Fla. Store Owner Was Killed 21 Years Ago in Robbery — and Former Detective Arrested in Cold Case

A retired Florida sheriff’s office homicide detective and his then-wife have been arrested in a 21-year-old cold-case murder.

William Baer, 64, and his ex-wife, Melissa Jo Schafer, 50, have been arrested in connection with the 1999 murder and home invasion robbery of convenience store owner Saad Kawaf, Jacksonville County Undersheriff Pat Ivey announced Thursday at a press conference. Baer and Schafer allegedly ambushed Kawaf, 39, and his wife in the early morning hours of May 17, 1999, outside their Deerwood home.

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Kawaf’s wife told police that, on the night of her husband’s murder, she heard a scream moments after he had walked out of the door to go to work, WTLV reports. When she opened the door, Mrs. Kawaf saw her husband being beaten and stabbed by two people in their garage.

One of the attackers, a woman, allegedly grabbed Mrs. Kawaf, brought her inside and bound her. At one point, Mrs. Kawaf was able to bite the female attacker, getting a piece of her DNA, according to the station. That DNA evidence would be used decades later by investigators to link the couple to the cold case.

For several years, the only description investigators had of the attackers was that they were a white man and woman, Ivey said. Investigators had two DNA profiles, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that authorities, through  genetic testing, were able to identify Baer and Schafer as the suspects.

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Jacksonville Police Department

Authorities said that Baer, who had been with the sheriff’s office for 27 years before retiring in 2002, knew Kawaf through an assignment he was working while a detective. He and Schafer allegedly stole $30,000 in cash from the couple that night.

According to WTLV, Baer had been surveilling Kawaf for a drug investigation.

the news of the couple’s arrest, Kawaf’s niece, Heather Kayal, released a statement to WTLV 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.”

Both Baer and Schafer have been charged with murder. Baer is being held without bond in Jacksonville. It is unclear whether Schafer, who was arrested in Missouri, has returned to Jacksonville. Attorney information was not available for either Baer or Schafer on Monday, and plea information was also not available.