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 firstname.lastname@example.org