and his ex-wife Melissa Jo Schafer are now facing murder charges in the death of 39-year-old Saad Kawaf, Jacksonville's Sheriff Office said.

Genetic genealogy and the Cold Case Project reportedly helped investigators in solving the two-decades-old case. The Cold Case Project is a non-profit organization that aims to crack unsolved homicides in the United States while linking information, families, and law enforcement. “This is where it takes a turn that we are a bit saddened by. Through his specific assignment at JSO at that time, that’s what led him to have contact with the victim. He was a detective that was looking at a crime involving potentially the victim,” Undersheriff Pat Ivey said during a press conference as reported by The Daily Mail.

According to reports, Kawaf was murdered on May 17, 1999, when he was leaving his Deerwood neighborhood home. He was allegedly attacked in his driveway by a man and a female, who were waiting outside for him to come out of the house. It has been said that the victim was dragged into his home’s garage by his alleged attackers before being beaten and fatally stabbed. Kawaf’s wife was also allegedly tortured during the attack. She was reportedly bound inside the home and during the course of a scuffle, she bit the female accomplice. After the alleged attack, the suspects fled with $30,000 from inside the family's home.

However, that bite and the DNA it left behind now helped solve the years-old case. It was one of the key pieces of evidence that helped investigators in identifying the female accomplice, Schafer. She was arrested in Jefferson City, Missouri. After her arrest, detectives were able to trace Baer, who served as a police officer from 1975 till 2002 before being retired by the Jackson Sheriff's Office.

At the time of the death of Kawaf, Baer was an intelligence division detective with the homicide unit. He allegedly knew the victim because of an assignment with the department. A report by First Coast News said that in 1999, Baer had been keeping an eye on Kawaf's house as part of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office’s intelligence unit because there was suspicion that he was involved in selling pseudoephedrine at his convenience store and a large sum of money was inside the home. However, it was not known if Baer was interviewed during the course of the initial investigation after Kawaf’s murder. Detective Margo Rhatigan said that since money was stolen from the home after the killing of Kawaf, it was believed to be the possible motive behind the murder.

After the Thursday arrest of the suspects, Kawaf’s niece Heather Kayal released a statement on behalf of the family, saying: “We are thrilled. We are grateful. Not a day has gone by that we don’t miss our beloved Saad. The past 21 years have been the hardest to not only be without a man who meant so much to our family but to know that the people who did this were not held accountable for their actions. We are grateful to the brave members of the cold case unit and all members of law enforcement who have worked tirelessly on our behalf to ensure justice and that Saad’s memory will never be forgotten."

While the State Attorney's Office said, “Despite more than 20 years passing, this arrest shows the importance of cold casework in law enforcement and the value of genetic genealogy. The case will be prosecuted by State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Chief Assistant L.E. Hutton."


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