Police had robbery suspect in custody months ago

— A sus­pect in a ma­jor phar­macy rob­bery spree was ar­res­ted in Septem­ber after he at­temp­ted to pur­chase a hand­gun il­leg­ally at a gun shop in the city. A judge un­wit­tingly set him free.

One of the gun­men re­cently ac­cused of rob­bing 16 area phar­ma­cies had landed in po­lice cus­tody in Septem­ber in the midst of the 11-month crime spree, but a judge un­wit­tingly set him free.

Ed­ward Schaef­fer, 29, whose per­man­ent ad­dress is un­known, al­legedly teamed with Wil­li­am Webb, 50, to knock off 16 phar­ma­cies in North­east Philly and nearby loc­ales. The rob­ber­ies star­ted last Decem­ber and con­tin­ued un­til last week.

Cops cap­tured the duo Nov. 14 be­hind a house on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue near Un­ruh Street in Ta­cony after they al­legedly robbed a Rite Aid at 8130 Roosevelt Blvd., and a store clerk slipped a GPS device among the pill bottles taken by the crooks.

But au­thor­it­ies also had their hands on Schaef­fer on Sept. 15 after he at­temp­ted to pur­chase a hand­gun il­leg­ally at a gun shop in the city, ac­cord­ing to dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice. At the time, Schaef­fer was wanted on a bench war­rant in con­nec­tion with an earli­er drunk-driv­ing case, yet he al­legedly neg­lected to men­tion the court mat­ter on state and fed­er­al pa­per­work.

Schaef­fer failed an in­stant back­ground check and was ar­res­ted in­side the store, said the DA’s of­fice, which did not dis­close the loc­a­tion of the gun shop. Po­lice al­legedly found a vari­ety of pills in his pock­et and charged him with drug pos­ses­sion be­cause he did not have val­id pre­scrip­tions.

Hours later, Ar­raign­ment Court Ma­gis­trate Jane M. Rice re­leased Schaef­fer on his own re­cog­niz­ance.

Au­thor­it­ies now say that Schaf­fer had already been in­volved in at least 13 armed phar­macy rob­ber­ies by then and com­mit­ted at least three more, in­clud­ing heists at 12311 Academy Road on Sept. 29, at York and Mem­ph­is streets in Fishtown on Oct. 30 and at 8130 Roosevelt Blvd. on Nov. 12.

It is un­known if Rice had in­form­a­tion about Schaef­fer’s pri­or DUI case at the time she de­cided to set him free without bail.

In the city’s on­line court in­form­a­tion sys­tem, the de­fend­ant’s last name is spelled “Schaf­fer” without the first “e.” Also, the DUI case has his birth date lis­ted as Sept. 18, 1983. It’s lis­ted as Sept. 19, 1983, on the new rob­bery case.

Schaef­fer’s DUI ar­rest oc­curred in May 2006. He was ad­mit­ted in­to the city’s ARD pro­gram for first-time of­fend­ers later that year, but nev­er paid more than $900 in fines and court costs, re­cords show. The court twice re­ferred the case to col­lec­tions agen­cies, in Ju­ly 2009 and Novem­ber 2011.

Schaef­fer and Webb al­legedly began rob­bing phar­ma­cies in Decem­ber 2011.

As a res­ult of Schaef­fer’s pre­scrip­tion drug ar­rest in Septem­ber, he is sched­uled for tri­al on Nov. 28.

Schaef­fer and Webb are sched­uled for a pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing in the mul­tiple rob­bery case on Nov. 21. Last Thursday, the DA’s of­fice said it planned to charge Schaef­fer with vi­ol­at­ing Pennsylvania’s Uni­form Fire­arms Act as a res­ult of his failed gun pur­chase. A court date has not been set for that case.

The city’s court in­form­a­tion sys­tem ap­par­ently has yet a third vari­ation on Schaef­fer in its data­base. Someone named “Ed­die Schaef­fer” with a birth date of Sept. 19, 1983, was ar­res­ted on May 21, 2003, for un­der­age drink­ing. He was found guilty of the charge and ordered to pay $165 in fines and costs, but nev­er paid a dime, court re­cords show. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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