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Police Officer to Pirate: Looking for Gold in All the Wrong Places

Crime: Ed Krajewski sought the legendary loot of Sir Francis Drake. Along the way, he set up a robbery or two, a jury decided.

November 03, 1996|TED ANTHONY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

FEASTERVILLE, Pa. — You wouldn't have known by looking at him. He had a bushy mustache instead of an imposing beard, a service revolver instead of a sword, a police cruiser and a few suburban red lights instead of a tall ship and stars to steer by.

But Officer Ed Krajewski apparently was a pirate at heart, with silver to pursue and a scheme to obtain it. As he saw it, his ship came in four centuries ago--in Ecuador, courtesy of legendary English seafarer Sir Francis Drake--and all he had to do was get to it.

The methods the suburban Philadelphia lawman concocted--plundering a drug dealer's home, an exercise equipment facility and a New Jersey warehouse--could cost him 20 years of his life.

This is an unlikely saga of an admired Special Forces officer, 47-year-old father of four, 17-year veteran of the Lower Southampton Police Department and, now, convicted criminal. It is a tale of windmill-tilting that prosecutors say links 1996 to 1578, when piracy ruled the seas.

"To quote Nixon, this was a third-rate burglary," said Alan Rubenstein, the garrulous Bucks County district attorney who prosecuted Krajewski. "But what's behind it makes it one of the wildest cases I've ever seen."

*

Ed Krajewski loved to dive.

He was working as a diver in Singapore in 1973 when his parents and several other relatives were killed by a drunk driver. He came home and reared his three young sisters, those who know him say, putting two of them through nursing school and a third through college.

After that, he went back into the service, the Army Reserves, but diving stayed with him. He taught it in 1975 at a community college and began taking regular diving trips to Ecuador. He became a police officer four years later.

"He was just a tough little cop. He made arrests, didn't give any breaks, prosecuted and did his job," said Richard Fink, an attorney in nearby Langhorne.

Fink represented Krajewski after the officer pulled over a township supervisor for DUI in 1981. Pressured to drop the case, he refused, was furloughed a short time later and sued, saying it was retaliatory. He eventually was reinstated with back pay.

In those days, Krajewski gave Fink maps of ships that had gone down and talked enthusiastically about finding old wrecks. One that especially interested him was the legend of Sir Francis Drake's silver.

*

Drake, known to the Spaniards as "El Drago," was England's greatest seaman or Queen Elizabeth I's personal pirate, depending on who's talking. He preyed on Spanish ships and became a legend.

As myth has it, after he plundered $1.35 million in pesos from the Cacafuego, the largest galleon of the Spanish South Seas Armada, Drake's ship was overloaded. He reluctantly jettisoned 45 tons of silver ingots and coins into 50 feet of water near a lump of land that became known as La Plata, or Silver Island.

A parade of ships attempted salvage over the centuries, and one reportedly found several hundred pieces of eight. As late as 1930, it's said, a ship dredged up silver ingots.

"Something like three-fourths of all the gold and silver that was lost is still on the ocean floor," said Robert Jarvis, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce. "So I believe what [Krajewski] was doing was very plausible."

Many don't, though. Kurt Bullard of the Spanish Main Treasure Co. in Key West, Fla., says ships of yore were full of ballasts, rocks used as counterweights.

"If you have a choice between throwing out a bunch of rocks or a bunch of silver because you're overloaded, I'd choose the rocks, wouldn't you?" he said.

Krajewski had dived those waters many times. Not long ago, he told fellow diver Karl Olsen that he'd found the area of Drake's treasure and held a silver bar in his hand. But a full-fledged retrieval project could cost millions.

Colleagues say Krajewski never really talked about his life or family.

"He was very reserved--by himself," said Edward J. Donnelly, chief of the Lower Southampton Police Department. "The only thing that Eddie would really talk about was the treasure."

Donnelly thought for a moment and smiled. "He always wanted to find the mother lode."

*

Joey DiGirolamo was nervous. He wanted a triple vodka.

It was April 18, and DiGirolamo had just been arrested. Now he was wearing a wire. He was talking to "Ed the Cop," the man with the plan to head down to North Philly and rob the house of some guy named Jereb who had been charged with dealing drugs.

DiGirolamo, 38, the bearded, bull-necked son of suburban Bensalem Township's well-liked mayor, had been having problems. Business endeavors were falling flat. He was separated from his wife. And he was hooked. Booze, meth, pot, cocaine--all were constant companions.

Not a good few months for Joey, who'd never been arrested save one DUI. Ed the Cop represented a way out of the current mess.

They'd gone to South America together, looking for treasure. They had an understanding, DiGirolamo told the lady friend he'd been hanging out with.

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