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Retired Jacksonville officer, ex-wife arrested in 1999 cold case murder

William Baer, Melissa Shaffer charged with murder in stabbing death of Saad Kawaf

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo: William Baer
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo: William Baer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After an investigation spanning more than two decades, Jacksonville police have announced the arrest of a retired Jacksonville officer and his then-wife in the murder of a business owner, who was stabbed to death in his garage at his Deerwood home in 1999, reports News 6 partner WJXT.

According to Undersheriff Pat Ivey, two DNA profiles were developed in 2003. In May of this year, through genetic genealogy testing, investigators were able to get two profiles.

Based on those profiles, Ivey said, William Robert Baer Jr., 64, who is a retired JSO officer, was arrested in Jacksonville on Wednesday. Ivey said Melissa Shafer, 50, who was Baer’s then-wife, was arrested in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Both have been charged with murder.

“It’s unbelievable. Really unbelievable,” said Dr. Mohammed Mona, Kawaf’s best friend. “I literally jumped out my seat when I heard the news.”

His brother, Dr. Omar Kawwaff, told WJXT he had mixed emotions when he learned of the arrests.

“It was some mixed feelings of happiness and relief and closure, but the sadness never goes away,” he said.

Saad Kawaf
Saad Kawaf (Courtesy of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

In May 1999, Kawaf was getting ready to leave his home in the gated community of Deerwood on the city’s Southside. Kawaf, 39, owned Forest Discount Store and was about to make a cash deposit at the bank.

Instead, he and his wife were ambushed. Kawaf was stabbed to death and robbed. His wife -- scuffled with the other woman.

Baer was with the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, joining in 1975 and retiring in 2002. At the time of the murder, Baer was actively investigating Kawaf for an unspecified crime, according to police.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said he worked with Baer during his time at the Sheriff’s Office.

“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,” Jefferson said.

A statement from the State Attorney’s Office reads:

“Despite more than 20 years passing, this arrest shows the importance of cold case work 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.”

News4Jax has requested Shafer’s mug shot. It was not immediately released. At the time of Kawaf’s killing, a composite sketch was released of the woman involved:

Composite sketch
Composite sketch (News4Jax.com)

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