Retired Florida Cop and Ex-Wife Charged in 20-Year-Old Cold Case Killing

Retired JSO detective William Baer and his wife Melissa Schafer have been charged in connection with Saad Kawaf's 1999 murder.
Retired JSO detective William Baer (left) and his then-wife Melissa Schafer (right) have been charged in connection with Saad Kawaf's 1999 murder. Police Handout

A retired Florida cop has been arrested in connection with the 1999 murder of Saad Kawaf, who was stabbed to death in his own garage. Kawaf’s death was originally ruled a home invasion robbery gone wrong until recent genetic testing advancements.

Suspects William Robert Baer Jr., 64, a retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective, has been charged with murder and armed robbery. Melissa Schafer, 50, his then-wife, also faces murder charges.  

“Not a day has gone by that we don’t miss our beloved Saad,” Kawaf’s niece Heather Kayal said in a statement. “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."

Kawaf, who owned convenience store Forest Discount Store, was 39 years old at the time of his killing. He had been preparing to leave his Deerwood home, located in a gated community, to make a $30,000 cash deposit at the bank, News4Jax reported.

When Kawaf’s wife heard a scream, she went outside, which is when both Kawaf and his wife were ambushed. Kawaf was stabbed to death and robbed while his wife was taken inside and tied up. The suspects also reportedly took off with the money.

During the struggle, Kawaf’s wife bit the female suspect, and that DNA ultimately led to the arrest of Baer and Schafer, who may have been waiting for Kawaf to exit his home, authorities said

Baer was an intelligence division detective at the time of his murder, with an active investigation into Kawaf for an unspecified crime, police said. According to WTLV, Baer may have believed Kawaf was illegally selling pseudoephedrine at his store and that there was a large amount of money inside the home.

Baer knew Kawaf previously “directly from his assignment here at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office,” Undersheriff Pat Ivey said in a statement.  

Baer worked for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, beginning at the force in 1975 before he retired in 2002, three years after the murder. He then went on to work as a private eye after retirement, according to WTLV.

“What’s most disturbing is that he allegedly committed this murder and robbery, came back to work and put that uniform and badge back on,” said News4Jax’s crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, who previously worked alongside Baer in his 24 years at Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Baer is being held without bail and jail records do not yet have an attorney listed. Schafer was arrested in Jefferson City, Missouri and has not yet been returned to Jacksonville.

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